Welcome to the first entry in our new column, Golden Ears, where we look at some truly exceptional high-end, headphones and audio gear. Today, we’re looking at the Gold Planar GL2000 planar magnetic headphones. Coming in at $639, these headphones definitely meet the criteria for a “golden ears” headphone, so let’s take a closer look and find out.
- Current Price: $639 (Linsoul)
- Impedance: 60 ohms
- Magnetic type: N52 Neodymium
- Driver dimension: 112.5×83mm
- Sensitivity: 99dB (Double magnetic circuit version); 95dB (single magnetic circuit version)
- THD: <0.1%THD
- Frequency: 4Hz-50KhHz
- Frequency: 4Hz-50KHz
- Driver: Diaphragm planar driver
- Cable: 2 meters detachable OCC silver-plated cable
- Package Weight: 2.8KG
- Recommend Power: At least 2W
Introducing Golden Ears
As the first entry in a new column, introductions are in order. Golden Ears is MMORPG’s brand new tech column focusing on high-end desktop audio gear. This column will specifically focus on headphones and other enthusiast-level products that step above the mainstream. That puts it in a special category for us, but it’s also where you find some of the most interesting products in the audio world and we believe they’re worth exploring and sharing with you all.
The big question is, why its own column? The answer is twofold. Every now and again, we get the opportunity to test some very high-end gear, such as the headphones I’ll be covering in this article. By their very designation, these products aren’t for everybody. The perception of price among HiFi consumers also tends to be different than the mainstream. There, a $500 headphone is considered reasonable if it delivers the sound signature and level of detail the consumer is looking for. Add onto that a separate headphone amplifier and DAC that are each $100 or more and you begin to see how expensive this hobby is. It’s the chase: the pursuit of that elusive last quality bump before “endgame.”
Second, because of that, approaching these products in a normal review really doesn’t make much sense. Past a certain point, these products will almost all fall into the category of “great” or “amazing” unless something goes terribly wrong. In that context, scoring a product out of ten simply has less meaning than the discussion that comes before it.
And so, we have Golden Ears, a place to discuss high-end audio gear for your desktop, and we begin with the Gold Planar GL2000s.
Gold Planar GL2000 - First Impressions
Gold Planar probably isn’t a brand you’ve heard of and that’s for good reason: for most of its existence, it focused on making drivers for other company’s headphones. With the GL2000, the company is delivering its own complete headphone, taking that expertise and applying it to a wholly unique build. As of this writing, I’m not sure whose headphones GP supplied, but I would certainly be curious to know.
The GL2000 is a planar magnetic headphone. That means instead of using a conical driver like most consumer over-ears, the driver used here is a flat membrane lined with metal traces. On either side of this membranic plane are lines of magnets. As current is pushed through the driver, the opposing forces of these magnets pulse the membrane, pushing air and creating sound. Planars are popular among audiophiles because they tend to offer exceptional detail across the frequency spectrum and extremely low distortion.
The drivers Gold Planar uses are big at 100mm and able to move a lot of air. This lends them a big sound that just seems to wash over you despite living just outside your ears. It also comes in two versions, one with magnets on a single side of the driver and a second that comes with magnets on both sides. I tested the dual-sided version which is said to sound better and costs a bit more. When it comes to technical specs, these headphones feature a wide 4Hz-50KHz frequency response range to ensure that it can accurately reproduce the entire spectrum of human hearing without distortion. FR is only one piece of the equation, though, and is worth taking with a grain of salt before hearing how they actually sound.
One thing is for sure: Gold Planar is out to make an impression. The headphones arrived at my door in a big box that held this large Pelican-style case. Inside, the headphones rest in special cutouts, including inserts between the cups. Underneath is the second set of pads which are fenestrated and fabric where they touch the skin. On the second layer is the documentation and a nice satin pouch holding the balanced cable.
Here you can see the full package. It may not seem like a lot but first impressions are very positive. The headphone is made of lightweight aluminum which helps keep the weight low — which can be a problem with dual-sided magnetic planars. The build feels very solid and well-made yet also like something to take good care of. The metal yokes aren’t likely to break but one needs look no further than the grilles to see a level of fragility inherent in the artisanship of these cans.
The GL2000s are open-back headphones, but rather than rely on a boring metal grille, Gold Planar has opted for a design that’s entirely more interesting. The open back is a network of interlinked gold rings. These are faced with horizontal gold bars. They’re firm to the touch but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that it could bend or damage easily if mistreated.
One thing that I thought was interesting and I honestly don’t like is the cable. The cable included here is great, but ends in a 4.4mm balanced pentacon connection. Put another way, out of the box, these will not work with an unbalanced connection like a smartphone or a normal amplifier. The assumption, it seems, is at the level these headphones are being sold out at that the consumer will have a balanced output. And granted, if you’re considering such a high-end audiophile headphone, you probably do have a balanced connection, but I would still have liked to see a standard single-ended cable included to save an additional purchase.Stock CableReplacement cable
Thankfully, the headphone supports standard 3.5mm connections into each earcup. Finding a replacement cable was easy right through Amazon for $23. It’s not nearly as nice as the one included, though, so now I’m in the market for a balanced amp!
Finally, I just want to touch on these excellent pads. They’re real leather and super comfy (which I’ll talk more about soon). They’re also designed to deliver different sound signatures. This set will naturally be more isolating and deliver enhanced bass. The second set are hybrid pads featuring a silky fabric where it touches your skin and perforated leather on the sides. They’re more breathable and airy. Both are really, really good.
