SoundMagic HP100: The Late New Discovery

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Ever since I wrote the New Year’s post in December I have been wondering about the Soundmagic HP100 headphone Ed nominated for “product of the year”. We’re probably a little late reviewing this headphone as it was released quite a while back but if it got nominated for best product of the year, it has to be something special, right?

Soundmagic is a Chinese company mostly known for their IEMs and the HP100 was their first shot at a full sized headphone (In the mean time they have already released the HP200, a full sized open design headphone). Anyway, I got in touch with Soundmagic and luckily for me they immediately agreed to send out a review sample. DHL delivered the package shortly after and since then I’ve been using the HP100 pretty much everywhere: at home in the couch with the V200 and the Rein Audio X3, in my office with an Audio-GD Dac and a tube amp, on the train with the CLAS and C421 and even straight out of the iPad.

Sound

To be honest with you, when I unpacked the HP100 and started listening to it, I wasn’t that impressed and I immediately emailed Ed to check that with him. I’m not really a big believer of burn in so I’m pretty sure the headphone was still half frozen (it’s a miracle the DHL guy made it here in one piece with all that snow) but 15 minutes later I was beginning to see why he named this his discovery of 2012.

This closed headphone has 53mm drivers and if you look just at that some might say it has to be a bass headphone. That however isn’t the case at all, this headphone has a very natural and linear sound, the frequency curve on the box shows that as well

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There isn’t a single thing this headphone pushes forward. Bass, mids and treble are all equally focused on. The HP100 is very clear sounding headphone, it is analytical and pretty well detailed and very transparent.  If you want a closed headphone with a warm signature and plenty of bass (like the DT770 AE in example) this headphone isn’t for you, here you get neutrality. And how!  The HP100 has nice treble extension and highs are clear and detailed sounding while never sounding harsh. Of course there are headphones with further treble extension as this one but there are a whole lot more headphones with smoothed treble on the market.

Like everything else in this headphone the mid section is very clear and neutral sounding. There is plenty of detail to enjoy. Unlike many of the headphones I recently tried the mid range fits right in with the rest of the sound. Nicely linear. Of course a look at the frequency curve already gave that away. One of the things I love most about this headphone is it’s bass presentation. I already explained this isn’t a bass head’s headphone but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any bass at all. Believe me when I say the HP100’s bass can reach really deep. It is a very tight bass with quite a good amount of layering and detail. This is not the kind of “big impact and body”-bass like you get from the Momentum in example but when needed the bass is there and with a lovely presentation.  The better the quality of the recording and your source file the more you will notice this. I was listening to a bad quality mp3 of a 90s house track (Electric Voodoo by Tyrome) and bass was only very little present. Switched to a flac version of The XX “Missing” after that and my jaw dropped.

The overall sound stage of this headphone is very good. Its width is pretty impressive for a $200 closed headphone and left-right separation and space between the instruments is good. 3-dimensional wise however it isn’t the strongest of contenders. The HP100 isolates very well, and at this moment this is the best isolating closed headphone I listened to.

 

The unit itself

So sound wise this headphone impresses and I have to admit I like how it looks too. Of course there’s a lot of plastic used to make this unit and it isn’t at the level of Sennheiser or Beyerdynamic but it does look pretty damn good. I find it to have a modern look with the mirror-like cups (scratch alert!) yet it looks professional at the same time. I’ve been using it on the train and no one has looked at me weird yet (but maybe we have Beats to thank for that?). Build quality is pretty good and even though a lot of plastic is in it, the HP100 is a sturdy headphone. The headband has been strengthened with metal and you can adjust it without having to worry to damage the unit. The detachable 1.2m coiled cable they used is pretty thick and will probably last for a long time. At least I hope it will because the connecting mechanism used at the left cup doesn’t allow you to easily install an aftermarket cable.

