When it comes to accuracy, response and low distortion reproduction, planar magnetic headphones – where magnet arrays are positioned in front of and behind a conductor-packing diaphragm – are pretty hard to beat. But that sonic excellence can come at a high price, in many cases running into thousands of dollars. Online retailer Monoprice is about to change that with some closed back and open back planar headphones that definitely won't break the bank.
Early last year, China's Hifiman released a pair of planar magnetic headphones hailed by one industry pundit as "quite possibly the best-sounding headphones in the world." But they were pricey. Very pricey. In fact, the HE1000s cost around US$3,000. The company did go on to release a more portable and much cheaper model called the Edition X, but audioholics still wouldn't get much change from two thousand bucks.
There are cheaper planar options on the market of course, such as the stylish PM-3 headphones from Oppo Digital, but few (if any) go as low as the new Monolith series from Monoprice.
The M560 planars have an incredibly low $199.99 price tag, and for that budget audiophiles will be able to change the headphones from closed to open back configuration, depending on the listening environment or personal preference. Despite the low cost of entry, Monoprice says that users can expect all the critical listening clarity, detail and balanced bass typical of planar headphones.
Each earcup is home to a 56 mm driver with neodymium double pole magnets offering a frequency response of 16 Hz to 40 kHz, 100 dB (1 mW at 1 kHz) sensitivity and boasting less than 1 percent total harmonic distortion. They'll need around 20 mW of power to give their best performance, and have an impedance of 42 ohms.
The company's premium offering, thankfully, doesn't come at a high cost. The M1060 open back cans are said to deliver "the hallmark sonic signature of planar drivers for a true audiophile experience" for just $299.99.
These headphones have 106 mm drivers with linear symmetry neodymium magnets, for a frequency response of 10 Hz to 50 kHz, less than 1 percent THD and 130 dB SPL. They'll need a bit more power to run, with the optimal requirement listed at 200 mW to 4 W, meaning a headphone amp will likely need to go in the shopping basket, too. Fortunately, buyers won't have to wander far as a Monolith tube amp and DAC has also been announced for $139.99.
The Monolith series audio products are due to start shipping next month.
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