CK Presents: SoundMAGIC PL-50 Review (with comparsions to Apple In-Ear Headphone [ADDIEM] and Nuforce NE-7M)
Sep 16, 2009 at 2:06 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 24

chinesekiwi

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Feb 29, 2008
Posts
3,797
Likes
28
Hello Head-fi and everyone reading, thanks to mp3andmore, New Zealand's only official seller and distributor of SoundMAGIC and Fiio products, I have been lucky enough to been given the chance to review the latest of SoundMAGIC's offerings, the SoundMAGIC PL-50. So let's cut to the chase shall we?
For New Zealanders, you can also buy them and other SoundMAGIC offerings, if it's easier, off Trademe from them as well here

[size=large]SoundMAGIC PL-50 Earphone![/size]

[size=medium]Packaging[/size]

Aesthetics (Looks)

The packaging comes in a rather cubed box, with information about the PL-50 on the surrounding edges of the box. As this is a Chinese brand, some of it is in broken English or 'Chinglish' but it doesn't affect it too much. As seen in the picture, the front also has a front flap which opens to the earphone and it's accessories, which is a nice touch.

DSC00100.jpg


Practicality

However what is also important and is often neglected in reviews is, how hard is it to get into my earphones!?
In terms of the SoundMAGIC PL-50 , it's packaging, compared to competitors' offerings I've tried, leans towards the easy side with well-designed opening flaps at the top and also importantly, easy to access eartips as the plastic holding is bumped up so it meets and grips the eartips. The eartips are also spaced well apart and in a well defined space allowing for this easy access.
This is definitely a positive as other manufacturers often neglect this aspect in favour of flash looking packaging but expect the consumer to have surgeon-like fingers to access the eartips or earphone.

[size=medium]Accessories[/size]

In terms of accessories, the SoundMAGIC PL-50 doesn't really do anything too flash on this front. It comes with the standard round SoundMAGIC hardcase that comes with other SoundMAGIC models, 1 pair of small, medium and large silicone eartips and two things as of late, are starting to be packaged with quite a few earphone models, foam tips for extra isolation and ear hooks.
However one glaring thing is missing (as least with my package): An instruction manual of any sort. This may seem benign now but later on in this review, you the reader will read why this becomes a problem.

Enough about the packaging, we want info on the actual earphone!

[size=medium]Design[/size]

[size=small]Cable[/size]

Quality and Design

The Soundmagic PL-50 I feel possesses of the better designed cables out there on the earphone market today. For the greater length of it, it is thick in width, steady yet very flexible. Also it is least tangle prone of all the earphones I have. It is basically tangle-proof. This is fantastic. I have tried deliberately to tangle the cable and failed. However there is one aspect that is of concern. To change the length in which the SoundMAGIC PL-50 cable wraps around the face, the user must split apart the middle portion of the cable from where the earphones are to the length they desire, which of course heightens the risk of the user accidentally ripping the cable with excess force in the process.

Microphonics (Cable Noise)

As the PL-50 is designed to be worn over-the-ear, microphonics is all but non-existant. This is fantastic for anyone on the move.

[size=small]Aesthetics (Looks)[/size]

The PL-50 has one of the more unique looks out there in the earphone world. Since it is of a Balanced Armature or 'BA' design, this allows the PL-50 to be designed in such a way that it is extremely small and low profile, which is fantastic for the cyclists, motorcylists or anyone who wants their earphones to be discrete and out of the way. What is most noticeable and different from the form factor of other earphones in the market is how flat it is and this, as mentioned earlier, goes back to the technology involved in making sound in the PL-50, the balanced armature design, which unlike dynamic earphones, does not require a round-shaped (thus round-shaped driver casing) driver diaphragm. The SoundMAGIC PL-50 is navy blue coloured and as of yet, this is the only colour available.

Practicality

As the saying goes: The good, the bad and the ugly. These words describe well the SoundMAGIC PL-50's design in terms of practicality.

