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Soft Ears RS10 Review – Finesse

Soft Ears Comparison –

RSV ($729): The RS10’s greatest rival is likely Soft Ear’s own RSV, a model with a very similar character at about a third of the price. Nonetheless, the company ensure you get what you are paying for, the RS10 also has usability features such as its flat impedance design and pressure relief driver that aid a premium experience.

Sonically, the RSV and RS10 are evenly matched. The RSV has slightly more sub-bass and its upper-midrange is smoother, permitting a more energetic lower-treble without additional fatigue. The RS10 comes across as more mature and grounded with less bass emphasis and greater separation. While the RSV has more slam and note weight, the RS10 has better extension and much more defined rumble. It is faster and more articulate in the mid-bass, with greater separation. The RSV has a slightly more laid-back midrange but is also slightly more articulate.

In turn, it’s a little more forgiving and slightly higher contrast. The RS10 comes across as clearer and one notch more revealing. It has better resolution and separation due to its more defined note presentation. Highs tell a similar store, the RSV is crisper and more energetic in the lower-treble, the RS10 has more note body and stronger fine detail retrieval. Above is where the RS10 pulls ahead having instantly superior background detail retrieval and much better imaging as a result. So while, the RSV comes across as equally tonally accomplished, the RS10 takes the technical performance to the next level making it a very linear upgrades for Soft Ears fans.

Cerberus ($2099): Soft Ear’s co-flagship with a tri-brid driver configuration and a mellower sound signature. This model is a valid alternative for those wanting a more laid-back and forgiving listen whilst retaining headroom and micro-detail. It has a similar pressure-relief driver but no flat impedance design.

The Cerberus extends slightly better, delivering a more palpable slam and more defined rumble. It’s slightly warmer and epitomises natural, controlled and textured DD note properties. The RS10 is noticeably faster and more articulate. It has higher note definition and is more detailed. The midrange tells the same story. The RS10 is more resolving, tonally cleaner and more separated. The Cerberus has a smoother upper-midrange and more body around the lower-midrange, trading off separation and note definition for greater coherence. It is well-textured and highly natural but not as focused.

Once again, the treble continues this trend. The Cerberus has a softer transient response but equally strong speed and slightly better extension. The RS10 has more bite and its notes are slightly more defined and separated. The Cerberus is daintier and more delicate, preferring greater body and texture. The Cerberus is slightly airer and has more headroom but the RS10 has better detail retrieval in all regards. The Cerberus does have a noticeably larger soundstage in all aspects. Its imaging isn’t as pinpoint accurate and layered, being more atmospheric and expansive instead. The Cerberus appeals to a very different listener than the RS10 and is equally valid as a high-end offering.

Comparisons –

Avara EST-6 ($1100): Avara’s EST flagships designed to provide an utmost linear sound, indeed it is highly natural and much cheaper. The RS10 has a more revealing and cleaner tuning while the EST-6 assumes a more forgiving approach to linearity. The RS10 extends better in the bass, possessing more power and rumble in addition to greater slam. The EST-6 has similar bass quantity but more focus in the mid-bass, instigating a slightly punchier, fuller and warmer voicing. The RS10 is more controlled and faster, offering a more articulate, defined note presentation with greater detail retrieval. Both earphones have a similar midrange tuning and voicing. The EST-6 is lower contrast, trading off some separation and tonal cleanliness for greater coherence.

It achieves this with aplomb, lacking any intensity. It is slightly warmer and roomier with more lower-mid presence. It is a touch more articulate, redeeming definition. The RS10 is cleaner and more separated with a more revealing character in general. It has higher resolution with more fine details. The EST-6 has a generally smoother treble but a small lower-treble bump for crispness. The RS10 has slightly sharper note attack, giving it better fine detail retrieval in the foreground. It is also a little airier. Meanwhile, the EST-6 has slightly more headroom and sparkle and its background is a touch cleaner. This contributes to a slightly larger stage though the RS10 does have noticeably sharper imaging.

