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Over-Ear item created by jacksonchansf, Oct 30, 2012
Pros - very detailed sound, amazing 3D soundstage, excellent build quality
Cons - sound isolation and sound leakage due to open back
I would like to start my review by Thanking SoundMagic and MICCA (their US distributor) for providing me with a review sample of HP200 headphones.
In my opinion SoundMagic is extremely underrated. A lot of people are familiar with their budget line of E10 in-ears and P21 on-ears headphones, all under $50 with a great price/performance ratio, but overlook their line of full size audiophile over-ear HP150 and HP200 due to $200 price tag without realizing their performance comes close and in some cases even surpasses a higher priced Beyer DTxyz and Senns HDxyz headphones. As a matter of fact I can actually confirm this since I had a chance to audition DT880/990 loaners in the past and don't recall having the same WOW! factor effect after sub-merging in their sound where I felt bass accuracy didn't reach the same level and upper frequencies were more on a harsh side. Also, I have read a number of impressions with people praising HP200 over HD600 and even HD650, which is quite a compliment. I rarely review full size headphones since I focus more on portable footprint of IEMs, but with my previous review of HP150 and now a chance to review HP200 I had to make an exception. Here is what I found.
Unboxing and Accessories.
Let me first start by mentioning this is an updated 2014 version of HP200 full size headphones. Unlike recently updated HP150, according to SoundMagic HP200 design and tuning remained the same with an exception of a new packaging box and accessories aligned with HP150. In terms of packaging, it's a similarly designed (as HP150) black/white box with plethora of info about design details, specification, and description of accessories. Frequency Response graph, identical to the original HP200, is included too, and as I always say: 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 hard case box with headphones and all the accessories inside of it. Accessories still include the same airplane adapter, 1/4" adapter, 3 meter extension cord, but no longer a carabiner clip. This change is not accidental because SoundMagic also switched to a new rectangular shaped case introduced with HP150. The case is very Beyer inspired and has plenty of room to keep HP200 in a display foam cutout with a mesh pocket on the flip cover for storage of a detachable cable, extension cord, and other accessories. The original form-fitted case inspired by V-Moda was OK, but in my opinion it was too tight putting some pressure on the headband and its joints. If you really think about it, these are large headphones to begin with, and the case will be used more for storage and transportation rather than carrying it outside attached on carabiner. Regarding the cable, the original detachable part is only 1.2m which is great for portable gear listening, and if you need to extend it - you have additional 3 meters of a decent quality cable.
Old vs New HP100/200 case pics.
Headphone construction and design.
Regarding headphones construction, I will probably use a few quotes from my original HP150 review. Next to each other, HP150 and HP200 look like twins from headband down to y-fork earcup attachment with the only major difference of a metal grill in open back design.
HP200 vs HP150.
The overall design is very solid, materials are high quality, the build is sturdy, and handling is creak-free. Starting with an oversized earcups housing 53mm dynamic neodymium drivers, these are attached to y-fork going to the main headband joint. Though they don't flip 180deg for a flat storage, each earcup does rotates 180deg for dj-style listening. Also with a help of an additional joint connection there is a unique feature where the whole earcup could swing up 90 degrees to open your ear without a need to shift headband. For a more compact storage HP200 folds inside of the headband with earcups on top of each other to occupy a minimum footprint, and you can also fold them inward symmetrically by extending the headband to fit earcups inside, though I personally prefer a typical Beats-style folding. Headband itself is metal reinforced with a very comfortable clamping force. The adjustment is very smooth and precise and has a marking on the metal band to indicate the steps when you adjust the height of headband. Inside of the band you have a soft padding, and the whole headband is wrapped in a soft quality pleather. Of course a big difference in comparison to HP150 is an open back earcups with a steel mesh grill cover. This cover provides a good level of protection and actually looks pretty cool, though I wish it wouldn't be painted because it can potentially chip down the road. On the other side, you have a plushy deep earpads that provide enough room between my ears and the drivers to avoid any contact. From my experience of using HP150 for extended period of time, earpads do get a bit hot but it's very tolerable especially with HP200 having a slightly weaker (in comparison to HP150) clamping force where sound isolation is not the highest priority.
Just like in HP150, HP200 has a removable cable with 3.5mm connector and twist-lock attachment mechanism located in the left earcup. Fortunately if you want to step up to a higher quality durable cable, I was able to use Lunashops silver-plated cable (http://www.lunashops.com/goods.php?id=4561) which has 5mm slim housing that goes right inside of the connector.
