SoundMAGIC E10, E30 and PL50 Earphones (Playback 58)

Equipment+
Categories:
Earphones and in-ear monitors
|
Products:
SoundMAGIC E-30,
SoundMAGIC E10,
SoundMAGIC PL50
SoundMAGIC E10, E30 and PL50 Earphones (Playback 58)

SoundMAGIC has been generating quite a buzz in the budget-priced earphone stakes recently, so I decided to check out three different models to see what all the fuss is about: the E10 ($35), the E-30 ($40), and the PL50 ($55). While some brands tend to stick with a single design approach for all their earphones, the various SoundMAGIC models offer a little something for everyone. With prices running from around $35 to $55, the three models I checked out are pretty close to being impulse purchases for someone looking to upgrade from the earbuds that came with their music player

What follow is in essence three product reviews in one, where I will draw lines of distinction between these three similarly priced SoundMAGIC earphones to help you determine which, if any, might best fit your needs.

FEATURES

SoundMAGIC E10 ($35)

•10mm neodymium dynamic driver
•Accessories: Four sizes of soft silicon ear tips, travel pouch
•Colors: Black/Red, Black/Gold, Purple/Black, Silver/Black
•Signal cable, 47-inch length, with straight 3.5mm connector.

SoundMAGIC E30 ($40)

•9mm neodymium dynamic driver
•Accessories: Four sizes of soft silicon ear tips, travel pouch, ear hooks
•Colors: White, Pink, Black, Blue
•Signal cable, 47-inch length, with straight 3.5mm connector.

SoundMAGIC PL50 ($55)

•6mm balanced armature driver
•Accessories: Four sizes of soft silicon ear tips, three sizes of foam ear tips, travel pouch, ear hooks
•Color: Blue
•Signal cable, 47-inch length, with angled 3.5mm connector.

EASE OF USE, COMFORT AND FIT

SoundMAGIC E10

Despite their modest price, the E10s with their barrel-shaped metal bodies are impressively solid and well finished. The cable exits from the side towards the end of the body, and in my ears it didn’t get in the way of any sensitive ear flesh. The cord has a rubbery covering that makes it fairly tangle prone, but the removable shirt clip helps to keep things in their place. The skinny, straight 3.5mm plug should work with just about any combination of music player and aftermarket case, and an iPhone friendly version with microphone and remote is available for an extra $10.

As with all in-ear headphones, getting a good seal in your ear canal is critical, and to help with this SoundMAGIC provides four ear tip options. Three are soft round silicone rubber tips in different sizes, while the final option is a pair of bi-flange silicone rubber tips. These provided the best fit in my ears, and with careful positioning I could get a good seal even though they still weren’t seated particularly deeply. Noise isolation was not a strong point, which could be a good or bad thing depending on your listening environment.

SoundMAGIC E30

Priced just five dollars higher than the E10, SoundMAGIC’s E30s are really just different rather than a clear step up from their lower cost siblings. Using a slightly smaller dynamic driver than the E10s, the E30’s published specification shows significantly lower sensitivity, but in use I noticed little difference in the volume settings needed to get the same approximate sound level.

The E30’s body is made of plastic in a sort of snail-like shape, and they are designed to be used with the cables pointed up and dressed over the back of your ears. A pair of rubber ear hooks can be added to keep the cables in place, but I found things were more comfortable without them. My E30s came with the same three sizes of round silicone ball tips as the E10s along with three sizes of foam tips. However recent production changes have ditched the foam tips, replacing them with the same silicone bi-flanges that come with the E10s. That’s a good change, because with my ears the bi-flanges were the only workable solution with the E30s. Because their snail shaped bodies are somewhat wider across than the barrel shaped E10s, I found it was tricky getting the E30s deep enough into my ear canals to ensure a good seal. Once I did get them seated, parts of the earphone’s plastic body would be pressing against delicate fleshy parts of my ear, making them pretty uncomfortable for extended use. My ear canals are set deeper than most (you should see my custom ear molds), so I expect this won’t be a problem for most users. Sound isolation is not particularly impressive, but this could in part be due to my inability to insert the E30s very deeply into my ears.

Other accessories are the same as with the E10s, including a removable shirt clip, soft carrying pouch, and a rubbery cable with a straight 3.5mm plug. Unlike the E10s, there is no equivalent headset version of the E30s.

