Planar magnetic headphones are said to be a fusion of both dynamic and electrostatic drivers. Because of their sound quality, affordable price and other many benefits, the demand for planar magnetic headphones has grown over the years in many audiophile communities. In recent years, companies like Audeze, HiFiMan, and OPPO have also introduced a number of new models that are renowned for their good sound. In this article, we list the best planar magnetic headphones on the market right now.
Just like like other headphone drivers, Planar magnetic drivers come in different designs and styles. In this article, we balance these various aspects to ensure we cater to every user’s needs. So, we have combined over-ear, in-ear, and on-ear models. We also have entries in both open-back and closed-back designs because we know there are great entries on all these designs and styles.
Planar magnetic headphones are renowned for their sound quality. In our tests, the sound quality of the different models was paramount to ensure they made it to the top planars. However, good sound quality was not all we looked at, after testing dozens of models, we also checked for the comfort, price range, ease of use and more. All the models were tested using the appropriate equipment to ensure objectivity, and after all this was done, we drafted this list with the winners.
|Audeze LCD-4||200 ohms||97 dB/1mW||Over-Ear/ Open-Back||548g|
|Mr. Speakers Aeon Closed||14 ohms||93 dB/1mW||Over-Ear/ Closed-Back||330g|
|Audeze LCD2 Classic||70 ohms||101 dB/1mW||Over-Ear/ Open-Back||500g|
|Fostex T50RP MK3||50 ohms||92 dB/1mW||Over-Ear/ Semi Open-Back||315g|
|HIFIMAN Sundara||37 ohms||94 dB/1mW||Over-Ear/ Open-Back||372g|
|ADVANCED Alpha||34 ohms||90 dB+/-3 dB/1mW||Over-Ear/ Open-Back||397g|
|HIFIMAN HE400S||22 ohms||98 dB/1mW||Over-Ear/ Open-Back||350g|
|OPPO PM-3||26 ohms||102 dB/1mW||Over-Ear/ Closed-Back||320g|
|Mr. Speakers Aeon Flow Open||14 ohms||92 dB/1mW||Over-Ear/ Open-Back||320|
|Audeze SINE||20 ohms||120 dB/1mW||On-Ear/ Closed-Back||230g|
|HiFiMAN ANANDA||25 ohms||103 dB/1mW||Over-Ear/ Open-Back||399g|
|Audeze iSINE20||24 ohms||112 dB/1mW||In-Ear/ Open-Back||20g|
|OPPO PM-1||32 ohms||102 dB/1mW||Over-Ear/ Closed-Back||395g|
|ABYSS AB-1266 Phi CC||42 ohms||88 dB/1mW||Over-Ear/ Open-Back||620g|
|Monoprice Monolith M1060||50 ohms||96 dB/1mW||Over-Ear/ Open-Back||500g|
Before going further, it is worth noting that some headphones on this list come with hefty prices, and it would be unfortunate not to list them because of the cost. To keep things even, we have included budget and cheap options as well that sound great too. Leave a comment if your favorite planar headphone is not in this list and we will try and review it. Thank you
1. Audeze LCD-4 – Our Best Planar Magnetic Headphone
Category: Open-Back/ Over-Ear
Impedance: 200 ohms
Sensitivity: 97 dB
Pros: Outstanding build quality, good soundstage, and instrument separation,
Cons: might be expensive to most
The Audeze LCD-4 is one of the flagship models from Audeze. The LCD-4 incorporates extensive research, performance advancements, and high-quality workmanship that clearly place it above other planar magnetic headphones in the market. The LCD-4 not only features a great invention and research, but it is by far one of the most thrilling headphones you can listen to. The only real downside of this headphone would be the price. At close to $4000, the LCD-4 is way outside most people’s budget.
So, is the high price tag worth it? Let’s find out.
The Audeze LCD-4 comes in a black case, which is very robust and well padded. Inside the headphone’s case, there is a pair of white gloves to handle the headphone (seriously), along 3m cable that features a 6.3mm termination, an owner certificate, a flash drive that contains the headphone’s manual in PDF and the LCD-4 headphone.
The LCD-4 is an over-ear, full-size, open-back headphone and looks like its predecessor the LCD-3 with only minor differences in the design. From just a look at this headphone, you can notice the LCD-4 is a beast. The headphone is not very flexible, it does not fold, and the earcups do not rotate as much. However, this is to be expected from such a big headphone.
The headphone is made from high-quality materials that make it a very sturdy headphone. The headphone is made from metal, wood, and leather. The earcup’s housings are made from wood, ebony wood, which makes this headphone gorgeous. To complete the earcup’s housing, shiny chrome metal grills make up the solid build. The earpads are thick and very soft. The earpads are angled nicely, and there is a little gap between them and the earcup’s housing to make sure there is no pressure build-up. The headband features a carbon fiber top and a leather head-strap. Joining the headband to the earcups are very solid metal yokes and a very great adjustment mechanism.
Apart from the exceptional build quality, the Audeze LCD-4 also features the thinnest diaphragm of all planar magnetic headphones. According to Tyll Hertsens of Innerfidelity in a conversation with Sankar, CEO, and co-founder of Audeze, the LCD-4 diaphragm is sub-0.5 microns thick. The thin diameter allows for very low distortions in the sound quality.
