Soundmagic E30 Review

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Soundmagic E30
Reviewed Jul 2011

Details: Soundmagic’s follow-up to one of Head-Fi’s favourite budget IEMs
MSRP: $40 (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $39 from amazon.com; $39 from mp4nation.net
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 12Ω | Sens: 94 dB | Freq: 15-22k Hz | Cable: 4’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5mm | Preferred tips: Stock bi-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear

Accessories (3.5/5) – Single-flange (3 sizes) and bi-flange silicone tips, cable guides, shirt clip, and soft carrying pouch
Build Quality (3.5/5) – My old PL30 is still going strong after 2.5 years of near-constant use so I expected nothing less from the E30. However, the construction of the E30 is more similar to the PL50 with its glossy finish and short plastic strain reliefs. The cable seems identical to the old PL30 cord, being rubbery and a little thin, but Soundmagic have added a strain relief to the y-split and a metal shell to the 3.5mm I-plug. The bass switch, which was of no real use on the PL30, is gone
Isolation (2/5) – better nozzle angle means slightly more isolation than with the PL30
Microphonics (4.5/5) – Pretty much non-existent, especially with cable guides or shirt clip in place
Comfort (5/5) – The E30 is slimmer and smaller than the PL30 and boasts a more ergonomic nozzle angle. I do miss the foam tips that came with the PL30 but otherwise the E30 is about as comfortable as any in-ear

Sound (7.1/10) – The old Soundmagic PL30 was one of my favourite budget earphones due to a uniquely spacious and balanced sound with a slight mid-range emphasis – not a signature commonly found in the lower price brackets. With the new E30, the dynamic-driver monitor has been bumped to a higher price category. Fortunately, the sound quality seems to have kept up with the price increase, and then some.

The low end of the E30 has been emboldened, receiving a more prominent role in the overall soundscape compared to the old PL30. Next to the midrange, the bass is emphasized only mildly but compared to the laid-back bottom end of the PL30, the difference is quite large. Extension has been improved and the low end now sounds fuller and more impactful. Bass notes have more realistic weight and more drawn-out attack and decay times. Though I don’t mind the balance of the PL30 in the least, I’ll be the first to admit that the low end of the E30 sounds more natural in comparison. Still, the new earphone is by no means a bass monster and those who were previously in the PL30 camp will enjoy it much more than adherents of bass-heavy budget sets such as the MEElec M9.

The midrange of the E30 is just a touch less forward than that of the PL30 but seems more laid-back due to the greater bass emphasis of the new earphone. Despite its balance, the E30 actually manages to sound a little cooler in tone, and closer to what I would consider neutral. As with the PL30, the clarity will be enviable for the vast majority of similarly-priced IEMs, but the E30 also makes gains in detail and texture compared to its predecessor, sounding smooth and refined without major sacrifices in resolution.

The treble of the E30 is balanced well with the midrange, taking at most a half-step back in emphasis. It sounds clean and clear but not overly crisp as with the similarly-priced MEElec CX21. Top-end extension is sufficient – on par with the CX21 and Brainwavz M1. Music, as presented by the E30, generally sounds airy and open, helped along by better dynamics compared to the PL30 and a similarly large soundstage. Though it may not sound quite as wide as the PL30 in absolute terms, imaging and positioning are slightly improved and the whole presentation is more convincing and refined. Lastly, Soundmagic has managed to drop the sensitivity of the earphone a bit, which makes it far less likely to hiss heavily with a poorly matched source.

Value (8.5/10) – The Soundmagic E30 makes far fewer sacrifices to obtain the clarity and spaciousness many found so impressive about its predecessor, sounding more natural and refined. I see very few people preferring the old model to the new one in signature and even fewer arguing that they are similar in technical performance. I do have a couple of reservations worth voicing – the accessory pack, for one, has taken a dip into mediocrity with the new soft pouch and exclusion of foam tips, and the glossy plastic housings look slightly cheap next to the rubberized finish of my PL30. Barring these small complaints, the E30 is clearly one of the better overall performers at its price point.

Pros: Lightweight and extremely comfortable, spacious sound with slight bass emphasis
Cons: Mediocre isolation


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About Author

Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.

38 Comments

  1. Sam on

    Could you please recommend me the IEM with same sound signature as E30(old version). New version with twisted cable has less bass and less volume but more treble(detail) compared to Old version.
    I really enjoyed the old version(currently cable got damaged) with good bass with lush mid and liked good combination of bass and distortion Guitar sound for Rock music.

