As a brand we've championed in reviews like the SoundMagic E30's, we were a bit worried about whether the SoundMagic HP100 would match the quality of the company's in-ear models. Making over-ear headphones is a different game entirely, and the large 53mm driver, folding design and rather loud look suggested they might be brash "DJ" headphones - all bass and no class. Pleasingly, however, they are anything but.
The SoundMagic HP100s are fantastic in a number of ways. These are balanced-sounding headphones that successfully tip-toe the line between an accurate pair and an entertaining one. What's most impressive is their rendering of detail, which is exceptional. There's more space and insight at the top-end than the Shure SRH840 - a key rival, and notably detailed cans.
There's no harshness of sharpness here though, which is always a risk when opting for a slightly bright signature. We'd go as far as to call the treble here utterly delightful, with enough sweetness to nudge the HP100 away from being analytical "studio" headphones, back into the realm of the mainstream.
There's a smoothness to the sound of the SoundMagic HP100 headphones that makes prolonged listening extremely enjoyable, but it doesn't rely on warmth as some smooth headphones do. These really aren't particularly warm, valuing clarity over most other things. If anything, the mids are a little recessed, giving the HP100 signature a sense of a "stepped back", relaxing sound rather than an up-front and aggressive one. It's certainly not relaxed enough to become at all dull, though.
This approach to the mid-range also gives the SoundMagic HP100 an airy sound, bolstered by the already larger-than-average (for a closed pair) soundstage. These are among just a few closed sets we've been happy to use as an at-home pair - we normally favour a fully-open set when leakage and non-existent sound isolation are no issue.
The only potential issue we can envision is that those after the typical "DJ" sound may be a little disappointed by the bass response, although this too is by no means bad - it's just well-balanced. It's subtle and therefore only shows its presence when required. Bass separation is great, and depth is decent, if not quite as notable as other elements of the HP100.
The SoundMagic HP100's superbly detailed sound only makes us wish the company hadn't played its usual trick with the design. Comparable headphones from Sennheiser and Shure may tend to look functional and little else, but we'd prefer that over contrived style mis-steps.
However, from a more practical standpoint there's very little to complain about. Great comfort, a versatile design and sound that pips similarly-priced rivals like the Shure SRH840 and Audio-Technica ATH-M50 make the SoundMagic HP100 a clear candidate for a headphone of the year nomination.
SoundMagic has done it again. The HP100 headphones are excellent, highly detailed-sounding headphones that marry the insight of a clinical headphone with an easygoing smoothness of a pair that's more about enjoyment than monitoring. Add great comfort to the mix and you have a real winning pair of cans. We just wish SoundMagic had classed-up the look a little more.