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Soundmagic PL50

Soundmagic PL50 Review

Soundmagic PL50
Reviewed Nov 2009

Details: Soundmagic’s flagship IEM and first Armature-based design
MSRP: $55 (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $51 from / $55 from $79 from
Specs: Driver: BA | Imp: 55.5 Ω | Sens: 109 dB | Freq: 15-22k Hz | Cable: 3.9’ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 4mm | Preferred tips: Sony Hybrids
Wear Style: Over-the-ear

Accessories (4.5/5) – Hard carrying case, a set of over-the-ear cable guides and a large selection of single-flange silicone and foam tips
Build Quality (4/5) – Housings are tiny and very, very light. The cables are fairly thick, rubberized, and feature articulated strain reliefs at the y-joint and an L-plug. An early batch had problems with removing the stock foam tips, which sometimes resulted in splitting, but this has been resolved.
Isolation (2.5/5) – Not bad at all but the design does not allow a very deep fit
Microphonics (4.5/5) – Pretty much nonexistent
Comfort (5/5) – With properly-fitting tips these are some of the most comfortable IEMs out there. The tiny size and low profile make it easy to forget about them

Sound (6.9/10) – The sound signature of these is a little different from most of the other IEMs I’ve tried in the price range. Instead of focusing specifically on the bass, the highs, or both, the PL50’s single balanced armature surprises with the smoothness and evenness of response across its entire frequency range. Extension on both ends is better than average, which is surprising for a single armature setup, especially at such a low price point. I can see some people finding them bass light, and truly they don’t have any significant humps in the low-end response, but it is very detailed and can be felt as well as heard. Same goes for the highs – just a tiny bit of sparkle, no emphasis. If I had to attribute a term to these, I would call them mid-centric just because nothing draws attention away from the silky-smooth, liquid midrange. Soundstage is above average, but not as airy as the lower-end PL30. Imaging, however, is superb – easily as good as it gets for the price. Overall, the sound they produce is very, very effortless. They are one of the least tiring earphones to listen to in my experience and also very forgiving of poor source material.

Amping: Good if it can be used as a hardware equalizer (i.e. a Fiio E5 with bass boost for those craving more bass), but these are quite efficient and don’t need one in general. They do respond very well to software equalization and can be molded to fit individual preferences quite well.

Value (8.5/10) – With their unbeatable comfort, excellent accessory set, low microphonics, good build quality, and smooth sound I find very hard to find any cons whatsoever in the Soundmagic PL50 for the price. The sound may not be for everyone, but for what they offer they are incredible. I do recommend using them with Sony Hybrid tips, which add about $10 on top of the price but color the sound less than stock foamies and seal better than stock silicone tips.

Pros: Astonishingly comfortable, useful accessory pack, very practical, excellent sound
Cons: Laid back, mid-centric sound signature may be boring to some



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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.


33 Responses

  1. I was wondering how the PL50 compares to this or others I have liked including MEE Pinnacle PX, ATH-E40/IM02, Brainwavz B100, UE400/500. Thank you 🙂

  2. Hi joker, I also forgot to mention I have used the Aurvana In-Ear 3 reviewed here and liked the easy-going nature, but could do with less veil and slightly more bass. Thanks!

  3. ‘@Dave Lacey, I find the small tri flanges with the largest flange clipped off to be the most comfortable of all the tips i have tried for the hf5’s.

    I also suggest amazon as you can get alot of non-ety tips that fit there, klipsch has some tips people i know say they like better, honestly once i removed the largest flange on the small tri-flanges, i can ware them for hours without discomfort.

  4. For anyone interested, I realized I hadn’t tried my Etymotic ER4PT impedance adapter with my PL50. The impedance adapter converts the ER4PT into the ER4S, which is brighter and also more precise sounding where the ER4PT configuration is slightly more plastic-y and lacks some perceived treble quality and sounds a bit more “flabby” for lack of a better term.

    Well, the PL50 responds really well to the impedance adapter. Less stuffy midrange focus, and they become much more neutral, with just a touch of lower midrange emphasis. Also they become really detailed and clear, with a midrange that almost is on par with my Noble 4 Universal. Plucked sounds, and overall dynamics can really slap your ears and it’s a very lively, dynamic presentation. Nothing seems in the way, very clear.

    I’m using wide-bore tips, narrower and tighter fitting tips will bias slightly more towards lower half of the register.

    Really recommend this config with the impedance adapter if you can get it easily. I prefer this to my ER4S which is both a lot more expensive, plus requires a for me unfomfortable deep insertion to not break up in the treble.

    Just wanted to mention it.

  5. Yeah, there are some newer options though the PL50 still sounds good for the price. Two that I recommend often these days are the Ostry KC06 and the Fidue A63. The KC06 has forward mids for a brighter overall sound and an emphasis on clarity and soundstage width, while the A63 has forward mids with a warmer overall sound and an emphasis on smoothness. I tend to prefer the Ostry, but both are very good earphones.

