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Polk Audio Buckle Headphones: A Retrospective Review

As major players in the home audio market since the early 1970s, Polk built an enthusiastic following with their speaker systems and components. But how did their efforts in the personal listening space fare in contrast? The Polk Buckle over-ear headphones aimed to bring a dash of luxury styling and audiophile credibility to the mobile segment. While no longer sold new, we took a hands-on look back at this striking set of cans to see if they still make the grade.

Polk Audio‘s Rich Heritage in Audio Gear

Founded by three Johns Hopkins engineering students in 1972, Polk Audio carried the torch of quality HiFi sound for discerning listeners worldwide. They championed monitor-grade loudspeakers sized optimally for consumer spaces rather than professional studios. This approach let music lovers enjoy accurate and dynamic reproduction without needing six-foot towers dominating their living rooms.

Polk also innovated cabinets with complex contours and isolated driver chambers. This helped minimize internal resonance issues plaguing the boxy designs popular at the time. Other innovations like Hexacone drivers with honeycomb composite cones and Dynamic Balance tuning further enhanced detail and tonal consistency. Their achievements earned Polk numerous industry accolades through the 70s and 80s for raising the bar.

But beyond home installations, Polk made early inroads into portable and automotive sound too. One of the first companies promoting headphone audio, they offered dynamic models with liquid-cooled voice coils back in 1984. Polk later tuned OEM systems for Chrysler, Ford and GM luxury vehicles to highlight their versatility. So while best known for HiFi loudspeakers, Polk demonstrated equal skill translating audiophile principles into personal and mobile contexts over the decades.

Examining the Over-Ear Headphone Landscape

How did their past achievements prime Polk for success though when battle lines drew between music giants? Throughout the 2000s and early 2010s, the portable listening space became increasingly competitive yet crowded. As Apple and Beats won mainstream mindshare with bass-heavy fashion cans, alternatives skewed too techie or clinical.

LegendaryGerman brands like Sennheiser and Beyerdynamic banked on sterling engineering and accuracy over emotion. There existed clear room in the market for someone applying HiFi sensibilities in an exciting yet accessible design. The timing and climate seemed perfect for an established audio heavyweight like Polk to make their mark.

And so in late 2013, the Polk Buckle headphone emerged to stake their claim. As a handsome $200 luxury entrant, it channeled aviation and modern aesthetics into an elegant everyday companion. Dressed in fine leathers and machined metals contrasting white plastics, the Buckle conveyed sophistication and versatility missing among fashion or tech-centric rivals.

Early marketing also emphasized Polk’s proprietary innovations ensuring warmth and musicality stood out from clinical competition. With iconic styling inspired by classic timepieces, the Buckle symbolized their play at the Winner’s Circle in personal audio. Did the final execution live up to the promise and pedigree though? Our hands-on testing explores this retro renegade firsthand.

Buckle Headphone Key Specs and Design Details

Before analyzing performance, let’s breakdown key specifications behind the listening experience:

  • 40mm Dynamic Balance drivers with composite cones
  • Closed-back over-ear circumaural physical design
  • 20Hz – 20kHz high fidelity frequency response range
  • 102 dB/mW sensitivity rating for wide device compatibility
  • 48 ohm nominal impedance for portable use without an amplifier
  • Distortion below 1% even at higher volumes
  • Earcups articulated and padded in protein leather
  • Headband padded and adjustable for comfort
  • Detachable 1.2m audio cable with iOS remote and mic
  • Bonded metal and high impact plastic construction
  • Transport zipper case and screw-on 1/4” adapter included

Comparing the Buckle to popular headphones from Beats, Bose and other brands, we see a very capable sound platform. While based around familiar dynamic drivers versus exotic planar magnetic or electrostatic elements, Polk tuning magic set out to enhance realism. The crisp 20Hz-20kHz range covered the full audible spectrum without coloring or extreme sculpting.

Examining design construction, the Polk Buckle channeled retro and contemporary cues in equal measure. Stitching and materials nodded to classic wristwatches and bomber jackets while angular forms stayed modern. Small fins, visible hardware and holed grilles reinforced the aviation concept. It walked an appealing line between genteel and adventurous suited to cosmopolitan life.

Comfort-wise the Buckle struck a middle ground for portability versus extended wear. Clamp force and headband spring tension hit the sweet spot between secure and relaxed. The earpads wrapped fully around average ears to limit intrusive noise without excessive heat or sweat. The 280 gram weight stayed reasonable for a rugged full-size headphone too.

Sound Performance and Character Analysis

Pushing past the impressive aesthetics reveals audio performance also outpunching the original $200 asking price. Polk engineers sweated details that competitors overlooked by focusing merely on style or extremes. Their Dynamic Balance concept enhanced realism by carefully controlling driver excursion and damping.

