Are you the kind of person that likes to compare technical specifications before buying? Allow me to share a story of appreciation with you. A work colleague recently showed me his OnePlus One. It looks great and I naturally asked about it. This Android smartphone packs a punch and can outperform flagship smartphones from other well-known manufacturers for a fraction of the price. Believe me when I say it looks incredible and I was interested about it. Although the story about the origins of the company and the way this phone is sold kept me listening, my coworker preferred listing the technical specs, reciting by heart how well it compares to other Android smartphones of the same class.
At that point this didn’t click with me, but I’m using this recent example because it’s the last time someone gave me the tech spec argument to justify their point. Hardware components are a realistic indicator of how a product is going to perform, but there are other factors, unquantifiable, that can be as important. Here I want to talk about that intangible thing we refer as service.
I first heard about RHA from some link on a site labelling the MA200 as the best sound quality headphones under £15. I cannot find the original source but I remember it was such an overblown praise that I added to my Amazon wishlist immediately. It was something from a Wirecutter type of website that explained why the sound was so good, noted that the packaging was minimal — small brown cardboard — and that it came from a small company up north in Glasgow. It’s understandable that people won’t associate something low price with service.
When I lost one of the ear tips of my Sennheiser, those from the utilitarian CX-range, I went online to get some crappy tip replacements. Noticing I was shopping for audio equipment, clever Amazon was kind enough to remind me of the Brit headphones that were supposed to be so awesome. Although I’m not an audiophile and I’m not into music that much — I use my headphones to listed to podcasts on my commute — I had this curiosity to know what was I missing. Got the MA200, opened the small brown box and was impressed. The difference was obvious even for the untrained ear and I appreciated the noise isolation aspect of it, as commuter trains get very noisy.
I’m not done with anecdotes yet. Last summer I went on holiday and forgot the headphones at home. Horror! I was flying alone and had planned to spend that time with the company of some podcasts. Fortunately, London Heathrow’s terminal 3 has a Curry’s — that’s a consumer electronics shop — for these situations and felt relieved when I saw they had a variety of noise isolating headphones including the now familiar RHA brand. Relieve! This time I got the MA450i model, which comes with remote and microphone, braided cable and has aluminium parts rather than the full plastic on the MA200s. Long story short: I killed time waiting for my gate to be announced choosing the right ear tips and reading the stuff on the box, noticing a warranty of three years.
These new headphones are something I really got to love for the same reasons I liked my first RHA, plus the convenience of the remote and microphone. You can even see them on my table on the picture I took for my Noted interview and my simple setup. As moronic as it sounds and looks, I use them a lot to call people while doing chores in the house.
Unfortunately this unit began developing some crackling noises when I walked and the left earphone eventually died. Sadness. Returning home with only one working earbud is not nice. I was ready to order the same model again when I realised these guys said something about a warranty.
"RHA products are designed and engineered to deliver the highest standard of build and audio quality. Each feature, detail and component is the result of extensive research and an uncompromising commitment to quality and durability, which is why we are offering a comprehensive three year warranty on our products."
So I contacted RHA, got a prompt reply and a very polite person instructed me to send them in and issued a replacement. That was done in less than a week.
This shows the value of that abstract thing called service that is impossible to quantify when you are choosing the best product basing your decision on cold technical specifications. When I first shopped for “best sound quality headphones under £15” I didn’t expect them to be any good, and definitely not to be entitled to any type of after sales service. RHA may not be trendy, may have some defective units and has to compete in a saturated market. Through service they build up their brand and gain trust from existing customers. Surely service is something to consider when in your next purchase, not only technical specifications.
Regular readers don’t worry if this type of article is not what you are used to. I’m experimenting with longer pieces based on personal anecdotes that are somehow related to tech. I appreciate if you share your feedback on Twitter @appfreak.
- In the first story on this series I talk to an old man who wants me to teach him how to send a text message - Humbling lesson of solidarity.
Top image by Francisco Osorio