    • Sam on

      Also I liked the treble of old version which is perfect for Rock music not more and not less.

      • ljokerl on

        Closest to the old E30 is probably the E10. Even if newer versions of the E10 have a little less bass and more treble, they would still be pretty close to the E30 sound.

        It’s difficult to find balanced and smooth-sounding IEMs from other manufacturers in this price range.. most either have tons of bass or harsher treble. Sony MH1C is good but it’s a little warmer and also less efficient (quieter) than the E10/E30 (which actually shouldn’t bother you because it’s easy to compensate for). It also has an annoying flat cable.

        Etymotic MC5 is good but it’s a little flatter (less bass) than the E10/E30 and also less efficient. Ostry KC06 has the right amount of bass but is brighter than the E30. HiFiMan RE-400 is very smooth and balanced but its bass is quite flat, less prominent compared to the Soundmagics. And so on…

        • Sam on

          Thanks for your valuable answer.
          I will try to check/listen new E10 before I decide to buy, as you mentioned they might reduced bass and increased treble..
          I already have jvc fxt 90(more treble) and MEE CC51 Which is good for metal. Like wise I am looking IEM for rock music. Will I enjoy Brainwavz M2(mid-bass), Yamaha eph100, vsonic gr07 for rock music? I might be wrong due to poor knowledge on sound signature. You can also suggest me other IEMs for rock around these price tag. It is very difficult to get Etymotic and Ostry’s IEM in my country(India).

          • ljokerl on

            FXT90 and CC51 are both pretty v-shaped. M2 is somewhat dull coming from those, but it is quite smooth and lush. Still, I’d probably go for the R3 if anything from Brainwavz, it’s a little more balanced and refined, more similar to the HiFiMan RE-400. If you have a chance to take a listen, do so.

            The EPH-100 is on the warm/bassy side and really great for rap and EDM. I think it’s an excellent IEM to have in any collection and you won’t be able to buy them new for long, but they wouldn’t be my first choice for rock just because the bass bias is pretty sizable.

            GR07 is my favorite, but it’s the least “rich” sounding here, as it has the most neutral sound. The main downside, though, is that it’s going to be somewhat harsh compared to something like the E30. VSonic IEMs are not known for smoothness.

            • Sam on

              Thanks once again your wonderful answer.
              I will try to check below IEM’s and decide which is good for Rock music.
              1. M2
              2. R3
              3. RE-400
              4. GR07

  2. Doggie on

    Wonderful website. I just wait for review of E50 and E80(s), as I couldn’t find any good bargain (<$99) headphones with microphone and good isolation. When filtering the table, there's A161P which is not available and BA100 which lacks bass. Perhaps these new SoundMagics are the solution.

    • ljokerl on

      While those earphones are promising when it comes to sound and overall bang/buck, I am not sure they will have great noise isolation as the form factor is not very different from other conventional in-ears such as Soundmagic’s own E10. I certainly couldn’t get a whole lot of isolation out of them when I tried them at least year’s CES. The A161P has a huge advantage in that regard being a deep-sealing balanced armature earphone, and the BA100 is also BA-based.

      There are other well-isolating earphones with mic such as the SteelSeries Flux, Etymotic MC3, ADV.SOUND M4, and even the HiFiMan RE-400a or RE-400i. While the RE-400 is the best-sounding of these, the Flux and ADV.SOUND are the ones that can’t be said to lack bass.

      • Doggie on

        Hi Joker, i bought E50s, they are really nice, nice detailed sound, precise rich enough bass, which is good as i’m looking for warmer bassy headphones (eph100, rha 750s like). I still have problem with sibilance there however, on quite many vocal songs. Also I hate the ohms there, there’s no volume from them from computer or android phone, only from iphone.
        Me and the world waits for your more comprehensive check on these new SoundMagics:) I’d love to see if they are closer to vsonics or yamahas/rha in terms of high harsh in your opinion.

  3. don on

    Hi, are these IEMs still good choice in 2015? My old Brainwavz M1 are dead and I need new IEMs to my Sansa Clip+.
    I liked M1 but they were lacking something. I’m looking for more detailed, neutral, clear sound but without killing fun (good, well controlled bass is welcome as well).
    I was thinking about mee m6 pro (I love how do they look) but I’m afraid of to tinny bass and too harsh mids.
    Unfortunately Vsonic are almost not available in my country (I can have only GR02 Bass Edition and GR99)
    Other alternatives are Xiaomi Pistons 3 (for half price of E30) or SteelSeries Flux In-Ear.
    I’ve probably overlooked something so I’m open for other suggestions. I need to buy new IEMs soon so I would be really grateful for any help.

