The headphone industry is advancing at a rapid rate – new players and technologies are entering the stage by the minute, and right now planar magnetic headphones are overtaking the markets by a storm.
Though more expensive than their dynamic-operating counterparts, planar magnetic headphones offer a bit more clarity and a drastically smoother performance.
Despite the added clarity, they are still imperfect and could use a small boost in terms of volume and EQ management. In that light, we’re here today to review the best DAC/Amp units for planar magnetic headphones, so without any further ado, let’s dive straight into the reviews:
Best DAC/Amp for Planar Magnetic Headphones
Lavaudio DS600 HiFi DAC & Headphone AmplifierLet’s start off with the strongest, most versatile, and most customizable DAC/amp combo on the list from Lavaudio – the DS600. It might be a bit of overkill if you’re a Hi-fi enthusiast, but it’s a must-have if you’re an audiophile, as it offers pristine clarity performance on the fly.
Essentially, it’s powered by two gated ES9038Q2m chips that boast an exemplary dynamic range while negating harmonic distortion completely. Furthermore, it can tackle volumes above 126 decibels with ease at a high level of gain.
It’s also very easy to use, as it packs an onboard volume knob, a clearly visible display, and a standard 3.5mm output.
Connectivity-wise, Lavaudio’s DS600 offers both Bluetooth and USB modes of connection aside from cable out. Its sonic performance is excellent due to the custom-made USB chip, and its effective range is extended with the receiver, allowing you to use it outdoors if the weather isn’t too rough.
On the downside, it’s the most expensive unit on the list, and again, it arguably offers a bit more power than ears should handle. However, it’s great for critical listening, musicians, and even gamers who want to get the most out of their planar magnetic headphones.
- Absurdly high volume extension range
- Plain and straightforward method of operation
- Clearly visible display
- Minimal distortion
- Versatile custom-made DAC cheap
- Three connectivity modes
- Very expensive
Audioengine D1 24-Bit DAC & Headphone Amplifier
Next up is Audioengine’s D1 DAC & Headphone amplifier. This is a high-end digital-to-analog converter that offers plenty of wattage power, top-shelf features, great connectivity, and a beginner-friendly design.
The built-in DAC is automatic and non-customizable, which makes it a better option for music lovers who want to reinforce the quality of their planar cans without actually having to do anything else aside from plugging them into the unit.
As far as connectivity goes, D1 DAC sports two RCA outputs, a single S/PDIF port, a headphone (3.5mm) port, and a USB output. It’s just slightly less versatile than Lavaudio’s DS600, but it’s still on top of the chain in this particular field of performance.
One of the biggest advantages Audioengine’s D1 DAC offers is its tiny footprint. Basically, it’s small and light enough to be carried in a pocket, although its wired design narrows its field of use.
The amplifier feature is remarkably strong and easy to use, as no setup is required whatsoever. Simply plug your headphones, and you’ll be able to ramp the volume up sky high. Just like our previous pick, the main drawback of the D1 DAC is its price tag. It’s decently pricey, but at the same time, it offers excellent value for the buck.
- No setup required
- Top-quality built-in digital-to-analog converter
- Remarkable wattage strength
- Multiple modes of connectivity
- Pocket-sized DAC/headphone amp
- Compatible with computers, laptops, and headphones
- No Bluetooth connection
Sound BlasterX G6 Hi-Res 130dB 32bit/384kHz Dac
Sound BlasterX’s G6 is a high-end DAC unit that would best sit in the hands of hardcore gamers and sound engineers. Both DAC and headphone features of G6 are of tremendous quality, but it also features an integrated soundcard that can completely replace the soundstage of whatever device you plug into it.
It’s remarkably powerful due to the fact that it’s powered by Dolby 7.1 SS visualization feature, offering an all-encompassing sound experience and complete immersion. Its sonic signature is bass-heavy, which means that certain songs with a distinctly pronounced low-end set of bass frequencies may be a bit overwhelming at times. On another hand, it’s absolutely perfect for gaming.
- No installation required
- Dolby 7.1 SS technology
- Highly customizable performance
- Integrated high-quality soundcard
- Tiny footprint
- Not suitable for critical listening
- Limited connectivity
FiiO K5 Pro AK4493EQ DAC and Amplifier
FiiO is one of the leading brands in the DAC industry, and K5 Pro is one of their heavily acclaimed flagship models. It’s supplied with a built-in AK4493 chip that offers superior decoding performance and exemplary sample rates.
This particular DAC unit is ideal for people who are using high-impedance planar headphones, as K5 Pro offers a broad range of impedance adjustments (up to 300 ohms). It also features a coaxial input, a single optical input, two line-in headphone inputs, and a USB port in addition to gain & bass switches and onboard volume control knob.
- Sturdy casing
- Excellent connectivity options
- Onboard bass, volume, and gain boosters
- Supplied with excellent-quality AK4493 chips
- Great performance at all impedance levels
- No Bluetooth
Soundavo HP-DAC1 Digital to Analog Converter/Headphone Preamp DAC with S/PDIF
We’re nearing the mid-range price range with Soundavo’s HP-DAC1 – a versatile digital-to-analog converter/headphone combo that offers excellent connectivity, a strongly integrated amplifier, and a variety of features meant to increase listening comfort and convenience.
Speaking of which, Soundavo’s HP-DAC1 features a clipping-protection feature, that will balance the volume levels whenever too much gain or distortion is introduced to the sound signal. It boasts flawless performance up to 600 ohms of impedance, and it can easily handle even the most unbalanced of soundstages.
