Massdrop x Mee Audio Planamic: Bring It
Today we’re checking out a unique product created as part of a new collaboration between Massdrop and Mee Audio, the Planamic.
What makes the Planamic so unique? Well, it has an all-new driver designed in-house by the engineers at Mee Audio. It mixes aspects of a planar magnetic driver with those of a dynamic driver. The copper voice coil is integrated into a flat diaphragm set overtop a single, circular magnetic array. The design seems akin to a scaled-down, single-sided planar.
This design allows the Planamic’s driver to move on a single plane as a standard planar would, gaining the benefits of reduced distortion inherent to that type of driver. Checking out the measurement’s provided by Inner Fidelity that were posted over in the Massdrop forums, it seems to be working as the THD is quite low despite the abundant bass this little earphone can output.
So how does it all come together, and did Mee Audio waste their time breaking away from a traditional driver design? Let’s take a closer look. Spoiler: they didn’t waste their time. Not one bit.
A big thanks to Cee Tee at Massdrop for arranging a sample of the Planamic when I inquired in their forums about the possibility of a review tour. Thank you to Taylor for arranging shipment and for getting this unique earphone to my Canadian doorstep within a day of verifying my postal address. Crazy fast.
I was given the option of returning the Planamic after the review, or keeping it. For a number of reasons I have requested to keep it, though Massdrop needs only to ask and it will be returned immediately. It would be nice if it stuck around so that:
I can answer questions and perform additional comparisons, something that would not be possible if I no longer had the Planamic on hand.
It can be used in comparisons with competing products in future reviews.
It can be shared with others in the community that may not otherwise have the opportunity to hear it.
All that said, this review is my subjective opinion of this product based on nearly three weeks of extensive listening and comparison with other earphones in my stable. My review does not reflect the opinions of Massdrop, or Mee Audio, or any other entity for that matter. No financial incentive was provided to write this.
The Planamic retailed for 149.99 USD during the initial drop. You can check it out here: https://www.massdrop.com/buy/massdrop-x-mee-audio-planamic-in-ear-monitors#overview
Source and Amping:
For at home use the Planamic was powered by a TEAC HA-501 desktop amp or Radsone EarStudio ES100 via USB with my Asus FX53V laptop sourcing music. For portable use the ES100 makes another appearance providing music over AptX HD paired to my LG G6. The Shanling M0 also had it’s hand in pushing music through the Planamic. The beastly HiFi E.T. MA8 was a part of the party as well. I really didn’t find amping necessary as the Planamic sounded nearly as good straight out of my G6 as it did being pushed by the HA-501. Note as well that the Planamic’s low volume performance is outstanding. Often I find the low end disappears at low volumes, but that’s not an issue here. Emphasis in relation to mids and treble remains pretty much the same regardless of how loud you choose to listen.
I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. While I enjoy a variety of signatures in my headphones I generally lean towards slightly warm with elevated treble and sub-bass, an even and natural mid-range response, with reduced mid-bass. The HiFiMan RE800, Brainwavz B400, and thinksound On2 offer examples of signatures I enjoy. I generally listen at very low volumes. Keep this in mind when reading my thoughts on how an earphone sounds as volume can greatly alter a listener’s perception.
- Driver: 10mm Planamic moving coil
- Frequency response: 20 Hz~20 kHz
- Impedance: 16 ohms at 1 kHz
- Sensitivity: 91 dB +/- 3 dB (1 mW at 1 kHz)
- Microphone directivity: Omnidirectional
- Microphone frequency response: 100 Hz–5 kH
- Microphone sensitivity: -40 dB +/- 3 dB
- Cable connectors: 2-pin, 0.78mm pins
- Weight without cable: 0.4 oz (10 g)
- Weight with braided cable: 0.7 oz (20.4 g)
- Weight with headset cable: 0.8 oz (22.2 g)
Packaging and Accessories:
Since this was a review sample, it didn’t come with any official retail packaging but it did arrive with the full suite of accessories. In all you get;
- Planamic earphones
- Detachable braided cable, terminated in 0.78mm 2-pin connectors
- Detachable braided cable within inline mic and remote, terminated in 0.78mm 2-pin connectors
- 3 pairs of single flange silicone tips (s/m/l)
- 1 pair of bi-flange tips (m)
- 3 pairs of Comply T-200 foam tips (s/m/l)
- Clamshell carrying case
- 2 shirt clips
The quality of everything is top notch. The case is made from a thick, faux-leather material. The texturing makes it look like a slender version of the case Campfire Audio includes with the Polaris, but with a less beefy, color-matched zipper. Inside is lined with a soft felt-like material to provide scratch protection with is a single mesh pouch for holding accessories. It’s a pretty decent case.
