As the parent company of Soft Ears and with a similar approach to sound tuning, I think this is one of the most important comparisons for potential buyers. While I unfortunately don’t have access to the S8 at the time of writing, I have the Blessing 2 and Variations on hand. All impress with strong build quality, the RSV has a different shape with the B2 and Variations being identical. I do know that some struggle with the height of the Blessing and Variations shell, the RSV is more squat, with a deeper housing instead. In turn, it may be a better option for those with smaller ears. Being sealed, it also offers better passive noise isolation and the cable is the sturdiest of the bunch too.
Sonically, all are clearly derived from the same VDSF reference. The Variations is the bassiest and smoothest, the Blessing 2 is the brightest and the RSV lies in between. While the Blessing and Variations are both hybrids, the RSV offers almost as much extension as the Variations and has noticeably more slam than the Blessing 2 as well. Its BA woofers are faster and more controlled. While I do like the tuning on all, the hybrid models could do with a bit more control to my ears. The RSV is immediately the most articulate and defined whilst being almost as dynamics as the Variations and more so than the Blessing 2.
The RSV also has the most refined midrange, having a little less upper-mid shout than the B2 and a slightly smoother treble as well. The Variations takes this one step further with an even smoother treble and more prominent bass, but a similarly tuned midrange altogether. In turn, the Blessing 2 sounds a little more intense than the other two but upholds a natural tone and voicing in addition to great clarity. The Variations sounds more forgiving but also more coloured lying clearly on the smooth side and assuming a slight U-shaped character. The RSV has a slightly smoother articulation than the B2 and a little more gusto from its bass. The small tonal refinements make it the most balanced and linear sounding here, in addition to being the most technically competent.
This trend continues to the treble. The B2 is well-detailed but has minimal upper-treble extension. It has a bit of brittleness in its lower-treble due to a small peak. The RSV is a bit more even but also has a hint of crunch, it isn’t as sharp as the B2 but brighter than the Variations. However, it is the most detailed of the bunch including the EST-touting Variations. The Variations does separate a little better though at the cost of note definition. While it still isn’t a hugely energetic and sparkly earphone, the RSV has the most headroom and micro-detail at the very top too. The Variations glimpses its performance at times but will appeal most for its highly linear tonality and its delicate note presentation which is easier on the ear than the other two.
Soundstaging is another area where the RSV offers a jump over the Moondrop models. In particular, it has the most air and largest dimensions, though the Variations is closer to the RSV here than the B2 which is notably more intimate. The RSV also has the sharpest imaging and the best separation. The Variations is more coherent, and its EST tweeters provide a slightly cleaner background though none of these earphones suffer from any glare. Though the Variations gets close here, the RSV’s more revealing tuning in the treble especially means its sharper imaging is showcased more, the Variations is a bit floatier and slightly more holographic but less precise.
Soft Ears RS10 Comparison
But how then, does the Variations stand up to the flagship RS10? This model costs almost 3x as much at $2099 and doubles the driver count. In addition, it implements a passive driver benefitting wearing comfort and bass response. The RS10 is only slightly larger, being about 1mm wider with more squared off edges. Its clear shell is no less eye-catching than the carbon-fibre and gold RSV, showcasing its more sophisticated acoustic design. The RS10 cable feels daintier but wearing comfort is slightly improved, especially over time due to reduced pressure – I will discuss this more in my dedicated RS10 review. Of course, this cannot be held against the RSV as this phenomenon applies to almost every other sealed in-ear. The RS10 is noticeably harder to drive so consider allocating additional budget to your source before purchase.
The presentations once again showcase more similarities than differences but the jump in resolving power and treble extension is instantly apparent. The RS10’s reference-nature does show its colours (or lack thereof) here in the form of a slightly smaller bass shelf and slightly more prominent upper-midrange counterbalanced by a smoother lower-treble. In turn, it comes across as just slightly brighter tilting with a faint hint of strain on female vocal reproduction where the RSV is a bit smoother and denser. Despite this, I didn’t find the RS10 to be more intense than the RSV. This is because is has more soundstage depth so it doesn’t sound as upfront as the RSV despite its signature suggesting it so. Otherwise, the midrange presentation is quite similar. Though both are neutral, the RS10 is more resolving with better separation. This comes down to its slightly higher clarity but also its cleaner and more defined note presentation.
BA bass timbre can get weird when companies try to draw out longer decay and better extension from them. While the RSV is immensely satisfying in its sub-bass slam and has more bass presence than the RS10, I did notice a more plastic timbre. In particular, its impact is slightly more one-dimensional, you get a well-weighted thump but the RS10 extends more naturally. It has a tighter impact and unearths greater texture and definition in the sub-bass almost like a dynamic driver earphone. Still, neither will be mistaken for such, but the RS10 exemplifies the strengths of BA-drivers with its lightning fast decay permitting huge definition and an aggressive fine texture reproduction throughout. The RSV is a smoother performer with more power but less nuance.