  6. Hey Joker can you recommend some mid-centric earphones for someone who wants a pair just for listening to vocals? My price range is <$100. Comfort is also very important. The review for PL50 looks promising, but the review was done in 2009 and I feel like the scenery around might have changed since then. Please and thank you.

  7. The UE600 uses an altogether different type of BA driver. I forget the exact model but it was modified specifically for UE and is closer in performance to the armatures used by higher-end sets like Etymotics and the discontinued Meelec A161. It’s quite a bit clearer and more capable than the A151 and PL50. The A151 and PL50 use an Knowles SR-type driver and mostly sound similar to each other. The PL50 comes from an older generation of SR earphones including the Ultimate Ears Super.Fi 4 and a few others. These tend to be a little warmer and less clear/refined. The A151, along with the Astrotec AM-90 and Rock-It Sounds R-20, was slightly improved in sound.

    By the way, there is a new generation of the A151 or A151P now that’s supposedly improved. I haven’t tried it, but it’s been recommended to me as a step up over the original A151. Might be worth checking out.

  8. I’m kinda interested in trying out a single balanced armature. Torn between these and the MEE A151. Ultimate Ears 600 was a third option but I ruled it out for not being compatible with Sony Hybrids. I have a question though. Why did this headphone get a lower sound rating than the other two? Is it the quality in general? Graininess? Just Curious.

  9. Being in Australia you’re at a bit of a disadvantage for buying small bits like cable guides. Here in the US you can get them from several vendors, like meelec and thinksound and V-Moda, but they’re all US-based so shipping is inexpensive. International postage adds up fast.

    Not sure about quality (looks more plastic than rubber/silicone) but these aren’t too pricy:

  10. Finding extra ear hooks is quite interesting, deciding what to call them for a start. I found some on eBay than couldn’t find them again or at least not for much less than the e31’s cost

  11. I did a bit of sideways thinking & put the shure Olives & the Ear Hooks from the Fidue’s on to My HF5’s it works & the sound is a lot better than the A31’s. But they are a fairly shallow fit with the Olives & the seal could be better. They will do for now while I think about weather to get Custom Fits. In Australia they are going to cost me 175.00 AU from
    plus the cost of impressions so there going to be almost as expensive as a lot of entry level CIEM’s . Ah the benefit of hindsight. As I already have the HF5’s & I can use the impressions for future Purchases this still seems to be the best way to go

  12. The Fidue A31 is one of the smallest IEMs around. I recommend it (also with Olives) when someone asks for really small IEMs without much regard for sound, e.g. here:

    It has pretty badly rolled off treble, boomy bass, and lacks clarity but it’s just impossible to find a higher-end earphone with a similar or smaller footprint. There was the q-JAYS and the Audio-Technica CK10s, but they stopped making those.

  13. I just been reading the Head-Fi review of the A31s & at least with the olives I’m not experiencing the piercing treble. One odd & unexpected quality, they seem to give me a bigger sound stage than the HF5.s more outside the head but behind my head as if I was facing away from the stage. It’s a little odd but pleasant. Overall they aren’t bad & they are so comfortable that, for the moment I can live with their shortcomings. Regards David

  14. Hi Ijoker
    My latest IEM purchase, Fidue A31s. They cost me 30.00 AU & are the first earphone, that I can wear for a long time in comfort. They don’t sound as good as the HF5’s & the cables are a bit stiff but with a pair of Medium Olives I can wear them for hours.
    With the HF5’s I tried all sorts of tips & for a while they seemed to be getting better but after a while my ear canals rejected them! & I couldn’t keep them in for more than 10 Minutes at a time.

    I am thinking about getting the custom made inserts for them, but I’m a little afraid that I might have issues with them as well. I have probably spent more than the custom inserts cost on Comply & shure tips but was able to use some of them on the Fidue’s as well. I will probably be looking for step-ups from the fidue’s, something that small & comfortable but with better sound & cable. The journey continues David

  15. Yep, I would expect that sort of effect with the foamies. You might want to experiment with some more tips over time if you’re still struggling with the stock foamies, but I’m glad you like them on the whole.

