Reid and Heith Acoustics, the company behind the RHA SA-500 headphones, is a rare thing - a British manufacturer. It already has a handful of sets under its belt, including the high-end quilted SA-850. RHA's not out to break the bank though. All its current models retail for under £50. The SA-500 sell for a mere £35. Are they a cheap route to headphone heaven?
The RHA SA-500 are on-ear headphones. This compromise between the in-ear type and the hulking, great big over-ears style of headphone stops you from having to shove any bits of rubber, and stops you from looking too ridiculous on the train to work with giant padded monstrosities clamped to your ears. The pads, small plastic-covered ones in this case, sit directly on your ear lobes, using this contact to give you some isolation from the noise of the outside environment.
Design-wise, the SA-500 supply an impressive list of features at this entry-level price point. They offer a comfortable, reasonably well-padded leather-effect headband and a detachable headphone cable coated with braided fabric. The detachable cable is particularly noteworthy, as it uses standard 3.5mm jacks at both ends. This lets you buy a longer cable - for home use perhaps - for peanuts.
Things start to go downhill once you put them on your head though. We found them tricky to get a comfortable fit, and even then they felt awkward on our ears. It's down to the angle they meet your head at, which is too flat to rest happily. Other on-ears pairs remedy this by letting the cups themselves rotate, like the Sennheiser HD 220, but here they're virtually rigid.
The ear cups fit into the headband with two metal prongs that dig into holes on the sides. They're not hard to remove but don't offer much horizontal flexibility - the ear cups do revolve around vertically though, enabling one-eared DJ-style action. Finding it hard to find the optimum position with on-ear headphones is common, but the problem is particularly bad here. They do allow for different-sized heads, with an adjustable headband, but even after a few days experimenting with different seating, each felt like a bit of a compromise.
Padding of the RHA SA-500's cups is generous but not hugely soft, which contributes to the problem a bit. The caveat we should insert here is that we all have different-shaped heads so you may find no problem with the fit of these headphones. That said, we rarely do with on-ear headphones. It's a good job they make up for it somewhat with sound quality.