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Soundmagic PL50 impressions+appreciation thread

post #1 of 208
Thread Starter 
Ok with all the people out there ordering the PL50s at focal price last week we knew someone had to make one.

I just got mine yesterday (4 days from HK via EMS - not bad at all) and they are pretty darn good. I have to use them for a few days to adjust (everything sounds a bit muddy after RE0s) but I like them quite a bit for $50 earphones so far. The packaging has been described in detail before, so I'll be quick - Soundmagic really did a great job of packing these into the smallest possible volume. Basically, the box is proportional in size to the earphones themselves - both are tiny. As for style, the box is very handsome (miles ahead of the P10/PL30 boxes) and definitely much more "giftable" than the old soundmagic packaging (especially that of the P10s). The earphones themselves aren't style slouches either with their dark blue metallic finish and color-coded left-right earpieces (I've always been a fan of this trend for convenience's sake).

Putting them on is a pleasure - the tiny earpieces make it hard to imagine an ear in which these wouldn't sit comfortably. The stock foam tips are the same as the ones from the PL30s - I've always liked these so much I still use them on my RE0s and most other phones (anywhere the stock Olives don't fit ).

Another thing worth mentioning is the microphonics - I would rate them as very low, but I may still be recovering from the shock I received upon using the Meelec Ai-M6 on the go for a day (some of the worst microphonics in my experience). Either way, the microphonics are definitely not bad enough to get in the way of the listening experience.

Now, on to the most important thing: the sound. They are definitely very competitive at the price. I am surprised by their balance for a single BA earphone - they don't go quite as high as Ety Er6i's, but higher than most earphones in the range (followed closely by RE2s and Meelec Ai-m9/m6s). The upper end of the range has a nice warm sparkle that reminds me of the Yuin PK3s.

I was also surprised by the bass these can actually produce when prodded (though they don't tend towards kicking you in the face with a flat EQ). I would say that out of all the sub-$60 dynamics these are closest in balance to Maximo Im-590's - very neutral on most counts with a strong bass kick. I think the PL50s actually go lower down than the Maximos, perhaps even as low as my old deep bass fave - the Lenntek Sonix. You can definitely feel the bass as well as hear it. All but the most hardcore bassheads will be able to satisfy their sinful urges with a bit of EQ tweaking.

The old dynamic PL30s sounded like an inverse-V frequency response curve, with forward, fun mids flanked by somewhat rolled off lows and highs. The PL50s don't follow in their predecessor's footsteps - they seem very balanced, almost flat, if not slightly recessed in the middle. They do a great job of separating out the notes - everything has it's own place in the music. In addition, the soundstage is surprisingly wide - I would say its a bit narrower than that on the RE0s: narrow by flagship IEM standards, but very, very impressive for the price.

I think I need to give these a few more days before I go rambling on about how great they sound (hopefully what I've said gets this across). I am very, very impressed by them so far. They do everything well or better, and that is impressive in itself. For the $50 that they currently cost, it is nearly impossible to go wrong with these little wonders.

There. I have added a cistern of oil to the hype machine. Feel free to chip in with more compliments or throw some wrenches in the gears .

Edit: 08/05/09 - Pracicality Notes

Well, I took these to work/school today and have now been wearing them for about 4-1/2 hours straight, with and without music playing, and I must give another usability point to them. Due to their complete lack of weight and flat form factor they are probably the most unfatiguing IEMs to wear for a long time of all the ones I've owned. I forget I'm wearing them quite easily. Isolation is pretty average, but I haven't tried any tips besides stock foamies yet. Also, their shape makes it really easy to remove and put them on very quickly. Another point goes to the cable - it really is one of the less microphonic cables I've used. It's also quite thick, but not inconveniently so. The fact that it is entirely rubberized, including the connector and the split strain relief, makes it feel less cheap than most.

I want to note that if you are not used to IEMs you may have a problem telling if you've got a good fit with these as they are very light and feel 'right' even if they aren't in all the way. If they do not seal completely, the sound is thin and somewhat hollow/dull, with almost no bass impact.

Not quite ready to give my final verdict on the sound yet, but they're sounding comparatively laid-back and relaxed to me right now.

Edit: 08/06/09: Sound Notes.

Well, not everything is perfect soundmagic-land. After three days of critical listening (20+ hours during which the sound has not changed at all) I can no longer attribute what I'm hearing to simply being spoiled by my RE0s and Etymotics. There is something ever-so-slightly off about the way these sound. Don't get me wrong - the notes are all there, but the overall sound is just a bit distant and veiled compared to some of the other earphones in the price range. I'm not sure this is the right term, but I think they lack resolve - i.e. the sound is slightly run-together when a lot of things are going on simultaneously on the track. Hopefully someone else can confirm/discredit this when more people start getting their PL50s, and I will post more updates as I listen. *Confirmed*

Edit: 08/12/09: General Notes.