While the Audeze LCD-4 features among one of the heaviest headphones we have tested, the comfort level of this headphone is very good enough to be worn for several hours without any signs of fatigue. Thick and soft angled earpads coupled with a great and clamp-free headband make it a very comfortable headphone. The headband also features enough flexibility to fit a wide range different head shapes and sizes. The headphone does get heavier when used for long sessions. However, overall, the comfort and fit of the LCD-4 is very high.
So how does the Audeze LCD-4 sound?
The Audeze LCD-4 pretty much nails it in the reproduction of the bass. Overall, the bass is tight, well extended, and clean. For an open-back headphone, the bass comes out with good quantity and impact. According to Audeze, the bass extends down to 5Hz, and after listening to the LCD-4, I tend to agree with their claims. The transition from the bass to the midrange also comes out as very natural. The midrange and how the LCD-4 reproduces this part makes it one of the best in this area. Instruments are well textured, detailed, and lifelike. In my opinion, the LCD-4 manages to paint the picture of the sound very well.
The treble of the LCD-4 seems to be the discussion when it comes to talking about this headphone. Everyone has a preference on the amount of treble they prefer. I find the treble of the LCD-4 to be natural and pleasant. It is not present like the other frequencies, maybe a little recessed but detailed and fun.
2. Mr. Speakers Aeon Closed – Best Closed-Back Planar Magnetic Headphone
Category: Closed-Back/ Over-Ear
Impedance: 14 ohms
Sensitivity: 93 dB
Pros: Comfortable, Spacious sounding, good isolation
Cons: nothing much
MrSpeakers over the last few years has grown from modifying the T50RP to a renowned manufacturer of planar magnetic headphones. Over their last years, Mrspeakers offerings have increased to wide range of planar headphones with better prices and improved sound quality.
The Mr. Speakers Aeon Closed comes in a black box and inside you get a black carrying case that would provide a portable advantage to this headphone. Inside the carrying case, there is a pouch that holds the cable and the headphone. The cable included, which are called DUMMER cable, are terminated by a 3.5mm jack and a 1/4 adapter screwed by default. The cable is solid and seems to be a little heavy but not as thick as other cables from their flagship headphones. The headphone also comes with three tuning pads, and you finally get a certificate of authenticity from MrSpeakers.
The Aeon Flow is an over-ear, closed-back, planar magnetic headphone. The build quality is great and features a unique teardrop shape in the design. The materials of the Aeon Flow Closed are top notch. The headband features a good quality pleather material. The headband design is a hammock style and is attached to steel wires that allow it to adjust either up or down. The earcups of the headphone are well padded with memory foam, and a high-quality pleather provides a soft cover. The pads are replaceable, and pad replacements can be bought from Mrspeakers website. The earcups housing are made of carbon fiber, which is of high quality and works to make the overall weight of the headphone much lower.
The comfort of the Aeon Flow Closed is very good. The earpads are large, and the unique teardrop shape of this headphone provides ample room to fit different ear sizes. The protein leather earpads provide a very soft, comfortable, and plush surface that rests very well on the skin. The earpads might get a little warm especially in warm climatic regions, but overall they work fine.
The Aeon Flow Closed is light, and the pleather headband works very well to distribute the weight evenly. The headband provides a very comfortable clamp, and the overall fit is very good. The adjustments of the headband to fit your head size are great, pull the earpads over your ears, and the headphone adjusts appropriately.
When it comes to the sound of this headphone, the Aeon Flow Closed comes off as one of the best sounding closed-back headphone around. Stating off with the bass, it comes out as very well balanced with a tight response. The bass does not muddy the other sound frequencies, and the transition to the mids is very good. The midrange is also well balanced, rich, and detailed. Vocals, both male and female, have good depth and excellent body. The vocals in the mids bring out the high levels of transparency the Aeon Flow Closed can achieve. The treble of this headphone come out naturally, with more air and has a good extension.
Also, the Aeon Flow Closed is very good at isolating ambient noise into the headphone and sound from getting out. Because of this you will not disturb people next to you nor will noise from the TV, dishwasher, etc, be a disturbance.
3. Audeze LCD-2 Classic – Best Open-Back Planar Magnetic Headphone
Category: Open-Back/ Over-Ear
Impedance: 70 ohms
Sensitivity: 101 dB
Pros: Great sound at a lower price, improved comfort and build, Good bass response
Cons: Lacks a storage case,
The Audeze LCD-2 was one of the first headphones that put Audeze on the spot in the headphone world. Less than a decade later, the Audeze LCD-2 Classic is launched to the market as a cheaper and more accessible headphone. The LCD-2 Classic becomes one of the most affordable in the Audeze LCD series and still offers great sound and a solid built design for the price.
The Audeze LCD-2 Classic ships in a standard grey cardboard box with foam inserts that secure the headphone. In the box, you get the headphones, the cable with a 6.3mm jack, a USB key and a certificate of authenticity card. There is no case included, this is quite unfortunate, but you can buy the case separately if you would like to move with this headphone around.
Audeze headphones have an utilitarian style with most of their headphones. The LCD-2 Classic is no exception. The headphone is an open-back, over-ear headphone with a very good built quality. They lack the wood rings that are associated with other flagship models from Audeze, but this does not make them lack the high-end feel to them. The headband features two components, one is the protein leather material, and the upper headband arch made of steel. The headband lays on the head very well spreading its weight perfectly. The headband also features small holes in it to give it a breathable feel.