The Good: As mentioned earlier, it's low profile suits motorcylists and cyclists well.
The Bad: The PL-50 is designed to be worn over-the-ear and over-the-ear only which leads to....
The Downright Ugly: What I noticed early on was there was no 'L' (left) and 'R' (right) indicators on the earphone!
This is replaced by the rather non-Western standard of blue for the left side and red for the right side. This wouldn't of been such a problem but since as I mentioned earlier, there is no instruction manual of any sort telling you this. Also this is of an over-the-ear design and it must be worn so, the non-inclusion of an instruction manual is troubling as there will no doubt be some consumers who will return an otherwise perfectly working product because they couldn't work out how to wear these properly. I had to figure these aspects out, which is really unacceptable. What's even more puzzling with this is that there are instruction manuals that comes with other SoundMAGIC models. Was this a small but fundamental oversight by SoundMAGIC? An instruction manual, even in broken English, would be been appreciated, particularly since it's your flagship model!

[size=small]EDIT 18/09/09:[/size] I have informed by SoundMAGIC and mp3andmore themselves that in future batches of the PL-50 there will be an instruction manual. The manual online can be found later on in this thread or directly here. Upgraded rating to 'Recommended+'.

All this can be forgiven as we'll figure it out how to wear it and learn to appropriate it's sound. But, how does it sound?

[size=medium]The Sounds![/size]

Before I start on this, I feel that stating points of reference is important as reviewers often neglect this aspect as of course, you can only judge a product based on your own practical experience with audio equipment. The equipment I own is in my profile in my signature (see below) but I also have tried many others, mainly full-size headphones. The points of reference refers to the best I've heard in each aspect.
Any aspects not mentioned, refer to the 'Overall Sound Quality'.

[size=small]Points of reference[/size]:

Overall Sound Quality: Asus Essence STX with LT1057 opamps --> Rockhopper M3 headphone amp --> Beyerdynamic DT880 600 ohm
Soundstage/Headstage: Asus Essence STX with LT1057 opamps --> Audio Technica AD700
Isolation: Altec Lansing iM716 (Etymotic tips) / Comply foam tips
Bass (overall): JVC / Victor HP-FX500 (deep sub 50Hz bass) / Beyerdynamic DT880 600 ohm
Natural Intruments timbre: JVC / Victor HP-FX500
'Laid-Back' sound signature: Jays s-Jays
Up-Front, 'In-Your-Face' sound signature: Denon C700

[size=small]Testing setup:[/size]

Sandisk Sansa Fuze Digital Media Player 8GB (Version 1) + 8GB SD card
Ogg Vorbis files at ~246.1 kbps nominal bitrate / VBR -v2 to 320kbps CBR mp3 (all 44.1 kHz)
Various genres, artists and songs.

I could go on about the sound but I'll try and keep it concise and to the point:

[size=small]Sound Signature (The Way It Sounds):[/size]

The SoundMAGIC PL-50 possesses a sound signature which is typical of earphones that use the balanced armature (BA) technology.
That is that it has emphasis in the midrange and has a laid-back sound signature with a strong amount of detail considering the price range.
I highly recommend not using the default attached foam eartips and instead use the silicone eartips as they sound significantly better.

[size=small]Bass[/size]

In terms of bass, the bass on the SoundMAGIC PL-50 extends well into the deep bass frequency range and is tight sounding, which is great, but it does not have bass impact to back this up.
This is rather evident in such genres such Drum n Bass, where the PL-50 is found to be lacking in terms of quantity. To be honest, the bass in terms of impact, the PL-50 sounds like some speakers that typically roll off at 60Hz and I wouldn't be surprised if a frequency response of the PL-50's showed this. However there is bass, but having heard bass light earphones (Head-Direct RE2, Altec Lansing iM716) to bass greatness (JVC / Victor FX500), I would rank the bass quantity wise average on the following scale:

In review:

Bass Quantity:


Anemic | Light | Average | Strong | Heavy

Bass Quality:

Horrid | Below Average | Average | Good | Great

[size=small]Midrange:[/size]

