Make: Rhines Custom Monitors
Model: Stage 3
Base Price: 999€ ($1350) with VAT; 839,50€ ($1140) without VAT
Country of Manufacture: Germany
Rhines Custom Monitors is one of two new companies that came about from the dissolution of well-known Compact Monitors, which was started in 1988 by Felix Reinsch. Felix started Rhines while his ex-business partner Marcel Schoenen started Vision Ears, both carrying the Stage Series of custom in-ear monitors created by Felix for Compact Monitors. Both have brought out new products since the split while still offering the previous lineup. The Stage 3 is the mid-level product in the Stage series, and is the most neutral among the Stage 2, 3, and 4, which I had a chance to audition from Vision.
This year they have launched the Stage 5 among other products, with more information in this THL article.
How to Order, Warranty, & Options
Design and Fit & Finish
– Volume Performance
– Sound Summary
Comparisons with other CIEMs
HOW TO ORDER, OPTIONS, & WARRANTY
How to Order: Contact Rhines with the product you are interested in buying. If you are in another country, they may have a local distributor to better serve you, and the distributor will take it from there. If not, they will request that you provide the order form with your impressions that should be made as instructed in the impression instructions. Once they receive the impressions and completed order form, they will charge you for your monitors. Preferred method of payment is a bank transfer, but PayPal can be used.
It typically take 20 business days from the time a properly completed order form and impressions are received to ship completed monitors. Domestic shipping charges are 6,90 €, international charges depend on the country.
Here is the full price list, which includes the cost to upgrade from the Stage 3 to Stage 4, which is 390€.
There is a 2-year warranty. If you have an issue within that time, just contact Rhines Custom Monitors and they will help you from there.
The Rhines Custom Monitors Stage 3 is a 2-way triple balanced armature driver custom in-ear monitor with a solid acrylic shell. There are two sound tubes: one from the tweeter and one from the compound woofer. The tip of the sound tubes is recessed which helps protect against wax buildups. The 2-pin connector for the detachable cable is flush mounted.
Sensitivity: 118dB SPL at 1 mW
Frequency: 20 Hz – 18 kHz
Impedance: 18 Ohm ( @ 1 kHz )
The Stage 3 comes with a laser engraved aluminum case with outer dimensions of 16cm x 9,5cm x 5cm, a microfiber pouch, dry caps (desiccant), cleaning spray that disinfects without damaging the acrylic surface, cleaning tool, shirt clip, and a gold plated 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter. The desiccant has a lifespan between 2-6 months depending on use and has a color indicator to let you know when they need to be replaced. The case is one of the nicer cases I have seen and the included accessory pack is thorough, scoring a 9/10 rating.
The cable is a silver style twisted cable that uses the standard 2-pin configuration shared by most CIEMs, but the build is different than the standard typical stock cable. The cable is a bit stiffer, but still very flexible with excellent ergonomics. Just like other silver twisted cables, it will discolor over time. The cable has a feel of durability compared with typical stock cables, but I don’t test cables to failure. 7/10.
FIT & FINISH
Upon first glance and handling the Stage 3, it is easy to see and feel that the finish is excellent, with no imperfections, smooth lines, and a slick finish that is easy to insert the first time. Everything is placed nicely inside the solid acrylic shell; however, there is a single air bubble in each shell near the faceplates which can be seen from the side as the faceplate is not translucent/transparent. This is most likely due to the assembly process used to fill the shell with acrylic. The artwork, which consist of a mirrored finish with graphics gives a 3D look and is well done. The overall quality is one of the best and might be second only to the Heir Audio 8.A. 10/10
The shell is solid acrylic with slightly shorter than typical canals, but isolation is a good deal better than hollow shelled CIEMs. 7.5/10
Disclaimer: My review is done in a comparative way using similarly priced IEMs and/or CIEMs for perspective and to determine performance. In this review I try to accurately portray the product under review, presenting strengths and weaknesses, the sound signature, characteristics, and technical performance as opposed to providing flowery dialog of performance without perspective. My ultimate goal is to enable you to make an informed decision about what product is right for you. Take the review as a critical look at the product and not a sales pitch or marketing fluff. I believe gear should be selected based on the sound signature you want and/or the specific use, not solely on technical performance or unsubstantiated hype. Here are some quick references for more information: My review technique, Thoughts on reading a review, Custom IEM information
The Stage3 received 100+ hours of burn in as is customary before I do my serious listening. See page 2 for IEMs/CIEMs used for comparison.
