SoundMAGIC PL11

The PL11s are particularly good for rock, electronica or anything that can do with lashings of bass. The hard beats and fuzzy basslines of DJ Shadow's Fixed Income come through with attitude and energy, while the guitar lines that ride over the top are rich in texture and warm tone. The classic 80s synth sounds of Paranoid, from Kanye West's 808 and Heartbreak, are magnificently beefy and while I've heard the guitar attack of Mastodon's Divinations cut through with a little more bite, the sound here is certainly dynamic and suitably heavy, and there's no problem making out the vocals or the bassline

Meanwhile, Soundgarden's Loud Love, from the breakthrough Louder than Love album, is nothing short of awesome, the sludgy Zeppelin meets Sabbath riff getting thicker and heavier until it practically threatens to collapse under its own weight before taking a quick break for an instrumental passage and doing it all over again. Prefer something a bit more dancey? Accusations, from The Juan MacLean's The Future Will Come, practically pulses with energy, and the weird, echoey samples that punctuate the song reveal that the PJ11s have s surprisingly extensive soundstage for earphones with this kind of signature.
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If the PL11s have a problem, sound-wise, it's that they don't do subtle quite so well. The warm tone suits some acoustic material well, but the basslines have a tendency to thud around your ear-drums and you miss some of the clarity and definition you get with better, more expensive IEMs. But then, even writing this now, I start to remember that I'm comparing the PL11s to products costing £50, £60 or more, and that's not exactly fair. Across a range of material - pop, rock, R&B, jazz and even classical - the PL11s sound better than any sub £20 earphones that I've heard.

Up until now I'd have steered anyone who wanted to replace their bundled iPod or MP3 player earbuds but didn't have more than £30 to spend towards Sennheiser's CX300-II or Sony's MDR-EX300 (or Creative's bargain-tastic EP630s if they were feeling really cheap). However, I think I might have a new cheapskate's champion on my hands. In A-B comparisons the CX300-IIs have a slight edge on the PL11s for detail and clarity, but the SoundMAGICs deliver a more punchy and exciting performance, and one that I'm happy to recommend.

Verdict

If you've only got the minimum of cash to spend on earphones for a new MP3 player, then the PL11s deliver a great sound for very little money.

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