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.