For anyone too lazy to read through the thread, a new issue has popped up. Turns out that the stock foam tips that soundmagic supplies with these are a rather tight fit on their longish, notched nozzle. As a result, they are quite difficult to remove without damage to the tips themselves or even to the earphone. This is annoying, to say the least.

On the upside, I have been using these with Sony Hybrid tips and they work very well. Hybrids are well-known for their comfort, and they provide a good seal and sound plenty natural with the PL50s. I am getting used to the sound but have to say that the signature is on the warm side and not as clear as I would maybe like. I still consider these very competetive for the price, but they are simply good all-around - they just fail to shock with anything in particular (except maybe their diminutive size ). The PL30s, on the other hand, are more "fun", which often makes them a more involving listening experience. Both are still great all-rounders at their respective price points.

Update 08/25/09

Soundmagic has promised replacement foam tips for anyone affected by the tight fitting issue. Keep your eye on dealperfect PL50 product page for more info (Thanks, Belabor) or contact your vendor directly.
post #2 of 208
Will have to remind myself to post my impressions when I get my PL50's. I just ordered them yesterday, so that should be one or two weeks.

Oh, and thank you for your impressions. Like all other reviews, this IEM doesn't seem to have downsides at all. Overall an excellent buy.
post #3 of 208
see, didnt i tell you they are bloody good
post #4 of 208
Do you have any sources that tend to hiss, that you can test with these?

The reason I ask is that there was a review that I googled, which complained that the hiss was greater than that of the PL30 with identical sources (like the Fiio E5 amp). I actually gave my PL30's away for that reason, so I was totally turned off.

Here's the review: http://www.techenclave.com/show-off/...-a-139779.html

I have a great source, Fuze with Cr02 portable amp - I just want to have the flexibility to be able to use these with others that may not be so great, like my phone, PC and E5.
post #5 of 208
I'm in the market for a non-expensive IEM - damn, should give these a try too.
post #6 of 208
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by PolloLoco View Post
Do you have any sources that tend to hiss, that you can test with these?

The reason I ask is that there was a review that I googled, which complained that the hiss was greater than that of the PL30 with identical sources (like the Fiio E5 amp). I actually gave my PL30's away for that reason, so I was totally turned off.
My netbook probably has the worst line out in the history of onboard audio and it really doesn't hiss too much with these at reasonable volumes. Same with the E5 - keep the volume under 1/3 on the amp and you'll be fine.
post #7 of 208
Quote:
Originally Posted by ljokerl View Post
My netbook probably has the worst line out in the history of onboard audio and it really doesn't hiss too much with these at reasonable volumes. Same with the E5 - keep the volume under 1/3 on the amp and you'll be fine.
Thanks for the heads up. But when you say "too much" - that suggests that these probably aren't for me. :-) If I can hear any hiss at reasonable listening levels (where I'd actually plan to listen) - I get very frustrated. My Meelectronic AIM-9's don't have this issue, though I'm betting the PL50's sound better overall. I'll probably end up staying with the AIM-9's.
post #8 of 208
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by PolloLoco View Post
Thanks for the heads up. But when you say "too much" - that suggests that these probably aren't for me. :-) If I can hear any hiss at reasonable listening levels (where I'd actually plan to listen) - I get very frustrated. My Meelectronic AIM-9's don't have this issue, though I'm betting the PL50's sound better overall. I'll probably end up staying with the AIM-9's.
Well, my netbook line out is very loud, so my "reasonable listening level" on that is one volume bar. There's no hiss at all on that level. I probably made them sound hissier than they really are, I'd say they are about on par with my Ai-M9P/Ai-M6.
post #9 of 208
How do these compare to the KSC75s? And have you tried the ADDIEMs? If so, how about those?
post #10 of 208
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Foie View Post
How do these compare to the KSC75s? And have you tried the ADDIEMs? If so, how about those?
I don't really think its fair to compare these to KSC75s as those have inherent advantages in airyness and natural-ness of sound. However, I will say that the PL50s have more impact and are a bit smoother overall. They are also more refined on the low end and have about the same soundstage (which is impressive in itself). I can't say which I would take if could only keep one, but certainly the PL50s put up a good fight.

