SoundMAGIC HP100 Stereo Headphone full review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Sep 14, 2012.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:

    First impression of the SoundMagic HP100: A very even presentation from top to bottom, with everything represented more or less equally. The HP100 is probably the best headphone for home (non-portable) hi-fi listening I have currently, and is one of the best if not the best I've had in the past several years. Since every new headphone I get that I like wants to be the best ever, this requires an explanation. I'll start with the bass.

    The HP100's bass is more detailed than the ATH M50 or Sennheiser Amperior, has better impact, is nearly as strong at 20 hz as 30 hz, and is down no more than 3 to 5 db at 15 hz, based on my perception of it (so it may not actually be weaker at 15 hz - it just sounds that way to me). The HP100 does not have an upper bass emphasis, and the lower midrange is much clearer than the M50 or Amperior. The result of having a flat bass that actually rises slightly as it goes deeper is pretty astounding. Prior to hearing the HP100, the M50 was the only headphone I knew of that had that sort of rising bass with little or no upper bass emphasis. I compared the bass of these headphones using a number of tracks, but the track that best demonstrated the impact and detail advantage of the HP100 for me was Hypnotize by Notorious B.I.G.

    The HP100's midrange was more difficult to judge compared to everything else I have, since none of my full-size headphones get really close to perfection in the midrange. The Shure 1840 is fairly close, but a bit forward, particularly around 2 khz or so. But since the 1840's bass is comparatively weak, it won't qualify as best for these comparisons. The M50's mids are the most uneven of my full-size headphones, so that one's out of the picture. The Amperior's mids are somewhat muffled compared to the HP100, and where the Amperior's mids are most prominent around 400-500 hz, the HP100's mids sound more emphasized about an octave higher. Since the HP100's bass does not write over the mids in any way, the part of the spectrum that has the most influence on the mids is the treble, which is fairly strong with the HP100. Bottom line: The mids are probably as good as anything up to twice the price, but don't astonish like the bass does.

    The HP100's highs are fairly strong, and how they're perceived depends on whether the tracks you play have a decent amount of bass and lower mids to balance the overall sound. I have a lot of MP3's of less-than-stellar quality I use on my portable music players, and some of these make good stress tests for sibilants, harshness, and other high-frequency irritations. My worst case track is Sidesaddle by Carousel, which is surprisingly listenable with the HP100. My next worse track is I Left My Heart In San Francisco by Tony Bennett, which despite the obvious zing in the s'es, isn't bad at all. The M50 and Amperior render sibilants and harshness less strongly, but their level of clarity and detail is far less, so I give the HP100 a narrow win for treble over the Amperior, and a big win over the ATH M50.

    Recapping the above, and assigning a 1 (worst) to 5 (best) score for these 4 headphones for bass, mids and treble. Note that these scores don't relate to strength per se, but to ideal strength and tonal quality:

    Shure 1840: 3, 4, 5
    Amperior: 4, 3, 4
    ATH M50: 4, 3, 3
    HP100: 5, 4, 4

    The HP100 seems to be all plastic except for the metal inner headband. The overall appearance looks pretty good to me, and the shiny outer earcups do show fingerprints etc., so they will need frequent wiping. The earcups to me are a much better design than some other full-size headphones I have such as the ATH M50 and Philips L1, where the openings for the ears in those 2 headphones are just small enough that they cramp my ears slightly. The HP100's earpads are very soft and covered with a very soft plastic. This is easily the most comfortable full-size closed headphone I've ever used. The headband is somewhat stiff underneath, so for greater comfort I suggest pulling the earcups down slightly more than the minimum necessary, to shift most of the weight from the headband to the earcups. The earcups don't pull down far enough to wear the HP100 around my neck, nor do the earcups fold flat, so this is a use-at-home headphone for me, not a walkabout portable.