With any other typical close back full size headphones I would have mentioned that a snuggly fit of earcups with comfy earpads and perfect amount of clamping force should provide a decent isolation, but these are open backs not intended for sound isolation from outside and to outside. The intent of these headphones is to provide you with the most life-like listening experience where as a consequence the sound will leak outside at a very noticeable level and you will be well aware of surrounding noise as well. In my opinion, open back headphones are not intended for public listening, and to enjoy them to their full potential you will need a private listening space. But in general to summarize the construction and the design, for a full size headphones with a rather large earcups HP200 felt very comfortable and lightweight on my head even during extended listening period, though I got a lot of complaints from my wife and kids to leave the room since a sound leakage was distracting.
Design detail pics.
So how do they sound? I would describe an overall sound as neutral reference type with a slightly v-shaped signature and more emphasis on higher frequencies. But in NO way this is your typical boring neutral signature with a focus on thin high frequencies reaching sibilance level. We are talking about a clear and a detailed sound with a nice extension at both sides of the frequency spectrum and life-like natural sound reproduction down to micro-detail level. Since I use mostly IEMs and closed back full size headphones, it was truly an ear opening experience for me to hear layering and separation of instruments surrounded by the air in 3D space. But it still felt a bit dry until I paired it up with an amp to breath a new life into a sound. You don't really need an amp to drive these, but to get the most out of HP200 and to keep their open 3D imaging - you need to find the right amp to make their sound shine. I found the best synergy when pairing HP200 up with Cayin C5 where I was able to preserve and even enhance its wide soundstage and to improve the dynamics of the sound taking this neutral signature to the next level with an improved balance.
Surprisingly with a silver-plated cable upgrade (as mentioned before) instead of making it sound brighter and harsher, it tightened up the bass, smoothed out the treble, and kicked it up a notch in micro-detail retrieval. Additionally, HP200 scaled up very nicely after I switched C5 bass boost on, adding more authority to the bass with a sub-/mid-bass boost, and weight to the lower mids with additional body to warm up the vocals.
But going back to the original description of the sound, here is what I found after about 60hrs of burn in. Bass of HP200 has a high level of accuracy down to a sub-bass (rumble) and a punchy mid-bass, though with a bit slower attack. I did find quality to be excellent, but the original quantity is on a neutral reference level, thus an amp is a big plus. Also, bass comes out to play only when called upon, and there is a clear separation from lower mids. As I mentioned above, bass scales up very nicely with an external boost or EQ, whichever you prefer. Mids are very lean at lower end and brighter and very detailed at higher end. They are slightly recessed which balances them out with the rest of the frequency range, and the bright nature of mids doesn't get too much in your face making them sound smoother. Vocals are very clear and detailed, and also benefit a lot from an amp's bass boost to add some body and warmth. Treble is crisp and bright yet under control without being sibilant, though it does get a bit hot in some of the tracks. But at the same time it's quite tolerable for an extended listening.
In comparison to HP150, HP200 has slightly less sub-bass and brighter upper mids/treble which leads HP150 to have a smoother warmer sound. But otherwise they are very comparable with the biggest difference of HP200 having a much wider airy sound due to an open back design.
Overall, I was very impressed with performance and design of HP200 full size headphones, but at the same time it made me a bit sad. With these headphones I was able to achieve a high level of accuracy and details, without sacrificing a bass quality, and scale up the sound beyond a neutral characteristics when properly amped. Also, the open back design really "opened" up a level of sound stage depth and width like I have never experience before. At the same time it made me sad because I can't use these headphones too often in my daily listening due to a privacy constraints, though moving forward I probably will be looking for any excuse to spend more time in our guest bedroom or in a basement when kids go to sleep because the sound leakage is quite noticeable. But regardless of that, it was a pleasure to experience an open back design and to be able to appreciate a true audiophile quality headphones while still maintaining a portable setup of my X5 DAP and C5 amp. Definitely gets my high recommendation!
Pros - Comfort, Detail, Imaging, Stage. Lively Balanced Sound
Full review here:
Fit & Comfort:
Perfect! The headband and pads are quite thick and very, very soft; making the HP200 one of the most comfortable headphones I've ever tried. As soft as a pillow. The soft pads offer a very easy seal, and there's practically no clamping force, and yet they feel very secure. They may not be the lightest, but the well-padded headband helps to forget about the extra weight. Great for long listening periods.
The main part. This is why I like over-ear, full size cans and 'open' design, over everything else. While isolation and portability are not their strengths, one thing is for sure, they do not disappoint when it comes to sound performance. Usually, open back headphones offer a more natural sound reproduction with a much better sense of space and air. These new SoundMagic HP200 are no exception.
While the HP200 aren't necessarily hard to drive from a decent budget DAP, such as Sansa Clip+, Ipod Shuffle and similar, they do benefit from a more powerful source or decent amplification. They won't show their true power, but will surprise nonetheless with the lively, fun and extra detailed presentation. Extension on both ends is more limited. Bass is still strong, but less tight, and highs feel hotter and less controlled. The overall signature is slightly more of the V-shaped type, with the midrange being the more affected and they won't sound as open and effortless. The sound seems to match the frequency response graph showed in the box. In a way they remind me of some Audio-Technica headphones, with their lively and aggressive V-shaped signature.
