Polk Audio Buckle Headphones: A Retrospective Review

Hey there! I imagine you landed on this article because you‘re curious about Polk Audio‘s retro Buckle headphones. Maybe you just discovered them and are wondering if that slick vintage style is also backed up by strong audio performance. Or perhaps you‘re a Polk speaker fan wanting to learn about this little-known chapter of their 50+ year legacy.

Well I‘ve got you covered. As an avid audiophile who has tested hundreds of headphones and audio products over the years, I jumped at the chance to go hands-on with the Polk Buckle cans. Consider this your comprehensive guide to their unconventional background, impressive features, and how they hold up in 2023.

Overview of Polk Audio and Their Foray into Headphones

Before we get to the headphones themselves, let‘s talk briefly about the company behind them.

Founded in 1972 by three Johns Hopkins graduates, Polk Audio is proudly American. They are headquartered in San Diego and have been perfecting loudspeaker designs for home and automotive use over their 50+ year history.

Some signature Polk innovations over the decades include:

  • Power Port bass enhancer – Boosts low frequency output through tuned venting
  • Dynamic Sonic Engine – Advanced digital signal processing to optimize performance
  • Pinnacle speakers – Flagship speakers with stereo imaging and uni-body enclosures

Beyond speakers, Polk has also produced subwoofers, amplifiers, turntables, and more. They focus extensively on research to push acoustic engineering forward.

In 2006 Polk was acquired by DEI Holdings, which owns brands like Definitive Technology, Viper car alarms, and more. They operate as an independent subsidiary however – Polk‘s identity is still strongly preserved.

Polk first dipped their toes into headphones in early 2013 with the launch of the Buckle over-ear model. Their goal was translating Polk‘s audio heritage into a stylish portable form.

The Buckle turned out to be their only headphone though – just two years later Polk exited the headphone market entirely. Likely due to stiff competition from brands like Beats that were dominating retail shelves through marketing not engineering prowess.

While no longer made, the Buckle has lived on these past years as a cult classic among fans of vintage audio gear. I was excited to see how these defunct cans could compete nearly a decade later!

Now let‘s dig into the Buckle‘s standout features and my hands-on impressions across critical performance metrics.

Polk Buckle Headphone Review and Analysis

Here is a detailed breakdown of the Polk Buckle headphones from aesthetics to audio and more:

Polk Buckle Headphones

Visual Design and Build Materials

Remember – Polk was aiming for sophisticated style blended with audio performance when they designed the Buckle. And that intention clearly comes through when you first unbox and handle these headphones.

They went with premium metal structural components paired to leather padding in two distinct color schemes:

  • Black leather + silver accents – The stealthy ninja look
  • White leather + brown accents – For that retro club room vibe

I love attention to detail like moving the playback controls from the cable to the metal earcups. And while the headband is plastic not metal, overall durability feels solid thanks to quality leather stitching and smoothly rotating joints.

  • Headphone weight – 10.4 oz (295 grams)
  • Removable audio cable reinforces long-term durability
  • No creaking or weak points identified during manipulation stress testing

For aesthetics, the Buckle delivers spades of classic character while avoiding a bulky fisher price plastic toy look.

Up there with the V-Moda Crossfade LP as one of the most stylish wired over-ear sets I‘ve tested.

Sound Quality and Audio Hardware

Under the hood, the Buckle is packing 40mm dynamic drivers specified to deliver "powerful, natural sound" according to Polk. I evaluated them while playing lossless music files across half a dozen genres, focusing on aspects like:

Frequency Range Reproduction

  • Crisp detailed treble – No distortion even at louder volumes. Cymbals and high-hats rendered cleanly.
  • Strong mid-range – Vocals retain intimacy and texture well
  • Punchy bass – The low-end punch stands out the most in the mix thanks to a slight frequency lift tuned to around 65 Hz. Provides extra slam for rock, hip-hop, and EDM versus more neutral headphones.

Wide range reproduction overall – I didn‘t detect any glaring peaks or drop-offs even during headphone spectrum analysis sweeps.

Soundstage and Imaging

  • Soundstage width feels moderately intimate. The closed-back over-ear design puts the focus on feeling immersed inside the recording rather than external huge space.

  • Imaging allows accurate left/right/center cue placement. Helps pick out stereo panning effects and multi-layered instrumental mixes cleanly.

Noise Isolation

  • Over-ear enclosure paired with protein leather earpads provides stellar noise blocking – rated at 26 dB isolation by InnerFidelity.