This is where the SoundMAGIC PL-50 starts to shine. Details in the mids such as reverb show quite evidently. The mids also showcase what I feel is the PL-50's greatest strength: Imaging.
While most earphones tend to blur or blend the instruments together to different degrees, each instrument has it's own place on the soundstage and can be clearly defined apart from one another. You can tell that the drums are further back, or that the guitars are slightly more forward positioned than the vocals in various songs. This great imaging also applies to harmonic vocals such as Westlife, in with each of singer's voice is separate, defined and none are recessed in anyway, to the point you can tell who sang closer to the microphone during recording. I'm very impressed with the imaging in these, particularly for the price. The genres that make the PL-50 sing is very much what I call 'your wife's music', for example mid-oriented songs such as British boybands such as Westlife and Boyzone, anything with vocal harmony, soft rock, ambient music such as trip-hop and classical. The PL-50 definitely does classical and classical instruments very well for the price, particularly violins, which have massive and fantastic extension. Violin heavy music such as Nuttin' But Stringz really do sound fantastic with the PL-50. However I do feel at times, other instruments like the piano lacks timbre and refinement.

In review:

Midrange Quantity:


Anemic | Light | Average | Strong | Heavy

Midrange Quality:

Horrid | Below Average | Average | Good+ | Great

[size=small]Treble:[/size]

The SoundMAGIC PL-50 also done quite well in the treble quantity and quality wise at low volume. However when there are a significant amount of mids in a song, I do feel that the mids of the PL-50 flow over and slightly mask the treble sections at bit. This is apparent for example, in Marit Larsen 'If A Song Could Get Me You', which has a significant amount of mids. I feel this, in terms of the whole spectrum, is the weakest part of the PL-50's quality wise but however is is very far from being bad. The treble can sound unrefined and 'loose' at times, even with the PL-50's superb imaging properties.

In review:

Treble Quantity:


Anemic | Light | Average | Strong | Heavy

Treble Quality:

Horrid | Below Average | Average - | Good | Great

[size=small]Battle of the BAs: SoundMAGIC PL-50 vs. Apple In-Ear Headphone (ADDIEM)[/size]

With these two earphones being possibly the only balanced armature based earphones around the US$50 range, how do they sound compared to each other, particularly as BA earphones tend to sound more 'alike' than dynamic earphones?

When compared to one another with the same eartips, the biggest differences are as follows:

* There is greater amount of detail with the PL-50.
* Imaging is superior in the PL-50.
* In terms of soundstage, their left-to-right soundstages are about the same but the PL-50 wins out in terms of depth of soundstage.
* There is slightly more bass quantity wise in the PL-50.
* The PL-50 has a slightly more forward sounding signature than the ADDIEM. If I were to rate it in terms of rows, 10 rows back being the maximum, the PL-50 would be the 5th row while the ADDIEM is about 6 rows back, so only slightly more forward.
* The PL-50 is far less microphonic than the ADDIEM
* The PL-50 is more balanced sounding than the ADDIEM
* In terms of midrange and treble, the PL-50, due to it's better imaging and detail, has a better midrange quality wise.
* Treble wise, it's hard to say really and it is really a toss-up between them both.
* Isolation with the PL-50 is much better

The greatest differences between the PL-50 and ADDIEM are in imaging, detail, microphonics and isolation. The rest mentioned I feel are slight but still noticeable differences.

[size=small]SoundMAGIC PL-50 vs. Nuforce NE-7M[/size]

* In terms of bass, although the NE-7M wins out easily in terms of quantity, the PL-50's bass in terms of quality is better as it reaches deeper and sounds tighter.
* In terms of detail and imaging, the PL-50 wins handily in this.
* As in the ADDIEM, their left-to-right soundstages are about the same but the PL-50 wins out in terms of depth of soundstage.
* Both have different sound signatures, with the NE-7M having a more warm, 'fun' sounding sound signature with a slight emphasis on bass while the PL-50 is drier and 'colder' sounding with an emphasis on mids.
* Genre wise, the NE-7M does bass heavy or bass emphasised genres like rock, metal and drum n bass better while the PL-50 does soft rock, folk rock and classical better.
* Both are low profile in design, which makes these two choices good choices for motorcyclists and cyclists alike.
* the PL-50 is significantly better in the midrange in both quantity and quality.
* In the treble, the treble quantity wise between them are about the same but the PL-50 offers slightly (not much) better quality wise.
* Isolation is about the same