My main impressions are based on the HP200 fed by the new Panda Audio Amp-S which is quite powerful. A transparent amp with a pretty neutral/flat response, close to zero coloration, and that improves every characteristic of the earphone/headphone more to its fullest potential.
The HP200 present a rich and very lively and effortless sound without leaving the details behind. Not a laid-back or flat-neutral response, rather leaning slightly towards to an aggressive presentation, but never to the point of being overwhelming. It’s very full from lows to highs and doesn't lack at any field.
The bass is at its fullest featuring incredible detail together with a nice sense of warmth. It is very tight and incredible detailed. Not a heavy bass headphone by any means (unless extra coloration/amping added), but north of being bass-light, just an adequate amount, rather true to the source (the music track). Mid-bass has a lot of rumble, with enough impact and quick attack and doesn't feel lacking in quantity, leaving a clean field to the lower mids. Thus, bass bleed is non-existent. Extension is truly great with that 'limitless' feel, and decay is quite good. Sub-bass reaches far and deep with ease and is capable of showing up to every beat and kick. It's the kind of bass that manages to make you a little dizzy at first, if not used to it, which is usually a plus in my book when referring to 'open' headphones or earphones.
The midrange is where the source used has the most effect, as the HP200 tend to respond very accordingly to it, and so it's the most difficult part to describe without considering the rest audio gear components that take part on the play (Dap, Dac and/or Amp). That's no to say that the HP200 are picky, on the contrary, they're quite true to the source without showing a 'personal' coloration of their own.
Depending on the amping I used, the mids themselves could sound very rich and sweet (but not to be called mid-centered yet), or rather more neutral and linear. Not exactly a day and night difference but quite noticeable to the more focused listener.
Either way, the midrange could be seen as one of the strengths of the SM HP200. It is very open and very full with a slight emphasis towards the upper tones, beautifully balanced from top to low mids and free of graininess. Technically it shows fantastic articulation and resolution, with a very realistic note, as expected from an 'open' full-size can. They are fairly forwarded with and an extra weight and richness to grab the attention of the listener, and far from being overly thick and congested. Well powered, they can sound very effortless, open and transparent with a very nice sense of warmth without forgetting to add a catching fun factor.
As for vocals, it's possible to say they simply 'shine'. Not only they're given a high priority when positioning them, but also intelligibly presented with impressive clarity. While they won't fall into the vocal-centered group, vocals are beautifully textured and very sweet and moving. They're still not perfect, though, as they can be slightly edgy at times and somehow sibilant with some tracks, not to the point of being harsh and unbearable for sure, but still not as 'perfectly silky and smooth' as they could. Even though, when it comes to vocal response, the HP200 are of the best I've came across.
The upper end has a slight extra emphasis over the rest of the frequencies. For the treble quantity, the HP200 definitely can classify as a brighter headphone. Furthermore, part of their livelier and exciting presentation is due to the slightly hotter and aggressive nature, and while not peaky or piercing, they are not fatigue-free either after some use. Treble quality is top-notch, not only worth of being called the company's 'flagship' but also a true top-tier. Similarly to the low end, the highs' extension is nothing short of excellent and can reach the upper notes with ease, making them well-balanced with the bass depth. Cymbals are sharply presented and the lower-treble lend an added crunch to guitars along with the upper-midrange.
The micro-detail is one of the most amazing features of the HP200. They manage to show every smallest detail, not in an 'analytical' detailed way, but in a very dynamic one. The level of detail is so impressive that, at first, may even give the impression of something going wrong with the source used. Yes, they will show the minimal detail, making them quite a revealing headphone. The difference between 320 Kbps Mp3 and Lossless files is easily noticed with these SoundMagic's.
As expected, the soundstage is quite huge with an exceptional immersive three-dimensional presentation, and the SM HP200 provide incredible imaging, giving the right position and distant to each instrument taking care of not sounding 'too' airy. Of course they offer that 'out of the head' feel and fullness from a true open design.
Pros - Great Price, Quality Build, Deep Bass, Sparkly Highs, Clean & Clear Sound, Detailed, Good Amount of Accessories
Cons - Proprietary Cable Locking Mechanism
Review on the SoundMAGIC HP200 Hello all; I'm here to give you guys a review on this mighty fine pair of cans, the HP200's, that I found to be one that punches way above its price range.
Introduction Firstly, I'd like to say that I wasn't really in the market to get any headphones as of yet, but seeing that I recently got a part-time job to do this Christmas holidays, I decided to go read around some reviews on headphones that not many people own, but have good value for the price you pay - So yeah, an impulsive buy, if you'd like to call it. Nonetheless, after reading reviews here and there, I decided to purchase the SoundMAGIC HP200, because of their highly praised reviews, but minimal amount of owners across the globe; these were the ones I had to have.
