SoundMagic is a company that has clawed its way into the consciousness of headphone fans by producing affordable earphones that sound a lot better than their modest prices would suggest. However, the Chinese company is spreading its wings with the SoundMagic HP100s lining up as the company's first full-size over-ear headphones. What's more it has managed to come up with something pretty special.
However, as usual SoundMagic doesn't make an auspicious entrance. Making the right stylistic choices has never been a particular forte of the company, and there are a few complaints with the SoundMagic HP100s that we want to get over with right away.
The SoundMagic HP100s use shiny curved circles with a texture of criss-cross lines to cover the ear cups, and red/blue signs to let you know which side of the headphone is which. These are purely aesthetic parts of the headphones, but both are stylistic misses in our book. Full-sized closed headphones rarely look cool, but the HP100 go the extra mile, and end up looking a bit naff as a result.
It's a good job, then, that they make up for it in just about every other area.
They are extremely comfortable, for one. The headband and the cups are generously padded with foam, using different levels of resistance for each to ensure the most comfortable wear. They may not make you look particularly cool, but we found them almost as comfortable as the Bose QuietComfort 15, which are some of the most comfy closed headphones in existence.
The SoundMagic HP100 heat up your ears a bit less than Bose's pairs too, partly because the giant cups leave more room for your ears and partly because of the 2-part style of the pads. There's a strip of fabric on the inside of each, so your earlobes rest against something a lot less sticky than leather. They're a delight to have on, and good weight distribution means you should be able to wear them all day without any discomfort.
The SoundMagic HP100s are also very portable for such a large set of audio suppliers. There's a ratcheted pivot at the point where the ear cup meets the headband, letting the cups twist right up into the band. They do occasionally start folding in on themselves when you don't want them too, but it's not a big problem.
The SoundMagic HP100 headphones come with an unusually good case too. It's semi-hard, red on the inside and black on the outside, and comes with a little Velcro-attached sack that holds the 3.5-to-6.3mm jack converter, an airplane converter and - most unusually - a carabiner.
Earning the SoundMagic HP100 more design brownie points, the cable is removable, using a twist-to-lock mechanism and an otherwise-standard 3.5mm stereo jack that plugs into the left earcup.
Unlike most headphones that are at least partly aimed at the iPod crowd, these headphones use a coiled cable. It's 1.2m long, stretching out to 4m. Using such a cable does seem a little off if SoundMagic is aiming at the mainstream audience rather than studio-bound folk as it feels a little heavy when walking about. Ideally we'd prefer to see dual cables - one short one for on-the-go use and a longer one for at-home listening. Admittedly, such generosity is a rarity but the coiled cable does put a slight damper on the otherwise luxurious comfort.
If you can stomach having such large, and not particularly cool-looking, headphones on your noggin, they work very well as a portable pair. The closed design provides well above average noise isolation, coping with the ruckus of a city with relative ease. We've used them a good deal on the train and tube, and barely had to up the volume level.
These really feel like headphones that are intended to be able to skip between at-home and outside use. The particularly robust jack sleeve protector is a particular giveaway that the SoundMagic HP100 want to spend some time in the living room too - it's just a bit to big to slip into pockets innocuously. They're a lot like the Shure SRH840 in this respect. But does the sound match the big boys?