The earpads, which also feature a synthetic leather cover, are well padded with memory foam to provide better comfort. They are deep so the ears will not touch the driver and are thinner to give them an angled design. The earcup housings are made of crystal infused nylon, which it feels very hard and should be durable for a long time. The endcaps of the earcups are made of metal and feature Audeze’s design as with many of their headphones.
The Audeze LCD-2 Classic is on the heavier side. However, they are well padded to maximize the comfort. The big earpads are soft so you can hardly notice the weight of the headphone for several hours. However, after some time you can feel the weight of the headphones. The LCD-2 Classic is much comfortable than the LCD-2, but Audeze still has to work and lower the headphone’s weight to improve the comfort.
In our tests, we found no issue with clamping pressure or the sizes of the earcups, which were just fine. The new headband design on the LCD-2C is great and lowers the weight of the headphone by a very small percentage. Most suspension headbands in our tests are quite comfortable, and this headband was no exception. The headband is attached to the earcups with metal yokes that go through a small box that houses the locking mechanism, this design features in almost all Audeze headphones. The downside of this design is you only have to work with the steps provided, and you cannot fine-tune the things better.
Overall, the sound signature of the Audeze LCD-2 Classic comes out very smooth, well balanced, and warm. Starting with the bass, it comes out tight and sounds very powerful. Though in comparison to the LCD-2, the bass is a little less, it is overall richer, well balanced, and very well extended. The midrange comes out as balanced although there is more emphasis on the low midrange, which makes vocals a bit off and sometimes hard to understand the lyrics. While the LCD-2 did not have much treble, planar magnetic technology has evolved since then, and the LCD-2 Classics have more treble. It is not the best treble, and it has a slightly rough and grainy texture, but well extended.
4. Fostex T50RP MK3 – A Cheap Planar Magnetic Headphone
Category: Semi-Open-Back/ Over-Ear
Impedance: 50 ohms
Sensitivity: 92 dB
Pros: Good bass response, Modular and durable parts, Decent sound
Cons: Earpads are bad, treble is a little harsh, will need a good headphone amp to drive
For most people looking to experience an orthodynamic headphone, the Fostex T50RP MK3 is one of the cheapest planar magnetic headphone around. The Fostex T50RP MK3 has long been famed for its build quality and modularity of the parts. For a headphone enthusiast looking to start modifying headphones, this is the best start. The Fostex T50 MK3 comes from a long family of planar headphones and looks very similar to the Fostex T50, which dates back to 2002.
The Fostex T50RP MK3 comes in a cardboard box and inside the headphone sits wrapped in bubble wrap. Included in the package, there are two cables, a black 10ft 6.3mm cable, and a 4ft 3.5mm orange cable. Also included in the package there is a spec sheet and a warranty card.
The Fostex T50RP MK3 is a semi-open-back, over-the-ear headphone. Most people who have bought the MK3 have praised the its build quality, and in our test we were not surprise because of this. The headphone feels very solid in the hand. You will also be surprised by its weight which at 315g is very good number for a planar magnetic headphone. The earcups are made from plastic but of good quality. The headband is different from the previous T50RP models. It is better and features a small padding that overall improve the comfort. The headband is fitted on aluminum metal wires that are attached to the earcups. The wires provide a mechanism through which the headband can be adjusted.
Both the right and left earcups are marked on earcups. On the left earcup, the 3.5mm terminal is located. The earpads of the Fostex T50RP MK3 are a disappointment. The padding is very thin, and the openings for the ears are very small. Despite being an over-ear headphone, the earpads make it look more as an on-ear headphone. However, the good news is that the earpads are replaceable. So, if you are looking to get this headphone, you should be prepared to replace the earpads.
The comfort of this headphone is good, but modifications on the earpads go a long way to improve its comfort. For an earpad replacement, there are several options available in the market. For a budget option, the Brainwavz HM5 Velour Memory Foam pads will work fine. But, if you are looking for a more premium option, the Shure 1540 replacement pads (HPAEC1540) which are memory foam padded are very good. There are also other good earpads replacements that would work fine with this headphone. Apart from getting comfortable earpads, you should also be aware that the different pads will alter the overall sound signature of the headphone.
The comfort on top of the headband is great. The headband is well padded, and after a few hours of using the headphone, there are no hotspots at all. The headphone feels secure on the head and also very light on the head. The clamp force is felt but not strong or overpowering.
Before we get into how this headphone sounds, it is good to mention the tests on sound were performed with the original pads of this headphone.
Also, no modification was done to any part of the headphone. In due time, and after extensive usage with and without modification, an article will be published with an extensive guide on the Fostex T50 MK3 review.
Starting the bass which is one of my favorite part of this headphone. The bass is more extended and comes out with impact. If like the mid-bass (the best part to bring out most instrumental music and drums), the Fostex T50RP MK3 handles this part very well. If you are a bass-head, you will be pleased with the bass on this headphone. The midrange is well defined, detailed and come out naturally, which is pleasing to hear. The treble can be sharp and a little harsh on some tracks at a high volume. However, the treble is exciting, clean, and transparent. The treble is a little forward than the mid-range, but they never bleed into the mids. Instruments come out very good, and vocals can be a little laid back.
