There’s a universal constant when it comes to freelance work — that gig economy we’ve all heard about. Fast, good, and cheap: You’re only allowed to have two. The world of tech is often similar. You can have it well-designed, high-performance, or cheap(er). Getting one of the trio is tough enough, and most folks will settle for two (Exhibit A? Pretty much anything Apple. Beautiful design, solid performance… eye-wateringly pricey). Finding all three is like finding a plesiosaur in your newly-installed goldfish pond. Highly unlikely. And yet, that’s what we’re looking at from the R800-a-pair SoundMagic P22BT on-ear headphones.
Nothing to see here, just some contortionism
The P22BT headphones are mostly plastic, though there’s some metal in the headband’s construction. Black is a theme throughout, SoundMagic have not thrown much effort at how these cheap on-ears look. It’s more about how they feel… but neverthless we’re going to go into detail about the look of ’em. Because that’s what we do here at Stuff.
Each ear…pad(?) is cushioned by a small amount of foam, covered by faux leather of the type that will eventually melt after years of contact with skin oils. Don’t feel bad, you’ll also melt Genuine Leather over time. The left pad is given over to controls — everything from Play/Pause/On/Off (one button, which also sets up Bluetooth syncing), along with volume and track controls. The other earpad/cup/whatnot? Bare. The headband is very stiff, but expands enough for a good fit — even if you have an oversized melon atop your shoulders. There’s little pressure on the sides of the head, though those with glasses may find their bows causing some pain after a few hours. Such is life as a cyborg, sadly.
SoundMagic’s fold-down black on-ears come in a neat little pouch with enough space for a charging cable (microUSB) and a 3.5mm-to-3.5mm cable. That’s for when you want to go wired, because you forgot to charge them. That’s okay, we had troubles charging them too. It took so long for the battery to run down (about 20 hours of usage over a few weeks, so the P22BTs hold their charge well) that we forgot where the charge port was. It’s in an odd spot on top of one of the ear-pads, meaning that you can’t charge and use them without discomfort. Pity.
If you need to read the instructions…
It’s a standing joke at the Stuff offices (at least we hope it’s a joke) that reading the manual is a fireable offence. This is a sensible attitude for someone who works at Stuff to have. If people who spend all day using tech can’t figure out your product in minutes without any sort of explanation, then you’ve made a bad product. SoundMagic’s P22BT is not a bad product. [Ed: Or you’ve made something so revolutionary we don’t know where to start. That, though, has yet to happen. But we remain hopeful].
Initial setup and Bluetooth connection is easy enough to perform. Hold down the power button until the nice lady informs you that the headphones have powered up. Keep holding the button and you’ll start the connection progress. After that, it’s all up to your device. We’ve had these connected to several smartphones, an older Samsung tablet (more on that in a sec) and an Apple MacBook Pro without issue. And without reading the manual. It’s not really a requirement, all of your typical functions are spelled out on the ear-pad.
That said, actual usage was not without problems but based on how those problems manifested, it wasn’t the P22BT’s fault. When connected to a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 7.0 (from way back in 2014 — almost a relic, these days) sound arrived with a noticeable delay. Noticeable when you’re watching video, that is. With music it obviously doesn’t matter at all. Long story short, you might run into sync issues with older devices. Might. We weren’t able to test a wide range of older tablets and phones for this review. #theybelonginamuseum
Power² : Good sound, better battery
It’s not enough to be compact, well-built, and cheap. As nice as those things are, they only make up a fraction of what we’re looking for in budget wireless headphones. They could look ghastly and clunky and we’d still use them… at home… provided the sound was good enough.
Here, the sound is definitely good enough. They sport enough volume to keep a Marvel fan fixated on what’s going on in Infinity War while a Johannesburg storm rages outside. And enough control over audio levels that you won’t have blow an eardrum out in order to hear what’s going on. While the power’s off. Because Eskom. This actually happened. Recently. Can you tell? Noise cancelling was not involved, however. At this price, active NC is a bridge too far.
Audio quality is good across the board, with even detailed noises crossing the ear canal almost unchanged. If you’re a bass-head, though, you’re out of luck. The P22BT’s 40mm drivers are fine for enjoying music, including the bass-heavy stuff, but you won’t encounter Skullcandy (or Beats) levels of overpowered bass. That’s not a negative for us. We’ve always appreciated a balanced set of cans, so these are quite an experience for not very much money.
But even better than the across-the-board audio quality is the battery life. The P22BTs hold their charge on standby for a fantastically long time, and they’ll also give you just about the whole of the claimed 19 hours powered-on time. It’s not really surprising that we forgot how to charge them… a few times.
SoundMagic P22BT: Verdict
Getting basic Bluetooth headphones for less than R1,000 is a mission and a half. To find a set that is more than just ‘basic’, crossing the line past ‘decent’ and right up to ‘good’ is almost unheard of. And yet, here we are. SoundMagic’s wireless on-ears have a lot going for them, though the R800 price tag and the extended uptime are the highlights. Being able to use them in wired mode when you forget how to charge them is a benefit, and they even come with a neat little travel pouch — so you can use them as intended and take them absolutely anywhere. Though for R800 bucks, you might be tempted to get two pairs, one for your travel bag and the other for everything else.