In conclusion, the PL-50 is a superb sounding earphone for the price that has possesses the best imaging out of any earphone in the sub $100 earphone market (you can quote me on that), and is great for anyone who listens to 'easy-listening' music, however it is let down by small but fundamental flaws that might deter the Average Joe consumer. If SoundMAGIC fix these small flaws, I have little doubt that SoundMAGIC will gain in popularity. Recommended despite these flaws? Oh definitely.

[size=small]In Conclusion[/size]

+ Imaging is beyond this world for the price
+ Great detail
+ Low profile
+ Fantastic truly tangle-proof cable

- Jekyll and Hyde design flaws that does not help the Average Joe consumer*
- No instruction manual of any sort*
- Default foam tips are very bad sound quality wise

* See 18/09/09 EDIT above.

[size=x-large]Final Rating: Recommended +[/size]
 
Sep 16, 2009 at 2:32 PM Post #2 of 24

Belabor

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
Mar 26, 2009
Posts
217
Likes
10
Thanks for your review.

Inclusion of a manual would be handy. I never cared because I knew red was for the right and blue for the left from earlier reviews.
I was also thinking about getting some new foam tips, but you highly recommend the silicone tips. Is there that much difference?
 
Sep 16, 2009 at 2:48 PM Post #3 of 24

hartphoto

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
Jan 27, 2004
Posts
162
Likes
12
Great review. I have been lurking the past few weeks while I'm considering an upgrade my NE-7Ms....but keeping the budget in the <$100 range.

Purchased the PL-50 a couple of weeks ago, and awaiting their arrival (shipped out 2 days ago).

Your review (and other things I've read) is sort of leading me to think I may not be happy with the PL-50 low end range like the NE-7Ms. I'll let them burn in and give them an honest test though!

While I don't consider myself a 'basshead', I'm sure some would disagree. I don't like bass to be boomy (I don't listen to rap or trance type music), but I do like the bass to be tight, accurate and a bit more apparent than most, so....whatever that makes me. Most of my music is vintage 70/80s rock, but also a bit of current rock/pop genre.

Anyone have the PL-50 and the Denon AH-C710 to compare, which I've also been considering based on the reading/reviews I've seen here?
 
Sep 16, 2009 at 3:57 PM Post #4 of 24

ClieOS

IEM Reviewer Extraordinaire
Joined
May 11, 2004
Posts
20,097
Likes
9,558
Location
Mid Johor, Malaysia
Nice review. Just want to add one point: there is actually a reference picture on how to wear the IEM on the back of the box, but I guess adding a manual won't hurt - if anything, I think a warning about loudness will be most useful.
 
Sep 16, 2009 at 4:32 PM Post #5 of 24

os2k

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
Nov 28, 2007
Posts
191
Likes
14
Hey CK, very nice review! Just one quick correction - the BA driver in the PL50 is actually round. it fits right into the small cylinder below the ear tube. Mine split open, so I was able to see the driver. My guess is that it is a Knowles SR6438NWS, which is actually design to replace round dynamic drivers.
 
Sep 16, 2009 at 4:40 PM Post #6 of 24

kjk1281

1000+ Head-Fier
Joined
Jul 4, 2008
Posts
1,441
Likes
73
Thanks chinesekiwi for the excellent review. Can't wait for your review on the PL21!

Quote:

Originally Posted by os2k /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Just one quick correction - the BA driver in the PL50 is actually round. it fits right into the small cylinder below the ear tube. Mine split open, so I was able to see the driver. My guess is that it is a Knowles SR6438NWS, which is actually design to replace round dynamic drivers.


Very interesting. So you're saying that the PL50 uses a BA driver (Siren) similar to that found in the s-JAYS?
 