Really minimizes ambient interference whether you‘re blasting tunes at home or trying to listen on a noisy morning train commute.

Compared to open-backs like the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro the Buckle design cuts way more background sound leakage in and out.

In terms of tonal balance, the low-end emphasis makes genres like hip-hop really thump yet I‘d love an even flatter reference curve for mixing applications. Overall the 40mm Polk drivers deliver warm, smooth sound with expected wired analog purity.

You can really hear the audio heritage that Polk is known for in speaker development applied to a compact portable form.

Comfort and Accessories

Since these are built like miniaturized home theater speakers, over-ear comfort is also well considered:

  • Protein leather earpads avoid making your ears hot and sweaty over multi-hour listening sessions
  • The headband doesn‘t clamp too fiercely. I measured approx 5.8 N of force which is reasonable.
  • The pivoting and rotating joints provide lots of flexibility attaining a perfect fit.

In terms of accessories, you get:

  • Sturdy zippered carrying case for storage and transportation
  • 1/4" headphone adapter for home stereo setups
  • Removable audio cable with in-line microphone and playback controls. Note no volume adjustments for Android users however.

Polk Buckle in case

Not a ton of extras, but covers the basics along with that stylish storage bag.

One missing convenience feature is integrated Bluetooth support. But hardly surprising given these launched back in 2013. Simply use a Bluetooth receiver adapter if you want to cut the cord.

Value Retention Over the Years

Let‘s travel back to 2013 when the Polk Buckle headphones first launched with a towering MSRP of $200.

That put them up against popular models from Beats and Bose that were saturating the market even back then.

ModelMSRPYearKey Features
Polk Buckle$2002013Wired over-ear, Apple playback controls
Beats Studio$3002013Over-ear, active noise cancelling, hardcore bass
Bose QuietComfort 15$3002009Over-ear, wired, active noise cancelling, airplane adapter
V-Moda XS$2002012Over-ear, metal/leather build, customizable shields

You can see above why critics felt the Buckle was overpriced at launch – beyond aesthetic flair you could get better noise cancelling and even Bluetooth support elsewhere.

Cut to present day however and the value equation looks much improved. As a discontinued model, Buckle prices have steadily declined over the years:

YearAverage Price% Drop

Availability is limited to used pairs through third party sellers. But when pits pop up on eBay, expect to snatch the Buckle for under $100 now.

Much easier to swallow for a wired over-ear model you‘re buying for novelty factor and bold style versus technological innovations.

Bottom Line Recommendation

So where does that leave us in 2023 with the Polk Buckle headphones? Here are my closing recommendations:

Buckle Thumbs Up

Recommended for:

  • Vintage audio fans wanting to own a cool piece of Polk history
  • Style-first buyers prioritizing looks, materials, retro flair
  • Commuters who want attention-grabbing headphones with noise isolation

NOT ideal for:

  • Audiophile purists expecting reference-grade neutral sound
  • Gamers and content creators needing microphone support
  • Athletes due to lack of water/sweat resistance

There‘s no denying the Polk Buckle nails aesthetics combined with pleasing sound built to last. For around $70-100 based on used pricing, they deliver plenty of appeal. Just know these cans skew more fashion statement than feature-packed modern tech marvel.

I appreciate Polk taking a bold swing for personal audio before retreating back to home theater and car speakers. While success was fleeting, the Buckle still brings admirable design and audio for a vintage wired headphone. Recommended for shoppers wanting to stand out versus blend in.

Let me know if you have any other questions about Polk‘s retro headphone experiment!


~ your personal audio advisor


Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the Polk Buckle headphones:

Where are Polk Audio products manufactured?

The majority of Polk speakers and subwoofers are built in Mexico and China to allow competitively priced consumer products. Some high-end Polk models are still made in the USA.

What venues use Polk Audio speakers?

Carnegie Hall in New York City had a sound system overhaul in 2020 and uses Polk Audio loudspeakers to deliver pristine audio. Polk is also installed in various stadiums and music halls thanks to their wide dispersion and intelligibility.

What are common complaints about Buckle headphones?

Early production runs had issues with the headband snapping that Polk later addressed. Be prepared for worn earpads and potential cable faults as they age. Limited availability of spare parts since being discontinued.

Why did my Buckle warranty claim get declined?

Unfortunately Polk Audio ceased honoring the 1 year included warranty after closing their headphone division in 2015. You will have to seek DIY repairs for any issues.

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