Just like IEMs, headphones also utilize different types of drivers. The most common driver types are dynamic and planar magnetic. Dynamic drivers are found in most consumer headphones and professional headphones such as the Sennheiser HD800s and Sennheiser HD660s. Planar magnetic headphones, on the other hand, are more reserved for enthusiast-grade headphones such as Hifiman and Audeze’s offerings.
There is a distinct difference between the sound characteristics between planar magnetic and dynamic headphones. This does not apply to all dynamic and planar magnetic headphones, but most of the time, planar magnetic headphones have more energy (especially in the bass region) and can give a more enjoyable music experience. Dynamic headphones, on the other hand, have better accuracy.
Both headphones are excellent choices for music listening, and both options have produced solid models. But if you are curious about planar magnetic headphones and are ready to jump into the high-end headphone scene, then we have a list of the most popular planar magnetic models.
Some of these models may benefit from having a headphone amplifier or DAC/Amp. Make sure to check our Best Headphone Amplifiers and Best DAC/Amps articles. Also, if you are more interested in audiophile headphones, regardless of the driver type, check out our Best Audiophile Headphones article.
Hifiman X Drop HE4XX – Best Budget
If you are looking to get into planar magnetic headphones but don’t have the budget for the Sundara, then the Hifiman x Drop HE4XX is a great budget alternative. The HE4XX is based on the Hifiman HE 400. This model is one of Drop (formerly Massdrop) and Hifiman’s first collaborations similar to Sennheiser and Drop’s HD6XX.
The HE4XX is a well-built pair. The clamping force is minimal, and the headphones are lightweight. The earpads also feel great with their hybrid velour and pleather design.
The only downside in the design is that the earcups do not have an oval shape like the Drop HD58X and HD6XX. Larger ears may begin touching the drivers. However, since the clamping force is not strong, your ears won’t start hurting during longer listening sessions.
The HE4XX only has an impedance of 32 ohms. However, since it has a sensitivity of 93 dB (lower than the HD6XX), it will require a dedicated headphone amplifier. It will work with portable sources such as smartphones, but having more power will unlock the HE4XX’s true potential.
This is a bit odd since some design elements like the angled 3.5mm termination on the cable indicate that this can be a portable pair. This is not the case, primarily since it is heavy, and it is an open-back headphone. These do not have any form of isolation and will also leak the music you are listening to.
Now, let us talk about sound quality. The thing that sets Hifiman’s offerings apart from their competitors is that they don’t try to be extremely accurate headphones. They are not made for dissecting and extracting every little detail on your music.
They do not sound flat, which for some people sounds boring. Highs are still detailed on these headphones, but they do not take the front seat. They complete the sound by having enough air and extension, but you do not get the feeling that they are shouting on you. To sum it up, these highs are smooth and non-fatiguing.
The mids on the HE4XX are neutral. They do not need to compete with the rest of the frequencies. They shine through whenever they are needed. One thing to note is that these subdued highs and mids can sound veiled at times, especially when compared to the HD6XX and HD58X, which we will get to in a bit.
The lows on the HE4XX showcase what planar drivers can do. They have that signature planar slam and have more quantity and quality compared to open-back dynamic headphones like the Drop HD6XX.
The HE4XX’s sound signature is very pleasing to the ears. It has the technicalities to extract the small details but is also forgiving and allows you to have an enjoyable listen.
The closest competitors of the HE4XX in terms of price are the Drop HD6XX and HD58X. The HD6XX series headphones have their appeal and have pretty much defined the mid-fi market during the last decade. If you find those headphones to sound bland or clinical sounding due to the lack of bass, then these headphones would be a better fit for you.
However, if you value clarity and detail in the mids and highs, then both the HD58X and HD6XX will be a better fit for you. It just comes down to your listening preferences.
Overall, the Drop HE4XX is one of the best entry-level planar magnetic headphones. The sound quality that you get from the HE4XX rivals most dynamic driver headphones in its price range. It is not the most technical planar magnetic headphone, but you can’t complain considering its asking price. You should be satisfied with the HE4XX and should not need an upgrade until you can afford the Hifiman Sundara.
If you are interested in Drop’s other offerings, we have a List of Best Drop Headphones on our website.
