As any audiophile will tell you, planar magnetic headphones are the only way to go if you want to take your listening to the next level. They are usually significantly more expensive than dynamically driven headphones but offer a far cleaner and more detailed sound across a wider frequency spectrum.
If you want to listen to your favorite tracks as the recordings were designed to be heard and don’t mind spending a few bucks for the privilege, it’s time to invest in a pair of the best planar headphones.
To help you choose the perfect option, we’ve reviewed the 10 best planar magnetic headphones at the lower end of the price range. These cans can get astronomically expensive, so we’ve picked models that are more accessible for your consideration. Plus, if you need more information on what to look out for, we’ve included a helpful buying guide after the reviews.
So, let’s get started with our comparison table…
Top 8 Best Planar Magnetic Headphones for All Budgets in 2021 Reviews
|Product||Open back/Closed back||Comfort||Build Quality||Audio Quality||Price||Rating|
Open back/Closed back
|(4 / 5)||(5 / 5)||(5 / 5)||(5 / 5)||(3.4 / 5)|
MrSpeakers Ether CX
Open back/Closed back
|(4 / 5)||(5 / 5)||(4 / 5)||(5 / 5)||(4.4 / 5)|
Open back/Closed back
|(4 / 5)||(4 / 5)||(3 / 5)||(4 / 5)||(5 / 5)|
Open back/Closed back
|(4 / 5)||(3 / 5)||(3 / 5)||(2 / 5)||(4.3 / 5)|
Fostex T50RP MK3
Open back/Closed back
|(2 / 5)||(3 / 5)||(2 / 5)||(2 / 5)||(4.4 / 5)|
Monoprice Monolith M1070
Open back/Closed back
|(3 / 5)||(3 / 5)||(3 / 5)||(2 / 5)||(4.1 / 5)|
Open back/Closed back
|(4 / 5)||(4 / 5)||(4 / 5)||(4 / 5)||(4.5 / 5)|
Open back/Closed back
|(2 / 5)||(3 / 5)||(2 / 5)||(3 / 5)||(4.3 / 5)|
1 Audeze LCD-2 – Best Value for the Money Planar Magnetic Headphones
The latest incarnation of the legendary Audeze LCD-2 open-back headphones comes with a host of improvements over the original 2009 model. They are the best high end planar magnetic headphones on this list, and they certainly look the part.
They simply look stunning…
The wood, metal, and leather design makes for a classically beautiful set of headphones. The huge lambskin-covered earpads are very comfortable on the skin. The wooden ring is made from heavily lacquered bamboo that looks like it will stand up to the ravages of time. Virtually everything else is constructed from metal, and these headphones are remarkably well built.
A suspension headband distributes the weight evenly. This is important as the Audeze LCD-2 weighs almost 600g. Although the clamping force is initially strong, it relaxes after a few days of use, and they become highly wearable despite the weight.
The Audeze LCD-2 is a premium sonic performer. A wide dynamic range produces a smooth and detailed sound. The Planar magnetic drivers produce a wide-open sound stage. Deep bass pushes well into sub-bass ranges whilst never muddying the mix or invading the mid-range.
The mids are pure pleasure. Instruments and vocals are beautifully reproduced in the kind of detail intended in the recording. The degree of separation is impressive, with instruments occupying their own space on the stage. Trebles are also very well balanced, with never a hint of harshness even with the volume cranked up.
Quality comes at a cost…
As expensive as these headphones are, they are worth every cent. This level of premium quality in the build and the sound performance doesn’t come cheap.
- Luxurious materials.
- Incredibly well-built.
- Heavy, yet comfortable.
- Spacious sound stage.
- An accurate, detailed, and beautifully balanced sound profile.
- Will be too expensive for some.
2 MrSpeakers Ether CX – Best Closed Back Planar Magnetic Headphones
The MrSpeakers Ether CX is another set of sleek planar magnetic headphones, this time with a closed-back design. It’s a minimalist design that, nonetheless, looks awesome. Great care has been taken to keep the weight down and at 394g. The Ether CX is one of the best lightweight planar magnetic headphones you can buy.
Fits like a glove…
This has been achieved by using carbon fiber driver housings and a minimalist headband that utilizes the perfect level of clamping force to keep the headphones secure. Deep and soft earpads provide good levels of isolation, and the lightweight construction means you can wear them for hours.
One negative in the design is the thick braided cable. Although well-protected, it is too stiff and often gets in the way if used on a desk. The braided material also picks up a fair amount of microphonic sound when moved about.
So how do they sound?
