Planar magnetic headphones are some of the hottest things right now among audiophiles and all sorts of music lovers, and for very good reason – they have a wonderfully accurate, open and detailed sound with a kind of ease and musicality other types of headphones can’t quite match.
But what exactly are planar magnetic headphones? How do planar headphones work, and which ones are the best to buy? I’ll be answering just those questions, and others, in this buyer’s guide to planar magnetic headphones.
If you’re one of those educated, sophisticated, advanced audiophiles, already all in the know and whatnot, and just want to see the recommendations, here are a few of my top choices.
- The Best Planar Magnetic Headphones Overall: Hifiman Susvara Over-Ear Full Sized Planar Magnetic Headphones
- My Favorite Planar Magnetic Headphones: Audeze LCD-X Open-Backed Planar Magnetic Headphones
- Best Value in Planar Magnetic Headphones: Hifiman Edition XS Open-Back Planar Magnetic Headphones
- Best Wireless Planar Magnetic Headphones: Edifier Stax Spirit S3 Wireless Planar Magnetic Headphones
- Best Budget Planar Magnetic Headphones: Hifiman HE400SE Over-Ear Open-Back Full-Size Planar Magnetic Wired Headphones
What Are Planar Magnetic Headphones?
There are three main questions I, and pretty much everybody here at Speakergy, get quite frequently these days:
- What are Planar Headphones?
- How do Planar Magnetic Headphones Work?
- Which Planar Magnetic Headphones Should I Get?
And while I can’t speak for my colleagues, I also frequently get asked Are you really going to eat all of those fries? – though not from people who really know me…
So let’s answer the first two questions here, and we’ll get into the third below, in my list of recommendations. As for the fourth question, yes I am, and please keep your hands on your side of the table!
There are three basic types of headphones, each of which works a bit differently:
These are far and away the most prevalent and popular type of headphones on the market today – when you see ‘phones by Apple, JBL, Sony, Bose, Sennheiser, Beats or any of the other big (or small) companies, they are almost always dynamic headphones.
Dynamic headphones are essentially miniaturized speaker systems, which work just like the larger ones do. A voice coil – a wound coil of wire which conducts electricity – is attached to a speaker cone – usually made of some light, rigid and durable material like mylar or specially formulated paper, and that voice coil is suspended within a ring magnet.
When your phone, PC, stereo system, music player or other gadget sends a musical signal, that electric current goes through the voice coil, which makes it move relative to the inherent electrical field of the magnet, and so the speaker cone also moves, making sound.
That’s all there is to it, basically, and yet this simple system can recreate the most complex musical information, from the subtle nuances of an electric guitar or a human voice to the full reality of a symphony orchestra, and do so with great beauty and musicality.
Planar Magnetic Headphones
With planar magnetics the basic operating principle is the same – the interaction of an electrical signal conducted through wires and a magnetic field. The execution of this process is somewhat different, though, and this leads to often dramatically different results.
Instead of a relatively heavy coil of wires which is somehow bound to a speaker cone, like with normal dynamic headphones, planar magnetic headphones have a very thin and lightweight wire printed onto an extremely high quality sheet of mylar – which itself is also exceptionally thin and light.
When that electrical current carrying music from your phone, PC or other device comes through the printed wire, which along with the thin mylar diaphragm is suspended in a plane of magnets (hence “planar magnetic”), the diaphragm begins to move, making musical sound.
So why is this better? For one thing, the diaphragm, conductors and connections are much, much lighter than the relatively slow and massy ordinary voice coils and speaker cones, so planar magnetic headphones can move much more quickly and effortlessly, producing very low distortion sound with an easy, unforced nature and tons of detail. Also, the uniformly distributed electrical conductors allow a planar headphone’s driver to move more evenly, making for even less distortion and a more coherent sound.
Electrostatic headphones work on a fundamentally different principle, although they do employ a sheet of mylar as a driver which is very similar to the one used in planar magnetic headphones.
But instead of having electrically conductive material, the sound driver sheet in electrostatics are super-thin polyester with a conducive coating, and so as light and uniform as possible. This sheet is suspended between two grid plates, which alternatingly produce positive or negative energy – again based on the electrical musical signal from your playback device.
