Friday, November 28, 2014

Rock-It Sounds R-30: All About that Bass?

Intro



TL;DR: No treble.

First of all, I would like to thank Rocky at Rock-It Sounds for providing me with a review sample of the R-30. I would also like to apologize if this review took a while to get started because of logistics issues. I would like to stress that I am neither an affiliate of Rock-It Sounds or any of its employees, nor am I being compensated in any form to write this review (aside from the provided review sample, of course). All opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own unless otherwise stated, and that they should be taken with a grain of salt.

Well, it looks like I’m back again with another review, and this time this is from a totally different company – Rock-It Sounds, as stated in the title. These guys are mostly known on Head-Fi for their renowned R-50 dual BA (Balanced Armature) IEMs. I have yet to hear those for myself (and I will probably will soon), but in the meantime Rocky was kind enough to let me have a go at their lower-end model while the R-50 was undergoing an update. At $70, the single BA R-30 looks pretty promising, and I’m pretty eager to find out if it is. You ready? Let’s begin.





/\/\/ Aesthetics \/\/\

Packaging, Accessories


The R-30 comes in a small retail box housing a plastic blister with all the accessories. The packaging is honestly really cheap-looking – like something you would expect from a no-name brand. It’s got a little window that shows you the R-30, specifications and features on the back (which, I might add, has grammar and typesetting I would normally see on Chinese manufacturers), and to top it off, a features and contact information in Chinese. Well, for a supposedly US-based company, this is just disappointing.


(On Second Thought: Apparently the Chinese information on the right side of the box is because the product was shipped from Hong Kong. Not surprising, then, and certainly not so disappointing. That same side also happens to be a flap that opens to reveal the R-30s and its accessories. Thanks, Rocky!)


After getting over the box, let’s take a look at the accessories. The R-30 includes two extra pairs of silicone eartips (small and large), an airline adapter, a semi-hard carry case, and some silicone moulds which wrap around the R-30’s housings for a more secure fit (Rock-It Sounds call them ear cushions). My only gripe with the cushions are that the housings fit securely enough already, so I find it unnecessary.




Design, Build, Microphonics



To be really honest, the build of the R-30 is ‘okay’ at best. Sure, the plastic housings are pretty solid, and the cable has extremely low cable noise, but otherwise they don’t really have much to offer. The yellow of the housings is kind of an eyesore, and the nozzles on the R-30s are really narrow, which prevents me from using any other eartips on them except for the included ones. So much for tip rolling, I guess. In contrast, the Brainwavz S0 somehow manages to be cheaper and better aesthetically, which really puts these R-30s to shame. But let’s move on.


Fit, Comfort, Isolation

With or without the silicone ear cushions, the R-30s fit my ears consistently and have a good seal. They can be worn either straight down or around-the-ear, which is a plus. They isolate pretty well, which is another slightly redeeming quality. The ear cushions do perform as advertised and provide a more secure fit, although it’s already secure enough to stay on your head even when you shake your head around.


~~ Sound ~~

Specs


Headphone Type
Closed-back in-ear monitor (straight down, around-the-ear)
Driver Type
Single balanced armature (Knowles SR-series)
Frequency Response
20 Hz – 18,000 Hz
Max. Input Power
N/A
Sensitivity
114 dB
Impedance
29 Ω @ 1,000 Hz
Weight
N/A
Cable
4.2 ft. (1.3 m) braided
Connector
3.5 mm (1/8”) gold-plated straight
Accessories
3x black silicone ear tips (S/M/L)
3x silicone ear cushions (S/M/L)
Semi-hard clamshell carry case
Airline adapter


Equipment, Burn-in

The equipment used in this review is an iPad 3 and my PC as the sources, running the R-30 unamped. The amp used in the test is a Yamaha RX-V359 speaker receiver driving the R-30 through headphone-out. The EQ software used is the EQu app on the iPad and Viper4Windows on PC. My test tracks are available here for reference. The R-30s have been burned in for at least 100 hours prior to the review, with both music and games. The eartips being used on the R-30s are its stock medium-size eartips.


Sound Quality


Straight out of the box and running on the iPad, it took me a couple minutes to get back on my bearings and realize what I was listening to. As I knew this was a balanced armature IEM, I expected them to have a neutral or mid-centric sound signature like other BA IEMs. Apparently I was very quickly corrected by the R-30s on that.


Now, why the title? Well, like I said, it’s not really “all about that bass,” but as the song states, it has no treble. And I mean that literally. I could hardly hear any hint of treble – far beyond my standards of “laid-back.” It sounds horribly recessed compared to the pounding bass that was rather overwhelming for what I was expecting. The bass is muddy, boomy, and again overwhelms the already-recessed treble. The midrange is warm, lacks clarity and airiness (again because of the treble), and is overall not very nice to listen to. I know, I’m practically just ranting about the treble, but believe me, it really sounds that bad.

Switching over to the PC, it seems the added power improved the sound a tad. The bass leans out rather nicely, and the midrange comes forward. The treble still isn’t coming out to play, although I do hear a hint of sibilance somewhere there. It’s much, much better than when run out of a portable source, so I assumed they would do a lot better with some amplification. A quick look on Tyll Hertsens’ measurements on the R-30 confirms my thoughts – the impedance of the treble spikes insanely high (up to 140 Ω at 20 kHz) compared to the rest of the signature (around 16-40 Ω from 10 kHz and below). We’ll see how they do in the amp test later.


