Soundmagic (or SoundMAGIC, as they write it) is one of the older Chinese headphone brands that’s available on the international market – and one that I shamefully neglected to review for way too long.
Many of their products got high marks in reviews and are often recommended as inexpensive quality IEMs. Their PL30, priced at less than $30, feature a bass dial like the much pricier Sennheiser IE8, and their PL50 are among the least expensive balanced armature driver IEMs. Both of these have a big fan base and helped to build the reputation of Soundmagic as a manufacturer of good sounding gear for a fair price.
Well, I missed to review those two popular phones, but now I have their newly released E10 in my hands (or rather, ears), and I hope I can make up for my negligence towards the Soundmagic brand.
- Soundmagic E10 Specs
- Driver: Dynamic, 10mm Neodymium
- Frequency range: 15 Hz – 22 kHz
- Impedance: 16 Ohm
- Sensitivity: 100dB at 1kHz/mW
- Cable length: 1.2m
- Plug: Gold-plated, straight 3.5mm
- Accessories: Silicone tips (single flange S/M/L, double flange M), shirt clip, carrying pouch
Accessories, Build, etc
The E10 come with a rather large synthetic leather pouch with drawstrings. Personally I’m more a fan of hard cases for IEM storage, but next to the phones that pouch should hold a small-to-medium sized MP3 player as well.
The included silicone ear tips are of the generic thin variety. I couldn’t get a proper fit and seal with any of them, so I swapped them for some quality Ultimate Ears tips right away. Your mileage may vary, but investing a bit more for some better tips might improve the fit and thus the sound quality of the E10.
Isolation with various silicone tips is about average, despite the E10 being vented both in front of the driver and at its back. They should do fine for most applications without having to turn up the music to unsafe listening levels.
They are a bit susceptible to wind noise in stormy weather or while biking (which you shouldn’t do while wearing IEMs…), but not more than other average IEMs. This is probably because of them being vented as well.
The included shirt clip should cut down a bit on cable noise and might provide a safer fit. Luckily, the E10 can be worn both ways, with the cable hanging down or looped over the ears. With the cables hanging down cable noise is quite annoying, since the cables are a bit on the stiffer side. Looped over the ears this however is not an issue.
Strain relieves on the cable should provide enough safety to prevent the cable from fraying. The straight 3.5mm plug, the Y-splitter, and the entries into the ear pieces all seem well protected. These ear piece strain relieves are color coded – blue for left, red for right – which gives a handy visual cue as to which ear piece goes into which ear.
Same as the plug and Y-splitter, the E10’s housings are made of very lightweight aluminum. Due to accommodating a 10mm dynamic driver, the diameter of the barrel-shaped pieces is on the thicker side, and the nozzle is a bit short. This might give issues for people with narrow ear canals, but for me they fit just fine and are comfortable to wear.
Soundmagic went a bit overboard with their design, in my opinion. The E10 come in four different color schemes, ranging from a rather subtle black/grey (the ones I chose) over purple and red to a really ostentatious gold one, almost reaching the bling factor of the tacky Monster Turbines or Miles Davis Tribute IEMs. The four semi-circles cut out of the back of the E10’s housing, the wavy line around the circumference, and Soundmagic’s musical note logo on the back don’t help much either. Well, this is just one minimalist’s opinion, not a fact – and in the end it’s the audio reproduction and the build quality that counts. And the E10 are fine in those aspects.
Technically, the E10 perform nicely as well. Despite their low impedance and reasonable sensitivity they are well balanced – they go loud enough with any low-powered player, and they virtually don’t hiss, even with ‘hot’ sources.
As usual, I gave the E10 and my ears ample time to get acquainted to each other. I did not notice any obvious changes in their sound, right out of the box and 100 hours later.