The coated polyester sound driver in electrostatic headphones has a positive charge, and when the grid plates, also called stators or stator plates, produce their alternatingly positive and negative charges the sound driver sheet is compelled to move back and forth, toward one stator or the other, producing a musical sound.
Without any electrical wiring or material printed onto them, the sound drivers in electrostatics are the lightest of the three types, and will produce the fastest, most detailed and lowest distortion sound, making these almost always very expensive headphones the top choice of audiophiles for decades – although in recent times planar magnetic designs have rivaled them in sound quality, musicality and ease, and some audiophiles actually prefer their sound.
So, Why Get Planar Magnetic Headphones?
This is the section of my buyer’s guides where I normally ask a question like:
Who Makes the Best Planar Magnetic Headphones?
…but we’ll get into that more below, in the actual recommendations.
Here we might instead talk about why planar magnetics have become so amazingly popular recently, and why both music lovers on a tight budget and no-compromise audiophiles are turning from dynamics and electrostatics to planar magnetics in such large numbers.
In the first instance, when compared to a normal dynamic headphone like a Sony, Bose, Apple or Sennheiser – all great sounding products – a planar magnetics can offer a much more musical sound, with a kind of ease and naturalness that those dynamic systems can’t quite manage.
Now it should be said that a typical dynamic headphone will offer a bit more bass, or at least a bit more impact on the low end – although the bass can be equalized up on any good planar ‘phones. Anyway, planars actually have better bass by far than most dynamics, with superb deep bass extension, speed and definition galore. And the entire spectrum, from the low end to the high frequencies, is significantly more detailed, more sweet and musical, with low distortion and real ease.
Now in the second case, of audiophiles who may not be so interested in saving money – heck, I know one guy who spent more on a pair of speaker cables than I spent on my speakers – planar magnetics can actually offer significant advantages over the darling of the hi-fi world, the exotic electrostatic.
For one thing, electrostatic headphones require a special amplifier, or in some cases what is known as a “sound exciter,” while with planars you can use any headphone amplifier, or connect them directly to any headphone jack. Audiophiles like to be able to choose between various amplifiers, to get the sound, the features and the synergy they want, and with electrostatics you might not have a choice at all.
But more importantly, the newest generation of planar magnetic headphones are simply superb. Even the inexpensive models are so wonderfully clear, easy and musical, and so awesomely high resolution, but when you get to the more expensive ones, and then especially the high end, you reach levels of definition, authority and beauty that can even best the best electrostats, and an overall sonic presentation that is simply stunning.
And, speaking of choice, while there are a very few companies making high end electrostatics, there are far more companies making high end planar magnetics, and so the audiophile is spoiled for choice.
Are There Any Disadvantages to Planar Magnetic Headphones?
In terms of sound quality, to my ears I would have to say no. I mean, yeah, a great pair of normal dynamic headphones will have a bit more bass impact, and some say they even have more dynamic impact overall, but when you listen carefully, or listen over the long term, and then compare them to planars, you begin to realize that so much of that “impact” is in fact subtle distortion or pressure.
Planars, on the other hand, have such an unforced quality, and so eventually – or for some of us right away – you begin to hear the real impact of the music itself, with dynamics that are both subtle and powerful, and drama that is never enhanced or emphasized, and so that much more dramatic.
From a practical standpoint, planar magnetic headphones require two things – good amplification and good source material. Revealing to the maximum, planar magnetics will sound phenomenal with even an inexpensive separate headphone amplifier, or with a decent music player or stereo system, but most PCs or smartphones, with their mediocre audio circuitry, will sound pretty poor.
Same is true with audio files. Almost any clean vinyl record played on a decent turntable will sound beautiful through planars, as will FLAC or APE lossless and higher resolution digital music files, and you can even get away with 320 MP3 files, especially if the original recording is well made. Poor original recordings in any format, dirty or damaged LPs or excessively lossy digital files, though, are out.
So, back to an earlier question: What are the Best Planar Headphones Available Today?
And, that asked, let’s go ahead and look at the choices. We’ll start with a couple of amazing affordable models, and then move up in price, finally arriving at a couple of amazing not-so-affordable models, both of which are often called the finest headphones on the planet.
The Best Planar Magnetic Headphones in 2023
Best Budget Planar Magnetic Headphones
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Often called the best value in high-end audio, the Hifiman 400 really are high end in every aspect except for price.
