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Soundmagic PL21 First Impressions & Review

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 
I have been a fan of the Soundmagic IEMs since I first heard the PL30s. They have been my unrelenting workout IEM for over nine months and I honestly do consider them one of the best, if not the best, sub-$30 IEMs on the market.

The latest additions to Soundmagic’s lineup, the PL21 and its mic’d cousin, the MP21, cost just over $20 and come in three colors: black, white, and pink. It seems, then, that Soundmagic is targeting the more mainstream color-choosing mic-using public rather than the audiophile market. Price-wise, the PL21s compete directly with the PL30s, so my first question was: did Soundmagic sacrifice the sound for a more mainstream look and feel at the price point?


Family Portrait (clockwise, from top left): Soundmagic PL50, PL30, and PL21

Packaging

The box is identical to the one used by the PL50s. 4 sizes of silicone single-flange tips are included, but no foamies. The standard Soundmagic black ear guides are there along with the shirt clip and cable winder, but the excellent hard case found with the PL30/PL50 has been replaced with a soft pleather pouch, which is slightly disappointing as those cases are very handy . Still, a very nice set of accessories for only $21.

Build & Comfort

Other than the color schemes, the PL21s look very similar, but not identical to, the PL20s. They do, however, utilize a new cable terminated with an angled plug (unlike the straight plugs on the PL30 and PL20 cables). I consider soundmagic’s cables to be pretty good – they are flexible, sturdy, rubbery, and relatively low on microphonics, and the cables found on the PL21 are no exception. The housings themselves are very, very small. They are also quite light and I find them extremely comfortable. The nozzles are the same diameter as those on the PL50s and they work fine with sony hybrid tips as well as my generic $2 foamies. The nozzles are also angled in a way that would suggest these were designed to be worn over-the-ear, but wearing them straight down is still an option.

Update: 09/24/09: I actually prefer wearing them straight down with the single flange tips. Deeper insertion helps with the isolation and sound. Microphonics are better on the PL30s, though, partly because of the over-ear design.

Isolation

In the interest of fairness I am using them with the stock single-flange silicone tips, just like my PL30s. The isolation is pretty good – slightly better than the PL30s and about on par with my hybrid-tipped PL50s. Certainly no other earphone that I can think of at this price point provides significantly more.

Sound

First Impressions (out-of-the-box): Wow, I like these immediately. Very little of the harshness I usually attribute to brand new low-end dynamic IEMs. The sound is warm and on the dark side. Somewhat bassy, but not without control. I can see these becoming my preferred budget IEMs already.

Fully Burned-in: They have been opened up quite nicely. While the PL30s are slightly mid-forward and have pretty tight and rationed bass, these are more forward at the low end, which fills their sound out nicely, at least to my ears. The low-end bass that these put out with my test tracks did surprise me – the last sub-$40 IEMs that put out this sort of bass were my beloved, if little-known, Lenntek Sonix. Yes, the bass is rolled off approaching 30Hz, but the roll-off is pretty gentle – the bass doesn’t pull a disappearing act the way it does on the RE2’s and a few others. It is not as textured and well-defined as the bass on the NE-6s and Meelec Ai-M6’s but still rather enjoyable.

The mid-range is still fairly forward on these. They have a pretty aggressive overall sound, not unlike the famed Koss KSC75’s, with a signature that is often described as ‘fun’ and ‘lively’. The highs are present, though not particularly sparkly. Not on par with the PK3s or PL50s, but nothing to be ashamed of at this price.

I don’t think Soundmagic has made the PL30s completely irrelevant however. They are still the more neutral and accurate earphone, but they sound rather empty and detached in comparison. Pretty much the only area where the PL21s are clearly bested by the PL30s is the soundstage. The PL21s are by no means narrow, but the PL30s have one of the widest soundstages among all budget IEMs – a tough act to follow. Regardless, I think soundmagic has once again released a great low-priced product that is sure to find a following here at head-fi.

Final Word

If you are looking for good-all around earphones on a budget, the PL21s are very strong contenders. They fit well, they are built well, and they sound good. Not $100 good, but good enough to be very competitive with the other sub-$40 earphones. As such, they offer nearly unprecedented bang/buck. The sound is full and lively and the bass can be felt as well as heard. It is a very well-rounded sound, and while they may not excel at everything, I have no problem recommending them to anyone in need of great cheap IEMs.
post #2 of 24
Thanks for the review.
post #3 of 24
I will follow up till "100 Hours in" comes then decide... thanks.
post #4 of 24
I recently ordered one of these to replace my broken pl30s Hurray for SoundMAGIC!
post #5 of 24
If anyone can coment on how the PL21, or in my case the MP21, is supposed to compare to the PL30 and PL50.

Background: I just bought the MP21 yesterday. I am really liking it so far (too early to say love). I was in quite a bit of confusion when I bought them. I was set on buying the PL50 based on the reviews and comments on here about them. When I got to the store and tried them on, they did not have enough bass, or so I thought. The PL30 had significantly more bass. But now I wonder if it was because I did not get the right seal when I tried them on. Is the PL50 supposed to have a lot less bass than the PL30 and MP21? If I get the PL30, will it be much of an improvement from the MP21? (I'm already starting to turn into an addict and I'm only a pre-newbie)

Thanks.
post #6 of 24
Thread Starter 
The PL30 is most definitely not an upgrade from the PL21. It's more neutral and balanced, not as in-your-face at the low end, but it is not a better earphone. The PL21 is warmer, fuller, and richer-sounding. I don't think it will disappoint. The PL50 is more detailed, has better high- and low-end extension and is smoother as well (typical for a higher-end dynamic or BA earphone).
post #7 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by ljokerl View Post
The PL30 is most definitely not an upgrade from the PL21. It's more neutral and balanced, not as in-your-face at the low end, but it is not a better earphone. The PL21 is warmer, fuller, and richer-sounding. I don't think it will disappoint. The PL50 is more detailed, has better high- and low-end extension and is smoother as well (typical for a higher-end dynamic or BA earphone).
Hello joker,

Thank you very much for your comments.