Highs are more controlled and linear on the RS10, with a bit more lower-treble bite on the RSV. While both pursue a very similar style of presentation, the RSV has a slightly crisper and more energetic foreground detail presentation, with the RS10 being a little more refined with more accurate note body and more texture. It has a cleaner transient response, with slightly stronger fine detail retrieval but the RSV does get impressively close here. Where the RS10 pulls ahead is above the middle-treble, where it showcases much better extension, delivering greater air and headroom set to an equally clean background. The RSV has a darker background but this is mostly because it rolls off sooner, meaning this comes at the cost of micro-detail retrieval. In turn, it sounds immediately less layered and expansive.
Indeed, the RS10 has a noticeably larger stage, with more width and a lot more depth especially. It has much better layering throughout and more holographic imaging with its strong micro-detail retrieval. The RS10 separates better with its more linear sound though the RSV is slightly more coherent, with a more crowd-pleasing tuning that is equally versatile if not quite as refined. Of course, we are heavily within the realm of diminishing returns here and the tuning isn’t starkly different, but the jump in technical performance is immediately apparent; the RS10 has a lot more going for it on a micro-scale especially. Though the tuning is likely more appealing for the general consumer on the RSV, the less upfront, more tactile style of presentation on the RS10 means it doesn’t showcase any weaknesses to the RSV because of this whilst representing a large technical stride and small tonal refinement.
GAudio Nair (759 CHF): The Nair is a more old-school approach to neutral tuning, sporting a more vanilla DF neutral tuning with only a hint of mid-bass warmth. The Nair has immediately less bass and more typical BA sub-bass roll off. The RSV is much more powerful with more slam and rumble, the Nair almost missing sub-bass entirely. The Nair has slightly better separation and is arguably more linear in the lows but lacks the same dynamics and extension of the RSV so misses the same detail retrieval. The midrange is sligthly more upfront on the Nair counterbalanced by greater body and lower contrast. It has a very slightly more accurate timbre with a bit more body, accurate vocal size and articulation, though at the cost of note definition.
The RSV is slightly dryer down low but has a bit more clarity and separation in addition to noticeably higher note definition. The Nair has a slightly more even lower-treble and its treble is slightly more prominent. Despite this, the RSV has slightly higher fine detail retrieval here with a slightly sharper transient response. The Nair doesn’t have much extension with minimal upper-treble sparkle and limited background detail. The RSV has noticeably greater headroom and background detail retrieval. This is more evident when it comes to soundstaging where the RSV is much more spacious, the Nair being quite intimate. While both have sharp imaging, the advantage of the RSV’s proportions gives it a much more immersive presentation.
Cayin Fantasy ($799): The Fantasy offers a very technically proficient sound for the price, but a bright signature that will not appeal to all. I used a layer of alcohol swab over the nozzle to damp the 6k peak for review and comparison but, even then, the Fantasy retains a brighter character than the more balanced RSV. Bass extension is slightly better on the Fantasy, it has a mild mid-bass bump but not too much warmth and fullness as it is laid-back relative to the top-end. The RSV has more bass presence and its sub-bass focus gives it a bolder, more powerful sound. The Fantasy is almost as fast and has more texture, its sub-bass is a bit more defined and natural. The RSV is still a bit faster and more articulate in the mid-bass.
The midrange is brighter and thinner on the Fantasy. The voicing is relatively natural but it is quite upper-mid and treble forward meaning it is revealing, thin and clarity focused. The RSV is more natural and coherent. It has less separation but also sounds less strained and intense. The RSV is more accurate in timbre and tone. Treble tells a similar story. The Fantasy is sharper and more forward in the lower-treble. It has a much more aggressive detail presentation but also is a little more detailed. The Fantasy also has slightly better extension with more sparkle and micro-detail. This comes at the cost of balance and timbre, being thinner and more brittle. The Fantasy has more air and a bit more depth while the RSV has a wider stage with more accurate imaging.
NXEars Opera ($799): An 8-BA earphone with phase-coherent design and, copper mass-damped woofers and pressure-relief for reduced fatigue. The focus of the Opera is its time-response but it has an unorthodox frequency response, so I will comment in granular breakdown. The RSV has slightly more bass, much better sub-bass extension and more power. The Opera has an inverse tuning with increasing emphasis into the upper-bass. In turn, it is warmer with a fuller note structure. However, as it Opera is faster in attack and decay, it doesn’t sound too tubby and is a bit more articulate. The RSV has a more normal timbre and is noticeably more dynamic. The Opera has a much richer and more coherent midrange. It has greater warmth and body in addition to being slightly more laid-back. The RSV is much clearer and cleaner.