Hifiman Sundara – Best Value
The Hifiman Sundara is Hifiman’s sub 500 USD planar magnetic headphone. It manages to capture the magic of the higher-end Hifiman headphones and is arguably the best introduction to planar magnetic headphones. It has the sound quality that should impress anyone looking for at this very competitive price range.
The Hifiman Sundara shares the same design elements with the entry-level Drop HE4XX but with a more modern look and the new Hifiman headband design. The headband is self-adjusting, similar to other higher-end Hifiman headphones.
In terms of the sound quality, the Hifiman Sundara retains the clear and punchy bass that the Hifiman HE4XX is known for. However, it significantly improves upon the midrange and highs of the HE4XX. Both the mids and highs have more detail, have better clarity, and do not exhibit the veil that some user notice on the HE4XX.
The midrange is once again perfectly balanced between the highs and lows. They exhibit excellent detail and clarity and have a good amount of separation from other instruments. Both male and female vocals are handled well by the Sundara without encountering any noticeable peaks.
The highs on the Sundara are well extended. It manages to have excellent clarity and detail retrieval without sounding too harsh. They do sound brighter compared to the HE4XX but not as bright as other headphones in this price range, like the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro.
The Sundara has excellent imaging and soundstage. Its soundstage is not the widest since there are other planar magnetic and dynamic headphones that have a wider soundstage. However, it does the job of conveying a natural experience.
The imaging, on the other hand, is excellent. It is easy to tell the direction of sounds. This certainly helps when using the Hifiman Sundara for gaming.
The Hifiman Sundara is often compared to the Sennheiser HD660s and Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro since they are at the same price point. In terms of the sound signature, the Hifiman Sundara sits between these two models. Compared to the HD660s, the Sundara is more lively and engaging.
The mids are more forward and more prominent on the HD660s, but the bass is stronger and more detailed on the Sundara. Compared to the DT 1990 Pro, the DT 1990 Pro has more highs.
However, it is known that the highs on the DT 1990 Pro can be very fatiguing. The Sundara handles it much better in this regard. It is very much capable, like the other two models, but its sound characteristics should fit the preferences of more people.
Overall, the Hifiman Sundara provides an enjoyable listen. It perfectly balances accuracy and enjoyment. If you want the best value out of your money, then you should check out the Hifiman Sundara.
Monoprice Monolith M1070
Monolith is not exactly a household brand in the audio industry. Their parent company, Monoprice, is known for making a lot of things, and headphones are not exactly their specialty. They have made a couple of headphones such as the infamous M1060 as well as amplifiers such as the Liquid Spark.
Now, they are back again with another budget planar magnetic headphone, the Monolith Monoprice M1070. As its name suggests, it is the follow up to the successful Monolith M1060. It aims to make modifications and alleviate various build quality concerns that were found in the original model.
Most of the changes aimed to address the complaints that users had with the M1060. The M1060 featured detachable 2.5mm cables. Most users complained that this was a weak connection, so Monolith implemented a 3.5mm connection for the M1070.
Another complaint was the non-removable pads on the M1060. You could change the pads, but you could potentially damage the headphones during the process. The M1070’s pads are still not easy to remove, but at least it is now removable. The M1070 also comes with velour pads as a bonus.
Those two were just minor complaints. One of the biggest major complaints that users had was the wooden earcups found in the M1060. The wooden ear cups were beautiful and added a premium feel to the earphones. However, the wood material wasn’t as durable as plastic or aluminum. The wooden ear cups made the headphones feel fragile and required more maintenance.
The M1070 changes this by using plastic instead of wood. The color scheme is also changed to black, which arguably gives it a classier look. It now fits in well with other premium planar magnetic headphones in the same price range.
As for the sound quality, the M1070 is easy to listen to and provides a relaxed listening experience. It is leaning towards the warmer side with its smooth and inoffensive highs. It still does not have the strongest bass, but it is still a very respectable performer in its price range.
The midrange has a different approach compared to similarly priced headphones like the Hifiman Sundara. The presentation of the midrange for the Sundara is wider, while the M1070 is more focused. It isn’t as forward or highlighted as the Sennheiser HD660s, but it manages to achieve a similar effect.
