My ears hate earbuds. Positively hate them. They don’t stay in my ears. Forget about the classic white iPod earbuds. I would have to tie the cables around my ears to even have a shot at keeping them in. The nicer ones that come with three different-sized silicone tips? Less terrible; they simply take a little longer to pop out, although to do sound a little better while they’re in.
So, you’re thinking, “Why is this guy reviewing new earbuds from one of the industry’s most respected — if lesser known — speaker brands?” I’ll admit, it was with a bit of trepidation that I took on the review. But RBH’s EP1 headphones have something that most earbuds don’t: they come with Comply tips, which not only promised to actually stay in my ears, but also put a lid on ambient noise without active noise cancellation. Most earbud enthusiasts consider the Comply tips an essential upgrade, so it’s admirable that RBH decided to skip the middleman and include them in the box.
So I decided to take the EP1 and my physically-hard-to-appease ears on a globetrotting tour to see if they were the right buds for me. I spent most of the month of October traveling for business, and these earbuds got a full workout, from a 14-hour international flight to the Tokyo, to that city’s packed subway system at rush hour, on to a miserable extended stay at the Toronto airport while waiting for Hurricane Sandy to let me finally come back home.
I have to admit, my initial impressions were not great. The high-end seemed overpowered by the bass, and while they did manage to stay in my fussy ears, even using the optimal Comply tips still felt too tight. After about fifteen minutes, I just wasn’t enjoying the experience at all.
Over the next week or so, things improved. Gradually, either the drivers broke in, or I got used to their sound, and the highs started to peek their way out of the lows. Meanwhile, the Comply tips loosened up a bit, and they became much more comfortable. The sound isolation they give is fantastic. Even sitting on the other side of a firewall from a bus engine, the roar was barely noticeable, and that goes for jet engines as well. Even in the sardine cans of Tokyo rush hour with TV screens and announcements blaring right next to me, none of the environmental sounds intruded on my listening enjoyment. Granted, if you’re a pedestrian dealing in areas with cars, that might not be the best thing in the world, because you’ll never hear them coming. But, hey, at least you’ll go out sounding good, right? I ran the gamut from pop/rock to classical to hip hop and electronica, and I found that after they were burned in properly — or again, perhaps I was just more accustomed to their sound — the sweet spot with the EP1 lay in warm, analog music. The more resonance and “air” in the track, the better they sound, probably thanks to the ample space inside the bud for the driver to move air.
Unfortunately, even the Comply tips aren’t enough to satisfy my picky ear canals. While they remain in my ears far better than any other buds, after they loosened up enough to be comfortable, they did start to fall out from time to time. Again, my ears are very atypical, and your experience will almost certainly differ greatly from mine when it comes to getting a good seal and keeping them in place. Big pluses are the metal body and what they call the “tangle resistant” cord. That’s a bit of a misnomer, since the cords still tangled in my bag like any other, but thanks to the cloth covering on the wires, they untangled like a champ in record time with very little effort on my part.
So in the end are the RBH EP1s worth the $150 asking price? That depends on your needs. If you want an earbud that sounds great and is built like a tank, and have the budget for them, then they’re definitely worth a listen. They’re far more balanced than many ‘buds, even at this price point, and although, as I said, I tended to prefer warmer acoustical tunes through them, they sound great with virtually any genre.
Like I said, though, if you need an earbud for on-the-go, just be careful when wearing the EP1. The noise isolation is so good that they could be a little dangerous. Or maybe you could just leave one earbud hanging while walking through busy traffic. That kinda defeats the purpose, though, doesn’t it?