Review written by @Precogvision
Never heard of SoftEars before? Well, neither had I until a few months ago. Their popularity so far has mostly been limited to the domestic sphere - that is China - and they’ve only started branching out recently. At the head of this expansion is none other than the RSV, a 5BA monitor which clocks in at $730. This puts the RSV in direct competition with some of the most competitive IEMs on the market, including the Moondrop S8 - an IEM, mind you, that I deemed to be the “kilobuck solution”. Indeed, it is to note that SoftEars is a brother company of sorts to the lauded IEM company Moondrop; the companies often share resources. With a background like that, then, expectations certainly go up considerably: Let’s see if the RSV can meet them.
This unit was kindly provided for review by the Moondrop Lending Library. At the end of the review period, it will be returned. As usual, what follows are my honest thoughts and opinions to the best of my ability.
Source & Drivability
Critical listening was done off of a variety of sources including an iBasso DX160, A&K SP1000M, and iFi Micro iDSD Black Label. The stock cable, tips, and lossless FLAC files were used. The RSV is fairly easy to drive, and I had no issues running it off of any of these sources. Hissing was a non-issue.
The RSV arrives in a black, cardboard box. Included accessories are on the sparser side:
- Foam eartips (s/m/l)
- Silicone eartips (s/m/l)
- Hockey puck style, friction-fit case
- Metal Placard w/ SN
- 2-pin 0.78mm cable in 3.5mm
The RSV itself sports a build not dissimilar to the original Moondrop Blessing. This does mean that the diameter of the bore is quite large and the shells themselves skew toward the larger side. Personally, I did not experience any issues with fit and comfort during my time with the RSV; however, buyers should be aware of this potential issue. The RSV’s faceplate is an understated one with small gold flakes scattered throughout. I dig the aesthetic; then again, most readers already know that I’m not the pickiest person when it comes to this stuff.
Frequency response measured off of an IEC-711 coupler. There is a resonance peak at 8kHz. As such, measurements after this point should not be considered entirely accurate.
Oh boy, another Harman-inspired IEM. Haven’t I basically heard the same IEM, like what, five times at this point?
...or at least that’s what I’d like to say. I voiced a similar concern until I was reminded that IEMs with these tunings only make up ~5% of the market! The reason why these tunings seem so prevalent, then, is simply because there is a strong correlation between “good” IEMs and IEMs that follow this type of tuning. And I’d certainly hope that good IEMs are IEMs that are talked about more often.
Now as might be expected, you have your sub-bass oriented curve, flat lower-midrange, and generally neutral upper-midrange. The RSV’s bass is actually pretty darn competent for a BA monitor. I hear reasonable amounts of slam and texture; decay, as well, seems to stretch out a tad longer than your average BA monitor. Again, this is all for a BA IEM, but there’s no question it’s been well-done. I suppose it also bears repeating that this type of midrange tuning is what I perceive as dead-neutral, although it is not necessarily my desired midrange tuning in terms of preference. Some might find it a tad lean, perhaps dry, with male vocals too.
Something that needs to be highlighted, however, is the treble on the RSV. The RSV’s treble is perfectly linear running through the impact and crash regions, extending audibly wellover 15kHz. With all the talk about the RSV being a more tonally pleasing Moondrop S8, perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Sure, it sounds a tad soft and lacks the S8’s sheer air presence, but within the context of widespread listener appeal? I’d argue that the RSV is easily in the conversation for the $700 treble benchmark, as some listeners might’ve found the S8’s treble slightly peaky. Additionally, those who want a tad more energy - sparkle - to the RSV might try playing with a higher impedance source, as I did find treble to sound noticeably brighter off of the A&K SP1000M’s 3.5mm jack.
As usual, there are areas where one might be predisposed to make changes or where one might not be completely satisfied with the RSV’s tuning. But as a whole, I struggle to fault the RSV’s tonal balance bearing subjective preference: It is firmly within the realm of the ideal.
Where the RSV is decidedly not in the realm of the ideal, however, is technicalities. The RSV does not sound like your traditional BA monitor. Transient attack has a softness to it not unlike the venerable 64 Audio U12T; however, the RSV takes a hit on both the fronts of attack incisiveness and decay. More closely, I just don’t find the RSV to be the most crisp - much less resolving for internal, true detail - IEM in its price bracket. Micro-delinations in decay also sound far too smoothed over, thus failing to render trailing, vocal consonances and instrument reverb. Thankfully, micro-detail and microdynamics are something most IEMs don’t have to my ears anyways.
