SoundMagic P23BT Review
Impressive-sounding on-ears at a cheap asking price
The SoundMagic P23BT are a pair of on-ears that get a lot right at an inexpensive price. For £50 the sound quality is absolutely sterling and much better than you’d expect from an on-ear at this price.
- Refined and detailed sound
- Compact and lightweight design
- Long battery life
- Can pinch on the ears
- Not what you’d call stylish
- UKRRP: £49.99
- BluetoothSupports playback over an aptX-HD connection
- Battery54-60 hours of battery
- Boom micConnected boom mic for games and business calls
It’s been a while since we last heard from SoundMagic. Years ago, they were the brand to seek out for affordable wired and wireless headphones, but after releasing their first true wireless, things went a little quiet.
In 2021 they released the SoundMagic P23BT on-ears, but they appeared to have gone under the radar. It would be a mistake to consider these headphones a busted flush, as they show that SoundMagic hasn’t lost any of the qualities that made the brand a reliable budget buy.
- Compact and foldable design
- Can pinch over prolonged use
- Touch controls for operation
With every on-ear there are benefits and disadvantages to the design, and SoundMagic hasn’t solved the weaker aspects. Any interest in these headphones will likely depend on your patience, especially where comfort is considered.
So, the good aspects first. The design is light and foldable, easy to stow away in a bag or tucked away in the provided pouch. The padding on the headband means they don’t dig into the head when worn, and the band is adjustable to fit heads of different sizes. The earpads are made from soft leatherette and they work well to provide comfort, at least initially.
And so on to the less desirable aspects of on-ears. After a while, the SoundMagic P23BT can pinch around the earlobes. I found it wasn’t too discomforting but it’s noticeable, nevertheless. The only pair of on-ears that have managed to avoid this issue are the Marshall Major IV and they came with chunky pads.
The other issue is the amount of noise that leaks through. These aren’t an over-ear design and therefore are less protected against outside noises. Even on a semi-busy street audio tends to be swamped by the sounds of cars and buses going past.
There’s a button on the left earcup to power on the headphones that can be used for playback too. It’s small and not always easy to locate, especially if you’re wearing gloves. Next to it is a 3.5mm jack that can be used to plug in a cable with a wired boom mic that could be used for gaming or business calls. The USB-C port for charging is hidden beneath a flap at the top of the earcup.
The SoundMagic P23BT incorporates swipes and presses on its left earcup. Double click on the lower part and that plays/pause a track. Swipe up or down for volume and to the sides for skipping tracks. It’s surprisingly fluid and fast to respond, as long as you make contact with the right area.
The P23BT don’t refashion the on-ear headphone experience but they work well enough in practice and are less inconvenient than some on-ears have been.
- Support for aptX-HD
- Up to 60 hours battery
- Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity
Typically, on-ear headphones are short in terms of features, and SoundMagic P23BT won’t change minds on that front. Looking at the spec sheet, the P23BT have tried to etch out as much performance as they can.
Battery life is quoted as 54-60 hours, which initially sounds strange, but I suspect it might be down to the audio codec the headphones are playing in (more on that later). Fast-charging is supported, and five minutes will give another five hours.
Bluetooth connectivity is v5.0 and most interestingly the P23BT supports SBC, AAC and aptX-HD. I haven’t seen many headphones around the £50 mark include aptX-HD, and though the codec transmits audio wirelessly in lossy form (so data is lost during the transmission) it can support up to 24-bit/48kHz audio.
I haven’t experienced any particular issue with the connection walking through London and using them on transport, although I haven’t used the headphones for any calls. I’ll be updating the review as and when I get the chance to do so.
- Insightful performance
- Wide soundstage
- Well balanced sound
Right from the off, the SoundMagic P23BT position themselves as a high-quality listening experience at the budget side of the market. The gentle plucks of the harp in the Brandee Younger’s Tickled Pink are described with a nice sense of delicacy while the upright bass is characterised with weight and cymbals crash in a crisp fashion. It’s a surprisingly subtle performance filled with detail, clarity and texture.
The soundstage to Childish Gambino’s This Is America is wide in size, and the bass that underpins the track is dealt with a good degree of depth and weight (for an on-ear). Gambino’s vocals take the stage in the centre – big, clear and somewhat neutral in the fashion they’re described in. The midrange is fettered with detail, instruments and voices precisely conveyed. Again, it’s impressive just how refined and mature the P23BT can sound.
The top end of the frequency range is well communicated with good brightness, clarity and sharpness. The piano that opens Joe Hisaishi’s Innocent from Castle in the Sky tonally sounds very nice, with distinct variation between the different keys being pressed that ensures the SoundMagic isn’t just a one-note player. It adds colour to the P23BT’s overall performance.
There’s good energy and decent dynamism provided to a track such as Tom Morello’s cover of Voodoo Child. The difference between quiet and loud notes is perhaps not as big as could be, but enough to give a sense of the different levels in a piece of music.
The SoundMagic P23BT mark themselves out as a cool and collected customer, slicing through tracks with clarity and detail. They’re more detailed, clearer and better-defined listen than previous favourite the Status BT One and don’t push as hard on the bass as the Marshall Major IV. The P23BT strike the best balance and that places them as one of best budget headphones, let alone on-ears.
Should you buy it?
For impressive sound on a budget: The P23BT aren’t the most stylish-looking headphones, but the sound quality is much better than its appearance looks
If you don’t like on-ears: This pair won’t change your mind on the design if the you find on-ears uncomfortable in any way.
I’ve always felt that on-ears were for the casual market, those who wanted the equivalent of a pick-up and play pair of headphones. They weren’t for audiophiles, shall I say, but the SoundMagic challenge that preconception with their impressively concise audio performance.
They don’t refashion the idea of what on-ears are, but the P23BT do hit the right notes more often than not. Battery life is generous (better than most over-ear models), the comfort level is better than other on-ears I’ve tried, and the sound quality is highly commendable, especially for £50. If you prefer on-ears to any other type of headphone I’d say you should snap these up.
How we test
We test all the headphones we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry-standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Find out more about how we test in our ethics policy.
Tested across two weeks
Tested with real world use
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On-ear models such as the P23BT don’t feature noise cancellation.
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