The cups bend in all possible ways pretty much like the Audio-Technica M50, only even more as you can move each ear cup also sideways. On the other hand, the M50 folds up smaller. Comfort wise the HP100 does pretty good and I’d give it a 6.5/10 (Sennheiser HD700 being the reference). I can listen to it almost all day without it bothering me too much. It only weighs 288gr and the pleather pads are comfortable even for the big eared listeners out there. There is no death grip at all and I don’t have any problem with it, I think it’s just a tad tighter as a Beyerdynamic DT770. To be complete I do have to mention the ear pads could have been slightly thicker as my ears are constantly touching the inner fabric protecting the driver.

Next page: Amplification & Conclusion

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Lieven is living in Europe and is a full time Headfonia writer and the leader of the gang. Coming from a musical family he's always been interested in good sound. Unlike his family members the only musical instruments he plays are amps and DACs. He loves playing with old tubes and discovering new products while staying faithful to the good old Sennheiser HD650. Taking pictures is a real challenge but seeing happy readers in the end is what it's all about for him.

  • http://www.facebook.com/satrya.a.pratama Satrya Adi Pratama

    thanks bro for the review ,, hope that this headphone arrive in indonesia,, n its sound so thin??

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Thank you. No I wouldn’t call it “thin” sounding persé. I’m sure you can buy them online

      • http://www.facebook.com/satrya.a.pratama Satrya Adi Pratama

        ok thanks, but i just want to try it first wkwkwk

  • http://www.facebook.com/Mohammaduf Mohammad Ashraf

    By the sound of things this probably is best compared against the infamous fischer audio FA-003 not k550 or the D770.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      There probably are hundreds of headphones to compare it to ;)

      • http://www.facebook.com/headfonia.valentin Headfonia Valentin

        Hmm… I think I might have to postpone the Paradox review… Neutral. Closed. Semi-expensive. Hmm..

  • http://www.facebook.com/cameleondragoon Alan Tan

    why not try put it through the JDS’s O2 amp?

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      I suppose I could give that a try but as I recommended using it with a slightly warmer sounding amp, I doubt I’ll appreciate it.

      • dalethorn

        My experience too. Warmer amp is better.

  • Trent_D

    Nice review, L.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Thanks man! Try getting that Crack fixed. good Luck! :)

      • Trent_D

        As soon as Bottlehead sends me the replacement LED, I should be up and running within a half hour.

        • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

          Keep me posted

          • Trent_D

            Up and running. Will have completed review this weekend.

  • http://twitter.com/SpencerMChan Spencer Chan

    WHYYY must you tempt me, friend!?!?!?? =D

    I’m thinking of selling the Vmoda M-100s. This may make a good complement for the Momentum when traveling.

    • dalethorn

      The HP100 would be a good complement to the Momentum.

      • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

        Really different so yes, very complementary

        • Jook Yos

          L. If it complementary.

          Can I consider Momentum is as refinement as HP100?

          • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

            Excuse me? I don’t understand, sorry

            • Jook Yos

              Sorry for my English,

              I want to know if I concern only refinement of sound what is better in term of refinement between Momentum and HP100?

              • dalethorn

                How would you analyze refinement? Since both headphones have high quality sound.

                • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

                  To be honest, I’m still lost here too.

                  • Jook Yos

                    I think may be i describe it clear enough, but thank for your reply.

                    • dalethorn

                      Refinement (Wiki): The process of removing impurities or unwanted elements from a substance. The improvement or clarification of something by the making of small changes.
                      –Since the HP100 was the first regular headphone from Soundmagic, they didn’t have a prior model to refine, but the HP100 is very clear and smooth, so maybe it qualifies. OTOH, Sennheiser had many previous models, so did they refine any of those for the Momentum? I don’t think so. But it does have a smooth and clear sound also, so maybe it qualifies too.

                    • Jook Yos

                      dalethorn, thank again for your good information.