I have tried the ADDIEMs (friend had a pair until he learned that he got totally ripped at the apple store). From what I remember of them, they were perhaps a bit more detailed across the range, but they really cannot compete in the lows with PL50s. I also very much prefer the fit of the soundmagics (although i didn't use my hybrid tips with the ADDEMs) and the build quality as well. I remember someone described the ADDIEMs sound as having "no real flaws". Well the PL50s have no real flaws both in sound and practicality, and that is why I like them so much atm.
post #11 of 208
Sometimes it's best not to reason too much and just let your instincts do the work. That's how I came to pull the trigger on the PL50 when they were only $38 at FocalPrice. Yesterday I took them for a morning listening session, walking through the Gardens of Schönbrunn on my way to work. Here are my impressions:

Stacey Kent - Ice Hotel (Female Vocal Jazz):
This is always my first test song, because it reveals a lot about the qualities of a phone. Stacey's voice has a gorgous timbre that benefits from a slightly warm midrange. With the PL50 it's all there, not too cold or overly warm, I'd say great mids. Then there's the sibilance test when she sings the word "Ice". The PL50 handle it very well, just a slightest hint of sibilance, no real problem. Nice cymbals in that song too, that tell me the highs are adequately taken care of. Not especially bright or sparkly, but I have to say they are better than on the Klipsch X10, a much pricier single Armature IEM. Speaking of the X10, there's also some formidable bass in the song and in this regard the PL50 reminds me a lot of the Klipsch - definitely a compliment.

First impression: awesome for a <$50 phone!

Vladimir Ashkenazy - Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2, last movement
Ok, maybe this is not fair - there are more expensive phones that can't handle complex fortissimo orchestration all too well. But again the PL50 come off better than expected. While I have general reservations about BA phones and classical (discussed here if you're interested) these portrait instruments and orchestra dynamics quite well. Except with high piano notes and brass there's something like a "metallic coloring" that gets annoying the more I crank up the volume. And - I had not noticed this before - soundstage is rather limited. Checking with Stacey once more to confirm: while an intimate soundstage suits her well I do not like it at all with classical orchestra.

Overall I'm still impressed, but certain limitations become apparent. I believe the PL30 are more airy and have better soundstage, will AB them later. *)

Indigo Girls - Digging for Your Dream (Folk / Rock)
No complaints here, the voices are great, acoustic guitars nicely rendered. A very mids-centered song, the PL50 do an excellent job.

Markus Schulz - Mainstage / On A Wave (Trance, kudos to shigzeo!)
Sub bass on "Mainstage" is not really present with the PL50. These phones reach down to about 30Hz and they seem to do better with punchy bass than with a low rumbling, because on the second song bass is much more satisfying, fast and dry. And despite of heavy synth interference in the upper range, female vocals remain calm and smooth - but a wider soundstage would have benefitted the spacy feeling of the song.

More and more I come to think that amongst my IEMs these are most similar to the Klipsch X10. Both have about the same soundstage and while the X10 has a tad more detail IMO, highs are more extended with the PL50.

Triosence - When You Come Home (Instrumental Jazz)
I chose this, because I wanted to hear the PL50 with piano once more, as that "metallic coloring" with Rachmaninov kept nagging me. However the piano is much more relaxed here and I have to crank up the volume really loud to hear a hint of "metallic coloring" again. No problem as long as I'm listening at normal volume. Other than that they sound just great, relaxed and non fatiguing.

What more to tell? Leaving the gardens and exposing myself to the street noise of morning commuters, I realize that though the PL50 are closed and I have a good seal, isolation is not what I would have wished for. Maybe it's because their nozzle is rather short and they don't go far into the ear canal, or because they are so lightly built, I don't know. But IME they don't isolate much better than the FX500 (which are open) and slightly less than the IE8. Taking into consideration that isolation has also been a weak point with the PL30, it would be great if Soundmagic could improve on future models.

Final thoughts:
The PL50 are excellent value for the money. They are definitely a step up from the PL30 in overall sound quality, though I suppose the PL30 are slightly better in airiness and soundstage - but I've done no ABing yet. *) All in all, the PL50 are great allrounders and will sound very good with almost all kind of music. If I had to rate them against the Klipsch X10, which are most similar sounding phones IMO, I would be unable to pick a clear winner. However, if you need real good isolation these might not be your best choice.

Edit: *) Confirmed by AB comparison: PL30 are slightly better in airiness and soundstage IMO.
post #12 of 208
nice impressions
post #13 of 208
Head-Direct seems to stock them now: Head-Direct.com | YUIN
post #14 of 208
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by mark2410 View Post
nice impressions
+1. Thanks for the read.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nsx_23 View Post
Head-Direct seems to stock them now: Head-Direct.com | YUIN
Nice but jeez, they're really marking them up now. Buying the PL30s from them was always about 30% more expensive than HK (excluding shipping). Now they've gone up to about 45% over the HK retailers .
post #15 of 208
Quote:
Originally Posted by ljokerl View Post
Now they've gone up to about 45% over the HK retailers .
That is where you'll pay for the 30 days refund, 90 days replacement policy and the customer service from a reputable dealer whenever you need it for warranty
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