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RBH Sound HP-2 Noise Isolating Headphones Review

by February 23, 2016
  • Product Name: HP-2 Noise Isolating Headphones
  • Manufacturer: RBH Sound
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStarhalf-star
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
  • Review Date: February 23, 2016 06:00
  • MSRP: $ 249/pr (Free Shipping)
  • Buy Now
  • Model Name:    HP-2
  • Driver Size:    1.8" (45mm) beryllium
  • Impedance:    32 Ohms
  • Sensitivity:    98dB
  • Frequency Range:    10Hz-40kHz
  • Weight:    8.82 oz. (250 grams)
  • Dimensions:    6.3" W x 7.6" H (160mm W x 193mm H)

Pros

  • Prodigious bass response
  • Sounds way better than its price suggests
  • Tangle-free cord

Cons

  • Name brand won't appeal to hipsters
  • headband can be too tight for larger heads
  • Only offered in black

 

RBH has been busy lately producing headphones.  They started with in-ear monitors and we watched their line evolve to the very impressive EP3's and wireless EP-SB's, which we regarded as some of the best values in their genre.  But, I was waiting for RBH to produce a product of similar design philosophy in my preferred form factor, over-ear headphones.  Enter the HP-2s.  The HP-2s are lightweight over-ear noise-isolating headphones featuring space-age 45mm beryllium-coated drivers.  All of this for just under $200 (introductory price).  How can these possibly be a serious set of cans given their modest price?  Watch our YouTube Video overview and read on to find out.

 RBH Headphones and BT100 Amplifier YouTube Overview

 

Design Overview

Despite their modest asking pricase-pkg.JPGce, the RBH HP-2s come armed with serious technology, most notably their 45mm beryllium-coated drivers.  Beryllium is an ultra lightweight and strong material that allows for a breakup mode much higher than the upper limits of the audio band, allowing for reduced distortion and better clarity.  This is a hallmark of ALL speakers we've heard with beryllium drivers, most notably RBH's very own $50k/pair Status 8T reference speakers.  The HP-2's have a rated frequency response of 10Hz to 40kHz.  There are three tiny ports on each cup that extend bass response but they can be plugged if desired.  What is most impressive to me about the design of these headphones is their high sensitivity (98dB) and 32-ohm impedance, making them an easy load for even a smartphone to drive at levels that can cause serious hearing damage if the listener isn't careful.

The HP-2s come with a sturdy and reasonably compact protective carrying case, a 4ft standard audio cable with built in microphone and controller, a 4ft tangle-resistant audiophile cable and a 1/4" phono  adapter. A longer cable can be purchased through RBH if needed.  The carrying case is lighter and more compact than some we've seen recently and they actually had the foresight of including a pouch to stow used cables.

The first thing you will notice when picking up these headphones is that they are extremely light (8.82 oz). In fact, I'm able to lift them comfortably with my pinkie.  Why is this important?  The lighter the cans, the less wear fatigue, something regular headphone users can appreciate.  The ear cushions are quite comfortable too, making these headphones a real pleasure to wear for extended listening sessions.  The earpieces swivel 90 degrees inward from the headband making them easy to fit back into the carrying case.  Unfortunately I found the headband clamping force to be a bit too tight for my head, but I do have a workaround discussed later in the review.  There are plenty of color options to choose from—as long as you're happy with black.

Listening Tests

I used a variety of source equipment with the RBH HP-2’s including the headphone output of my Yamaha AS-801 integrated amp, Samsung S5 phone and the Headroom Micro preamp and DAC connected to my PC .  I did most of my listening streaming FLAC files from my HDD on JRiver and streaming music from YouTube.

The first thing I did before critical evaluation was to test the microphone controller cable by making a few calls.  The cable worked as expected and I had no complaints of vocal clarity from the folks I called.  I found it a bit unnerving talking with noise-isolating headphones on but I'd imagine this would come in quite handy in noisy environments like an airplane or a trade show.  I switched to the included 4ft audiophile cable for all of my critical listening tests.