5. HiFiMAN Sundara – Great All-Rounder And Value King
Category: Open-Back/ Over-Ear
Impedance: 37 ohms
Sensitivity: 94 dB
Pros: Soundstage, balanced sound signature, build quality, great value
Cons: The design limits the fit
HiFiMAN has been in the headphone game for quite some time now. Their headphones range from affordable and cheap planar headphones to high-end planar headphones in the market. The sound of most HiFiMAN headphones has been great. The build quality of some of their headphones has however been not what you would expect at their prices. With the HiFiMAN Sundara, at the current price, HiFiMAN has tried to bring out their best in the mid-fi headphones.
So, how does the HiFiMAN Sundara fair? Let’s find out.
The HiFiMAN Sundara comes in a black box that is fitted inside with foam to hold the headphone. The package is minimalistic and apart from the headphone, a 1.5m cable and a 6.3mm adapter there are no other accessories included. In the box, you will also get an owner’s guide and a warranty card of the headphone. There is no case included for the headphone, but the box can act as a temporary storage before you try out a headphone stand or a portable storage case.
The HiFiMAN Sundara is an over-ear, open-back headphone. The overall design of the headphone is great and a huge improvement from the likes of the HiFiMAN HE 400S and 400i. The materials used for the HiFiMAN Sundara are good, the majority of this headphone’s materials are steel, and a few plastic parts are present. First, let’s start with headband. It features a steel band on top and a protein leather suspension that rests on the head. Joining the headband to the earcups are steel bands. The yokes that are attached to the earcups enable an up and down swinging motion.
The earcups are angled, and though they are not as thick, a breathable mesh material on top gives them a comfortable feel. The earcup’s housing is made of metal and are circular. The outside part of the earcups features a metal mesh that gives a better aesthetic look to the headphone. The overall style and finish of the HiFiMAN Sundara is just superb.
The HiFiMAN Sundara is a comfortable headphone. The earcups though not as thick, are well constructed and of good quality. The earcups have enough room that fits the ears very well. The earcups are also replaceable, so you do not have to worry about them wearing out over time. The headband is also comfortable and rests on the head without creating hotspots over time. The headband can be adjusted to fit different head sizes by simply moving the earcups up or down to fit your head size. The clamping force is moderate and good enough to be worn over a longer period.
The weight of the headphone is just right, not too heavy as associated with planar magnetic headphones. At 372g, the HiFiMAN Sundara is a relatively lightweight headphone, which adds to the overall comfort level of the headphone.
The HiFiMAN Sundara is an almost balanced headphone, and if you like a little cool sound signature, then it is a good bet for you. The bass response is better than the 400i or even better than the 400S. It is well extended as with most planars and has a good level. Though the bass response is good, it lacks the thump or rumble and may come out as insufficient for bass-heavy music genres like EDM or Hip-hop. The midrange response is even and very balanced. In this case, both vocals and lead instruments come out well-balanced. The treble is smooth, detailed, and clean, but might be affected by sibilance a little or sound overly bright in some tracks.
6. HiFiMAN HE400S – Best Budget Planar Magnetic Headphone
Category: Open-Back/ Over-Ear
Impedance: 22 ohms
Sensitivity: 98 dB
Pros: Comfortable, easily driven, Affordable planar
Cons: Inexpensive and flimsy materials
Third, from the HE-400x series, the HiFiMAN HE400S in 2015 became the cheapest planar magnetic headphone among the HiFiMAN headphone offerings. The idea behind the HE-400S was to offer a high quality-sounding headphone at an affordable price. The HiFiMAN HE400S is nothing special in the market, but its performance to price ratio makes it a decent headphone to check out.
The package of the HiFiMAN HE400S as simple as it comes. The headphone ships in a box made of cardboard, it has a solid feel and can also be used to keep the headphones secure. Inside the box, you get the HiFiMAN HE400S which is fitted in foam, the cable (1.5m), a 6.3mm to 3.5mm adapter, a warranty card (in Chinese), a HiFiMAN card and an owner’s guide.
The HiFiMAN HE400S is an open-back, over-the-ear headphone. The build of the headphone is good, but the materials used in the construction leave less to be desired. Except for the headband being metal and a protein leather headstrap, majority of the materials of the HE400S is made plastic. The headband of the HiFiMAN HE400S is similar in style to the headband of the HE-400i and the HE-560. The headband features a great adjustment mechanism and has a number of settings to fit different head sizes. The metal band also holds together the earcups and provides headphone clamping.
Plastic is used in the construction of the earcup’s housing and metal grills protect the headphone drivers from the sides. The plastic comes in a glossy silver color, which enhances the appearance of the HE400S. I have read numerous reviews criticizing the quality of materials used on the HiFiMAN HE400S. Though I agree some parts such as the yokes connecting the headband to the earcups need to be stronger, overall, the plastic used seems of good quality and works to lower the overall weight of the headphone.
The HiFiMAN HE400S is a very comfortable headphone. This partly due to the weight and the design of the earcups and pads. The earpads are padded with memory foam and covered with velour. The velour offers a breathable surface, which keeps the earpads from getting hot over time. The earpad openings are also large enough to accommodate most ears. Also for those interested in modding the earpads, Focus A pads are good and not only offer improved comfort but also improved performance on the sound, especially the bass.
