Best Planar Magnetic Headphones for an Immersive Hi-Fi Experience
Hardcore audiophiles can appreciate the benefits of planar magnetic headphones. A thin lightning fast diaphragm moving between two magnets delivers a sound quality that few other headphones can match.
But these planar headphones, as any other audio gear, come with their fair share of downsides as well. They all have different features and the prices can vary significantly so it’s not always easy to pick up a perfect set.
To help you make an informed decision, I’ve reviewed some of the best planar magnetic headphones currently available.
My 8 Favorite Planar Magnetic Headphones
In my opinion, these offer the best value for money among the currently available planar magnetic headphones.
Table of Contents
- My 8 Favorite Planar Magnetic Headphones
- Buyers' Guide
1. OPPO PM-3
The PM-3 has an elegant look and excellent noise cancelation. In addition, these OPPO headphones offer a listening experience that most audiophiles would covet.
To be more precise, PM-3 headphones provide a nearfield experience, if not the same as enjoying music on a premium amplifier or 2-channel speakers. But the form factor is quite different. This OPPO is among the lightest planar headphones out there.
The lightweight nature of the PM-3 contributes to the outstanding comfort. You shouldn’t have any problems listening to your favorite music for hours on end. However, true audiophiles will cherish the headphones’ noise canceling properties.
Namely, the OPPO PM-3 is a pair of closed-back headphones which deliver exceptional isolation from any outside noise and minimize sound leakage. The PM-3 is a pair of mid-priced headphones if you can find a pair at its MSRP.
These headphones really live up to their name. The M1060 looks and feels monolithic and delivers a matching sound quality. I should also mention that they are packed with advanced technology to give you the best possible listening experience.
The Monolith M1060 headphones come with special 106mm planar drivers. These drivers are capable of very low distortion even at high volume. The sound is optimally balanced to retrieve an exceptional range of details from the recording. These headphones feature 10Hz to 50kHz frequency response and 50Ω impedance.
The M1060 uses an open-back design. I really like this kind of design because it delivers sound quality that is closer to that of a live performance. In other words, these headphones don’t close you off from the surroundings but rather provide an all-around immersive sound.
Even though these Monolith planars are big and robust, they are quite comfortable for everyday use. The earpads are made of high-quality faux leather and there is some extra padding on the headband for additional comfort.
The Hifiman HE400S headphones are remarkably affordable and good-looking, and they offer a nice bang for the buck with respect to the sound quality. And to top it all off, the headphones weigh only 350 grams.
In terms of sound, these planar headphones might even be compared to some more expensive models. They deliver crisp, lifelike clarity and a well-defined bass. The thing that I particularly like about this model is their ability to present a wide soundstage.
In other words, the sound of these headphones gives you a sense of spaciousness and width. But let’s not forget how comfortable these Hifiman planars are. They have soft on-ear cushions and there is some additional cushioning on the headband.
Overall, the combination of sound quality, comfort, and affordable make these Hifiman planar headphones an option worth considering.
4. Audeze LCD-2
The Audeze LCD-2 is truly a piece of audio gear that can satisfy even the most demanding audiophiles. The sound quality can only be matched by a few other headphones and the overall design exudes high-end elegance and build quality.
I really like the fact that there is almost no distortion with these headphones. The extremely low distortion is possible for the use of special NASA-grade diaphragms. The diaphragms are much larger than standard and thinner than the human hair.
The LCD-2 headphones provide a remarkably open soundstage with crystal midrange and low frequencies that reach the sub-bass level. The dynamic range and contrast are hard to match. They can go from the softest passage to the loudest explosion of sounds and back with aplomb. Each subtle sound variation in the recording is audible to provide the most faithful music reproduction.
But the engineering excellence doesn’t stop at the sound quality. These headphones feature real leather ear cushions with acoustical foam inside. The earcups come with rosewood rings which add a nice aesthetic touch to the headphones.
I like the fact that the Hifiman HE-560 be used in a studio as well as at home. They have the sound quality to match the innovative engineering solutions. What’s more, the HE-560 headphones look cool and they are quite lightweight which adds to the comfort factor.
At this price, you can’t expect large drivers as those found in full-size planar magnetic headphones but rest assured that these Hifiman headphones sound great in their own right. You can expect rich soundstage and excellent spatial imaging.
Moreover, there is another engineering solution that I find interesting as it helps the headphones transfer each sonic detail. These Hifiman headphones come with an improved cable that uses silver and copper conductor and excellent shielding for faithful signal transfer.
It is worth mentioning that the headphones feature real wood ear cups that add to the beautiful classic look. All things considered, the HE-560 offers value for the money.