Fit and Comfort
The GL2000s are huge — surprisingly so. The pictures really don’t do them justice. Despite their large size, they distribute their weight very well. The headband is padded in soft foam but not overly so. It’s really just well made to avoid hotspots even after wearing them for hours at a time. I’m particularly sensitive to this, but even wearing them in 4-6 hour stretches, they never once made my head sore.
The two sets of pads are both deep and soft. I spent most of my time testing them with the leather pads since I preferred that sound signature more but comfort is about the same on both. The leather pads do trap more heat but that’s to be expected. The headphones offer just enough grip to feel secure while grooving along, so jaw pain isn’t a concern here, and the articulation of the yokes helps them to find an isolating fit around your ear. They could be considered too loose; as a product of their size, they’ll slide off if you lean over too far while wearing them.
Overall, Gold Planar nailed the comfort of these ‘phones. They’re all day wears if you want them to be and feel great the entire time.
What’s the Sound Like on $639 Headphones?
One of my first questions when getting into the headphone hobby is how much better some of these expensive headphones could really sound. If you’re used to headphones under the $100 mark, you’ll be in for a treat. Think of it like upgrading from standard definition to HD. The level of detail you’ll hear is a big upgrade, especially when driven by a dedicated DAC and amp setup.
You don’t necessarily need that — I was able to get them plenty loud plugging in directly to my PC with a high-end gaming motherboard. Heck, I could get them loud enough to enjoy just using a $28 dongle DAC for my smartphone. At only 60 ohms impedance, they’re not hard to drive but they will sound much better with more power. This is very much a case of “you can” versus “you should,” and I wouldn’t recommend spending this much money on them unless you plan on using a dedicated amp in the near future. There is a clear change in sound quality and how the drivers respond when given more power. Linsoul recommends at least 2-watts, which seems like overkill in my experience. I was able to drive them with a 1000-watt portable amp and they sounded identical to my more powerful Schiit Asgard 3 to my ear.
I was lucky enough to spend a solid 3 weeks testing them with lots of different types of music and games and they deliver a wide, big sound — more like speakers than headphones. There isn’t a sense that the sound is coming from close to your head as it actually is. Instead, it’s as if those drivers are stepped back 6-12 inches. This occurs because of the size of the driver, the very large cups, and those wide open backs. Music and games sound more natural and realistic.
The soundstage isn’t as large as some I’ve heard but there’s a sense of verticality to the way sound comes through. The GL2000s can deliver a sense of space but it’s not as extensive as a set like the HIFIMAN Sundara but the sense of height they present makes what you’re listening to sound “big” in a very interesting and fun way.
Returning to my point about this level of headphone being similar to stepping up from SD to HD: the GL2000s are excellent for detail and resolution. You’ll hear things with these you simply won’t on lesser headphones. In Coheed and Cambria’s Pearl of the Stars, for example, a song I’ve listened to repeatedly for years, I had no idea how incredibly complex the mixing was. The acoustic guitar, which previously took center stage, lived in the left channel while an ominous synth welled up from the right much louder and clearer than I've ever heard before and permeates a large portion of the song, completely changing the dynamic of the song. That synth was audible before but I never heard the way it turned into an almost vocal sound and sang a simple contrast to the main line before.
When you can hear every element so clearly, music and games sound much more complex. You can see the artistry that goes into audio in a way that just is much more difficult on mainstream headphones.
The other thing that I really appreciated is how tight and responsive the bass is. These are definitely an upgrade to the Sundara in punch and slam, but only when properly powered. Using my PC or even a high-powered dongle I’m not allowed to talk about yet (think 5x the power of a normal dongle dac), it sounded fat and uncontrolled. With my Asgard 3, it tightens up and hits/stops with precision. This is excellent for drums. In I The Mighty’s Degenerates, the toms make the verse and these headphones inject energy and presence that made it just so fun to listen to.
Another high point for these is male vocals. They’re forward but aren’t sharp, which makes them a great fit. Female vocals aren’t as forward and Adele’s Rolling in the Deep and Hello could tend toward an edginess that could be slightly fatiguing. Hello, on the other hand, was absolutely beautiful in the lower, bluesy tone she sings the verses in. The soundstage and sense of scale the headphones deliver also gave the song an ethereal quality I had never heard before, especially with the supporting vocalists.
While I wouldn’t recommend purchasing these just for gaming, they do work very well. The sense of space and detail is phenomenal for competitive shooters and really any game that leverages space and atmosphere. The clarity is really what you’ll notice most while gaming. In Battlefield, for example, you don’t miss anything, even in the most intense battles. You can be hunkering down and hiding from a passing tank while a firefight is going on and still be able to hear the breaking glass, falling shells, and approaching footsteps exactly the same as if you were hearing those elements on their own.
It’s true that past a certain point, you enter the realm of diminishing returns with high-end audio gear. I would add that the hunt for excellent headphones often becomes a matter of “flavor” versus huge differences in quality or resolution. These headphones are fantastic. I love them. But, are they a massive upgrade from the Sundara’s which are only $350? No. In some ways, like the bass, build, design, and comfort, they are. In others, they’re not as good. You don’t get the same “detail microscope” effect the Sundara’s deliver. It’s not bad, it’s just a different flavor of good — pretty much what you would expect with this expensive of a product.
For my part, these headphones have become part of my daily routine when I really want to enjoy what I’m listening to. They’ve driven me to look into portable amping solutions and setting up a listening station downstairs I can hook my consoles into. If you’re in the market for a high-end pair of headphones, these are definitely a pair to consider.