Finally, for comfort, let us see the weight, headband, and clamping force of the headphone. The headband is comfortable, and the pleather suspension headstrap does an outstanding job of distributing the weight of the headphone evenly without creating hotspots even after long sessions. There are six adjustment options on the headphone, which should accommodate most head sizes. The clamping force is not strong enough to cause pain but just enough that the headphone will not fall off when using them.
The HiFiMAN HE400S is an excellent sounding headphone. The headphone has been described by most as an entry-level headphone, but it has proved to deliver good sound as other planar headphones. The bass response is similar to the HD650, but the HE400S has a tighter bass response. The mid-bass is slightly emphasized over the sub-bass which gives out a punchy sensation to the overall bass response. The midrange of the HiFiMAN HE400S is among the best in its sound signature. The midrange strikes a good balance without sounding thick and has a good presence. The focus on the vocals is good enough details and good separation of instruments. The treble is slightly laid-back, a little on the warm side, but comes out smoothly maintaining the clarity and details.
For those looking to mod the HiFiMAN HE400S. Changing the velour stock pads that come with the HE400S can significantly boost the sonic part of the headphone especially the bass. Focus pads are a great alternative and feel comfortable. Also trying the Angled HM5 pads increases the sub-bass and mid-bass response. The treble remains quite similar, but there is a reduction in the soundstage.
7. OPPO PM-3 – Best Portable Orthodynamic Headphone
Category: Open-Back/ Over-Ear
Impedance: 26 ohms
Sensitivity: 102 dB
Pros: Neutral sound, comfortable, portable, good isolation, easy to drive
Cons: Non-replaceable earpads
In 2014, Oppo Digital, a relatively new company in the planar magnetic headphones niche released the Oppo PM-1 and later the PM-2 which was a cheaper model with the same sound of the PM-1. With the trend of achieving a portable and lighter orthodynamic headphone, Oppo released the PM-3, which is one of the best portable planar magnetic headphones in its era. Though the Oppo Digital team recently announced their exit on the market, their Hi-Fi product offerings will continue, but only for a limited period.
But, enough of the history, let’s delve into the review of the Oppo PM-3.
The Oppo Pm-3 comes in a cardboard that houses that houses a small box with an android or apple cable and a black box with the headphone. Opening the box that carries the headphone, there is a nice zippered denim hard carrying case. The hard case houses the small fabric pouch with the headphone cable (3m with a 3.5mm to 6.3mm converter) and the PM-3. At check out when shopping for this headphone, you only get the choice between the 1.2m Android or Apple cable.
The Oppo PM-3 is a closed-back, over-the-ear headphone. The headphone’s materials feature plastic, pleather, and metals in its design. The construction of the headphone is great, solidly built with high standards. The PM-3 is available in different colors, which include, Black, White, Red, and Blue. The headband is padded with foam and a protein leather that covers it up. The structure of the headband features a steel metal strip that gives it the shape. Aluminum gimbals connect the headband to the earcups. The gimbals allow the earcups to turn sideways for easy storage in the case.
The earcup’s housing are made of plastic and metal on the back to provide the seal and also protect the headphone drivers. The earpads are well padded, and a protein leather offers a soft surface. Though the protein leather seems high quality, after a period of usage, the pleather starts peeling away. This is a huge disadvantage of the PM-3 because there are no replacements offered. Instead, you will have to the headphone to Oppo for repairs, which incur additional fees for the same cheap earpads that would also need replacements after another period of time!
At 320g, the Oppo PM-3 is a very light orthodynamic headphone. The weight coupled with the headphone’s comfy construction makes the PM-3 a comfortable headphone. The headband provides enough adjustments to fit most head sizes and is well padded, but after some period, you can feel the pressure from the weight.
The earpads are incredibly comfortable, but that is if your ears fit the earpad’s opening provided. The openings have been a point of controversy with claims they are actually smaller than the specifications supplied by Oppo. The earpads are also not deep enough, which might cause irritation and get a little warm after a period of usage. The clamp pressure is great creating no pressure on the sides of the head.
Isolation from ambient noise is really good. Although when wearing the headphone in very noisy environments the headphone leaks a little, they are efficient and offer satisfying levels. Leakage of audio from the headphone is very minimal making the headphone great to use in quiet places without distracting other people.
The overall sound of the Oppo Pm-3 comes out as more of a neutral headphone. The bass is on the neutral side and has a slight boost in the sub-bass region that adds just the right amount of rumble to it. The midrange is also very well done and comes out as detailed and smooth especially when listening to acoustic music. Both male and female vocals come out natural and have good details. The treble on the PM-3 is a little recessed making the headphone sound a bit laid back. The treble response is, however, not fatiguing, and clear letting you feel the music.
8. Mr. Speakers Aeon Flow Open – Open: Warm, Engaging & Intimate Sound
Category: Open-Back/ Over-Ear
Impedance: 14 ohms
Sensitivity: 92 dB
Pros: good comfort, Tuning filters allow customizing the sound, Carry case included
Cons: Could use a bit more soundstage
When the Aeon first launched, the closed-back version was the first to hit the market. The Aeon Closed grew in popularity, and it was no surprise that MRSpeakers team decided to make an open-back version of the Aeon. The Aeon Closed-back is one of the best closed planar magnetic headphones in the market. The similarly priced Aeon Flow Open comes in a different sound signature due to its open-back nature.