SoundMAGIC PL50

Clearly the odd man out of the trio, the PL50s are one of the most affordable earphones on the market that use balanced armature-type drivers instead of the more typical dynamic drivers. Balanced armatures are used in many of the $1,000+ exotic custom in-ear monitors from manufacturers such as Ultimate Ears and JH Audio, but in those examples they are typically used in multiple driver sets, with separate woofer and tweeter armatures.

The bodies of the PL50s form a kind of an L shape, with a rounded blue plastic extension that fits neatly in your ear. At just eight grams they are so light that you hardly notice you’re wearing them, making them great for comfortable extended listening sessions. Included in the box are seven different tip options, with four sizes of round silicone rubber ball tips, and three sizes of foam tips. Unlike with the E10s and E30s no bi-flange rubber tips are included, and because the PL50s use a smaller post than the E models, you can’t swipe a pair of E-series flanges to use with them.

I ended up using the large size foam tips, finding that these provided the most secure fit in my ears. As with the E30s the cables go up and over your ears, and the provided ear hooks can be used to help route the cables. I preferred the PL50 without the ear hooks, and found they would stay put during most activity without any additional help. In my experience foam tips don’t offer as much isolation as silicone tips, and when using the foam the PL50s offered the least amount of isolation of all three models.

As before, the cable has a nappy rubbery coating that provides good immunity from handling noise, and a removable shirt clip helps to keep the cable in place. Unlike the E-series, the PL50s 3.5mm connector has a right angle plug, but there was still plenty of clearance for iPhone cases and other potential obstructions. As with the E30, the PL50s don’t come in a headset version with an iPhone remote and mic.

Sensitivity was noticeably higher than with either the E10 or E30, and I found I needed to turn down the volume on the iPod a couple of clicks to get the same sound output levels.

SONIC CHARACTER

SoundMAGIC E10

It’s easy to approach affordable earphones like the E10 with modest expectations, but that would be selling this capable in-ear model short. Straight out of the box the overall performance was somewhat disappointing with a strong upper midrange emphasis, but I found that the E10s really needed a good couple of days of playing to smooth out sonically. Once broken in the lower midrange punch and bass clarity improved significantly, while the upper octaves opened up becoming both clearer and more extended. The overall tonal balance is on the slightly forward side of neutral, with a somewhat exposed upper midrange and treble, along with a modest emphasis in the mid-bass. The deeper bass is quite extended and punchy, but you certainly don’t get the type of jacked up bass response found with some earphones like the ThinkSound TS02 and Monster Turbine Pro Gold.

The up front balance makes the E10s sound a just a bit more detailed than they actually are with plenty of dynamic impact and punch, but a tendency to present things using a somewhat homogenized tonal palette. The result can be both exciting and easy to listen to, but ultimately not as rewarding as say the (admittedly far more costly) Monster Turbines. I appreciated the E10’s bass balance, which gave the music plenty of sock, while avoiding the grossly overbearing thumping bottom end that seems to be business as usual for some headphone companies these days.

Fed with appropriate music the soundstaging of the E10s could be impressively spacious with plenty of depth, while image specificity and precision of placement depended mostly on how evenly I was able to seat the left and right side earpieces.

SoundMAGIC E30

Before I started listening I expected that I would hear a ‘house sound’ resemblance between the three SoundMAGIC models, but they actually turned out to be quite different from each other in character. Overall the E30s had a slightly smaller and more focused sound compared with the E10s, making them more neutral through the midrange, but without quite as much reach or power at the frequency extremes. This is a great earphone for classical music and acoustic jazz, where the added clarity and transparency through the critical midband trumps the additional punch at the bottom and sparkle at the top of the E10s. While the lower octaves of the E30s can’t quite match the E10’s bottom end kick, they more than make up for it with additional bass clarity and definition. This makes it easier to follow complex bass lines even if they’re buried deep in the mix.

Imaging with the E30s was pretty much on par with the E10s, with a similar soundstage presentation offering plenty of depth. Focus tended to be a touch more precise with the added transparency drawing the outlines around each musician with somewhat improved clarity.

SoundMAGIC PL50

The individualistic nature of the PL50 extended to its sonic performance too, which put a clear emphasis on the upper midrange, along with less energy at the upper and lower ends of the sonic spectrum. Midrange clarity was a strong area, but that is probably due as much to the tonal emphasis in that region as any genuine improvements in transparency. Midband transients were fast and clear, making for an exciting and fast sounding presentation with many types of music.