  16. Hi Joker Well I’ve got the HF5’s & they sound quite wonderful better than an earphone that only costs 116.00 has any right to, but there is a fly in the ointment
    Ashen is right they do take some getting used to. Out of the box the only tip I could use was the small triple flange but I could only keep it in my ears for a half hour or so.
    I brought some comply tips the Small P’s & the small comfort plus but couldn’t get the p’s into my ear canals at all.
    I haven’t tried the comforts at all yet, but to my surprise I can fit the great big fat foamies that are supplied with the phone . With a lot of rolling & a little lube I can get them in & they are reasonably comfortable as well. They aren’t going in quite as deep as the triples but deep enough for good isolation . I haven’t been listening for long with them yet but I think the sound is a little mellower with the foamies than with the triple flanges.
    Oh & they do one thing I wanted in spades. It is really easy to unravel the separate lines in Cuban percussion, I love their bottom end, & with these tips the tops are tamed a little as well. Thanks for all the help Regards David

  17. Hi Joker, I haven’t heard them yet but fingers crossed.
    PS: Sorry about the multiple posts I just wasn’t seeing my posts & now suddenly they are all there thanks for all the help Regards David

  18. I have finally pulled the plug on a pair of Hf5’s, Ashen gave me the last little push.
    It was a tossup between them & the Westone UM Pro 10’s, but there was a little to much emphases on their being tuned for stage use in all of the data on the Westone’s, & the Westone w10 are about 80.00 more expensive & I’m not absolutely convinced they will work with my Nokia N9 .
    I really like IEM’s once I got used to stuffing them in my ears I find them much easier to wear than headphones no sweat for a start. They are even replacing my speakers at the computer!
    Well that’s at least partly because my earphone chain is a dragonfly+earphones & my speaker setup is a fairly cheap DAC feeding a very old spdif setup so the earphones win. The other advantage of the HF5’s is that if I fail to get a comfortable fit I can spend some extra dollars & get some ACS Tips made Regards David

  19. Yeah, you can’t enter the site without logging in (it’s free). I guess it’s how they can break “suggested retail” prices. Doubt you’ll find a better deal than a half-price HF5, though 🙂

    And thanks, this is useful feedback no doubt!

  20. Joker I want to thank you for your reviews, I would have said this more often but, i got banned from head-fi for telling somebody they where an idiot….but common, when you shove a tight ball of cotton down the nozel of an IEM and are upset it muffles the sound…

    anyway, sall good, and, i have some things to note about the PL50’s and the hf5’s if Dave checks back.

    the pl50’s are GREAT with sony hybrid tips, they are comfy to the point you can forget you have them on/in.

    the pl50’s EQ VERY VERY well if you use a player with a decent EQ(not a sansa with stock firmware for example), amping isnt needed but, a fiio e3/e5/e6 or cmoy pairs nicely with them at a very decent price.

    my biggest complaints would be, 2, 1. i wish they made a metal version as i had to glue my stem more then once, and 2. the cord being like 1foot longer would be PERFECT for me.

    now the HF5’s are another beast almost entirely, they require deep incertion, but the tips they come with are much better then what sound magic offer with their stuff, they also handle EQ very well, and do not need amping on any even half decent device, you will spend a bit more time getting use to these, its not that bad though as long as you try all the tips and even consider some tips from amazon (can use some klipsch tips as well, but i find small triflanges to be the best starting point.

    now, one thing I have to mention, if you have smaller ears/cannals you will want to try the small tri-flanges, if they fit, make sure the 3rd flange isnt wringling or the like, if it is, as it does with my ears, trim it off with some toenail clippers, for me, i saw no loss of isolation but, the comfort level went WAY WAY WAY WAY up when i did this.

    also, I do no like ETY gliders/foam tips, Olives or comply are your best bets for foam.

    so many good IEM’s out there. one thing to keep in mind for Dave though if you buy etykids, and i think they are a great choice if you dont need high volume or have an amp, even a fiio e3 is plenty to get past the limit pretty well…

    you can trade you ETY’s in later for a discount on upgrading to another set, I have a few friends who brought 2nd hand kids just to trade them in when buying er4pt’s, one of them also ended up buying all his family sets of kids for their smart phones, and everybody loves them, even his kid whos sort of a punk.

    and Joker, link takes me to a login page, i know its old but, i gotta start keeping an eye out for some of these deals, i got lucky when i got my hf5’s and amazon fucked up, shipped the wrong color and when i tried to return, they where out of the color i was sent and the one i wanted…so they gave me 1/2 my money back, 2 days later, i ordered a 2nd set(one blue one black)….i will say ety supports been tood, the first set of hf5’s had a flawed driver, crackly and such, they replaced it no problem, well since, i have worn out the cord near the plug on the 2nd set….shouldnt leave them plugged into my c2 in my pocket i guess….:P

    anyway, ETY stand behind their products, even if their RMA systems a bit odd…..

  21. From a comfort/ergonomics standpoint, Westone earphones are always hard to beat. I just saw the UM PRO10 on BuySonic ( the other day at a pretty deep discount.

    Whatever you decide, I hope it’s a step up from the C5 for your uses, and welcome again to the wonderful world of in-ear monitors!

