SoundMAGIC E50 / E50S Review
Thanks to Hifiheadphones for the sample.
First Impressions: It’s been a good long while since I’ve had a new SoundMAGIC in. The last was the tiny little PL-50, which to not put too fine a point on it, I loved. It was highly midcentric and its mids were just so buttery and creamy for something so cheap. The E50S in my head has a lot to live up to. Opening the box and its all seems nice, curious that the window is on the back. Inside we find a little case, inside it are all the bits. Tips, a pair of Comply’s, a shirt clip and something else. A short cable/ adapter that says “Adapter for computer” eh? Oh! It’s so you can use their mic with a computer that has separate jacks for in and out!!! How come no one else has ever done this??? Okay so I’m not going to make use of it but still, I like it a lot, shows someone’s put some real thought into the package.
Okay another label, “Switch right position for your smartphone” eh? Oh another how come no one else has done this???? The mic has a little switch on it, the back of the label tells position A is for Iphones, Blackberry, HTC, Samsung Galaxy (later models) and B for Nokia, Samsung, Sony Xperia and Corby. Err Corby? Is that some Chinese phone maker SoundMAGIC has a relationship with? (I googled them but I could find nothing.)
In the ears, hmmm sound alright, mellow, pretty evenly balanced. Pretty good clarity. I think this could make for a good all-rounder. Mids are nice but no PL-50. Nicer sound staging though. Hmm let’s see what 100 hours burn in does.
Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-650, 1G Ipod Shuffle, Nexus 5 and Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear.
Lows: Smooth, gently controlled and moderate. When it comes to bass output these are staying true to a more middling sound signature. No rampant midbass, no ridiculous elevation of the lower bass flabbing all over the place. Such a grown up and civilised sound. Listening to John Steven’s album, “Red” and I’m just falling into the music. Bass melodic and balanced so carefully, reaching down nicely letting you sculpt the bottom end, smoothly and softly. It’s so peaceful and demure. Slapping on that “Selfie” song and the bass kicks it up a notch or three. It’s quite vigorous and rambunctious as the song demands but there is still an air of reticent maturity. It reminds me a bit of B&W speakers. Yes they are articulately capable of doing anything but….. it isn’t what they are meant for, they deserve better, something with a bit more melodic mastery. Like using a good scotch to just get smashed with. Yes it will get you wasted but that’s not really what it’s for and to do so would be somewhat of a waste.
Quantitatively there is a moderately boosted overall bass level. It reaches a little more in the upper bass ranges, and then slowly declines so that in the lower bass depths it fades away politely. It is all cleanly controlled and smoothly mellow. It’s very much to my tastes.
Mids: Oh, dilemma. Do I pull out the PL-50’s or not? I want to, I really do but I know there is no way the E50 can match them. The PL-50 is rather sad smile sound signature, the E50 is far more flat in comparison. Nevertheless it is a hair mid centric which is great for all sorts of vocals. It’s not particularly flavoured like its sibling was, no particular creaminess or butteryness. Neither are they particularly dry and airy vocally. Thus they are rather good at the entire vocal spectrum. Whereas the PL-50 was a specialist, the E50 feels more generally capable of dealing with anything thrown its way. Nora to Cydi Lauper, Dido to Des’ree, Krall woman to Aguilera. Each of them sound excellent, middling in tonality so while neither sound their absolute best, all were beautifully rendered. Clarity wise I did want a hair more, like the PL-50, but I loved that thing. The E50 has sacrificed a touch for the more even-handed balance and fullness in the lower end.
Quantitatively, these are a hair mid centric. Just a fraction but given so many are V shaped these comparatively will feel very middy to some ears. If you love vocals these will do you well while still giving you a fairly hearty low end.
Highs: Hmm they are okay. They have a nice little initial impact then the shimmery trail is done well. Still I found that they are both a little reticent and a little gritty. Reticent is absolutely fine by me as I find prolific treble exhausting. Still what is here, maybe it’s that the mids are so well done I’m expecting the treble to be as good and its simply is not. It’s not that its bad but it can’t quite keep up with the skill of the mids and the bass. Julie London thus was amazing, only recordings such as hers that have practically no treble so the mid and low end capabilities where shown off to their fullest. Owl City’s “Rugs From Me To You” was a bit of a brittle wash towards the end. It’s not the best quality treble to start with but the E50 does it no favours. The likes of Eric Hutchinson’s “You Don’t Have Believe Me” with its little tambourine shaking away, its cleanly noticeable without being abrasive but more notably it’s the rest of the track that shines on the E50.
In raw quantity term the highs are a bit behind the mids and a slight tad behind the bass too. Only a little bitty but as they are less skilful than the mids and bass I’m just fine with that placement.
Soundstage: Fairly full. Like being in a good sized room, height and width were reasonable and about equal to each other. There is a definite closed nature to the room but it’s a soft, comforting room. Gently, comfortably warm with reclining cinema seats. Distance is not far but given the quality of the vocals a hint of sound staging intimacy is hardly a bad thing. Instrument separation is a bit so so but then the lows and mids sound so very well integrated.
Fit: Excellent. Closed dynamics or not, I stuck on the Comply’s then shoved in my ears. That was, as they say, that.
Comfort: Likewise with the comfort it was both great and effortless. Granted I loved wearing them down somewhat less as that way things always tug at my ears. Worn up was easy to do and rectified the tugging issue.