Tracy Chapman: Debut Album (1988)tracy chapman.jpg

I never been a fan of Tracy Chapman but the recording quality of her first album in 24 bit FLAC is something to not be ignored by any audiophile.  Track #2 "Fast Car," probably her most memorable song, revealed the strong, deep powerful bass the HP-2s were able to muster.  When i switched to my Oppo PM-1 ones, the bass all but vanished.  The upper midrange and treble clarity was a good deal better on the Oppo's but the overall balance of sound wasn't as pleasant.  Listening to this song on the RBH headphones truly sounded like I was sitting in the sweet spot between a pair of high-end tower speakers.  The reverb in the recording came through very convincingly.  Track #3 "Across the Lines" gave me newfound respect for Tracy Chapman.  The HP-2s had me questioning why hadn't listened more closely to this artist in the past. 

It wasn't until I boosted the 63Hz EQ in JRiver that I truly appreciated the more expensive Oppo's in comparison.  But, with both headphones EQ'ed flat, this was not the case.  For a $200 pair of headphones to actually be competing favorably against a set costing $1k+ speaks volumes.  Track #6 "Mountains O' Things" quickly became my favorite track on the CD.  I loved how the percussion just miles brew.jpgpopped on the HP-2s.  The bass extension was truly epic on this song and best of all, it didn't take away from the clarity of the vocals or the woodwind instruments and triangle sounds.  The separation of instruments was preserved just like you'd hear from a quality pair of loudspeakers on a very revealing system.

Miles Davis - Bitches Brew

A jazz classic, Bitches Brew from Miles Davis is something you have to put yourself in the mood for and commit to the entire album.   I'm such a fan that I copied the 24 bit FLAC file over to my SD card on my Samsung S5 Smartphone and listened to it on there.  “Pharaoh's Dance" put me in a sort of dream state that I only achieve when listening to this track on a good pair of speakers.  The HP-2s were smooth as butter here.  It was hard to believe I was enjoying this level of fidelity from my phones and reassuring when I travel that I don't have to be subjected to lousy-sounding music on an airplane or taxi cab.  The percussion in "Spanish Key" layered well with Miles’ trumpet.  I could hear all of the fancy stick work of the incredible Lenny White while at the same time enjoying Chick Corea's electric piano as he and John McLaughlin on electric guitar volleyed back and forth with each other.

Seal - Best of 1991-2004

I first heard the track "Killer" at CEDIA a few years back when Paradigm was demoing their 30th Anniversary speakers.  I was blown away by the demo and I knew I had to have this track so I got the FLAC files from HDtracks.com.  The HP-2s recreated the deep tight bass as I remembered and the sound envelopment was excellent.  The generous bass output did not take away from the clarity of Seal's vocals.  The eerie opening of "Don't Cry" and pain in Seal's voice was well portrayed by the HP-2s, though NOT to the level of my much more expensive reference Oppo PM-1s.  However, on the HP-2s, the kick drum hit with the authority of a large pair of speakers, as if you weren't listening to headphones at all.  "Love's Divine" opening thunder scene sounded convincing enough for me to peer at my window to check the weather.  The deep bass again wooed me.  I just had a hard time accepting that a pair of headphones could produce this type of deep, satisfying bass extension, especially at such a modest asking price.  Trust me, these do!

seal 91-04.jpg  kurt elling.jpg

Seal - Best of (left pic); Kurt Elling - Nightmoves (right pic)

Kurt Elling: Nightmoves

Kurt Elling puts a modern twist on a Michael Franks classic in Track #1: "Nightmoves".  His voice anchored in the middle of my head comes through with similarly excellent tonal accuracy as I've heard on my reference system.  Bass remains a strong point that really gives full body to the listening experience.  Track #7, "The Waking," starts out with a standup bass in which the HP-2s just kill it, making you feel like you're right there in the room.  The HP-2s deliver the reverb in Kurt's vocals very naturally.  What a beautifully sung song and a pleasure to listen too on these cans.                    

Capitol Records Masters

I got my hands on some mixes mastered off the original source tapes from the likes of Frank Sinatra, Beatles, Elvis and more so I thought I'd throw in some listening tests featuring them.  "Mother Nature's Son" is a song I've never heard from the Beatles before, but man, it's instantly become one of my favorites.  Paul's vocals are almost as sublime as his great acoustic guitar work in this track.  The HP-2s did a great job of reproducing the intimacy of this recording and you actually felt as if it was a true solo experience made for the listener.  "Suspicious Minds" is another Elvis classic that I'm sure must be in some Quentin Tarantino flick that escapes me at the moment.  The sound was a bit congested and almost too isolated from left/right channels, which has more to do with the recording methods of the time than a fault of the headphones.  Still, it was enjoyable to hear Elvis and the subtle percussion sounds going on in the background. 