The Aeon Flow Open comes in an identical package similar to the Aeon Flow Closed. Accessories are also alike with no differences to point out. Inside the box, you get a hard zippered carrying case which is big, but also portable. Inside you get the headphone, a Dummer cable with a 6.3mm converter, a plastic carrying bag and a pair of three tuning pads. There is also a certificate of authenticity, a small black cloth, and a user guide.
The MRSpeakers Aeon Flow Open is an over-the-ear, open-back design headphone. Apart from the grill design that provides an open design, there are no visual differences between the open and closed-back headphones. The build quality of the Aeon Flow Open is great. The teardrop design is unique and also attractive. The Aeon Open uses different materials to achieve the solid build. The headband features a combination of NiTinol, a memory metal steel wire and a leather head strap that sits on the head.
The earcups casing are made of plastic, they feel very high quality, and the finish is quite good. The grills on the sides of the headphone are made of steel. The earpads are soft and padded with memory foam. A protein leather cover on the earpads provides a soft and premium feeling to the headphone. Connecting the earcups to the headband are the aluminum cast gimbal arms, and they allow the earcups to tilt up and down.
The comfort of the Aeon Open is great. The design of the headphone, materials used and the weight all contribute to a good and comfortable fit. The headband leather strap sits very nicely on the head without creating hotspots. The clamping force is also great and does not create pressure points but helps the headphone sit securely in place. At 320g, the Aeon Flow Open is much lighter than the Aeon closed which weighs 330g. The earpads are wide, and the memory foam pads provide good comfort levels. The depth of the earpads is also good, and the ear hardly touches the earcup.
The overall sound of the Aeon Flow Open is a little on the warm sound. The bass of the headphone is powerful for an open-back headphone, and the bass extension is great. The mids are a little bit on the warmer side, and the transition from the bass to the midrange gives the headphone a fun and engaging sound. The treble is clear and comes out with details.
Though the Aeon Flow Open and Closed look alike, the sound quality between these two headphones is different, I found the Aeon Flow Open as the superior headphone in offering the best sound. The Aeon Open offers better details, a good midrange, and transparency. While the bass of the Aeon Closed is clearly more prominent, The Aeon Closed bass extends lower and is more textured.
9. Audeze Sine – Best On-Ear Planar Magnetic Headphone
Category: closed-back/ Over-Ear
Impedance: 20 ohms
Sensitivity: 100 dB
Pros: Good build quality and materials, Clear and punchy bass,
Cons: rolled off treble, not comfortable for long, lacks carrying case
For the world’s first on-ear planar magnetic headphones, Audeze did quite an outstanding job with the Audeze sine. On-ear headphones exist mainly for their small size and portable nature. For this reason, On-Ear cans have never appealed to most headphone enthusiasts and audiophiles as headphones that offer great sound. Well, this is about to change, and the Audeze SINE might be the game changer in this category.
The Audeze SINE comes in a white box that has the picture of the headphone pictured dominantly. Inside the box, the Audeze SINE is held in place in a black that also has a groove in the center with the cables. Also included in the package apart from the headphone and two cables is a black carrying pouch and a 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter. Unluckily for a portable headphone, the Audeze SINE does not come with a carrying case. Though the black carrying pouch can be used in travel, it does not offer enough protection against accidents. If you need a carrying case, the EL-8 Travel Case at only $39 can also fit the SINE.
The Audeze SINE is an on-ear, closed-back planar magnetic headphone. The design of the headphone is great and was done by DesignWorks, a BMW Group company. The build prominently features metal and pleather while the use of plastic is very minimal. Starting with the headband is well padded and covered with leather for improved comfort. To give the headband a firm feel, it features an aluminum construction that gives it the shape. Connecting the headband to the earcups is aluminum adjustment arms that also allow the earcups to swing sideways and even up and down.
The earcup’s housing is made of metal and features a unique design shape of the SINE series. The earcups are well padded and covered with pleather. The padding is ample, but overall the shape is not great. The earpads can swing in different directions which make it easier to store the headphone or adjust them appropriately while on the head.
When it comes to comfort, On-ear headphones are never comfortable for long hours. The feeling of having the ears pressed down over a long period gets exhausting and pretty unbearable. While the Audeze SINE is not the most comfortable portable on-ear headphones around, the headphone receives a better than average score for its comfort. The headband is great, and the padding works very fine without causing hotspots on the head. The clamping force is also not too bad.
Overall, the Audeze SINE is a surprisingly a decent sounding on-ear headphone. The bass, which is what planars are known for, in the Audeze SINE comes out as clear and punchy. For bass and overall sound boost, the Cipher cable can be used. The midrange, guitars, and instruments sound natural while vocals sound correct and clear and have a little bit of warmth to them. The treble is a bit rolled off, a little on the dark side and less airy.
- What is a planar magnetic headphone?
- How do Planar Magnetic Drivers Work?
- Are planar magnetic headphones better?
- Planar Magnetic vs. Dynamic Drivers
- Planar magnetic Drivers vs. Electrostatic Drivers
- Headphone Design: In-Ear vs. On-Ear vs. Over-Ear
- Open-Back vs. Closed-Back Headphones
- Impedance and Sensitivity Explained
Planar magnetic drivers have been around for decades of years. Though this technology is starting to grow into popularity, planar technology has always been around. Planar technology comes in different names. Other names that refer to this technology include isodynamic (having equal force), orthodynamic, magnetostatic (features both dynamic and electrostatic driver technology) and magneplanar. Planar magnetic headphones usually consist of two big magnets and a thin diaphragm with conductor’s sandwiched between them.
