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Best planar magnetic headphones for 2024

Everything you need to know about planar magnetic headphones, plus our 5 top picks

In this article: We'll talk about how planar magnetic headphones work and what makes them different from other headphones. And I'll share my top picks...

  1. Best planar magnetic headphones for bass — Meze Audio LIRIC
  2. Best planar magnetic headphones for gaming — Audeze Maxwell
  3. Best planar magnetic headphones for mixing — Audeze MM-500
  4. Best high-performance planar magnetic headphones — Meze Audio Elite
  5. Most lightweight planar magnetic headphones — Dan Clark Audio AEON 2

...along with some tips for choosing the right planar magnetic headphones and getting the most out of them.

P

lanar magnetic headphones were a unicorn for me when I started working at Crutchfield. I'd only heard of them in passing and was completely intrigued by their nature and how they worked.

I had to know more. I found myself first doing research on how they worked and how they perform and eventually got my hands on a few different pairs. After countless demo sessions, I was sold.

Archer, sitting at his desk at home, with several headphones hanging from hooks on the wall

Me in my home office, surrounded by headphones I own.

Planar magnetic headphones have been growing in popularity in recent years, thanks to the incredible efforts of industry leaders like Audeze, Meze Audio, and more. If you're curious as to how planar magnetic headphones compare to regular headphones, read on and see what makes these interesting headphones tick.

Are planar magnetic headphones right for you?

I'd like to rip the metaphorical bandaid off first thing by saying that planar magnetic headphones are some of the heaviest models on the market. They're hefty by nature, as the motor structures they use have large magnets, and with large magnets comes more weight.

Although companies are finding ways to alleviate this problem and the pressure the added weight puts on the apex of your skull, a pair of planar magnetic headphones can be uncomfortable if you're used to fairly lightweight dynamic headphones.

Planar magnetic headphones also tend to be larger than regular dynamic headphones, and cover more of the area around your ear with their ear cups. If you're not comfortable with the extra weight or the larger size, I'd recommend going with dynamic headphones instead.

Planar magnetic vs dynamic headphones

Traditional headphones use dynamic drivers. These work the most like the speakers we're all familiar with, using an internal motor structure to move the driver back and forth and generate sound.

exploded view of a dynamic headphone driver

Expanded view of a dynamic driver. Second from the left is the driver itself with the voice coil, former, and magnets behind it.

They can move some air during that linear travel, and that helps to add some rumble and impact to the bass. Just like with a speaker, driver sizes are everything. The most common driver size for dynamic headphones is 40mm, but you'll run across sizes ranging from 10mm in some in-ear models all the way up to 100mm or more on larger over-ear models.

Planar magnetics, on the other hand, inherently have larger diaphragms to give the sound more surface area to travel across, which in turn nets you better sound quality.

Key driver differences

Planar magnetics work differently than the headphones most people are accustomed to. Rather than using a cone, they have a thin diaphragm with a conductor running through it, either placed in front of a single magnet or sandwiched between two large magnets. Once electrical current is applied, that diaphragm moves back and forth thousands of times per second to generate sound. It's not uncommon to find 75mm to 120mm or oblong drivers housed inside their ear cups.

an exploded view of the parts of a planar magnetic headphone

Expanded view of a planar magnetic driver. Third from the left is the first magnet, followed by the diaphragm and second magnet.

There are a multitude of benefits to using that kind of design. There's no traditional motor structure (like a former and voice coil) behind the driver itself. That lets the diaphragm of planar magnetics move more evenly within the magnetic field. Because of that, there's virtually no distortion and an extremely low chance of the diaphragm "wobbling" like a speaker cone or dynamic driver could.

Since there's almost no chance of distortion, don't be afraid to throw the most bass-heavy tracks you have at planars. You can expect the bass to be extremely crisp down to the lowest frequencies.

How do planar magnetic headphones sound?

Planar magnetic headphones have a unique sound that I’ve come to prefer. It's astoundingly clear and precise thanks to that thin diaphragm I mentioned earlier. The movement is lighting quick, so expect an accurate, lifelike attack and decay. Soundstage separation is equally as impressive. It's easy to pick out where instruments are when everything has its own "place" in the soundfield.

On the other hand, dynamic headphones are more versatile. They don't have a specific "sound". They come in all kinds of flavors and each one uses a slightly different driver material and magnet size. Some dynamic headphones have a rich, warm sound while others have a notable sharpness and quickness to them. While planar magnetic headphones may not have as much warmth or versatility as some dynamics, they more than make up for it with the concert-like sonic experiences they're capable of.

My top planar magnetic picks

Now that we've hammered out the primary differences between planar magnetics and "regular" headphones, it's a good time to talk about some cans my Crutchfield colleages and I have tried out and enjoyed.