Gaming, Movies

As I game only on the PC, the R-30 doesn’t show off its inherent darkness problem, but even then they didn’t wow me in any way. They sounded ‘good’ at best. With Far Cry 4, vocals are noticeably veiled and lacks the natural sibilance of the human voice. Bass is decent enough, and positional audio is okay. Nothing really special or stand-out here in my opinion. As for movies, well, my impressions are just about the same as in gaming. Nothing really stands out from the R-30, but on the other hand, nothing’s too bad either.


EQ, Amping

It seems the R-30 wanted more power, so I gave it more power. And to be honest, they actually sound good now. There is finally a hint of treble sparkle this time, and the whole signature sounds more in line with most BA-based IEMs from what I’ve read. The bass is toned down, and the vocals and instruments sound more like vocals and instruments than vocals and instruments from two rooms away. Trying to go the EQ path will yield better results, but basic 10-band EQs will probably not suffice. Of course, there is already a lot of software out there that does just that, and it’s free, so I guess you’re covered there.


Value

The Rock-It Sound R-30 retails at about $70 dollars, which, to me, is a pretty high asking price for the performance it gives you. I find its sound signature very hard to like, and the package has nothing special that makes them stand out from the rest. Would I buy it? Definitely not, and I know a lot of other headphones and IEMs that sound exponentially better than these.


Comparison

Versus Brainwavz S0 ($50):
The Brainwavz S0 (Zero) is a prime example of a budget IEM with great value. They have an amazingly solid build, a robust feel, and great sound in a wallet-friendly package. The R-30 looks to be the contrary. With a direct A/B comparison, the S0 clearly wins over the R-30 in terms of overall enjoyment. Its bass is cleaner and tighter, its treble is crisper, and its midrange is more natural. The R-30’s midrange is more forward than the S0, but otherwise it doesn’t really get many points. Its build pales in comparison to the S0’s all-metal housing and heavy-duty strain reliefs.


Versus Brainwavz R3 ($130)
The Brainwavz R3, in my opinion, is a great example of “consumer-audiophile” done right. Sure, the housings look totally out of the ordinary, and the fit might take some time to get right, but they have a sound signature that seems to be what the R-30 could have sounded like – smooth, laid-back, and clear across the whole spectrum. Apparently the R-30 failed to reach that.


/\/\/ Conclusion \/\/\



The Rock-It Sounds R-30 was marketed as being for “the discerning music lover.” If that discerning music lover happened to like a dark signature with horrible treble roll-off, a veiled midrange, and boomy bass, then the R-30 is for that person. Apparently I’m not that person, and I ended up not liking this IEM at all. For a balanced armature IEM, I found its signature surprisingly bad; and to think, I opened this package hoping for a nice mid-centric sound.

Like I said at the start of this review, Rock-it Sounds is most known for their renowned R-50 IEMs. From what I’m hearing with these R-30s, I’m going to have to stand by that statement pretty firmly.


Category
Score
Comment
Packaging, Accessories
6/10
The packaging at first glance looks pretty average, but taking a closer look reveals a package more akin to that of a low quality Chinese product. The accessories are decent, though.
Design, Build, Microphonics
7/10
Despite looking flimsy, they don’t really feel as such. Their design is simple, but they look kind of an eyesore. The cable, though, is remarkably devoid of microphonics.
Fit, Comfort, Isolation
8/10
One of the few good qualities of the R-30, the fit is snug and secure. Comfort is also pretty good, and they isolate well.
Microphone
N/A

Bass
5/10
Portable sources give the R-30 a broken mess of a low end. More powerful sources lean down the bass, but they still remain unremarkable at most.
Midrange
5/10
The midrange of the R-30 is much like the bass – pretty messy until you give them more power.
Treble
2/10
Easily my most hated part of the R-30, their treble is simply horrible. It has no sibilance, but no sparkle either. Anything above 11 kHz is recessed to inaudible levels.
Presentation
5/10
The R-30 has a decent presentation – nothing really good, but nothing really bad either. It’s a little on the intimate side, though.
Gaming
4/10
Since I play primarily on the PC, the R-30 doesn’t sound too bad when gaming with them. However, they don’t have any standout qualities that would make me pick them over anything else.
Movies
4/10
As with gaming, I don’t find much in the R-30 that would make me use them over anything else. They’re okay, but not very impressive.
EQ, Amping
6/10
With extra power, you get a much better sound signature that better reflects what Rock-It Sounds was aiming for. Going the EQ path takes more time, but is equally effective.
Value
2/10
Retailing for $70, I find the R-30 hardly worth my time, much less my money.
Total
4.9/10
I find it very hard to see why I would come to like these IEMs. They sound no better than cheap Chinese IEMs, and I've seen many more that sound much, much better.


Shout-Outs, Gallery

Well, first of all, I’d like to thank Rocky at Rock-It Sounds for providing this sample of the R-30. It’s easy to say I didn’t like it, but I still had a lot of fun reviewing these. Also, thanks to my sister for helping me out with this photo-shoot (the photos were taken myself this time). You can find all of the pictures taken in the shoot here.


As always, this is thatBeatsguy signing off; thanks for reading!


Changelog

12/23/14: Added a new scoring category (Presentation) to the score table on all reviews since the Brainwavz R3.
12/01/2014: Added some stuff in the Packaging, Accessories section. Added extra pictures as well.

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