                    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

                      X2 @dalethorn

  • Pkrdlr

    L, Which would be better for Classical and Acoustic, HP100 or DT770 Le, also since the C421 is discounted which portable from the sub $100 shootout would pair well with a ipod classic 5 gen. Nice review, Thanks

    • dalethorn

      On my desktop where the 770LE bass is leaner, classics and acoustic sound very good, but on portable amps like the FiiO E17 with iPod, I would use the HP100.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      I think both are very nice with portable amplification. Isn’t the C421 discontinued in stead of discounted? Both headphones can do well with the genre, you just have to decide if you like the bass/warmth of the DT AE or the neutrality and tight bass of the HP100. For classical I personally prefer the HP100

  • chi2

    The scaling of this chart makes things look much smoother than they are. Between each horizontal line there’s a whooping 10 dB. Normally that is only 5 dB. The seemingly slight increase in level between 1600 and 3200 Hz is in fact one of 25 dB.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      ah, measurements :)

      • FBFontes

        be careful! … db spl not be confused with measurement

    • dalethorn

      The ends of the curve down toward the middle seem much like the actual sound, so my concern was the one significant departure from that – the big dip around 1600 hz or so. Even if the dip were only half that much, it should be audible. My HP100 is no longer here so I can’t try it out.

  • btrancho

    I recently purchased the HP100s and am very happy with them with one big exception – that coiled cable. It is heavy and microphonic. I’d build a new one in a minute of someone could point me to a source for the special barrel locking 3.5mm plug at the headphone end or a really narrow 3.5 that would slide all the way in. Barring that, has anyone performed the surgery necessary to connect a more standard 3.5 in the earpiece? I’m game to give that a try if it has a chance of success.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Locking 3.5mm jacks are almost impossible to find. Replacing the standard jack with a standard 3.5mm is much more feasible. Or you can solder directly to the drivers, much simpler.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      I agree the coiled cable isn’t the best. Just like with the coiled M50 cable it’s not the most pleasant to use. I couldn’t say it was microphonic though. Do keep us posted if you find a replacement!

      • btrancho

        I’m thinking that some surgery to determine if the locking collar can be removed and the hole widened would be my best bet. I use these 100% of the time either at my desk or in the living room – not much chance of them being jostled. If a right angle Neutrik can fit I’d be very happy.

        By microphonics I mean that the heavy cable hangs right down at my shoulder and the rubbing can definitely be heard when I move my head. I’m hoping that an uncoiled cable made with Mogami 2893 will eliminate that problem. I also have an original HD600 cable I could re-purpose.

    • JamieBeen

      I contacted SoundMAGIC about the coiled cable and they have said that there will be straight cables available in the very near future.

      In fact they have supplied straight cables with their new HP200 open back headphone.

  • Pingback: Bytte ut mine HiFiMAN HF400 til lukkede hodehøyttalere. Hva skal jeg velge?()

  • icecoffemix

    How do HP100 compare to HP200?

    • dalethorn

      The HP100 has a classic ‘flat’ signature, while the HP200 is slightly bright and has a warmer bass. The 100 is closed and 200 is open.

      • icecoffemix

        I just read your HP200 review (nice one btw), seems it has rather big midbass which I don’t like (I think HP100 is pretty much perfect on this). Guess I’ll wait for HP300 instead.

        • dalethorn

          The HP200 is important enough that I don’t want to leave the wrong impression of its sound. It definitely does not have big anything in the bass. It just has to me a more ideal bass than, say, a Sennheiser 800 or Soundmagic HP100. I have or had headphones with big midbass, and the HP200 is nothing like those.

          • icecoffemix

            Keep in mind that you’re talking to a guy who think ESW9 has too much midbass. It’s all about preference I guess. :P

            • dalethorn

              The choice of headphone we like is definitely about preference. But preference isn’t something I use in reviews – I make careful comparisons to a number of headphones so readers can have a more neutral basis of comparison. The bass of the ESW9a is perhaps stronger in the middle than, say, a Sennheiser HD800, but it’s *way* less than the emphasis in headphones like the Philips L1, Senn Amperior, v-moda M100, Logitech 6000 ……

              • icecoffemix

                I know, but even “neutral” differ from people to people (I think HP100 is a warmish cans for example). It helps when reviewer make comparison with other headphone I’ve heard since I can judge their preference and adapt it with mine, though this is still tricky due to non-standard unit of measurement in most review.

