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OPPO PM-1

Posted

Pros: Light for a magnetic planar and actually quite portable. Good value for money and a very good first try by Oppo Digital

Cons: A little closed sounding for an open back headphone. Decent sounding but lacks the sparkle

 

Introduction
 
Oppo Digital is a name renown for their Blue-ray & DVD Players but recently branched out to the headphone world by releasing their very first planar magnetic headphones, the PM-1, and matching desktop DAC/Amp, HA-1. With the courtesy of Oppo Digital Japan, I received a demo set of PM-1 and HA-1 for just over two weeks. The PM-1 comes in an impressive wooden storage box and a suite of cable accessories for portable and home use, velour ear pads which offer an alternative signature, and a denim carrying case.
 

 

Headphone Ergonomics
 
Of all magnetic planar headphones I've tried, the PM-1 is the lightest and most comfortable to date. They are such a contrast from the current magnetic planar offerings which are large and heavy and it's as though Oppo is trying to make a point that magnetic planars can be compact, light, comfortable & portable - as such even a compact carrying case and 3.5mm cables come along with it. No longer does a planar magnetic have to stay at home. In addition the way the PM-1 is designed, it actually has a very low profile that hugs & stays close to the listener's cranium.
 
As if it wasn't enough, velour pads were also offered in addition to its leather. Both are comfortable and glasses friendly, but the velours add a further softness to the comfort. However there's a little more to just comfort to the velour offering.
 

 

 

 
The PM-1 Headphone Sound Signature
 
Considering this is Oppo Digital's first attempt at headphones, the result is actually quite a decent effort. It has, as it's advertised, a natural and pleasant sound signature. At least to my ears the Oppo doesn't  shout analytical nor clear cut surgically perfect reproduction of a mastered track, but instead more of a lush and musical presentation that is easy to like on an initial listen. It doesn't attempt to wow by having deep pounding bass, nor by having sparkling trebles, but instead focuses more on being calm and mellow with it's midbass and midrange focused signature, whilst the lower trebles seem to take a quick dip but comes back neutral enough to grab the listener's attention. There is a light touch of texturing and layering which is more easily heard with the balanced cable through its complimentary HA-1 DAC/Amp.
 
The signature can be tailored by switching to the velour pads which seems to tone down the midbass and midrange to have an overall more neutral signature. The cost of doing so however seems to be  a slight loss of depth imaging.
 
Whist on the topic of depth and width perception, the PM-1 does have a more up-front close and personal presentation, and it's not shy about it. One does feel they're sitting close to the performing artists in a very private performance. Depending on the DAC/Amp combination that perception can be further tailored a little.
 
Overall Sound Signature of the Combined Package
 
As a package, I find that the two compliment each other into producing an easy listening sound that one can like very quickly. It does this so at a very reasonable price point too especially with most other magnetic planar headphones demanding higher quality DAC/Amps to help them shine. However, the sound signature to me isn't one for critique or articulate listening. At least for how I'd consider such a sound signature to be leveraged in my environment, it'll probably in a situation where I just want to kick back and listen in the background whilst I'm focused on other activities.
 
Conclusion
 
Oppo Digital has given other magnetic planar headphone makers some food for thought by producing one that is lighter than it's competitors, and at a very reasonable price point - all packaged up in an impressive storage box with very practical and needed accessories. Meanwhile with their HA-1 DAC/Amp, they have packed it with full of features and as with the PM-1 headphones, priced it accordingly too. I can easily see how such a package would be suited for portable audiophiles who want to take the next step and dabble on a home magnetic planar desktop gear but not fully step away from portable audio at the same time.
 
Having said that, (and rather unfairly) coming from my collection of Stax SR-009s/SR-007Mk1 setups to Fostex TH-900s & Alpha Dogs, I find the Oppo to be just merely pleasant sounding but lack the "wow" factor for my expectations. It makes a decent stepping stone but as for myself I see it to be an interim setup. However if I'm limited to $1100 to spend, I would prefer to spend it on this than on other open backed magnetic planars of similar pricing.

Posted

Pros: High quality design, light weight with an excellent selection of accessories and a lush sound. Scales well with better equipment. Readily portable.

Cons: "Dark" sound wont be good for everyone nor all types of music.

