Planar Magnetic headphones (read how they work here) are hot right now.
That’s because compared to headphones with traditional dynamic drivers, headphones with planar magnetic transducers often sound crisper, more controlled, and have better extension for the trailing edges of sounds.
It’s those trailing edges that give instruments and other sounds realism, so it’s no wonder that audiophiles have gravitated towards Planar Headphones in search of musical accuracy.
However, Planar Magnetic headphones have historically been more expensive than their Dynamic counterparts due to their complicated designs, so the entry barrier was high.
That’s no longer the case, as manufacturing efficiencies have brought the prices way down. Now you can pick up a good pair for less than $500, which was unheard of a few years ago. If you’re looking to experience extraordinary Planar sound on the cheap, check out our list!
The Absolute Best Planar Magnetic Headphone Under $500: Hifiman Sundara ($349)
For: Anybody wanting the best sounding headphone under $500. Period.
- Ultra-Thin Hifiman Diaphragms Resulting in a Fast, Detailed sound
- Built of lightweight aluminum for longevity and durability
- Light enough (13.1oz) for long listening sessions.
- Weight-dispersing strap for additional comfort.
- Removable/upgradable cable with 3.5mm connectors
What we love: Originally $499, this headphone was a steal at that price, but now at $350, this is definitely the best value headphone under $500. The SUNDARA has detail, soundstage, and separation that actually competes with headphones above $500, and the tuning is damn near perfect.
It’s basically neutral through the midbass with a gentle lift in the bottom end to keep things interesting. This headphone matched with the $99 Helm Audio BOLT Dac, $149 iFi Hip Dac, or $129 iFi Zen DAC will make an amazing starter headphone rig.
What to think about: The included cable is a little stiff and curly. But that’s not really something to think about when you consider the sound quality. Especially when replacement cables are so easy to get!
Where To Buy:
Best Portable Planar Magnetic Headphone Under $500: Audeze LCD-1 ($399)
For: Those looking for planar magnetic detail in a compact foldable package
- 90mm Over-Ear Planar Drivers for enhanced dynamics
- Foldable and light-weight design for audiophile listening on the go
- Memory foam earpads and headband for comfort
- Ultra-thin Audeze Uniforce™ Diaphragms for detail and accuracy
- Audeze Fluxor™ Magnets for powerful sound and efficiency
- 3.5mm tangle-free premium cable
- 1/4” adapter and travel case included
What we love: These headphones are remarkably light and comfortable. They also fold up nice and small into their compact case so you can take them anywhere. The accuracy and precision of these headphones also make them unique.
They have a neutral, crisp, sound signature that lets you hear the recording precisely as the artist intended. This tuning works really well on live recordings, where they put you in the front-row seat of a performance. (read our full review here)
What to think about: While their bass is deep, they don’t have the larger LCD models’ bass punch.
Where To Buy:
The Best Cheap Planar Magnetic Headphone (Under $200): Andover Audio PM-50 ($199)
For: Those who want an inexpensive taste of Planar Magnetic sound
Beautiful Genuine Walnut Hardwood Enclosure
Two Sets Of Ear Cushions for customizable sound and fit
OFC (Oxygen Free Copper) Removable / Upgradable Cable
Hinged Storage Box
What we love: Originally $499, this headphone is now down to $199, making them a great entry point to Planar Magnetic headphones. They are a beautiful, well-built set of planar headphones that give you nice detail and resolution.
They also have some nice weight and warmth on the bottom end. We also like that you don’t need a fancy (read: expensive) amp to power them. Very comfortable. (read our full review here)
What to think about: Highs can be a little edgy on brighter tracks, especially with the shallow pads.
Where To Buy:
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I’m an audio writer who started as a young audio salesman/consumer electronics professional back in the late 90s. That’s where I discovered the magic of 2-Channel sound. My thirst for great sound has led me on a delightful music quest that continues today.