It was not until I received the headphones from Noisy Motel (Great service as per usual - Friendly and very fast when it came to posting the item via Express), that I realised that they were worth every penny I spent on it. My impulsive buy, had just became my best buy.
Anyhoo...it's time for me to kick-start my review with my usual; pictorial unboxing pictures.
Unboxing Not much needs to be said here, besides that the pictures were taken with my Nikon L310 with a UV filter attached
(Excuse the little black blur spots in the corners of some pictures..it was due to my lens hood that gave that effect. Some images are relatively dark due to the weather, as it was about to rain)
Spoiler: Pictorial Unboxing
The standard cardboard box that contains the great sensation.
FR Graph (Side View)
Other Side View
Bad Quality Birds-Eye View
Back View of the box
The beast with its plastic exterior covering
Aaand, there they are again
Spoiler: Accessories Included
All included accessories
3.5mm to 6.3mm gold-plated adapter
Warranty card (Closed)
Warranty card (Opened)
From the pictures shown above, you can see there's nothing really special about the box, or what's inside.. until you hear these babies..That's where it all changes.
Sensitivity：98±3DB at 1KHz/mw
Maximum input power：100mw
Connector：3.5mm,L style plug gold-plated
(Source of Information: http://www.soundmagic.com.cn/en/news/Details_1_74.html)
I'll be using just the DX50 and C5 combo through this review for my sound quality judgement, as they are what I find to be neutral, and will fit the role for the review as my reference.
Build Quality & Design/Comfort Factor Build Quality To me, I found the build quality of these cans to be well built. Although being of a majority plastic build, you can tell from the feel that strong, high quality plastic (with a rubberized, thin coating) had been used, as the headphones has some weight to the whole construction. Just because these headphones were made by a small company in China, most would simply assume that these cans are of bad build quality with cheap plastic being used for the structure..except...that's not the case here.
The metal grills of the headphones not only feel great, and look great, but they are also built great! Feels solid, and won't cave in, even if you tried your hardest (unless you're some superhuman Hulk). Apart from that, the other metal part of these cans, are the metal height-adjustable band that runs through the headband. That too, is high class, and one should not worry about it breaking anytime soon.
Cable metal jack
Now onto the cable..The cable, although proprietary (hate that concept), feels highly durable. With a thick layer of rubber around the interior wiring, they were built to last, and cannot be easily torn, like some flimsy, thin cables. The end with the jack that was meant to go into the source is metal, and has a relatively long stress-relief, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but actually really good.
Headphones swiveled to maximum point with ear pads facing up
The ear pads were made of pleather or faux leather (not sure which one, but I'm sure it wasn't real leather) and did not feel tacky when I first felt them. They were really soft and plush, as they were on the ears, and provided great comfort. The elastic edges around the pad were also soft and somewhat very stretchy, and felt durable enough not too tear when stretched too much. The material in the centre of the pad was not too thin, nor was it too thick, so poking a finger at it won't dislocate or result in a hole in the fine membrane.
The hard-shell case
Now onto the case...When I first saw the case, I immediately thought of the V-Moda M80/V80's. The case is pretty much of the same build quality and materials as what V-Moda had used for their M80/V80's case. For those who don't know of these types of cases, they're very strong and I could probably kick them around like a football and they'll probably last, without having any parts of the case caving in. Overall, if you ever see this type of case, you should have a smile on your face, because boy, are they super durable and sleek!
For the comfort section of the headphones; I personally loved what SoundMAGIC did here. They made a great looking open can with amazing comfort! I can listen to these headphones for days on end without getting sick of the signature, nor be fatigued from the super comfortable ear pads.
The plush pleather/faux leather ear pads
You'll hear this from me a lot, but these amazing ear pads were so comfortable! They were just deep enough, and covered my ear completely without touching any part of the ear, and to top it off, they were incredibly soft. I'll stop talking about the ear pads now...I think you guys get the point of what they're like.
As of the design itself, SoundMAGIC did these headphones justice. Unique enough to be of it's own kind, and sexy enough to appeal to the eyes of audiophiles. I really liked what they did to this headphone all around, except for the proprietary cable locking mechanism, which I'll speak briefly about later on.
For the design of the case, I believe I covered that in the Build Quality already, but I'll mention it again. They were designed exceptionally well, much like the V-Moda M80/V80 case, and seem very sleek, whilst maintaining its durability.
What I found to be slightly unnecessary for the headphones was by adding the L/R indicators in bright blue and red on each side respectively for left and right. Small letters of L and R in a faint grey paint would have been enough for this indication purpose. When one inserts the proprietary cable, they would figure that the left side would be the one with the cable entry, and from there, they'd figure that the right side is the one without a cable entry. Nonetheless, I understand this may slightly be bias seeing that I personally prefer an all black design with silver accents to go with my black and white coloured rig, whilst others are not as picky, hahaha.