                • dalethorn

                  If you think the HP100 is warm, then you can stop reading my reviews now, since I will never review anything you would consider neutral. If I had it to do over again, I would send the HP100 back without review.

                  • icecoffemix

                    That’s probably true but I never said I don’t like “warm” headphone. I just have to adapt with the reviewer’s taste and make conclusion myself.

                    It’s funny how people perceive, clieos think HP100 is bright, lean and cold for example. Boy I wonder what you guys will think of Koss DJ100, lifeless maybe? :P

                    • dalethorn

                      You’re still misrepresenting what I said. My reviews do offer a personal opinion somewhere (usually at the end) that could be seen as “taste”, but the critical part of the reviews that examine the sound have nothing to do with taste – they are based on direct comparisons to other headphones, so users can get a more objective idea of how the item really sounds.

                    • icecoffemix

                      I’m sorry but unless you’re using hard number measurement I can’t really trust term like “little” “a bit more” “lot” or such since again, it differ between people.

                      I don’t believe that measurement tell everything there is but it does tell some things objectively.

                    • dalethorn

                      Hard number measurements? Have you looked at Innerfidelity’s tests? Have you examined 1000 of their charts? Have you seen some of the huge sample to sample variances? I still look at them occasionally, but I don’t use terms like “trust” and “hard measurement” for headphones, since that’s just misleading. And once again, since you’re still misquoting me, my judgements are based on direct comparisons, not “this sounds a little bit bassy”.

                    • icecoffemix

                      Yes and yes, but I mean it as a complement to subjective review, but I know that this is hard to do without proper equipment and time.

                      How do you compare phone to each other then if you neither use hard number or relative term like “more, little, lot”?

                    • dalethorn

                      On the youtube review for the ADL H118 from yesterday, in the comments section, someone asked that so I explained the process in detail. It probably isn’t much different from what Mike and others do here, except Mike goes into more detail about the qualities that I just summarize. That’s why I read this site a lot – to learn more about how to listen for the extra details. You are mostly right about your perceptions, but I just want to make clear there are lots of ways to subtract out personal preferences and get closer to an objective evaluation of a headphone or amp, but it’s a lot of work usually, and even for a customer who is just reading reviews, if the customer wants to really know how something sounds, it takes time – there’s no shortcut. Just don’t confuse preference with the work that’s done to make an evaluation – some reviewers don’t do the hard work, so you came to the right place for better reviews.

  • John123John

    would this headphone be a good comparison (similar) to the linear dt 880? I dont know if you’ve had experience with it.

    • dalethorn

      I haven’t heard the 880, but Edd of NobleHifi (who has done at least one Headfonia review also) has a lot of experience with it and the HP100, and since he really likes both, his comparisons (also under the name ‘Quadpatch’) should be very telling.

      • John123John

        Thanks. Great reviewer and really cool site.
        Basically the same. Less detail but more isolation and bass slam.

  • Eric Thompson

    So you think these pretty much are better than the D600’s?

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Denon D600? completely different sound sig. HP100 is neutral and tight, D600 is bass and more musical and less defined

      • Eric Thompson

        What I was referring to is here “Compared to the DT770 AE this is a light bass headphone. I also wanted
        to compare it to 3 times as expensive D600 from Denon but the price
        difference is reasonably big. Sound wise the Denon is more focused on
        bass and the sound stage is quite a bit smaller, especially the mids are
        less detailed and clear.”

        Your saying that the Denons sound stage is smaller and the mids are less detailed and clear next to the HP100? The Denon can be had for around $400 now instead of $600 but I would say that is quite and accomplishment for a headphone half the price, both being around the ear and closed.

        I generally prefer more bass but I enjoyed the K550’s, I too wish you would of had a chance to hear them for a comparison or perhaps mick gets a listen from the HP100’s

        • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

          Oh i see. thx for that. in short: yes I think they’re the better technical headphone. Not necessarily the most fun however