Campfire Audio Ara ($1299): The Ara comes in at a cheaper price point and is intended as CFA’s flagship designed to deliver a HiFi sound. It has less bass overall but a slightly fuller tuning. The RS10 extends better, having more power and pressure in addition to greater sub-bass emphasis. The Ara has more upper-bass and lower-midrange presence which gives it a bit more structure, the RS10 being slightly cleaner and focused more on rumble and dynamics. The Ara has slightly longer decay giving it a more musical quality while the RS10 is faster, tighter and more articulate. The midrange is likely the Ara’s most polarising quality, being forward and revealing, it doesn’t sound as even or natural as the RS10. I wouldn’t call the Ara unnatural but in direct comparison, it does have a more coloured presentation. It is slightly more full-bodied but vocal size is smaller, sounding drier.

The RS10 has a more focused midrange presentation occupying a stronger centre image. It has better upper-midrange extension and a more accurate articulation especially. The Ara is higher contrast, with a smoother upper-midrange set to a brighter, more articulate treble. In turn, it does come across as slightly more revealing and textured than the RS10. Conversely, the RS10 discerns nuances better with a more coherent note structure and it has a more natural timbre. The treble is more even on the RS10. It has more body and slightly more texture while the Ara is slightly crisper, bringing fine details more to the fore due to its brighter tuning. The Ara has greater air and a modestly emphasised sparkle making it sound more energetic and open while the RS10 has a cleaner background with more stable layers. The Ara has a larger soundstage in all aspects while the RS10 has more accurate positioning. The Ara tends to push wide, the RS10 has a stronger centre image.

Lime Ears Pneuma (1800 EUR): The Pneuma has a similar style of tuning to the RS10 but a smoother upper-midrange that some may enjoy. The Pneuma appears slightly bassier on account of its less forward midrange. It extends slightly better in the sub-bass and has a little more warmth and note body, but not too much that it sounds overly coloured. The RS10 remains a noticeably cleaner performer with a dead neutral tone and more localised sub-bass boost. The Pneuma decays more naturally and has a textural and dynamics advantage. The RS10 is faster and more articulate, with better timing and separation. The midrange voicing is similar on both and I would consider both to be very natural. The Pneuma is slightly higher-contrast with a larger lower-mid dip counterbalanced by a denser upper-midrange and slightly warmer mid-bass. The net result is quite similar, the Pneuma has similar vocal positioning is slightly more coherent and less intense.

Meanwhile, the RS10 is slightly more revealing and resolving. The Pneuma is slightly more articulate, but as it is denser, it isn’t overly so. This means fine details are still flattered. The Soft Ears monitor has a more neutral tone and is slightly more linear. It is more discerning of fine details as it has higher resolution. The Pneuma has a small 5k peak to redeem energy with the RS10 being smoother and more even. Both offer a clean transient response, the RS10 has a slight resolving power advantage while the Pneuma benefits from a slightly crisper tuning. The RS10 has more air and headroom, the Pneuma has a little more energy in the foreground but not as much audible extension. The Pneuma has slightly more depth while the RS10 has a bit more width. The RS10 has noticeably sharper imaging.

Fir Audio M4 ($1899): Fundamentally, the M4 more U-shaped with greater emphasis on bass and lower-treble. It is noticeably bassier, extends slightly better, delivering more pressure at the very bottom alongside possessing greater warmth and fullness. The RS10 is a cleaner, more balanced sounding monitor. It has a neutral tone and is more articulate and separated. The M4 has excellent mid-bass texture and a more natural decay while the RS10 is more linear and discerning of fine details. The midrange presentation showcases a similar trend, the M4 being clearly more coloured but an equally natural listen. It is brighter and more articulate but also slightly lower contrast, picking up some warmth from its bass. Both are on the revealing side, the RS10 is slightly more forward but also more transparent in tone and note size in addition to offering a more accurate articulation. In turn, it has a more accurate timbre in general.

