I was looking for a replacement for my now worn out and well used pair of headphones (Sony MDR-1A) but at the same time I did not want to spend a fortune, considering the chaotic Pandemic world is crashing kind of situation at the moment. Then I stumbled upon Gold Planar GL-400C – a budget planar magnetic headphones on Lazada (Malaysian online shopping site) and I thought to myself, at the price of merely RM350 and I have the chance to own a true planar magnetic, why not? It was a risk worth taking, and I gambled. After using the Gold Planar GL-400C for about a week plus now, I must say it was one of the best decisions I have made recently on online purchases.
If you prefer to watch a video format of this review, here it is on my second YouTube channel. Please subscribe to that channel too, if you have not.
This is not a sponsored review, I have no association with Gold Planar. They did not send me a review sample and I bought the GL-400C with my own cash. This is an independent review and I am sharing my experience as an audiophile newbie.
WHAT IS PLANAR MAGNETIC?
In case some of you are not familiar with what planar magnetic headphones are, here is a quick introduction. Traditional headphones, which are the most commonly available headphones are also called dynamic headphones that use electromagnets to drive the speakers. There is another method to produce sound without using electromagnets, and this technique is electrostatic. Planar magnetic is a hybrid between dynamic and electrostatic speakers. I won’t dive deep into the technical details, you can easily look up the information online if you want to know more about the differences between different headphones. The key advantages of planar magnetic are significantly lower distortion, better soundstage, higher level of audio accuracy (better sound detail, separation and clarity) and tighter bass. I admit my explanation is perhaps too simplistic, but I want to get back to my review of the Gold Planar GL-400C before I divert too far.
I have low expectations when I decided to buy the GL-400C. Most planar magnetic headphones, even the entry level models will cost about RM1000 or more. The GL-400C does come in two variants – closed back and open back options. I chose the closed back variant for better sound isolation, as my room is not completely silent with an operating ceiling fan and PC noise, while being next to a busy highway. Also, I intend to bring the headphones out to work with in a cafe from time to time. The GL-400C has on-ear design, which helped shaved a bit of cost, and I acknowledge most audiophiles would prefer a full sized over-ear design headphones. I understand it is quite uncommon for planar magnetic to be designed in a closed back enclosure, and I have no way to compare it to the open back variant.
Here are some quick specifications highlights:
– Impedance 22 Ohms
– Frequency 10Hz to 50kHz
– Nano diaphragm planar driver
– Sensitivity 94dB
– Total Harmonic Distortion 0.25%@1KHZ/100dB SPL
Official product page here (click)
The world’s cheapest Planar Magnetic headphones – Gold Planar GL-400C
Metal build, good padding, weighs only 190g. On-ear design and closed back, planar magnetic.
LOOK & FEEL
I fell in love with the minimalist, clean and simplistic look. The headphones are in all black with metallic silver accents. There is no visible logo or branding anywhere on the headphones, which was a bold move and I applaud Gold Planar for that. The GL-400C do not scream attention, the design is stealthy and low key and no one would know this is a planar magnetic headphones just from the looks.
The GL-400C is obviously budget-priced but the build quality does not show any cheapness at all. Gold Planar claimed they used light aluminium to construct the enclosures of the headphones, and I can feel almost the entire headphones are made of metal, or some kind of metal material. Every part of the headphones felt solid. I have stretched, pulled and yanked the headphones in all directions (refer to video) and I found the construction to be very well made, with no give, no creaky sounds as I tortured the headphones. The headphones feel durable and can take some beating.
The headband does have sufficient padding, which sits comfortably on my head, with no issue, and at times I almost forgot it was sitting there. The fact that the GL-400C is so light at 190 grams only, also made it very comfortable to put on. The ear cups have thick paddings, material is probably some kind of synthetic leather, as they sit on my ears they felt very cushy and soft. The clamping force was good, not too forceful, and as you wear the GL-400C, the headphones do not move away from the head easily. However I must tell you I have larger head than most people, so wearing this on smaller heads, you may have a different experience. The earcups do not get warm that quickly, in fact I have been listening non-stop with GL-400C for about close to 2 hours, with no issue. Typically when I use over ear full sized headphones, my ears get too warm since they are fully sealed off, in Malaysian hot and humid weather, sweat can be a real problem. I did not sweat at all using the Gl-400C, whatever they are doing, it is working, and when it comes to wearing comfort, these pair get high marks from me.
Love the all black, simplistic design, with no visible logo, and some silver metallic accents.
It was comfortable to wear the GL-400C, though they have on-ear design.
