SoundMagic HP200 Stereo Headphone review by Dale

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Feb 5, 2013.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Youtube review: SoundMagic HP200 Stereo Headphone review by Dale - YouTube

    Sources: iPhone4 alone, iPhone4 with FiiO E17 using LOD, various computers using Audioengine D1 DAC and the D1's headphone out.

    Note: HP200 provided by HiFi Headphones U.K.

    First impression of the Soundmagic HP200: Very hi-fi sound with strong treble. The previous Soundmagic model (HP100) was quite lean in the upper bass to lower mids, but the HP200 has a broad emphasis in the 100-200 hz range, giving it a darker, warmer sound than the HP100 and most so-called neutral headphones. The emphasis above 100 hz is less than the rather dark Beyer DT770, and any emphasis below 100 hz is less than the Sennheiser Momentum (a headphone with significant upper bass emphasis), although the Momentum's emphasis in that area is far less than the Sennheiser Amperior. Running a series of test tones with the HP200, everything sounded smooth and even from top to bottom except for a moderate peak around 3 khz, which wasn't noticeable in music listening.

    The deep bass is about average for a good open-back headphone, and while most music (even pipe organ music) plays well on the HP200, the deep bass is not nearly as strong compared to the rest of the range as I find with the ATH M50 or Beyer DT770 headphones. The HP200's midrange sounds pretty much perfect to me. I don't hear any particular midrange colorations, so whatever there may be is insignificant in my tests. The treble is strong compared to most headphones in this class, although it's smooth enough that it doesn't exaggerate sibilants and other such problem sounds. People for whom headphones like the Shure SRH940, Sennheiser HD800, or a couple of Grado models would be too bright, will find the HP200 treble equally bright.

    My summary of the sound is: Excellent for high fidelity music playback, but bassheads and treble-sensitive persons should not apply. The soundstage seems average to me and not as wide as I would have expected for a full-size open-back headphone. The level of detail (even with reduced treble) and the tonal qualities of voices and instruments set the HP200 above the other headphones I have on hand, including the much more expensive Sennheiser Momentum. Noting what I've described so far, I'd grant the HP200 a "Highly recommended" rating, partly because it's the most musical headphone I've heard in this price range, and partly because of the amazing build and finish (more on that below).

    The HP200 seems to be all metal except for the earpads and headband covering. The earpads are extremely soft and comfortable, and are covered in the highest quality pleather I've ever seen. The headband is also well padded and soft on the bottom, but because of the overall weight (and in spite of the superb earpiece comfort) I'd recommend that users get the headband adjusted for best fit, and then if the headband presses too much on top of the head, just pull the earcups down an extra notch so they take more of the weight off of the headband. The earcups rotate about 20 degrees each way horizontally, which is fine for fitting different size heads, but they don't fold flat. Still, my most important criteria for portability (as compared to transportability) is to wear the headphone around my neck when not in use, and the HP200 works well in that regard. Just pull it down around the neck, then gently fold the earcups toward the chest and the mechanism will take care of the rest.

    The HP200's earpads go completely around my ears, unlike some headphones that are described as circumaural (around the ear). The Sennheiser Momentum is one such headphone where the earpads sit partially on my average-size ears. The single-sided detachable cable has a locking connector, which makes it sort-of proprietary, but since the plug on the earcup end is a standard 3.5 mm plug, you can use a generic cable in a pinch as long as the sleeve ahead of the plug is narrow enough to fit into the cable socket at the bottom of the earcup. The cable supplied is 4 mm thick (good), rubber coated, very flexible, 1.2 meters in length, and terminated by a 3.5 mm plug that's threaded for a screw-on 6.35 mm adapter plug (included). I recommend using flat-bottomed 6.35 mm adapters though, because I've had loose connections with the screw-on types.

