The SoundMagic E80 are earphones whose style is quite unusual.
Most headphones aim for a pretty similar sound signature. Include some bonus bass, smooth out the sound and tame the ultra-high frequencies to avoid sibilance and you’re onto a winner. This is the ear-charming sound that will guarantee you wide appeal. However, the SoundMagic E80 reject that formula.
These are bright-sounding earphones that push how far the treble extends, getting pretty close to territory that only dogs can appreciate. It’s rare for a £70 earphone working with a standard dynamic driver to have such high ambitions.
SoundMagic has worked wonders with a single dynamic driver, pulling out largely cohesive and information-packed treble that’s not overly prone to sibilance. However, with ill-suited content it lacks the restraint and control needed to make it easy on the ears. So unless you like your earphones as bright as they come, you should probably steer clear.
We've always had plenty to say about the look of SoundMagic earphones – in a negative way. The company's earphones often end up just slightly missing the mark of what they're aiming for.
The subtler sets are a bit too quirky; the more eye-catching ones just aren't particularly stylish. Here, we're going to lay off a little.
The SoundMagic E80s look better than most of the company’s sets, with a curvier design that gives them a less juvenile style. Or at least it would if the earphones weren’t bright red.
So while the colour is likely to attract as many as it turns off, it's good to know that the SoundMagic E80 are tough-feeling bullets of aluminium. The cable is the SoundMagic-standard braided style, which – like the red colour – gives them a look that's a bit more brash.
Note that the cable is non-removable, so it will be important to ensure you take good care of the SoundMagic E80s if you don’t want them to stop working after only three months. In the past, the company's earphones used to have a reputation for failing after a while; just because earphones are made of aluminium doesn’t mean they’re well made.
However, over the past few years we’ve heard fewer such criticisms, and we know that the ever-popular SoundMagic E10 have been through numerous design tweaks to improve their longevity.
They have standard-size aperture and use familiar silicone tips that will happily perch fairly close to the entrance of your ears if you’re not too keen on invasive earphones. The collection of included tips is extremely generous, too. As well as rubbery tips of all sorts of sizes plus a dual-flanged pair, three tips of Comply foam tips are bundled too. These are rarely included at this price, as they cost a bit by themselves.
One important thing to note is that the SoundMagic E80s don't have an in-line remote. They’re intended as an "audiophile" earphone, and therefore place sound at the top of the priority list over bonus features.
But do they sound any good? The SoundMagic E80s are challenging earphones, as set that we've tried awfully hard to like because we appreciate what they’re about.
The SoundMagic E80 is a detail-centric earphone, one that tries to emulate the tone of the dual-driver balanced armature earphones that were popular a few years back (the Jays q-Jays and Ultimate Ears UE700 being the best examples). The goal is searing treble, which provides lots of searching detail, for an intricate sound not lacking in power.
Here the treble extends far, giving the SoundMagic E80 a very bright sound signature. This is the clear focus; the mid-range and bass isn't oversized to match, and instead is more traditionally balanced. Actually, the bass is rather good – so long as you don’t mind a more reserved low-end.
Back to the important stuff: the treble. Although it doesn’t appear disjointed, as it did in the recently reviewed Shure SE112m+, it is tough to swallow.
The presence of excessive upper-treble is apparent, which can result in an unpleasant "fizziness" to sound that becomes tiring. This all depends on the source material, of course – with certain music the SoundMagic E80 sound highly detailed and insightful. However, too often the presence of that "fizziness" gives music/TV/whatever an unpleasant edge. Balanced armature earphones with this style tend toe able treble with a bit more refinement, a bit more finesse.
As fans of high-detail headphones and models that go against the norm, we wanted to like the SoundMagic E80. We even gave them a longer burn-in than most of our review sets to see whether the high frequencies would calm down at somepoint. But they continued to be a bit too much.
This upper-end emphasis is likely to be more disruptive to younger ears, thanks to the natural loss of higher-frequency hearing we’re all subject to as we age. If you’re in your 50s and have a preference for bright earphones, the SoundMagic E80 may be perfect for you.
The SoundMagic E80 position themselves as affordable "reference" earphones for audiophiles. What they actually do is switch the bass emphasis we often hear in earphones/headphones to the treble, in order to create conspicuously detail-heavy earphones.
It’s an interesting idea. But to our ears at least, it doesn’t quite work. At times that boost in treble is a challenge to the ears. The single 10mm (per ear, of course) dynamic driver is incapable of handling the increased presence of treble, as well as the balanced armature drivers that usually have a stab at this sort of "audiophile" sound.
Ultimately, the SoundMagic E50s are a more satisfying listen. They offer a more easy-going balance of sound – one that isn't lumbered with the expectations of an "audiophile" signature.
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These "audiophile" earphones are too much of a test for your ears with their intense treble. For a more balanced sound, we'd look elsewhere