Disclaimers: Alclair supplied the RSM for the purposes of this review. I paid shipping, custom tariffs, and all transportation costs, but not for the earphones themselves. The Alclair RSM carries four drivers per side and goes for 649$ USD.
After reviewing the Vision Ears VE6, the Noble Audio K10, the Lear BDM4,2, even the FitEar MH335, reviewing the RSM has been somewhat of a holiday. A simpler Nathan might say that it’s a more basic earphone. It is not. He might also say that because Alclair aren’t as attention grabbing, reviewing the RSM amid a lower tide, is easier. He would be wrong.
Yes, the RSM’s guts are simpler than the K10, and certainly than the BDM4,2. And yes, it is a less flashy earphone. It comes in a black Penguin box and is tethered to a Westone-style grey coaxial cable. But precisely for those reasons is the RSM a welcome relief. It’s a known element.
Not only do I understand how its cable responds to heavy use, to sweat, to body oils, but I know how fast I’ll have to drive the Suzuki Alto in order to break the Penguin box head on. Finally, a three-way, four driver earphone is, at least for me, the sweet spot.
While rocking a 2008 aesthetic like it was 1999, Alclair’s website is easy to navigate. The photographs it displays are realistic, illustrational examples of what comes in their boxes. It details products from custom musicians earplugs, to universal earphones, custom earphones, not to mention apparel. I get the feeling that Alclair are working very hard on expanding an interesting line of earphones for pretty much anyone out there.
Here’s a bit I’m giddy about: contrary to the sort of careless snapshots with which many manufacturers make do, Alclair’s advertising photos (not mine) aren’t bad. Honestly, they’re okay. The professional in me is glad.
What I like even better is Alclair’s simple trade marque. It makes use of light-hearted typography, and throws in amount the right amount bit of blue. And it’s got no unintelligible portions. It part-HAL9000-part-70’s-nightclub-part-Austin-Powers is refreshingly playful, not to mention thoughtful.
You’ve both seen and heard it before. I’m pretty sure Westone used it on the ES line till about 2011. Its grey, robust, thick-footed, and eminently replaceable length is a modern classic. The earphone’s flush coaxial jacks mean that yes, the pins can get stressed out, but the earphone body will not. If worse met worst, at least it won’t cost an arm, or a leg to replace. Not that I expect it to. I’ve owned dozens of these things. And back when Sleek Audio’s rotatable coaxial cable sucked me in, I even chastised it. I was wrong to despair. This type of cable, which a lot of manufacturers smartly make use of, is great. And this iteration of it is my favorite.
What is not is its nasty short memory wire, which is far less nimble other cables. Those other cables are both more comfortable for glasses wearers and for those blessed with good eyes. Less comfy still is the thing seen on the Nuforce Primo 8.
Alclair got two things very right with the RSM. First, their sound tubes are wide and easy to clean. The second is that, while not FitEar clean, the shells themselves stand in good company: slightly above Lear, and a good step below standards set by Noble and Vision Ears. For their asking price, they hold up well.
The RSM’s guts sit glued to the hollow acrylic shells, and each driver comes wrapped in a synthetic shroud. The sound tubes bore straight through the acrylic, and are turtle-necked in individual silicon tubes. The high-frequency tube terminates like a freshly-cut leek about 1mm from the bore. The bass/mid tube goes almost all the way out, to the edge of the acrylic shell. Finish quality is a hodgepodge. No fingerprints, and very little dust. But the ear canal portions are finished asymmetrically. They’re not at all sloppy, but you can definitely see the hand of a person, not a machine, in their construction. I hope they can clean up the canal portion a bit more.
And what do you think about that Japanese mural? I live in Tokyo. While I can’t see the sea, nor can I surf, the thought counts for something. On one side, there’s this scintillating moon thing going on; on the other, the ohm image logo. How clever is that?
Print quality rates ‘meh’ high, putting it above Lear’s hack job, and far above FitEar’s dearth of customization. From a distance, it is contrasty enough, impacting upon the eye. However, they are far from stunning. The blue looks like a pretty decent color photocopy from the first office that supplied your first paycheck.
You could do a lot worse, but if high-quality printing is absolutely necessary to your designs, you may need to find a park, with a curb, for your enthusiasm.
The RSM’s footprint isn’t big. But measured from the concha, it juts out of the ear farther than does the FitEar MH335, or the Noble K10. The Vision Ears VE6, which fits wide, feels larger than it is. And the same thing is true here. Gotta wear a toque in the winter? The RSM does better with woolen driver’s caps. It is best used in summer, or in summery areas like Tokyo, which never really drop below 3 degrees centigrade. In Canada, I’d have to choose: freeze the ears, or miss Broken Social Scene whilst ignoring the alone-dancer on between Queen and King on the Yonge line. Motorcycle riders likely won’t find room under their helmets for the RSM.
Apart from that, all else is par for the course: great isolation, fit, and a high-degree of comfort. The RSM rids you of the most annoying bits of your environment and leaves you with your music.
Sound impressions after the jump:
The sound signature seems to describe my preferences pretty well. I’m piqued.
Do you suppose my budget is better spent on the RSM and a decent portable hi-fi player? Or on something like the Noble K10 with my smartphone as the source?
