Polk Buckle over-ear headphones
While they don’t tick all the boxes to match the RRP, these headphones produce excellent clarity, but some sounds fade away within busy tunes
- Excellent build quality
- Attractive despite bulk
- Very clear and detailed mids
- Struggles to separate sounds when many things are happening
- Can get heavy to wear for long periods
- Bit expensive
The Polk Buckle over-ear headphones are not the best on the market, but both their sound quality and appearance argue a good case. They thrive in producing detail and clarity, but some of this is lost in more busy songs.
Polk’s Buckle over-ear headphones attempt to blend performance with style, and although the device does well on both these fronts, its value proposition does not equate to the $349 asking price. The headphones produce notable clarity and quality even at high volumes, although sound is often inconsistent as the device struggles to segregate sounds in ‘busy’ songs.
Design and user comfort
The Buckle headphones are part of Polk’s Heritage Collection, and are available in two colour variants: a ‘Buckle Brown’ model which is emphasised by bronze and off-white features, as well as a ‘Buckle Black’ model that’s silver. The brown unit we tested has a more alternative, semi-classic look to it; the segregated sections of brown, bronze and off-white give it a rustic twist, making it stand out among the plethora of modern-looking devices on the market.
While the colour composition is appealing, the Buckle’s earcups make the headphones chunky. This is due to both the deep oval design of the driver’s casing, and the thick (but soft) padding which sits around the ear, creating a seal. The earcups are attached to bronze-ish pieces of metal by a ball joint, enabling them to swivel into a comfortable position. These are then linked by the headband which has a brown, textured leather top and smooth off-white leather underneath.
While Polk has taken the liberty to add some padding to the underside (which sits against your head), there is not nearly enough to ensure long-term comfort. At 840g, the Buckle headphones are not heavy per se, but you will begin to feel pressure against the top of your head during long listening periods. Other than that, the Buckle headphones sit softly against the side of the head; they do not have the pressure of many other devices. Additionally they are able to stretch fairly wide, which should accommodate most users.
The build quality of the headphones is notable. It feels very sturdy and there is no creaking during manipulation. We do recommend carrying it in the supplied pouch as it can pick up cosmetic scuffs very easily when rubbing against other items in your bag.
The Buckle headphones feature one full range, 40mm driver on each side. While it has the potential to deliver mid- to high-quality sound, we found listening experiences to be highly varied. Having paired the device with both a seventh generation iPod Nano as well as a Samsung Galaxy S4 running the Mog music streaming service, we found that Buckle not only produces a mixed bag of clarity and sound segregation across different genres, but within similar styles as well.
For example, the headphones thrived when playing “Sorority Sisters” by Andrea Roma — an electro tune — producing exceptional clarity and detail as notes bounced around the stereo sphere; the production of the song even caused the Buckle to imitate surround sound. Mids were prominent and energetic. On the other hand, there were parts in R3hab’s “Skydrop” — also electro, but slightly busier — where we would have liked to hear more division between the array of simultaneous electronic sounds.
Similarly, when listening to metal bands Northlane and Periphery, there were numerous occasions during which the Buckle headphones seemed to struggle to separate an array of simultaneous sounds on different levels. One particular example was within Periphery’s “Mile Zero”, where cymbals almost disappeared at times while the headphones were trying to deliver electric guitars and vocals (which they did much better).
This is not to say sound quality is poor, though. For the most part, instruments and sounds can be heard, but more attention must be paid to capture that extra detail. The design of the headphones helps with this. As mentioned previously, the soft pads surrounding the earcups sit comfortably around the ear, and create a seal which passively eliminates plenty of ambient sound from entering. The seal also stops sound leaking, which means you can crank the volume without annoying anyone around you. A key highlight of the Buckle headphones is that even at top volume, sound does not distort or rustle, so you can take full advantage of its output capabilities.
The Buckle headphones seem to have a particular bias towards bass. We don’t mean in the sense that its bass overpowers the rest of the sound range, but instead, the overall sound produced has a deeper tone to it. While this does give bass a bit more flair, we would have liked to hear a more dynamic deep range. We must note that bass definitely sounded more rounded and powerful on higher volumes; we really began to enjoy the thuds from about 65 per cent volume onwards.
We recommend playing with the equaliser of your source to take full advantage of certain genres, but especially when looking at listening to something more mellow and reliant on highs and mids.
The Buckle headphones have a small control wheel located at the rear of the right side of the headband. While this will generally play and pause music on most mobile devices, it will only accepted full-fledged commands when used with an iOS-based device as they are targeted towards iPod, iPhone and iPad owners.
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