It has a more accurate timbre albeit both are naturally voiced. The RSV has higher note definition and is more nuanced while the Opera sounds more organic with more atmosphere. The RSV has a more linear treble, the Opera has a nadir followed by a 6k peak. The Opera is, in turn, crisper and more aggressive. It has a similarly clean transient response, delivering a touch more foreground detail albeit at the cost of a thinner body and greater brittleness. The Opera has a bit more extension and background details are brought more to the fore. The RSV has a much cleaner background by comparison. The RSV has a larger soundstage in all axis, especially depth. However, the Opera does have more holographic imaging.
Oriveti O800 ($799): An 8-BA competitor from Oriveti with a smooth and coherent sound. Both are balanced overall, the O800 provides a bit more vocal focus but has a more powerful and robust midrange voicing. The RSV has a leg up on sub-bass extension and power, providing more rumble and slam. The O800 has similar bass presence but more focus in the mid-bass instead; it has a bit more texture and warmth but is less dynamic in return. Both sport a natural midrange voicing but if you like a spotlight on vocals, the O800 provides more focus here. It has a bit more warmth and body in addition to a smoother articulation so it doesn’t sound strained or intense in so doing.
Excellent clarity and openness are retained through a slightly more prominent upper midrange. The O800 is more coherent and no less defined but its separation is slightly lower. The RSV is a bit more balanced; its vocals aren’t as forward but also aren’t as empowered. It has a slightly cleaner tone and higher contrast and is also a bit more articulate. The lower treble is slightly more prominent and linear on the RSV. The O800 has an equally clean transient response but biases smoothness over fine detail retrieval. It has similar headroom and extension, perhaps even a lick more micro-detail at the very top. Both also sport clean, dark backgrounds. Both also offer a large soundstage, the O800 has more depth that said, while the RSV has slightly sharper imaging.
Nostalgia Audio Benbulbin ($899): A 5-driver hybrid with a very similar overall character and style of tuning. The Benbulbin has better sub-bass extension and more definition at the very bottom. Its bass is more textured but not quite as separated and articulate in the mid-bass as the faster BA-touting RSV. The Benbulbin is more dynamic while the RSV is slightly more composed and detailed on complex passages. The midrange is a bit more refined on the RSV, the Benbulbin is slightly thinner and has a bit more 4k presence, but also has less pinna gain. In turn, vocal positioning is similar between the two, arguably a touch more laid-back on the Benbulbin.
However, it does have a slightly brighter tilt, with greater clarity and a more revealing character. The RSV has higher coherence and sounds a bit more refined. The RSV has a slightly more prominent but also more even treble. The Benbulbin has a more isolated lower-treble peak, albeit a small one. This makes it sound a little crisper without making its midrange overly sharp. However, in turn, treble instrumentation on the RSV sounds more even and natural. The Benbulbin has a darker background while the RSV offers a little more extension and background detail. Both offer similar soundstage dimensions and sharp imaging. The Benbulbin would be a good alternative for those that enjoy DD bass.
Early verdict –
After spending an extended period with Soft Ears’ line-up, I can admire that all service a particular user. The RS10 has very real prosumer-orientated features and tuning, the Cerberus provides a more musical rendition and the RSV offers a hyper-palatable reference-style sound and higher efficiency suitable for audio enthusiasts. Within its price class, I can enjoy the masterful colouration of some competitors, their hardier metal shells and unique features. However, the RSV simply feels like such a complete package that is difficult not to recommend.
Of course, this means your preference must be for a cleaner style of sound tuning and here, I can see it appealing to both fans of the a dead-neutral DF tuning and those wanting a bit more engagement due to the added sub-bass power and contrast. This enables the monitor to sacrifice minimal engagement whilst exemplifying versatility and it does help with ease of driveability too. Being the cheapest model in Soft Ear’s line-up does not detract from the fact that this is not a cheap earphone and here, I would argue that the versatility on offer means the product is greater than the sum of its parts.
Where lower-end earphones may achieve almost as much refinement in the tonal department, none have the technical competency of the RSV. In the same vein, while its resolving power is a step down from stars in the 4-digit price range (and this is apparent in comparison to the RS10), it does have the same traits, just scaled back to a lesser degree. This means the RSV is a better long-term investment than cheaper models that lack these traits entirely. The RSV is one of the most well-rounded and instantly likeable earphones I’ve tested, representing an excellent value proposition even at its elevated price tag.
The RSV can be purchased from Soft Ears for $729 USD at the time of review. I am not affiliated with Soft Ears and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.
Track List –
AKMU – SAILING
Billy Joel – The Stranger
Bob Seger – Night Moves
Cream – Wheels of Fire
Crush – OHIO
Daryl Hall & John Oates – Voices
Dire Straits – Communique
Dirty Loops – Next To You
Eagles – Hotel California
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
H.E.R – I Used To Know Her
Joji – Sanctuary
Kanye West – Ye
Radiohead – OK Computer
TALA – ain’t leavin` without you
The Beatles – Abbey Road
The weeknd – After Hours