  22. I probably going to wait for a little while. I seem to be getting used to in ears & I’m getting better at inserting them the seal I get is now good enough to reduce the volume I need by nearly half. I agree with you about how fiddly the C5’s are 3 hands would be useful when inserting them. I wish I had found your site before I brought them but so life goes. I want more definition from my next phones though. I dance Cuban Salsa & would like really clear instrument separation in my next set.
    I was listening to a youtube review of the Westone UM PRO 10 & the description of them sounded exactly like what I have been looking for. A very good seal, & good instrument separation, I want to be able to clearly hear the separate strands in complex percussion. None of my current phones give me that, & I suspect that a neutral phone is going to do a better job.
    I love the way the Westone’s sit flush in the ear as well . no interference with my helmet when riding, although if their seal is as good as it seems to be it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to wear them while riding.
    Because they are a pro Phone I can get them for a very reasonable price here as well Regards David

  23. Happy to help!

    EtyKids are also a good intro to neutral/flat sound, which again is going to be very different from your C5, P3, and probably the Philips as well. Keep in mind they are volume-limited also, so if you generally listen at loud volumes you may be disappointed (that’s what the MC5 model is for).

  24. Maybe the Etymotic kids would be a good place to start then, not much money & I can see if I can cope with the deeper insertion. I have a few other headphones Phillips Fidelio over ears B&W P3’s & so far I prefer the sound of the C5’s ,& I can wear them for much longer periods as well. My reason for looking at the Etymotic’s is because of their higher levels of the noise isolation which would be great at the Gym Regards David
    PS I am impressed by your speedy responses on here & I’m glad I found your site

  25. These high-end Balanced Armature earphones you are looking at are all going to sound very different from your C5s. The C5s are warm and bass-heavy, with pretty limited clarity. The R-50/HF5/VC1000 are bright and extremely clear, with very flat/non-enhanced bass. If you’re not sure you want to go down that path it might be better to try an inexpensive one first before dropping $120.

    By the way, these higher-end monitors are also meant to insert significantly deeper in the ear than the C5, which could be a good for fit/seal but might take some time to get used to.

  26. Hi Again Still haven’t made a decision. I’ve been slowly getting my C5’s to fit a little better & getting increased isolation as well. I have had to change the tips I’m using every few days, it’s almost as if my ears change shape slightly! At the moment I’m using Comply Medium Isolation tips. My ears seem to be getting used to the larger tips, these were the first ones I had & I really didn’t like them at first but now they are reasonably comfortable, & stay in at the Gym & on my bike. I read the review of the rock it sounds buds then started looking at their slightly more upmarket models the Rock-It R-50 looks like it might be OK for me as well. I have also been looking at the Etymotic HF5 & the V1000 but with my access issues the Rock-It looks like the best option so far regards David
    PS I will post this right now I have lost 2 replies by procrastinating

  27. I’m really not a fan of the way the C5 fits in the ear – it’s more complicated and restrictive than necessary without much payoff in terms of being secure when worn. There’s really not a lot you can do in terms of the angle at which they enter the ear. The problem you’re having is most likely related to that, and not the eartips since you’ve tried so many. On a side note, Comply tips don’t usually look very compressed when you take them out – you compress them before putting them in, but they should expand while in the ear to fill as much of the ear canal as possible. Obviously given the same size ears medium ones should compress more than small ones, but Comply sizing is pretty close so the difference can be minor.

    Anyway, most earphones will give you a lot more freedom in terms of insertion depth and angle than the C5. The PL50 is good in this regard but still slightly limited by the “ergonomic” form factor and the fact that it has short nozzles. I do highly recommend it for comfort but given your experience with the C5 you may be even better off with something that inserts a little deeper into the ear. The one that comes to mind is the Rock-It R-20: . Very similar sound to the PL50 but the housing is more conventional in design and overall sits a little deeper in the ear. The angled nozzles help a lot, too. I found those to be very easy to fit and they’re an even better value than the PL50s at $40 or so.

  28. I was expecting to have to register before being able to post . My current & only EDM is the B&W C5, & even with the smallest Comply tips I’m having difficulty getting them into my ears.
    I wasn’t able to insert any of the supplied tips into my ears or get them to stay in place at all. The first Comply’s I tried were the Premium Medium size, I could at least keep them in my ears & I am getting some sort of seal but when I take them out they are almost totally uncompressed. I brought 3 packs of Comply tips Comfort, Premium, & sport in mixed sizes. So far the best fit & seal I’m getting is with the small comfort. I’m still not getting them very far into my ears but the seal is OK & they do stay in but when I remove them they are still uncompressed . I tried using the medium size comfort but they are to uncomfortable to keep in for long.
    Now my question, I’m wondering if headphones that use T100 tips might fit me better in that the foam should compress much more with the smaller tip. I was thinking of trying an inexpensive option first, the PL50 As it was one of your recommendations for small ears seems like it might be a good place to start. I would welcome any other suggestions Regards David

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