SoundMAGIC PL50

These are good performers across a range of genres. There's enough power at the low-end and in the mid-range to power heavy rock, as a quick play through with tracks from Soundgarden, Mastodon, Velvet Revolver and Audioslave soon proved. Fans of hip-hop and really bass-heavy dance music might prefer something with a more dominant low end, but the PL50s do a better job with, say, Justice's DVNO or Public Enemy's By the Time I Get to Arizona than more analytical models like my Etymotic HF2s, and there's definitely something really warm and lively about the presentation.

Listening to soulful R&B tracks from Maxwell or John Legend, the Etymotics have a slight edge on clarity, but the PL50s offer a richer, more lovable tone and still don't fail to pick our detail. In fact, I'm reminded slightly of the mid-range focused Klipsch Custom 2s, but with much of the Etymotic's high-end sparkle.
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It's the handling of detail that continually takes you back. Like the HF5s, the PL50s do a fantastic job of resolving gradual changes of tone and volume, or revealing sounds and textures that other earphones might bury in the mix. When I get my hands on a pair of really good new headphones, I often break out Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden, and on the PL50s this superb, timeless album is a real treat, instruments rising into and out of the mix like ghosts, choruses building from almost nowhere with an almost religious intensity. And if you like your music a little more down to earth and physical, Justin Timberlake's LoveStones is delivered with energy and drive.

In short, the PL50s punch comfortably above their weight, and while I won't be ditching the HF5s or the Custom 2s any time soon, it's the PL50s I'll be reaching for next time I take an MP3 player out for a spin. What's more, they leave my previously much-loved Denon AHC-551s for dust - the poor things might have low-end presence, but they just can't match the SoundMAGICs for detail or soundstage. Given the price point, that's pretty remarkable. Unfortunately, I haven't heard the PL50s in direct A/B comparison with Klipsch's new budget champs, the Image S4s, but word from those who have is that these are better. Given how good these beauties sound, I'm inclined to believe them.

You might not know the name, you might not like the style, but don't let those details distract you. If you only have £60 to spend on earphones and you don't shortlist the PL50s, then you're wilfully missing out on one of the best audio bargains around.

Verdict

This time beauty is in the ear of the beholder. The PL50s might not look much, but they can comfortably hold their own with big brand IEMs in the next price bracket up.

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