An inexplicably inexpensive set of headphones with amazing authority and confidence, the HE400SE have that signature Higiman sound – exceptionally flat, with good deep bass extension and a bit of a dark character in the mids.
As such, these are great headphones for people who are a bit sensitive to a brighter sound – even though the highs aren’t rolled off, they too have a bit of a dark character, still with plenty of detail but without a hint of sibilance or hardness.
We can definitely hear a more open quality in the company’s more expensive headphones, like the Sundara, which are still quite affordable – at least in audiophile terms – and flatter in frequency response. But the Sundara are still relatively expensive (and the Hifiman models just go up from there), and it may be more interesting and helpful to compare these Hifiman HE400 to other headphones at their – around 100 dollar – price level – and in these comparisons there is no question.
The 400 are often considered alongside Philips open-back dynamic headphones, like the SHP9600, but those Philips are much brighter and more aggressive – especially if you compare them head-to-head with the 400 – and lack the ability to really resolve finer and more subtle detail and dynamic inflection.
Also in this range are the Audio-Technica ATH-M30x, which are almost exactly the same price. Compared directly to the Hifiman, the ATs also sound a bit bright, and lack the finesse and ease of the 400s, but they are still wonderful headphones, with tons of detail and good – if over-emphasized – bass response. The Philips have better, more open and specific imaging and soundstage, the Audio-Technica better detail and resolution, but the Hifiman 400 trump them both pretty handily in both of these regards.
Perhaps the best comparison is with Sennheiser open-back headphones, especially the HD 599. These are a bit of a hi-fi legend too, just like the Hifiman, and have a similarly wonderfully open and spacious soundstage, great resolution of detail and dynamics, a warm and rich sound signature that is, nonetheless, quite flat and neutral, and a really satisfying musicality.
Still, for my money – and, to be clear, the Senns are close to 50 percent more expensive – the Hifiman are better headphones. Before I proceed, let me issue a formal apology to the several pairs of Sennheiser headphones I myself own, and take a moment to reflect on what I just said – I am, as some of my readers (and all of my friends and family) know, a Sennheiser fanboy.
Ok, thanks, I’m good now. And yes, the Hifiman have an ease, a speed and a lack of any kind of pressure or effort, which allows everything to just appear as it wants to appear. The Senns do this too, but the Hifiman have that elusive ability to really disappear. Again, not to the same extent as some of the much more expensive headphones on this list of best planar magnetics, but more than the Sennheiser, and more than anything else in this price range.
Exceptional resolution for a pair of headphones at this level, big, open and immersive soundstage, deep, fast and tight bass, dark and yet vivid midrange and smooth, nicely detailed highs, and ease and musicality that are so wonderful, and so exactly what we want and look for in any planar headphone – that’s the Hifiman HE400SE in a nutshell, and they are the best budget planar magnetics made today.
Exceptionally Open Closed-Backs!
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I know that a lot of budget-conscious audiophiles look to the Monolith M1060 headphones for the ultimate planar magnetic experience – even the ultimate musical experience – at this uber-competitive sub-300 dollar range, and I have spent a lot of time with the 1060s, and think they’re pretty wonderful ‘phones in many ways.
But here we’re talking about the Monolith M1060C headphones – notice the C on the end, which offers at least one pretty striking advantage – slam. Ok, C can’t stand for “Slam,” but in this case it should. What it does actually stand for is Closed, and these are a closed-back system, as opposed to the open-back system of the more popular 1060 – or, for that matter, most other planar magnetic designs.
I’ve already talked about how dynamic headphones can have more apparent musical energy than planar magnetics, a more hyped-up and dynamic sound, but don’t have that special planar quality. Well, the Monolith M1060C, to my ears at least, have that special quality in spades – really easy, effortless sound, smooth and yet ultra-detailed, super high resolution of so many musical cues and elements that go missing in most dynamics.
And they also have that apparent musical energy, as well as actual musical energy – and here’s where things get a bit weird with these headphones. Their closed design gives listening a kind of sound pressure, an immediate and quite exciting dynamic impact that may just be a bit unrealistic, but is pretty thrilling just the same. And, at the same time, the Monolith’s exceptionally well made ultra-light, ultra-low distortion diaphragm allows them to convey all of the actual musical energy as well, making both casual listening and serious listening equally enjoyable and satisfying.
