Pros: detailed neutral/reference sound signature, solid build, very comfortable to wear
Cons: bulky case
This is a review of SoundMagic HP150 full size audiophile headphones. Since SoundMagic haven't updated their website in a long time and MICCA Store (their official US distributor) doesn't have it listed on their page yet, I'm providing Amazon link http://www.amazon.com/SoundMAGIC-HP150-Premium-Folding-Headphones/dp/B00LV8TR54/ . Also, I would like to mention this headphone unit was provided to me for a review purpose.
I have to start my review by admitting that I'm not a big fan of full size over-ear headphones. I'm constantly on the move and find IEMs to suite me better. Another reason, in the past I wasn't able to find full size headphones with a sound signature that I enjoy 100%. When it comes to in-ear monitors, you get so many choices to pick from and on top of that you have a selection of eartips to fine tune the sound further. With full size, you're kind of stuck unless if you are lucky to find a compatible replacement earpads to add a little more space between the driver and your ears. I have tested some over-/on-ear headphones in the past, but found those either too commercial v-shaped or too analytical with overbearing brightness and lack of low end. So I almost gave up on full size headphones until I discovered SoundMagic HP150, a refresh update to their popular HP100 closed back full size headphones. Here is a reason why HP150 changed my mind.
I found the box it arrived in to have a lot of useful info to help you discover these headphones even before taking them out. Beside the usual specification and accessories listing, it had a very detailed description of the design and Frequency Response curve. It takes a lot of confidence and pride to put that on the box cover. Inside of the packaging box I found the entire space occupied by a rectangular carrying hardcase box with headphones and all the accessories inside of it. Seeing pictures of the original HP100 case, I was a bit disappointed considering this is a straight forward case rather than V-moda like molded case used with HP100. I guess this case is more Beyer inspired and serves it's purpose with a roomy interior, foam shaped insert lining where headphones go in, and mesh pocket with a velcro on the opposite side to store the accessories.
The accessories include 1.2m removable cable (both 3.5mm sides with a twist lock on the side going into earcup), 3m extension cable, 1/4" twist on adapter plug, and airplane adapter. Unlike original HP100 coiled cable, this one is straight with a shorter length for a more convenient use with DAP or Smartphone. The cable shielding is durable, thicker, and still soft enough to wrap easily for storage. Both sides of the cable have a decent strain relief next to a jack and the housing of the plug itself is metal with gold plated connector. Extension cable is the same thickness with a same shielding, but I was a bit surprised that it's 3.5mm end didn't have a thread for 1/4" adapter, while original 1.2m cable did. In theory, if you want to use HP150 with a desktop equipment the extension cable is more convenient and might require an adapter in that case. But it's really a minor thing.
Headphone construction and design
Now, regarding headphones construction. The overall design is very solid and all the materials feel high quality down to metal screws. Starting with an oversized earcups housing 53mm dynamic neodymium drivers, these are attached to y-fork going to the main headband joint. There is a degree of vertical rotation, but they don't flip 180deg for a flat storage, though each earcup does rotates 180deg for dj-style listening. Also, there is a unique feature where the whole earcup could be rotated 90 degree up to open your ear without a need to shift headband. For a more compact storage they also fold inside of the headband to occupy a minimum footprint. Headband itself is metal reinforced with a perfect amount of clamping force. The adjustment is very smooth and precise and has a marking on the metal band to indicate the steps. Inside of the band you have a soft padding, and the whole headband is wrapped in a soft quality pleather. Another difference with the original HP100 is a soft touch uniform finish material used on earcup cover and also what seems to be a plushier deeper earpads which provide enough room between my ears and the drivers to avoid the contact. The combination of these earpads and perfect amount of clamping force provides a good sound isolation. Though being closed back design, each earcup also has a few millimeter wide air port opening which should contribute to soundstage improvement. While being a full size headphones with a rather large earcups, HP150 felt very comfortable and lightweight on my head during extended period of use and I noticed the earpads didn't get too hot on my ears.
So how do these sound? From the moment I put these on out of the box, my opinion changed from a balanced sound signature to a neutral-reference after low end settled down and upper frequencies got smoother. You don't need too much burn in time to hear the difference, and within first 10hrs I already heard a significant improvement. But to get the most out of these, they really benefit from external amping which improves the soundstage and adds more details across the entire spectrum range. As I mentioned before, the sound is neutral and perceived even across FR. It's very detailed and has a perfect amount of brightness to get close to analytical level without crossing a threshold of being too bright or sibilant. The amount of micro-details you will hear is amazing, and it especially revealing when it comes to vocals and little nuances of singer taking a breath or musicians strumming instruments, etc. The sound separation and layering is very transparent where you can zoom into every instrument and find it's precise positioning in space. For a closed back headphones these have a really good soundstage in 3D space. Of course they will not provide the same amount of air in comparison to open headphones, but in my opinion they came close to DT880 semi-open, and actually matched or exceeded most of the other full size I tested before (M50x, Momentum, P7, M100, DNA Pro).
More about the sound itself. My experience with full size headphones in the past was around those with a balanced sound signature and enhanced bass and different levels of v-shaped mids. I also auditioned DT990 and T70p in the past and found them to be too bright for my taste with not enough bass. HP150 really nails it for me in terms of a sound quality. Though I do enjoy the bass and my ears get adjusted to it, in comparison to HP150 most of the balanced headphones I tested before had too much of mid-bass bloat and overall warmth. For example, going between M50x and HP150 feels like a weight lifted off my ears lol! HP150 bass has a very detailed quality with an intelligent quantity to reach the level called by a particular instrument. While listening to a mellow tracks you get more of a deep sub-bass called by it's specific acoustic instruments, while with pop tracks you get more of a mid-bass punch to get the rhythm going, and when it comes to EDM music which is what I listen to most of the time - you get a fast attack of mid-bass slam with a deep extended textured sub-bass. There is no bleed into lower mids, bass is well contained and under control. Mids, and especially upper-mids since I focus a lot on vocals, are very detailed with a perfect amount of brightness without sounding too thin, and with a smooth full body without sounding too warm. Treble is crisp and very detailed, extends pretty far, also has enough brightness but it's smooth without a hint of sibilance. High frequencies are tuned just perfect to sound bright and clear without becoming too hot or peaky, and overall very easy on your ears for extended listening period without causing ear fatigue. With added amplifier, I was using E11k with a cable from HS6 kit, the sound becomes more dynamic, soundstage widens, and you get additional layer of details - the sound doesn't just get louder but scales up in every dimension!
Overall, I was VERY impressed with these headphones!!! I always craved to find a neutral reference sound cans and lost a hope that I will be able to find anything in a lower budget price range. If you think about it, for under $200 this SoundMagic HP150 model is a BARGAIN considering it's design, build quality, and amazing sound signature. Perhaps it's a little bit of new toy syndrome excitement, but I have a feeling HP150 should be added to a "Giant Killer" category since I have a feeling it can come close in performance to some of the more well known audiophile headphones from Senns, Beyer, AKG, and AT that cost a lot more. I'm being realistic and not suggesting they will stomp all over headphones that cost 5x as much, but in my personal opinion and by memory of when I had a chance to test T5p - I wasn't as excited about the sound of T5p ($1400) as I was now about HP150 ($199). Just my personal opinion, but if you are looking for that end-game audiophile quality pair of full size headphones and on a tight budget, I would HIGHLY recommend to consider HP150 and a small portable amp where together for under $300 you will have a KILLER audiophile quality sound like you never experienced before!
Here are the pictures (click to expand).