Let us see how this technology works.
A diaphragm is suspended between two magnets. When current is applied, it passes through the conductors in the diaphragm and creates a magnetic field. The magnetic field created by the current interacts with the magnetic field of the magnets causing the conductors in the diaphragm to move, and in the process, the diaphragm moves simultaneously creating sound.
The magnets in planar drivers have an equal isodynamic magnetic field to ensure the current flow and force exerted on the diaphragm is constant despite the position of the conductors as the diaphragm moves.
Learn more about planar magnetic drivers.
Just like other headphone drivers, isodynamic drivers have their benefits and problems. However, when appropriately implemented planar magnetic drivers are better than dynamic drivers and easy to drive, unlike electrostatic drivers.
Here are some of the advantages of planar magnetic drivers:
1. Large and powerful diaphragm
A large and powerful diaphragm gives planar drivers a tight bass response. This is because a bigger driver surface coupled with a powerful electromagnetic force allows a large amount of air to be moved better. A high response diaphragm also improves the sound signature.
2. Responsive diaphragm
A responsive diaphragm refers to how fast or slow a driver’s diaphragm can react to changes in the input signal. The diaphragm of a planar magnetic driver is very thin, and the powerful magnetic force evenly distributed over the diaphragm makes it move faster and have a better response to even small changes in the input signal. A fast responsive diaphragm gives a better and punchy bass.
3. Easy on the amplifier
Coil windings on a headphone driver create inductive peaks and thus making the headphone have a high impedance rating. Planar magnetic drivers use a serpentine voice coil pattern, which reduces the impedance of the driver. Though orthodynamic drivers require a bit of voltage to drive them efficiently, they are not difficult to drive at all.
4. Low distortion
The diaphragm of a planar magnetic driver is suspended between two magnets. The conductors in the driver are evenly distributed across its surface thus there are very low chances of the diaphragm moving unsteadily. Because of an even movement because of the conductors, the driver is prone to less distortion and a more accurate, detailed and rich sound.
5. Planar Sound Wavefront
A planar sound wavefront in headphones improves the imaging and soundstage. Though this characteristic is prominent with isodynamic and electrostatic headphones, dynamic drivers such as Sennheiser HD 800 are known for their great imagery because of a planar sound wavefront produced by the shape of the headphone driver.
So, what is a planar sound wavefront?
A planar sound wavefront is the shape of the sound waves created when a usually large driver has its entire diaphragm moving. Unlike a spherical sound wavefront that is focused and usually associated with dynamic drivers, a planar sound wavefront interacts better with the ear, reducing sound reflections on the out ear. This improves the focus of sound entering the ear.
Unlike dynamic drivers where the diaphragm is the conductor and generally driven from a central point, orthodynamic drivers have the conductors attached to the diaphragm.
Sonically, planar magnetic headphones have a better bass response than dynamic headphones. The bass in orthodynamic headphones is more extended and a thinner diaphragm makes planars have a tight bass response because it reacts faster to changes in the input signal.
For the design, dynamic drivers have the upper hand compared to planar magnetic drivers, which are much heavy and overall bigger. Dynamic drivers can come in very small sizes that make them convenient.
In electrostatic drivers, a thin diaphragm is stretched on a rigid frame and then placed between two electrically charged panels, whereas the thin diaphragm of planar magnetic drivers is sandwiched between two magnets.
Electrostatic drivers use static force to move the diaphragm and give out the sound. Static force is very weak when compared to the electromagnetic force used in orthodynamic drivers. Because the static force is weak, electrostatic drivers require high power amplification than planar drivers to drive them efficiently.
There are three main types of headphone design styles in the market. These are in-ear headphones, on-ear-headphones, and over-ear headphones. Let’s see briefly how this compare. For an in-depth guide on the three-headphone design, styles read Over-Ear vs. On-Ear vs. In-Ear.
In-Ear headphones are also called earphones, earbuds or IEMs. An in-ear headphone sits inside the ear canal, or just outside. In-ear headphones are very portable because of their small and lightweight nature. For a person on the move, an in-ear headphone is a good bet. The comfort of in-ear headphones is subjective, and while they might cause discomfort to some people, they are also pretty comfortable if you get the right fitting for your ears. On our list. We have listed the Isine 20, which is an in-ear planar headphone. There are other in-ear orthodynamic headphones such as the RHA Cl2, which we are yet to review.
On-Ear headphones are also called Supra-aural headphones. This type of headphone design is popular because they are highly portable and come in a compact design for portability. For a person on the move but does not prefer in-ear headphones, a pair of supra-aural headphones will work very well. However, though they are portable, on-ear headphones are frowned upon because of their subpar comfort. Because on-ear headphones sit on the ear, they tend to cause fatigue or soreness when used for several hours. The sound quality of on-ear headphone is subjective and limited to the design of the manufacturer. In our list, the Audeze sine represents on-ear headphones in the planar category.