If you are looking for the best of the best, the Hifiman HE1000 is for you. You would be hard-pressed to find something not to like about them, except maybe the steep price tag.
To begin with, the HE1000 is the first planar headphones to feature nanometer thick diaphragms. There is also an advanced asymmetrical magnetic circuit that works in perfect unison with the drivers. For this reason, the amazing sound quality doesn’t come at the cost of extremely low driver efficiency.
For a pair of high-end headphones, these are not too difficult to drive. While they’re not going to work with your phone or laptop, you won’t need an expensive headphone amp either.
I should stress that these headphones have the ability to deliver otherworldly sound quality. The distortion is almost non-existent and the soundstage properties are probably close to the Sydney Opera House. On top of that, the HE100 also comes with Hifiman’s patented Window Shade System.
What this system does is optimize the open-case design of the headphones and reduce sonic reflections within the earcups that can muddy up the sound ever so slightly. The result is a deep and wide 3-dimensional soundstage.
In my opinion, the Blue Ella headphones give us a glimpse into the future of planar magnetics. These compact planar headphones feature decent driver size, innovative headrest and earcup design, and a built-in amp.
With the 250mW onboard amp, you won’t have to invest in an outboard headphone amplifier, which you’ll need for most planar magnetic headphones for they are notoriously difficult to drive. With the built-in amplifier, the double-sided magnetic technology delivers excellent impact and accuracy. The magnets have a self-tensioned push-pull structure designed for the fastest response.
I also like the large earcups that make excellent soundstage and clean dynamics possible. Listening to your favorite music via the Blue Ella opens up a completely new range of details.
Despite their small stature, the sound quality of the iSINE LX earphones is comparable to some over-ear models.
The 30mm drivers are made of NASA-grade material. They are responsible for the low distortion and punchy bass. When it comes to the soundstage, hardly any in-ear headphones can even come close to the Audeze ISINE LX.
These small planar magnetic earphones deliver crystal clear sound with well-balanced treble and a bass energy that you might expect from bigger headphones. Besides the sound quality, I particularly like the way these earphones fit. The adjustable hooks contour to the ear so you don’t have to worry about these earphones slipping off even if you go running with them.
In this section, I’ll go over some key features that can help you come up with your perfect planar headphones.
How Do Planar Magnetic Headphones Work?
The drivers on planar magnetic headphones are designed as a crossover between electrostatic and dynamic drivers. These headphones employ the same magnetic field that moves the diaphragm as found in dynamic headphones. On the other hand, the ultra-thin diaphragm is similar to the one in an electrostatic driver.
Unlike electrostats that depend on stators to create the charge, the planar magnetic diaphragm uses thin flat wires that act as conductors and a set of magnets behind and in front of the diaphragm. When current goes through the conductor, the magnetic field interferes with those of the magnets to move the diaphragm and create sound.
Why Are Planar Magnetic Headphones Better?
There are a few key characteristics that make planar magnetic headphones sound better than regular headphones. First, these headphones are more durable because there are fewer moving parts that can cause sonic degradation. In addition, planar drivers are also better at dealing with heat.
As for the sound, planar headphones are capable of much lower distortion and greater frequency response range. This is because the magnetic force can drive the very thin diaphragm much faster. The speed of the diaphragm also makes these headphones more responsive and accurate vis-à-vis the input signal.
Open vs Closed-Back Planar Headphones
You might be wondering which option would be better for you, open or closed back. In essence, the choice depends on what you are looking for. Closed-back earcups can usually deliver stronger low frequencies. Like in a room, closed spaces enhance bass production.
Open-back earcups, on the other hand, might leak more sound in and out, but they can provide a more natural sound. I should point out that the difference between open or closed earcup design is not going to be anywhere as big as the difference in quality of the drivers.
So, you should definitely test out a pair of headphones to see if the sound is good enough for you. If it is, don’t worry about whether the earcups are closed or open.
What to Look for in Planar Headphones?
Your wish list may vary significantly depending on your budget. But let’s imagine you have a few hundred dollars to spend on a pair of planar headphones. The first thing to look for is the driver technology.
After that, you should consider the overall build quality with an eye for durable materials like wood or metal. The headphones also need to be comfortable.
Lastly, consider how you are going to use the headphones. If you want to carry them around wherever you go, they need to be lightweight as well.
In this write-up, I’ve featured a few planar magnetic headphones that I think offer the best value for money. It would be hard to pick one out as the overall winner because each of them has a unique set of pros and cons. Thus, the final choice really comes down to what you're looking for primarily.