Oppo PM-1 Planar Magnetic Headphone Review
When long time HTF sponsor Oppo announced they were getting into the headphone market, I was very excited for a multitude of reasons. First, and probably most obvious to those members who own an Oppo player, is that Oppo doesn’t build any mediocre products. Since their first foray into the DVD player market and all the way up to their most recent BDP-105, Oppo’s products have always been high quality, functional and reliable. Second, Oppo knows how to design attractive electronics. From their new audio products to their optical disc players, Oppo’s design language is an appealing one. This is even more important with a device like headphones because they are worn by the owner, not simply sitting on a shelf.
Enter the PM-1, Oppo’s first flagship headphone designed for audiophiles and music lovers. Oppo didn’t bother starting with a more conventional dynamic driver headphone, instead they went straight to the cutting edge by using planar magnetic transducer technology. This is the same type of transducer used by HiFiMAN and Audeze in their headphone offerings.
Typically bashed by reviewers for being heavy and uncomfortable, planar magnetic headphones are still a relatively niche product amongst all but headphone enthusiasts, and while swiftly gaining popularity, many owners complain that listening for more than an hour or two at a time is almost unbearable. Oppo has solved this problem by building an extremely durable and comfortable headphone that weighs only 395 g (under a pound), while the competitors from HiFiMAN and Audeze weigh 502 g and 600g respectively.
Design & Aesthetics
The PM-1 is a handsome headphone that ships in a beautiful wood box and comes with accompanying detachable cables (both sleeved ¼” and a short mini stereo cable are included) and a carrying case, as well as two sets of pads, one leather and one velour.
The PM-1 itself is very sturdy, and features extremely soft lambskin leather on the headband which sits very comfortably. The fittings on the headband are all chrome and while easily smudged, look very sharp. The cups are large enough to comfortably surround the ear and have just the right amount of clamping force – enough to stay put, but not enough to cause a headache or discomfort, even with long listening sessions. The pads are easily removed and replaced as they adhere with 4 insertion points like many speaker grilles.
Finally, Oppo has created a tremendously portable headphone in the PM-1. The included denim carrying case is small enough to fit into a backpack, purse or briefcase with ease, and puts competitors (I’m looking at you Beyerdynamic) to shame.
With a signature that is slightly warm yet texturally rich, the PM-1 is reminiscent of the Sennheiser HD650, albeit with a more forceful and planar-like bass presentation. The soundstage isn’t as wide as some other planar magnetic competitors like the LCD-X, and fine detail isn’t as accentuated as in some dynamics like the Beyerdynamic T1, yet the overall sonic signature is one that is eminently listenable. This headphone like so many before it cannot be all things to all listeners, yet excels at being a companion for lengthy listening sessions. It does not demand your attention, yet still envelopes you in the music. Listening to Sophie Millman’s In The Moonlight, I was reminded immediately of the Vandersteen Model 5A, perhaps one of the most memorable Jazz speakers I’ve heard. The PM-1 has a sense of warmth and closeness to the music that lends itself exceptionally well to jazz, particularly one with a vocal as memorable as Sophie’s.
Moving on to some other genres, I gave a listen to a selection of tracks from Mickey Hart’s Global Drum Project, Yo-Yo Ma’s Appasionato, Jo Blankenburg’s Elysium and finally some trance from Armin van Buuren’s A State of Trance 2014. Throughout my listening tests, the PM-1 performed fabulously, handling the multifaceted percussion of Global Drum Project with ease and delivering a surprising amount of slam. The classical elements of Appassionato and Elysium test the capability of any headphone or speaker to remain smooth and composed when so many complex elements are being reproduced. Once again the PM-1 performed admirably, though it was noticeable that my Beyerdynamic T90’s outperformed the PM-1 in exposing fine detail, though this comes at the cost of a slightly harsher and more sibilant presentation. Finally, listening to the digitally produced trance and progressive in A State of Trance 2014, the PM-1 proved that it could handle bass heavy digital elements as well as any headphone I’ve heard. While some other headphones can get fatiguing with trance and digital music, the PM-1 did not exhibit this problem.
To wrap up my testing, I used the PM-1’s late at night while watching a couple of movies and while gaming. Thanks to their excellent bass response, the Oppo PM-1’s did a fabulous job with both Avatar and Closed Circuit delivering the deep bass one would expect and providing a surprisingly immersive soundstage. While I doubt the PM-1 could truly show off its chops in the home theater without a Smyth Realiser or similar binaural surround processor, it was shockingly good at capturing detail in the surround channels that had been down mixed to stereo.
The PM-1 manages to be both involving and inoffensive, a rare characteristic for a headphone, yet in many ways an expectation at this price point. First, if should be said that the PM-1 is above all, not cheap. At a $1099 retail price, the competition at this price point is both fierce and technically advanced. Adding to that, the PM-1 represents Oppo’s first entry into the headphone market while competitors have been at this for years. It’s hard to imagine that despite all these factors Oppo would have a winner on their hands, but in this reviewer’s humble opinion, they do. While the PM-1 is subjectively inferior to its primary competitors in certain areas the inverse is true also, and often more egregiously; the LCD-X trumps the PM-1 in soundstage, the HD800 has better high level detail resolution and is more neutral, but both cost more than the PM-1 and have their own drawbacks. The LCD-X is heavy, and requires a big amplifier to drive, while the HD800 can’t deliver the bass that a planar magnetic headphone can.
In terms of value, the PM-1 has almost every competitor beat. The build quality of the PM-1 puts the competitors to shame while still costing less, and the overall sonic presentation represents a wonderful compromise between no-holds barred high fidelity critical listening and actual listenability – my word for how much fun you can have with a headphone for hours on end. Oppo seems to understand that as much as we toss around big words and bigger opinions in this industry, it all comes back to enjoying the music, and the PM-1 seems purpose built just for that. Highly recommended.
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