Rhapsodio RTi1 Review: The RTi1 may have a couple of physical design issues, but as a single UltraMag titanium dynamic driver IEM, it powerfully kicks out a highly textured and oddly transparent U-shaped frequency response that is out of this world.
Headed by supreme audio enthusiast Chun Yin Mak Mak (aka. Sammy), the humble Hong Kong based brand, Rhapsodio, is a ‘go-to’ outlet for lovers of independent in-ear audio devices. Founded in early 2012, Rhapsodio was born after MD. Sammy found it difficult to find an IEM that suited his transparent taste. In pursuit of the ultimate IEM, Sammy experimented with a number of complex designs and, subsequently, became one of the very early adopters of BA – Dynamic driver hybrid in-ear solutions with the release of his debut RDB series. With critical acclaim heralding from the notorious online forum, Head-Fi, Sammy continued his work expanding this range into the EOL series, before eventually finding solace in the capabilities of a single dynamic driver. This was a journey that spanned two years, and allowed Sammy to develop his own technology. Dubbed ‘UltraMag’, it was this crucial development paved the way for Rhapsodio to release their RD/RTi in mid 2014.
Presentation, Unboxing, Features. and Build Quality:
Arriving in a generous Rhapsodio branded metal case, the RTi1’s are initially presented well. Opening the case reveals a conical foam lining that appears to adequately protect the IEMs and cable during transit, however Rhapsodio use a rigid wiggly hand carved high density foam platform to hug the RTi1’s that does allow a little movement during transit. The presentation is a touch DIY, but this is something that I have come to expect from a small time HK based IEM manufacturer, as the cable, tan leather popper action cable restraint, and eartips appear to float free in the front compartment with little organisation. Something that I feel is missing from the whole equation is a small soft-case that can be used to store the IEMs when the storage case is unnecessary or unavailable, although this is such a small request that can easily be fulfilled by a cheap eBay after-purchase. Perhaps a more relevant article that appears absent from the whole shebang is a crucial IEM hook and brush to keep the bore clean and clear. This is a little disappointing but, as I said before, this will have to be another after-purchase. The fact that they can easily be obtained is besides the point seeing as this is a basic requirement to stop your $1000 IEM’s from becoming congested with cringeworthy earwax and other unsightly debris.
What I really like are the ear tips included within the package. Provided in the industry standard Small, Medium, and Large sizes they have sensible dimensions that can fit both Asian and Western ears with little cause for concern. In terms of depth they don’t go massively far into the ear cannel, although they have a spiral pattern which helps to create an effective seal by lightly twisting as you insert them into the inner ear – just please don’t assume these are the pricey and elusive Spinfit Tips as they are sadly not. Although the included ear tips are of good quality it is always a good idea to find tips that suit you because of the fact that each persons ear is so individual and what seems to fit well for one person isn’t verbatim. With this noted the RTi1’s do have a large 6mm bore which can be difficult to slide on ear tips, or find tips with a design that can fit freakishly small ear canals. Still, I have to say, that this is not the largest bore I’ve seen, and the majority will have no issue with this size – more on this later.
