New Avantone planar magnetic headphones deliver audiophile sound at modest price
Planar magnetic headphones have been gaining more mainstream appeal lately, thanks to Audeze introducing new models for gamers. Largely, though, it remains an exotic technology that’s out of reach for all but the very well-heeled audiophiles. Well, a few companies including Avantone Pro – best known for its professional microphones and studio monitoring speakers – are trying to change that. A couple of years ago, Avantone launched the Planar, its first planar magnetic headphone for studio monitoring and hifi music listening, which they have just revised with the somewhat regally titled Planar the II (we’ll stick to calling it the Planar II).
It's a very marginal upgrade, a 60 g weight reduction and a new colorway being the only discernible changes. Nevertheless, even largely unchanged, the headphone deserves a second look, and not just for its gorgeous retro design. The large, rectangular, metal grills are for more than just show: Avantone says that the open back design is tuned perfectly for reducing pressure buildup and resonance found in closed back designs, and results in a more neutral frequency response. The fabric ear-pads are comfortable over prolonged listening sessions.
However, the star of the show is undoubtedly the unique driver technology. For the unversed, planar drivers utilize two arrays of magnets to push and pull a thin, ultralight diaphragm suspended between them. The forces, applied symmetrically across the diaphragm’s entire surface, produce a broad wavefront with very low harmonic distortion and extremely fast response time. Compared to common moving-coil dynamic drivers, this design results in very accurate sound reproduction that lends itself perfectly to both professional mixing use and HiFi listening, and makes it a favorite of audiophiles.
The Planar II has an surprisingly low 32 Ω impedance, and can thus be driven by consumer grade devices like phones and laptops without needing a headphone amplifier, unlike many high-end headphones. Conveniently, the included cable can be plugged into either side. The Planar II comes in three colors – black, red or cream – and includes a canvas carrying bag. At US$399, it may not seem cheap, but planar magnetic headphones typically cost well upwards of US$1,000. For someone looking for audiophile level sound without breaking the bank, the Planar II is a pretty great deal.