Ceramic

I won’t talk too much about packaging and instead let these pictures do the talking.

 

As a physical entity, the CL1 seems to be heavily inspired by the T10/20 models just with an added removable cable and new finish. Inside, however, it is a totally new concept. This is actually a dual transducer earphone and truly a hybrid of sorts although not in the way of the overdone balanced armature and dynamic combination. RHA have given a breath of fresh of air into IEM designs by combining a more traditional dynamic for most of the frequency response but having a ceramic plate driver come in at 8kHz specifically for the high frequencies. From the breakdown graphics of the earphone it doesn’t seem to be the case of a large and small driver, instead, the CL dynamic is your usual circular cone while the ceramic driver is a similarly sized square.

The ergonomics of the previous T20 have been championed by most reviewers so it is no surprise that RHA stuck to that formula here but there have been tweaks that specifically target longevity and sound quality. The first of these tweaks was the decision to have these made out of Zirconium dioxide just like the Campfire Lyra. This means they have utilised ceramic for both the housing and driver! The reason they decided this was the best choice for the housing was due to its low resonance reducing distortion in the acoustics chamber.

The other major change was the new implantation of removable cables, a first for RHA, and it is about time. Using better materials with both the included cables than we have got in the past this will help improve the sound and with them being replaceable, you can bet your bottom dollar that these earphones will now last longer. They use an MMCX connection, my least favourite of the bunch, but they have engineered it in away that it only clicks in when orientated the right way round.

My thoughts to the aesthetics actually largely mirror Josh’s. He found the smooth curves produced by the injection moulding gorgeous and the new darker but extremely shiny look is pretty awesome as well. They fit over the ear as you may have guessed and they easily rotate into your ear and stay there with extreme comfort. Physically these are a masterpiece. Add in the awesome package (I love the case and metal tip holder) that RHA have put together with this and everything is spot on for its price range and above.

I should mention the included cables a little more as well. These are of the highest calibre, something you would expect to pay big bucks for off the boutique cable creators. The cables are thick and flexible and while they do make a touch of noise you know these are serious. The jack is encased in metal, as is the y-split which is even embossed with a signature, this is something someone is proud to have made. I still am not a huge fan of the RHA spring-like memory wire but beyond that, top efforts on these new copper and silver cables.

Sharper and Faster

This is, without a doubt, a weird one. Previously RHA has made some lovely but rather safe, consumer sounding earphones but with the CL1 they have gone for a really different sound, one that is going to divide opinions. I like that they are displaying some guts with their tuning choice but even I am left finding areas of its sound quite questionable. Your first impression of this would likely be very similar to mine and that is the unquestionable brightness that this earphone displays. When you acclimatise to that you do discover how much more complex this earphone is and the additional things it can perform but the heightened and often ringing treble could be a game changer for many. I am not here to soften blows or gloss over opinions. That being said if you are one for a more hot-headed treble and start to unravel the CL1s technicalities, you will be happy to find a very competent earphone indeed, with plenty of space, impressive speed and complex layering.

Before we tear down the individual frequencies of the CL1, I want to express my praise towards its precise and expansive soundstage. It has had me marvelling at all its aspects from it impressive width and depth all the way to how it positions and pinpoints individual instruments and vocals.

Moving away from the treble a moment and focussing in on the bass and this has been a region that has really thrown me some curveballs and surprised me at every turn. It is a composed range, one that is settled. I find the mid-bass to be a fat enough to not leave you empty but it is not as warm as the T20 and MA750 among many others. Its impressive speed and relatively shorter note decay stop it being warm or heavy and leave it hard hitting in a punchy manner. It was the sub bass however that came out time and time again to steal the show. Listening to London Grammar’s new album Truth is a Beautiful Thing was astonishing as there are some incredible, gut-wrenching low-frequency cues that left my hair on end. Such presence paired with a natural and speedy decay ends up making for a much more genuine experience than sub bass emphasised earphones that are too sluggish in the range. During music that is generally better recorded like London Grammars latest, you can find yourself lost in these earphones and contemplating these being some of the best you have ever heard.

The midrange is the start of where things are a little uneven. We start with a reserved lower midrange and things go upwards towards a sometimes sibilant upper midrange and finally make their way to that forward and in your face top end. The lower midrange is the only area of this earphone that I wold say is recessed. It is perfectly clear but by far the furthest away in soundstage this earphone projects. I also find a correlation between quantity and decay with the more the frequencies are boosted the more the notes linger. So your sax and trombones are muted in comparison to the exaggerated existence of cymbals! While there is hardly any neutrality in the midrange it still displays some incredible details and from the upper mids onwards we have powerful dynamics.

It is because of this by the time we make our way beyond 3kHz that we really get into the play ground for this earphone, where it lets loose. It is actually unlike any earphone I have heard and not your run of the mill bright, perhaps due to the integration with that ceramic plate it has kicking around from 8kHz and beyond. When things pop off in this area of the track, a great example being in Radiohead’s Paranoid Android when you get layers on layers on instruments at a high intensity they steal the show. They are vastly spread out, louder than anything else, certainly a little sharp but also addictive and alluring. I think the treble is not your usual rollercoaster journey of peaks and troughs, instead, it is pretty equally boosted and also insanely extended beyond your usual roll off from 10 to 20kHz. This makes for an extremely airy presentation and an extra focus on notes. I think from a non-bias stand point the treble is overdone. They need to take it down a few decibels, maybe tame it even more around certain frequencies and try and smooth its sharpness. While that would make it a much more broadly appreciated product, I think it would also make it much more mundane and I think this is an earphone all about being unique and taking risks. It is built for amplifiers, it has a hot treble and it is for a specific individual. I think we are entering a way too safe marketplace and it is nice to see a company show some balls and go out on a whim. It doesn’t 100% pay off to me personally, sometimes I am left wincing but other times I could swear RHA have made me believe in magic.

 

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Sonny Trigg
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