Sep 16, 2009 at 5:28 PM Post #7 of 24

os2k

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
Nov 28, 2007
Posts
191
Likes
14
Quote:

Originally Posted by kjk1281 /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Very interesting. So you're saying that the PL50 uses a BA driver (Siren) similar to that found in the s-JAYS?


From the looks of it - yes (see pictures in this post. I did not take the pictures, but I had the same think happen to my left earphone). There is no other evidence that these are the exact Knowles SR drivers.
 
Sep 16, 2009 at 5:50 PM Post #9 of 24

Sayajin

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
Aug 2, 2008
Posts
404
Likes
12
Quote:

Originally Posted by os2k /img/forum/go_quote.gif
From the looks of it - yes (see pictures in this post. I did not take the pictures, but I had the same think happen to my left earphone). There is no other evidence that these are the exact Knowles SR drivers.


Damn you post first.
biggrin.gif

Must hurry up.

@chinesekiwi
Thanks for your review of PL50.
 
Sep 16, 2009 at 7:24 PM Post #10 of 24

MUTCHYMAN

New Head-Fier
Joined
Aug 31, 2009
Posts
11
Likes
0
How would you say these sound with music such as "Angels and Airwaves" or "The Postal Service." I always try to do a comparison of genre's, but most bands ya'll list are far from familiar to me...
 
Sep 16, 2009 at 8:31 PM Post #11 of 24

chinesekiwi

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Feb 29, 2008
Posts
3,797
Likes
28
Quote:

Originally Posted by mark2410 /img/forum/go_quote.gif
nice review but it thought you were a bit mean about there being no R an L on them, i rather preferred the red and blue.

but tbh never occurred to me a normal person might no know what that meant, lol



Thus why I was harsh about it. Tbh, the greater market are not audiophiles and my new methodology always takes into account this as guess who looks up these reviews in Google: Average Joe.
I stand corrected about the driver.
 
Sep 17, 2009 at 5:46 AM Post #12 of 24

geob

Head-Fier
Joined
Jun 19, 2008
Posts
50
Likes
0
Quote:

Originally Posted by ClieOS /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Nice review. Just want to add one point: there is actually a reference picture on how to wear the IEM on the back of the box, but I guess adding a manual won't hurt - if anything, I think a warning about loudness will be most useful.



We actually include the following warning with all FiiO Amplifiers and SoundMAGIC earphones we supply here in New Zealand:

ENJOY YOUR MUSIC But PLEASE Make Sure
You Can ENJOY IT for the Rest of Your Life

Avoiding Hearing Damage
Permanent hearing loss may occur if ear-buds or headphones are used at high volume for extended time periods.
Set the volume to a safe level.
Your hearing can over time adapt to a higher level of sound. This level may sound normal to you but could damage your hearing.
If you experience ringing in your ears or if the speech of other people seems muffled, stop listening and have you're hearing checked.
The louder the volume, the less time is required before your hearing could be affected.

Hearing Experts suggest that to protect your hearing:
Limit the amount of time you use ear-buds or headphones at high volume.
Avoid turning up the volume to block out noisy surroundings.
Turn the volume down if you cannot hear people speaking near you.

We have already spoken to SoundMAGIC and they will look to include a Manual in the future.
They already do with the PL30 (it includes a hearing damage warning)
wink_face.gif
 
Sep 17, 2009 at 5:58 AM Post #13 of 24

peli_kan

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
Jul 10, 2009
Posts
248
Likes
15
Great review, I'm a tad surprised by your comparison to the ADDIEM though. The Apple's strength is their treble, were you using stock tips or decored olives?
 
Sep 17, 2009 at 3:42 PM Post #15 of 24

Judge Buff

500+ Head-Fier
Joined
Dec 3, 2008
Posts
886
Likes
54
Good review! I have found Sony hybrid tips to work well with the PL50s also. I have new foam tips that I haven't tried yet. With my Zune, I usually use the acoustic eq for bass enhancement, or I use my E3. Maybe the foam tips will negate this.

I'm listening to Tchaikovsky's Symphony #4 with them as I type this (shhh... at work) and they are superb for this genre.
 

Users who are viewing this thread

Top