I always like to see audio products seemingly come out of nowhere to wow both headphone enthusiasts and reviewers. Such was the case with the $90 Realvoice headset, which was released to wide acclaim by Spider, a company formerly called Spider Cable and originally known for audio and video cables.
The Realvoice is a canalbud-style headset. Canalbuds generally split the difference, in both design and price, between traditional earbuds and true in-ear-canal (canalphone) models. Since they fit partially in the ear canal, canalbuds block some external noise, and they aim to form an acoustic seal that improves bass performance. However, they don’t block as much sound as true in-ear-canal models, and, as with those models, getting a proper fit can be tricky, the cord can produce unwanted microphonic noise in a listener’s ear, and using the headset function can be weird due to the occlusion effect of having your ears plugged while talking.
In the world of speakers, most designs are based on dynamic-driver technology, where a magnet, moving in response to an electrical signal, causes the vibration of a speaker cone. Models incorporating larger drivers generally allow for deeper (and higher-quality) bass response, as well as better sound reproduction at higher volumes-and, thus, better reproduction of large dynamic swings. Most canalbud models make use of miniaturized, but otherwise similar, dynamic or moving-coil drivers drivers (as opposed to the balanced-armature drivers more frequently found in more expensive canalphone models).
If speakers can benefit from the use of larger drivers, then it stands to reason that headphones could also benefit-and that indeed turns out to be the case. However, the requirement that canalbuds be able to fit partially inside your ear canal places practical limits on the size of drivers, at least for traditional designs where the driver faces directly into the listener’s ear canal. In order to allow for the use of larger drivers, Spider rotates the Realvoice’s drivers 90 degrees, orienting them with the front of the driver facing toward the front of the listener’s head.
Due to the physics of sound propagation, the driver doesn’t have to face directly into the listener’s ear, as long as the enclosure is designed to guide the sound into your ear canal.
Although I have some bones to pick with particular aspects of the Spider Realvoice’s performance, the overall effect makes me resort to cliché: The Realvoice’s whole is more than the sum of its parts. It’s not the clearest and most detailed set of headphones available, even at this price, but it does a great job of conveying music and making it a pleasure to listen to. The Realvoice’s sound isn’t perfect for everyone, but I think just about anyone would enjoy it.