Compared directly with their open brothers, the M1060C offer other real advantages. The open-backed model, despite its strong popularity and almost cultish following, has had some pretty serious issues, like strongly rolled off high frequencies, ringing resonance in the cases, a slight aggressiveness in vocals and also in upper mids, and the newer closed back 1060C are much flatter, with better detail on the high end, less brightness in the mids, and strong, deep and slamming bass – such beautifully slamming bass, in fact, that this alone makes the Cs a pretty addictive listen.
And, considering they’re a closed design, I’m almost tempted to say that these Monolith M1060C planar magnetic headphones have a more open and spacious soundstage than their open-backed linemates, and they really do cast an impressively large, clear and convincing musical picture. They are also quite efficient and easy to drive and have excellent isolation and little or no sound leakage.
So, if you think you might miss that kind of slightly over-hyped excitement that dynamic headphones offer, but still want the ease, subtlety and detail, the liquid musicality and extraordinary accuracy, of a planar magnetic, the Monolith M1060C are the best bet I know, and are so very exciting on so many levels.
Order a pair and I’m quite certain you will thank me – and if you’re like me and listen to music late, late at night, everybody else in your home will thank me too!
Best Wireless Planar Magnetic Headphones
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Here’s a little secret – I originally decided to write this article based on these very headphones, the new Edifier Stax Spirit S3. Why? Because they deserve much, much more love than they are getting!
First, a little background. Edifier purchased the legendary electrostatic headphone manufacturer Stax back in 2011, and already people were up in arms – how could some faceless electronics giant possibly understand and share the passion and innovation Stax had been known for for, at that point, almost 75 years, let alone carry it forward? Seriously, audiophiles were plenty angry, and expected the worst.
Edifier has their fingers in other sacred pies around the industry as well, having also invested in the equally stellar and beloved Audeze about 5 years later. Despite the skepticism, or even outright hostility, so many high-end audiophiles and reviewers feel towards Edifier, it seems clear that they wanted to create something very special – combining the experience of Stax in creating the lightest, highest resolution electrostatic drivers, Audeze’s best-in-the-industry planar magnetic technologies and innovations, and Edifier’s own unparalleled technology and production facilities into one reasonably priced killer.
It took over a decade for Edifier to use the Stax name on one of their own products, these Edifier Stax Spirit S3, and as soon as the new release was leaked there was an outcry in the community, and countless headphone sites and audio boards across the internet dismissed and even harshly criticized the new headphones months before they were actually released – people said they were trash, without the benefit of actually hearing them!
Turns out, they are not trash. The brand new Edifier Stax Spirit S3 are, in fact, absolutely brilliant sounding, and one of the most exciting affordable premium audiophile products to come along in years, with some of the best, deepest, fastest and most impactful bass of any planar magnetic at any price, real inner detail and dynamic subtlety, beautiful tone and rich, palpable presence and the ease and speed you expect from truly fine planar dynamics.
All of this comes, again, from that “faceless electronic giant,” so in addition to the truly beautiful and exceptionally accurate sound there is amazing tech – 5.2 Bluetooth wireless in addition to wired connection, lossless codecs for audiophile sound through wireless, an astonishing 80 hours of battery life, multipoint connection, super-clear microphones and – well, this isn’t exactly tech, but these are among the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever worn, even after hours of listening.
This is a closed back set of headphones, which offers real advantages in terms of acoustic isolation and lack of sound leakage, as well as often intense dynamic energy, and while it also often means a very slightly more closed-up kind of sound, with smaller and less realistic soundstage, the incredibly coherent and consistent new Edifier drivers seem to offer a kind of phase consistency that allow the Stax Spirit S3 to image incredibly well, with real spaciousness and accuracy for closed cans.
Is this a bit of a rave? Maybe, but I have to say that the Edifier Stax Spirit S3 wireless headphones are amazing – not just the best wireless planar magnetic headphones on the market today, but quite possibly the best planar magnetics overall at this price, and a delight in every way.
Best Planar Magnetic Headphones for Gaming
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Repeatedly called the finest gaming headset on the market today, the Audeze Mobius is an awesome experience in many ways.
First there’s the three-dimensional soundfield, with placement and movement that are as accurate as I’ve ever experienced, and eerily lifelike, enhanced by the WAVES Nx head movement tracking technology, making the Mobius as good as it gets for spatial awareness when gaming.
