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Technology is always evolving. Maybe you've heard of HDR tech in TVs or hybrid convertible style laptops, two of the most recent advances in those categories. If you're looking for the newest development in consumer audio technology, you'll find them in the latest advance for headphones: planar magnetic drivers.
If this sounds like some geeky thing you don't really need to know about, I don't blame you. But even if you're not an all-out audiophile, lots of people are invested in enjoying their favorite music, and planar magnetic headphones allegedly offer a better experience than the standard fare, usually called dynamic drivers. But are planar magnetic headphones really worth paying more for?
What makes planar magnetic headphones different?
The average headphone—whether it's an in-ear, on-ear, or over-ear type—uses dynamic drivers to produce sound. Essentially, electricity moves drivers back and forth in a variety of vibrations, using a metal coil and a magnet to shift the driver in place.
Planar magnetic headphones work differently. What you really need to know is that instead of one magnet, they use two, sandwiched around an electrified film. This makes them more expensive to produce, which is why many planar magnetic headphones are pretty pricy (think $200ish or more). So if you're the kind of person who only spends $10-20 on convenience aisle earbuds, these things probably aren't for you.
That said, according to my coworker Seamus, planar magnetic headphones are worth it for invested listeners: "If you’re serious about audio and feel you have a nuanced ear, then they’re definitely worth the investment. A set of planar cans, when matched with the right audio source, can allow for greater fidelity in the music you listen." Though he added that "for most folks, they’re likely not worth the investment and fuss.”
Are planar magnetic headphones better?
We're in the process of testing planar magnetic headphones, but our early results look promising. We have checked out the Audeze Mobius during our roundup of The Best Gaming Headphones, which our freelancer Nicole Carpenter tested extensively. Of the planar magnetic-equipped Mobius she said, "I think the best way to describe it would be precise. The sound is really clean and clear."
You don't have to shell out $400 or more just to try planar magnetic, but I haven't seen any for less than $180, and that's from Monoprice's Monolith brand. Another thing to know about planar magnetic headphones is that many of them require a powered AMP and DAC (digital audio converter). Think of this as giving the headphones some extra "oomph" in the electricity department—those two planar magnets need more power to move, and this is one reason planar magnetic audio can sound richer.
As AMP/DAC combos go, curious listeners should consider the Monolith Hi-Res DAC Headphone Amp. It's only $60 on Amazon, and would work alongside Monoprice's planar magnetic headphone offering, the M1060 over-ear planar magnetic headphones.
All told, that's about $350 you're spending. That might sound like way too much money for headphones, but it's the same as spending more on a fancy TV or a really powerful laptop: if you're invested in the activity, it could be worth it.
If you prefer to experience it before you buy, you may be able to find a planar magnetic headphone to sample in a Hi-Fi shop or a brick and mortar option like Best Buy.
What about high-end headphones that don't require any special equipment?
If you feel like this is too much to finagle for high-quality audio, that's perfectly understandable. However, you can do better than $20 earbuds, and you don't have to spend multiple hundreds of dollars.
Check out our roundup of The Best Headphones Under $200 for some choice picks that are affordable enough for most people, but are leagues better than the average fare.