Though they’ve been rapidly gathering a strong cult following in their home country, Soft Ears isn’t a name I heard much in international audio discussions until very recently. This is surprising given that the company is the premium branch of the very highly regarded Moondrop (think Lexus to Toyota). They have the same design team though with different goals. Though they discard Moondrop’s VSDF target, Soft Ears still target a neutral, reference-orientated sound throughout their line-up; the RSV and RS10 adhering closest to this formula. The RSV represents the company’s cheapest offering and a downscaled version of their flagship reference monitor with half the driver count. This has enabled a lower price in addition to greater efficiency for use with less capable sources. The RSV implements the same technologies as their higher models, including 3D printed acoustics and a comprehensive 6-component crossover circuit. Both electronically and acoustically, Soft Ears have achieved almost linear phase, maximising detail retrieval and imaging acuity. With the same foundation of quality engineering, the RSV is the value pick in Soft Ear’s catalogue but more than that, a highly competitive option when taken on its own.
The RSV retails for $729.99 USD. You can read all about it and treat yourself to a set on Soft Ears.
As a huge car fanatic, the RSV invoked some primal instinct in me. From the sleek, smooth yet symmetrical styling to the gold-speckled satin-fibre faceplates adorned with sharp logo design, the RSV advertises its sporty, high-performance nature. I am a huge fan of the combination of texture and simple yet flawlessly finished 3D-printed piano black that oozes quality even in the absence of metal and its associated density in the hand. The 2-pin removable cable is a little springy but feels very sturdy and is supple enough to coil without issue. Well-shaped pre-moulded ear guides contribute to a comfortable, stable fit and the connectors complete the aesthetic with their clean matte black finish.
This is a medium-sized earphone and its fit will be reminiscent to anyone familiar with faux-custom style monitors. It sits comfortably in the outer ear and its rounded design is devoid of features that may cause hotspot formation over time. For my ears, they were comfortable for hours on end. Due to its fully sealed design and well-shaped body, the RSV is very stable and forms a great seal with a deeper fit depth. Isolation is strong in turn, great for commute and even travel. This also means the earphone doesn’t require huge bass emphasis to sound great in louder listening environments.
The fear when reviewing an earphone like this is a lack of ability to find flaws yet, similarly, a lack in inspiring qualities. Much like white rice, a neutral sound goes with just about anything (being defined almost entirely by its versatility), yet is only just palatable on its own. Thankfully, the RSV is not such a creation.
I will also note that, when viewing the measurements, parallels can’t help but be drawn between the RSV and the Blessing 2. While I will reserve my thoughts on comparison and value here for the full review, preliminary impressions do reinforce the price jump to my ears. The Blessing 2 indeed impresses tonally with shortcomings that can only be described as slightly intense, a touch bright – i.e. very minor niggles overall. The RSV takes this one step further being noticeably more even-handed yet.
The first thing that struck me about the RSV was its meaty and deeply extending bass that is not only atypical for many BA monitors, but was also unexpected to me given its reference focus. Though bass isn’t huge, it isn’t the least bit light-footed as many neutral-target earphones are. The RSV delivers a good amount of wallop and impressive depth and rumble due to a moderate sub-bass focus. Above, the sound is clean and superbly linear all the way through. The touch of colouration here aids musical enjoyment without colouring tonality even a smidge.
The result is a sound of remarkable balance and transparency in addition to laudable timbral accuracy throughout – perhaps, some points can be docked for its slightly bolder bass note presentation if that is not to your style. The technical performance is also a good performer for the price. It isn’t class-leading and definitely lacks the top-octave sparkle of something like the Cayin Fantasy. Though in the same vein, the tuning doesn’t draw focus here, being clean to the extreme.
And this is the RSV’s raison d’etre, a monitor that is simultaneously ultra-linear and balanced yet also muscular and dynamic in its note delivery. In so doing, it manages to be both engaging and versatile with a level of refinement not many monitor glimpse. The soundstage too showcases good dimensions if not overt spaciousness and air. It scales according to the source and track, though always upholds a sharp, coherent and organised image. While it doesn’t have a defining feature, the soundstage is well-rounded and faithful, separation always performs on a good level giving small details room to breathe.
Early verdict –
While I can enjoy the masterful colouration of some competitors, their build quality and outstanding features, the RSV simply feels like the most complete package that would be difficult not to justify if within your budget. Of course, this means your preference must be for a more balanced sound though I can see this appealing to those weary of dead-neutral Ety-style tunings too with its enhanced sub-bass and dynamics. This is a monitor that sacrifices little engagement in that pursuit of versatility, being able to stand out with its own character. Of course, being the cheapest model in Soft Ear’s line-up should not detract from the fact that this is not a cheap earphone. Here, I would argue that you get what you pay for. Large sums require large expectations and the RSV meets or exceeds every one. This is a model I am looking forward to becoming much more acquainted with over the next weeks.
Stay tuned for the full review!