I was totally bowled over by Oppo’s first ‘attempt’ at building premium headphones – the £1,000 planar magnetic PM-1 – but even though they were “reasonably priced” these would still be out of the reach for most would-be buyers. They then offered the slightly more wallet-friendly PM-2 but they’re still £800. What Oppo could really do with is releasing a closed back, mobile-friendly headphone that would not break the bank. Enter the PM-3.
The PM-1 are excellent but are very much a stay-at-home headphone as they’re open-backed, not to mention the crushing blow that would surely follow should anything untoward happen to them.
For my commuting I generally favour my NAD HP50 headphones. They offer decent noise isolation, are comfortable and bear a name only people that care about Hi-Fi will actually recognise.
Have Oppo built another winner in the PM-3 headphones?
Oppo PM-3 design
There are still signs that the PM-3 belongs to the same family as the PM-1 and PM-2. The luxurious feel is still present as is the excellent build quality. Also the comfort factor is still up there with the best of them thanks to the extremely nice ear pads and headband. These are like those of the PM-2 and are of synthetic animal.
The PM-3 are compact and so nattily designed that even the most fashion-conscious headphone buyer may be tempted over to Oppo. I like the brushed aluminium face of the ear pads which manage to add to the classy-yet-anonymous look of these headphones.
I have been sent the white version which seems to draw attention. Whether that’s because it’s at odds with my mostly goth/rock sartorial choices and long black hair or that they are actually good looking ‘phones is up for debate. They do also come in black if you want to remain a bit stealthy.
In order to keep the white white the PM-3 comes in a selvedge denim zipper case. You also get a 3.5mm to 6.3mm converter plug and a plenty long-enough 3 metre headphone cable in the box. Oppo offers an additional 1.2 metre iOS three-button inline mic cable and Android single button inline mic cable for when you want to go hands-free, as well as one without any controls at all. Yup, one set of cans and a choice of 4 cables.
Oppo PM-3 comfort
As with the rest of Oppo’s PM family, the PM-3 is of the planar magnetic variety. This usually means extra weight and, if you pick the PM-3 up in one hand and any other competing closed back cans of the ‘regular’ type you will instantly notice that the Oppo’s are heavier. But, once on your head, the PM-3 gently cups your ears and rests nicely on your bonce.
I have had a problem with headphones slipping off my head when stomping along thanks partly because of my hair, but also because of my narrow head – “why the long face?” you might ask. I for one have no such complaints with the Oppo – whether this has a knock-on effect for those of larger, rounder heads is to be found.
Headband adjustment does offer plenty of scope and I like the fact that I can swap out the 1.2m mic and control-packing cable for the 3 metre one when I get home and want to use them with my equally white PC. You see, the one with the inline control has already started to grey (the headphones themselves are still gleaming white) through exposure to the lovely London air and from rubbing against me, etc. It’s nice to have a pristine one living at home. The PM-3’s cups rotate through 180 degrees and so not only offers to cater for more head shapes but also allows them to be stored flat.
I’ve had the PM-3 headphones for just over a week now and have worn them every day so have totted up: 7 weekday 2 x 1hr commutes, 1 Saturday 2 x 2hr journey to the rehearsal studio, and approx 16 hours of being sat in front of my home PC either working, keeping up with socials or gaming. All through this the PM-3 have proved to be very comfortable to wear and I have not felt any fatigue due to wearing them. On the rare occasions where the sun has chosen to shine brightly upon London, I did get a bit of ‘sweaty lobe’ but that’s closed back over-ear headphones for you more often than not.
Oppo PM-3 sound
Just in case you are unfamiliar with how planar magnetic headphones differ from the usual Dynamic type, Dynamic headphones employ a moving coil driver which is basically a stationary magnetic element fixed to the frame of the headphone which sets up a static magnetic field. The diaphragm is attached to a voice coil which sits in the field of the stationary magnet. The diaphragm is moved by the attached voice coil when the varying current of an audio signal is passed through it. This can result in uneven signals. In planar magnetic headphones the sound is generated by a very thin and light diaphragm whose entire surface area is evenly driven. The diaphragm is driven in a symmetric pull-push manner, and the magnetic system and conductor patterns in the Oppo headphones have been optimised for maximum sensitivity and consistency.