Remarkably good. The MrSpeakers Ether CX has managed to achieve one of the most “open-sounding” closed-back headphones out there. Tonally, they are very nicely balanced across the ranges. It’s a precise, clean and tight presentation with good instrumental spacing for closed-back headphones.
Those looking for extended bass may prefer the beefier sound of the Audeze LCD-2 reviewed above. The Ether CX has a more neutral sound profile, which will appeal more to some, depending on which camp you fall into. The bass is tight and well-controlled; it just lacks the sub-bass response and mid-bass slam of the Audeze.
The mid-range is the highlight of the show…
No congestion here with fine instrumental separation and outstanding vocal reproduction on offer. If anything, the trebles are slightly recessed but with enough presence to bring exciting levels of detail to the mix. These are some of the best neutral sounding planar magnetic headphones on the market.
If you have to go closed-back, the MrSpeakers Ether CX makes as close an attempt at recreating the open-back sound as any company has managed. For this reason, they earn their place on the list.
- Most open-sounding closed-back headphones.
- Fans of a neutral sound profile will be happy.
- Remarkably light.
- Slick look.
- Not cheap.
- Cable too stiff.
- Bass heads will be disappointed.
3 Oppo PM-3 – Best Value for the Money Planar Magnetic Headphones
Dropping significantly down in price, we have the Oppo PM-3 closed-back planar magnetic headphones. Visually, Oppo has done a great job. Titanium arms and hinges coupled with gorgeous leather earcups and generously padded headband create an instantly appealing yet tough look.
Lighter than the Ether CX at 320g, weight is not an issue. Comfort and fit are well looked after, and the PM-3 is good for extended sessions. Although, they do get quite warm due to the closed-back design.
Lots of options for an audio source…
Three different cables are supplied for use with Apple and Android devices and a longer one for listening at home. The implication here is that you’ll be venturing outside with the PM-3.
The result is one of the most versatile planar magnetic headphones on the market. However, caution should probably be exercised here. You certainly wouldn’t want such an expensive item getting damaged by rain.
The Oppo Pm-3 offers a layered and sophisticated delivery. Bass is a penetrating experience, full of deep rumbles and sub-bass thump. Tonally, the mid ranges are pretty flawless. Bass never bleeds over, and vocals and instrumentation have plenty of space and clarity as a result.
Annoyingly, this level of sound quality doesn’t quite extend to the trebles, which lack the dexterity of the best planar magnetic headphones listed here. Still, at 30% cheaper than the closed-back Ether CX, they offer great value for money even if the sound performance isn’t quite up to the same level.
- Visually striking.
- Lightweight and comfortable.
- Great bass and mid-range reproduction.
- Good value.
- Treble clarity needs improvement.
4 HiFiMan HE400S – Best Audiophile Planar Magnetic Headphones
Another company attempting to offer audiophile-level sound via affordable planar magnetic headphones is HiFiMan. The HE400S open-back headphones have a lot to offer with a very competitive price tag attached.
From a design perspective…
They aren’t going to win any style awards. There’s no denying these are bulky headphones. This is largely thanks to the dual headband system. The frame is square rather than a round design that follows the contours of your head.
This allows the headband to be moved up along the frame for larger heads instead of pulling the earcups down. As ridiculous as it looks, it’s an admirable piece of engineering. It provides perfectly calibrated clamping force for any head size. Therefore, the HiFiMan HE400S is one of the most comfortable planar magnetic headphones in this review.
One thing you’ll want to swap is the braided monstrosity of a cable. It’s way too stiff and prone to coiling. Cable aside, build quality is as good as anything you’ll find in this price range.
The HiFiMan HE400S does offer audiophile-level chops. Everything planar magnetic fans enthuse about is present. Weighty yet articulate bass, wide frequency extension full of clarity, and a detailed and spacious soundstage are all here and correct.
It’s the kind of sound you’d expect to pay a lot more for. And as you’ll be using these in the privacy of your home, the bulky design becomes less of an issue. Furthermore, it’s also why these are some of the best home listening planar magnetic headphones you can buy.
Use them with anything…
A low impedance level also means the HiFiMan HE400S can be powered by any mobile device. Although, we recommend using a quality DAC to improve the overall quality. Appearance aside, there’s very little to criticize here. Audiophile-level sound at the same price as a pair of Beats Solo3. You’d be doing very well to find better value in any HiFi product available.
- An amazing price to sound quality ratio.
- Excellently engineered headband.
- Highly comfortable.
- The annoying cable will need replacing.
- Look a little ridiculous.