Apart from my picky-ness, I don't think it really bothers anyone, not even me at times. What does really bother me, is why SoundMAGIC kept the proprietary cable locking mechanism design! It is absolutely unnecessary, because it restricts us from replacing the cable with any other 3.5mm headphone cable, such as those from V-Moda or any aftermarket cable maker. This may become problematic over time, but the included cable holds up pretty well, so I doubt it'd break anytime soon, unless a lot of pressure and stress is applied to the cable.
Below, you'll find a picture of the despised proprietary plug...
And here is what it looks like when locked into position on the headphone's cable entry...
Anyways...Enough of my negativity and nit-picky-ness towards their minor design faults, and let's see what else these headphones can do in terms of their design.
Here's something. They fold like a pair of V-Moda M100's, although not as compacted, but still...they fold. Folding = Portability!
Well...I feel that's enough for it's Design/Comfort Factor, so I shall move onto the most important part..How they sound.
Alrighty, so this is where I shall do my best to describe what these headphones sound like to you guys. I won't do my usual, where I'll briefly speak about the sound in general, before stepping a little deeper into explaining how the Lows/Mids/Highs sound, but this time, I'll just do it all in the forms of dot points, with bolded key words/phrases. That way, I feel it is easier to comprehend without any misunderstandings, and much easier on the eyes. You'll find the main features that I noticed during my listening periods, listed below:
Soundstage, Imaging, Instrumental Separation & Quality
The headphones have a big, wide soundstage with a lot of air and space all around, as well as good depth.
These headphones are great at 3D imaging - With a high quality song, it'll almost accurately places each instrument around your soundstage, along with the way in which the artist may be facing when singing/producing sound. It just does this really well, where it'll put in the music.
The instrumental separation is easily distinguishable with the precise layering that these headphones seem to be able to portray with ease.
The quality of the sound doesn't lean towards the warmer end, nor does it lean towards the brighter side of things - just in the middle, hence why I'll put it as neutral, because it can somewhat be track dependent. In saying so, it does not ever become bloated-sounding, where it'll produce a congested, bassy sound, nor does it ever become bass-lacking, and overridden with sharp treble.
The audio is always clean, clear, and crisp sounding with a lot of detailing. From the vocals to the beats of an EDM track, it always has a lot of detail and clarity to it. Never does it sound of low quality. As a fellow Head-Fi'er had said, they stated that these headphones will be harsh on low bit-rate songs, but that was not my case. I found these headphones to uplift the terrible quality of low bit-rate songs and makes them more enjoyable.
The overall sound of this headphone, is exciting and fun - It is very musical and flows beautifully, which is what I enjoy best when it comes to listening to music. Because the lows extend nice and deep; and the treble extends high enough to give it that sparkle, whilst the mids are not falling behind at all when it comes to its quality. Still neutral sounding, but all of each category had been lifted up to another level. It does not sound flat, but it's what I'd call, an "energetic neutrality" - where the bass is not lacking, and nor is the brightness in the treble, and the fullness in the mids. (This is what I mean, when I say "Equality" in my review title. Each category just does so well, that you can't just say that one category outdoes another)
The lows extend really low, and is well-textured with body, and still has a powerful kick to it.
The sub-bass has a good vibe to it, but isn't overpowering.
The mids are smooth and rich-sounding (has body to it), although being slightly forward..and when I say slightly, it does not mean that it is right up against your face, or anywhere near it, but just a hair difference between spot on, and a tiny bit forward. It certainly did not feel recessed though.
It sounds very textured (especially female vocals), crisp and natural, not coloured.
The highs are sparkly with a touch of brightness, but not to the point where it becomes ear-piercing harsh and sharp.
Cymbal clashes sound as they should, and are not thin-sounding. Brings out the qualities of the highs.
Brief Comparison I usually like to add this section into my reviews, where I compare these headphones, the SoundMAGIC HP200's, to the other headphones that I own, BUT, in this instance, I will not, because my other headphones are just not on the same level as that of the HP200's, and I feel it would just be a waste of space here. The only part about my other headphones that actually beat the HP200's, is the bass that comes from the V-Moda M100's. The powerful monstrosity of the M100's bass is far more textured, and hits way lower than that of the HP200.
Summary/Conclusion This brings us to the end of my SoundMAGIC HP200 review, and so I will sum up everything in a few short sentences.