At first I thought the included silicone tips were the same generic ones included with tons of budget earphones, but alas, that was not the case. The silicone used is softer and more flexible with flanges that extend well beyond an usually short inner shaft. Sony provided something similar with their AS800AP, but the flanges on those were extra long to aid in the product’s water resistance.
Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
The Planamic’s earpieces are constructed from medical-grade, 3D-printed resin. My sample happens to be painted black, but they’re also available in dark blue which in Massdrop’s promotional material looks quite nice. Brainwavz also went the painted, 3D-printed housing route with the B400. Massdrop and Mee Audio’s effort looks and feels significantly more durable, and the colored finish much, much more professional, at least compared to my red B400. That said, I’m pretty sure Brainwavz has improved the build since I bought mine so mayhe they’re closer than I think.
The shells have a low profile design with quite an unusual shape. The inside has a custom-like feel to it with plenty of curves and bulges that let the earphone conform to your ear, similar to the “flavour of the month” BGVP DMG I reviewed recently, as well as the unappreciated Kinera IDUN. The initial protrusion for the nozzle starts off quite broad but eventually tapers down to a very traditional 5mm in diameter. This is going to be great for tip rolling since there are countless tips out there that fit well on 5mm nozzles. The public-facing side of the housing has a subtle X-logo advertising it’s a Massdrop collaboration. Up near the input for the cables, there is a single vent nestled within a small ridge. For those that get a deeper seal than I do when wearing the Planamic, the ridge will keep the vent from being blocked by your tragus. Despite the vent being in an optimal position to pick up wind noise, I never found it to be an issue.
The cables Mee Audio provided for the Planamic are outstanding. They’re labeled as being braided, but upon closer inspection you see they’ve gone with a twin twist. Regardless of what they did, the cables feel amazing. They sheath is nice and dense and should be fairly resilient to being crushed or cut, but still retains decent flexibility. It’s a little on the stiff side, but not so much as to be a detriment. Strain relief at the jack and y-split is excellent, though it is not present around the inline control unit on the mobile cable. Both cables have a useful chin cinch, though on the mobile cable movement is restricted by the metal and rubber control unit. The preformed ear guides are comfortable and do a good job of nullifying cable noise.
Given the Planamics highly ergonomic design with rounded edges and use of a light weight resin, it is extremely comfortable. Maybe, maybe some will feel some discomfort due to the way the front of the housing shrinks down to a point, but I suspect the angle and placement of the nozzle will ensure it’s not an issue for the vast majority.
Isolation is good. Slightly better than average for a dynamic, but not quite as impressive as a balanced armature only unit. Tossing on foams helps, as you would expect. In their least isolating configuration with the pre-installed single-flange tips, no music playing, I can still hear a video fairly clearly at what would be a comfortable volume with the earphones out. Typing from a keyboard is dulled significantly, as are other outside noises. Bringing music into the mix really pushes out intrusive noise. These would be fine to use on transit.
Tips: Bi-flange and foam tips really suck the life out of the Planamic’s already restrained upper regions so beyond a few songs they weren’t used again. You might have a different experience. I found the Planamic best with tips of two types; those that bring the driver as close as possible to your ear drum, or fairly shallow, wide bore tips. The first type refers to the stock single-flange tips. If you want to get the bass I rave about later in this review, those tips are key. Sony has a similar tip they include with the AS800AP, but the flange was so long it interfered with my ability to get a consistent seal. If you’re willing to give up some bass and balance out the sound without resorting to EQ, wide bores tips will be key. I tried with those from JVC, TFZ, and Ultimate Ears. JVC and TFZ tips reduced bass quantity and increase upper treble. You lose some of the visceral feedback of the low end to gain energy in the upper regions. Not worth the trade off for me as the visceral bass is why this thing kicks @$$. The UE tips pulled the driver too far from the ear missing out on the point of that style of tip so stay away from these. The below impressions were made with the stock, medium single flange tips. My qualms with the mid and upper-treble are lessened with the aforementioned wide bore tips.
