Oppo PM-3: Of magnets and high-quality audio
Music plays a large role in everyday life, because let's face it, without music, life would be boring and mundane. Music, like every piece of art, takes time and effort to produce, which is why there are many who appreciate music by doing the best they can to reproduce them as accurately as possible. We're actually talking about audiophiles and the many equipment they use to listen to music as it was intended to be heard. Joining the list of equipment is what seems to be the world's lightest closed-back planar magnetic headphones - the Oppo PM-3. In this review, we find out if this pair of headphones is worthy to join ranks of the top cans.
Design and features
Before we proceed further into this review, there's something we need to explain first. The PM-3 isn't your average headphones. You see, most headphones these days feature dynamic drivers, which are actually pretty good at reproducing sound. However, the PM-3 uses planar magnetic technology, which is slightly more sophisticated than your average dynamic driver.
A planar magnetic driver has a large diaphragm suspended between two permanent magnets that are oppositely aligned. The diaphragm is then evenly charged, allowing it to move uniformly. When this happens, the audio that's reproduced is more natural and accurate, but most importantly, it is relatively free of distortion. However, planar magnetic headphones are traditionally heavy and bulky, but the PM-3 is an exception to the rule. It weighs only 320g, which according to Oppo, makes the PM-3 the world's lightest planar magnetic headphones.
Another minor issue with planar magnetic headphones, is the fact that you'll require more power to properly drive them. Fortunately, Oppo has also released an optional portable headphone amp/DAC called the HA-2, which makes for an ideal companion for the PM-3.
Now that we've got that explanation out of the way, we can continue to talk about the design of this pair of headphones. In all honesty, it looks pretty plain, which is a good thing because you wouldn't want to attract attention wearing something that's worth RM1,619 when you're out and about.
The headband is wrapped in comfortable foam and so are the earcups. Both cannot be removed, so you'll have to take extra good care not to sweat when wearing the PM-3, lest you cause the leather to peel. As for clamping force, the PM-3 is very comfortable, even for those with glasses on.
When it comes to build quality, the PM-3 is solidly built, so you can dump it into your backpack without worrying too much about it. It's also worth mentioning that the PM-3 has a closed-back design, which is great, especially when you want to keep the noise out and the music in.
For those of you who love numbers, the PM-3 makes use of two 55mm drivers, and has a frequency response range of 10 to 50,000 Hz. It's got an impedance of 26 Ohm and has 102dB @ 1 mW sensitivity rating.
Of course, these numbers mean little if you don't put on this pair of headphones and actually listen to them. To do so, we loaded our trusty list of test songs, including 'NY Rush' by Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts; 'The Best Mistake I've Ever Made' by Joanna Wang; the acoustic version of 'Why Georgia' by John Mayer; and 'One Wild Night' by Bon Jovi. As mentioned above, the PM-3 requires an amp to fully showcase its capabilities, so we paired it with Oppo's HA-2.
When we played 'NY Rush', we could hear the many instruments clearly. What's impressive is that the cymbals and snare drum could be clearly heard, even though they're mainly in the background. Thanks to the nature of these headphones, things sounded pretty flat at first, but with bass boost turned on and the Gain set to High, things became much more dynamic. This is why we decided to keep those settings with all the other songs.
In 'The Best Mistake I've Ever Made', once again instruments in the background could be clearly heard, especially the keyboard. Of course, Wang's vocals was center stage throughout the song.
For some acoustic flavor, we played 'Why Georgia', where all the accompanying guitars were very audible. There's also a part of the song towards the end where a backup singer joins Mayer. In most headphones, the guy can't be heard at all, but with the PM-3, you can clearly hear both Mayer and his backup singer.
Finally, in Bon Jovi's 'One Wild Night', all the instruments can be clearly heard, once again, showcasing the accuracy of these headphones.
In all songs, soundstaging is superb and with a little help from the HA-2, so is the audio quality. We'd like to point out that these headphones emphasize vocals or has good bass, but the truth is, it's truly a very balanced pair of headphones. This is something that audiophiles will truly appreciate.
|Song - Artist||Score|
|NY Rush - Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts||9.5|
|The Best Mistake I've Ever Made - Joanna Wang||9.5|
|Why Georgia - John Mayer||9.5|
|One Wild Night - Bon Jovi||8.0|
|Overall Audio Performance||9.5|
So we’ve been mentioning the HA-2 a couple of times in this review, but what exactly is it? Well, it’s essentially a high-end, portable headphone amp and DAC combined. For the more experienced audio enthusiasts, you’ll be happy to learn that this gadget uses an ESS Sabre32 Reference ES9018-K2M DAC chip.
If you’re interested in the numbers, this amplifier supports PCM audio up to 384kHz at 32-bit. It also supports DSD audio up to 12MHz. Put simply, if your phone (be it Android or iOS) supports lossless audio, you’ll want this portable amp/DAC to truly bring your music to life, as cheesy as that may sound.
What’s more, the HA-2 has a 3,000mAh battery inside, which gives it plenty of juice. It also doubles as a power bank, so if you need emergency juice for your smartphone, just plug it in to the HA-2 via a Micro-USB cable, and it’ll charge!
Priced at RM1,619, these headphones aren't cheap. But take into consideration that these are the lightest planar magnetic headphones around and the price begins to justify itself. That being said, the full potential of these headphones can only be heard once it's paired with a good amp, like the HA-2, which costs an additional RM1,319.
Taking this into account, an alternative would be to purchase custom in-ear monitors. They'd cost about the same and they don't really require an amp to perform. The amount of sound isolation and soundstaging provided by custom in-ear monitors would still be better than that provided by the PM-3 and HA-2 combo, but only by a small margin.
In terms of audio performance, there’s no doubting the PM-3’s abilities. It’s got a very neutral character, allowing it to perform well with most types of music genres. Having said that, if you’re someone who loves bass, you’ll have to turn up the bass a little, using an equalizer or something like the bass boost function on the HA-2.
In short, the PM-3 is definitely ranked among some of the top performers like the final audio design Pandora Hope VI, the Sennheiser HD650, and beyerdynamic’s DT880. That being said, it’s a MUST to pair the PM-3 with a good amp before its full potential can be heard, and this is something that may put it at a disadvantage. Rest assured though, if you’re willing to invest in the PM-3 and something like the HA-2, you won’t be disappointed.