Bass on the E10 is well defined and sounds quite punchy. It’s not an overly forward bass, but certainly delivers more quantity than what goes for ‘neutral’ – maybe something along the lines of the Panasonic HJE900’s bass delivery. It can hit very deep and doesn’t distract with a flabby midbass hump. With some tracks it can sound a tiny bit loose, but in general it is well controlled. It should work well with most kinds of music, no matter if one listens to a folk singer’s laments or some filthy dubstep tunes.
Their midrange doesn’t strike me as either recessed or forward, but in some tracks it appears that there’s a slight bump in the upper midrange. Resolution and clarity is generally fine, but at lower listening levels some complex musical passages (orchestral pieces, metal, etc) can sound a slight bit smeared together. For the price however, they compare very favorably to even higher priced IEMs – and turning up the volume a notch makes them sound clearer, as is often the case with dynamic driver phones.
For some people’s tastes, the E10’s treble might be described as a tiny bit recessed, giving them a slightly ‘warm’ overall sound character, in combination with their bass and midrange presentation. Personally, I like it that way just fine. They are certainly ‘relaxed’ sounding and also don’t suffer from sibilance. These traits should do well for longer listening sessions, preventing fatigue. One can’t expect such treble to extract the tiniest micro-details from the music, and with some dense, complex brass sections it might struggle a bit, but in general I find it quite pleasing – especially with female vocals.
Well, here’s the deal: all things considered, the E10’s overall frequency response is pretty close to that of my favorite IEMs, the Earsonics SM3. I wouldn’t have thought to hear something similarly tuned to those $400 phones in the sub-$50 price segment. Clarity and attack speeds of the E10 can’t of course quite match a top notch multi-armature driver design, but for a dynamic driver they’re very good, no matter what price range we’re talking about.
Stereo imaging is really good on the E10 as well, probably because they are vented both in front of the driver and at the back. While I personally can’t say I ever experienced a 3-dimensional ‘sound stage’ like some people describe it, to my ears the E10 put the single instruments on a nice horizontal and vertical plane in my head, with some extension to the back as well. Your mileage may vary, and maybe I just lack the imagination for proper stereo image perception – but what the E10 do there is certainly quite a bit above average, even for my dimensionally challenged ears.
The E10’s dynamic range is quite fine too. While this is usually not an issue at loud listening levels with most IEMs, the E10 do sound rather punchy and dynamic at lower listening levels as well. This should be good news for people looking to preserve their hearing for years to come.
Some dynamic driver IEMs provide a special timbre for the sound by creating kinds of internal reverberations/reflections. It is hard to describe the effect if one hasn’t experienced it with one’s own ears. The Radius DDM2 and the JVC FX700 are some of the best phones in that aspect, for my taste. While the E10 can’t quite reach that grand feeling as those two much pricier specimens, they sure are among the better ones in their price range, giving a glimpse of that special sonic trait.
It’s amazing what sound one can get nowadays for a price less than a dinner for two costs. It’s getting harder to justify buying high priced IEMs when quality gear like the Brainwavz M2 or the Soundmagic E10 are available for less than 50 bucks. Of course many high end IEMs might sound generally better, more refined in some aspects, or might have better build quality – but the law of diminishing returns is hitting harder and harder while inexpensive phones are getting better and better. I couldn’t imagine ever hearing such big sound out of such low priced things some three or four years ago.
I can really recommend the Soundmagic E10 if one’s looking for a natural, dynamic, non-fatiguing sound signature. They provide honest, effortless reproduction of audio material. To me, that is more important in the long run than them being initially ‘exciting’ in one aspect or another. The E10 are definitely worth their money, and then some.
Just for reminding me of my beloved SM3 in several aspects they deserve an Editor’s Choice award. So there.
- Natural, dynamic, non-fatiguing sound quality
- Great stereo imaging
- Great price/value ratio
Cons (or rather, nitpicks)
- Housing diameter might be a bit big for smaller ears
- Included silicone tips are not the greatest
- Design could be a bit more subtle and minimalist
My review sample of the Soundmagic E10 was kindly provided by Hifi Headphones UK. Thanks, Robin. Give their online store a visit, they are nice guys. They sell them for £34.99.