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What is a planar magnetic headphone? What are the benefits of this type of headphone?


Jan 22, 2021
A planar magnetic driver (PMD) uses a very thin membrane with a conductor bonded to it. There are magnets on one or both sides of this membrane and current is passed through the conductor in alternating directions, creating an electromagnetic field that interacts with the stationary magnets to create movement of the membrane. This is instead of a cone and coil arrangement people are typically familiar with in a dynamic driver. The primary advantage is substantially lower moving mass and thus better frequency response throughout the audible range. This results in a headphone that is typically better balanced and sounds flatter than a dynamic driver. PMDs also typically sound clearer and are better at separating the sounds of multiple instruments than dynamic drivers. The drawback is that the range of motion of the driver in a PMD is typically less than that of a dynamic driver and the flat membrane itself is not as rigid as a cone shape result in a less impactful bass presence. PMDs are typically characterized by very tightly controlled and accurate bass, but if you are a bass head these are not for you. They also usually exhibit higher impedance than dynamic drivers in a similar class meaning you're more likely to need an amp (though many are perfectly happy running right at acceptable volumes off your phone). A third, similar, driver type that is found in over ear headphones is the electrostatic driver (E-stats). These are similar in principle to the PMDs, however instead of a conductor bonded to the membrane, they are coated in an ultra thin conductive film, and instead of magnets on either side, a metal mesh is present on both sides. Each mesh screen is then energized in an alternating fashion with a very high voltage (relative to traditional drivers) creating an electrostatic field that moves the membrane. As a result of the required voltage, a special amp is required. These take the idea of planar magnetics a bit further because there is even less moving mass and give a very bright, analytical sound signature. E-Stats are best for listening to classical, acoustic, Jazz, and similar, but are unsuited to heavier rock, electronic, rap, hip hop, etc. E-stats are also known for having an eerie "lifelikeness" to their sound that isn't seen with any other driver types and can be polarizing as a result. Dynamic drivers deliver the thumping bass usually desired for electronic rap, hip hop, and also sound great with rock. Finally, PMDs are very versatile and can sound great with most music, but shine best with rock, classical, jazz etc. Ultimately one is not objectively better than another becaus each does different things well, and it is up to you to decide which you like the most.
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