    The HP200's impedance is 20 ohms, and seems to be efficient enough for satisfactory use with Apple music players. I was able to get loud distortion-free volumes at 2/3 to 3/4 volume with nearly all of my music tracks. I'd recommend using a decent headphone amp whenever possible though, to get better bass control, reduce any tendency for boominess, and provide better overall detail. A stiff zippered carrycase is provided that offers good protection, but since the earcups don't fold flat, the case has a large bulge on one end. I think it's too big for most backpacks, and will take up significant room in airline carry-on bags, but it's still much smaller than the Sennheiser Momentum carrycase, even though the HP200 is larger than the Momentum.

    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 HP200 compares with each individual track.
     
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2013
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has good detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural, without favoring either. The HP200 plays this perfectly.

    Ben Heit Quartet - Suite-Magnet and Iron (Jazz with a Bebop flavor): The piano that leads off sounds realistic and the saxophone sounds appropriately soft. The HP200 plays this music extremely well.

    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 HP200 reproduces the space and detail reasonably well.

    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 sounds good and the tambourine in the background is clearly identifiable.

    Crystal Castles - Wrath of God (Electro-Pop): The bass in this track has a strong impact but little detail, while the ambient electronic effects are clear and distinct. The HP200 plays this track very well given the limited quality of the recording.

    DJ Shadow - Building Steam With a Grain of Salt (Electronic/DJ): This track opens with what sounds like very high and very low piano notes, and the HP200 renders those notes well. The ambient voices are slightly indistinct, but well reproduced given their background presentation.

    Franz Ferdinand - Ulysses (Pop-Rock): The moderate level of bass in this track is played with good detail by the HP200, and while the voice is crisp and well-balanced, the percussion sounds too bright.

    Halie Loren - Sway (Jazz vocal): Bass instrument(s) here may sound boomy with some headphones, but the HP200 handles this pretty well. The trumpet sounds natural but slightly soft, and the voice is excellent.

    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 very deep bass, although the strength of those bass notes is less than what I hear with the better closed-back headphones. Overall, the HP200 plays this music very well.

    Kaskade - 4am (Electro-House): The bass that kicks in around 1:01 into the track is very subtle, but the HP200 plays it well. The percussion and female voice balance well with neither overwriting the other - the HP200 gets this right.

    Katy B - Perfect Stranger (R&B-House-Garage): The heavy bass that begins at 0:27 into this track is played well by the HP200. The voice is somewhat forward and bright, but it doesn't overpower the instruments or get lost in the mix.

    Machine Gun Kelly - All We Have (Rap/Hip-Hop): The heavy bass beats that begin at 0:23 into the track do sound like drum impacts, although they're not sharp impacts. The male and female voices have a good balance, and the HP200 plays this about as good as can be expected given the limited quality of the recording.

    Massive Attack - Angel (Trip-Hop): This track begins with a steady low-frequency sound and some slightly soft deep-bass impacts. The voices blend well with the music and have just the right presence, although the recorded quality of the instruments isn't great. The HP200 plays this about as good as can be expected given the limited quality of the recording.

    Morcheeba - Bullet Proof (Trip-Hop): Bright percussion and medium-strength bass impacts make up most of this, with some dance-club spoken intonations thrown in. The HP200 plays the percussion pretty well, and the voices sound good too.

    Peter Tosh - Get Up Stand Up (Reggae): The bass here has a decent but moderate impact, and the lead and backup voices have good separation that's not too narrow or wide. The HP200 renders the bass with good detail and the voices sound very natural.

    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 may lack clarity and proper harmonic detail on some headphones, but the HP200 reproduces those effects well.

    Rachmaninoff - Prelude in C-Sharp Minor Op3 No2 (Classical, Piano): Grand piano played mechanically from an original recording by the master himself. The bass is unusually light here, but the HP200 renders the notes very well given the limited quality of the recording.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is highly detailed and sounds very bright.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are quite strong, and work very well with the horns and other instruments. The HP200 delivers the impacts with good weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a realistic sound.

    William Orbit - Optical Illusion (Billy Buttons Mix) (Electronic): This is about as close as I want to get to easy-listening music. The string tones beginning at 0:18 have appreciable detail, and while the bass isn't very strong, it still adds a good underpinning to the music. The short poetic rap at 4:14, preceded by an etherial female voice, works very well with this track.

