Do they SoundMAGIC? Yes, and they leave Apple's earbuds for dead
Blame it on the NaimUniti.
After being a 'music in my pocket' luddite since getting a driving licence decades ago more or less coincided with my last Sony Walkman going 'phutt', I finally gave in.
I bought an iPod purely for the purposes of testing the growing number of products coming my way with an input dedicated to Apple's personal players.
It all happened in a bit of a blur, actually: I literally drove out of Naim's HQ in Salisbury with the NaimUniti in the boot of the car, parked outside the adjacent Currys, and before I really knew what I was doing found myself £150 poorer and holding the impossible small iPod nano in its equally ridiculously tiny box.
Thing is, since then I've only ever used it connected to something – the Naim, various docks – and it's only in the past few days that I've actually tried listening to it like most of the rest of the population does: using headphones.
And quite how all those joggers and bus-riders and commuters and cyclists put up with the standard white earbuds I'll never know: if they were the only way to 'enjoy' an iPod the world would be a pretty bleak place.
Fortunately, I've had samples of a couple of pairs of SoundMAGIC headphones kicking around for a couple of weeks, courtesy of the indefatigably enthusiastic Shaun Gostelow of HiFi Headphones. So it was to those I turned to see whether the iPod sound could be improved without spending a fortune.
The 'phones are made by a company based in China, and rejoicing in the name Shenzhen City Voice America Technology Ltd. No wonder it sticks to SoundMAGIC as a brandname!
Its entry-level model available through HiFi Headphones, charmingly described on the SoundMAGIC website as "Supper bass Ear plug", is the PL11 (pictured above), selling here for just under £20. Just like the iPod nano, the PL11 headphones are tiny, ridiculously light – just 10g – and really rather good. They also live up to their description: if you want a sound with plenty of bass, these are quite possibly the boys for you.
In fact, there might just be a bit too much bass here: there's lots of everything else, too, and the sound has more than respectable openness, but I'd say these are earphones more for those of a rockular, or indeed dancular, persuasion.
With classical music, they have good body with solo piano, but can become more stolid than solid with big orchestral works, the scale tending to dominate the finesse a bit.
However, let's put that in context. More people wander around with rock and pop music on their iPods than have a complete set of Beethoven symphonies, unless I'm generalising wildly, and for that mass-market the sound of the PL11s is pretty well judged, I'd suggest.
Oh, and they're masses better than the abomination that is the Apple earbuds, and come complete with a choice of silicon sleeves to ensure good ear-fit, a shirt-clip, a cable tidy and a little velvet drawstring bag. Nice package for change out of a £20 note.
Even better, however, are the PL30s, which will cost you a tenner more. These are described by SoundMAGIC as 'Professional Earphones', and are said to deliver "More details, nature reproduce, comfortable fit".
The last attribute is said to make them especially suitable for jogging and other strenuous activity, but I'll have to take HiFi Headphones' word for that: what I do know is that the cables are designed to go over the ears to help hold them in place, either with or without hook-shaped sleeves supplied in the box, and that the range of silicon tips provided both aid the fit and help keep outside noise where it belongs.
In fact, I started playing with the headphones today because next door was indulging in some of its own strenuous activity of the DIY kind – typical, you take a day off to do some listening, and the hammering begins.
Anyway, the PL30s did a good job of making music enjoyable while the neighbours seemingly used up an entire tradesman's value pack of ironmongery – "Oh look, there's a dozen nails left; pass me the hammer again..." – and delivered a sound with a considerably more even-handed balance than the PL11s when playing big orchestral works.
There's no less bass than the budget model delivers, but it's tighter, faster and better-defined, giving the big fiddles of an orchestra a nice rosiny growl, not just thump.
And with the bass and drums-driven stuff, be it jazz or rock, the PL30s' mix of speed and solidity is really rather rewarding.
Got an email from Shaun saying he's just got in the first batch of SoundMAGIC's next model up, the balanced armarture PL50s, which are selling for £55 a set.
That's going to put them up against some serious competition, but on the showing of the less expensive models in the range, they could just be a bit special...