Over-Ear headphones are also called circumaural headphones. Over-ear headphones are very popular and preferred by most people because of their high comfort and sound quality levels. However, the comfort and sound will vary, over-ear headphones are popular because they provide a comfortable fit, hi-fidelity sound, and advanced features like noise cancellation. This type of headphone is not highly portable because of their size and bulky nature. However, if you need better sound, Over-ear headphones are some of the best sounding headphone types you can get. In our list, over-ear headphones represent the largest share from the Audeze LCD-4 to the likes of the HiFiMAN ANANDA.
The two major types of earcup designs make up open back and closed back headphones. There are also Semi-open back headphones which are less popular and offer features of both open and closed designs.
Open-Back headphones have their earcups open, which allows air and sound leakage through the earcups. Because of their open-back nature, the sound from this type of headphone sound more natural and clear. However, Open-back headphones have their limitations. Because of the open earcups, they will leak out sound to the environment and also leak in noise to your music. This makes them unusable in an office or noisy place. Though they may sound fantastic, this type of headphone is best used at home.
Closed-back headphones are headphones whose earcups are completely sealed on the back. Because of this, they only allow sound out through the earpads. The sound of closed-back headphones may not sound natural like open-back cans, but they offer better performance in noisy places. While they might get warm a little over time, the comfort of this headphone types is good and dependant on the headphone design. They are best for use in noisy places and commuting.
Lastly, semi-open back headphones are less popular and feature a design that incorporates an open and closed headphone design like the Fostex TR50P MK3. While they sound natural like open-back headphones, they also try to isolate noise like closed-back headphones. However, semi-open back headphones will feature the disadvantages of both closed and open headphones.
Read more about Open-back, Closed-back, and Semi-open back headphones.
Headphones come with miniature speakers, and just like normal speakers they too offer a certain resistance to the electrical current transmitted, this is called impedance. Expressed on Ohms, the impedance of headphones ranges from as low as 8 Ohms to over 600 Ohms.
Headphone sensitivity, on the other hand, is the measure of how loud a pair of headphone will be at a given power level. For example, the HiFiMAN HE400S sensitivity rating is 98dB/1mW. Read more about headphone sensitivity.
The impedance and sensitivity values of a headphone help to determine how easy it is to drive a pair of headphone. The OPPO PM-3 on our list (26 Ohms, 102 dB/1mW) is very easy to drive and should achieve better listening levels easily. The ABYSS AB-1266 Phi CC (42 Ohms, 88 dB/1mW) is harder to drive to achieve a reasonable listening level.
Read our in-depth article on headphone amplifiers and see if you will need one.
1. ADVANCED Alpha – First Full Size Offering From Advanced
This product has been discontinued or is not currently available for sale.
Category: Open-Back/ Over-Ear
Impedance: 34 ohms
Sensitivity: 90 dB +/- 3 dB
Pros: Great build quality, good price,
Cons: Tight on the head, the cable included is short,
New to the planar game, ADVANCED Sound Group, an audio company based in New York has seen a successful debut of the ADVANCED Alpha planar magnetic headphone. As one of the best headphones of ADVANCED, the Alpha stands out and easily deserves a recommendation in our list of the best othordynamic headphones around.
At the time of writing this review, the ADVANCED Alpha was sold out. Luckily, I got the headphone from a friend to listen and review before returning it. The headphone was still in a new condition, and everything included in the sale was available.
So, let’s get into the review.
The ADVANCED Alpha come in a black box that houses everything from the headphone to the accessories included. The box is made from good quality materials and features a metal clasp on the lid that secures the inside contents. Inside you get the headphone, which is secured, with foam, two extra earpads (not deep as the ones on the headphone), a braided cable, a magnetic leather cable tie and lastly a small user manual.
The ADVANCED Alpha is an open-back, over-the-ear headphone. Just looking at the Alpha, it is a beautiful headphone. The headphone features a blend of both pleather, metal and plastic parts for the overall make. Metal parts make up most of the Alpha’s design. The headband arch uses a metal strap and joining it to the earcups is a small knurled strip that is also used to denote the left and right earcups. The floating pleather headband is thick and soft to the touch.
The earcups are large, and the openings on the earpads are good. Compared to the extra earpads, the earpads that come with the headphone are thicker than the extras. The earpads are easily removable, twist to remove, and are also secured very well. Protecting the headphone’s driver is a metal grill that is distinctive in its way.
The comfort of the ADVANCED Alpha is a mixed suite of the headphone. The headphone’s earpads are plush, thick enough and sit comfortably over the ears. The Alpha’s are on the heavier side (397g), but the headband does a very good job of balancing the weight evenly on the head and around the ears. The clamping pressure of this headphone is however tight. This makes it very challenging to have the headphones on for long listening sessions. If you have a small head, the clamping force might be good, but otherwise, the clamp of this headphone remains too tight for some people.
To improve the sound signature, the Alpha needs to be paired with a good amp. If they are not properly amped, sibilance seems to occur. The bass also shows improved performance with a good amp pairing.
The sound signature of the ADVANCED Alpha comes out as very balanced. The bass is well extended and tight, but overall just flat. The sub-bass is not rolled off but lacks texture and substance. The upper-bass response is good, and the transition to the mids is nicely executed. The mids come out as a strong part of the Alpha. Instruments sound right and natural, female vocals are great and come out without sounding forced. The treble of the ADVANCED Alpha is a hit and a miss. The treble extension is good and while they come out as detailed and airy, the upper frequencies a little bit uneven, which makes some tracks harsh to the ears.