Products coming out of China have largely been perceived as being poorly manufactured and lacking in durability and quality. Buying a Chinese product was considered the equivalent of playing the lottery; it could work well for the next few months, or it could fail on you the next morning. Unfortunately, this is still something that people perceive about everything Chinese.
Then there is SoundMagic, which defies all the negativity by consistently producing quality products that are sturdy and perform well. We reviewed the SoundMagic E10S and were absolutely floored by how great they were for the price. We now have with us the Rs. 2,499 SoundMagic P21, an on-ear model which is looking to replicate the success of the E10S. It's priced lower and seems promising, which is why we've been looking forward to bringing you this review.
Design, specifications and fit
The SoundMagic P21 features 40mm neodymium drivers with a frequency response range of 20-20,000Hz. Sensitivity measures at 103dB, while impedance registers at 32Ohms. The non-detachable flat cable is 1.2m long, and the entire headset weighs 110g. The package includes a decent soft pouch which can hold the headphones when they are folded. Two colour options are available: black and red (the colour of our review sample), and white.
The on-ear P21 headphones feature a lot of plastic in the casing and headband, which looks cheap but feels sturdy and well-built. Unlike the good-looking E10S in-ears, the SoundMagic P21 could pass of for any other pair of headphones in its price range, and you aren't going to be able to fool anyone into thinking these are premium cans. The skeleton of the headband is metal though, and there are convenient numbered markings to ensure that you get a proper fit. The underside of the headband and the ear cups have excellent soft padding. The entire set folds into a convenient shape for storage.
The headphones feature a non-detachable 1.2m flat cable, with a sturdy L-shaped 3.5mm plug. The flat cable stays free of tangles, and fortunately there's no audible cable noise. The ear cups sit on top of your ears in normal use cases and don't clamp down too hard. This keeps the fit comfortable most of the time, although you will need to take them off for a short rest every 30 minutes or so to give your ears some air.
We used our reference Fiio X1 high-resolution audio player and an Android smartphone as sources for the review. Focus tracks for the test were Bonobo's Days To Come, Los Del Rios' Macarena, and Pharrell Williams' Gust Of Wind in 16/44.1 FLAC; and The Who's Eminence Front in 320kbps MP3.
First up, we played Days To Come. The track starts with light twinkle in the highs, and eventually develops impressive lows. One of the first things we noticed was the warmth in the sound, along with decent bass response. While the thump isn't quite as powerful and exciting as some other options, it's still adequate. We would even say it's calculated and subtle at times, and feels very sophisticated for the price. There is similarly good response from the treble, although at times it feels a bit too subtle for our liking.
Next, we played what was quite possibly the most annoying song of the 90s; Macarena. Despite cringing our way through the track, we did enjoy the way the mids and vocals were handled. The track also revealed good frequency handling with the sub-mid and low ranges. There is also a fair amount of fluidity in the sound, showing impressive sound imaging.
We moved on to Gust Of Wind. Apart from the sophistication of the bass, we also noticed that frequency response was fantastic through the range. All in all, these headphones provide a smooth, comfortable and balanced sound that can be expected of ones that cost several times as much as these do. Considering the actual price of the SoundMagic P21, we were tremendously impressed with the quality of the sound.
Finally, we played our MP3 of Eminence Front, and the SoundMagic P21 did a good job of soundstaging. We felt a real sense of the separation of elements, along with depth and width in the sound reproduction. Gentler elements in the track, along with the vocals, felt suitably placed and distinctly strong. Although this is by no means the best possible sound, it is easily as good as anything you would find on headphones four times the price of the SoundMagic P21. This is what makes these headphones special.
The SoundMagic P21 does not quite achieve the superior levels of musicality that we've seen on the Sennheiser Urbanite or even the V-Moda XS. It isn't all that good-looking either, although it is clearly durable, comfortable and functional enough. However, when you consider that it costs just Rs. 2,499 (much less if you shop around online), the P21 represents fantastic value for money.
The sound is balanced, while bass and treble responses are calculated and subtle, with just enough bite to keep you hooked. The warm sound is comfortable and will work well for typical buyers in this price range. Like the E10S, SoundMagic has produced an all-round winner in the P21 that works well with all kinds of music and offers a level of musicality that we haven't seen before with on-ears in this price range. If you can live with its plain appearance, the SoundMagic P21 is the perfect on-ear option for you.
Price (MRP): Rs. 2,499 Pros
- Study build, good cable
- Comfortable fit
- Warm, balanced sound across the frequency range
- Calculated, subtle bass and treble response
- Excellent value for money
- Looks cheap
- Not as exciting or driven as similarly priced in-ear options
Ratings (Out of 5)
- Design: 3
- Performance: 4
- Value for money: 5
- Overall: 4