Here’s the review I posted on Head-Fi.org earlier today.
I might give up doing reviews. I keep running into things that change for no good reason. It makes it hard to render a consistent and informed opinion. I end up questioning my own abilities to hear anything let alone report it accurately.
And so we come to the OPPO PM-3 which were sent to me as part of the PM-3 tour now underway. (In the audio world, the equipment goes on tour and the reviewers are responsible for mailing the unit to the next person on the tour list.)
I had just returned from four days at the Dayton Hamvention (with 22,000 of my closest Ham Radio friends) to find the OPPO PM-3s waiting for me. I quickly plugged my Cozoy Astrapi DAC into my IPhone and thought the PM-3s sounded pretty good and maybe a bit darker than what I was used to from my other headphones (Audeze LCD-X, on-ear Sennheiser Momentums, Fostex T-50RPs and a bunch more I didn’t use for this review) but overall pretty nice.
So the next morning I fired up the Fostex HP-A8C DAC and started streaming various artists over Tidal and in comparison… I wasn’t thrilled. In fact, compared to the more modest Momentums I was very unhappy.
The sound from the PM-3s didn’t have the bass punch of the LCD-X or the brightness of the Momentums. The Audeze’s can hit you like a sledgehammer while the PM-3s felt more like getting hit with a plastic bat. The Momentums livelier and more interesting presentation was obvious. What the heck was going on?
I really thought the PM-3s weren’t going to make it. So, in desperation I plugged them into my Astell and Kern AK-100 II DAP and they sounded wonderful.
So what happened?
I don’t know. Could it have been a better impedance match between the PM-3s and the AK-100? Is it possible I didn’t have a cable plugged in fully (and this after swapping out headphones over and over again I doubt it but I’m searching for answers here)?
I don’t know but everything now seemed to have changed. The PM-3s sounded much, much better. The bass was near perfect and the treble was more focused and the overall clarity was terrific just as I’d expect from planar magnetics. The soundstage isn’t as wide as some headphones but the sound is more compact and intimate. (Play Norah Jones and you’ll immediately understand what I’m trying to say here.) These aren’t toe-tapping headphones but something more serious and worthy of your attention.
If we use the Fostex T-50RPs (at $99 and bought so I could have a low-price reference headphone), the Momentums (at $140 which I had to buy on sale at this price) and the Audeze’s (at $1800 again bought so I could have a top-notch reference headphone. Shown in photo.) as comparison headphones we could place the PM-3s very near the relatively flat sound (with a rather delightful presence midrange) of the T-50RPs the first time and then, after the change, the sound was much closer to the excellent – near perfect – Audeze’s. There was that much of a difference.
I tried adding amplifiers to the AK-100s (Cypher Picollo and Fiio E-11) and they made no appreciable difference to the now excellent sound. With everything going so well, I went back to the Fostex and PM-3s and everything sounded very good. I plugged in the PM-3s directly into my IPhone and again I was very impressed. I have no idea how to explain this anomaly.
So let’s move on.
With our new more enjoyable sound let’s look at the other attributes of the PM-3. They are comfortable as heck and when it comes to planar magnetics which are usually really heavy, these guys are lightweights yet really well built. The ear pads are okay but might get hot outside in the summer heat. But they look pretty good. The PM-3s come with a variety of cords (iPhone, Android and a really long 3m cable) and a carrying case and bag. All in all a nice package.
Sound isolation is very good and important to me as my wife works right behind me in our home office and the PM-3s block out her phone conversations. The closed headphones also don’t leak as much as the Audeze’s which are way too loud for our tiny office space when it comes to keeping family peace.
I am going back to being mystified as to why I had such a poor experience earlier today so I put the PM-3s into my cheap and cheerful Fiio E-10K DAC which is USB out of my MacBook Pro. Again going back to Tidal and I’m listening to Lucinda Williams whose voice I know as well as anyone else’s and Lucinda sounds very very good. It’s not the bright happy sound of the Momentums.
It’s darker, fuller bass that rumbles sometimes like thunder far far away (likely a sub bass sound) and again the magnetic planar sound really enhances vocals when it comes to presence but there is a slight lack of brightness when compared to the Momentums (but if you weren’t comparing you’d never know). I think it safe to say the sound is more rounded, mature and serious compared to the Momentums and some of the other less expensive headphones. Nothing compares to the Audeze’s but I can clearly hear a family resemble coming from the PM-3s. Not bad at a quarter the cost.
So now we’ve gone from a set of headphones I was thinking I was going to pan – badly – to reviewing a set of headphones I am considering buying for myself as I’ve got a big bunch of headphones at under $200 and the Audeze’s at $1800 and nothing in between. I was considering Mad Dogs (especially now they’re at close out prices) but the OPPO PM-3s are more what I’d expect to pay around $600 to $800 for sound this good.
So let’s put this all into perspective: If you’ve wanted the planar magnetic sound (and I do) and the Fostex T-50RPs just don’t cut it as your only headphones, then I can fully recommend you consider the OPPO PM-3s. Aside from a few quick swaps I’ve been wearing and listening to the PM-3s for over 8 hours now and my ears (and neck) are not complaining.
Comfortable, even stylish, great build, with great sound without the need of extra amplification right out of your IPhone I think a lot of people are going to be very happy with their PM-3s.