SoundMAGIC P55 Vento Headphones Review

Can SoundMagic rule the roost at £150 as well?

by Ed Selley
Hi-Fi Review

1

Recommended
SoundMAGIC P55 Vento Headphones Review
SRP: £150.00

Introduction- What is the SoundMAGIC P55?

Sooner or later, if a brand wants to grow beyond a certain point, it has to leave its comfort zone. There are different ways of doing this and for different reasons, they are equally daunting. You can decide to start making additional products in slightly different categories at the price point you are recognised at. If you are good at making a product and you have strong brand recognition in that area, moving to an adjoining category makes good sense and can be very successful. Equally, if you make a mess of your first move out of the category, the whole programme is pretty much over before you begin and if you make a real bodge of it, you can damage your credibility in the area you were previously doing well in.

The other option, therefore, is to take your category of strength to new price points. This has the advantage of staying with your strongest category but it isn't risk free. If you are a premium brand, moving down the pricing structure risks you losing the defining characteristics that made you well regarded in the first place. This can cheapen the brand and leave your reputation devalued. If you are active at lower price points and decide to move up, you find yourself competing with more established high value brands while being seen as the new arrival. Whatever you choose to do, there will be challenges.

A variation on this discussion would have faced SoundMAGIC over the last year or so. The company has been exceptionally successful in both headphones and earphones at the sub £100 price point and the review of P30 headphone earlier this year was a demonstration that they have affordable quality down to a fine art. They have also been moving up price points over the last few years with models that have done well, if not outstandingly. Now, however, they are stretching their legs a little. The P55 was designed with a £200 price point in mind but, competitive as ever, launches with a retail price of £150. Does the latest SoundMAGIC have what it takes to compete?

SoundMAGIC P55- Design and Accessories

SoundMAGIC P55 Vento
The P55 is designed to compete in the 'Premium Portable' sector of the market, where a headphone will be expected to be used on the move with a range of mobile devices and then also be up to the job of working as an in-home headphone. The category has proved so popular it has started to divide internally with some models concentrating more on portable use and others becoming 'Nomad' type designs that are more about being used in fixed locations while being easy to transport.

The P55 is firmly in the Nomad category. The non-folding design is full size with over-ear rather than on-ear earpads and a large and well padded headband. These earpads each house a 40mm neodymium dynamic driver in a relatively set back arrangement- very useful as even a few millimetres between your ear and the driver can greatly improve the sense of space and soundstage that the headphone can generate. The enclosures are closed back and intended to allow for use on the move. The figures quoted by SoundMAGIC for these drivers are pleasingly real world like the smaller P30. A frequency sweep of 15Hz-22kHz is nothing to get unduly excited about but coupled with good sensitivity and benign impedance, it suggests that the P55 will be easy enough to drive by phones, tablets and DACs and they have a basis in reality rather than being the last feeble squawks of the driver in an anechoic chamber.
SoundMAGIC P55 Vento
The external design of the P55 is a clever piece of work as it manages to reference SoundMAGIC design elements in a product that costs a fair bit more and has little in common with in terms of materials. The round earpieces are a direct nod to the P30 and the badging and branding is very consistent between the two. There are slight differences, however, as the P55 is also wears a name- Vento which is intended to capture the idea of moved air but for those of us of a certain age also brings to mind a Mk3 Golf with a boot.

There are no complaints with the materials and build though. The P55 is made largely of steel and aluminium and it feels solid and well assembled. The P30 by dint of being £70 and a folding design could get away with feeling a little lightweight but this is not an option for the P55. Little details like the matt paint finish and single section for the outer edge of the headband make the P55 look understated and modern. The practical details are equally well thought out. The P55 has a detachable cable to avoid stressing and snagging, the padding on the earpads is deep and well judged. The SoundMAGIC is comfortable to wear for extended periods and feels extremely well balanced on the head.
SoundMAGIC P55 Vento
The P55 is made largely of steel and aluminium and it feels solid and well assembled
As SoundMAGIC supplies their more affordable models with a carry pack, it isn't too surprising to find that the P55 comes with a well thought out zip case that is large enough to carry both the P55 and the supplied cables. SoundMAGIC has supplied the P55 with two 1.2m cables, one with and one without an in-line remote and mic. The remote is as well finished as the rest of the headphones and the height of it relative to the mouth is well thought through as well. You also get a selection of mic adapter cables for making the P55 suitable to work as a headset if you need it to. These are then given a zip up bag of their own to keep them in place and this has its own space in the main bag. You won't have much of an excuse to lose any of the accessories.

Where I think that SoundMAGIC has missed a trick is that the cable without the mic is too short. If you want to use the P55 at home with a system that isn't right next to you, the cable is simply going to be too short to work properly. There is (or at least with the review sample there is) no sign of a quarter inch jack adapter. As the 3.5mm socket on the headphones themselves is completely standard, there is no trouble buying a longer cable but many Nomad type designs already come with one. Given that the mic fitted cable works even when there is no control device on the other end, this is an opportunity lost.