In addition, the awesome planar magnetic drivers, drawing on Audeze’s experience in making the finest – really, the finest – audiophile headphones available, make the Mobius equally accurate in tonality, meaning that not only do you know exactly where something is, you know exactly what it is as well, even when the sounds are barely audible (which, on other even high end gaming headphones, would actually mean inaudible), or when the sounds are distracted and obscured by other noise and activity.
These factors alone allow a person to play at a whole new level of effectiveness, but the absolute beauty of the sound, the stunning dynamic energy, the incredibly low levels of distortion and fatigue and the ease and effortlessness of the sound make gaming (not to mention movies and music, of course) so much more enjoyable that I found myself a lot more engaged and excited in the game, which also clearly improved my performance.
If these seem like expensive headphones, it might help to remember that Audeze themselves make a fully analog wired old-school set, the Audeze LCD-GX Gaming Headset, which is twice as expensive, and doesn’t even include high-bandwidth lossless wireless Bluetooth or movement tracking. Ok, maybe they sound a tiny bit better than these – which is saying a lot! – but yeah, more than twice as much.
But all things considered, I would rather have these Audeze Mobius, which I absolutely adore playing with (and listening to) and consider to be easily the gaming headphones I’ve come across in years.
Best Value in Planar Magnetic Headphones
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Full disclosure: I am a Hifiman man; I love love love their sound, and I have a couple of their products myself. I find their balance between bright, detailed sound and warm musicality so very appealing, and have really fallen into every pair of their headphones I have tried.
And yes, the higher priced Hifiman have these qualities, and others, at even higher levels and in even more refined ways, and if you can afford them they are all – strange to say, maybe – real bargains.
How, you might ask, can a 6,000 dollar, or a 3,500 dollar, pair of headphones be a bargain? Fair enough, considering some audiophiles won’t spend that much this year on groceries. I will, BTW, resist the temptation to ask who needs groceries if you have a pair of high-end Hifiman planars? Oh, wait, I guess I just did ask it… Oops…
Anyway, the answer is in the listening, and when anything can bring you so intimately close to the music, open up your heart and make it pound uncontrollably at the same time, bring so much pleasure, joy even, so much beauty and so much engagement, well, life is short and very few experience in any realm can approach listening to a great pair of Hifiman with a great source.
And then there’s the Edition XS, which offers about 99.837 percent of that sublimity at about 8.333 percent of the price. Very precise, scientifically derived numbers, BTW…
The detail is not just exceptional with the Edition XS, but we are now getting to that level where all of that detail has a rightness about it – in terms of tonality, texture, scale and timing – that moves us away from an audio experience and leaves just the music. This is where being impressed gives way to being thrilled, or something even a bit more.
Deep bass is very well extended, and all bass, mid-bass and lower midrange have just the right weight and feeling – not enhanced or boosted, but substantial, very fast and well defined. Similarly, vocals and the majority of other sounds in the all-important midrange are incredibly palpable and authentic – never, again, enhanced or emphasized, but just exactly as they were laid down originally – which means that if the original recording was special, there is a coming-alive, an actual presence which is magical.
Highs are so clear and detailed, really, really detailed, and yet so very liquid and musical, and with so much space around them. Speaking of space, the open-backed Hifiman Edition XS have probably the best imaging and the most open, spacious and believable soundstage I’ve heard anywhere near this price, all just adding to the magic.
Dynamic energy is exceptional for an open-backed design, and for all the accuracy and discipline they exhibit the sound is incredibly exciting and incredibly beautiful – I keep thinking, every time I hear the Edition XS, that it’s not the headphones that are so exciting and so beautiful, it’s the music.
Big, comfortable and seriously over-built, with a premium fit and finish, the Hifiman Edition XS are physically everything you’d expect from high end headphones, and when you put it all together you have the best value in planar magnetic headphones on the market today.
My Favorite Planar Magnetic Headphones
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We’re beginning to jump up pretty dramatically in price now, and I’ve left some simply stunning headphones behind in order to make this buyer’s guide for the best planar magnetic headphones a reasonable length – for example:
Hifiman Ananda – incredibly popular, and even better sounding than the amazing Edition XS (just above), if maybe not quite as amazing a value.