5 Fostex T50RP MK3 – Best Studio Planar Magnetic Headphones
At the lower end of the price scale is the Fostex T50RP MK3 semi-open planar headphones, designed for critical listening in a studio environment.
Once again, function over form has won the day when it comes to the design. To say these headphones look old-fashioned is an understatement. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In a world where manufacturers are constantly trying to create the most futuristic-looking headphones, the old-school look makes a nice change.
Good fit but lacks long-lasting comfort…
The range of adjustment on the headband should cater to any head size, and the band is well-padded with a higher than average quality faux leather. It all falls apart a little when it comes to the padding on the earcups. It’s not thick enough, and those with larger ears may struggle to fit them inside.
Fortunately, they can be replaced with a more comfortable design, like the Brainwavz. Be prepared to make this replacement as the stock pads just aren’t up to the task. Strange for a company to overlook such a basic design fault as they become a comfortable set of cans once the pads have been changed.
The Fostex T50RP MK3 doesn’t disappoint. It’s a highly neutral sound profile that represents all genres of music well. Bass is tight and punchy, maintaining its impact even when the volume is low.
The extension is very high in the treble range. Meaning it picks up all sorts of detail dynamically driven headphones may miss, including any imperfections in the recording. Mids are also well defined, if not as prevalent as the highs. As a result, vocals are more recessed than some of the other models featured here.
Not the widest of soundstages…
Another minor criticism is the slightly narrow soundstage. This is down to the limitations of the semi-open design. However, the overall sound quality makes these some of the best semi open planar magnetic headphones on the market.
- A well-balanced sound profile.
- Old-school design.
- Exceptionally good value.
- Will need to upgrade earpads.
- A wider soundstage would be nice.
6 Monoprice Monolith M1070 – Best Budget Planar Magnetic Headphones
Next in our Best Planar Magnetic Headphones, we have another budget offering, the Monolith M1070 from Monoprice. A company without much experience, which has managed to produce some stellar planar magnetic headphones.
The best of the lot has to be the Monolith M1070. In its price bracket, there’s not much that sounds this good. It’s not a million miles away from competing with the Audeze LCD-2 for sound quality. But, comes in at a quarter of the price.
Build quality is also good…
Plush padded earcups never feel too tight, thanks to a clamping force that’s secure but never oppressive. The headphones come with a choice of leather or velour-covered memory foam pads. These are pretty comfortable cans that spread their not unsubstantial 580g very well across the head. The well-padded headband also helps in this regard.
On to the sound…
A 106mm planar driver delivers a full-bodied and muscular sound that gets the blood pumping. The M1070 is also a very dynamic performer, full of detail and nuance to go with that muscularity. Music of any genre flows wonderfully.
The bass does have serious punch, but it’s tightly controlled and never feels intrusive. The mids are also a pure pleasure with excellent instrumental separation and vocal delivery that allows the nuance and character in the singer’s voice to shine through.
The trebles are nicely in balance with the rest of the range if lacking in finer detail when compared with the top performers on this list. The same could be said of the soundstage, which never feels quite as spacious as the 3-D experience the Audeze LCD-2 creates.
Who are these for?
Audiophiles on a budget should consider the Monolith M1070. Yes, superior audio performance can be found on this list, but not at anywhere near this price.
- An absolute bargain.
- A nuanced and muscular sound profile.
- Durable construction.
- Highs lack finer detail.
7 HiFiMan Ananda – Best Premium Planar Magnetic Headphones
Another offering from HiFiMan, the open-back Ananda, is the company’s mid-priced planar magnetic headphones. From a design perspective, they are a vast improvement on the cheaper HiFiMan HE400S featured earlier. The standout feature is the aggressive rear grilles that will grab the attention of any audiophile. It’s a striking look that arrests the gaze.
Solid metal yokes attach to the dual-headband design that contours far more closely to the head than the HE400S. Large, well-padded earcups help offset the clamping force, which would be a little tight otherwise.
These are quite bulky headphones. So, if your head is on the small side, you might find the cups resting on your jaw. All in all, the HiFiMan Ananda is a premium-looking set of headphones.
A low impedance of 25 ohms means any smartphone can power the Ananda. However, we’d recommend amplification to fully appreciate the quality on offer.
If you’re the kind of audiophile that wants as neutral a sound profile as possible for your critical listening pleasure, then you’ll like what HiFiMan has done here. The Ananda has an accurate and strong bass that extends a long way down without exaggerating any part of the range.