What bass there was sounded un-muddled and articulate, but with most music I found it to be quite lean through the mid-bass and lacking in body. There actually was pretty good extension at the very bottom below the lean mid-bass, and this gave the lower octaves a fast-paced quickness that made the PL50s sound rather light on their feet. Ultimately, however, the lack of warmth left me wanting more. At the opposite end of the range the PL50s were somewhat lacking in sparkle and air, with the prominent upper midrange obscuring fine upper octave detail and subtlety.

 

MUSICAL EXAMPLES

Most of my listening was done using an iPod Classic loaded primarily with lossless files ripped from CDs, which seems like a typical scenario for any affordable earphone. Coupling low-priced earphones with a costly amplifier and high-res files simply doesn’t seem like a realistic situation to me, so I tried to stick with using them the way most end users will.

I auditioned all three SoundMAGIC models using a wide variety of different types of music, but found that two tracks in particular enabled me to crystallize the differences in a way that made comparisons easy.

SoundMAGIC E10

“Gravity” from John Mayer’s Continuum album [Columbia] is a gentle, slow-paced balled recorded using an intimate acoustic perspective. Mayer’s vocal is up close, and this can result in problematic sibilance sounds. With the E10s the ‘s’ sounds had a prominent presence, but the smooth tonal balance kept things from becoming noticeably ragged. Drummer Steve Jordan’s snare drum had its usual crisp snap, but the E10s smoothed out a little of the metallic ring and tonal detail of his cymbals that I hear with more transparent (i.e., expensive) headphones. Pino Palladino’s bass lines came across with plenty of weight, but added a slight thickening to the texture of the sound that tended to slightly obscure the start and end of each note. The guitar solo sounded great, clearly presenting the rich warm tone that Mayer manages to coax out of his Fender Stratocaster.

“Exactly Like You” from bassist Ray Brown’s Soular Energy album [Concord] is a simple swinging piano jazz trio track, featuring a recording well known for its dynamic kick and deep-reaching powerful bass. Through the E10s Brown’s wide ranging bass lines were easy to follow and clear, but the slightly forward balance tended to shift the spotlight somewhat over towards the leading edge of Gene Harris’ piano chords and the ping of drummer Gerryck King’s ride cymbals. The overall effect was exciting and easy to listen to, but couldn’t quite capture the deepest growls from Brown’s acoustic bass.

SoundMAGIC E30

Going back to the John Mayer “Gravity” track, I found that through the E30s the emphasis had changed significantly. Mayer’s intimate vocal was now more relaxed with less of an in-your-face quality, giving the track a somewhat more laid back perspective. The focus was now squarely on Mayer’s guitar and vocal, with less of the typical snap that Steve Jordan gets from his drum kit. Palladino’s bass lines were also clearer and easier to follow.

Moving over to the Ray Brown jazz trio track, the E30’s clarity through the lower octaves added detail and tonal color to the sound of Ray’s bass. The piano still had lots of bite in the attack of each note, but the drums were now pushed down in the mix. Instead of focusing on the ping of the ride cymbals, my attention was drawn more towards the chords being played on the piano and how they related to what Ray was doing on the bass. For me this made for a more compelling experience, where the musicians gelled together more as a cohesive whole. The perspective was more laid back and less obviously exciting, but for me this resulted in better musical communication.

SoundMAGIC PL50

Using the same now familiar tracks, the presentation through the PL50s was in clear contrast to the E-series models. On John Mayer’s “Gravity” the light and forward balance made the track particularly exciting, with the emphasis on John’s vocal and guitar. The glowing warmth of Meyer’s solo was lost, but its sound had a squeaky clean quality that I often associate with balanced armature drivers.

On the Ray Brown jazz track the PL50s moved Ray to the background, almost turning it into pianist Gene Harris’ date instead of Ray’s. I could still easily follow the bass line, but the power and drive of the instrument was mostly missing. Harris’ piano was pushed forward to the point where it took on an almost strident tone, with hard hit notes popping out with startling dynamics. The warmth and smoothness I heard with the E10s and E30s was mostly missing, making the track less enjoyable to my ears.

CONCLUSIONS

SoundMAGIC E10

Consider this product if:

•You want an easy-to-appreciate earphone at a bargain price.
•Dynamic excitement is more important to you than ultimate transparency.
•You want earphones that won’t ruthlessly reveal the flaws of MP3 files.