Audeze LCD-2 – also incredibly popular, with stunning bass, an almost unbelievably neutral and accurate sound and staggering resolution on all levels
I’m not sure if I’ve succeeded in making this article “a reasonable length,” but I’m happy to give those two stellar headphones somewhat short shrift if it means we can get to what are probably my favorite headphones in the world that much faster.
The Audeze LCD-X, in the newest version, are – I’ll just say it – the most beautiful sounding headphones I’ve ever heard. They are not perfectly flat – a bit of a bass boost, slightly dark in the mids – but are so incredibly musical that all of this is forgiven. And, to be fair, compared to less expensive planars these are paragons of neutrality – it’s just that in this rarified 1,000 dollar plus range we see some headphones that are as close to perfectly uncolored as it is possible to be.
And I should say that really, the warmth of the Audeze LCD-X is tiny, tasteful and beautifully executed, and they are superbly uncolored in every other way. The transient response is so incredibly fast and details are reproduced with such speed and accuracy, spatial-temporal reality is so perfectly presented, dynamic energy is so unrestrained and effortless.
I’ve just had one of those aha moments – I was wondering what else I could say about my favorite headphones, realizing that I could, in fact, go on and on, but something I just said – spatial-temporal reality – kind of says it all. The Audeze LCD-X present all aspects of music, and all elements of a musical recording, in a perfect and complete time-space reality, allowing for absolute engagement in the music.
Their warmth makes the Audeze LCD-X a bit more versatile than other high-end audiophile headphones, in that they will sound good with a wide variety of sources, and they are quite efficient and easy to drive. That said, these are ultimately among the most accurate and revealing headphones on the planet, and bad recordings, bad amplifiers and bad digital circuitry will be revealed with excruciating clarity.
In case it’s not already obvious, the Audeze LCD-X are my clear choice for the best overall planar magnetic headphones on the market today. There are “better” choices out there, even from Audeze, but at substantially higher prices, and none sound more beautiful.
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I should say up front that I have spent less time listening to the Final D8000 than any other of the headphones on this list of the best planar magnetics – really just a couple of hours, although it was on an amp I know and love (the Naim Uniti Star), and with my own reference recordings, so I could really fall into the experience.
And what an experience it was! More than any other headphones on this list – even the superlative Hifiman Susvara below – the Final Audio Design D8000 had two things that I found to be absolutely thrilling: deep, powerful and slammingly impactful bass, and intense dynamic energy overall.
Thanks to Final’s proprietary air damping system, the planar magnetic diaphragms on the 8000 are able to move more, without coming into contact with the magnets, and thus create deeper, stronger, more dynamic and more authoritative bass, more in line with the very, very best dynamic headphones on the market.
The same technology, as well as, I’m sure, other facets of the engineering and physical design, give the Final D8000 amazing dynamic energy all throughout the frequency range, with the ability to play very loud without strain or any loss in dynamic definition, as well as a remarkable level of articulation in even the softest music.
Again, this is more in line with dynamic headphones, and especially the best of them, and while one doesn’t always necessarily feel it is the most accurate or authentic quality, it is incredibly exciting and fun.
But if the dynamics, and the warm, subtly boosted bass levels, no matter how engaging or endearing they are, aren’t the most perfectly neutral, they do combine so perfectly, so organically, with all of the qualities that make the best planar magnetic headphones so incredibly neutral and accurate overall.
And to be sure, the Final D8000 do have the finesse, the speed and ease, of the best planars, with frankly astonishing resolution of even the tiniest details, superb phase coherence and resultantly big, precise and wholly believable soundstage, and a sense of timing that must be heard to be believed, and is as good as any product on this list.
I just said that the Audeze LCD-X, just above, are my favorite planar magnetic headphones, and I’m quite sure that the Hifiman Susvara, just below, are the very best planar magnetics, but I have a very strong feeling that if I were to spend more time with the incredibly musical, incredibly moving and imminently likable Final Audio D8000 I might end up changing my mind on either or both counts.
The Best Planar Magnetic Headphones in the World
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Considering I’ve just said that the Audeze LCD-X are my favorite planar magnetic headphones, it might be surprising that I haven’t put their flagship LCD-5 at the top of my list of best planar headphones.