    The HP100's single-sided cable is half straight and half coiled, and completely satisfactory for me for home use. If you were going to use the HP100 as a portable anyway, the cable won't tuck into a pants pocket as neatly as a straight cable of moderate length. The cable is detachable, and while the earcup connector is a standard miniplug, none of my miniplug cable ends will fit because the plastic ahead of the metal plug is too wide. If you could find a plug to fit, or make one fit by shaving off some of the plastic ahead of the metal plug, there's a question about whether it would remain secure in the earcup, since SoundMagic designed the earcup connector with a quarter-twist locking mechanism. The HP100 comes with a semi-stiff carrycase that measures about 8.5 by 6.5 inches, however since the large earcups don't fold flat, the bulge on one end is 4 inches thick, making it marginally useful for airline carry-on bags, and probably too big for walkabout backpacks.

    In other reviews I've done I've included the following music examples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to other reviews and see how the HP100 compares with each individual track.

    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 very well by the HP100.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note for this headphone are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts won't overwhelm you since they're soft and well in the background, but you can really feel the weight they carry.

    Blues Project - Caress Me Baby (1966): Rarely mentioned, but one of the greatest white blues recordings ever. The loud piercing guitar sound at 0:41 into the track is a good test for distortion or other problems. Handled very well here.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled very well by the HP100.

    Buffalo Springfield - Kind Woman (~1968): A Richie Furay song entirely, rarely mentioned, but one of the best sounding rock ballads ever. This will sound good on most headphones, but it's a special treat with the HP100.

    Cat Stevens - Morning Has Broken (early 70's): A near-perfect test for overall sound - this track will separate the best sounding headphones from the lesser quality types. Nothing specific, except that almost any deviation from perfect reproduction will stand out with this track. Sounds very good on the HP100.

    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 HP100 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Def Leppard - Bringin' On The Heartbreak (1981): MTV goth/pop/metal at its best - good ambience and high energy - the better headphones will separate the details and make for a good experience. Lesser quality and the details tend to mush together. The HP100 plays this very well.

    J.S. Bach - E. Power Biggs Plays Bach in the Thomaskirche (~1970): Recorded on a tracker organ in East Germany, the tracks on this recording have the authentic baroque sound that Bach composed for, albeit the bellows are operated by motor today. The HP100 plays the tones seamlessly through the upper limits of the organ, which cover nearly the full range of human hearing. Of special note are the pedal notes - tracker organs have low-pressure pipes and don't typically produce the kind of impact around 30-35 hz that modern organs do. A headphone that's lacking even a little in the low bass will sound especially bass-shy with this type of organ, but the HP100 delivers the full experience of this music.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has some loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical on some headphones. The HP100 provides excellent reproduction. 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 instrumental separation and detail, and the HP100 aces them.

    Ladytron - Destroy Everything You Touch (~2009): Featured in The September Issue, this song has heavy overdub and will sound a bit muddy on some headphones. Sounds great with the HP100.

    Milt Jackson/Wes Montgomery - Delilah (Take 3) (1962): The vibraphone is heavily dependent on harmonics to sound right, and the HP100 plays it superbly.

    Pink Floyd/Dark Side of the Moon - Speak To Me (1973): Strong deep bass impacts will be heard and felt here.

    Rolling Stones - Stray Cat Blues (1968): Dirty, gritty blues that very few white artists could match. On some headphones the vocals and guitar lack the edge and fall more-or-less flat. If you're a really good person, playing this song will probably make you feel nervous and uneasy.

    Tony Bennett - I Left My Heart In San Francisco (1962): Frank Sinatra's favorite singer. Highest recommendation. With some of the best headphones, the sibilants on this recording are very strong, but they're not too bad with the HP100.
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2012
  2. marcusd

    marcusd Obsessive Auditor

    May 8, 2011
    Those 50mm drivers have a really different sonic quality to the regular 40mm you see in most different cans these days. Mind you they tuned them consistently with some other Asian brands which is more neutral, balanced or top down engineered.
  3. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    I guess my biggest problem is hearing how good - how clear and detailed and fairly neutral the HP100 is, and then I wonder what I'm getting for my money with all the other brands from Beyer, Sennheiser etc. It's almost like, someday a big executive from Sennheiser is going to walk up to me and strike a match across my forehead to light his cigar, and then say "Thanks, Dale for all those purchases. I have a condo in Palm Springs and Monaco too."

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