SOUND TEST METHODOLOGY
My sound testing setup is very simplistic. I intend to use the Gold Planar GL-400C with my smartphone as well as my laptop computer only. I do find that the GL-400C benefits greatly with additional power from an external amplifier, so if you are looking into getting one for yourself, I highly recommend getting a portable headphones amplifier if you don’t already have one.
Music Player – Realme 2 Pro
App – Poweramp
Headphones Amplifier – Fiio A3
Sound Source – FLAC/MP3 320 files
App – Poweramp
Headphones Amplifier – Fiio A3
Sound Source – FLAC/MP3 320 files
Just in case anyone is curious about burning in, I did let the GL-400C burn in for about 2 days with more than 20 hours almost continuous playback at 50% volume, before I make any testing and sound assessment.
PLANAR MAGNETIC SOUND
Initial impression when I started listening to the GL-400C was very good. I can immediately hear the distinctive qualities of planar magnetic drivers – much wider soundstage, better instrument and detail separation and overall higher sense of clarity. I tested had the GL-400C directly plugged into the Realme 2 Pro smartphone without any additional amplification first, the sound was OK but I knew it needed that boost to reach higher potential. Powering them through the Fiio A3 external amplifier, the Gold Planar GL-400C came to life. The bass is much tighter, the sound is more refined and detailed and the clarity just went up a few notches.
The sound from the GL-400C is not neutral or flat. This is not designed for studio monitoring work and for those who value high sound accuracy with no color or bias, the GL-400C may be a let down. The sound is so obviously colored, and tuned. There is a strong hint of warmth in the sound signature and the higher end of the frequency are raised slightly higher than what reference, neutral level sounding headphones would normally produce.
I did not expect this, but the bass is quite impressive coming from G:-400C. The bass notes extends really low, and you can hear the details, not just the hard punches and kicks. Not only the bass added weight to the music, it added depth and I really appreciate the accurate, layered bass rendering from the GL-400C. Perhaps the closed back design helped with the bass strength – the earpads vibrated onto my ear – oh such satisfaction when you can hear and feel the bass at the same time. Do not get me wrong, this is not the headphones for bassheads – the bass is not overbearing, it is present and demands attention without fighting with or overpowering other spectrum of the sound. If you want your bass to overwhelm everything else, look elsewhere.
MIDS AND VOCALS
The mids are clear and nicely layered, aided with wide soundstage that rendered very good stereo imaging. The vocals are a little forward sounding without being too in your face and annoying, definitely a good plus for those listening to jazz, female or male vocal dominant music.
The high frequency is where the GL-400C shines – and I am discussing this for a budget, entry level pair of headphones. Within this price range, I don’t think there is anything comparable to the level of clarity and detail in the high frequency reproduction. The treble sparkles and sizzles without being harsh, too bright or sharp. There is a slight sense of brightness but the layers of details and instrumental separation (especially guitars and cymbals) came alive. I admit this is not the best sounding high frequency from any headphones out there, there are smoother, better detailed high frequency headphones out there, but those would cost at least three times the price of GL-400C.
I can see how versatile the Gold Planar GL-400C can be – they can do well in most music genres without being fussy, throw anything with vocals, instrument heavy, bass, the GL-400C can chew and spit out beautiful, lively and vibrant sound with so much clarity and detail.
Audio test setup – simplistic yet effective. Fiio A3 portable headphones amplifier was used to add a ittle power boost.
Verdict – highly recommended as an entry into audiophile world, or a guiltless introduction to planar magnetic headphones without harming your wallet.
The way these headphones are made – from the design standpoint to the sound delivery, it is clear they aim for newcomers to the audio world. And in this universe, high fidelity sound is the top priority – other gimmicks like bluetooth connection, microphones, active noise cancelling, NFC, touch operations, etc are non-essentials. I am putting this out here, just in case any of my viewers are from the gadget/general crowd instead.
Do I have any complains? I thought hard and long – not really. Is this the perfect pair of headphones? Far from it, if I want to nitpick, and start comparing to true higher end audiophile cans, I definitely have a lot to comment but that is stretching things a little unnecessarily too far. The fact is simple – for RM350, the Gold Planar GL-400C offers sound quality that comes close to above RM1000 dynamic headphones counterparts, and does a few things (bass, soundstage) a little better.
If you are looking for an entry level into the audiophile world, or thinking of trying a planar magnetic but not willing to burn a hole in your pocket. the Gold Planar GL-400C is for you. I highly recommend it, it is a guiltless pleasure, having audio performance that exceeded my expectations. However, if you are an experienced audiophile, you are familiar with what planar magnetic offers, the GL-400C may seem lacklustre, there are obviously much better options out there but you do need to fork out a lot more.
Anyone with a heart for planar magnetic headphones? Give me a shout in the comments below.
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