The Scrumptious Oppo Digital PM-1 Planar Magnetic Headphone

Oppo Digital PM-1 ($1099)
It's a pretty bold maneuver introducing your first headphone in the rarified $1000+ category. You better have something up your sleeve. In this case it's Igor Levitsky, a long-time independent designer who has worked with BG Radia and SLS Audio on planar driver designs, who has been working on the new PM-1 driver and headphone for the past 2 years. I've been very fortunate to have had the pleasure of some long email exchanges with Igor—his enthusiasm for audio is infectious, and his understanding of the problems at hand quite sufficient. This is quite an interesting headphone...let's work through it step-by-step.

Physical Description
The Oppo PM-1 is a circumaural, open headphone using a planar magnetic driver. The packaging, presentation, and accessories delivered are top notch. Starting from the outside in: Included with your purchase is a very nice deep red finished wooden box with with a creamy suede-like material covering the internal structure, which has cut-outs for the headphones, and cable. The Ohno Continuous Casting (OCC) cable for home use is 10' long and terminated at the headphone end with two 2.5mm mono jacks, with "L" and "R" markings on the plug housing clearly labeling each connector.

Oppo_PM1_Photo_InBox

A small denim clamshell case is also included for portable transportation of the PM-1. Cables must be removed when in case. The OFC cable provided for portable use is much thinner and is three feet long end to end. There is no remote or mic on the cable.

I'm not particularly convinced that a 2.5mm connector on the headphone is a good idea; typically this type of connector is prone to failure over time. In this particular case, however, Oppo did a very nice job of including a small rubber feature on the cable plugs that provides and interference fit with the small well around the jack hole on the ear capsules, apparently making the fit much more secure and reducing strain on the jack contacts. Also, with a focus on reducing size and weight with these cans the choice is understandable.

Oppo_PM1_Photo_InCase

The PM-1 headphone itself is of superb construction. The headband and leather earpads are covered in sumptuous black lambskin. Foam padding is not memory foam, but latex foam that Oppo claims are softer and longer lived than memory foam pads. I'm a big fan of memory foam for this application, but found the Oppo PM-1 padding quite faultless and supremely comfortable. Earpads are easily removed with a tug, and a second pair of velour covered earpads are included. (Editors note: Since the writing of this article, Oppo now includes a third pair of leather earpads called the "Alternate" pad, which has fewer holes on the inside of the pad and delivers a slightly brighter sound than the other pads.)

Headband arm ends are stainless steel and provide a detented adjustment. Movement is smooth and adjustments secure when fitted. Headband end caps and swivel mechanism appear to be chromed machined metal parts, but it's difficult to tell for sure. Ear capsules swivel a full 180 degrees allowing the earpads to lay flat when placed in the carry case or on a desk.

A hefty aluminum strip acts as the bail and surrounds the ear capsule completely providing significant protection for the headphones.

Styling, Comfort, Ergonomics
I find the look of these headphones terrific. This masculine and understated design resonates strongly with the quality materials used and provide a pride of ownership glow appropriate for a headphone at this price.

The PM-1 is surprisingly light for a planar magnetic can weighing in at only 395 grams, making it not much heavier than traditional headphones in this category. (For comparison: Audeze LDC-2 Rosewood 522 grams, Sennheiser HD 800 330 grams.) This, coupled with the ample padding of the headband and earpads, makes the PM-1 a very comfortable headphone perfectly capable of long listening sessions.

Headband adjustments appear to provide a good fit for the full range of head sizes. 180 degree rotation of ear pieces allow the cans to be taken off and laid flat, pads down, on a desk surface. Taken off the head to be hung around the neck, the pads rotate in the opposite direction allowing the pads to lay flat on the chest below the neck.

The only ergonomic problem I had with the PM-1 was with the short cable; I find this cable about a foot too short to be convenient. Attached to a phone in my left pocket I can't turn my head to the right without the cable limiting my range of motion.

Before I get to the sound quality, I think a little look into PM-1 driver might be fun. It's substantially different in configuration than the Audeze, HiFiMAN, and Abyss headphones. Turn the page and we'll have a look.

COMPANY INFO
Oppo Digital
2629 Terminal Blvd., Ste B
Mountain View, CA 94043
(650) 961-1118
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COMMENTS
AsSiMiLaTeD's picture

Tyle, can you comment on how these may compare to the Philips Fidelio X1? I know you reviewed and liked that one as well, and while I don't expect that headphone to sound as good as these I'm curious how they compare.

Thanks

Claritas's picture

What do you make of all the claims of similarity, based on sound and measurements?

Nymrej's picture

Your description sounds like the HD650, and the frequency response charts for the two headphones look similar. Do they sound similar? Thanks for the review!

rich_s's picture

Funny you should mention the low-impedance issue with the Teton amp, as I have the Pinnacle and find the PM-1 sounds more controlled and resolute (and, well, awesome and musical) on the high-impedance setting. By the way, I think this headphone is the BEST phone for dealing with bad digital recordings, turning straw into gold without rolling off things with a sledgehammer. For that alone, it deserves a wall-of-fame spot. It targets digititus with some special magic remedy.

Seth195208's picture

..By far..is communicate.