    ---------- HP200 REVIEW PT.2; OLDER MUSIC TRACKS ----------

    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 extremely well by the HP200.

    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 feel some of 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 well by the HP200.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled very well by the HP200.

    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 with the HP200.

    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 HP200 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 HP200 plays this pretty 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 HP200 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 in the low bass will sound especially bass-shy with this type of organ, but the HP200 delivers a good experience with this music.

    Jamming With Edward - It Hurts Me Too (1969): Intended originally as a test to fill studio down time and set recording levels etc., this was released a few years later for hardcore Rolling Stones fans. Although not as good technically in every aspect as the Chess studio recordings of 1964, and in spite of the non-serious vocals by Mick Jagger, this rates very high on my list of white blues recordings, and sounds very good with the HP200.

    Jennifer Warnes - Rock You Gently (1992?): The strong deep bass percussion at the beginning of this track has been cited as a test for weakness or distortion in certain headphones. The HP200 plays those notes with good impact and control. Having played this track a number of times now, I'm impressed with the HP200's bass reproduction and detail throughout the track.

    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 HP200 reproduction is bright but clean. 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 HP200 plays them well.

    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 HP200.

    Milt Jackson/Wes Montgomery - Delilah (Take 3) (1962): The vibraphone is heavily dependent on harmonics to sound right, and the HP200 plays it perfectly.

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

    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 HP200.
     
  3. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Day #3: Using some treble reduction for best quality sound, and comparing my experience with the HP200 to all of my other headphone reviews, I can find only one headphone for certain (and two maybes) that have sound quality comparable to the HP200: The Sennheiser HD800 for certain, and possibly the Shure SRH 1440 and 940 with my brightness reduction earcup foam mods. I think it's likely no coincidence that the HP200's very smooth treble is similar to the modded Shure 1440, since the foam inserts in the HP200 earcups look very similar to what Shure is using (and that the mod doubled up).

    Edit 6 Feb 2013: Noting that 17-20 db trough in the response between 1 khz and 2 khz that's printed on the HP200 box, that does get alleviated somewhat after treble reduction since there's no longer the large contrast between that area and most of the treble. But there are two minor leftovers: The sense of boominess in the upper bass, and a moderate hump around 3 khz giving an impression of a slight recess to either side, i.e. in the 'presence' area. The boominess is mostly addressed with good amplification, so what's left over is a signature that has a slight upper bass emphasis and 'presence' area de-emphasis. Still, this sound gets closer to what I like than what I get with my other current headphones.
     
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2013
  4. RobinHiFi

    RobinHiFi Super Moderator

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    Great review again! - enjoyed the Youtube review, very helpful.

    I love the list of tracks you use to review headphones Dale. I'm going to download some pipe organ music this weekend after you mentioning it the other day - any recommendations?
     
  5. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Organ Works / Toccata & Fugue: Amazon.co.uk: Music

    From Amazon U.K. - here is the best I think - a Sony reissue of the best quality recordings I've heard. Someone took great care to record this and preserve the tapes. I've never detected a tape dropout on these, which is unusual for old tapes.
     