Cable: It would appear to be braided with a black sheath over it. Sturdy to the touch and highly flexible. It didn’t love staying curled up though. Smooth and non-clothes catching.
Isolation: For a dynamic, yes it’s quite good. Nothing particularly exceptional so it’s in the category of fine for normal use. Walking about, on a bus but not something I’d pick for the Tube or flights. Naturally it’s easily sufficient to make you road kill if you don’t use your eyes when crossing.
Build Quality: Everything would appear to be well constructed. The cable is nice to the touch. The jack is sturdy and it’s angled at 45 degrees so less likely to get cable break there. It does have a mic which adds a weak point and the uber unusual phone type switch. To me it feels and looks fine but having never seen anything like it before I no frame of comparison. Buds feel nice and solid.
Aesthetic: So so. The E50 is quite plain and nondescript. I certainly don’t have any negative feelings about its looks, its clean, plain grey I find pleasant but….. it’s just pleasant.
Phone Use: Well. The E50 has the most curious of things on it, a little switch that tells you where to set it for different devices. A is for Iphones, Blackberriy, HTC, Samsung Galaxy (later models) and B for Nokia, Samsung, Sony Xperia and Corby. Don’t ask what or who Corby is, I have no idea and Google didn’t either. Anyway, Nexus 5 all went well, music was good, play/pause/skip button worked fine. I was heard fine. Iphone 5, music worked, play/pause/skip button worked and I too was heard well. Nokia 735, oh that’s not right, that’s not right at all. I switched it to B but music’s only coming out one ear. Hmm, switch to A and bingo it’s working. Hmm call comes in and the play/pause/skip buttons answers the call and all is well. Err maybe B is just for old Nokia’s?
Amped/Unamped: Well there wasn’t so much a huge difference depending on power but there was from sources. Out of the Solo the bass was highly firm and mids were excellent. A fair jump up on what the mediocre Nexus 5 could muster. It was adequate but lacking in dynamics and life. The Iphone 5 though, things radically warmed up. Much more rich and warm, a bit smeary in the midbass region and the bass got a bit wallowy. Then the 735 it added a touch of V shaped firmness. A weirdly dramatic difference between the Iphone and the 735, bizarrely and significantly different sounds. I wouldn’t say it was bad out of the 5, just over soft whereas the 735 was vastly more “assertive” about things. How curiously weird. Otherwise no, they don’t really need an amp. They do improve but not so much it’s going to change your world unless you’re looking for a sound signature nudging.
Accessories: A heap of tips, a pair of Comply’s, a nice little case and the most curious of cables/adapters for splitting the mic out to its own 3.5mm jack. (So you can use it for earphones and mic for a computer.) I rather love the cable/adapter thing. I realise its something I’d never actually use but I love that someone thought of it.
Value: For £50 or the £45 the non mic’d version are, being a SoundMAGIC it’s a fairly safe bet that they sound not simply good but excellent. So long as you keep them away from an Iphone, they really do sound excellent. Personally I’d have major trouble paying for these over the stunning PL-50’s but these are much more of a general crowd pleaser. They still shine in the midrange, one of the most pleasant and talented in the midrange but still with some low end talent too. The E50 doesn’t wow you, but it’s such a sophisticated sound for a rather meagre price tag. Something you could melt into. I do wonder how many might want that level, the more sophisticated sound signature without being willing to jump in at a higher price point? Maybe the E50 is the affordable taster IEM for a more mature acoustic balance?
Conclusion: The E50S, I don’t love it, its biggest problem for me are that it edges so close to my favoured sound signature and that it edges towards its sibling. For me the PL-50 is at this price the untouched mid-head king. However the major complaint people had about the PL-50 was that it couldn’t move enough air for them and as a result they were much too bass light. The E50 is striking a bit of a balance then. It’s got a little bit forward mids, creamy and articulate. Yet it’s a dynamic at its core so more air moves. That bass, particularly the midbass region is far more full sounding. If the PL-50 were Nora, these are more Jack Johnson. If you are familiar with them you’ll get what I mean.
I know I am being too hard on them for not being as PL-50 like as I want them to be, they aren’t trying to be their siblings. The E50 is aiming at a more balanced, more mainstream suitable sound while retaining something of the mid-range that makes me love the PL-50 so. The E50 borrows little dashes from the ECCI PR401 and the Brainwavz M3 and so it’s a bit of a jack of all trades and not quite managing to be a true master of any. I’m one of those people who has dozens of IEM’s to choose from so I personally, don’t really need a more capable generalist. The E50 is a generalist, a little bit middy generalist but for sure its still a generalist. It’s highly capable in every tonal aspect and can quite deftly turn its hand to any genre you care to throw its way.
So should you buy one? My heart isn’t being bowled over but I recognise that the E50 is an excellent value proposition. It really can do everything quite well. The mids in particular are good, closely followed by the bass. It’s just so unspectacular though, which isn’t a bad thing, it just makes for unexciting writing. The E50 is the sort of thing you could comfortably have as your only IEM, use it each, every day, day in day out like you might a Ford Mondeo. It not the world’s most exciting ride but it’s a hearty, solid performer that should give you years of pleasant rides. The E50 will do Nora and it’ll do Taylor Swift and then do Northern Kings, all without skipping a beat. It will, without a doubt, give you a good, solid performance each and every time you pick them up, no matter what phone you have or whatever your taste in music.