Polk Audio Buckle Headphones Review
They might miss a couple performance hurdles, but these buckles hold up their end of the bargain.
The Insides That Count
The Polk Audio Buckle (MSRP $250, online for $146) don't produce the sort of stellar sound to match their durability and design, but they come fairly close. Time in the lab with these cans revealed a very subtle, reserved presentation that favors bass and mid-tones over the upper midrange and high trebles. Other than a bit more distortion in the sub-bass range than we'd like, the Buckles also deliver clean presentation with little by way of clipping or harmonic interruption.
When dealing with any speaker, the frequency response is a measurement of how that speaker emphasizes each note from the deepest bass to the highest treble. During our frequency response test, we feed a frequency sweep at 78 dB into our Head-and-Torso simulator, which then spits out an illustration of a headphones' frequency response.
One reason I say that the Buckles present a subtle soundscape is precisely because of their frequency response. Given a static 78 dB tone, the Buckles boost sub-bass very gently to about 82 dB, but by 400 Hz are already mildly under-emphasizing those bass tones at about 72 dB. Emphasis continues to drop, falling as low as 59 dB by 4kHz, over 20 dB quieter than the sub-bass frequencies.
This bass-forward emphasis lacks the sibilant "punch" of brighter mids and trebles, but it isn't a bad sound. The only drawback is that upper mid-range frequencies that sometimes rely on that harsher sound to break through to the forefront are obscured, so that music tends to lose some of its former edginess when played back through the Buckles.
Total Harmonic Distortion
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) refers to the presence of clipped harmonics and poorly reproduced bass sometimes present in music due to the natural mechanical defaults in a speaker or set of headphones. Almost all speakers or headphones suffer from some amount of distortion, but the ideal amount is 3% THD or less.
For the most part, the Buckles fall within the ideal threshold. We measured THD peaking above 3% between around 35 and 70 Hz, which is a hard-to-hear area in the sub-bass range. For the price (about $200), we'd like to see THD below 3% across the entire frequency spectrum, but this isn't an overly negative result, either.
On the front page, I mentioned that the Buckles exhibited mild discrepancies between the volume of the left and right speakers. We determine this result using our Head-and-Torso simulator to analyze the volume of each frequency as its plays back through both speaker channels. Ideally, frequencies will play at the same volume from both channels, but many headphones exhibit small (usually imperceptible) errors.
The Buckles are one such pair—they tend to sway between the left and right speaker channels by between 2 and 4 dB, which is hardly enough for human ears to notice, but could still be audible for certain content types, like podcasts. There is a swing of about 8 dB just around 9.5kHz, but this is such a high frequency that you'd almost never notice.
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