 

It was certainly a big surprise to find out that the company famous for multi-media everything-and-the-kitchen-sink players had come out with a pair of headphones and planar ones at that. With the revival of planar (orthodynamic) headphones we have had had one consistent thing: Weight. Audeze’s and Hifiman’s headphones have been heavy and that hasn’t always been good. One of the endearing things about the old, circular diaphragm planars from Yamaha and others was that they were light and portable and pleasant to listen with. Oppo’s PM-1s, on the other hand, are light and more like a conventional pair of headphones in size. They are beautifully finished and their design is well thought-out, from the all-metal construction and soft, but firm ear pads to the clamping force that is just spot-on.  The ear pads themselves also come off and are put on easily, with a non-leather pair included for people who don’t like leather.

 

That allows the PM-1s to act as a pair of portable headphones. The ear cups swivel flat and a zip case is included. Likewise, as well as a long, full-size cable they also include a short cable for portable use. Both cables connect using a 2.5mm TS plug to each cup. For balanced amp use, especially important now Oppo is also selling the HA-1, a balanced cable with a 4-pin XLR plug is available for purchase.

 

That ends up making the PM-1s a super-flexible pair of headphones, either for home use or portable, especially given the number of more powerful portable amps out there now planars have been around a few years. The downside is that they have a dark sound signature reminiscent of the old LCD-2s and the LCD-X that will not be to everyone’s tastes. One man’s lush is another’s muffled. Comparing them to the LCD-Xs I didn’t find them to be less detailed overall than the larger headphones, but the smaller diaphragm seemed to give the feeling of a smaller soundstage. The LCD-Xs have a large, precise presentation that the PM-1s don’t quite match. They are, however, quite a bit more money and quite a bit heavier.

 

As a pair of portable headphones I tried the PM-1s out of my iPhone 5 with better than expected results. If anything, the more muted treble mated nicely with the slightly sharper sound from my iPhone, which was at maximum volume when I was listening at a bit higher than my normal moderate volume. 

 

What was interesting was when I plugged the PM-1s into my Hugo after listening with the HA-1. The level of detail jumped up as I would have expected from the switch to better equipment, suggesting that the PM-1s can scale. Much of that likely has to do with the modern take on the old-style circular planar diaphragm. The diaphragm itself is corrugated and reinforced to ensure precise movement and the sound is channeled through a “mandarin” plate to focus the sound waves hitting your ears.

 

When I first tried a PM-1 prototype I was asked how much I thought they could be sold for. I replied I thought that if they priced around the LCD-2s they’d give them a serious run for their money and I think I was right. If there is a real successor to the old and legendary Yamaha and other planar headphones, this is it.

 

Thanks to Oppo Digital Japan for lending me the PM-1 and HA-1 for review.

Posted

Pros: Solid performer with excellent midrange; Beautiful presentation and design; Portable and "public" friendly (ish)

Cons: Rolled off treble; may not please the "Open and Airy" market

Review:

 

I've had the OPPO PM1 set for a week now and have done listening sessions exclusively with these phones over that time to lay down some impressions.  Yesterday I did some comparative listening against my LCD-X, the only other planar I have right now. (Hey Hifiman, ship the dang HE-560!) . The write up below is a culmination of thoughts over the week and the comparisons I performed.  Standard disclaimers here, my own opinions and bad hearing, etc., etc.

 

Hardware used was an Audio-gd Master 8 amp fed by a Mytek 192 Stereo DSD DAC, or a Technics SL-1200MK2 TT & pre-amp.  Source materials I listened to over the week are a total mix of stuff (CD, LP, DSD, and FLAC & MP3 of varying quality).  Tracks used for comparisons are listed at the bottom of the review.

 

For reference:  I usually listen at low to moderate volumes (about 57 dB casual listening, maybe 67 dB rocking out).  I listened to both the leather and velour pads on the OPPOs before settling on the velour as a favorite for the midrange.  Measurements and conclusions were all done with the velour pads.

 

Build Quality and Design:  Build quality and finish is first class, at least in line with other flagships.  With design, OPPO obviously was aiming to make a headphone that could be worn both for serious listening and in more “casual” environments (in the office, walking around the house, etc.). I think they succeeded.  I keep thinking a corporate exec will be buying these and won't mind being seen wearing them around the office (whereas the HD800s might stay hidden unless the door was locked).  The metal grills on the back seem to attract dust in the perforations and may need to be dusted regularly for those concerned with appearance.