You might notice there are a lot of Audeze products on the list. That's because Audeze has been an innovator in the planar magnetic realm since its inception in 2009. They also captivated my heart nine years later when I picked up a set of their LCD-2s.

The company has focused on keeping the bar for sound quality high while making their planar magnetic headphones easier to carry around when you're on the go and less bulky when they're on your head.

Their patented Fluxor magnet array is the company's pride and joy and helped make modern-day planar magnetics what they are. Audeze chose to develop them because they create a stronger magnetic field than traditional magnets of the same weight. That means the magnets can more efficiently push the driver and have more control over how the diaphragm moves.

It also means they can use thinner conductors throughout the diaphragm, giving the headphones faster and more accurate movement. As they put it, the magnets "help harness the lightning so you can hear the thunder."

I'd say that's being humble.

Meze LIRIC planar magnetic headphones

Best planar magnetic headphones for bass — Meze Audio LIRIC

The LIRIC headphones from Meze are, in a word, fantastic. These headphones are Meze's first closed-back planar magnetic headphones. Despite their enclosed earcups, they have a surprisingly spacious sound that draws you into your music.

Meze developed an optimized driver for these headphones to maintain fidelity in a closed-back environment. The bass on the LIRIC headphones cannot be understated. They have no trouble gracefully digging into those uber-low bass notes and holding them without distortion.The mids and highs have tons of texture and warmth without sounding muddy.

The LIRIC headphones are machined and hand-assembled at Meze's headquarters in their home country of Romania. The shock-resistant magnesium frame gives them extra durability should harm ever come their way. And if you're worried about comfort — don't be. The spring-steel headband evenly distributes the headphone's weight across the apex of your skull, making them a dream to wear

Details

  • Closed-back planar magnetic headphones
  • Sensitivity: 130dB
  • Frequency response: 4-92,000 Hz

Audeze Maxwell gaming headset

Best planar magnetic headphones for gaming — Audeze Maxwell

The Audeze Maxwell isn't Audeze’s first gaming headset. These headphones take all the company's previous headset experience and combine it to give you spectacular sound quality that’s sure to step up your game.

If you’re creeping around corridors as an attacker in Rainbow Six® Siege trying not to get taken out by that pesky Jäger player, these give you a sense of spaciousness and depth that’ll give you an advantage when you breach. You can further customize their sound in the Audeze HQ desktop app.

They also have Bluetooth so you can stream directly from your computer or console to the headset. And don't worry about ambient noise muddying your sound. The sealed earcups do a pretty great job of passively blocking out external noise.

The Maxwells boast an impressive battery life of about 80 hours before they need to be recharged, keeping you in the game for longer. When their battery is depleted, the Maxwells recharge to 80% in about three hours.

Details

  • Self-powered — no need for a headphone amp
  • Built-in battery rated for up to 80 hours of wireless use
  • Frequency response: 10-50,000 Hz

Audeze MM-500 studio headphones

Best planar magnetic headphones for mixing — Audeze MM-500

Audeze teamed up with legendary producer Manny Marroquin to craft the MM-500 planar magnetic headphones. These open-backed beauties were five years in the making. Audeze and Marroquin spent that time tweaking the sound and lightening the overall weight of the headphones.

These planar magnetic headphones were made to act and sound like a dedicated set of studio monitors that you can take with you anywhere. They have a neutral sound signature and the bass is stout and clear all the way down to the bottom of their frequency response.

The tuned drivers used in the MM-500s also give you more versatility with what you can use to power the headphones. Unlike other Audeze models, these can be powered with a small headphone amplifier or the amplifier built into most pro audio interfaces.

These headphones are a remarkable tool for producers to have in their arsenal whether they're at the studio or on the go.

Details

  • Impedance: 18 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 100dB
  • Frequency response: 5-50,000 Hz

Meze Audio Elite headphones

Best high-performance planar magnetic headphones — Meze Audio Elite

The Meze Audio Elite headphones are a feast for the eyes and the ears. These high-end planar magnetic headphones are a testament to Meze's ability to produce amazing headphones. Considering Meze puts over 20 hours into the aluminum machining process alone, it should come as no surprise that the Elites sound as premium as they look.

They teamed up again with the Ukranian research group Rinaro to revamp the drivers that give the Elites their signature sound. The new Parus® drivers are made from a thin and lightweight polymer. That lets them breeze through the entirety of their frequency response without a hiccup. They have soaring, beautiful highs, detail in spades, and the same authorative bass that Meze's headphones are renowned for.

Despite their size, the Elites practically disappear once you put them on. The earcups are made from lightweight aluminum and the headband and suspension system distribute the weight evenly across your head. The leather/Alcantara earpads hug the side of your head without applying any unnecessary pressure and keep the headphones in place.