  6. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Update: With longer term listening, I'll pick up another headphone occasionally to check out any differences, but I always return to the HP200 now as the most satisfactory listen. The really interesting thing is (and not to name names), my most popular headphone from the various reviews is the one I go to least often, and it costs $100 more than the HP200 in the U.S. The biggest thing for me, at least in recent listening, has been the character of the bass response. I don't know if it's the hardest thing to get right, or if it's just a subtle thing that creeps up on me over time, but the HP200's bass is as perfect as I've heard. The Sennheiser HD800 and its sonic cousins the Shure 940/1440/1840 have a pleasant bass, but they're like a mate who's home only on weekends, and then mostly on the cellphone. You get close, but satisfaction is fleeting. The Grado PS500 has a fairly narrow hump in the upper bass which impressed me mainly as a coloration, and when that was EQ'd down somewhat the result was like an improved version of the Senn HD800 and the Shures. The Beyer DT770LE bass is quite seductive, having more power in the lower registers, it grabs you sonically and keeps you stimulated until finally something like the HP200 provides a bit of relief. I'd recommend the DT770LE for indirect listening, i.e. gaming, TV, or outdoor use. The v-moda M100's bass immerses you in a dark world, like swimming under the sea with giant squid and 30-foot sharks. Most impressive. The Senn HD800's tiny offspring, the IE800 IEM, offers the powerful deep bass of an M100 or DT770LE, but with much less upper bass emphasis, and that is very impressive, in sound as well as price. The Sennheiser Momentum has a fairly strong upper bass, but a more normal-strength lower bass that's often masked by the prominent uppers, contributing to a sense of recessed lowers. This is by no means a comprehensive look at bass response for any of these headphones, but it's the best explanation I have for what I hear with the HP200.
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2013
  7. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    With the HP200, I was able to identify my first instance of iPhone overload distortion. Using the Abbado Beethoven 9th hi-res download from HDTracks, I made a 320k CBR MP3 and played it on the iPhone4s, and from 9:30 to 9:42 into the 5th segment (part 2 of the 4th movement), obvious distortion occurs in two places. This distortion does not occur with the same exact MP3 using desktop Foobar2000 at any volume. Once I heard this with the HP200, I was able to identify it better with the other headphones I have.

    It's interesting that the HP200 had better detail retrieval in this case than the other headphones which cost more, even though the HP200 was playing with reduced treble and the others were played without EQ. The iPhone4s was being played through the LOD into the PA2V2 amp, as well as through the iPhone4s headphone jack. I tried this also with the latest iPod Touch, and the distortion there was a little worse than the iPhone.

    Thinking that the treble reduction EQ with the HP200 could make it exacerbate the distortion, I switched the EQ off ('off', not 'flat') and repeated the tests, and it was worse! So the EQ on iPhone and iPod did not introduce or add to the distortion that apparently originates in the i-devices' internal DACs or amps. Using the LOD bypasses the i-device volume control, but that doesn't eliminate the distortion.

    Edit: It turns out that the distortion in these MP3s (created by LAME v3.98) occurs with desktop iTunes and Apple i-devices, not with desktop Foobar on PCs. Apple apparently decodes MP3s using Fraunhofer and Thomson, not LAME.

    Edit_2: I converted the MP3 back to WAV format (lossy of course), and added that WAV track plus the original WAV track to iTunes on the PC and Mac, and on both computers iTunes reproduced the distortion with the WAV-from-MP3 track, but not the original WAV track. This tells me that iTunes has a problem decoding certain content in any format, not just MP3s. If the original conversion to MP3 actually damaged the track, there was no indication of that when played with Foobar2000.
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2013
  8. Earmass

    Earmass New Member

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    Bro, you have a good and detail review here, I might thinking to get some to review in next month or April. I just get HP-100 now and think that it is excellent, big sound (Seriously bigggg sound) and the clarity is top notch,detail is very fine, but vocal seems a little bit 'off' for some tracks, I have not really go thorough listening to it though, still burning in and review should be up within week.

    How do you think HP200 compare with HP100?
     
  9. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    I understand your observations. It sounds about right from your description. I think the HP200 does better with vocals because it has the right amount of warmth to give them a natural tone. The HP100 should do very well with jazz, classics, acoustic instrumentals etc., but I would prefer the HP200 for most things.
     
  10. Earmass

    Earmass New Member

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    So Dalethorn, can you share with me how does this compared with 940 and 1840? Which among 4 fair vocal,soundstage and tonality better? (1840,hp100,hp200 and 940).
     
  11. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Compared to the HP200:
    940: Lighter bass, soundstage similar (940 is very good soundstage for closed-back).
    1840: Lighter bass, soundstage similar, 1840 has much less 'presence' energy.
    HP100: Lighter upper bass and lower mids.

    The HP200 and SRH940 have good tonality, the 1840 is very slightly dry or grainy, and I don't remember the exact tonality of the HP100 (not here now, working from notes). But the HP100 tone should be good - it's highly rated for classical music etc.
     
  12. Earmass

    Earmass New Member

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    Thanks man :)
     
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