The only area where some users have mixed feelings about the M1070 is the highs. The highs have a bit of a peak in the upper treble around the 8-10Khz area. The M1070 does a great job of avoiding sibilance, but the treble feels active and energetic most of the time, which can result in a slightly fatiguing experience on specific tracks.
Overall, the Monolith M1070 manages to improve a lot of the criticisms found in the original M1060. It is now a product that can compete with most of the headphones on this list without having to worry about any weird build quality concerns.
Audeze LCD 2C
Apart from the Audeze LCD1, the Audeze LCD 2C (LCD 2 Classic) is one of the more affordable entries in the LCD line. It is significantly more expensive than most of the headphones on this list, and it shows in the build and sound quality. (It is worth noting that the LCD 2C is a different product from the LCD 2 and LCD 2 Closed Back).
The LCD 2C really screams quality. The headphones are built really well and are mostly made of metal. The earpads also feel amazing and should not need any immediate aftermarket replacement. The LCD 2C also significantly weighs more than the other brands on this list but still manages to remain comfortable when worn.
The LCD 2C has an impedance of 70 ohms and does not necessarily need an amplifier, but like most high-end headphones, having a headphone amplifier unlocks the full experience. In terms of the sound quality, the LCD 2C is a warm and enjoyable pair.
The treble on the LCD 2C is smooth and laid back. It manages to capture a lot of detail but is not constantly shouting at you. It completes the sound of most tracks by adding sparkle, but it does not try to overextend and steal the show.
The midrange is forward on the LCD 2C. It feels very organic and natural to listen to. The drivers on the LCD 2C does an excellent job in making the vocals feel massive, especially on live recordings.
The vocals on the LCD 2C feels as if they have some sort of enhancement. They don’t accurately represent the original recording in a way that they don’t sound clinical. They just give it some sort of magic to make it a more enjoyable listening experience.
In terms of the imaging and soundstage, some dynamic headphones around the same price point can outperform the LCD 2C. The LCD 2C isn’t a headphone with a massive soundstage or tight imaging, but they do an adequate job in representing the imaging and soundstage. You can still easily discern the direction of audio with the LCD 2C.
In terms of the bass response, the LCD 2C does an excellent job. It is a clear step above the more affordable planar magnetic headphones. It has that signature planar magnetic slam that hits hard. The bass performance of the LCD 2C is one of the most satisfying on this price range.
Overall, if you want a more relaxed and enjoyable listening experience, then the Audeze LCD 2C is one of the best. Again, it is not the most accurate sounding headphones and can be weak with some professional applications. However, for relaxation and enjoyment, the LCD 2 is hard to beat.
If you want a product that is a step up from the Hifiman Sundara, the next upgrade would be the Hifiman Ananda. The Ananda follows the same formula that the Sundara and HE4XX uses. It is not a headphone that strictly competes with technical headphones.
It has the technicalities to match its price point but is not tuned to be flat or anemic. It highly prioritizes the enjoyment of the listener over the raw technical performance. This has been the core concept and the reason why Hifiman headphones have been so successful.
In terms of build quality, the Ananda follows the trend set by other high-end headphones. It utilizes a metal construction for the frame and in most crucial areas of the headphone. It also uses the new self-adjusting headband found in the Sundara. Despite the materials used, it maintains its lightweight design. It is so good that Hifiman even had the crazy idea of making the Ananda BT, a Bluetooth version of the Ananda.
As for the sound signature, the bass is not its strongest feature. It is not a strong or thumping bass, but it is clean and well-controlled. They do an adequate job of completing the overall sound by adding body but do not overextend or try to steal the show.
The mids are similar to the bass. They are clean and well detailed but lack a bit of sparkle to make them truly great. Highs are forward but are not fatiguing like the Beyerdynamic T1/1990 Pro or Sennheiser HD800s.
The caveat here is that while there are plenty of highs, its smoothness sometimes prevents it from being as detailed as those treble peaky headphones. In terms of soundstage, the Ananda is fairly open sounding. It does not have the widest soundstage, but it is a very breathable and open sound. The imaging is also spot on and performs as expected for its price range.
Now compared to the Sundara, the Ananda is more refined in almost every category except for the bass response. The imaging and soundstage are marginally improved in the Ananda. The detail retrieval is also more spot-on in the Ananda.
