Two weeks ago we tunneled through the world of dynamic headphones, which are the type that produce sound in the same way that your home speakers do — with a cone moving back and forth in front of a big magnet.

This week we're going to do a fly-by of what's currently the hottest and, in my opinion, the best sounding method of producing sound on either side of your ears. Planar magnetic headphones have been blowing up recently, and for good reason.

But before diving into the benefits, let's examine how planar magnetic headphones work.

Most headphones in the world are dynamic, and operate by the magnet pushing the cone forward and backward to make sound waves. Well, there are some science-y problems inherent in that method of sound reproduction. The dynamic design isn't perfect, and designers have sought other solutions for better sound quality.


Planar magnetics is all in the name. Instead of a cone, what makes the sound is a very thin membrane (the plane) that is suspended between two grids of flat magnets. Picture a magnet sandwich, with a little mylar sheet in the middle, and none of the pieces touching each other.

How the thin sheet moves is the real meat to the planar design. Copper traces are etched all over the mylar, in usually brand-specific patterns. How the patterns are shaped makes a difference in how it sounds, I suppose, but the key here is that the electrical audio signal is fed over the copper. Electrically charged wire suspended between static magnets turns the whole thing into an electromagnet, of sorts.


Since the magnet "bread slices" don't move, the copper-etched mylar sheet has no choice but to move away from and toward the magnets when electricity is applied. It's not like we're attaching a battery to it — if we did the mylar plane would just shove to one side and stay there. No, music via electricity is a fast, wildly varying creature, with lots of back-and-forth pulses all crammed together in the signal.

So our mighty little planar friend literally vibrates to the music, and it does that so well that in many ways the sound coming from it surpasses what you can get from all but the finest dynamic drivers.

A large reason planars are better is that the entire moving assembly is a fraction of the physical weight of the dynamic driver. Thus, it can blast better and respond quicker than its coned brethren. This rapid acceleration also aids in delivering an incredibly wide frequency response, which means planar magnetic headphones can give you deeper bass and more crystalline highs than dear old dynamic.

Next week we'll look at some budget planar 'phones, and start digging into the topic of headphone amps.

Good vibes

I'm running out of space but I wanted to tip the cap to Elaquent, whom I just discovered on Spotify. If you like Flying Lotus and Royksopp, you might really love this guy. Tons of albums, all excellent.

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