Imaging with the E30s was pretty much on par with the E10s, with a similar soundstage presentation offering plenty of depth. Focus tended to be a touch more precise with the added transparency drawing the outlines around each musician with somewhat improved clarity.
The individualistic nature of the PL50 extended to its sonic performance too, which put a clear emphasis on the upper midrange, along with less energy at the upper and lower ends of the sonic spectrum. Midrange clarity was a strong area, but that is probably due as much to the tonal emphasis in that region as any genuine improvements in transparency. Midband transients were fast and clear, making for an exciting and fast sounding presentation with many types of music.
What bass there was sounded un-muddled and articulate, but with most music I found it to be quite lean through the mid-bass and lacking in body. There actually was pretty good extension at the very bottom below the lean mid-bass, and this gave the lower octaves a fast-paced quickness that made the PL50s sound rather light on their feet. Ultimately, however, the lack of warmth left me wanting more. At the opposite end of the range the PL50s were somewhat lacking in sparkle and air, with the prominent upper midrange obscuring fine upper octave detail and subtlety.
Most of my listening was done using an iPod Classic loaded primarily with lossless files ripped from CDs, which seems like a typical scenario for any affordable earphone. Coupling low-priced earphones with a costly amplifier and high-res files simply doesn’t seem like a realistic situation to me, so I tried to stick with using them the way most end users will.
I auditioned all three SoundMAGIC models using a wide variety of different types of music, but found that two tracks in particular enabled me to crystallize the differences in a way that made comparisons easy.
“Gravity” from John Mayer’s Continuum album [Columbia] is a gentle, slow-paced balled recorded using an intimate acoustic perspective. Mayer’s vocal is up close, and this can result in problematic sibilance sounds. With the E10s the ‘s’ sounds had a prominent presence, but the smooth tonal balance kept things from becoming noticeably ragged. Drummer Steve Jordan’s snare drum had its usual crisp snap, but the E10s smoothed out a little of the metallic ring and tonal detail of his cymbals that I hear with more transparent (i.e., expensive) headphones. Pino Palladino’s bass lines came across with plenty of weight, but added a slight thickening to the texture of the sound that tended to slightly obscure the start and end of each note. The guitar solo sounded great, clearly presenting the rich warm tone that Mayer manages to coax out of his Fender Stratocaster.
“Exactly Like You” from bassist Ray Brown’s Soular Energy album [Concord] is a simple swinging piano jazz trio track, featuring a recording well known for its dynamic kick and deep-reaching powerful bass. Through the E10s Brown’s wide ranging bass lines were easy to follow and clear, but the slightly forward balance tended to shift the spotlight somewhat over towards the leading edge of Gene Harris’ piano chords and the ping of drummer Gerryck King’s ride cymbals. The overall effect was exciting and easy to listen to, but couldn’t quite capture the deepest growls from Brown’s acoustic bass.
Going back to the John Mayer “Gravity” track, I found that through the E30s the emphasis had changed significantly. Mayer’s intimate vocal was now more relaxed with less of an in-your-face quality, giving the track a somewhat more laid back perspective. The focus was now squarely on Mayer’s guitar and vocal, with less of the typical snap that Steve Jordan gets from his drum kit. Palladino’s bass lines were also clearer and easier to follow.
Moving over to the Ray Brown jazz trio track, the E30’s clarity through the lower octaves added detail and tonal color to the sound of Ray’s bass. The piano still had lots of bite in the attack of each note, but the drums were now pushed down in the mix. Instead of focusing on the ping of the ride cymbals, my attention was drawn more towards the chords being played on the piano and how they related to what Ray was doing on the bass. For me this made for a more compelling experience, where the musicians gelled together more as a cohesive whole. The perspective was more laid back and less obviously exciting, but for me this resulted in better musical communication.