Polk Audio Buckle Headphones – Three Flaws Too Many

The box for Polk Audio's Buckle headphones.

The box for Polk Audio’s Buckle headphones.

I’m a fan of Polk Audio’s work. And, while I’m an admitted loyal consumer of AKG headphone products, I’m certainly not above testing those loyalties sometimes. So, when I saw Polk’s Buckle headphones on sale recently, I decided to give them a try. Polk is definitely targeting the Beats generation with their presentation. The box is made of thick material, the printed wood texture looks great and probably makes these boxes fairly expensive, as far as materials go. Sadly, Polk should have put that money to better use on the headphones themselves.

Polk Audio's Buckle headphones, and carrying bag.

Polk Audio’s Buckle headphones and included carrying bag.

In general, the Buckle is a pretty well constructed set of cans. The headband and the ear pads are soft and velvety. The leather stitching along the top of the headband is nicely done. Also included is a soft cloth carrying bag. There’s a certain retro aesthetic to the Buckle headphones that is the rage these days. While they are certainly different looking then my AKG K545, I think Polk as done a nice job here. Unfortunately, the physical design of the Polk Buckle has three major problems.

The wire input, and 3-way controller, on the right side of the Polk Buckle headphones.

The wire input, and 3-way controller, on the right side of the Polk Buckle headphones.

Unlike Polk’s Henge headphones, and the AKG K545’s, the Buckle places both the controller and the microphone onto the headphones themselves. In the case of the Buckle, on the back of the right side of the headband, of all places. So, every time you want to change the volume, or track, you end up looking like that dude from Casino Royale

"I'm sorry?" "Stop touching you ear, put your hand down!"

“I’m sorry?” “Stop touching your ear, put your hand down!”

To make matters worse, in my case, the 3-way rocker frequently sticks when moved up or down to change volume. Nor is it consistent when registering double and triple clicks, to change tracks. The line-in wire that comes with the Buckle headphones is thick and well made. But the input that plugs into the headphones is thin, and would not take much pressure to snap it off inside the plug. Rounding out the physical issues with the Buckle is the overall size. I am about 5 foot 11, and, to wear these headphones comfortably, I had to extended them to their fullest. If you are taller, or have a bigger head than I do, I would not expect the Buckle’s to fit. That said, I found the Buckle’s to be more than comfortable enough to wear for 3-4+ hour stretches while at work.

All-in-all, the three issues with the physical design of the Buckle headphones are enough for me to return them. But, let’s talk about sound just the same.

We got the Beats!

We got the Beats!

Simply but: bass. For me, altogether too much. Look, I like bass… I own a subwoofer that gets me written warnings from property managers. The Polk Buckles take the emphasis that Beats put on bass as a dare to be beaten. Oh, and beaten it is. I’ve read the bass from the Buckle headphones as being ‘athletic’. I suppose. Sumo wrestlers and offensive linemen are athletes, after all. The Buckle suffers, perhaps more than most post-Beats headphones, from the worst of the excesses of the generation. Bass is so strong that it drives the middle out of the mids and dulls and muddies the highs. Not kind of, but like an plague of locusts descending to consume everything in the way.

Listening to Dark Side Of The Moon was a frustrating experience because so much of the engineering and producing is simply obliterated by the Buckle because the lows are so over-tuned. Even music that is suppose to be bass-heavy is negatively effected. Granddadbob’s “Mmmnn” is a medium-tempo dance track which features a lot of intricate layered sounds, practically all of which dissolves in the driving bass-line. The near constant symbol work in Tool’s “Sober“, along some of the high end of the vocals are lost. The list goes on and on.

On the plus-side, the over-the-ear Buckle headphones do a very good job at passive noise reduction. I work in a busy, and reasonably noisy office – one of those open-designs – and was in my own little bubble with the Buckles on. They do a great job at containing sound too, with little leakage. Unfortunately, these are little consolation.

With an MSRP of $280, the Polk Buckle headphones1 are insanely overpriced. I was able to find them for $70 recently, and, as you might expect, I have returned them. If the Buckle’s were  $30’ish, and as a replacement for pack-in ear-buds, that might be a reasonable deal – certainly if you are looking for cans that are Beats-like.  If you are looking for headphones in the $70-90 range, the AKG K240’s2 utterly destroy the sound quality of the Buckle, while being just as comfortable and well made.

If you are looking for a significant upgrade, to something wireless and with life-altering sound, at around the Buckle’s original MSRP of $280, check out the Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless Headphones.

Pros:

  • Comfortable to wear over long periods.
  • Well constructed.

Cons:

  • Far too bass-heavy.
  • Built-in control mechanism is oddly placed and cumbersome to use.
  • Probably too small for folks who are 6 foot tall, or more.
  • Cable input seems very fragile.

Verdict = Not recommended.


References   [ + ]

1, 2.Amazon Referral Link

Mike Knotts

Mike Knotts was born in 1968 in a small town in southern Indiana. Even when very young, Mike showed a love for all-things technical and sci-fi. Moving with his family to California in the early 80’s, he eventually graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in History. Rather than put that to good use, Mike continued to pursue his passion for technology by working for early, regional ISP’s in the mid 1990’s. He currently resides in the Pacific Northwest, where he works as a project manager for an Internet startup. Mike is a co-founder of Geekometry.

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