 

Accessories:   The box is the most beautiful thing in my house by far (don't tell my wife) and the best looking flagship packaging I've seen.  This is designed for leaving out on a side table to impress yourself and your guests.   The extra ear pads are easily switched out and both sets look good with the phones.  Ear pads are on the less substantial side than some other flagships. The choice of denim for the carry case is just weird in contrast to the silver & leather phones design, so I'm sure there is a story about this I'm missing.

 

The braided cord is very nice and generously sized.  The extra short cord is useless with a stationary amp.  (I sit at a desk with the jack less than three feet from my head and it’s too short.)  The short cable is clearly designed to use with a DAP or smart phone: It’s just long enough to allow my smartphone to sit in a pants pocket when connected.  I would have liked a balanced cable in the box instead, but OPPO will be pitching this phone to its wider market demographic (bought our Audiophile blu-ray player? Now buy our headphone!) and they wouldn’t know what the heck it was.  I understand the balanced cable will be available for separate purchase shortly (next few weeks) but as the connectors are just non-proprietary 2.5 mm mono mini jacks a replacement cable should be very easy for DIY’ers to construct.

 

Comfort: The PM1s are comfortable for extended listening, especially with the velour pads.  The oval shape makes them half 'on'-half 'over' for me but they are very comfortable.  I wear glasses and didn’t find that an issue with these phones.  The headband is padded nicely if not excessively, say better than Fostex TH900, same as T1, less than Audeze LCD-X.  The weight is acceptable for wearing for a few hours, I probably wouldn’t want to all day.  I find myself adjusting the headband forward to get weight pressure of the top of my head occasionally.  For a reference points, I can wear my LCD-X's for only a few minutes without being uncomfortable, my Alpha dogs for a few hours or so, most of my other phones all day.  Here are some relative weights of my phones as I find them this morning:

 

Phone

Weight

Notes

Beyer T1

364 grams

 

HD800 

388 gram

 

Fostex TH900

389 grams

 

OPPO PM1

417 gram

Velour pads

Alpha Dogs

444 grams

 

LCD-X

600 Gram

Vegan pads

 

 

Sound:  The PM1s are flagship quality listening, definitely.  They perform solidly on most fronts, with very good imaging, dynamics, and transient response.  All the detail you want is there.  Bass is plentiful without being overpowering end extends solidly down to 20Hz or so.  Mids are beautiful and accurate without any anomalies or holes that I heard.  It is not dark: The treble is good, though it does roll off at the high end more than some phones (HD800 and Beyer T1, I’m looking at you!). I am sure this one fact will be raised by someone every time this phone is mentioned, but that will be because the phone has so few other weaknesses, if any.

 

Power requirements:  I listened to these with the included short cord from my Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone, my FiiO Kilimanjaro portable amp, and directly from my PC.  All fed the phones just fine.  Perhaps a slight loss of detail stepping down from the desktop amp, but very acceptable at the levels I usually listen to. The short cable is barely long enough to hold a device at waist level, but acceptable for that purpose.  Bottom line, the cans seem very easy to drive.

 

Conclusions:

 

A solid, all around performer that can contend with any other flagship out there right now.  The audio performance doesn't immediately leap out at you in any particular fashion: They're not all "boom" or "hiss", they're just solid across the line with a very pleasing bass and exceptional midrange.  Perhaps I’ll add a “very” to that exceptional midrange.  But if you’re looking for a 'sparkly' phone out of the box this is not it, at least not with my equipment.  And because they don’t have polarizing “stand out” sound characteristics I doubt they will be items for heavy debate on the boards.

 

The bigger value here may be the comfort, lower weight, style, and cost that make this a very viable option compared to other planar magnetics out there.  OPPO was clearly thinking about their broader, non-audiophile client base when they designed these and that’s great.  Again I’m thinking that I could wear these around an office and get great sound out of a DAP or portable amp without having the co-workers staring at my head. And that might be a gateway to bringing a few more audiophiles into the hobby.

 

 

Comparisons with the Audeze LCD-X

 

I listened to an LCD-X with velour pads v. the OPPO-PM 1 with velour.  I listened mostly at higher volumes (for me) for the comparisons below, about 70dB. Phones were level matched to pink noise at 70db when switching between phones.  Stock cables on both phones.