Another huge benefit this DAC unit offers is the plug-and-play method of operation. It doesn’t require any installation, and it is compatible with most PCs, Mac OS systems, laptops, and USB-powered devices, as well as all headphones with a 3.5mm input connectivity.
- Stabilization bumpers
- Two line-in inputs, S/PDIF output, USB port
- Three gain control options
- Tremendous performance at high impedance (up to 600 ohms)
- Supports high-definition audio
- Slightly more expensive than average
FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier
FiiO’s E10K is essentially a smaller, slightly weaker, pocket version of K5 Pro, despite the fact that it belongs to a different generation. It’s an essential piece of equipment for audiophiles on a tighter budget, as it offers easy headphone amplification and decoding capabilities with minimal effort.
The only drawback of E10K DAC is that it only supports 3.5mm and USB modes of connectivity, but it has selectable gain levels and controllable volume. It also packs a neat bass boost feature for lovers of heavier music genres, especially electronic and metal.
- Compact and lightweight
- Togglable bass boost and three gain settings
- PCM102 Dac chip
- Supports high sample rates
- Minimal distortion
- Very limited connectivity options
- Pricier than most pocket-sized DAC units
Proster 192kHz/24bit Stereo Audio Amplifier DAC
If you liked everything about Lavaudio DS600 except its price, you may want to take a look at Proster’s headphone amplifier/DAC. Aside from its clunky appearance, it’s actually fairly sturdy and brings excellent connectivity and powerful DAC chips to the table.
Connectivity-wise, it packs four stereo outputs, two RCA inputs, a coaxial input, and a Bluetooth antenna. Its driving power measures 100 watts, although it doesn’t perform as great with high-impedance headphones as most models we’ve covered so far.
Most of its features are controllable via a remote controller, all of which are visible on a brightly lit display.
- Built-in Bluetooth antenna
- Exceptional versatility
- Strong driving power
- Supports high sample rates
- Flimsier than average
- Doesn’t work as great with high-impedance cans
FX-Audio DAC-X6 Mini HiFi 2.0 Digital Audio Decoder DAC Unit Headphone Amp
Small, practical, and stronger than most of its similarly priced contemporaries, FX-Audio’s DAC X6 is a portable Hi-Fi station that offers everything a mid-range DAC should – an approachable price tag, multiple connectivity modes, on-the-fly volume adjustments, and a strong DAC chipset.
It is compatible with a wide variety of electronic devices, including TVs, PCs, laptops, and all 3.5mm headphones. Its compactness and practicality are its main benefits.
- Decently affordable
- Strong built-in DAC chip
- Compatible with TVs, PCs, laptops, and headphones
- Very easy to use
- Somewhat limited connectivity options
Douk Audio Q3 DAC Headphone Amp
Douk Audio’s Q3 DAC/headphone amp is an excellent choice for people who are on a relatively low budget. It offers a three-band EQ, four connectivity options (line-in, coaxial, optical, and USB), bass & treble controls, as well as a sensitive volume knob.
It’s powered by SA 9023 and CS 8412 digital-to-analog chips, both of which are much stronger than the ones equipped with most entry-level headphone amplifiers. It also boasts a compact design and plug-and-play operation, making it an excellent traveling companion.
- High-quality DAC chips
- Onboard three-band equalizer
- Bass and treble controls
- Fairly cheap
- Only two line-in inputs
Syba Sonic 24bit 96KHz USB DAC
Syba’s Sonic USB DAC/headphone amplifier is the cheapest model on the list, but it’s certainly not the worst per se. It’s powered by a CM6533 DAC chip and sports onboard treble and bass switch (although these parameters are not customizable).
It offers a single connectivity mode (headphones), but it also sports a headphone input, making it great for musicians. In a nutshell, Syba’s Sonic is affordable, small, practical, and pretty great for the money.
- Quality DAC chip
- Compatible with headphones and microphones
- Bass and treble boost switches
- Minimal versatility in terms of connectivity options
- Mediocre headphone amp
Do Planar Magnetic Headphones Need A Special DAC/Amp?
First of all, every headphone unit is supplied with a built-in digital-to-analog converter, as well as an integrated amplifier.
The quality of these features is different with every model, which means that in some instances a DAC is a necessity, and in other instances, an amp is required; both are rarely required unless a low-quality budget set of headphones is used.
How Much Power Do Planar Magnetic Headphones Need?
Planar magnetic headphones can be driven at a minimum of a single watt. However, they scale better than most with amps that feature high wattage due to their innately high resistance and an almost completely neutral audio signature.
In simpler words, PM headphones are able to disperse gain at high volume levels more efficiently than dynamic headphones. This does not necessarily apply to particular models with low impedance and high sensitivity levels; these specs are present in both headphone groups, especially in the entry-level price range.
Are Planar Magnetic Headphones Hard to Drive?
The answer to this question mainly depends on what type of amplifier is used. Tech-savvy audiophiles know that driving a set of cans becomes harder only when high-impedance amplifiers without a neutral sonic signature are used, otherwise, it’s fairly easy.
In a nutshell, the vast majority of planar magnetic cans do require headphones because they are highly resistive – this essentially means that they’ll need a bit of extra voltage for the sake of volume, but they aren’t hard to drive per se.
Senior editor for Ultimate-Guitar, passionate about good music and quality gear. Bassist. King Crimson fan. Travel enthusiast. Compulsive buyer of Bose headphones and old Fender amps.