SoundMagic S20BT review: some of the best cheap wireless earbuds around

The SoundMagic S20BT are budget wireless headphones that punch way above their weight

T3 Platinum Award
SoundMagic S20BT review
(Image credit: SoundMagic)
T3 Verdict

The SoundMagic S20BT are old-fashioned by the standards of wireless headphones these days, but priced to reflect it. And, crucially, with the performance to make that price look like a typo.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Good build, comfortable fit

  • +

    Decent battery life

  • +

    Fine and well-balanced sound at the price

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Rather inhibited where bass and dynamics are concerned

  • -

    Not exactly feature-packed

  • -

    Controls are a little fiddly

The SoundMagic S20BT keep up a proud tradition. SoundMagic has made its name with headphones that outperform their price-point – and the S20BT aren’t about to put a dent in that reputation.

For this low a price, they obviously won't compete with the most elite and costly entries in our list of the best wireless headphones, but on their own merits they're incredibly impressive. They're certainly among the best cheap headphones available.

They sound far beyond their budget, they offer a rock solid Bluetooth 5.0 connection, and portability is as good as it gets outside of true wireless earbuds – which tend to cost way more if they're any good.

SoundMagic S20BT: Price and availability

SoundMAGIC S20BT

(Image credit: SoundMAGIC)

The SoundMAGIC S20BT are on sale now and, in the UK are available for a penny less than £40. Customers in the United States will get a cent back from their $50, while in Australia the S20BT are currently selling for a very specific AU$87.

SoundMagic S20BT: Build quality, design and battery life

SoundMAGIC S20BT

(Image credit: SoundMAGIC)

Context is everything, of course – and here, the context reads ‘cheap' in flashing neon. Keep that £40/$50 uppermost in your mind and you’ll find it difficult to be picky about the way the SoundMagic S20BT are put together.

First, though, we should probably talk about ‘design’. Not a lot of scope for designers to get all creative with a product like this, is there? Especially not when it needs to be priced to compete. So SoundMagic has delivered a pair of earbuds attached to a flexible neckband via quite slender cables – the S20BT are unremarkable lookers in the most understandable way.

Over on the left-hand side of the neckband is where the action is: there’s a three-button array of controls covering ‘power on/off/wireless pairing’, ‘volume up/down’, ‘skip forwards/backwards’ and ‘answer/end/reject call’. This ‘power bulge’ is also where the micro-USB input is hidden, under a tiny, flexible cover.

The earbuds themselves are metal, and can join together magnetically to keep the whole arrangement safe and secure around your neck when it’s not in use. On the inside they’re fitted with sizeable (13.5mm) full-range dynamic drivers, and audio is served to them via Bluetooth 5.0 wireless connectivity.

Build quality and finish is good – nothing feels loose or badly fitted. No, there’s no noise-cancelling, or voice assistant, or control app, or touch control. But – and we are prepared to labour this point – context is everything.

In terms of battery life, the S20BT will last for around 25 hours of playback, as long as you’re listening at moderate volume. You can cut that number in half for talk-time. 

Despite using the suddenly quite antiquated micro-USB for charging, the SoundMAGIC can go from ‘flat’ to ‘full’ in less than three hours, and an hour’s charging is good for a perfectly respectable 10 hours of playback.

SoundMagic S20BT: Sound quality

SoundMAGIC S20BT

(Image credit: SoundMAGIC)

The S20BT power up quickly and pair equally rapidly to a music player, so by far the most arduous part of getting ready to enjoy some music involves establishing which of the three bundled sizes of eartips suits you best. Which is hardly arduous at all.

Bluetooth 5.0 is plenty good enough to get some nice full-fat hi-res files from the likes of Amazon HD or TIDAL Masters on board, but we can’t help thinking that people in the market for a £40 pair of wireless earbuds aren’t necessarily the sort of people who are doing £20 per month on a top-tier streaming service subscription. It seems far more likely the SoundMagic will be used in conjunction with a more affordable streaming option, so that’s how the majority of this test is conducted.

And as a partner for, say, the free (and ad-ridden) tier of Spotify, the S20BT are nigh-on ideal. They combine a willingness to focus on the broad strokes of a digital audio file without losing sight of the finer details, and they’re not picky in the slightest about the quality of audio stream they’re asked to deal with.

Despite the big drivers and claimed 20Hz frequency response, the S20BT don’t generate an awful lot of low-frequency weight or substance. But the bass they do deliver is straight-edged, well controlled and gratifyingly detailed, which is unarguably preferable to the  more common ‘inexpensive headphones’ characteristic of oodles of unruly bass swamping the midrange.

The midrange here, happily unmuddied by the information below it, is quite spacious and well defined as a result. Vocalists cut through with all their character intact, and detail levels are plenty high enough to make their idiosyncrasies (or technique, or lack of basic ability) pretty obvious.

The top of the frequency range is played quite safe, rolled off in the name of a smoother ride. This can rob recordings of a little sparkle, but equally it prevents things getting hard or uncomfortable should you decide to wind the volume up a bit. So no, it’s not ideal – but it’s judicious and quite sensible when taken (yes, that’s right) in context.

Dynamically, the small harmonic stuff is handled pretty well – even the rather reticent bass sounds have enough second-stage harmonic detail revealed to bring them to life. The broad ‘loud/quiet/really very loud’ dynamics aren’t quite as successful – everything that happens in a recording tends to happen at more-or-less one level. But at least it happens on a well organised, well defined and actually reasonably spacious soundstage, which is able to mask the dynamic deficiencies somewhat.

SoundMagic S20BT: Verdict

No one’s expecting perfection from wireless headphones at this price, and sure enough the SoundMagic S20BT aren’t perfect. But there’s an incredibly strong case to be made for them actually sounding well beyond their cast, giving them the edge over other headphones at the same price.

They're a well-made, effective and engaging option that are arguably the most enjoyable to listen to and well balanced of their type. Just as long as you keep them in context.