Thanks to Hifiheadphones for the sample.
First Impressions: Ahh another SoundMAGIC. It hasn’t been too long since I had the E50 in, it was nice, very nice, very pleasant and it seems to have failed to capture many imaginations. Sometimes round Head-Fi being good at everything isn’t enough, you need to excel somewhere. I’ve read good things about the 80 so I’m optimistic. I know I’ll like it, SoundMAGIC have a tendency to do great mids and I love mids. The box is fine, the cable, wow now that’s an eye catching red. Oh my and the buds and the jack too!!! They certainly make a visual impact.
Ooh Comply’s. Let’s get these rubber one’s off and then get these in the ear. The first thing that strikes me is they are bass light. Now that might be me, I’ve been using bass monsters all morning. Next, oh those the mids I was hoping for. Oh my they might even be PL-50 challenging? Oooooooh. Okay I’m smiling, yep I like these, wow they feel like such an abundance of fresh air. So open and hyper fluid.
Yep, I’m singing and dancing in my chair. I like these, I like them lots.
Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-650, 1G Ipod Shuffle, Nexus 5 and Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear.
Lows: The bass here is strictly complimentary. It is reticent, capable, lithe and nuanced. It’s how I like bass to be, so solidly articulated and accurate. Sculpted from the finest alabaster. Hard to the touch but not so solid and hard that its granite like and capable of just ploughing through everything in its path. There is a finely honed lower end that smoothly sweeps and flows. It’s not the deepest of bass but it’s pretty fine for anything I’d use it for. It doesn’t really soften any as it descends and so it retains its composure as it diminishes, rather than bloom. Poppy and rhythmically bass centric stuff is very able but the bass is too polite and composed, which I’m a fan of but a mainstream audience may find it too polite. The bass just never comes out rip roaring and centre stage.
It quantity terms it’s a little behind the mids. Even when you throw in really bassy stuff the bass hasn’t got the aggressiveness to dominate. Its achingly polite bass, which for music that isn’t all about the bass is a perfectly lovely compliment.
Mids: This is where the action is. SoundMAGIC have a habit of doing spectacular mids and here they are showing themselves at their best. Gloriously beautiful. So swooping and melodically nuanced. Creamy yet airy and delicate. Perhaps akin to the finest moose or some ice cream / sorbet hybrid. It’s no secret I love mids and there is so much to love here, I love it all. One of the reasons this review has taken a stupidly long time is that it’s exactly the sort of tuning I like. It’s like a dynamic version of the PL-50 (which has remained one of my long time favourites.) Any vocals you throw its way sound fabulous. Sweepingly grand and liquid and effortlessly flowing. It maybe not as creamy and thick as some might care for but I’m good. Ditto with the air, some want more breathy. Personally I think they have nailed a perfect balance. There is literally not a vocal that they don’t do justice to.
Quantity wise they are a bit middy. I’m good with that, others won’t, particularly that its bass is comparatively so polite, then nail on a little bit of an upper mid / lower treble “enthusiasm.” It’s not ever actually sibilant. Sometimes some vocals get a little bit over energetic that had me nudging down the volume dial.
Highs: Similar story to the bass really. The mids are where it’s all at, treble is highly competent and skilful but it’s a touch polite. It’s got minimal edge or aggression, a wondrous shimmer its great at but if you need that crisp clean bight, sorry. Cutting and abrasive the E80 is certainly not. It’s so light on its feet and nimble feeling. You don’t really notice that the furthest uppers roll away, they don’t do so till fairly far up. So it takes the bit that wears out the ear from the top and keeps its light feeling with a touch abundant middle and lower treble ranges. How clever. The only thing is if you try to force it to do abrasive, hard, edgy treble it instantly softens those corners. Aggressive grrrrr type music just doesn’t work. Lol it’s an adorable little puppy trying to rip the throat out of a fluffy toy. Notionally it’s a fierce and aggressive action but you end up responding with “awwwwww.” The E80 can’t really convince you it’s a savage aggressive beast, it’s just not.
Still there is a far bit of energy in the lower treble ranges than can occasionally get shouty. If you work the volume dial these aren’t quite as perfectly composed as the BA’d PL-50 but it’s close, very close.
