The SoundMagic HP151 are full-size headphones aiming to deliver great sound at a sensible price of £119.
They’re comfortable to wear and their tone is highly enjoyable. However, they’re really only suitable for indoor use since they come with a long 2.5m cable. Unless you’re okay with the feel of a metre’s worth of cable in your pocket, that is.
The SoundMagic HP151 are related to the HP100 pair I reviewed five years ago. Back then, I accused SoundMagic of some poor design choices, but the new design is much plainer.
Cups, headband and pads are all-black, with no jutting angles or aggressive lines – these headphones are unlikely to draw attention. Fake leather is the material of choice on the pads and headband, there’s steel in the headband, and plastic elsewhere.
SoundMagic’s signature blue and red left/right labels remain in the SoundMagic HP151; in fact, they make more sense in this pair than most because these appear to be headphones you’d wear in the lounge or the studio, not on the street.
However, this isn’t down to comfort or looks: the HP151s are very comfortable; and they don’t protrude significantly from your head, despite the giant cups. I’ve worn them out in public on several occasions during testing.
The main issue is the cable, which at 2.5m long is double the length of a normal one. This is far too long for portable headphones. In addition, it uses a twist-to-lock mechanism, so you can’t easily buy another shorter cable that’s guaranteed to fit the headphones – even though it uses a 3.5mm jack.
Wearing them out on the street, pocket full of cable and with more to spare dangling down by the pavement, I found the isolation to be pretty poor. The HP151s didn’t leak loads of sound, but they didn’t block out much either. The SoundMagic HP151 would make good office headphones.
There are elements of the DJ headphone here, too. The cups fold up into the headband, and swivel 180 degrees. At first these joints seemed far too loose, but the SoundMagic HP151 never fell off my head, so there’s no particular downside to their flexibility.
As you might expect from a cable that’s 2.5m long, there’s no phone remote attached. Home studio-style, the cable’s end has a 3.5mm jack with a thread to attach a 6.3mm adapter, which is included.
Also included in the box is an unusually chunky, semi-hard case. At this price I’d normally expect to see a fabric bag, if anything at all. It highlights the strange contradiction of these headphones: why put so much effort into adding portability features without including a 1.2m cable?
SoundMagic HP151 – Sound Quality
It’s been five years since I reviewed the SoundMagic HP100, but from the comments I made about the sound signature back then, it doesn’t appear that SoundMagic has radically departed from that pair’s style. TheHP151s are very smooth and detailed-sounding headphones that are hard not to like.
They use giant 53mm drivers, which helps to explain the size of the cups.
These headphones have the basic building blocks of high-end sound, but then make minor tweaks to ensure the HP151s have optimum appeal for a mainstream audience, rather than just hi-fi magazine readers. Their twin highlights – to my ears, at least – are the fairly wide soundstage for a closed-back headphone and the well-resolved but sweet treble.
It’s much less sharp and challenging than that of the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, which I’ve recommended multiple times since review. The treble offers a good sense of higher-end detail, without a hint of sibilance.
Similarly, the bass balances punchiness/impact and avoids clouding other elements perfectly. The SoundMagic HP151 mids are fine given the relatively attractive price of these headphones, but it’s where you hear the most entry-level elements. Mids aren’t empty and vacant sounding, but there’s a lack of presence and detail in the upper-mid range. This helps further smooth out the sound, but also flattens dynamics and takes some of the raspy impact away from aggressive vocals and, for example, brass instruments.
Should I buy the SoundMagic HP151?
If you want a pair of headphones for the street, then the SoundMagic HP151 shouldn’t be at the top of your list. Their cable is far too long, plus the noise isolation isn’t good enough.
However, if you’re after a pair for the office, the home or your home studio, they’re among the best. Sound is smoother and more relaxed than the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x’s, and they make for an engaging listen that I’ve been more than happy with for extended all-day listening.
The SoundMagic HP151s are great headphones at a decent price – but their long cable means they’re less than ideal for use out and about.
Andrew Williams is a technology writer, who has contributed to Stuff, WIRED, TechRadar, T3, Wareable and, of course, Trusted Reviews. Here he test and reviews some of newest mobile, audio and camera d…