Despite the current vogue for both wireless and true wireless headphones, there is still a demand for wired in-ears, as they don’t rely on temperamental Bluetooth connections, are usually cheaper and, in the past, offered a superior sound quality.
Since 2005, SoundMagic has garnered a reputation for offering high quality headphones without the extortionate price, with its flagship E series headphones that rival big brands in terms of audio quality and cost.
We tried out the latest in the series, the SoundMagic E11C. Here’s what we thought.
Price and availability
The E11Cs are available to buy now from the SoundMagic website for $50 (£49 / AU$90).
Sitting at the lower end of the price scale for noise isolating in-ears, they won’t break the bank - particularly when you compare them to really high end models like the Bose QuietComfort QC20 In-Ear headphones, which retail for around $300 (£250 / AU$415).
The E11Cs are made from aluminum and come in a dark silver color, lending them an expensive and elegant look despite their low price. The ear buds themselves are very small and unobtrusive, with the SoundMagic logo displayed in white on the outside of the left casing, and the model number on the right.
They come with three different sizes of eartip, which means they should snugly fit most ears - we tried them with the smallest tips and found they were comfortable and didn’t come loose with movement.
The cable features an inline remote with volume buttons and a pause/play button, which we found to be very responsive and easy to use.
One of the coolest features of the E11C is the cable: the silver-plated copper cable is designed for “enhanced audio performance”, and is coated in TPE - a kind of thermoplastic rubber that SoundMagic says has “a reduced environmental impact compared to other commonly used plastics.”
Aside from the environmental benefits of using this kind of coating, it also means the cable feels really durable, and stops the buds from getting tangled in the accompanying case or in your pocket, which is really useful.
The case comes in a red and black design - an odd choice considering how elegant the actual headphones look, and we would have liked to see a continuation of the dark silver color scheme carried through to the headphones’ accessories.
Still, it does the job, and has two internal pockets for storing your spare ear tips.
Features and performance
It's worth noting that the SoundMagic E11C is designed for those folks who haven't left the 3.5mm aux club - if you have an iPhone 7 or later, you won’t be able to use these in-ears without an adapter. (However SoundMagic says it will be bringing out USB-C and Bluetooth versions of the headphones in the near future.)
We tried them out with ‘God Only Knows’ by The Beach Boys, and found the audio quality to be okay - but not mind-blowing. Volume levels were decent considering the small size of the E11Cs, but we felt that the different frequencies felt slightly muddied, with the bass bleeding into the mids and trebles.
We also felt that the treble frequencies that come from the tambourines and keys in this song lacked clarity, but we wanted to try this on a more modern track to make sure it wasn’t older production techniques causing the issues.
So we listened to Charlie XCX’s ‘Boys’, and had a much better experience with the higher frequencies, and generally found that separation between the treble, bass, and mids was much better. If you’re a fan of pre-80’s music, you may find over-ears do your music better justice than the E11C’s - but for casual listeners the audio quality is fine, especially when you consider the low price.
The noise isolation worked really well too; although if you listen extremely closely you can hear a little sound leakage, it’s so minimal that people around you in a normal environment won’t be disturbed by your music, even at high volumes.
Making calls using the inbuilt microphone worked fine, although your voice can sound a little distant or muffled to the person on the other end of the line.
Overall, the E11Cs are a brilliant budget option if you prefer wired in-ears over the true wireless earbuds that are in fashion at the moment. We really liked the design, and felt that look elegant while also feeling comfortable when listening to music for long periods of time.
These are by no means earphones for audiophiles - the separation between the different frequencies just isn’t good enough, but for your casual listener, the E11Cs will perform just fine, with a lot of sonic power behind them.
The biggest calling card of these headphones is the noise isolation, which performed really well in our tests - often headphones with these features can cost upwards of $130 (£100 / AU$180), so the SoundMagic E11Cs are a bit of a bargain.
[Update: We erroneously stated that these headphones has noise cancelling features in our original review. We have updated our star rating accordingly to reflect this error.]
- Want to drown out the world? Here are our favorite noise cancelling headphones