Soundmagic HP-150 Audiophile Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Aug 8, 2014.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review: http://youtu.be/GTf-ebYj3mU

    Photos:
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Panasonic_Zs40/Headphone_Soundmagic_Hp150_01.jpg
    http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Audioforge/Soundmagic_Hp150.jpg

    Sources: iPhone5 with Portaphile Micro/PA2V2/Decware Zen Head amps using the LOD, various computers using Microstreamer/Beyer A200p/v-moda Verza DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the HP150 headphone are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - the v-moda M100 and XS, the FAD Pandora VI and IV, the Beyerdynamic T1 and T90, the AKG K812 and K712, and notes that I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I describe how I relate to the HP150 (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    Summary of sound: I find the HP150 sound to be excellent, and it only gets better with the better quality amplifiers. I've had the closed-back HP100 and the open-back HP200, so this is my third of the full-size Soundmagic headphones and the second one that's a closed-back design. The HP100 has gotten a great reputation for having a fairly neutral response, yet with a strong low bass that's not common with headphones typically described as neutral. The HP150, despite being closed-back like the HP100, sounds more like the open-back HP200 to me, with a warmer overall sound whose treble balances the warm bass nicely. Soundstage is more tricky to describe since it's dependent to a large extent on the amount and quality of treble that the headphone presents, not to mention the recording itself. I'll just say that the HP150 sound is very spacious - above average for a closed-back headphone, and well above average in its price tier.

    My methods include careful analysis of the frequency response of each headphone, to see whether I can correlate any outstanding aspects of the sound with what I graph during my testing phase. The HP150 has somewhat less output around 200 hz than many of my headphones, and that can contribute to the sense of spaciousness in an interesting kind of way. If you happen to read about that in any other reviews, don't be concerned - the overall spaciousness afforded by the HP150's design is way above average as I noted above. One very demanding track is David Chesky and Wonjung Kim's "Girl From Guatemala", and the strong treble percussion starting at 3 minutes in is delineated very well by the HP150. Another track that's a stress test for treble is 'Time' from Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, and the HP150 plays that very cleanly, although I'd suggest setting the volume low before playing it the first time. The HP150 bass is my ideal, with power, impact, detail, and no adverse effect on the midrange.

    Physically the HP150 seems to be mostly or entirely metal, but if there are any plastic parts I can't tell what parts those are, so that's a testament to the excellent build quality. The HP150 is not heavy given its size, and due to the excellent design that includes spongy headband padding and extremely comfortable pleather-clad squishy-foam earpads, the fit and comfort are perfect. Isolation seems about average for a decent closed headphone, and although the leakage is low, if playing the HP150 in a very quiet office or public library, the volume will have to be kept to moderate (not loud) levels. The impedance of 32 ohms suggests high efficiency, and while the HP150 will play most of my tracks at audiophile volume levels on an iPhone, iPod, or other similar music player, I have a few tracks (approximately 2 to 3 percent) that require more power for satisfactory playback. The good news is that when an iPod/iPhone etc. is the only available player, the HP150 plays with full tone and impact.

    The detachable cable uses a proprietary locking connector at the left earcup, and replacements would likely have to be ordered through Soundmagic. On the other hand, the actual plug going into the earcup is a standard stereo miniplug, so if you have a generic miniplug-to-miniplug cable with a narrow enough sleeve ahead of the 3.5 mm plug, it may fit into the earcup jack for temporary use. The comments in the music tracks listed below can be compared to other headphone reviews I've done, to get an idea of how the HP150 plays the different music tracks listed here compared to other headphones. My suggestion is instead of reading each comment below as an absolute unto itself, you could compare these notes to other reviews as they get posted, and see how the HP150 compares with each individual track.
     
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Soundmagic HP-150 review part 2 - music tracks

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The HP150 plays this extremely well.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled perfectly by the HP150.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note here are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, but you can really feel the weight they carry with the HP150.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The HP150 plays this music smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled extremely well by the HP150.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The HP150 plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is no added emphasis of the lower register of the male voices on this track.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The HP150 reproduces the space and detail beautifully.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the HP150 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The HP150 plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are very detailed but not edgy - very musical in fact.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine sound is as realistic as I've heard with any other headphone since doing these detailed reviews.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The HP150 reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The HP150 plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound and feel that indicates a good deep-bass response. Overall, the HP150 plays this music very well.

    Heaven 17 - Let Me Go (1980's New Wave/Techno): The bass instrument (guitar?) has excellent detail, and the voices and ambiance have a "you are there" quality that's uncommon in early 1980's pop music. The HP150 plays this track perfectly.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce extremely well with the HP150. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The HP150 provides excellent detail. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for maximum detail effect. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the HP150 does those extremely well.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The HP150 plays this so clearly that you can hear/feel the 16 cycle per second "beats" of the fundamental tone.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2014, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the HP150 is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is subtle but impressive with the HP150.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the HP150 renders this music as perfectly as I've heard an energetic pop-rock recording played with any headphone.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The HP150 reproduces a good facsimile of that sound effect.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The HP150 conveys as much of that experience as is possible on a typical full-size headphone. The tympani also have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the HP150 renders the tones and transients perfectly.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The HP150's reproduction is near-perfect, and the close-miked piano is also a treat. For comparison, I have several Maynard Ferguson tracks that feature a similarly strong trumpet with lots of brassy bite.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are very strong and work extremely well with the horns and other instruments. The HP150 delivers the impacts with great weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.
     
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