Jazz Casual's picture

I've been looking forward to this review and what an excellent effort it is - kudos to you Tyll. I intend to audition this headphone, but I doubt that the sound signature will be my cup of tea based on your description and the frequency response measurements.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Thanks Jazz, I'm glad you enjoyed it. It's a very interesting headphone to hear simply for the experience listening to this very unusual driver. On one hand it's interesting to get the same sound as any headphone with fundamentally good fidelity from this novel transducer, and on the other hand it's interesting to know about it a little bit and hear the focussed punchiness the designer was looking for that is somewhat different from other headphones in this category. Have fun!
NZtechfreak's picture

Apart from nailing the sonic characteristics based on my time with them, I really appreciate all the attention to design and technical aspects in this review. For me the best reviews have a reach that goes beyond merely describing the product, extending into areas that educate the reader in an accessible way, and this review would be one of the best I have seen from that perspective. I also wholeheartedly agree with where you are placing these in terms of their market position - these are not reference level, but rather a very good luxury product that excels in various ways that will make them superb for people with suitable use-case scenarios. For myself, I have a little high-frequency hearing loss from guitar and gigs, and I knew from the descriptors I had seen that this would not be a headphone for me (a little tilt toward brightness is an asset where my hearing is concerned), but nevertheless I came away from my quite brief time with them very impressed for what they are. Certainly one I will recommend wholeheartedly to people sensitive to brightness/treble/sibillance and so forth, or who otherwise enjoy a non-fatiguing listen, and who also might have a need for great sound from non-desktop rig sources and the requisite depth of wallet.

tony's picture

It seems to be an Audi A8 that runs well on Reg. Gas and gets 50 miles per gallon , not a Track Car needing racing fuel . Fair enough !
Maybe the little brother PM-2 will be a logical step-up from the Sennheiser HD600s .
I've watched Oppo develop and refine their products , they seem to quickly evaluate and re-engineer the glitches out of their stuff so we can anticipate a PM-1 MK.2 as market-place data becomes evaluated .
Thank You Tyll , I suspect you've nailed it !! , nice shirt change from the bold to the darker Gray scale renderings : hmm , dark florals from the Frozen North .

I've owned many Planer Loudspeakers , they never seem to image like Dynamic driver Loudspeakers , flutes seem to be overly large , in-fact all instruments seem overly large , still Planers sound especially smooth and beautiful which is the reason people love them . Imaging is over-rated anyway , it is nice enough but not worth the effort to chase it with lots of resources .

I've just ordered a boxed set of PM-1s , thanks for the recommendation !!!

KG_Jag's picture

I haven't heard these cans, so can only go with your analysis of them. In the last months I have begun to wonder if you have lowered the bar a bit with regard to what equipment makes the Wall of Fame.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
From where I sit it's very tempting to put headphones up, sort of like my version of the excitement of something new. So yes, I know these things and know I have to be very careful. On the other hand, I do love the sound of the PM-1. Their terrifically meaty dynamism does something for me. In that regard they're superior to my ears than many headphones, and are a reference of sorts for that character. Also their luxurious build quality is leagues ahead of most cans.

Anyway, I don't think I've lowered the bar as much as there are a lot of pretty darn good headphones coming out that are worthy of the honor. So be it.

Seth195208's picture

How well does it line up with the Olive Welti curve?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
The Harman curve would have 3-4 dB more bass below 120Hz, and the notch between 2.5kHz and 10kHz on the raw FR curve would be filled and raised some.
Seth195208's picture

Is the "harman curve" how we should refer to it from here on out?

JML's picture

I have the PM-1 (obviously) and love them. The design and build quality so far exceeds the competition, as Tyll notes, and the weight is quite low (I just could not bring myself to buy something else that might be more of a "reference" but which I could not wear for as long and which didn't come close as far as the quality of the materials goes). With the PM-1, I find myself listening to the music, not the headphones. I sold off several other headphones after getting these.

(Tyll, one correction: "well-heeled" and not "well-healed" is the correct term.)

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Yep. I fell in love with this headphone quite easily.
bernardperu's picture

I have the PM-1s. It was a little tough to adapt to it, at first, since most well recorded music needs some solid highs. Fortunately, the Hifi-M8 does exist. So i turned up the treble on the M8 and the PM-1 became a more acceptable headphone. When I say acceptable, I mean that it delivered engaging sound for its price.

Having said the above, I believe sound quality matters far more than comfort or looks. We are not Beats buyers, are we? The Hifi-M8 + Hifiman HE-500 Balanced is definitely more musical than the PM-1 and the pairing will get you closer to well recorded music.

I believe it was Oppo's intention to create a new headphone category: Over USD$1,000 headphones for the (wealthy) masses. So they made it sensitive enough to be driven by phones, classy, comfortable, and bassy (which is great for movies). They were not aiming on audiophiles who devote their full attention to well recorded music. They are aiming on the average wealthy fella who claims to love music and home entertainment (not me, I made a poor buy).

ibzrg1570's picture

Tyll, can you comment on how they fit in comparison? I'm hoping that these capture the excellent ergonomics of the 1R but with better sound.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
As good as the 1R; a little heavier, and maybe a little warmer in summer, but they do sound better than the 1R by quite a bit to me.
dripf's picture

$1100 and gets laughed at by an SR-207.

Wall of fame?

tony's picture

600 volts , did you consider the Bias voltage ? , that's 400 AAA batteries . Most of the electronics worth owning that can deliver Bias voltage for Stax stuff costs $2k + , it's another world up there , mega bucks & ultra limited applications , certainly not portable capable nor are they all that wonderful ( I've owned Stax ) . Of course you can own them yourself , nobody will try to stop you but I doubt you'll be all that happy in the long run . There's room for everyone .

dripf's picture

The SRS-002 fits in a pocket and delivers 580 V bias voltage. The SRS-3170 costs the same amount as this oppo and includes a really good amp. $600 for the basic system.

So stop wittering on.

tony's picture

Well , I think you may be on to something here , thank you for pointing this out .
I was a High-End Retailer back in the 1980s , we had Stax stuff back then but I've not kept up with the lads in Japan , I did now just look them up to see a nice line of products . That portable stuff IS interesting and not terribly expensive , I overlooked STAX completely . So , thanks for straightening me out .
Tony

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