Headphones are now part of the mainstream. Everywhere you look, online or offline, you will find myriads of brands and types. They come in many sizes and is found in a very big price range. However, not all are created equal and there are some that are simply not worth the asking price, due to either bad sound quality or subpar build quality. Luckily, there are some less known brands that actually deliver(at a good price too)! And one of those is SoundMAGIC HP200.
(this review is written with excessive care to avoid any errors, however, there might still be some appearing due to human error)
SoundMAGIC is a company that specialises in audio products to both the niche and mainstream markets. They come from China but don’t let this fool you into thinking their products were similar to badly made counterfeit ones. In fact, SoundMAGIC does the opposite and it brings us a few surprises.
Starting from the packaging, you will be delighted to hear that you will be receiving a pretty good casing included! The casing is solid and durable, I have used them for a year and a half and they protect the headphones very well from an external force. Its quality is something to be appreciated, coming from a less known company and included in its price range of $150 – $200++. Inside the casing, it includes a small cover pouch for the cables. If you check out the image above, the one with multiple ‘breath holes’ is the pouch that can pack up to three 1m cables(if they are of normal thickness).
Buyer will get a connector cable that is detachable from the headphone, a 3.5mm to 6.3mm adaptor and an adaptor for using the headphone in an airplane. It’s pretty standard inclusion similar to offerings from other companies, but that casing quality that contains all these just stood out from the rest.
Now, we are getting to the interesting bit. The build quality of the headphone is phenomenal for its price range. Take note that this is an OPEN-BACK headphone, which means that there is no total covering layer between the diaphragm and the outside air. The part where the air is let out is beautifully covered and designed with black metal grills. When you feel the grills, you can tell that it is made of pretty decent quality and won’t break under slight pressure. Adding on a white outer rim makes the headphone looks classy and subtly fashionable(for those that prefer simple black&white fashion). From a good perspective, SoundMAGIC HP200 just looks like a premium offering from a reputable company.
There are obvious markers for left and right channel, with the former being a blue box and the latter with a red box(as seen in the image above). The headband is pretty tight at first but as you keep wearing them, they will soften to the point of being comfortable using it for long hours. They are also strong and durable, not flimsy like some counterfeit headphones that we know of. Then, they have different number markers, on both sides, for you to decide how tight you want it to be wrapped around your head.
With my normal head size, it’s around 3 or 4, but the headband can stretch till 8, so it can fit a lot of type of heads. Finally, we come to the earpad. And wow! These earpads are themselves comfortable right out of the box. Perhaps because it is open-back, the earpad does not seem to cause as much sweat compared to a closed-back headphone. I could listen to music for up to 3 or 5 hours and the earpads are barely wet, but there are other factors too. So if you are someone who sweats on the ears after listening music, this does not solve the problem but it can lessen them.
One last thing is to add is that the detachable cable used for the headphone has a custom-made connector locker at the end, which means that you can’t just use any random connectors. This sucks, but at least you can detach them and get new ones from the SoundMAGIC or any cables that are approved by them. The cable does not last long in my case, after 1.5 years, it starts showing wear and tear with bits of the exterior casing revealing the inner wires. Better invest in a better wire when you got the chance.
Wooo Hoo! Now we are into the meat section and, arguably, the most important one. I figure some will skip to this section straightaway. So without further ado, I will state the audio devices that I have used with the HP200. They are:
Motorola X 2014 Edition Phone
MacBook Pro 2014 15-inch
iBasso D42 Mamba Portable Amp
iBasso DX90 DAP
—Motorola X —
With the Motorola X, it is powerful enough to drive the HP200 to a reasonable volume, indicating the easy-to-drive factor of the headphone. The music comes from Youtube and Spotify. When it’s played from youtube, I can hear the difference in the low quality versus the HD video. Take Ed Sheeran’s <I see Fire> for example, the low quality when played through the HP200 is quite muddy and flatly full of hiss. Don’t waste time listening in the low-quality mode, but the Full HD video does improve it somehow by adding more ‘oomph’ to the vocals but not by much. Perhaps Youtube does not really care about audio that well or that the Motorola X phone has a pretty weak headphone amplifier, which I think is the latter case. So, it not doing HP200 justice by playing it through the phone. Period. The same goes for Spotify but it does improve them a bit more due to perhaps higher quality streaming at 320kbps, but still, it can be barely noticeable if you don’t concentrate hard enough. Also, the soundstage is pretty small when using it this way.
—MacBook Pro —
With the MacBook Pro, it is also powerful enough to drive the HP200 to a pretty loud volume. Here, the MacBook Pro has a better headphone amplifier and this shows when I try to play Youtube, Spotify and some of my own songs in 16bit FLAC files. With the same <I see Fire>, there’s still some background white noises, but the music played with better vocal performance and background guitar more clearly. The quality is the same, from Youtube to Spotify, with the latter improving by a bit more. It was with the FLAC files that some hidden details are revealed like an extra subtle guitar picking with Ed’s voice feeling more natural. Take note this is played with Decibel app for the FLAC, other playback software may provide a different experience. The soundstage increases a bit compared to using the phone.
—iBasso D42 Mamba —
Now we are starting to get into the audiophile world of better audio capability. iBasso D42 Mamba bypasses MacBook Pro’s headphone amplifier to use its own. This, in turn, creates a louder sound with much lesser hiss that are barely noticeable in the background. Some people say that the music become livelier and more life-like and I agree to the former. With the same music, the vocal is more laid- back and the HP200 soundstage opens up wider like a small theatre. The guitar is brought more forward but gentle. Now it seems like HP200 has got the perfect test to let us see whether it performs well with a good audio file and better headphone amplifier. This really shows as I enjoy the same music with my eyes closed. You can start to feel the emotion and picture yourself right in the middle of the room listening to him playing. I must say that having an external headphone amplifier is the minimum to bring out HP200’s potential.
Finally, we arrive at one of the best valued DAP for the year 2015. It is packed with two mono channels dedicated to their own DAC and a better headphone amplifier compared to the Mamba. Obviously, the soundstage is now much open up and it feels more natural sounding as well. Playing at a reasonable loudness brings me to the scene of the film The Hobbit when the song started playing. Damn, the impact, the ‘oomph, the vocal and the guitar sprang to life and is filled with energy. This is so different compared to when using my phone to play the same music. Perhaps DX90 has the prowess to bring out HP200 to it’s max(or nearly max) potential and I can listen to this all day. There are now really no hiss in the background, with silence in the audio file being almost totally silent except for outside noise. To be honest, I have always used this pair up with HP200 ever since I got the DX90, and they really pair well. With the right gear, the SoundMAGIC Hp200 sounds way above it’s price range, with almost similar quality to those headphones that are $100 -$200 above it’s price range. Also, the open back headphone helps to maintain this fluidity and naturalness, but take not that bass is not as good compared to closed-back headphone of the same quality.
PackagingBuild QualitySound QualityWhat's good?Accessories are aplenty and casing is of good qualityBuild quality is surprisingly great for its priceDetachable wireExcellent sound quality for most genres, but especially for vocalsEasy to drive, but will benefit from ext DAC or AMPWhat's bad?Not for bassheadThe provided wire seems to wear down easily4.2Dayum!A gem open-back headphone in its price rangeSoundMAGIC HP200 is a gem among the many headphones of the same price range. It displays and surprises us with its astounding sound quality at its price, as long as you have the right gear and audio files. It's just too bad that we can't use them outside or for basshead due to their open-back nature. Otherwise, this is the perfect buy for those starting to get into audiophile world or just wants to listen to better music.