And yeah, I have spent a few hours really listening to the LCD-5, and they are certainly staggering in pretty much every way. I don’t think I’ve ever heard so much detail in music before, from other headphones or speakers, nor have I heard all of those details come through with such absolute accuracy and disarming purity.
I might be tempted to say that the Audeze LCD-5 are the most accurate and revealing headphones you can get, and besides some comfort issues they very well might have made the top spot. (By the way, these comfort issues aren’t just reported by me, but several other users, who find the clamping force almost ridiculously strong and the cups too small for real long-term comfort. Audeze has, apparently, begun using better, or at least less intensely vice-grippy, headbands on the 5s, but I haven’t tried them.)
But even the LCD-5 are, in some very slight but still niggling way, a pair of headphones through which you listen to music. The Hifiman Susvara are, well, not to sound corny, but they are just the music.
There is something that happens with the Susvara, something that is so beautifully hinted at and approached by every other product on this list of finest planar magnetic headphones, and that is something I myself can understand in two equally valid ways.
1 – Perfection. With the Susvara, every single element is presented with as close to perfect accuracy as possible. Transients, attack and decay, dynamic impact and inflection, space, time and timing, details and even the tiniest micro-details, tonal character, complexity and purity, layering and interaction, size and scale – it all is perfect, and so perfectly balanced, and the picture focuses in an absolutely unprecedented and unrivaled way, and is so complete and so correct that the music is no longer “convincing.” There is no disbelief to be suspended.
2 – Disappearance. Really the exact same thing, but back to my corny statement earlier – with the Susvara, the headphones disappear, the stereo gear disappears, the listening experience on all qualitative levels disappears, and there is just music.
The Audeze LCD-5 are many people’s choice for the best planar headphones, or even the best headphones, currently available, but while I find them an enormously accurate headphone, with real sonic beauty, real power and enormous emotional impact, I am always listening to headphones.
The Hifiman Susvara, on the other hand, are to me more accurate, more beautiful in sound, more powerful – in many ways, not the least of which is their awesome dynamic power – and the most emotionally impactful and engaging headphones I have ever used.
If you love hi-fi, and want the best gear going, the Audeze are astonishing, and you very well might spend the rest of your life marveling at how good they sound. But if you love music, above all else, there’s only one choice – the Hifiman Susvara.
A Final Note: Amplifiers for the Susvara
Lest we go away thinking that the Hifiman Susvara are perfect in every way, and there is not a single downside, let’s talk about a couple.
For one thing, the original Susvara headphones (all of which were, and are, completely hand-crafted) exhibited some slight inconsistencies from unit to unit in terms of fit and finish. These original run Susvaras also came with what most listeners thought were somewhat inferior audio cables.
This was about 5 years ago, and since then, in addition to making the diaphragms and magnets even lighter, faster and more resolving, Hifiman has begun including two exceptional audio cables with each pair of Susvara – one balanced XLR and one standard 6.35mm – and also greatly improved the quality control, ensuring that each pair has a fit and finish befitting a headphone costing six thousand dollars.
But there is another, well, if not downside, at least strong consideration, and that is that the Susvara are very low sensitivity headphones that need a ton of power to come alive.
If you have an audio system at this level already, and especially if you have a good amplifier or some sort of digital server/streamer/processor with healthy power and balanced outputs, you should be good to go, but if you want to find just the right headphone amplifier for the Susvara, your choices are pretty limited.
Most don’t have enough power, and almost none of them have that ultimate accuracy, speed, definition and transparency the Susvara need and deserve. Even one of my favorite headphone amplifiers, the iFi Pro iDSD, which definitely has enough power to light up the Susvara, doesn’t have the nth degree of musicality, and will very subtly hold the Hifimans back.
When I listened to the Susvara, or at least the time i listened the longest, and with the most focus, I was very fortunate to hear them attached to the extraordinary SPL Phonitor x balanced Headphone Amp/Preamp with 24bit/192 DAC, which is fully the match of these magical headphones in terms of dynamic power, detail and definition, speed, ease and transparency.
I could go on and on about the Phonitor, which is hand-made in Germany, and as substantial and premium quality in fit, finish and craftsmanship as it is beautiful sounding, and this relatively unknown product definitely deserves a lot more e-ink, but here I just wanted to mention it, because it is a supreme value, and great for any headphones on this list, but especially because it and the Hifiman Susvara are a match made in heaven.