After pulling the Planamic out of the plastic bag it was shipped in and checking out the nice accessory kit, I plugged it into Radsone’s ES100 which was pulling USB DAC duty on my Asus FX53V laptop. What track did I want to listen to first? Hmm. I knew just the one; “Look At That Butt (feat. Jarina De Marco)” by Dillon Francis. I’ve really been feeling the strong Latin influences of his current work, and the music video for this track is especially ridiculous. So yeah, “Look At That butt” would be perfect. And it was. At 15 seconds when the first hit of bass kicked in, I jumped because I was not expecting the physical response the Planamic provided. That moment immediately solidified this earphone as something special.
The Planamic’s low end provides what to me is the most visceral low end experience I’ve felt from an in-ear. The way notes linger and rumble and the sensation they provide is akin to a full-sized stereo, limited to your ears and not the entire body of course. Haywyre’s “Sculpted” provides an outstanding example of this the moment the low end drops at 23 seconds. I found texturing to be quite good with notes showing depth and feeling. Impact is solid too giving the Planamic’s low end lots of authority beyond it simply being the most emphasized aspect of it’s sound. Speed of the Planamic’s driver is far from sluggish or clumsy, easily keeping up with balanced armatures in presenting the insanity of Havok’s sophomore thrash metal release, “Time Is Up.” Just to really drive it home, where the Planamic truly specializes is in the feeling of bass, something the vast majority of earphones fall flat on. I have a couple planars in the ADVANCED Alpha and HiFiMan Susvara. When wearing the Susvara, if you lift it off your ears just enough to break seal with your head, sub-bass goes through the roof and you feel waves of bass slapping the sides of your head. While not quite as exaggerated through the Planamic, that the gist of how I experience the bass on this thing. It’s unique and awesome in the proper sense of the word.
The mid-range is pretty nice too. That rise from 1K to 4K does a stellar job of pulling vocals and instruments through the bass and with giving the frequency entire range solid clarity. The Planamic didn’t rip my face off with wicked detailing, but it wasn’t muddied or slurred either. There are times where the Planamic’s frequency balance doesn’t help such as on Scroobius Pip’s “The Struggle”. Everything on this track comes across more mellow than it should. Pip’s vocals should pop more. The background vocals are too smooth. The guitar work sounds great and the drumming carries the beat well, but in general it all sounds a little off. On the other, Skrillex’s “Devil’s Den” has effects and synthesized vocals that sit right where the Planamic plays best and as such the pairing of the two is outstanding. If you like Dubstep.
In Massdrop’s marketing material, they say that the hybrid planar/dynamic driver gives music a unique timbre. I don’t really know what that’s supposed to mean, but you would think aiming for accurate timbre would be desired. Soooo, to see just how unique the timbre was I pulled out the Master of Timbre itself, JVC’s HA-FXT90. How was the Planamic? Well, a little warmer and thicker but instruments sounded more or less as they should. I certainly found the Planamic’s timbre more accurate than a lot of hybrids which are often lighter and brighter than is ideal.
Treble is where I find the Planamic struggling most. Take for example Evil Nine’s “Golden Throne”. In the opening moments there is a high pitched synth line that through the Planamic is barely audible. Run the same track though most other earphones and while still subtle, there’s a good chance you’ll notice it significantly more. The way this earphone is tuned means that some aspects of the track are downplayed significantly more than they should be. In some cases this leads to a neat effect and gives the track a ton of depth to the sound stage where on other earphones it’s much more flat. Those striving for raw accuracy may be infuriated. Flaws in emphasis aside, the quality of the treble itself is actually quite good. It’s well controlled with zero distortion I could detect and is not even remotely fatiguing. You can absolutely crank the volume with this thing and pending the low end doesn’t tire you out, can listen for hours on end. Heck, it even cures The Crystal Method’s “Grace ft. LeAnn Rimes” of it’s painfully shrill and sibilant vocals and sound effects.
I found the sound stage on the Planamic to be quite open and spacious, an achievement made more impressive by the lack of treble energy which often exaggerates this area. It comes across deeper than it is wide, but with some quality separation and layering. Again, I refer you to Havok’s works to verify since they can end up a congested mess in the wrong hands. Imaging is smooth and accurate without any dead zones, though the lack of width does make picking out precise instrument locations somewhat of a challenge on especially busy tracks.
The Planamic’s bass-forward sound and recessed mid- and upper-treble means this isn’t an earphone that can do everything. When you get a track that plays to it’s strengths it will blow your mind, but other times it lacks energy and falls flat. That inconsistency can be frustrating when it crops up (thankfully not very often in my experience). When it all comes together you’ll have a stupid grin pasted across your face. Plus, that bass presentation is unique and engaging enough by itself to warrant hunting down songs that play it up.