Details

  • Impedance: 32 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 130dB
  • Frequency response: 3-112,000 Hz

Dan Clark AEON 2 closed-back planar magnetic headphones

Most lightweight planar magnetic headphones — Dan Clark Audio AEON 2

There are a lot of planar magnetic headphones out there, but you’d be hard pressed to find some as light as Dan Clark Audio’s AEON 2 closed-back headphones. Coming in at 12 ounces, they’re the least weighty pair of planar magnetic headphones we carry. Not only do these stylish over-ear headphones sound fantastic, they’re comfy enough to wear all day, too.

Dan Clark Audio gave careful consideration to the AEON 2’s design. They gave the headphones an ultra-light NiTinol — also known as “memory metal" — headband with a leather lining to increase comfort on the top of your head. The earcups are made from carbon fiber and plastic to further reduce weight. The D-shaped ear pads are crafted from memory foam and covered with a soft synthetic protein, lessening the pressure you feel on around your ears while the headphones are on.

The AEON 2s are designed and built in San Diego, California by Dan Clark Audio’s in-house headphone experts. This latest AEON iteration uses an updated driver structure that employs a powerful single-sided magnet to drive the headphones’ diaphragm more efficiently. The company’s TrueFlow™ tech reduces any audible turbulence that might occur during especially heavy tracks.

Details:

  • impedance: 13 ohms
  • sensitivity: 92 dB
  • feels lighter on the head than most over-ear planar magnetic headphones

How to choose the right planar magnetic headphones

If you're comfortable with their weight, you're already half-way there. The next thing I'd look at is what kind of power the headphones need. After that, consider where you'd like to use your headphones. That'll help you pick out a solid headphone amplifier to drive the headphones. Speaking of which...

Do you need a headphone amp?

Absolutely. Don't leave your planar magnetic headphones hurting for power. Much like a regular speaker, if your headphones aren't being powered properly, you'll be missing out on what they're capable of.

Cambridge Audio DacMagic200M

Cambridge Audio's DacMagic 200M can power most headphones with ease.

Understanding impedance and sensitivity

Impedance, measured in ohms, describes how much resistance a circuit has. Another way to think about it is how power hungry the headphones are. The higher the impedance, the more power you’re going to need.

Sensitivity is a measure of how loud a pair of headphones can get at a given volume level. The higher the sensitivity (also called efficiency), the louder you can expect the headphones to be and the less you’ll have to crank the volume knob. Anything over 90dB can be considered highly efficient, although it’s not uncommon to see headphones well over 100dB.

So, you might look at the specs on a pair of planar magnetic headphones and think, "I really like these. Since they have a 130dB sensitivity and a 31-ohm impedance I can totally run these off of my phone." That's not entirely correct, though.

Planar magnetics are tricky to drive and may seem confusing at first. The best way to think about planars is that they require a high power output at a low impedance — way more than what your smartphone, tablet, or PC can handle. They'll run off of your device, but you won't be getting the most out of them. The bass will be shy, the mids lacking, and the highs not clear enough.

If you'd like to do a deep dive on headphone amps and learn how to pick the right one, my buddy Jeff wrote a killer article that has everything you need to know in it.

Need some assistance?

Don’t hesitate to reach out to any of our advisors. They’re extremely knowledgeable and get hands-on with a lot of the gear we carry.

Popular questions customers ask

Most wireless headphones use Bluetooth to connect to your phone or other compatible device. They range from tiny earbuds to larger over-ear models. There are also specialized wireless headphones for TV that use a wireless transmitter instead of Bluetooth to connect to your TV or home audio system.

Noise-canceling headphones let you hear all the detail in your music without having to crank the volume to overcome external noise. These headphones use special circuitry to cancel out exterior sounds before they reach your ears. And theyÆre available in lots of styles, from small earbuds to cushier over-ear models.

We carry a range of wireless and true wireless Bluetooth earbuds to keep you moving during your workouts. The best sports headphones are durable and sweat-proof models that stay in place when you move around.

Over-ear and on-ear Bluetooth headphones tend to have much longer-lasting batteries than in-ear headphones, which are designed to be as small and light as possible. Wireless earbuds have batteries that can last up to around 12 hours, while larger headphones can offer 20-40 hours of use between charges — and even longer in some cases.

A good headphone amplifier is an option that will make an average set of headphones sound above average. If you're going to invest in expensive audiophile headphones (especially a model that has high impedance), a headphone amp is a must.

  • James

    Posted on 3/7/2023

    How do they compare to electrostatics?

  • Sarah from Wise, VA

    Posted on 2/26/2021

    Extremely well written and breaks down the technical aspects to where everyone can understand and find the product that fits their needs the best.

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