UNBOXED: Reviewing the Tidal Force Wave 5 Planar Magnetic Headphones
A couple of things stand out about the Tidal Force Wave 5 Planar Magnetic Headphones. First and foremost is the design of the product. These are much taller than your average headphone, but that’s what you can expect out of cans in the open back segment. Of course, you can find plenty of normal-looking open-back headphones, but a quick Google image search will give you a good sense of what we mean. Companies, for whatever reason, like to really extend themselves up and over the user’s head. It makes for a cool look, but it takes a truly confident person to be able to pull that off in a public setting.
Beyond the high-stretching bar, these are an incredibly beautiful pair of headphones. The materials feel premium, from the leather head strap—which is super comfortable—to the soft ear pads, to the brushed metal casing on the earpieces. These feel like an expensive pair of headphones, but they come at a reasonable price of $299.
Then you get into the audio technology built into these things.
For most consumers, the first question about these headphones is going to be about open back. What does that mean? And the answer is pretty simple because it means exactly what it sounds like. Most consumers are going to be used to closed back headphones, and all that really means is that the outside of the cans is closed off from the rest of the world. Closed back headphones create an isolated listening experience that is supposed to block out external sounds from seeping into your ears. And, conversely, it keeps the audio that you’re listening to trapped in the earpiece.
Open back does just the opposite. The area behind the driver is open. Tidal Force (which relaunched as Helm Audio at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest earlier this month) designed the back of the headphones to look like a metal grille, and while it looks like it’s closed, there is no real material there keeping the audio trapped or external noise/air from getting in. What this does is it creates more of an open-air listening experience. It adds a sort-of liveliness to the music where you feel like the music is playing around you rather than being pumped directly into your eardrums.
Tidal Force improved upon this by using their planar magnetic driver, which is supposed to create a more consistent listening experience. The short description on the difference between planar magnetic and a standard driver is this: standard headphone drivers act much like a speaker driver—it’s cone shaped, and the internal mechanics work to disperse the audio waves out across the cone and towards the listener’s ear. Planar magnetic drivers use a series of magnets that circle the diaphragm, in front of and behind it, and vibrate back and forth in order to evenly disperse the audio signals. Much more goes into it than that, but that’s the short of it.
Other reviews I’ve seen talk about the audio coming through a little bright in the Wave 5’s—something I can’t attest to. What I can say is that I thoroughly enjoyed the music I tested it with, and I didn’t notice any sort of distortion or trouble spots as far as performance was concerned.
The only real drawback I see with the Wave 5 (and open back headphones in general) is that the use cases for them are limited. The sound quality is great, but you won’t find me commuting to work with these headphones for the simple fact that they allow audio to bleed out on purpose. Style-wise, I’m happy to rock these, but I don’t want everyone else on the bus, train, or plane to be rocking with me. That being said, I’ve seen open back headphones that have the option to be converted to closed back headphones with the purchase of accessories that clip onto the back of the cans. Tidal Force doesn’t offer that option through their website as far as I could tell, which seems like a missed revenue opportunity for them.