(Pocket-lint) - Look at the wire-free market, especially at the well-known brands, and you'll likely be looking at earphones between £250-£300. Whether that's Sennheiser, Bose or BeoPlay, better versions of Apple AirPods generally cost considerably more. But if there's one brand capable of changing that, it's RHA.
For years, the Glasgow-based company has produced great-sounding, well-designed earphones that cost much less than you'd see from the so-called big-name brands. The question is: do the TrueConnect deliver above and beyond despite the small price tag?
Looks like a chunky AirPods
- Aluminium/plastic carrying case
- 10 different tips included
- IPX5 splash-resistance
- 13g per earbud
While many people agreed that the AirPods were bringing in a much-needed completely wire-free future for earphones, they did not agree that the "electric toothbrush head" look was the best way to do it. Thankfully, not all manufacturers have copied that approach. RHA, however, kind-of has.
Pull these earbuds out of their stylishly designed carrying case and you'll see an enlarged version of the designed championed by Apple. There's the main earbud and a small protruding element that sticks below, out of the ear. Unlike AirPods though, the RHA units have a more traditional removable silicone tip that inserts into the ear. It's not a one-size-fits-all approach.
It's not the most attractive design, but it's not hideous either. In fact, when in the ears, the subtle matte black finish makes wearing these wireless in-ears quite subtle - you won't draw attention like wearing the bright white AirPods might.
The TrueConnect feel lightweight and relatively comfortable to wear too. You don't get that stretching feeling you sometimes get from larger earbuds. With that said, the default silicone in-ear tips do make the fit seem a little too pressured at times. Open your mouth while you're listening to music and you might just feel the tips a bit too much, and the music mutes as if you're needing to burst those bubbles in your ears - like the ones you get when on a aeroplane.
Thankfully, as there always is with RHA earphones, there are plenty of other tips to choose from. As we've found with all other in-ear reviews, our favourites are the Comply foam tips, which expand to fit the in-ear canal much more comfortably than the silicone ones. The difference in how it feels in the ear is vastly different, so if you don't like them on first try, swap out the ear tips for one of the many others and you'll find a fit that works for you.
Like the earbuds themselves the case design is a bit of a dichotomy. It combines a stylish soft-touch plastic and an outer covering made from a dark matte grey metal. We like that it pivots to open, revealing the earphones inside, without a flimsy magnetic plastic lid in sight. It's sturdy and that pivot point feels really durable, so you're very unlikely to ever break it.
But then there's the manner in which the earphones fit inside the case. Because of that small AirPod-style protrusion, you have to feed that part into a recessed hole in the case, with a magnetic connection securing the wider earbud casing in place.
While this is fine for stowing the earbuds away, it's the getting them out again that's the issue. There's not a lot of grab room for fingers, and the magnets do a good job keeping the earphones secure. It's fiddly to remove them and impossible to shake them free. It's a minor complaint, since we can still get them out in a few seconds, it just doesn't feel quite as simple as it should be.
While we might complain about that protruding "toothbrush handle" sticking out of the bottom, it does serve purpose. You'll find a small mic hole at the end of each stem, with the aim of increasing call quality. The logic seemingly being that if the speaky-hole is nearer your mouth, it'll pick it up better.
Another design element we aren't too convinced about is the physical button on the outside of each earbud. We might complain about the touch-sensitive panels on some competitors being a bit sensitive at times, but there's a reason they exist - and RHA's TrueConnect proves that point. Because it's a physical button that takes a little force to depress, that means that you're pushing the ear tips slightly further into your ears every time you want to pause your music, which just isn't comfortable at all. It's best to just use the controls on your phone.
- 5 hours playback outside of case
- 25 hours total
- Bluetooth 5.0
Before the Powerbeats Pro launched with its nine hour playtime promise, RHA's claim of five hours of playback outside of the case would sound very good indeed.
Actual mileage varies depending on how loud you crank these in-ears up, but the five hours of playback isn't far off the kind of performance we've experienced. After about two hours and 20 minutes, we'd got them down to 50 per cent, according to the earphones battery indicator in the iPhone's Today view.
Now, while that doesn't compete with the Powerbeats Pro, it's among the longest of the rest. What's more, with the additional four full charges contained within a full battery in the case, that's a total of 25 hours away from a plug. That's good going for a wire-free earphone.
As a bonus, RHA has enabled a quick-charging feature of sorts, that can get a depleted pair of earphones from 0-50 per cent in 15 minutes in the case. Plus, you can use your USB Type-C smartphone cable to charge the case up again. You don't have to make do with switching back to the old Micro-USB port, like some others earphones force you to.
As for wireless performance, that's generally solid. We didn't experience any serious dropouts between our iPhone and the RHA TrueConnects. The extended antenna and Bluetooth 5 clearly doing the work here.
Loud and bassy
- 6mm dynamic drivers
- 20Hz - 20kHz frequency response
If there's one thing RHA knows how to do well, it's sound. As sub-£200 wire-free earphones go, the TrueConnect is one of the nicest sounding pairs we've tried in recent times. Part of this, of course, is down to using the tip that forms the best seal within the ear. In our opinion, this is the Comply foam tip, but your preference may be different. Short version: take time to find a fit that works well for you and the good sound follows.
Unlike some of RHA's older models though, this in-ear isn't short on bass. At all. TrueConnect delivers a really full sound, with plenty of bass, and without losing the details in the more subtle or higher frequencies of the track. And there's definitely no lack of volume here either.
Despite the deep bass, you can still hear elements like subtle hi-hat paradiddles, some of the mid-range filling in from string sections in the backing track, giving the full scope of a track.
What's also great is the way the snug fit can passively cut out the ambient noise around you, shutting you off into your own world of rich, bass-filled and loud music.
However, if these in-ears were as expensive as some of the big name brands then we'd perhaps be more critical of the bass control. But that's if we're being extra critical.
The wireless earphone market might be getting a little crowded right now, but RHA still manages to carve out its own little space by offering really good quality audio at a lower price than you'd expect. In other words: it's AirPods price, but with higher-end sound.
It's not a perfect pair of in-ears, though. The design and look of the earphones will divide opinion, and we found the feeling of pressure in the ears a minor discomfort at times.
As far as wireless connectivity and battery performance goes, however, these are a reliable pair - and they sound really good for the money. So if you want to get as much bang for your buck as possible in terms of sound quality and performance, the RHA TrueConnect make a great option.
Alternatives to consider
Apple AirPods 2
Apple's AirPods are the kings of convenience. Need to take/make a call, quickly plonk in an AirPod and off you go. There's no fiddling with different tip sizes or trying to get the right seal. Of course, what that means is you don't get great noise isolation, but for easy pick-up-and-go for iPhone users, the AirPods is a no-brainer option.
Beats Powerbeats Pro
Powerbeats Pro is probably the best all-round pair of wire-frees on the market right now. These in-ears are really well shaped to comfortably fit the ear, are great for working out and running in, sound good, and the battery goes for ages. Expect to pay a bit more, but we think it's more than worth it.
Master & Dynamic MW07
For just pure music enjoyment and an eye-catching design, the MW07 is a great choice. These in-ears look really cool, are comfortable to wear, and the sound is just awesome. Perhaps not to everyone's taste, but for us this is one of the stand-outs in the audiophile world.