The rise of the Chinese-based IEM makers…
Soundmagic is actually a pretty old Chinese audio brand that started making inexpensive In-Ear Monitor (IEM) earphones many years ago when people hardly knew any Chinese company making earphones. Those days earphones were almost exclusively made by American, European or Japanese companies like Westone, Audio Technica, Shure, Earsonics, JVC etc. In those days, earphone development was slow and you really needed to spend a good bit of $$$ to get some really good sounding earphones.
That all changed once Chinese manufacturers broke into the earphone market. First, they were trying to make low-cost copies of other manufacturers products. However, as time went on Chinese manufacturers started doing real innovation by developing their own drivers and the advent of different technology like tunable drivers, dual dynamic earphones etc. Soundmagic is one of those early innovative brands that came out with one of the first Balanced Armature driver earphones for under $50 at a time when people had to pay over $100 to be able to afford a Balanced Armature driver earphone.
Nowadays you get Chinese earphone manufacturers at all ends of the earphone market from budget to very high-end custom IEMs that cost > $1000.
Introducing Soundmagic ES18S!
Soundmagic, however, decided to play to its strengths – Make earphones that sound good at a price point that almost anyone can afford. It was manufacturers like Soundmagic that forced other manufacturers to innovate and greatly improve their lineup to bring in better sounding earphones at much lower price points. In fact, I am sure that merely 10 years ago, this $15 Soundmagic ES18S would probably sound as impressive as an $80 earphone from that time!
So coming back to the Soundmagic ES18S, this is the microphone version of the cheaper ES18 earphone.
Specifications and Accessories
|Driver Diameter:||10 mm Neodymium Dynamic Driver|
|Maximum Input Power:||20mW|
|Frequency Response:||20 – 20,000 Hz|
|Connector:||3.5 mm gold-plated L-type plug|
|Accessories Included:||Earpieces (S,M,L), Pouch, adapter for mic|
One interesting point is the pretty generous bundle provided by Soundmagic at this price point – a carry pouch and an adapter to use the Soundmagic ES18S with its microphone on your PC or laptop. Generally, no one else provides a pouch at this price point and I have never seen anyone bundle a microphone adapter regardless of price point. A big kudos to Soundmagic for this!
The earphone has a switch to allow you to use the microphone with different phones as on few devices the microphone doesn’t work. So with the switch, the Soundmagic ES18S should have no issues working with any device.
Ease of Use
The Soundmagic ES18S is one of the easier earphones to drive and they are pretty comfortable too.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from the Soundmagic ES18S as I have heard earphones at this price point and most were pretty disappointing. Either they had too much or too little bass or were very sibilant. A rare exception was the JVC Marshmallows that were very smooth earphones with good bass and at a similar price point too. Thankfully I still had one on hand to compare with the Soundmagic.
First off the Soundmagic ES18S are very balanced and neutral earphones. Being neutral means they can sound good with practically any music you throw at them.
The bass is pretty good with a decent amount of impact and depth but doesn’t sound exaggerated in any of the songs I played. However, it stays impactful enough in pretty bass heavy songs too. I listened to a lot of Rock music and I never felt the bass to be inadequate though some people will prefer a more exaggerated bass especially for music genres like house and dubstep. However, the Soundmagic ES18S cannot compete to higher priced earphones like the Coolermaster Resonar which has a slightly exaggerated bass but at the same time, the CM Storm Resonar has a more defined bass that hits lower than what the Soundmagic ES18S can manage. I wouldn’t call the Soundmagic ES18S to have an undefined bass, but there is room for improvement.
The midrange was also pretty good. It is not in your face but very neutral with respect to the treble and bass. Vocals are smooth enough, but it was a bit muffled and undetailed at times. I didn’t detect any real unpleasantness in any part of the audio spectrum even though I was playing the IEMs pretty loud. So the only real weakness is the slightly muffled midrange.
The Treble was pretty decent, but maybe a touch rolled off. I did feel it lacked the extension that I am used to. But the earphones still had plenty of details if you listen closely. The treble roll-off meant I was listening to these earphones at slightly higher volumes that I am used to.
The soundstage was average in width and height, but the placement and instrument separation was actually above average which is a real surprise at this price point.
I was overall pretty impressed with the Soundmagic ES18S especially considering its price.
However, I had a strong competitor in the JVC HA-FX34. I had bought them a long time ago and I was quite impressed with its sound even then.
Once I put them on I realized my initial impressions were not the same anymore. To be fair they have a more mid-focused sound and the mids are better detailed too. Even the soundstage seemed wider and more rounded.
For the rest of the audio spectrum, the Soundmagic ES18S is better than the JVC. The bass of the Soundmagic goes deeper and has more impact too. In fact, I now find the JVC to have pretty muddy and undetailed bass but is bloated to portray that has more bass. However, on some tracks with deep bass, you can see that the JVC just can’t produce the very low notes. And the treble is even more rolled off than the Soundmagic ES18S. So overall the Soundmagic ES18S is a better IEM than my earlier favourite.
The Soundmagic ES18S sells for around Rs. 750/- INR in the Indian market and for that price they are superb performers. Now let’s be fair. These are good earphones, but I am not claiming it a Rs 2,000/- INR earphone in a Rs 750/- INR price range. You can get better sounding earphones, but you need to pay a good deal more. For its price, I don’t think it has any real competition unless you are looking for a specific sound signature like a very bass heavy signature or you want fun earphones with a warm smooth midrange.
There is nothing really for me to criticize these earphones for except for maybe the mid-range being a tad less detailed that I would have liked but that shows itself in mainly high-quality recordings that I have heard with much more expensive equipment. For most songs, I hardly notice the missing detail and simply enjoy the music.
So in conclusion, the Soundmagic ES18S is a very good IEM for a very good price. For its impressive performance, it gets a high recommendation from me! These earphones are very neutral and let me tell you that it’s far easier to build an earphone that excels at one thing but sucks at almost everything else but tuning an earphone to sound balanced is not very easy. The fact that Soundmagic managed to do that at such an inexpensive price point is very commendable. For instance my more expensive Audio-Technica.
- Very balanced sound
- Good bundled accessories
- Very easy to drive
- Excellent VFM
- Very comfortable
- Build quality is a bit on the lower side
- The earphone nozzle is not standard and some aftermarket ear tips won’t fit these earphones