Look further if:

•You want lots of isolation for noisy environments.
•You want killer bass for your beats.
•You need earphones that are smartphone ready. (Consider the $45 SoundMAGIC E10M)

Ratings (relative to comparably-priced earphones)

•Tonal Balance: 8
•Frequency Extremes: 7 (Bass)/6(Treble)
•Clarity: 7
•Dynamics: 9
•Comfort/Fit: 8
•Sensitivity: 7
•Value: 9
__________

SoundMAGIC E30

Consider this product if:

•You want a clear and communicative earphone for a modest outlay.
•You appreciate digging into the subtleties of musical communication.
•You’re not a headbanger.

Look further if:

•You want earphones with lots of isolation from the environment.
•You want heavy hitting bass for your dance tracks.
•You have deeply set ear canals.

Ratings (relative to comparably-priced earphones)

•Tonal Balance: 9
•Frequency Extremes: 6 (Bass)/7(Treble)
•Clarity: 9
•Dynamics: 7
•Comfort/Fit: 5
•Sensitivity: 6
•Value: 9
__________

SoundMAGIC PL50

Consider this product if:

•You want a clear and detailed sound and aren’t a big bass-head.
•You want earphones that you’ll hardly notice and that stay comfortable for hours.
•You want earphones that will play very loud without needing an outboard amp.

Look further if:

•You want good isolation from external noise.
•You want bass that will move you.
•You want earphones with a neutral wide-range response.

Ratings (relative to comparably-priced earphones)

•Tonal Balance: 6
•Frequency Extremes: 5 (Bass)/6(Treble)
•Clarity: 8
•Dynamics: 8
•Comfort/Fit: 9
•Sensitivity: 9
•Value: 6

BOTTOM LINE:

SoundMAGIC’s E10, E30, and PL50 earphones each cost less than a fancy restaurant meal, yet they manage to provide a healthy step up from the freebie earbuds that come with most personal music players. While hardcore audiophiles might not find too much to get excited about here, these earphones do deliver tremendous value for a relatively modest outlay.

The obvious winners between the three models tested were the E10 and E30, which plainly outshone the PL50 despite their lower prices. Which one is right for you will depend on your musical taste, and also somewhat on the shape of your ears. For me the E30s gave the clearest and most natural sonic picture, but this was tempered by their incompatibility with the shape of my ears. Having said that, I found the presentation of the E10s to be perfectly enjoyable, similar in some ways to the Monster Turbine Pro Gold, if lacking that much more costly model’s lucidity and range.

If your musical interests run towards dance music and other genres where the beat is king, perhaps a more bass prominent earphone like the ThinkSound TS02 will be more your speed. If, however, your taste is more eclectic and varied, there’s a strong argument to be made in favor of the E30s. The E10s kind of straddle the divide between the TS02s and E30s, so for some listeners they will actually turn out to be the best compromise of all. That’s certainly my own choice, at least on comfort grounds if nothing else.

SPECS & PRICING

SoundMAGIC E10 Earphones
Driver type: 10mm neodymium dynamic driver
Accessories: Four sizes of soft silicon ear tips, travel pouch
Frequency response: 15Hz – 22 kHz
Impedance: 16 ohms
Sensitivity: 100 dB/mW, 1 kHz
Weight: 11 grams
Warranty: 1 year
Price: $34.95

SoundMAGIC E30 Earphones
Driver type: 9mm neodymium dynamic driver
Accessories: Four sizes of soft silicon ear tips, travel pouch, ear hooks.
Frequency response: 15Hz – 22 kHz
Impedance: 12 ohms
Sensitivity: 94 dB/mW, 1 kHz
Weight: 10 g
Warranty: 1 year
Price: $39.95

SoundMAGIC PL50 Earphones
Driver type: 6mm balanced armature driver
Accessories: Four sizes of soft silicon ear tips, three sizes of foam ear tips, travel pouch, ear hooks
Frequency response: 15Hz – 22 kHz
Impedance: 55.5 ohms
Sensitivity: 109 dB/mW, 1 kHz
Weight: 8 g
Warranty: 1 year
Price: $54.95

MANUFACTURER INFORMATION
SoundMAGIC
www.soundmagic.com.cn

U.S. Distributor:
ALO Audio
(971) 279-4357
www.aloaudio.com

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