We’ve had the pleasure of reviewing a few of Advanced’s headphones this year; this company seemed to come out of nowhere just recently, and in the intervening months has quickly turned out a varied product offering of IEMs, portable and Bluetooth DAC/amps, and even a Bluetooth speaker. Though Advanced started with affordable in-ears, this month they unveiled two higher-end offerings aimed at the audio enthusiast: the Alpha and GT-R planar magnetic headphones. Today we’re taking a look at the soon-to-be-released Advanced GT-R, a compact over-ear with detachable cables. It’s a well-built headphone and, though we think many will like its sound, it’s a bit soft for our tastes.
We love how the GT-R is built. Long-time fans of planar magnetic headphones know that, in the past, there have been very good-sounding headphones that suffered from disappointingly poor build quality, a problem exacerbated by the weight inherent in their design. Not so with the GT-R: the GT-R’s headband and yoke assembly are all aluminum, with metal screws fastened to metal (rather than plastic). Even the left and right indicators are built to last, made of knurled aluminum, anodized black and red. The cups are made of a stiff plastic with aluminum outer covers. Unlike some high-priced headphones we’ve been disappointed by recently, there are no squeaks or creaks — nothing to make this headphone seem like it might fall apart over time. We like the GT-R’s detachable cable — it’s the right length (5ft), thickness, and weight, terminated in a right-angle 3.5mm plug on one end and 2.5mm plugs on the other. We don’t know what accessories will ship with the GT-R — our advance (pun intended) review unit came only with its cable. The cups of the GT-R fold flat; though this makes them far more portable, we found that the cups tend to rub together in transit, leaving permanent marks on the plastic.
The GT-R’s aluminum construction is contrasted by soft contact points. Its ear pads are just the right size to envelop the ear, and just thick enough that our ears didn’t touch the driver covers (the GT-R’s ear pads don’t appear to be easily detachable, and we didn’t want to risk damaging our review unit). The GT-R uses an automatically-retracting suspension headband system that sizes to the user’s head, limited only by the arc of the aluminum above. We found the headband to be generally comfortable, though it was a bit aggressive during our testing, pulling the GT-R upwards on the head; hopefully this will relax over time with use. Clamping force is also high on the GT-R; again, we did not find them uncomfortable but, at least in our first two weeks of use, they didn’t allow us to forget that they were being worn. All this means that the GT-R achieves an airtight seal around the ear; we were reminded of Audeze’s headphones, where it feels like a vacuum is created around the ear. We recommend momentarily breaking the seal after putting the headphone on to equalize air pressure around the ear.
Advanced says that the GT-R is sensitive for a planar magnetic headphone and could be driven from a smartphone. Sensitivity and impedance specs were not available at the time of our review, but we were able to test the GT-R with mobile devices, laptops, and variety of different amplifiers. Driven by the iPhone’s Lightning adapter, we found that the GT-R was listenable in quiet environments, but only if we nearly maxed out the phone’s volume. To put that in perspective, it required about 25% more volume than the 35-ohm Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7. Though the GT-R can be driven from mobile devices, it’s not ideal — as should be no surprise to fans of planar magnetic headphones, the GT-R benefits from amplification not only in volume, but in its overall sound. Characteristics like control and bass impact improved when we added juice. Make no mistake, however, these are still portable cans — our Oppo HA-2SE portable amplifier had no problem driving the GT-R on high gain.
We’ll start talking about the GT-R’s sound with the part it does best — bass. The GT-R’s bass extends low and, when properly amplified, impactful. It’s not the most detailed low-end we’ve ever heard, but Advanced deserves points for not allowing the bass to overpower the GT-R’s sound signature. The GT-R’s treble is, to be blunt, fairly blunt. There are many words to describe this type of sound — rolled-off, soft, laid-back — none of which have a necessarily bad connotation. Some may find that the GT-R is extremely easy to enjoy and non-fatiguing, while others — like us — may prefer a headphone to be a more articulate in the higher frequencies. We experimented with equalization on the GT-R — 3-4db in the upper mids/treble gives them a much more balanced sound.
The GT-R is labeled a semi-open headphone, though compared to other so-called semi-open headphones we’ve tried, it’s much more leaning towards open. This means that they will not provide isolation from the outside world and, sound will leak out of the cups while music is being played. Despite its mostly open design, we didn’t find the soundstage of the GT-R particularly wide. After trying the GT-R with a wide range of genres, we think it’s not ideal for those looking to pick out micro-details in orchestral music — this headphone just doesn’t have that kind of presentation or detail retrieval. It does, however, pair well with electronic and rap music, where vocals can take a back seat to hard-hitting beats and low-extending bass.
Advanced is a growing company, and we like where they’re headed. Their first entry into the niche of planar magnetic headphones — a market dominated by large, expensive, sometimes fragile headphones — is well-built, portable, and relatively easy to drive. This headphone does not have what we would ordinarily call an ‘audiophile’ sound signature, but it may be popular with those more interested in experiencing planar bass than interested in crisp treble. The GT-R might be a planar for the masses; that’s either a pro or a con depending on your point of view. Part of our review score takes into account the breadth of a product’s potential audience; since this sound signature will necessarily limit its appeal, the GT-R gets our limited recommendation.
Company and Price
Company: Advanced Audio