Soundstage: Where the PL-50 was right up in your face, super direct the E80 is way more spacious. There is air to move, space so breath in and thus music sounds much more reasonably scaled. It’s got imaging too and acoustic placement. ON paper I’d have to say the E80 is better, its more accurately placing things where and how far they should be yet for the most part keeping the vocals dead centre.
Fit: Great. Oddly I got a fair amount of driver flex with the left bud. Only the left, it soon equalised but hey, it did happen. I slapped Comply’s on anyway because I’m lazy.
Comfort: Great really, up or down even with the silicon’s on. No issues in comfort at all.
Cable: Physically it’s great, woven with a sheath over it. Nicely flexible, sturdy, etc etc. However, gosh that’s an eye catching red. I more than once picked up something else because I just thought oh god that red is so eye catching. Anyway, yes all nicely built.
Isolation: Pretty good. Slightly better than a typical dynamic. So easily enough for out and about or on a bus. As ever not sure flight or Tube worth but better than most I guess. Oh and as ever, more than easily enough to get yourself run over with if you don’t look where you’re going.
Aesthetic: I have to confess me wasn’t a fan. There is nothing wrong with them but I just wasn’t taken with that red. I didn’t hate it or anything but they sound so grown up and that red was just so bright. For whatever reason the colour just did not grow on me at all.
Build Quality: They would appear to be very nice. The jack is sturdy, the Y splitter is, like the buds metal so they should stand up to time well. Nothing exceptionally amazing, it’s an upper budget IEM so it should have upper end construction.
Amped/Unamped: Well they were fine out of just a phone they were good sounding but, yeah while these might not “need” the power of an amp they getting good enough that they do want one. Dynamics particularly were so much more vibrant and alive when amped, as was the staging. Amped they felt like they had so much more space and so much more articulation on just where everything was. Unamped they a slightly dimmed, slightly greyed version of what it could when amped. So while you don’t “need” to get one. I would start to think about getting one.
Accessories: You get the little case, a bunch of tips, 3 narrow bore, 3 wide bore, a double flange pair, 3 pairs of Comply’s and a little shirt clip. Does anyone ever use shirt clips? Anyway it’s a nice little bundle that should get everyone a tip they suit.
Value: So they go for £65 which is about US$100. Hmm that’s RE-0 territory, well it was anyway. I dunno, these don’t feel like super-duper stupendous value and I’m not sure why. Maybe im lacking sugar and caffeine. Still for mids, I could not right now tell you anywhere your find mids this good for this money. Hmm maybe the PL-50 actually. The tonal purity that is the mid range here is easily worth the money, it’s a very grown up, Head-Fi type sound which if you want these are a bargain. However if you want this sort of sound you are probably at a point where you willing to throw considerably more down for a pair than £65.
Conclusion: I’m trying hard to be objective and balanced about the E80. You see I love mid’s and I love mid centric sounding things. So I am very much inclined to gush over the E80 as it’s just the sort of thing I like and that makes it harder to fair to it. That trying to separate out what you like from what is “technically” superior to another gets really had when one pushes your buttons. Like maybe trying to judge an art contest of small kids and one of those kids is yours. Maybe you do love that one because it deserves it and maybe not but at the same time it’s not fair to be especially hard on that one either. This is how I feel abet the E80
I can’t help but feel it’s the dynamic version of the PL-50. God the PL-50 is so good, it doesn’t have the bass though nor the air movement that many crave, so in comes the E80. It fills out that bottom a little. BA’s move very little air so it was a complaint many had of it. To an extent too the treble on the PL-50 could be that BA over crisp and once more the E80 addresses that issue. The E80 therefor for me is the dynamic version of the PL-50. The mids are almost as perfect but with a breadth and depth the little 50 can’t manage. There is also some similarity to the GR07 but the E80 has the superior mid-range, though I’ll grant the 7 pips them in the treble.
The E80 is for me a SoundMAGIC that is aiming for a slightly more generalist sound but it’s still retaining that magical midrange. A sound that isn’t unlike its sibling, the E50 but the 80 is just better in every conceivable fashion so I can’t ever see a case where I’d suggest them over the 80. Even if you budget was super tight, I’d still recommend hold out and get these instead. Their mids are fantastically good, class leading good.