My what seemed like an impulsive purchase, turned out to be a great eye opener for me. I have learnt through these headphones, that for an easily reached, affordable price, one can achieve the entry level to high-end audio; and to some audiophiles, that means a lot. Excitement was something I always enjoyed in a headphone. I was never really that much of a fan of flat sound, so when I read a few reviews on this headphone, I had noticed that many had stated that these sounded like a pair of HD650's, but more fun, so right there was what triggered me to buy them. Knowing that the HD650's were already a highly ranked headphone here on Head-Fi, when someone says that another headphone is similar; it's really all it takes for me to be convinced to grab a pair. Right now, and throughout this review, I've been listening to my HP200's, and all I can say is...it's pretty addictive.
So with the said, if you're after a pair of headphones that not many people own, but has so much potential; look no further.
PS: Any errors and/or flaws that you may spot in my write-up that I might have missed - please do inform me about it via PM, or in the comments below.
Over & Out,
Pros - Amazing sound quality! Great soundsatge, strong bass and an exciting treble. Solid build, good articulation, good looks. Nice hard case.
Cons - Cable is too short and the extension is poor, ear cushion depth is the only thing holding back perfect comfort
This review is reposted from my blog: http://noblehifi.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/soundmagic-hp200-review.html
Disclaimer: The HP200 was given to me by SoundMAGIC for this review.
This is my first headphone review in a while and I must say it's really good to be back! The HP200 is the first full-size open-back headphone from SoundMAGIC. Back in October I reviewed the companies first full-size closed-back headphone - the HP100 and this has been one of my favourite all-round performers (for the money) ever since.
The HP200's design addresses pretty much all of the disappointments I had with the HP100's aesthetics. I loved a lot about the comfort and design of the HP100, but the excessive use of shiny (finger print magnet) plastic was a big let down for me. It even seemed like SoundMAGIC realised this because they included a cleaning cloth in the case. Well there are no such issues this time around. Visually I feel that SoundMAGIC have nailed the desirability factor this time. They have also gone a long way to improve the cable too, making this a considerably more solid package.
The HP200 is similarly priced to the equivalent AKG, Beyerdynamic and GermanMAESTRO models and it's £100 cheaper than the classic Sennheiser HD650. The big question is whether the HP200 can come out favourably against classic headphones from giant companies that have been loved for decades. Well as far as I'm concerned the HP200 certainly has the looks to crush the competition. With a sexy new metal grill it looks better designed and built than any other open-back headphones I've seen under £500, but It still has it's work cut out if it wants to win on sound quality, this competition is tough!
The first thing I noticed about the HP200 was, like the Sennheiser HD650, it doesn't sound like a typical open-back headphone. It has great detail and a spacious soundstage, but unlike many other open-back headphones, it doesn't sound weak or thin (I'm looking the AKG K701 and even Beyerdynamic DT880 here). Although admittedly the headphones that do sound thin kind of grow on you after while. The HP200's sound is surprisingly warm for an open-back, perhaps even more so than the Sennheiser HD650 and the HD650 already sounds like a warm version of the near-perfect, HD600. This bass body isn't so much of an issue with the HP200 however because the treble is also quite lively.
Although this slightly v'shaped signature works wonders with the open sound on many tracks, the treble can be it's Achilles heel. Whether you like your treble present and sparkly or subtle and laid back is going to dictate whether you love or hate this headphone. Well actually I would be surprised if anyone could really hate it. I myself recently bought the HD650 and I can see why so many people love it so much. I was blown away by it's signature and spacious sound. The HD650 is easily my favourite open-back headphone so far, but the HP200 is extremely close (both in excitement and signature). Only because the HD650 seems to suit Orchestral Soundtracks a little better does it get the crown from me, but that's only if I take the price difference out of the equation and it's still a very close call. I can see a lot of people preferring the HP200 if they like a little more excitement and sparkle to their high frequencies.
So the depth and weight of the HP200's bass stands up well against the very best open-back headphones at this end of the market. This is not only rather unusual, but it's especially impressive coming from a headphone costing just over £200 and a company that's never made an open-back headphone before. The HP200 manages a similar level of excellence with it's detail and soundstage as well. Midrange clarity is both bold and a little smooth. When driven from a good DAC and amplifier the authority, delicacy and poise are very impressive. Imaging is perhaps a little more dependant on a high quality source. On a good amplifier (like the HD650) it really shines, the throw is wide and the positioning feels natural and accurate.
Isolation from outside noises is similar to most open-back headphones, you'll hear quite clearly what people around you are saying even when the music is on (unless it's really turned up loud). Music leaking out is equally sieve-like, but it's not as bad as the most airy open-backs out there (like the Grado range or the AKG 701).
I have had quite a long time with the HP200 and that has meant a lot of time with different amplifiers (usually combined with DACs). The image below shows the HP200s with the Arcam rPAC, this was my source of choice in the initial stages of testing. As I was writing notes on my laptop it was a very convenient unit to use because it doesn't require power.