 

Build quality on both phones is what you expect, top notch.  Design goals differ for these two phones. The presentation on the OPPO is beautiful and meant to be left out to be seen while the hard case of the LCD-X is much more practical.  If you want to impress your NON-audiophile visitors, get the OPPO-PM and leave the box out on your credenza or something.

 

The velour pads on the LCD-X are much heavier as is the weight of the phones themselves, so it’s a much different feel. The OPPO was much more comfortable for me, especially with my glasses. The OPPO leaks much less noise than the LCD-X. That and its looks make it a better choice for being out in public. As far as accessories go, the balanced cable being included with the LCD-X is nice for those of us with balanced amps but I expect that at the higher price point.

 

Sound Quality

 

Bass on the LCD-X is more pronounced and forward.  It digs slightly deeper, both on test sweeps and in music.  Bass heads can give the nod to LCD-X for the bump and extended range below 20 Hz, but both phones performed very solidly.

 

In the mids both phones were top performers. Mids seemed a very little more forward on the LCD-X but tonally both phones were similar with great detail and timbre present. Both phones stand out here.

 

In the treble department both phones are very good and very similar. I consider neither of these phones "bright".  That said, the LCD X seemed slightly brighter when listening, while never becoming shrill or sparkly.  Measuring them both, above 10,000 Hz the OPPO drops off much faster. But again no clear winner between these two.

 

Male and female vocals were simply excellent on both phones.  Nothing else to say but good, good, good.

 

Openness and Imaging : The LCD-X's bass reinforcement (when compared to the OPPO PM1) cost it in the imaging department on some tracks, slightly muddying up the picture and making the instruments harder to pinpoint (Shelby Lynne - "Willie and Laura Mae Jones", J.S.Bach - "Invention no. 14").  This was a minimal issue though; for rock music (Pink Floyd – “On The Run”, Steely Dan – well, pretty much everything) it was not noticeable, and on some more 'open' tracks it created a very pleasing effect of spaciousness (Kishi Bashi - "Manchester", Shelby Lynne - "How Can I Be Sure"). It’s a close tossup between the two, with perhaps a slight edge to the OPPO for imaging.

 

Dynamics range on both phones was excellent, both handling loud and soft passages well (Tomas Ornberg's Blue Five - "Taint Nobody's Bizness".  Attack\transient response on both phones was, again, excellent. These are planar magnetics after all.  I couldn’t tell the difference between the two in that aspect

 

Conclusions:  The LCD-X is slightly meatier then the OPPO, given the relative bass bump, better isolation, and the psychological effect of the phone’s weight difference I think.  I don’t think that the OPPO will displace Audeze in the planar magnetic realm any time soon. But, given the similarity of the sound along with the weight and comfort issues, I can see myself reaching for the OPPOs faster than the Audeze in the future.  And I think if I need a set of top-end performers for the office, the bus, or any other public arena the OPPO’s are my new go to phones.

 

Test tracks and other materials used

 

These are SOME of the tracks I used for comparison. These are NOT all the tracks i listened to, just ones I wrote down for reference.

 

Bass Yello – The Eye- Track 5 - "Junior B"
Dianne Reeves - Never Too Far - Track 2 - "Never Too Far"
Mids Steely Dan - Gaucho - Track 1 "Babylon Sisters"
Steely Dan - Aja - Track 2 "Aja"
Treble Kishi Bashi - 151a - Track 2 - "Manchester"
Paper Aeroplanes - The Day We Ran Into the Sea - Track 2 - "Free Wheel"
Vocals The National - Trouble Will Find Me - Track 1 - "I Should Live In Salt"
Allison Krause & Union Station - New Favorite - Track 1 - "Let Me Touch You For A While"
Shelby Lynne - Just A Little Lovin - Track 10 - "How Can I Be Sure"
Openness Kishi Bashi - 151a - Track 2 - "Manchester"
Shelby Lynne - Just A Little Lovin - Track 10 - "How Can I Be Sure"
Imaging Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon (30th Anniversary Edition) Track 3 - "On The Run" (SACD)
Shelby Lynne - Just A Little Lovin - Track 7 - "Willie and Laura Mae Jones" (DSD)
Opus 3 - Test Record 1 - Side B, Track 1  - "Invention no. 14" (J.S.Bach)  (LP)
Dynamics Opus 3 - Selections From Test Records (CD) - Track 10 - "  'Taint Nobody's Bizness" (Tomas Ornberg's Blue Five)
Attack \ transient response Dianne Reeves - Never Too Far - Track 1 - "Hello (Haven't Seen You Before)"
The National - Trouble Will Find Me - Track 3 - "Don't Swallow the Cap"
Nu Shooz - Pool Side  Track 1 - Dont Let me Be The One
Other Test Materials Rives Audio Test CD 2
Finlandia Surround Test CD
opus 3 Test CD 4 
 