    • don on

      I’m also thinking about MEE A151P, but I’m afraid these one are little to warm and dark.

      • ljokerl on

        Not too hard to get something that sounds more lively than the M1. The E30 has a bit more punch and treble extension but I’d actually say the more energetic E10 is a better match for what you’re after: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/soundmagic-e10/

        A couple more suggestions for detailed, neutral, clear sound while also staying away from things that might be too harsh, too bass-light, or too bassy. Maybe one or two are available in your country.

        LG Quadbeat F420 – good Soundmagic E10 alternative if those aren’t available
        Ostry KC06: http://theheadphonelist.com/brief-impressions-vsonic-vsd3s-ostry-kc06-havi-b3-pro/ – I like these a lot for their wide, clear sound, bright treble, and prominent mids. Nothing boring here.
        Piston 3: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/xiaomi-piston-3-in-ear-earphones-review/ – a good choice as well. Not too much bass on these (about as punchy as the M1) and the mids are somewhat recessed compared to the M1 but the sound is brighter and more energetic.
        Rock Jaw Alfa Genus: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/rock-jaw-alfa-genus/ – probably hard to find unless you’re in the UK, but these are nice and versatile with a few different sound tunings.
        Philips SHE3590 – a slightly bassier and less spacious E10 alternative, but amazing value at $10-15

        • don on

          Hi,
          thank you very much for answer. Unfortunately Ostry and Rock Jaw aren’t available in Poland. I somehow missed SM E10, I thought this is worst version of E30 🙂 These IEMs look interesting but I’m not sure if V-shape is what I’m looking for. Damn this is really hard to choose one if you can’t listen them before buy.
          What I’m looking for are IEMs that sound little brighter, cleaner and detailed with better separation and soundstage than Brainvawz M1. I guess I want to much 🙂
          I wish MEElectronics M6 doesn’t have more bass (I’m not bass head, I just don’t want bass-light IEMs)
          I guess I will buy Xiaomi Piston 3. If I can’t have what I want I’ll buy the cheapest 😛 I can have them for 50-60% price of E10. Or maybe E10 aren’t that V-shaped and I should buy them? Or maybe I missed something?
          Sorry for wasting you time. Feel free to ignore me if you are busy. You (and you great site) was very helpful anyway. Cheers.

          • ljokerl on

            E10 is not that v-shaped. It really sounds like what you’re describing in comparison to the M1 and is a touch bassier than the E30.

  4. tj on

    Joker please do a review of es18 pl11 and mh750.. these are low range earphones…

    • ljokerl on

      Maybe I’ll have some time to get my hands on more Soundmagics later this year. I want to try the E80 in more depth as well. Tried them briefly and thought they sounded promising.

  5. Adarsh on

    Will the sound quality change in any way if I use other tips instead of the stock ones?

    • ljokerl on

      Complys are probably your best best for isolation. Changes to the sound will likely be very minor for a shallow-fit IEM like this and double/triple flange tips can be tough to get a proper seal with. Comply recommends the *400 size tips for these although I can’t remember if I tried them or not back when I had the E30.

      • Adarsh on

        Thank you for clearing my doubts patiently.. I’m going for E30 (price~34 US $).. Fingers crossed 🙂

  6. Adarsh on

    Just one more thing. Any suggestion on how to improve the noise isolation of the SM E30? Should I use Comply tips(then which ones?) or Sony tips? Thanks 🙂

  7. Adarsh on

    Hello, I’m currently using the old Creative EP-630 earphones and wish to upgrade to the Soundmagic E30. I really like the bass quality of my EP-630. How does the SM E30 compare in that regard? Thanks in advance.

    • ljokerl on

      From what I remember of the EP630 (and it’s been a while since I’ve tried one), it has more bass than the E30. The similarly-priced Soundmagic E10 will bring you close to that level of bass but probably still a little short of the Creative set.

      • Adarsh on

        Thanks a lot.. Can you please suggest me an upgrade for my Creative EP-630 with similar sound signature (warm and sweet) but a little more clarity overall?