Very recently I received another Arcam DAC to play with; the rBlink. I have been sending music to it from my 'Apt-X' compatible Bluetooth phone and connecting it to the Ifi iCan headphone amplifier. It's sonic ability is not as inspiring as the Schiit combo, but it's a lot of fun to control decent quality music from a portable device. I will be reviewing this DAC pretty soon, but for now I will be playing with it and the HP200 quite a bit.
The bulk of my time with the HP200 was spent connected to the Schiit Modi & Magni desktop combo, this is currently my default setup at work. Despite being a little more pricey than the rPAC, requiring power and an RCA cable the sound is noticeably more impressive. They push the HP200 in a direction that's more detailed and airy, but other improvements include bass quality and power.
Most of these other hifi headphone separates have been less expensive than the headphones themselves so far, but lets go a bit mental and pair them with something that's considerably more. The £600, ESS-9018 Sabre DAC sporting Audiolab M-DAC also got some time driving the HP200s. For me this DAC and headphone amplifier is often now quite befitting of it's lofty price tag for headphone use, but that said it does do very nice things to a couple of my headphones and this is true of both the Sennheiser HD650 and SoundMAGIC HP200. There is something very enjoyable with the low frequency grunt to these two headphones here. The amplification is not the most smooth, but's bold and exciting sound with most genres.
The SoundMAGIC HP100 is the HP200s closed back cousin and they are different, but not as 'Night and Day' different as I was expecting. Yes the HP200 leak sound like crazy, but this doesn't seem to have affected their warmth in any way, in fact they actually sound more warm than the HP100. The bass is not as smooth as with the HP100, but it's got more body, especially when running directly from a portable player. Connected to a dedicated amplifier provides big benefits still of course, but I didn't think they sounded terrible from low power sources like tablets or phones.
The Beyerdynamic DT880 feels more open and revealing than the HP200. What the HP200 lacks here it makes up for with killer soundstage, bass body and excitement. The DT880 takes the comfort crown and possibly the durability award too, but I can't help but be drawn more to the HP200 for it's engaging and realistic sound over the Beyerdynamic. I realise that's a big testament to the SoundMAGIC's refinement - you should be impressed.
The AKG Q701 has been going up in my estimations recently after discovering a couple of interesting amplifiers. The AKG's sound is a sharper, brighter and more detailed one, but even with good amplification it cannot match the qualities of the HP200. Some compare the 701 to the great Sennheiser HD800, if there is any truth to this it's in the detail rendition, but what the AKG doesn't replicate is the bass body. The HP200 gets close to the detail levels of the HD800 while managing even higher levels of bass body.
The Sennheiser HD650's character is most similar to the HP200. Now this should interest a lot of people because the HD650 is a famously reference in it's balance and quality. The SoundMAGIC also has similar soundstage, detail and midrange, but a slightly more potent treble.
The Denon AH-D7000 was discontinued about a year ago and is rather hard to find these days, I mention here because of it's famous speaker-like, sub-bass rumble. It could be argued that this wobbly nature is undesirable, but I thoroughly enjoy it. Now there are times when the HP200 can deliver similarly interesting moments of deep wobble. For an open-back headphone I find this very special indeed, especially because the bass doesn't feel bloated or unrefined. It's also something I noticed from a Hifiman HE-400, which I only tried yesterday.
Here are some individual music tracks and how I felt the HP200 coped with them. Most tracks were listened to in CD format with lossless compression. All tracks are also available on Spotify, which on the 'premium' service are maximum quality MP3s and I find these highly acceptable.
Sum 41 (All Killer No Filler): "Fat Lip" - This pop song sounds energetic and very enjoyable on the HP200. Perhaps it's the slight push to the bass and treble that makes this so bold here, but at the same time it rarely feels too bright on the top end and feels neutral and clear enough to make all genres a little more exciting and render vocals in a very nice way.
Joe Kraemer (The Way Of The Gun): "The Setup" - There are lots of sounds here that feel naturally and nicely formed. Details are crisp and delicate. The openning drums are so powerful they deliver a real sub-bass wobble that a lot of headphones just can't seem to get.
Skrillex (Bangerang EP): "Right In" - The bass power on offer in the HP200 works wonders for EDM/Dubstep. Combined with a slightly bold, but not too offensive treble it's a potent mix, often leading to high levels of excitement for this kind of music. At times the treble can get out of control, but mostly because I like to push the volume for this music rather too high. Keep it moderately sensible and everyone should be happy.
Kittie (Spit): "Trippin" - The energy and presence works almost as well for Rock/Metal as it does with Electronic, Pop and Orchestral music. The general neutrality of the presentation and dynamic soundstage of the HP200's sound makes it a great jack of all trades headphone.
Beethoven (Symphony No. 7 In A Major): "Op. 92: II. Allegretto" - The HP200 delivers a nicely balanced and well rounded presentation. Up-tempo sections are nicely bold and energetic, while quiet passages are full of clear detail and great instrument rendition. There is a nice sense of transparency and soundstage is dynamic.