As a result the Buckle exhibits very smooth midrange performance crucial for reproducing vocals and lead instruments accurately. The slight warmth sustained regularly comes across natural rather than exaggerated like most consumer cans. The sound extends evenly across all registers from rumbling bass through crystalline highs without apparent gaps or spikes.

That said seasoned listeners will detect a gentle uplift around 150Hz compared with neutral reference. This provides a subtle push conveying power and drive suited more for rock, pop or hip-hop than purist classical. Acoustic string instruments lack some fine detail compared to open-backs from Audio-Technica and Grado. But the Buckle counters with bigger dynamics and more visceral impact when the music calls for it.

In many ways the presentation charts a pleasant course between analytical monitors and bass-blasting lifestyle models. The sound never skews robotic or clinical even if absolute resolution lags summit-fi gear. Yet the low end punch and lively tuning keep excitement levels high for rocking out. This flexible tuning philosophy extends their HiFi heritage into a crowd-pleasing portable form.

Expanding on the frequency reproduction using more technical audio language:

  • Bass: Strong extension down to 20Hz conveys subwoofer-like power aligned with modern tracks. Mid-bass between 80Hz and 200Hz accentuates rhythm and propulsion without major bloat or muddiness issues. Texture stays honest as well thanks to controlled damping rather than messy resonance.
  • Mids: Fantastic presence with minimal coloration ensures vocals always claim the spotlight. Acoustic guitars and piano also sound natural with good transient bite. Slight elevation centered around 800Hz brings extra energy.
  • Treble: Crisp extension past 15kHz prevents dullness while avoiding harsh sibilance or listening fatigue. Good balance ensures cymbals shimmer and sparkle remains lively without obscuring minutia.

Add the closed-back noise isolating design into the equation and the Buckle makes a compelling everyday companion. The immersive soundstage projects nearly as wide as open audiophile models for enveloping listeners completely. It also avoids compromising isolation critical for travel use combating noisy vehicles or chatter. The Polk manages significantly better passive attenuation than most rivals relying on mere earpad sealing.

Buckle Headphone Pros and Cons Breakdown


  • Classy aviation-inspired aesthetics stand out from typical headphones
  • Premium metal and leather build looks and feels luxurious
  • Good noise isolation from closed-back cup design
  • Fun lively sound with some extra bass kick
  • 102dB sensitivity plays very loud from phones & tablets
  • Reasonably portable weight under 1 pound


  • Bass and lower mids slightly exaggerated from neutral
  • Maximum detail and resolution lags higher-end models
  • Female vocals can sound slightly recessed
  • Compliant headband vulnerable to damage if abused
  • Questionable support for older 1-year warranty

Buckle Relevance Today and Verdict

While Polk has moved on from headphones after the Buckle with their speaker focus, this striking set still delivers. Considering street prices around $60 now, they easily compete sonically with name brands pushing $200 or higher. Factor in dashing metallic style with leather luxury absent on mass market models, it makes for an easy recommendation.

We endorse the Buckle happily for buyers wanting an affordable ticket to premium quality sound and aesthetics. The lively musical accenting brings fun flavor to modern recordings spanning pop, rock, rap and more. Just don‘t expect miracles reproducing subtle classical compositions or acoustic ballads if naturalism is mandatory.

For context we preferred the Buckle over current comparably-priced on-ears from Skullcandy and concrete-like tanks by Sony. The enduring audio performance and flashy accents simply outclass other sub $100 models compromised by margin slicing economics. While missing expected features like Bluetooth mobility or noise cancellation, the vital foundations hit all the right notes.

Our only reservations come down to long-term parts and service viability. As an orphaned model getting proper replacements or warranty redemption may prove tricky down the road. But treating the Buckle with care and it should still crank out smooth sound for years. Just be judicious using it as rugged daily beaters if you want the stylish exterior intact over the long haul.

So for shoppers valuing compelling style, impressive engineering and enhanced bass done tastefully, the Polk Buckle sells a convincing three-point value. Their winning combo of otherworldly aesthetics merged with pillowy fit and energized audio make these retired cans worth hunting down. Considering the original $200 suggested price, their $60 revival pricing gives all competitors a severe bruising.


Q: Do the Polk Buckle headphones offer active noise cancellation?

A: No, however their over-ear closed-back design provides passive isolation comparable to many ANC models. No battery powered electronics exist onboard to filter external noise.

Q: What company currently owns and makes Polk Audio products?

A: Polk is operated under the Sound United umbrella spanning Denon, Marantz, Definitive Technology and Classé brands after their acquisition in 2006. Production remains centered in their longtime Maryland facilities.

Q: How do Polk headphones stack up broadly against rivals like Sony, Bose and Beats?

A: Polk tuning prioritizes natural precision versus leading brands highlighting lifestyle or excessive bass. Construction quality also trends higher over mainstream cans using more plastic. Expect superior audio yet less branding clout.