The mid-range is detailed and spotlessly clean. Almost flawlessly so. Instrumentation and vocals are not pushed back or placed too far forward. Treble performance is also a pleasure. You’re getting a wonderfully balanced profile you’d expect but don’t always get at this price. It’s a good all-around package that won’t disappoint those who can fork out the relatively high asking price.
- An articulate and high-end sound profile.
- Striking grille design and premium look.
- Solid build quality.
- Too large for smaller heads.
8 Thieaudio Phantom – Best Luxury Planar Magnetic Headphones
Next up, we have the mid-priced Thieaudio Phantom open-back headphones from Linsoul. The first thing you notice is their similarity in design to Beyerdynamic headphones. The earcup grille and the yoke design are very reminiscent of the German manufacturer.
Black walnut wood has been used for the driver rings, which certainly adds an air of luxury to the whole effect. The handcrafted metal components have a quality finish to them and look made to last.
Smaller details are lacking, though…
For example, the fabric behind the grille on our model was cut slightly too big, resulting in a wrinkled surface. It’s hard to say how much of an effect this will have on the sound delivery, but we can’t imagine it would be none.
The soft velour earpads and a well-padded headband should provide good levels of comfort. But, the headband pressed down on our head to an uncomfortable degree after a few hours, and a break was necessary. This won’t be the same for everyone. A young woman in our office, who has a much smaller head, experienced no problems at all.
So how do the Phantoms sound?
Pretty good. However, there is more quality available elsewhere on this list, at a lower price too. What you’re getting here is a pleasing sound profile with a good response across the frequency spectrum.
If there is a complaint in the balance, it’s that the mid-range is a little too forward in the mix. Likewise, vocals and instruments have good separation but could be more recessed if we’re being critical. And we are.
Good, but not the best…
All in all, the Thieaudio Phantom is a solid enough pair of headphones. It just has too many minor faults to be up there with the very best quality planar magnetic headphones.
- Premium materials used.
- An enjoyable sound profile.
- Mids are slightly too prominent.
- Fine detail lacking.
- Comfort for large heads debatable.
Best Planar Magnetic Headphones Buying Guide
Planar magnetic headphones use two large magnets with a much larger diaphragm attached between them. The increase in surface area allows air to move with less restriction. The diaphragm is also very thin. Therefore, it responds better to tiny changes in frequency reproduction across the ranges. The powerful electromagnetic force allows it to respond more rapidly.
Punchier, more controlled bass with minimal distortion and far cleaner and more accurate sound across the frequency ranges are what you can expect. Once you’ve experienced a high-quality pair of Planar magnetic headphones, it’s hard to go back to standard dynamic drivers.
Open or Closed?
Open-back planar magnetic headphones traditionally provide the widest soundstage of the two. There are a couple of closed-back models that get quite close to the open-back sound, but the difference is still substantial. If you don’t want to disturb those around you, we’ve included a couple of closed-back models on the list.
Due to the design, planar magnetic headphones are usually on the larger, heavier side of things. So, they must sit comfortably on your head. Look for well-padded ear cups and a headband design that doesn’t exert too much pressure on your head.
When spending this much on headphones, you want them to look great and last. Furthermore, high-quality and durable materials should complement a rugged design so you can enjoy your headphones for longer.
Planar magnetic headphones have less impedance than traditional dynamic headphones. However, many need extra amplification to fully realize their potential. So, make sure you’re aware of these requirements before you make a decision.
Looking for Something Else?
When it comes to earbuds and headphones, we have you covered. Check out our in-depth Skullcandy Crusher ANC Review, our Razer Hammerhead USB-C ANC Earbuds Review, our Plantronics BackBeat Pro 5100 Review, our Bowers & Wilkins PX Review, and our Samson SR850 Review for amazing items you can buy in 2021.
Also, take a look at our comprehensive Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3 Review, our Sony WH-CH700N Review, our Bose QuietComfort 25 review, our SteelSeries Arctis 7 review, and our 1More Triple Driver review for more awesome products currently on the market.
What are the Best Planar Magnetic Headphones?
If purity of sound is top of your list of priorities and you’re prepared to shoulder the extra expense, then the cream of the crop is the…
Everything about the build oozes quality. Luxurious materials create a classic yet robust design that should prove durable if treated correctly. Additionally, the sound profile on offer is a joy across the board. A huge frequency range is reproduced on a wide-open sound stage that will blow you away if you’re new to planar headphones.
So, if your budget doesn’t extend that far, then you can’t go wrong with the…
Likewise, they certainly offer better value for money than the Audeze LCD-2, even if the sound performance isn’t quite at the same lofty heights.
Until next time, happy listening.