Affordable. Handsome design with quality materials and a decent array of included accessories. Clear mic intelligibility.
Remote control has single button. Mids are scooped out a bit.
- Bottom Line
The $30 RHA MA390 Universal earphones outperform more expensive options in both design and audio performance.
RHA made its name with affordable, good-looking earphones that sound far better than you might expect for the price. After releasing models in recent years that sounded great but were also relatively expensive, the RHA MA390 Universal earphones feel like a return to the company's roots, with a stylish design, a solid array of accessories, and a wallet-friendly $29.95 price. It's easy to expect that RHA cut corners on audio performance, but the sound quality is excellent, with full-bodied bass that doesn't distort, and crisp, detailed high frequency response. That earns the MA390 our Editors' Choice for affordable earphones.
The MA390 Universal's black and silver design includes details we often see in more expensive pairs, from aluminum earpieces to cloth-lined cabling. The lightweight earpieces are emblazoned with the RHA logo and fit securely and comfortably in the ear, sealing off the canal. Internally, dynamic drivers deliver a frequency range RHA claims to be roughly 16Hz to 22kHz.
There's an inline remote control along the right earpiece's cable, at roughly chin level. It's of the single-button variety, which means you won't be able to adjust volume levels with it, but it will control playback, call management, and track navigation (two taps for forward, three for backward).
The inline mic offers excellent intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 6s, we could not only understand every word we recorded clearly, but it was a high-quality recording. The mic picks up a decent amount of low frequency content, and there were no obvious audio artifacts mucking things up.
The earphones ship with more accessories than most budget pairs. You get a padded drawstring pouch, a shirt clip, and three pairs of silicone eartips. From the use of quality materials to the accessories, RHA has made the MA390 Universal look and feel like a product that costs at least twice as much.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife's "Silent Shout," the earphones deliver a powerful low frequency response that will appeal to bass lovers. At top, unwise listening levels, the bass never distorts on this challenging track—an impressive feat for $30 earphones. At more reasonable listening levels, the sub-bass still packs quite a punch and is balanced out by a solid high-mid and high frequency presence.
Bill Callahan's "Drover," a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the overall sound signature. The drums on this track can sound overly thunderous on bass-forward in-ears that push the lows too much, but here we get a round, full, rich bass response that isn't over the top. The high frequency response is also clear, crisp, and detailed—Callahan's vocals and the attack of the guitar strums stand out and balance things so that the lows don't overpower the mix. This is undeniably a scooped, sculpted sound, with strong lows and highs, and less low-midrange presence. But for $30, it's impressive.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," the kick drum loop gets an ideal amount of high-mid presence, allowing its attack to retain its sharp edge and slice through the layers of the mix. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with gusto. We also hear plenty of the vinyl crackle that is usually relegated to background status—this tells us the high-mids and highs are sculpted and boosted quite a bit, yet the vocals somehow avoid sounding overly sibilant despite some added brightness.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary, sound excellent through the MA390 Universal. The lower register instrumentation has a full-bodied, rich presence in the mix without sounding overly boosted or unnatural, and the higher register brass, strings, and vocals retain their prominent place in the mix, with excellent high frequency detail and clarity.
We've tested other standout pairs in this price range over the years, including the JLab Fit 2.0 and the Coloud No. 4. But the RHA MA390 Universal earphones don't just sound good for $30, they easily outmatch pairs we've tested that cost twice as much. Audiophiles have very few choices in the budget-friendly realm, and I won't pretend that you're getting high fidelity, critical listening audio performance here, but there's lovely bass depth and detailed highs.
If you can spend a little more money, the Klipsch Reference X6i and the 1More Triple-Driver In-Ear Headphones offer excellent audio performance that is an upgrade over the MA390. But for $30, there is absolutely nothing to complain about here. If you're wondering what pair of $30 wired in-ears you should get and your top priority is audio performance, your search should begin and end with the handsomely designed RHA MA390 Universal.
Other Reid Heath Limited (RHA Audio) Headphones
By Tim Gideon Contributing Editor, Audio
Contributing Editor Tim Gideon has been writing for PCMag since 2006. He specializes in reviewing audio products, and is obsessed with headphones, speakers, and recording gear. More »
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