Now onto the included cable, and it has to be said that sonically, and aesthetically, it isn’t the best pairing with the RTi1 but, again, we will come on to more in-depth discussion regarding this sonic paring later on. As a general note, the cable itself has a helical stipe pattern, similar to a barbers poll, but with such a striking design, the dark blue and white colours don’t exactly seem to make the whole outfit a very stealthy affair. If you cast your eyes down to the bottom of the cable you’ll notice that it’s terminated with a standard gold plated 3.5mm jack, which seems to have been machined to a high standard as it continues to make a strong connection with female contacts after hundreds of uses. As we come up just past the jack connection we can see that the polished chrome jack housing is not a 90° type so it just has a straight connection followed by a PPE moulded plastic strain relief mechanism. This crucial mechanism appears to be unnoteworthy, although it has to be said that it is only 1 ½” long so if you have a DAP with an output jack located on the side of the player you won’t suffer too heavily. Working our way past the termination and onto the actual cable, Rhapsodio have employed a very simple cable construction comprising of a very slim profile Oxygen Free Copper (OFC – 99.9995% pure) core conductor with Polyethylene (PE) shielding, standard tin solder joints, and a PPE exterior. By any stretch of the imagination this isn’t the most complex structure, or highest quality materials, that I have seen implemented as standard with a $1000 product and it would have been nice to have at least seen nylon used within the design to make it resilient to the pitfalls of modern living, ie. getting bruised by a zipper. This doesn’t make this a poor design choice, or pairing, because it still is a good cable for other reasons. One of these is that it has a nice black aluminium Y-Splitter and as you approach the head of the cable Rhapsodio have omitted the ‘industry standard’ memory wire in favour of a wireless solution that has a natural curve to guide the cable down behind the ears, something that glasses wearers will certainly appreciate, although some people may appreciate the security of a memory wire. Besides from this, the cable does have a nice a light weight and smooth PPE finish that doesn’t harshly snag clothing or pull the IEMs down. As we come to the top of the cable we notice that the RTi1’s rely on an 92 Pin, AKA. dual prong CM, and like many other manufacturers it appears to have the same solid metal construction and gold plated pins. I have, however, noticed that the connection between the pins and the connector is not as tight as I have experienced in the past with other IEMs so please bare this in mind. It may be that you can increase the tension by marginally bending the pins, although this comes at your own risk.
The shell, AKA. housing, appears to be unremarkable and doesn’t have a particularly striking design apart from the laser engraved ‘Rhapsodio’ name and logo, accompanied by a sandblasted raw matt aluminium finish which helps to cover scratches. Rhapsodio state that they use a CNC milled housing, although some may question this. Regardless, the shells core material is aluminium and is prone to dents if not delicately handled – I have already made a couple in my review sample! Again, please do not confuse this with the suggestion that the internals are at risk as I cannot prove otherwise. Furthermore, I have noticed that when initially worn the shell isn’t quite as cold as I initially imagined it would be as it warms up to body temperature remarkably quick. As a general overview of the ergonomics, externally Rhapsodio use a half-crescent shape faceplate that develops into an odd deep six axis shell that strangely conforms well to the curves of the outer ear, before rising into the sound bore. We previously mentioned that the bore is rather wide at 6mm and appears to have a slightly shallow fit for western ears at 5mm deep but, if you experience any discomfort with the, again shallow, included tips, it may be a good idea to look for some aftermarket tips such as the JVC Spiral Dot or SpinFit tips. Still the RTi1 does protrude from the outer ear to some extent even though it does feel moderately well balance. Thankfully at the entrance to the sound bore Rhapsodio have included a very fine, yet strong, mesh filter that stops any unwanted debris from entering into the chamber that contains the driver diaphragm although. If we now pay attention to the 92 Pin, dual prong CM, connector I can’t hide the fact that it is a bit ‘how you doing’/DIY. Although the lines for the connector are straight cut it doesn’t appear to have been done with a precision machine, the plastic connector looks a little messy, and there is a small lateral opening to the end of the connector as a reflex port to allow the dynamic diaphragm to ‘breathe’ and provide power. I do understand that this sort of build quality has come to be expected from small independent Hong Kong IEM manufacturers but simply, under any circumstance, the RTi1 body does not quite ring all the ‘this is premium’ ‘you’ve spent half a months salary’ bells. With this noted, I do have to add a small disclaimer that goes towards Rhapsodio’s advantage, and this is that they are working hard to drastically clear the issue up with the connector and finish, so once I have seen this revision in the flesh I will be back to amend this observation.
Rather oddly for IEMs nowadays, the RTi1 uses only a single 8mm Titanium dynamic diaphragm with Rhapsodio’s own UltraMag technology. Contrary to common belief, this single dynamic driver has outstanding properties that can rival most multiple balanced armature designs. Rated at 16Ω the RTi1’s can be adequately driven by portable sources and, may not necessarily, be better driven with the use of an external amplifier. As Titanium is a relatively inert metal that is even used inside the human body for it’s longevity, it is likely that this IEM will last many many years. As a slightly off topic observation, my experience as a producer, with titanium diaphragm capsule microphones, has always been overwhelmingly positive. I often discovered that, somehow, the properties of Titanium would always yield an exceptionally transparent signal that is transient, rich in dynamic contrast, highly flexible. Often I would use a single titanium diaphragm microphone as a ‘one mic’ solution for drum kits, which I would then bring back into the close mic mix to provide give a sense of realism that was otherwise difficult to capture. As we now progress onto the sonic capabilities of the RTi1 I can safely say that, again, my observations have translated well, after all they are essentially both transducers.