But the way the RSV scales dynamic swings is also somewhat strange. It has the usual upwards-compressed quality to decibel gradations that most BA IEMs exhibit, but there’s something of an aloofness, perhaps lack of weight, to the way it rides into swings. On Taeyeon’s “Make Me Love You,” neutered is the intensity as she transitions into the chorus at 0:51; gone are the tasteful vocal inflections and charisma on “Fine” when she hits the high notes. Indeed, to the point of the latter, in tandem with the aforementioned smoothing over in microdynamics, there is a lack of intensity and engagement factor to the RSV that I’m really not sure I prefer over a standard BA monitor.
Of course, I have been unrelenting in my critique. Within the context of its price bracket, the RSV is a decent technical performer. Timbre is certainly better than your average BA monitor; a likely benefit of the smoothing over in note decay. Coherency is also expectedly a non-issue given the RSV makes use of only BAs. Imaging and layering are generally fine until the RSV hits a more complex track. I would not say that this is a holographic IEM or anything of the sort; staging is slightly above average to my ears. All told, I don’t think most listeners would be left particularly wanting by the RSV’s technical chops despite my unforgiving assessment.
An underrated option at the $500 price point, the SA6 is quite the competitive IEM. You get a more relaxed tuning that maintains a slight upper-midrange tilt and an easy-on-the-ears treble response. I’ve seen the SA6 likened to the 64 Audio U12T quite often, but I think I would disagree. At least intangibly, the RSV maintains a lot more of the U12T’s softer transient attack and cleaner decay (not that the SA6 is bad in this department by any means). This translates to the SA6 playing on comparable footing with the RSV for technicalities. On the other hand, I think the RSV is tuned just a tad better, particularly when it comes to treble extension. Some have asked me which I prefer, and honestly, this is an instance of which I’m hard-pressed to choose. That in mind, I think fit - and the SA6 has very good fit - would tip the scales for a lot of listeners.
Again, this is the most natural point of comparison given that Moondrop and RSV are basically brother companies. Between the S8 and the RSV, there’s a Yin and Yang relationship going on. Whereas the S8 prioritizes clarity and cleanliness of presentation, the RSV leans more into the softer, more tonally pleasing side of things. I think the BA bass of the RSV is a tad more impactful (with more juicy sub-bass) and the treble might extend just a tad further. The S8 definitely has an advantage in sheer treble quantity and resolving ability. Imaging, particularly layering distinction, also goes the way of the S8. Really, it just depends on what type of sound you gravitate towards; you can’t go wrong with either of these IEMs.
Another very competitive entry at the $700 price point, the Monarch has been making waves alongside its brother, the Thieaudio Clairvoyance (which I still have not heard), since its release. The skeleton of the tuning between the Monarch and RSV is similar, but these IEMs sound fairly different overall. The Monarch has a good deal more energy sub-100hZ and chooses to pull the upper-midrange and the lower-treble up. It is a more engaging, detail-oriented IEM in this respect. The RSV falls more in-line with the Clairvoyance, prioritizing tonal balance and ease-of-listening. But where I think the RSV really shines relative to the Monarch is in coherency. The Monarch’s tuning has a “segmented” character to it, and this is exacerbated by the use of three separate driver types. I just don’t find it to be a particularly coherent IEM, and I can’t help but feel that its detail isn’t very far ahead of the RSV.
Hard to love and even more difficult to hate, the RSV is an IEM that is carried almost entirely by virtue of how inoffensive it is. But amidst a sea of largely mediocre IEMs (hey, that’s just my opinion of course), asking for much more would be unfair. That in mind, while the RSV’s far from being a flagship killer and it lags in technical performance compared to the heavy-hitters in its price bracket, on the whole it’s an enjoyable set that I think most anyone would be hard-pressed to dislike. In fact, I would go so far as to say this is one of the safest IEMs that $700 can currently buy. Recommended.
Discuss the Softears RSV on the HEADPHONE Community Forum.