Bass: The Stage 3 doesn’t shy away from bass, with an emphasis in the region and warmth. The bass is punchy with good control, and note sustainment is high until around 40 Hz, where sustainment tapers off as the frequency drops even though the bass extends down to 20 Hz. At about 20Hz, the bass is still present, but more neutral than at 50 or 100 Hz, which is opposite of some others such as the ACS T1 Live!. Bass performance is at its best with classical and other acoustic music, and while it doesn’t have any issues with pop and EDM music, others CIEMs with more sub-bass oomph may be preferred. The overall quality of the bass is good and a great balance between quality and quantity has been achieved without overpowering the presentation.
Midrange: With a relatively neutral presentation, the midrange is the focus of the sound signature. Balance is a word I would associate with the midrange from the standpoint of projection and detail articulation, as the Stage 3 has a good balance between laid-back and forward typical for a reference monitor as well as a balance between individual instruments and the overall presentation. The midrange is pushed a bit forward compared with the bass and treble, and the depth of presentation, imaging, and sharp focus within the soundstage provide an enveloping sound similar to EarSonics products, but not to the same extent.
While the presentation is 3D, the size and shape doesn’t change much with different tracks as the Spiral Ear 5-way Reference, Fit Ear PS-5, or EarSonics EM4. This can be good or bad depending on your perspective as on the one hand, you know what presentation you will get across a wide range of tracks, while on the other different masters won’t give different feels to the music. The combination of balance, projection, slight accentuation of the midrange frequencies, and depth of presentation make for an enveloping and involving recreation of music that has a midrange focus.
Treble: With a presentation that is on the brighter side of neutral due to a peak in the lower treble region, the Stage 3 treble adds a sense of clarity to the presentation. Combining the peak with notes that are on the analytical side, the treble is revealing and can accentuate poor quality of a master similar to the Logitech Ultimate Ears In-Ear Reference Monitors (IERM). Decay of the notes, while good when not comparing with other similarly priced CIEMs, doesn’t quite have as natural of a decay as the Hidition NT-6 or EarSonics EM4, but is better than the IERM. Extension is average for the price range, extending up to 16.5K in test tone listening. In the grand scheme of things the treble performance is good and should be fine for those that prefer CIEMs that are on the brighter side of the spectrum.
Presentation: With a U-shaped frequency response, emphasizing both ends of the spectrum, the Stage 3 veers from a true reference sound by adding a fun element. Frequency response coherence is OK, but the bass, midrange, and treble aren’t as well integrated as much of the competition at this price point, in part due to the bump at both ends along with the more forward midrange. Notes have good attack and decay speed with a slightly thicker than average note, resulting in an interesting combination of speed with a slight thickness. While the average note thickness is consistent through the bass and midrange, but the average sustainment is a bit lower in the treble region. Overall clarity is quite good, which is a result of the treble boost, note thickness, and instrument separation.
The soundstage isn’t the largest, especially in the width department, but the depth of the presentation combined with the imaging and projection give a good sense of space for an enveloping presentation. The midrange is presented a bit closer than the bass and treble for a midrange focus for the presentation. Transparency is good, but not exceptional, and the Stage 3 can keep up with just about any fast track as well as the thick and warm.
Volume performance: The Stage 3 has acceptable but not ideal performance at very low volumes as the thickness doesn’t lend well to great clarity with very quiet listening. Turn the volume up slightly to a low-moderate volume and the character changes a bit as the attack and decay speed overcome the longer note sustainment. The Stage 3 performs well at moderate volume levels, but at louder volumes the treble became too prominent for me, becoming problematic. At loud volumes, in addition to the treble issue, the thickness again started to comes back into play, reducing clarity.
Sound Summary: The Rhines Custom Monitors Stage 3 has a natural sound that leans toward the warmer side of the spectrum, with ample bass response and a bump in the upper midrange/lower treble that improves clarity at the expense of sometimes sounding a bit harsh. The soundstage isn’t huge, but it is 3D and spacious with an airy quality that gives the sense of a larger space. The presentation standpoint isn’t too forward, nor laid-back which is typical for a reference sound signature. Detail levels are good and notes are slightly on the analytical side while providing a nice balance between accentuating individual instruments and focusing on the entire presentation.
Even though the name has stage in it, the sound signature isn’t typical for a stage monitor, but could work. Audiophile or headphone enthusiast should appreciate the sound signature as it offers a good bit of something for everyone. The solid acrylic shell isolates better than a typical acrylic shell allowing lower-level playback and the Stage 3 keeps up with louder SPL playback for great versatility.