Lossless tracks varying from 44.1kHz 16bit to 192kHz 24bit, MacBook Air, Sonic Studio Amarra, Channel D Pure Music 2, Chord Electronics Hugo, Lynx Hilo, Sandisk Sansa Clip+, iPhone 5s, Heir Audio Magnus Cable, and Noble Audio Standard Cable.
Noise Isolation and Environment:
When worn the external ambient noise rejection is best described as moderate to poor for an IEM of this type and is very similar to the type of rejection you would get from a closed-back circumaural design. However, I am pleased to report that the internal sound is better isolated from persons within the external environment and would award this area of rejection at 75%. Although I do not see any huge issues arising from these results, at lower volumes a noisy external environmental can have an impact on what you hear with dynamically rich Classical genres. Other, more aggressively compressed, genres are much less prone to external artefacts from affecting the listening experience. Regardless, I would say that the RTi1’s best suit an indoor listening environment not only for their isolation performance, but also because of their exposed connectors and lateral reflex port opening.
For the remainder of this review I will focus on providing a sonic descriptive involving the use of the neutral sounding Heir Audio Magnus 1 cable ($120) over the included standard. Whilst this may sound a little unorthodox I choose to present the sonic performance of the RTi1’s fairly with a mediocre, affordable, cable instead of using the stock cable which Rhapsodio almost always expects you to upgrade. The comparison between the two cables is that with the stock cable the RTi1’s appear muted, the midrange feels a touch cluttered, and the treble frequencies are not presented with as much distinction as found when used in conjunction with the Magnus cable. Sammy has mentioned that the best upgrade cable for the RTi1’s is the Rhapsodio Nylon Series ’NS-C’ ($330), but for an extra $70 you can upgrade to the copper silver composite ’NS-H’ ($400). Other cables are compatible so long as they have a 92 pin, CM, style termination and Rhapsodio’s cables range from $175 to $2000. It is advisable that you purchase the RTi1’s with an upgraded cable, but please be aware that this will mildly change descriptive below.
Now we have come to the best part of this review. If we awarded a rating for sound quality alone there is no doubt in my mind that the RTi1’s would be awarded with a five star rating. I spend the majority of my time with the Chord Electronics Hugo and have found no other IEM that can match this pairing, it is breathtaking. Of course I have tested the RTi1’s with many other sources and, because of this, I can report that they really do need a good source to sing at their full potential. The explanation for this lies, almost always, down to the way in which the treble frequencies are presented. With such a sweet and delicately balanced treble presentation the RTi1’s just crumble with a source that isn’t up the job of providing a transparent treble frequency response or has even mild distortion. What seems to happen is that a crystalline and confused treble range impacts all the frequencies all around it to reduce the smoothness and extension so you are left wanting more, it’s almost as if someone has sucked the life and soul out of the RTi1’s and left them a little limp. Again if there is noticeable distortion in the super high frequency range this is audible thanks to the somewhat dramatic avant garde top facing frequency curve. When used with my Sandisk Sansa Clip+ the RTi1’s were hopeless so when that source was needed I found myself selecting a different IEM all together.