Mids and highs feel smoother on the Ananda. However, the bass does not have the same punch as the Sundara. It has more energy than the Ananda, which is part of the more refined sound that you get, but for some people, the impact of the Sundara’s less refined bass response is missing.
However, overall, the Ananda is better in almost every way compared to the Sundara. If the sound signature of the Sundara pleases you, then the Ananda will be even better.
Overall, the Ananda is smooth sounding and inoffensive. If you are a fan of Hifiman’s other planar magnetic offerings such as the Sundara, then make sure to give the Ananda a try.
Dan Clark Audio X Drop Aeon Flow X
Dan Clark Audio initially made waves when they were able to challenge the planar magnetic industry leaders, Hifiman and Audeze. They were initially called MrSpeakers and later rebranded to Dan Clark Audio.
Like most collaborations, Drop is introducing Dan Clark Audio’s products to the mainstream market by bringing them to yet another affordable price point. This time, the product that they are introducing is the Aeon Flow Open X. This is Drop’s version of the original Aeon Flow Open with a few tweaks and modifications. This is a planar magnetic headphone that is widely considered to be an improvement and modern version of the beloved Sennheiser HD650/HD600 series.
It takes the sound signature of the well-loved HD650 and eliminates its weaknesses. The planar magnetic drivers add more definition and presence to the low end. The highs are also better extended than the HD650. And of course, the sound stage is wider.
The result is a headphone that sounds warm, has full of energy, and smooth in the high-end. It masterfully showcases what planar magnetic drivers can do. Additionally, you get filters that can be added to the earpads in order to tweak the sound. Some filters add more bass while some add more highs.
In terms of the soundstage, the Aeon Flow X isn’t the biggest. It is leaning more to the realistic side, which should be adequate for music and games. Imaging is also spot on, and you should not have any trouble when using this pair for gaming.
One thing to note is that the Aeon Flow X is not a headphone for crystal clear highs. It is there, and it does not lack in any way, but some dynamic headphones like the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro have more detail in the highs. It is a smooth and relaxed sound, though, which should not cause any listening fatigue.
The Aeon Flow is also available in a closed-back model. This takes the Open’s sound signature but further adds sub-bass and has better isolation due to the design. Drop has not yet made their version of this model. We may soon see this due to the Aeon Flow Open X’s popularity.
Overall, if you are a fan of the HD6XX sound signature and want a true upgrade, then the Aeon Flow Open X is your best bet. Considering that the Aeon Flow Open X is almost twice the price of Drop’s model, this is a very good deal.
Audeze LCD 4 – High-End Pick
Another planar magnetic headphone on this list is the Audeze LCD 4. This headphone is a contender for the number 1 spot on any list. After all, the Audeze LCD 4 is Audeze’s flagship pair. And Audeze is already taking over the high-end audio world.
The Audeze LCD 4 is a headphone that is aimed towards a different market compared to Sennheiser and Beyerdynamic’s offerings. With that in mind, out of three high-end headphones that we have here, the Audeze LCD 4 is the unique sounding. It is up there when it comes to technicalities, but its approach to sound is different.
In terms of its sound signature, the LCD 4 is a nice change of pace. It does not have the highly analytical highs that are present with the other two headphones. This means that it will not hurt your ears for extended listening sessions. Despite this, the highs remain clear and clean.
Bass response and mids, on the other hand, remain fairly flat. Low notes are reproduced with that planar magnetic slam that is missing from most dynamic driver headphones. The notes can go as low as 20 Hz without being too muddy.
The midrange is reproduced beautifully without sounding too artificial. With that being said, the main weakness of these headphones for this price range is its imaging and soundstage. The soundstage is, of course, larger than most headphones below the high-end price range, but it is still not approaching the levels of the HD800s.
Imaging is also not the best. You can tell where the direction is coming from, but it is still not as good as other headphones that specialize in this aspect. The Audeze LCD 4 does not seem to be interested in competing against other brands in this aspect.
Instead, the goal of the Audeze LCD 4 is to create a pleasing and relaxing sound that is refined throughout the spectrum. It does not present any features that are the best in its class. However, the whole package is one of the best that you can buy for the money.
Overall, if you are not looking for a reference headphone that can be used professionally but instead looking for a headphone that has a pleasing and relaxing sound that has a refined sound signature, then the Audeze LCD 4 is the best headphone for you.