RBH HP-2 Measurements and Conclusion

Here is a quick and dirty way to measure over-ear headphones using a foam head at a Michael's, which is a local crafts store. Let's call him Mr. Bob.  The microphone was placed inside of Mr. Bob's ear while the HP-2s were placed over his head to conduct the measurements.

 bob.jpg

Mr. Bob simulated head for On-Ear Headphone Measurements

RBH vs SENN1.jpg 

RBH HP-2 vs Sennheiser HD598SE Frequency Response Graphs

The RBH HP-2 were compared to a known reference, the Sennheiser HD598SE. The sensitivity of the Sennheiser is about 7dB lower than the HP-2, which doesn't surprise me. As I said before, the HP-2s play hellishly loud with very little input.  What is interesting about this graph is how the HP-2s follow a target room curve for loudspeaker playback systems. According to Harman research, good headphone and speaker response should be very similar when measured at the ear.  You want a slightly elevated but flat bass response with a gradual tapering off of the high frequencies.  This profile is what made the HP-2s sound warmer and fuller than the comparably priced Sennheisers.  I also found this to be the case when compared directly to the more expensive Oppo PM-1 headphones.  The PM-1's were both less sensitive and had less bass output than the RBH HP-2s.   

Too Much Bass?  Here is the Solution

For those that prefer less bass from their HP-2s, you have three options:

1.  Use a tone control to dial to preference

2.  Seal the ports with silicone (semi-permanent solution)

3.  Electrical tape over the ports (as needed)

Sealing the ports with silicone does work nicely to maintain a finished look but once you do it, it's diffuclt to reverse .  Thus I highly recommend to instead use black electrical tape to seal the ports as desired.  That way you can always take the tape off when you desire more bass from source material that sounds a bit anemic.  My personal preference was to cover just one port on each side with electrical tape for bass heavy program material.  It was very easy to apply and remove as needed.

HP-2-plug.jpg 

RBH HP-2 with ports sealed for reduced bass

 Here is the port plugging procedure:

  1. Use your fingers or tape (scotch, masking, electrical etc) to initially cover the wholes while listening. Experiment with covering 1, 2 or 3 holes to see how much reduction in bass you prefer.
  1. Once you have decided how many holes to cover, put a little bit of GE black silicone (or any other brand of black silicone you can get at your local hardware store) onto the tip of a soft cloth. Lightly rub silicon into the holes you want to fill.
  1. Wipe excess silicone off of headphone. It will come off very easily.
  1. VERY IMPORTANT! Let silicone dry an hour or so before using headphones.
  1. Done! You now have modified the tuning of the headphone chamber to give you the low frequency response you prefer.

 RBH HP-2 vented vs. sealed.jpg

RBH HP-2 Frequency Response Comparison
blue trace: ports open      red trace: ports sealed

As you can see, sealing the ports significantly reduces bass response (about 4dB below 150Hz) but also bumps up the 250-400Hz range about the same amount. 

Editorial Note About Bass in Headphones:

Directly comparing open-back headphones (Oppo PM-1s) to closed-back headphones (RBH HP-2s) is not an apples to apples comparison.  Open-back designs generally have less bass response than closed-back for one thing.  Bass response is not exactly the strong point of the planar magnetic technology that the PM-1s utilize due to the low mass of the diaphragm. Dynamic headphones tend to have much stronger bass but planar magnetic headphones usually have better distortion performance.  These were exactly my findings when comparing the PM-1s to the HP-2s.  A better comparison would have been a pair of PM-3 closed-back designs from Oppo or better yet, a pair of other closed-back dynamic headphones.  But I used what I had on hand just to get an idea based on a known reference.

