Other accessories are the same as with the E10s, including a removable shirt clip, soft carrying pouch, and a rubbery cable with a straight 3.5mm plug. Unlike the E10s, there is no equivalent headset version of the E30s.
Clearly the odd man out of the trio, the PL50s are one of the most affordable earphones on the market that use balanced armature-type drivers instead of the more typical dynamic drivers. Balanced armatures are used in many of the $1,000+ exotic custom in-ear monitors from manufacturers such as Ultimate Ears and JH Audio, but in those examples they are typically used in multiple driver sets, with separate woofer and tweeter armatures.
The bodies of the PL50s form a kind of an L shape, with a rounded blue plastic extension that fits neatly in your ear. At just eight grams they are so light that you hardly notice you’re wearing them, making them great for comfortable extended listening sessions. Included in the box are seven different tip options, with four sizes of round silicone rubber ball tips, and three sizes of foam tips. Unlike with the E10s and E30s no bi-flange rubber tips are included, and because the PL50s use a smaller post than the E models, you can’t swipe a pair of E-series flanges to use with them.
I ended up using the large size foam tips, finding that these provided the most secure fit in my ears. As with the E30s the cables go up and over your ears, and the provided ear hooks can be used to help route the cables. I preferred the PL50 without the ear hooks, and found they would stay put during most activity without any additional help. In my experience foam tips don’t offer as much isolation as silicone tips, and when using the foam the PL50s offered the least amount of isolation of all three models.
As before, the cable has a nappy rubbery coating that provides good immunity from handling noise, and a removable shirt clip helps to keep the cable in place. Unlike the E-series, the PL50s 3.5mm connector has a right angle plug, but there was still plenty of clearance for iPhone cases and other potential obstructions. As with the E30, the PL50s don’t come in a headset version with an iPhone remote and mic.
Sensitivity was noticeably higher than with either the E10 or E30, and I found I needed to turn down the volume on the iPod a couple of clicks to get the same sound output levels.
It’s easy to approach affordable earphones like the E10 with modest expectations, but that would be selling this capable in-ear model short. Straight out of the box the overall performance was somewhat disappointing with a strong upper midrange emphasis, but I found that the E10s really needed a good couple of days of playing to smooth out sonically. Once broken in the lower midrange punch and bass clarity improved significantly, while the upper octaves opened up becoming both clearer and more extended. The overall tonal balance is on the slightly forward side of neutral, with a somewhat exposed upper midrange and treble, along with a modest emphasis in the mid-bass. The deeper bass is quite extended and punchy, but you certainly don’t get the type of jacked up bass response found with some earphones like the ThinkSound TS02 and Monster Turbine Pro Gold.
The up front balance makes the E10s sound a just a bit more detailed than they actually are with plenty of dynamic impact and punch, but a tendency to present things using a somewhat homogenized tonal palette. The result can be both exciting and easy to listen to, but ultimately not as rewarding as say the (admittedly far more costly) Monster Turbines. I appreciated the E10’s bass balance, which gave the music plenty of sock, while avoiding the grossly overbearing thumping bottom end that seems to be business as usual for some headphone companies these days.
Fed with appropriate music the soundstaging of the E10s could be impressively spacious with plenty of depth, while image specificity and precision of placement depended mostly on how evenly I was able to seat the left and right side earpieces.
Before I started listening I expected that I would hear a ‘house sound’ resemblance between the three SoundMAGIC models, but they actually turned out to be quite different from each other in character. Overall the E30s had a slightly smaller and more focused sound compared with the E10s, making them more neutral through the midrange, but without quite as much reach or power at the frequency extremes. This is a great earphone for classical music and acoustic jazz, where the added clarity and transparency through the critical midband trumps the additional punch at the bottom and sparkle at the top of the E10s. While the lower octaves of the E30s can’t quite match the E10’s bottom end kick, they more than make up for it with additional bass clarity and definition. This makes it easier to follow complex bass lines even if they’re buried deep in the mix.