SoundMAGIC P55- Testing

The P55 has been tested mainly in a portable and semi portable sense. It has been used with a Lenovo ThinkPad T530 running jRiver and TIDAL with and without the aid of a Chord Electronics Mojo and Oppo HA-2 headphone amp and DAC. Additional testing was undertaken from the headphone socket of a Motorola Moto X running Tidal and Hiby Music. Finally, a small amount of testing was done with an aftermarket long lead into a Naim NAC-N272 digital preamp. Material used has been high res and lossless FLAC as well as some compressed material from Spotify and internet radio.

SoundMAGIC P55- Sound Quality

SoundMAGIC P55 Vento
The review samples that showed up were absolutely brand new so were left running on loop over the weekend on the advice of the distributor. Having done this, early listening via TIDAL via the Chord Mojo was initially not the knockout experience I might have been hoping for. The SoundMAGIC wasn't doing anything wrong, as such, but there wasn't the sense of life, energy and sheer joy that I got from the P30. The sound was weighty detailed and impressively refined but lacking the fundamental energy that I'd heard from the P30 and a prototype of the P55 at the IFA Show earlier this year. I put the samples back on to run for a bit longer and left them for another night.

The change upon reconnecting the same equipment after another twelve hours (taking the cumulative running to about 36 hours) was considerable. For reasons I'm unclear about, the P55 is second only to the Oppo planar magnetic models in terms of review samples needing some hours of running in before you listen to them. Running in is not an especially contentious concept- especially with a product that contains moving drivers- but it is fairly unusual that an affordable headphone needs this much time to come up to speed.

Once you have put the hours required on the SoundMAGIC though, things improve considerably. The overall presentation of the P55 is slightly different to more affordable models. The presentation is slightly warmer and more refined and there is less top end energy. This puts the P55 at pretty much neutral in comparison to the more forward balance of the less expensive models and while it means it delivers less outright excitement (although, this is something that can be adjusted with partnering equipment- more on that in a in a bit).
SoundMAGIC P55 Vento
Where the P55 is strongest is that once it has a few hours on it, this is a tremendously refined and detailed headphone that delivers a performance that is engrossing and entertaining but also extremely easy to listen to for long periods. It is also impressively even handed with a very consistent performance from top to bottom. Compared to headphones that have a slightly sucked out midrange, the SoundMAGIC can seem a little bass light but this is more down to their being plenty of lower midbass energy as well as outright bass. Similarly, there is plenty of top end energy, as well, but the refinement and midrange performance blend sufficiently seamlessly that it is simply the top of a well worked frequency response rather than something that stands out.

This means that with the tremendously entertaining Every Open Eye by Chvrches, the SoundMAGIC is a very happy partner. It hits hard enough in the bass to do the album justice while also avoiding it sounding harsh or bright. Between this is a midrange that really brings the album to life. Lauren Mayberry's vocals are energetic and wonderfully rendered in a way that shows off the band as more than a dance pop troupe. The more relaxed IN DREAM by The Editors is equally effective and shows that the fundamentally neutral presentation works well at adapting to what you play on them. The reasonable sensitivity means that equipment does not need to be driven hard to reach respectable levels which further aids refinement.

Compared to something like the Focal Spirit One S which is a very close match in size terms to the SoundMAGIC, the flatter presentation of the P55 can lack a little excitement but there is a caveat to this that is worth expanding on. When the studiously accurate Chord Mojo is replaced by the more propulsive Oppo HA-2, the results are seriously impressive and a demonstration of the benefits of system synergy. The extra grunt of the Oppo combines with the refinement of the P55 to generate a performance that is huge fun. Pottering through the 'Dirty Grooves 16' playlist on Tidal with this combination is tremendously satisfying. Bass has drive and impact and the Oppo imparts a bit more bite into the way that the SoundMAGIC performs. Given most headphone outputs on smartphones and similar devices can be a little brighter than neutral, it seems like SoundMAGIC has taken this into account with the voicing of the P55.
SoundMAGIC P55 Vento
Where the P55 is strongest is that once it has a few hours on it, this is a tremendously refined and detailed headphone.

Verdict

Pros

  • Refined and detailed sound
  • Comfortable
  • Well built

Cons

  • Need a long run in.
  • No longer cable supplied
  • No shortage of competition

SoundMAGIC P55 Vento Headphones Review

Moving up price points- especially to one as hotly contested as this- is a risky business for any company and it is a measure of how good the competition is that this is the first time I've reviewed a SoundMAGIC product and not automatically declared it to be the unconditional category winner.

This being said, the P55 is a deeply impressive product. The build quality, materials used and general attention to detail that has gone into the P55 has created a headphone that is the equal or better of anything at the price. Sonically, it sounds balanced, refined and engaging across a wide range of musical styles and it should not demand too much of partnering equipment. If you don't need a long cord (or are prepared to buy one) and you don't mind leaving it for a few days, the SoundMAGIC P55 is a seriously talented headphone that needs to be checked out if you are shopping at this price level.
Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
.
8

Ease of Use

.
.
8

Sensitivity

.
.
8

Design and usability

.
9

Sound Quality

.
.
8

Value For Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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