- Good bass response
- Removable cable
- Not very comfortable
- Limited treble resolution
- Review Price: £34.95
- 40mm mylar driver
- Removable 1.2m cable
- Adjustable headband
- Metallic dark grey/White finishes
- 3.5mm input
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.
Find a decent fit with the RHA SA-500 and you’ll be rewarded with good sound quality. Bass is big and well-behaved, providing the headphones with a warm and powerful sound.
For optimum low-end response though, the ear cups need to maintain a decent seal with your ear. After fiddling for a while, we found this was still improved by man-handling the cups over the ears. When in a quiet environment, this isn’t a problem as loss of sound quality is largely because of intrusions of external noise, but it limits their effectiveness on noisy public transport, compared to on-ear alternatives like the AKG Q460 and Sennheiser HD 218.
Again comparing the headphones to the Sennheiser HD series – probably the RHA SA-500’s closest rival – the treble here lacks a little resolution and finesse. It’s not harsh or sibilant, but worth consideration if you’re after a more chilled-out, refined sound rather than the bassy fun of the SA-500. As the saying goes, you pay your money and take your choice.
Aside from our (admittedly significant) comfort issues, the RHA SA-500 are well-made headphones. The problem they face is that several of the most popular on-ear headphones of all time are available at a similar price. The Koss PortaPro, Sennheiser PX100 and HD 218 can all be bought for under £30, and in our experience at least they are more comfortable sets. The RHA set can compete on sound thanks to its exciting bass, but comfort means a lot when it’s a core part of the headphone experience – as important as sound when it goes wrong.
With powerful bass, a removable cable and an attractive design, the RHA SA-500 sound like headphones to be reckoned with. Sadly, we found them rather uncomfortable to wear compared with the opposition. We can bear a little discomfort for sound quality, but when it affects the sound too – by lessening the seal with your ear – we can’t let it slide.
Score in detail
Design & Features 5
Sound Quality 8