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Soundmagic HP100 – A balanced debut

Soundmagic are known for their budget busting good value earphones for a few years now and have a rabid following in most quarters. I have not known a local meet without a PL-something or other in attendance and each time the owner is pleased as punch they have one in their armory. Even old gnarly audiophiles confess to having a pair now and then and honestly I have not ever seen a grumble or complaint. So kudos to Soundmagic for their little cut price gems. But we are not reviewing an earphone today from Soundmagic because in front of me, well on my head to be precise, is their first ever headphone unit to come off their fabled production line and priced at around $200 they mean mid-fi business here targeting the center ground held by the likes of other indie brands such as V-Moda, Aiaiai and Fischer Audio.

Technical specifications

Frequency range:10Hz-30KHz
DC resistance:32+/-10%Ohms
Sensitivity:95+/-3db at 1KHz/mW
Maximum input power:100mW
Cable length:1.2m
Connector:3.5mm,L style plug gold-plated

I have to admit after reading the specs I was kind of looking forward to the HP100 but on hindsight I had the wrong expectation. Not a bad turn of events but just I got the signature in my head completely wrong with those 53mm drivers luring me into a fall sense of bass security. Nothing could be further from the truth actually so for those with an eye for a bit of detail in a closed can and prefer their highs and sound stage this might just be the headphone for you. For me the 53mm is used in a very different way to the normal consumer driven bass lust and this might be a bad thing given just about every new headphone these days in this segment seems to have half an eye on the DJ market.

Packaging wise the headphone is constructed of fairly solid looking plastics with metal touches and hinges with fairly large cup radius to house the 53mm drivers. The shiny cup plates will be a love them or loath them kind of thing to be honest and perhaps susceptible to scratching given the shine. This is circumaural but light headphone so can be classed as either portable or stay at home but with the v-moda-eque case and affordable price tag my bet its being brought out with the portable market in mind. And that leads me to my little devil on the shoulder, Val turn your eyes away now please. The case is wonderful, sturdy and very well designed – if it not for the fact its been done already by V-Moda for their Crossfades right down to the red internals and little net bag for holding the cables. It is a curious one because whilst a great case the headphones sonically are not in any way edgy or marketed as edgy unlike V-Moda’s whole vibe. So why try it? Not sure at all but hey at least its a great design and a great case so won’t complain too much, well because my name is not Val really.

Inside the case the headphones comes with a 3.5mm detachable single sided coiled cable (my arm hair really has a thing against these now) with a neat little snap in for holding the connection at the cup and a 3.5mm termination with a 1/4 jack add on. It comes also with a case clip for (Val sorry) your headphone case and an airline converter jack. All in all a neat little package, though slightly derivative. Comfort wise the pads are similar in depth to Hifiman leather pads, not cavernous but decent depth and sit comfortable on the ear with a nice pressure balance on the head from the padded headband. The cups themselves do have the ability to fold inwards though given the design of the case there really is no point unless your using your own bag since the supplied case does not accept a folded HP100.

So how does it sound?

Well I did mention earlier with all that styling and 53mm driver I was expecting a basshead can and frankly I got that totally wrong. But hey I had not listened to it yet so please forgive eh? This is a much smoother headphone with a more balanced approach to its presentation. It doesn’t sound overly cold or edgy either which is a big bonus and lacks any annoying spikes in the highs that would want to make me quit after a short period of listening. Pairing these with a tube amp makes sense though, giving the whole tonality a nice warm and welcoming environment.

Given the large drivers and cups the sound-stage is pretty good for a closed can and some better than average instrument separation and some great atmospherics for orchestral pieces. I particularly enjoyed the King Arthur OST “Road to Ruin” (2004) running out of the FiiO E09k and a Little Tube MK1+ – plenty of space to show off that 53mm of goodness. be warned though this is not an open can so don’t expect airy lush presentations but pretty darn good for a closed headphone and certainly superior to the M50, TMA-1 and other closed variants in the same class.

There is a little lack of beef in the upper mids and a small suck out at the 1-2k region giving it a more ethereal feel to the mids than any real weight. They do carry plenty of detail in them and don’t suffer from anything overly claustrophobic coping much better than the say the ATH M50’s and less reverb than a Creative Aurvana Live. The trebles are the forte of this headphone with pretty good extension without any undue spikes and harshness and pretty smooth overall. They are not the last word in detail at the mid-fi range so don’t expect high end analytical goodness though they are tuned with an analytical market in mind. However for the price these are certainly going to appeal to those who like their music nimble, complex and top weighted rather than bombastic and earthy.

Bass wise don’t get me wrong its not absent but it wont do any harm to stick an amp on the end of these things just to beef it up a touch and they do respond to eq’ing quite well from the FiiO E17 which will count in its favor.

A final note – though they are essentially portable they are not the easiest to drive hitting 12 noon on my Little Dot MK1 and higher straight out of an ipod – a quick glance at the 95db sensitivity might point to the culprit even though they are only 32ohms so definitely advise pairing these with your amp of choice.

Final thoughts

This is a pretty solid debut by Soundmagic and a surprisingly affordable laid back easy listening headphone that does everything in a fairly balanced manner. Special mention to an above average sound stage for a closed headphone and very good detail retrieval. Bassheads should consider the Aiaiai TMA-1 or ATH-M50 as the HP100 is definitely tuned for more critical listening. Did I enjoy it? Actually yes I did. It’s not the last word in audiophilia buts a pretty good start from the kings of budget earphones.

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