Just to confirm my understanding, the MP21 is the same IEM as the PL21 with the exception that the MP21 has microphone capabilities? Also, the connector (sorry, I’m not sure what it’s properly called) on my MP21 has three black rings, which I assume the third is for the microphone function. Is it unusual that it fits into my iPod nano without having to use the adaptor with two black rings?

Regarding my comments on the PL50 having insufficient bass, I suspect that it is expected to have less bass than the MP21, but should it be to the point that I would think that they have insufficient bass (when played on an iPod nano)? What I am getting at here, and would like to hear your opinion, is that I think the reason for this earlier conclusion has more to do with the fact that I did not have it positioned/sealed properly in my ear, and thus the lack of bass. I am still tempted to pick up a PL50 to get the greater detail and punchier mids and lows.

Being a pre-newbie to this hobby, I am definitely liking my MP21’s so far even though I only purchased them 24 hours ago. In fact, this morning while commuting to work (a huge majority take public transit here to work) I noticed that I was smiling purely because of the sounds that I was already hearing from these babies. I am enjoying this burn-in period and can’t wait until after work when I can get back to them.

Thanks again.
post #8 of 24
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rayzilla View Post
Hello joker,

Thank you very much for your comments.

Just to confirm my understanding, the MP21 is the same IEM as the PL21 with the exception that the MP21 has microphone capabilities? Also, the connector (sorry, I’m not sure what it’s properly called) on my MP21 has three black rings, which I assume the third is for the microphone function. Is it unusual that it fits into my iPod nano without having to use the adaptor with two black rings?
Correct, the MP21 is a PL21 with an inline mic. The plug has an extra ring because it has an extra contact for the microphone. It is not unusual for a 3-ring plug to fit natively into a 2-pin connector - the only player I can think of at the moment that DOES have a problem with a 3-ring plug is the Toshiba Gigabeat F.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rayzilla View Post
Regarding my comments on the PL50 having insufficient bass, I suspect that it is expected to have less bass than the MP21, but should it be to the point that I would think that they have insufficient bass (when played on an iPod nano)? What I am getting at here, and would like to hear your opinion, is that I think the reason for this earlier conclusion has more to do with the fact that I did not have it positioned/sealed properly in my ear, and thus the lack of bass. I am still tempted to pick up a PL50 to get the greater detail and punchier mids and lows.
IMO the PL50 and PL30 have about equal amounts of bass (quantity) though the PL50 extends lower and is more detailed. The PL21 trumps both in quantity. I think you may be right about not getting a good seal with the PL50.

As for picking up another earphone, buying, trying, and selling new headphones in the hunt for that perfect sound signature on your budget is what makes this hobby fun. If you can afford to sample more sounds - go for it! Who knows, you may find that you're a fan of huge low-end impact, or smoothness, or forward mids... Only one way to find out for sure...
post #9 of 24
Thread Starter 
Updated with final impressions. They have somewhere between 110 and 130 hours on them at this point and I think the sound has stopped changing. And yes, I like them plenty.
post #10 of 24
Thread Starter 
Triple post, I know, but I just stumbled on this over at focalprice. If they are indeed PL21s, this is an epic steal. They really are the best 'fun-sounding' sub-$30 phones I've owned.
post #11 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by ljokerl View Post
Triple post, I know, but I just stumbled on this over at focalprice. If they are indeed PL21s, this is an epic steal. They really are the best 'fun-sounding' sub-$30 phones I've owned.
WOW! When I saw this, I quickly bought another one it was pretty much a no brainer. The one from DealPerfect that I ordered got shipped out today. FocalPrice is a genuine retailer of SoundMAGIC products if you have ever bought a SoundMAGIC product from them.

EDIT AND UPDATE: Price went up, but it's still the lowest costing PL21 in the market.
post #12 of 24
Thanks for your writeup. I expecting to get them soon. Since tracking numbers don't work at Dealpefect I simply don't have much idea when.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ljokerl View Post
Triple post, I know, but I just stumbled on this over at focalprice. If they are indeed PL21s, this is an epic steal. They really are the best 'fun-sounding' sub-$30 phones I've owned.
Quote:
Originally Posted by pros1n View Post
WOW! When I saw this, I quickly bought another one it was pretty much a no brainer. The one from DealPerfect that I ordered got shipped out today. FocalPrice is a genuine retailer of SoundMAGIC products if you have ever bought a SoundMAGIC product from them.

EDIT AND UPDATE: Price went up, but it's still the lowest costing PL21 in the market.
I suppose they were damn cheap. Like same happened to PL50, focalprice again probably just ignore the actual pricetag.
Likely Michael Lin said first time, ”they simply damage our brand”.
I don't think they allowed to sell SoundMAGIC products anymore. I want to tell you that SoundMAGIC simply dropped them due to problematic about what happened to PL50, at least for that model. I wonder how we can still find the rest of the line there.
post #13 of 24
Hi all

How do the PL21 sound compared with PL20? Is the l-shaped connector the only difference?

Raúl
post #14 of 24
Anyone else that picked up the pl21's have any impressions?
post #15 of 24
I was not going to do it, but given the price I ordered a pair from Focalprice. I'm still waiting for them to arrive, but when they do I wanted to post a very subjective comparison between them and the PL30.
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