The two are close in terms of resolving power, but the RS10 overall does resolve texture and fine nuance slightly better due to its more linear tuning. The M4 has more defined layering in return. In the treble, the two continue to trade blows. Impressively, the RS10 slightly outdoes the M4 in the lower-treble. While the Fir is more sharpened and crisper, the RS10 has more body and texture, an edge in fine detail retrieval overall. The M4 above has more air, headroom and sparkle above, however, so it does have a bit more background detail. The RS10 has a darker, cleaner background, prioritising a more natural and focused detail presentation. The staging is of similar character, the M4 is wider but both are matched for depth. The M4 has more contrast between its foreground and background and images in a holographic manner. The RS10 isn’t so energetic but has more layers and its imaging is more stable with sharper direction.

Final Audio A8000 ($1999): The A8000 has a similar emphasis on cleanliness but executed in a brighter and more revealing manner. The A8000 has a similar balance, but slightly greater upper-midrange focus. Its bass tuning is incredibly similar, with just a little more mid-bass warmth. The Be DD provides greater extension and power, it has more pressure and a more defined rumble. The A8000 is a little fuller and punchier in the mid-bass while the RS10 assumes a cleaner character. The RS10 is slightly more articulate and separated, but the A8000 is immensely fast and snappy for a DD whilst retaining a textural and dynamics advantage. The midrange is the most polarising aspect of the A8000 as some find it quite intense due to its greater upper-mid presence. The RS10 does showcase better restraint here, upholding greater balance and, to my ears, a more accurate timbre.

The A8000 has slightly more body but also sounds a little strained and intense indeed. It has a sharper articulation on top which isn’t sibilant to me, but especially unforgiving. The RS10 is more balanced and less intense. It has higher coherence due to its smoother articulation and more even upper-mid tuning. Despite being less revealing in tuning, I find the RS10 more resolving in the midrange of fine details. The top-end is brighter on the A8000 as well, especially the lower-treble. It also has a darn sharp transient response meaning it is both crisp and highly discerning. The RS10 has a slight advantage here on separation and it has more accurate note body. This enables it to reproduce fine textures better and with less sharpness. The RS10 has a bit more air, the A8000 slightly more sparkle. The A8000 has a noticeably wider soundstage and both have sharp imaging. The RS10, being more balanced, separates better to me as it suffers from less top-end glare.

Verdict –

I unironically fist bumped the air when I first hooked the RS10 onto a solid source and booted up my favourite songs. The tonality is on point, it has TOTL resolution and, even with a pure BA setup, the bass is physical and deeply extending. Few earphones light up my dopamine like the RS10 but, as always, that does not mean it is for everyone. The RS10 isn’t fatiguing, but it isn’t an especially forgiving sound either. Similarly, its relative lack of colouration means those expecting huge energy in the upper-treble or a fun, warm bass will be left wanting. Conversely, the RS10 builds atop the RSV’s foundation, being a master of versatility, and this is a sound that the vast majority will find immensely impressive. Ironically, many high-end IEMs assume a more coloured approach to tuning, which isn’t a bad thing and can contribute to a more impressive listen. However, those wanting a reference sound with top-level technical ability have a relatively limited list of options. You very rarely hear such a fast, tightly woven sound that is so equally flattering of all musical genres and so resolving. The RS10 is the solution, combining hugely impressive timbral accuracy with top-level resolution to provide a sound that has surely secured itself as a benchmark for years to come.

The RS10 can be purchased from Soft Ears for $2099 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

Jaden – BYE

Joji – Sanctuary

Kanye West – Donda

Maneskin – Chosen

Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of The Moon

Radiohead – OK Computer

TALA – ain’t leavin` without you

The Beatles – Abbey Road

The weeknd – After Hours

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Ryan Soo

Ryan Soo

Avid writer, passionate photographer and sleep-deprived medical student, Ryan has an ongoing desire to bring quality products to the regular reader.

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