The Avantone Planar recently came across my desk as new audiophile headphones in the under $500 range. Avantone has a range of products geared towards music production, with the Planar being a set of headphones geared as much towards the audiophile as the studio engineer.
The Build and Design
Available in either the Black or Red model (I chose Red), the Avantone Planar has a very modern industrial design. It’s a nice blend of utility, comfort, and style. The packaging is fairly straightforward and includes the headphones, the headphone cable, an adapter, and an additional TRS stereo 3.5mm interconnect. It also includes a cloth bag design for transporting or storing the headphones. The bag isn’t as sturdy as some, but it’s a nice addition since many headphones in this price range don’t include any carry case or bag. The cable is stiff and generally tangle resistant.
The headphones use a good amount of metal in the construction which lends to the industrial aesthetic and gives them a solid, premium feel. Despite that, they’re not particularly heavy, and they feature a very comfortable suspension system which keeps the Planar feeling light on your head. The earpads are made of a fleece material rather than a leather or synthetic leather. They’re generally quite comfortable, but the earpads’ material did feel scratchy against my facial hair more than most headphones.
The Planar’s sound is defined by solid technical performance with a reference-like tuning, a generally flat EQ, and good extension through the highs and bass. The bass has good impact, but it remains mostly tasteful and doesn’t give you a ton of slam. There’s a nice sense of space and good placement of instruments and sounds within the space – not a cavernous soundstage, but a nice well rounded theater.
The Planar performed exceptionally well with older jazz recordings. On the newly unearthed Thelonious Monk “Palo Alto” concert recording, it provided enough detail to catch a touch of the “warts” from low-fi nature of the recording – reportedly recorded by a high school janitor, and kept in his private collection for decades – but doesn’t get bogged down by excessive hiss or sharpness as is often the case on older jazz recordings. The Planar captures the energy of the band, and its imaging does an excellent job of placing the performers on the stage. The bass is a highlight throughout the album, and the incredible texture and detail the Planar provides in the bowed double-bass solo of “Well You Needn’t” was probably the highlight of my music listening for the entire week.
Coldplay’s “Adventure of a Lifetime” gets a balanced delivery, with the Planar. The impactful bass drives the song, and Chris Martin’s vocals come right down the middle with the various guitar riffs, percussion, and other instruments surrounding you on all sides. All the instruments are well layered and positioned. There’s a good feeling of depth to the soundstage as various instruments get a brief highlight and you get the sense of the player stepping forward for a moment, only to step back in line with the rest of the band after the highlight is done.
The Planar demonstrates excellent nuance and dynamics with Enrique Bagaria’s performance of Hadyn’s “Piano Sonata No 47 in B Minor.” Bagaria’s expert fingerwork is deftly transmitted through the headphones so that you can almost feel the varied pressure of each finger pressing a piano key. The timbre of the piano, as well as the attack and decay, is natural, and there’s an immense sense of transparency that puts you in the room with Enrique and the piano.
The presentation of the vocals on Jake Isaac’s “Better This Way” is absolutely stunning. Each emotional waver and each touch of raspiness is delivered with clarity, detail, and emotion. The sound of the piano is warm and soft, serving to provide a base for the vocals. The entire performance is delivered with loads of character and a touch of intimacy.
For testing, I used a mix of the headphone jack on a Macbook Pro, the iBasso DX160 and the Cayin N3Pro. The Planar proved very easy to drive, and it handled EQ adjustments quite well also. While listening with MQA tracks on the N3Pro was probably the definitive listening experience for the Planar, it was honestly quite good just coming straight out of the Macbook.
Comparison: HIFIMAN Sundara
Let’s be serious, the HIFIMAN Sundara has basically become something like a Pokemon Gym Leader at this stage. They’re great – no doubt – and as such, every new sub-$500 headphone has to come to the Sundara gym and battle to prove their worth.
From a design perspective the Planar definitely takes a few more risks – especially if you get it in red. The Sundara seems like it might be slightly more durable, but the Planar has some interesting design elements, and is probably the more comfortable of the two. The suspension system on the Planar does an excellent job of distributing the weight of the headphones, but the earcups themselves might be more a matter of personal preference.
In terms of sound, the Planar and Sundara have very similar tunings. The big differences are that the Planar provides better bass and subbass extension, while the Sundara has a slightly better feeling of transparency than the Planar. There’s also a touch more treble in the Planar, which can sometimes add a touch of harshness when you compare the two side-by-side, but other times adds some air and personality in the vocals. Another difference is that the Planar is easier to drive than the Sundara. On average across the different devices, the Sundara needed 10-15% more juice than the Planar to achieve the same level of actual volume. Overall these are both great choices, and the difference is really a matter of the small nuances and personal taste.
The Bottom Line
The Avantone Planar is a strong contender in the <$500 headphone market. Its distinctive look and design combine with its comfort and technical performance to create headphones that really stand out from the crowd.