Recommendations

As good as the RBH HP-2sheadband.JPG are, they aren't perfect.  Despite these being ultra-lightweight headphones, they quickly caused me ear fatigue when wearing them for more than 30 minutes at a time.  I soon realized the headband had too much tension to comfortably accommodate my largish head.  I informed RBH about this and they suggested that I bend the metal extension glides out a little.  After doing this, I had no problems with comfort.  I suspect others will run into this issue so I'd recommend before sending them packing before the 30-day trial period is up,  give this fix a try.  I do hope RBH looks further into this and upgrades to a wider headband to eliminate this issue entirely.

The HP-2s provide a good deal of noise isolation as promised, thanks to their closed-back design and the snug seal they make when coupled to your ears.  Noise isolation is another advantage closed-back headphones have over open-back designs, though the very nature of their design does sacrifice a bit of naturalness and openness to the sound.  I found the HP-2s did a commendable job isolating me from a noisy room of kids playing XBOX or my in-laws watching Spanish Soap Operas.  If you do all of your headphone listening in environments like this, then a closed-back design is a must.

About the only time I didn't appreciate the noise-isolating benefits of the HP-2s was when I placed a call in a quiet environment and could hear my voice muffled.  In those situations, I much preferred to just take them off and use the speakerphone feature of my phone.

Conclusion

Case HeldThe RBH HP-2s are about the best pair of over-ear cans I've heard at this price point.  They do so many things right that they simply shouldn't at this price that it's almost frightening how far headphone technology has come in the last few years.  What they lacked in refinement and maturity of my Oppo PM-1s, they made up for in droves in sensitivity and bass response.  I suspect RBH is targeting the Beats shopper with the HP-2s. While they may not have the brand or fashion appeal, the HP-2s offer a much better balanced and better sounding pair of headphones for the dollar.  The bass and comfort tweaks I suggested previously should broaden the appeal of these headphones.

The HP-2s are a solid first over-ear headphone offering from RBH and at just under $200 at the introductory price, they are an absolute steal.   You just may want to scoop these up before the price goes up to $249. I'd love to see their product line evolve with higher-end over-ear open back headphones that will continue to build on this incredible foundation laid out by the HP-2s.  Until then, you can rest assured that these are the real deal!

 

 

RBH Sound HP-2 In-Ear Headphones
MSRP: $249/pr (free shipping)

RBH Sound
382 Marshall Way
Layton, Utah 84041

General phone & FAX
Toll-free: (800) 543-2205
Local: (801) 543-2200
FAX: (801) 543-3300

 

About RBH Sound

RBH Sound, one of the older speaker companies in the USA, is still run and operated by the original founder - Roger Hassing.  In 1976, RBH Sound produced its first loudspeaker.   RBH soon began to OEM for McIntosh, (back in the days of Gordon J. Gow), providing cabinets for their speakers.  This set the stage for doing a superb job since McIntosh didn’t worry about how to cheapen the product, but to make it better and, at least at the time, lead the class in performance.   Later, RBH Sound began producing loudspeakers for a retailer in Los Angeles called Northridge Audio.   They didn’t advertise or market these products to avoid a conflict of interest with their other OEM customers (i.e. McIntosh, Parasound, Fosgate, etc). People nonetheless sought them out because of their high performance, which lead to a good success story and response for their products.  Over the years, RBH Sound was successful at helping other companies in achieving their goals. Based on their strong engineering background and sourcing ability, they took it upon themselves to enter the market under their own banner. 

 

The Score Card

The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:

Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating

Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.

Audioholics Rating Scale

  • StarStarStarStarStar — Excellent
  • StarStarStarStar — Very Good
  • StarStarStar — Good
  • StarStar — Fair
  • Star — Poor
MetricRating
Build QualityStarStarStarStar
AppearanceStarStarStarStar
Treble ExtensionStarStarStarStar
Treble SmoothnessStarStarStarStar
Midrange AccuracyStarStarStarStar
Bass ExtensionStarStarStarStarStar
Bass AccuracyStarStarStarStarStar
Dynamic RangeStarStarStarStar
PerformanceStarStarStarStarhalf-star
ValueStarStarStarStarStar
About the author:
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Gene manages this organization, establishes relations with manufacturers and keeps Audioholics a well oiled machine. His goal is to educate about home theater and develop more standards in the industry to eliminate consumer confusion clouded by industry snake oil.

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