Rock-it Sounds is another of the upstart headphone manufacturers I hadn’t heard of until a couple months ago but they’re quickly making a name for themselves, doing the regularly scheduled rounds at Head-Fi and other audio forums. I became interested in the R-50 when I saw some reviews which mentioned it contained the Knowles TWFK, a dual balanced armature setup that I’d heard quite a lot about but never actually heard. So, when the opportunity came up to give them a listen, I jumped at the chance.
Read on for my thoughts on the Rock-It Sounds R-50.
Packaging and Accessories
The R-50 is packaged in a nice plastic and cardboard box and comes with a clamshell carrying case, three sets of silicone eartips and an airplane adapter.
Design and Build Quality
The R-50 features tiny black plastic housings wrapped in a rubbery gray sheath. The cable features about 2 inches or so of memory wire extending up from the housing and running along the black braided cable. The cable itself is well relieved at both ends and at the y splitter and reminds me a lot of the cable on the MEElectronics A151 in a good way. The cable terminates in a gold-plated 3.5mm jack.
Comfort and Isolation
The R-50’s small size works well in its favor here as it is very comfortable. Well, for the most part. I’ve never really been a fan of memory wires and this one in particular is rather annoying.
Isolation is above average for a balanced armature IEM.
Designed around the Knowles TWFK dual balanced armature driver, the R-50 is typical of balanced armature IEMs in that it specializes in clarity, accuracy and detail retrieval. They are mostly neutral across the frequency scale with slightly emphasized treble. The low end response is linear and even in that it is lean and taut and well extended into all but the deepest sub bass regions. Unlike dynamic driver based IEMs, you’re not going to find a lot of sub bass rumble, instead, its bass attack and decay are quick, tight and refined.
The midrange is slightly forward in presentation and wonderfully detailed and transparent. It’s a bit smoother than I expected, based on what I’ve read of the TWFK but its ability to resolve finer details is pretty much exactly what I expected, which is to say they’re amazing. The tone errs very slightly to the side of warmth but doesn’t gloss over detail in the slightest.
Treble performance is likely to be a point of contention for many users, as it was for me. As I’ve said more times than I can count, I’m sensitive to prominent or “hot” treble and sibilance of any kind and prominent treble is one of the R-50’s strong suits. It’s detailed, sparkly and very well extended but its prominence can be off-putting. Personally, I preferred to listen to them with the treble EQed down a few dB but that’s just me. For treble fans, the R-50 is unlikely to disappoint.
The danger of using the R-50 is the possibility that they’ll make you hate your music collection. It’s no small statement to say that these are the most revealing and transparent IEMs in my collection but there it is. These will take whatever is funneled through them and dissect it in real time and piece it back together before it reaches your ears. It’s a weird phenomenon of deconstruction but such is the experience of listening to the R-50. I can’t verify this for myself but some people have said these are actually a slightly smoother variant of the TWFK based IEM, which just makes me wonder…how much sharper can this get?
It’s a polarizing sound signature that makes these well suited for monitor duty. These will highlight poor mastering, compression artifacts, sibilance and pretty much any flaw you can think of. Don’t bother listening to low bitrate MP3s with these. You’ll hate them. Trust me, I tried. But if you have a good amount of high-bitrate or better yet, lossless files, the R-50 will make them sound great. Well, as long as you have a good source to feed them.
Nonetheless, I can’t say I don’t enjoy the R-50. It has a sound signature that’s in your face but not needlessly obnoxious. It does tend to exacerbate sibilance, particularly in female vocals at times but other than that, they’re still quite enjoyable to listen to due to their incredibly high level of detail and the spacious and clear presentation.
I think the most important thing to consider is that you need to allow your brain time to “burn in” to these earphones. I didn’t really love them when I listened to them for the first time but over time, I grew to appreciate their intricacies.
Comparison with the Triple.Fi 10
Compared to my other high end balanced armature based earphone, the Triple.Fi 10, these are much more up front about their presentation of sound in terms of detail while the TF10 is smoother and more laid back. That’s not to say the TF10 lags behind the R-50 in terms of detail retrieval by a significant margin, as it’s not that clear cut. Rather, the two IEMs deliver the detail in a different manner.
The R-50 specializes in detail retrieval, tonal accuracy, transparency and neutrality while the TF10 serves up emphasized bass and treble, while also sounding laid back about the midrange and presents detail, but makes you look for it. It’s all there, but it would rather you get lost in the music rather than smacking you with every little thing like the R-50 does.
At $120, the Rock-It Sounds R-50 is a steal. They’re well built (memory wire aside) and their sound quality is among the best I’ve heard, delivering a remarkably clean and refined sound. It’s on the same level as my two benchmark IEMs, the TF10, RE-262 while costing less than both of those (well, unless you were one of the lucky ones to get the TF10 for less than $100 a couple years back like I did). To get better sound quality than these, you’ll probably be entering into custom territory, which is another issue entirely.
But if you’re looking for a mostly neutral IEM with excellent clarity and detail and can tolerate the potential sibilance issues, the Rock-It Sounds R-50 is one hell of a good choice, especially when you take the price into consideration. They’re certainly near the top of the universal fit IEM heap.