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
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.
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.
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.