Planar Magnetic technology in headphones continues its forward march into new territory with the recent release of Oppo’s first premium headphone, the PM-1 ($1,099). The resulting hifi headdress features a proprietary 7-layer planar magnetic technology diaphragm wrapped in a package that seems to ooze luxury from every pore. Now this isn’t luxury just for the sake of appearances. From headband to cable adapter, the PM-1 is a perfect example of attention to detail, both in construct and sonic retrieval.
But before we get into the thick of it, a few notes on Oppo as a company. Oppo first started to catch the audiophile’s eye with a series of budget-friendly, high-performance sonic upgrades to their popular Blu-Ray players. The BDP-95 was a hifi audio boost to the 93, which housed nearly the same video capabilities. More recently, the subsequent model the BDP-105 also pushed the audio capabilities even further over the second gen 103. Where they ended up was a stunner of a source that expanded into a DSD player, full media streamer and external USB (ES9018 Saber chip) DAC for the price of 1 meter of top shelf hifi cable.
It looks as though Oppo has pursued this same mantra of “more for less” in the design and pricing of the PM-1. Oppo could have gone for the throat with consumers and tacked on another $400-$800 to the tag and the market most likely wouldn’t have shrugged their hunch-back shoulders in the least. Of course, the near $1k price does push the product ever closer to the golden goose of mainstream acceptance. Regardless of the cost, the level of detail attributed to fit, finish and especially packaging is perhaps one of the highest in terms of its closest rivals.
The PM-1 comes softly packaged in a very swank, high polish wood box, complete with a physical closing clasp. The velour interior of the box is finished nicely and should keep your investment safe in true style and comfort. Included amenities accumulate nicely. Along with the headphone you get a black denim carrying case, a second pair of replaceable ear pads, and a pretty hearty single ended cable. Oppo also offers a 4 pin Neutrik XLR balanced cable of the same construct on its website for those with balanced amplifiers. Both cables are housed in a woven sheath that gives them a nice feel and durability over the more standard cabling you might find included with your usual electronic purchases. The headphones themselves look well polished with chrome framework and jet black driver housing. While a solid build is all well and good here, the real news is the weight. Compared to the closed-back planar magnetic Audeze LCD-XC’s 650g weight, the PM-1 is 255g lighter at 395g. The LCD-3 offers a bit less heft at 548g, but Oppo’s sound maker feels more like a “normal” headphone on your cranium. Where the weight of many planar headphones will cause them to slip off your head if you tip it too far forward, the 5N (reported on the company’s website) of clamping force on the PM-1 is enough to keep it safely secured to your head at any angle. The result feels like more like a headphone and less like an open air baseball helmet. In application, the 5N of force keeping the PM on your head feels very comfortable (at least for this reviewer’s noggin). Keep in mind that headband caliper pressure can vary from headband to headband, as can its grip over time (and with manual stretching) so consider that observation a starting point and not a finish line. All in all, the comfort of the PM-1 is a big win for open-back planar magnetic headphones.
The nominal impedance of the headphone is rated at 32 Ohms. There was no issue driving it from a standard headphone amplifier, in fact the headphone proved to run a bit more power efficient than expected. Proper amplification is usually a must-have for anyone who wants to extract the best sound out of their rig, but in a pinch the PM-1 can be driven from an iDevice with respectable volume levels.
The sound of the PM-1 contains all the proper ingredients for the $1k+ range it lives in. Like many other planars, the low-end grip/punch/impact is accurate and can be very entertaining to listen to. It feels quite linear and holds a nice bass-to-mid texture without an overemphasis that would make it feel bloated or unruly. Likewise sound staging and spatial reasoning felt very well accomplished. Listening to the percussive play of a DSD version of Babatunde Olatunji’s Stepping through Auralic’s VEGA Digital Processor proved very telling. Utilizing the Questyle CMA 800R as amplification, the PM-1 pushed the instrument sources “out” in a fine virtual arrangement. The darting beats of the track carried focused placement for each drum sound and could be easily identified across the sound field.
The PM proved to be a very easy to listen to headphone with piles of detail. The low to mids are very fun in terms of texture and feel and respond very well to a bit a bass tinkering if that is your cup of tea. The PM’s presentation also allows for a nice sense of space in between vocals and treble, cymbals crashes can breathe easy. The vocal mid frequency placement within rock/pop/vocal tracks felt natural and precise, however it was still a different presentation than my reference Audeze LCD-3s. While vocals definitely appeared as both natural and as detailed as you would expect from a top performer, the PM-1’s response articulated a slightly different version of the VEGA source. Whereas the LCD-3 punctuated the top-end frequencies of male vocals, the PM-1 hit home a little lower on the same scale. Pink noise confirmed the slight variation in frequency response. The slow hush of static jumps out at two slightly different points for each headphone. There is a nice rich low-to-mid texture to the PM-1 and then some additional reach just above the mid-tones. The same test through the LCD-3 hinted at an accent around upper vocals and then a much higher (in frequency) treble presence than the Oppo. This is by no means a scientific measure of frequency response, but it does hint at the same perceived signature that became familiar from listening sessions with the PM-1. The difference between the two headphones could very well come down to preference for some, which is both surprising and impressive considering the price point spread between the two.
Those looking for an accurate, top-flight planar magnetic headphone should be well interested in the new PM-1 by Oppo. In addition to its well-kept sound, it is one of the most physically comfortable planars currently on the market. Equally comfortable (but much more entertaining) is its low end thump, transparent rendering and holographic soundstaging. It does a great justice to the growing lineup of available planar magnetic headphones, meeting the lofty expectations of the technology while keeping the price out of the rafters. Those looking for even more affordable options can keep an eye out for Oppo’s follow up headphone called the PM-2 which will retail for $699 and be available in June according to the company’s website. Also released in conjunction with the PM-1 is Oppo’s new HA-1 headphone amplifier ($1,199) that features an on board DSD-capable USB DAC and both balanced and single ended headphone connects. All this equates to some very exciting times for a company who knows how to deliver a true bang for the audiophile buck. Oppo’s first hit out of the dugout is a home run. Well done.