The PM-3 have been tuned to be more “exciting” than the PM-1 – this boils down to having a bit more of a dominant bottom end. I was dreading this as I love the transparency of the PM-1 but taking the PM-3 out in to the real world did prove that Oppo hasn’t over-egged the pudding. Instead of giving me that overblown Beats treatment there was just a healthy warmth and power to the low/low mids range.
There’s great definition to the mids and the the highs still strike through with the clarity I was hoping for.
The PM-3’s sensitivity of 102dB at 26 Ohms means that they can crank up pretty mightily when paired with most portable sources. Even with an amp such as the HA-2 turned up as much as I dared the PM-3 resisted getting distorted or dropping out the bass. All it did was hold its character but increase in volume. This is an easy-driving headphone and even at lower levels the PM-3 still sound full.
With the tuning of these headphones I decided to head for Danger Mouse’s Grey Album. The PM-3 loved this mash-up of The Beatles’ White Album and Jay-Z’s Black Album
As ‘Public Service Announcement’ started the PM-3 punctuated the track with a punchy mid range and underlying rumble of bass. Fast forward to ’99 Problems’ and the PM-3s lap it up.
Moving on to 2Pac’s classic ‘California Love’ and I can’t help but nod my head. The slinky fretless-style bass holds down the low end whilst the higher synth strings and shakers gives the track great space and lays down the foundation for the vocals. The vocoder parts really jump out.
So, here’s Argus by Wishbone Ash.
The acoustic guitar and harmonised vocals in the intro of ‘Time Was’ was so easy to get lost in. The string swells and soft counterpoint of the bass in the distance almost had me in a trance. When the band really kicks in it all just opens up. I must say that cymbals, especially the high-hats seemed a tad harsh – but this is music originally recorded in 1972.
Something more recent was needed.
Moon King’s raucous ‘Sleeping in My Car’ pummels along with messy distorted guitars and mechanical drum beats with an almost swirly dreamy vocal line.
Tracks like this are easy to get muddied when there’s so many things going on but everything seems to stay in its place.
A quick blast of Valkyrie’s ‘Temple’ from their latest album, Shadows, really showed off the PM-3’s skills at keeping everything grounded. From the sludgy metal to the twin guitar attacks the PM-3 reproduced the classic metal grandiosity perfectly.
Finally it was time to pay my respects to the late great BB King.
Playing the TIDAL play list made in his honour really highlighted not only Mr King’s genius but that of Oppo.
Bass resolution is perfect and weighty without being overdone, this is pretty much the linchpin of the PM-3’s skill set although, I would dare say that it’s really across the mid range where the PM-3’s shine.
Even though the PM-3 has a decent stereo spread, closed cans are never going to match the open variety for soundstage. But what the PM-3 lacks in width it certainly gains in coherence and this is what gives the instruments room to breathe.
Oppo could have ramped up the highs and dropped the lows in order to give a sense of separation but instead they’ve just used some darned good audio tech.
What also helps is that those comfy earpads do a great job of isolating you from the world around you. I thought the NAD VISO HP50 were good at keeping the commuters out but the PM-3s are even better.
The sound from the Oppo PM-1 had me uttering expletives (in a positive way), as did the price (not so much positive). They are still the best headphones that have cosseted my ears. But that price.
The PM-3 will cost you £350, still not bargain basement but they do sound so very good. They also look pretty fab too.
I challenge anyone to find better portable headphones out there at this price, heck, add a couple hundred quid and you’d still be hard pushed.
The Oppo PM-3 are very comfortable, the isolation is excellent and the sound quality is amazing. How they have managed to get some planar magnetic cans in to such a compact package that sounds and looks so good is beyond me.
I am sure that there are some more established brands out there looking and testing the Oppo PM-3 and are kicking themselves for coming so short of what Oppo has managed to acheive.
For more details about the Oppo PM-3, slink over to the website.