Avantone Pro has dropped a new pair of headphones that use planar magnetic technology. Unlike the standard cone technology used in dynamic headphones, a planar is a thin electrically charged membrane-like driver that is sandwiched between two magnetic arrays. This design creates a diaphragm where the entire surface moves uniformly and extremely quickly. As a result, planar headphones sound very different from dynamic headphones.

To quickly sum up my impression of the Avantone Planar headphones – they sound excellent. Until this pair, I couldn’t find a truly high-quality planar headphone for under $1000. The Avantones retail for $399, including a detachable cable and carrying pouch. The Planar’s retro styling will be the first thing you’ll notice, and it’s available in black or red. The earcups are rectangular boxes with perforated metal backs. A thin steel frame hovers above its comfortable vinyl-covered headband. The replaceable cord connects to either earcup via 3.5 mm plugs and comes with a 3.5 mm to 1/4-inch adapter for the amp side. Weighing in at about one pound (0.5 kilos), these headphones are relatively heavy, which puts them at almost twice the weight of many studio headphones. The square earcups are cloth-covered and sit snugly and comfortably over my ears, even while wearing eyeglasses.

The first sonic quality you’ll notice with planar technology is the bass extension, which not only stretches into the sub frequencies, but the low frequencies give the sensation of moving air, much like a loudspeaker. Deep lows feel powerful. These ‘phones have a well-balanced frequency response, making them not only fun to listen to but totally useful for production and mixing. I usually work on Sennheiser HD 650s [Tape Op #43] with Sonarworks SoundID to optimize their frequency response. For the Avantone Planars, there is not yet a preset EQ curve for SoundID, so I created one based on extensive listening. I found that I needed to reduce a few areas between 500 Hz and 3 kHz a few dB to flatten out the typical midrange congestion common to headphones with planar drivers. Once I set that EQ, I could completely trust these ‘phones for mixing, and even for checking masters.

The Avantone Planars produce a three-dimensional quality that I don’t hear with my dynamic headphones. I don’t get the sense that sound is coming from a speaker, but rather from a direction. The lows appear to be physically lower, and the highs are physically higher in the soundstage. I also don’t feel the need to use Goodhertz CanOpener (crossfeed algorithm to simulate speaker listening) when mixing on these phones, as the stereo sound field is much wider and more defined than with my dynamic headphones. Kick drums on dance songs, like Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now,” hit hard and seem to have a physical presence in front of the groove – similar to how kicks sound on good studio monitor systems.

The clarity of these cans is outstanding. I can clearly distinguish different effects in a pop mix – like which reverb is on the piano versus the guitar. Each instrument’s tonalities are well defined, and any distortion, tick, or pop will be easily heard. Well-recorded classical music sounds wonderful on these headphones, and I found myself listening to Bach violin concertos as well as my vintage jazz collection with fresh ears again. These headphones are neither clinical nor hyped. They are both accurate and fun to listen to – an exceptional combination for studio headphones.

My studio headphones are powered by a Hafler P1000 power amp (via a Simon Systems CB-4 volume control) or the CAPI HPA500 headphone amp (available as a kit only). Both of these amps effortlessly drive the Avantone Planars, while the headphone output on my Avid Omni interface easily powered the ‘phones to a comfortable volume, but with a bit less detail and a more midrange-focused color. Regardless of the amp, I found that I needed about 8 dB less gain to drive these compared to my HD 650s or beyerdynamic DT 770s. The included braided-nylon headphone cable is a bit stiff, which keeps the cord from tangling but also transmits handling noise to the earcups if it rubs against my chair or clothing. These ‘phones are generally comfortable, but their weight can become tiresome, and I often need to take a break after about 90 minutes – which is probably a good time to rest your ears anyway!

The Avantone Planars are open-backed headphones, so others around you will hear your music, and thus may not be appropriate for some tracking sessions. For voiceover artists or performers who do not need a click track (or loud monitoring), the natural ambience that these headphones impart may be a welcome benefit, so I wouldn’t rule out the Avantone Planars for certain recording duties. Overall, I would highly recommend these headphones for studio use due to their accuracy and price point, but also for listening pleasure. Be sure to give them several hours to break in so they can sound their best.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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