Steely Dan - everything

 

 

 

Edit: Removed mention of a certain shopping establishment that I think is not worthy to be mentioned here; grammar.

Posted

Pros: Ultra-present mids, pleasant aesthetic design, sturdy build

Cons: Crowded soundstage, somewhat high clamp force

While generally I can't afford the $1000+ caliber of headphone, I have been lucky enough to demo the Oppo PM-1 and Audeze LCD-3 for the past week at work. That might not be a fair comparison considering the price difference, but it is what it is.

 

Equipment: Laptop, Vivid Tech V1

 

Music: Little Dragon - Ritual Union, Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz, Caribou - Swim, M83 - Saturdays = Youth, LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening, Yelle - Pop-Up

 

Obvious by my music selection, I'm into pop, rock, electronic, bright vocals, and trades between sections of high dynamics and super-density. This is only accentuated by the forwardness of my DAC/amp (which I'll admit isn't the best in SQ, but it's what I've got at work, and sounds decent, especially when you turn up the gain enough to get out of my perceived region of nonlinearities).

 

My only comparison for this headphone is the Audeze LCD-3 which I've been listening to back-to-back on albums (mix of 320k and FLAC). The one thing that is immediately obvious when switching is the compressed soundstage of the PM-1s. I would put the soundstage width/breadth on the order of my Sennheiser HD 595. It's there, the headphone is making the attempt, but it still doesnt put me in a space as much as I'd expect on a $1000+ pair of cans.

 

The positive side to this, is that all the mids are gathered and presented right in front of you, all while still being able to differentiate between sounds/instruments. I'll relate it to the forwardness of some of the lower end Grados (I have the 325i), but the sound is far more refined. The one exception comes from The Age of Adz, which features lots of live instruments. Everything was smeared together during dense sections of the recording. It got me thinking -- maybe the other recordings don't exhibit this smearing because they are carefully crafted/controlled electronic sounds that can be highly managed in mix & master?

 

The other thing that gives clear evidence to the crowded soundstage is listening to Swim back-to-back with the Audezes. The record makes liberal use of instrument panning and fading with great depth. On the Audezes this was almost enough to make my head spin trying to track all the sounds (actually an interesting experience that I hadn't yet come across), but on the Oppos, everything is right there for you to 'see' with a slight darting of the eyes. (I hope that made sense, hah!)

 

Bass is somewhat muddier than the LCD-3s, but still much clearer than my gamut of $200-400 range phones (K701, HD595, 325i, etc.). Extension is there, impact is there (moreso in the midbass than sub).

Treble is pleasant. The LCD-3s sparkle quite a bit more (which can be good or annoying depending on your preference of music). The PM-1s are every so slightly subdued, I would imagine to prevent fatigue (which they do well).

 

Overall I dig these cans (except the price). You get a nice wood case, a denim travel case, a shorter 3.5mm cable and a longer, sleeved 1/4" TRS cable for them. Though the clamping force initially felt a bit strong, I didn't feel more uncomfortable at the end of a 3-4 hour listening period than I did when I first put them on. The chamber for your ear is pretty shallow, but everything your ear is touching is very soft.

OPPO PM-1
Description:

The OPPO PM-1 Planar Magnetic headphone offers a different way of thinking about planar magnetic technology. The PM-1 is characterized by its natural, dynamic, and engaging sound quality with an emphasis on comfort and reduced weight. It is the result of many years of research led by a team comprised of passionate audio and acoustics engineers, chemical and materials scientists, and audiophiles. A number of technological breakthroughs have made their way into the PM-1, including the use of a unique 7-layer diaphragm, double-sided spiraling coils, and an FEM-optimized magnet system.

Details:
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Models:
Model Name/TypeMPNEAN/UPC
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