If you like the sound signature that I appear to have written about, I’d not suggest going with the K10. They are completely different. 100% turnabout. The K10 is all about a wide midrange, and is almost superintendently smooth. If smooth and micro contrast within the mids is your thing, K10. If not, look elsewhere.
My thing with the hifi portable is this: get the best that you can afford, but don’t fall for the marketing or the audiophile talk. The AP100 is an amazing player and rings in at 300$. But even a modern iPod nano is incredibly good. The differences between it, and another, higher fier player for earphones is probably nil.
I am 100% certain that you can get 95% of the performance of an AK240 from an iPod shuffle if you are using RSM or K10. The last 5% of performance? I doubt anyone in the world could tell that difference. Most of the difference lies in sound character, which I can’t comment on as it is very personal.
Be smart with your money. An earphone will last much longer and provide much, much, much more bang for the buck.
An AK240 is great. But no gapless, bad battery, etc. A simple but good player provides freaking more than you’ll know. Only years later, after being tricked time and time again will you look back and say: now I get it.
Personally, I’m a converted nano guy.
Do you think the RSM is on the same level as other TOTL CIEMs?
Speaking of 3D presentation, which CIEM do you think is the best?
3D is a hard one to nab, but I think the Noble K10 is the most 3D I’ve heard- but mostly within the mid range. For width, the VE6 is king.
The RSM is a perfect translation of the GRADO GR10 to a multi-driver setup. If you like that sound (and I love it), there is no better rendition among customs. At least, of the ones I’ve heard (which admittedly, is a lot).
If that is the criterion, then yes, it stands very well. It is very well priced. I’d not say it is any better or worse than other TOTL customs, but if a certain sound is your thing, then it is the ONLY one I would suggest.
If you want sweeter midrange, K10. If you want super duper wide and contrasty, VE6. If you want speed and relative contrast, MH335. If you love the GR10 but want a custom and don’t want to break the bank, RSM is freaking killer.
I love it.
I am in search of CIEMs and let myself believe for a while that either the Alclair reference or the RSM would suit my taste. But unfortunately when reading your review, and considering my preference for detailed and complex sound, I am not so sure about the Alclairs anymore.
What do you think?
The RSM is a detail-sounding earphone, but not overly so in the midrange. If you want itty bitty midrange details, there are other, better-suited options. This one is all about coherent, smooth, effortless transitions from lows to mids and mids to highs. There is no transitional slide or mud anywhere. Bass is strong, highs are balanced with bass, and mids, while slightly flatter than either, are well-defined. Again: like a bass-stronger GR10.
I have no idea at all what you mean by ‘detailed and complex’ but the RSM is up to anything I throw at it, though isn’t as good for trance as some other earphones. It is atmosphere-rich and lovely.
I meant that I like to hear very tiny variations in sound as well as complex compositions, in which I would like to be able to tell different sounds and sources apart (Burial, Phutureprimitive or Infected Mushroom are good examples).
Of those you’ve tested or heard of, which stick the most to the definition of detailed, reference IEMs?
Most good IEMs have the detail to resolve IM’s music/sonic details, but the more warmth/bass you demand, the more the details fade into the background.
I have never heard of Burial, Phutureprimitive or Infected Mushroom before. The music sounds righteous out of the RSMs for me. I love these IEMs. Thank you for offering up the new listening material.
It’s hard not to consider what 2x, or even 3x, the price of the RSM will get you. I have had other customs but not from Noble or from manufacturers outside North America. My roaming mind has led me to a question for you Nathan. You are on an island with a fully-load AK240, what custom in-ear do you hope you have on you?
On an island with a fully-loaded AK240. Wouldn’t matter: I’d be dead within four days to a week, and if I had an AK240, my battery would last about 10 hours tops. At that point, I’d even prefer a Cowon D2 or AMP3 Pro 2 or something with great battery life but poorer quality sound.
But back to your most serious question: I’d want something light that wouldn’t snaggle me. I’d want a Grado GR10.
Haha, I forgot to mention wireless charging on the “magical” island.
I need to give the GR10 a listen sometime. Thank you for your reply!
RSM vs JH5 vs 1964 Qi?
I have neither of those, sorry.
Hi Nathan, do you mean that the size of the RSM is fairly big compared to other ciem? I thought the k10 is already big. Any size comparisons or in ear photos? Thankyou!
Hello, sorry for being late. The RSM really, really is a coherent mid-wide, foot-tapping earphone the likes of which isn’t really heard outside of the GR10. It’s a custom GR10. That is awesome.
AS you know, the FI-BASS isn’t a custom. And I’ve not heard one in a very long time.
Thx man! Appreciate it.
Hi Nathan, how does RSM compare to similar-priced CIEM (1964-V6, AUD-5X, SE 3-Ref)? Also, is iPhone 6 good enough / need external amp? Thanks!
I’m sorry, but I own none of those earphones. The iPhone 6 isn’t perfect, but is pretty good for these earphones. I’m sorry this reply is late.
What color are those exactly? saphire or blue?
How good is the soundstage and imaging? I never had multi driver iems and I’m hoping to find iems without a flat 2-D stage like my hifiman re-400s have. Someone told me I won’t get much stage or 3-D effect unless I buy iems in the higher prices such as UM Miracles, Campfire Andromedas etc.