Build Quality (5.5/10): Like the older P10, the Soundmagic P20 is a featherweight metal-and-plastic affair. Instead of the dual-hinge design used by its predecessor, the P20 uses a twin-band headband (like the Koss PortaPros) and cups that rotate up into the headband (a-la Denon P372 and ATH-FC700). The folding mechanism is easier to use and feels more robust but still cannot be operated very easily with one hand. Folded up, the P20s are extremely compact – so small that they can almost fit in some of my large IEM cases. Gone also is the modular cord of the P10s, replaced with a standard dual-entry 4-foot cable and an additional 3-foot extension cord. Cable quality is unchanged – the cord is still rubbery and reminiscent of those used on the Soundmagic earphones but lacks proper strain relief on housing entry.
Comfort (6.5/10): The P20 is light enough to make the Philips ‘AirWear’ SHL1600 seem heavy. The twin-band headband is not quite as nice as that on the PortaPros but clamping force is light and no discomfort results from it. Unfortunately, the modified folding mechanism of the P20 means that the cups lack rotational freedom compared to those of the P10 and the low weight means that nothing forces the headphones to seal with the ear. I have to apply constant pressure to the cups with my hands to maintain a consistent fit – annoying, to say the least.
Isolation (4.5/10): Due to the abovementioned seal issues, the P20 isolates even less than the P10 does, putting it on-par with the majority of small closed headphones.
Sound: (5.25/10): As is the case with most supraaural sets, the sound quality of the P20 is highly dependent on how well the pads seal with the listener’s ear. For me, this required holding the headphones down for critical listening – otherwise the bass was nearly non-existent at comfortable listening volumes. When fitted properly, the P20 is quite punchy but there’s not much depth or weight to the bass compared to higher-end sets. According to specifications, the P20 should be more extended at the low end than the older P10 but I just don’t hear it – bass roll-off below 40Hz is very noticeable, though not unreasonable for a set in this price range. On the upside, the P20 is generally a very balanced headphone. Clarity is impressive, especially in the treble, and detail does not disappoint for a reasonably-priced portable. Like the P10, the P20 is smooth-sounding and not very forward but it does have strong upper mids and lower treble and can be a little piercing at high volumes. Top end extension is quite good but the presentation leaves a bit to be desired – the soundstage is medium in width and lacks slightly in depth, resulting in mediocre separation and layering. It’s not a bad presentation but definitely one that screams ‘budget’ headphone. On the whole the P20 could be on-level with its main competitors if not for the fit interfering with sound quality, at least for me.
Value (6/10): The Soundmagic P20 is a competitive budget-level headphone, boasting appealing portability, impressive balance and clarity, and reasonable build quality. It is let down, however, by the fit, which makes it difficult to maintain a seal. With a more flexible fitting mechanism the P20 might well have been a real winner in its price class but as it stands, the headphones are simply too light for their own good. If you have a smaller head or ears that are perfectly parallel to each other, the P20 may be worth a shot. For anyone else, fitting issues will likely cause the P20 to yield to the competition as a total package.
Frequency Response: 15-22,000 Hz
Impedance: 32 Ω
Sensitivity: 100 dB SPL/1mW
Cord: 1.2m (straight plug); 1m extension (angled plug)
Space-Saving Mechanism: Collapsible