Before we jump head first into a sonic descriptive, I have to say that the RTi1’s seem to nail every genre remarkably well with the exception of Hard Rock, or indeed genres that have an inherently complex distorted midrange and sharp cluttered treble. This is clearly as a result of the RTi1’s U-shaped frequency response where the bass and treble take president in a style that I would commonly describe as ‘Happy EQ’. Sometimes this heavily sculpted EQ is looked down upon by purists, even by myself, for its false representation and flowering of the frequency spectrum, but I cannot deny that the RTi1’s sound confusingly good in a such a way that I haven’t experienced with another IEM, but we do have to clear something up… Rhapsodio currently market the RTi1 as being ‘Reference’ class, and yes I can sort of see where they’re coming from in terms of transparency, but realistically they are a massive pain in the bum to mix due to translation issues. So, with this now blotted, let’s really discuss the imaging and presence. Along the X-axis the RTi1’s seem to secure a somewhat positive central positioning for the bass with a superior ultra-low end extension, but at the same time the bass slightly bloats in a beautifully coherent and powerful way that pops up through the Y-axis with a roundness and a touch of air that makes you able to feel the pumping rhythm in your gut. Thankfully this presence doesn’t interrupt the mid and treble bandwidths, nor their synergy, but it easily allows a mild stereoscopic window for you to inspect the composition and texture of a tracks supporting low-end elements. The RTi1’s manage to do this in such cleverly controlled unobstructive way, that I, personally, find is preferable to a traditional flat pronounced bass image. In use I haven’t found the bass to be overly explosive, partially due to it’s mild transient attack and mild decay, yet it is definitely there and doesn’t have a hard time of following the rhythm at all, not even those super low frequencies. I have found that is a coherence across the bass bandwidth seems to work well with most genre requirements, including challenging electronic based music, and even washy ambient music seems to stand tall with beautiful definition without ever becoming too much at all, if anything the RTi1 could have a couple of dB more bass and it would still sound detailed and powerful. However, as the trebles are clearly extended further this might muddy the balance and ruin the sweet forward magic of the trebles.
As we arrive at the midrange there is a noticeable smooth dip that extends from the low-mids to the mid-mids. This dip has proven to be excellent for getting rid of any muddy frequencies in a poor recording, but it also seems to tighten the entire image. I have found that throughout the low-mid to mid-midrange the general staging appears to be rather controlled across the X axis so it doesn’t yield a particularly wide performance, however instrumentation within this bandwidth still appears present with a modest dynamic range comprising of a moderately fast attack, and medium decay. These qualities seem to be particularly good for drum mixes and, in combination, with the significant opening in the low-high range, both male and female vocals come across as extremely personal with a soft rounded body and bags of definition. Now, as we enter into the high-midrange, it is clear that there is a gradual change happening here that apparently extends into the mid-high range. This change is quite significant and totally embodies the stance of a detail monster as the staging begins to dramatically extend across the x-axis, whilst the transient attack increasingly grows in speed as, in comparison, the decay only slowly tightens to become medium-fast. Surprisingly, to the ear, this aggressive opening doesn’t seem ever become over the top or piercing primarily due to that smooth medium-fast decay and I have found that, in this area, micro-details are delicate and easily defined against bold macros thanks to the fact that they sound so open and have a ridiculous level of transparency. An example of this is with the playback of a good 24bit classical recording. Against a fortissimo background a single central vocal performance can stand tall with all the body you would expect from a performance without an accompaniment, and, again, even a choral performance under the same conditions can allow each vocalist to be heard as an individual or as a entire section, depending on how you choose to listen, but ultimately, as a section, it appears texturally rich, expansive, and all those tiny breathy details are defined in and amongst a complex soup of sound. The RTi1’s never seem to struggle in this area and they clearly relish the chance to perform above and beyond expectation in even the most difficult of circumstances… they are just are so transparent, very three dimensional, and crystal clear.
If we now extend further to the high treble frequencies, the RTi1’s don’t really become sibilant until they are pushed to higher volumes, neither is distortion ever an issue, but this is an exceptionally delicate area. Although this is an area that is significantly tapered, their airy articulate performance still remains to be crystalline and embodies a medium-wide position on the X-axis, until we get to super-high frequencies where they dramatically drop off and the positioning becomes much more central. Because of this there is little to say, but I can assure you that I have found the RTi1’s to have one of the most perfect treble balances where nothing feels lost. Everything has its place, and everything is so sweet that it is very difficult to argue with.
Whilst there are some apparent issues with the build quality, I have faith in the fact that Rhapsodio can easily revise these to subsequently create a much cleaner product. As I’ve said before, if this review was solely based on the sound quality I would, without doubt, award the RTi1 IEMs with a full five star rating. However, with all qualities considered I can proudly award Rhapsodio’s flagship single dynamic driver IEM, the RTi1, with a respectable four star rating.