Select Comparisons: Volumes matched using a Dayton Audio iMM-6 and AudioTool on Android
Brainwavz M100: Dark is a descriptor I’ve seen tossed around with the Planamic. While a dark sound in itself isn’t a bad thing, if done wrong you can end up with a less than stellar product. Enter the M100. From ~500Hz up it’s pretty much a steady drop in emphasis giving the M100 a dark, muddy signature with overly abundant mid-bass and mediocre clarity pretty much everywhere. The Planamic shares the M100’s forward bass and drops for a while, but has notably more forward mids and upper mids, peaking in the lower presence region (~4-5K). This peak nullifies the darkness and gives the Planamic a huge boost in clarity over the M100. Besides that, it shows that a more mellow sounding earphone can still have an excellent sound stage with a large, open presentation along with accurate imaging, layering, and clean instrument separation. The Planamic easily bests the M100 in all regards relating to performance.
TFZ King Pro: I’m a bit of a TFZ fanboi finding their house sound to line up pretty well with my preferences; plenty of sub-bass, slightly recessed but crystal clear mids, and vibrant treble. Listening to the King Pro back-to-back with the Planamic shows these earphones cater to very different crowds. The King Pro’s treble is much more prominent through the entire range highlighting just how downplayed the Planamics upper frequencies are. The Pro can be a little too shimmery and aggressive at times making for a more fatiguing listen than the Planamic. Still, it might be worth it for the clarity and detail, even if the Planamic’s treble is a fair bit tighter and cleaner sounding to my ears. The King Pro’s mids are more prominent than the Planamics but are also leaner and less bodied. I find they also have to fight at times with the treble lest they be overshadowed. The King Pro’s bass was a way more boisterous than I remembered, putting up a closer fight against the Planamic than I was expecting. While I found it more textured thanks to the titanium coating and dual-magnet setup, it can’t match the control, depth, and speed of the Planamic’s unique driver, nor provide the same type of wicked physical feedback.
Campfire Audio Comet: The Comet’s single BA outputs a very well-rounded signature with impressive end-to-end extension for the type of driver. It has decent clarity, a solid punch in energy, but it doesn’t really excel in any particular regard. I feel it’s the definition of a great all-rounder, and as such is absolutely nothing like the Planamic. I found the Planamic to have a larger sound stage with greater instrument separation, but to fall behind slightly in terms of micro-detail. Bass speed and texture is similar with the Planamic providing a more satisfying kick in the mid- and upper-bass, and rumble in the sub-bass. No surprise there. The Comet’s mids are more forward and crisp, though leaner and less meaty. Treble on the Comet is notably more emphasized giving cymbals, chimes, etc. more shimmer and body that the Planamic can’t replicate.
The Planamic offers up some of the most engaging bass I have heard to date. This should be why you buy this product. The bass this earphone offers up is nothing short of intense. Not because there’s a lot of it, which there is, but because the physical sensation it provides is unlike anything I’ve felt before from an in-ear.
The rest of the signature? The mid-range is full-bodied and warm and does a great job of complimenting the low end. The sound stage is spacious and open with a layered feel. Beyond 5K the Planamic needs some attention as the mid- and upper-treble recession is quite noticeable on some tracks, taking away from your engagement. This leads to a slightly uneven experience at times. When the Planamic sounds good, it sounds damn good. In the less common instance it doesn’t line up well with a track, it sounds flat and lacks energy.
Besides sound, the Planamic comes with a plentiful accessory kit that includes a fantastic case, two very high quality cables, and two complete sets of tips. The 3D printed housings are refined and comfortable with impressive ergonomics, decent islation, and a subtle, handsome look that won’t draw too much unwanted attention.
Overall, I think this is a killer new earphone. It’s presentation is unique and full of character. For the cynics, that’s a nice way of saying I know it’s flawed but I like it anyway because it sounds awesome. Whereas many products seem to chase and fail to achieve the flattest, most accurate and neutral sound, Mee Audio and Massdrop forged a new direction for the Planamic. One that embraces and goes all-in on providing a unique and entertaining experience that is unlike anything else I’ve heard on the market. The Planamic is good stuff.
Thanks for reading!
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Some Test Tunes:
Aesop Rock – Skelethon (Album)
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (Album)
Elton John – Yellow Golden Brick Road (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Converting Vegetarians (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album)
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album)
Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album)
Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album)
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album)
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album)
Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Album)
Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bone) (Album)