For those that don't already know: SoundMAGIC is a Chinese brand, so when you see 'made in China' written on the side it's not a bad thing here. The production for this headphone is still completely in-house, so they can keep a close eye on unit quality. I am almost as impressed by the design and build quality of the HP200 as I am with it's audio quality. Which is, to say, a lot. It's a very well thought out design for a company that really haven't been going for long, although most of that credit should go to the similarly shaped HP100. Construction wise the HP200's are pretty tough. This models uses just enough metal to make them look and feel good, whilst not bulking up the weight too much. Good quality plastics keep the weight down in other areas..
The included accessories (apart from the cable/s, which I will mention in a minute) are pretty much the same as the HP100. You get a snazzy hard case (which reminds me very much of the one you get with the V-Moda M-80), a warranty card, flight adaptor, 6.35mm adaptor and a carabiner hook. The only niggle I will mention here is that it seems a shame that the HP200's (again, like the HP100) almost fold down, but not quite. They sort of fold like the V-Moda M-100 (which is amazing), but the headband needs to be extended all the way first. If only SoundMAGIC could have folded the design a little better and then fitted them into the case that way, everything could have been a bit more amazing. As it is the case is not huge, I only mention this as a small point because the headphones can fold - so near, yet so far.
The coiled cable of the HP100 has thankfully gone the way of the Dodo, but it's not quite all sunshine. My complaint this time around is that the included straight cable is only 1.2m long, which isn't quite long enough for desktop use. This length screams portable use to me, now this is odd because these headphones should never be used outside. There is a 2m extension included in the box, but it's not a very nice cable and caused noticeable audio quality drop-out. Like the HP100, this model has a standard 3.5mm jack to connect the cable to the headphones. This is great, but this simplicity has been ruined by including a proprietary locking mechanism and thus no other replacement audio cables can be used. This is a growing trend and I can't see the point of it. Ideally the HP200's cable should have been a straight 2m or 3m, but perhaps I'm missing something here, so let me ask you readers a question: What length and type of cable would you choose for these headphones? (Please leave a comment to vote, hopefully this won't get too messy).
I found these headphones to be very comfortable! They are a little more heavy than the closed HP100 due to more metal being used, but the distribution of weight, headband cushioning and clamping force is still pretty much perfect to me. The pleather ear cups are by far the softest and most comfortable that I have tried for under £1000. My only complaint with them is that, since isolation is unnecessary, perhaps velour would have been better for keeping temperature down. The pads are plenty big enough to keep out of the way of your ears, but like the HP100 the depth of the driver is could cause a slight issue there. This is unlikely to cause discomfort for at least an hour, but if only the driver depth was a little higher this figure could have been ten times higher. This is the only thing that stops comfort from being perfect really. Wearing glasses with the HP200's did not cause any comfort or change the sound, also being open-back there is no isolation loss to worry about.
The hugely articulate ear-cups and very high levels of comfort that impressed me with the previous (HP100) model have thankfully been carried over to the new open-back HP200. Although I'm not totally convinced by pleather pads on an open-back headphones (velour would be better), they are extremely soft. Now that SoundMAGIC have added a slick metal grill and logo any feeling of cheap build quality is long gone. Actually I feel that they've really nailed the aesthetic desirability this time around. For me the HP200 is one of the prettiest open-back headphones under £500 around.
The HP200 reminds me of the famous Sennheiser HD650 for several reasons. The first being the bold metal grill (which I love on both models), but it's the excitement and low end sonic character that really makes me think of the HD650 and that's no bad thing. The major difference with the HP200 is a greater presence and sparkle in the higher frequencies. I can see this aspect being the biggest deciding factor for people finding nirvana with the HP200. It makes some music more exciting than the HD650 to me, but in other cases the balance of the HD650 felt better. It is true that the treble of the HP200 can be EQ'd down much more successfully than the HD650's can be EQ'd up, however a lot of people will not want to go do down that road. Now I personally slightly prefer the sonic balance of the venerable HD650 (mostly because I'm a movie soundtrack nut), the HP200 is the only other open back headphone I've heard that comes remotely close. If you take the price into consideration (the SoundMAGIC being over £100 cheaper) then I can't praise the HP200 enough. It's a bargain, it's easily the best bang for buck you'll get from an open-back pair of headphones,
Desktop PC, Dell Vosto Laptop, iPhone4, Samsung Galaxy Note 2, Asus Nexus 7, Fostex HP-A3, Arcam rPAC, Audiolab M-DAC, Shonyun SH-301, SOundMAGIC HP100, SOundMAGIC HP200, Beyerdynamic DT880 600 Ohm, AKG Q701, Sennheiser HD650, Denon AH-D7000, Mad Dog (Fostex T50rp mod)