      • Adarsh on

        Also, I’ve tried the SM E10 from a friend and found that while the overall sound quality(more clear throughout with no muddiness and nice treble without any harshness) is much better than EP630, I actually prefer the bass quality of the Creative(drums timbre has extra heft on SM E10 whereas its just right and natural on EP630)

      • Adarsh on

        P.S- The Creative EP630 is now being sold with thinner wires and the sound quality has taken a major dive with harsh metallic sounding treble.Steer Clear of the EP630.

        • ljokerl on

          Like I said it’s been a really long time since I’ve tried the EP630 and I’m not sure which version it was of the two you are describing. If you found the E10 satisfying otherwise but thought the bass was excessive then definitely do try the E30 – that’s the main difference between them. I just remember the EP630 being bassier.

          • Adarsh on

            Yeah, I’ll try the E30. I was pleasantly surprised by your quick replies. Thanks a lot for your valuable suggestions. I love your reviews(read them on innerfidelity.com too). God bless you sir.

          • ljokerl on

            Thanks, it’s my pleasure. Hope the E30 pushes all the right buttons!

  8. singla on

    can you help me out between e30 or Signature Acoustics Elements C-12??
    (price is not any issue)

    • ljokerl on

      The biggest difference between them is the large mid-bass hump of the C-12. If you like heavy bass (esp mid-bass), go for the C-12. If you want better accuracy and a more balanced overall sound, go for the E30.

  9. virusdude on

    Oh ok, did you mean E30 rather then E10 in the first comment then?

      • virusdude on

        That helps, well thank you for the help. Seems like you help a lot of people.

        • ljokerl on

          Thanks, that’s the goal 😉

  10. virusdude on

    Thanks for the reply. That’s interesting, I’ve noticed the occlusion effect before, just didn’t know it had a name, it’s not a big deal since it’s barely audible. Anyway, based on your descriptions of the sound I think I’d like the E30. How’s the cable noise if not worn over-the-ear?
    Would you have any other recommendations in the price range that might have a better sound but not quite as good with the cable noise?

    • ljokerl on

      You can’t really wear the E30 cable-down.

      I think ones mentioned above mostly cover it. A lot of the other ones tend to be harder to wear over-the-ear than the sets mentioned above. The VSonic VSD1, for example – it sounds excellent and has decent cables but if you end up wanting to eliminate cable noise completely, it won’t be quite as easy to wear cable-up as the R-20 or E30.

  11. virusdude on

    I’ve had a pair of Jlab J3’s for about 3 years now and have been thinking about replacing them with these, but I’m still not sure. I’m not exactly sure on what kind of sound I like best, I haven’t owned very many pairs. From your review these sound pretty good. But at the least I’m hoping for some more clarity/detail in the sound compared to what I have, as well as better microphonics. The sound from the cable rubbing on my shirt is just way too much in the J3’s for me. I usually wear them down, I know wearing them over my ears helps a lot, but I don’t find it comfortable with the stiff cable. Sometimes I wonder if I’m wearing a stethoscope rather than headphones though. If I don’t have any music playing and press the cables against my chest I can literally hear my heart beating faintly through my headphones.
    Anyway, I’ve also looked at these: JVC HAFX40, Vsonic VC02, Astrotec AM800, DUNU DN-12 Trident (cable noise doesn’t seem much better on these from what I’ve read).
    I’m just looking for an all around upgrade for at most about $50 and not necessarily with the same type of sound as the J3’s.

    • ljokerl on

      Since cable noise bothers you that much I would just focus on avoiding that. A lot of things sound better than the J3 in that price range but the ones that really stand out for low cable noise are the E30 (partly because it forces over-the-ear wear). the FX40 (JVC has some dark magic in their cables that makes them consistently un-microphonic), and the Rock-It Sounds R-20 (it uses twisted cable similar to what you would find on high-end custom-fit earphones).

      Now for sound – the E30 is probably the safe choice. It has good clarity and a very inoffensive sound signature – a little bit of enhanced bass, mids that are not recessed, and smooth treble. Part of what you’re hearing with your J3, such as your hearbeat, is likely the occlusion effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occlusion_effect), and the E30 fits shallowly enough to (mostly) avoid that.
      The R-20 (or R-20M if you need the mic) is based on a balanced armature driver. It’s very clear but the bass is pretty much flat with no added oomph. It will have less bass, and a more accurate sound overall, than your J3.
      The FX40 is v-shaped. It has very good bass impact (more than the E10 and J3) and very prominent, crisp, bright treble. It’s a peculiar signature – it has a great “wow” factor but unless this is your type of sound you might find yourself fatigued by it over time.

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