The Oppo PM-3 A Competent Comfortable Mobile Headphone Page 2

Oppo_PM3_Photo_InCase

Sound Quality
The overall sound quality of the PM-3 is very good indeed. In fact, it may be the most neutral sounding headphone I've experienced. My previous standard in that regard was the NAD VISO HP50, which in comparison now sounds a bit warm and thick. If the PM-3 does deviate from neutral I'd say it had a bit of extra upper-bass/low-mid energy, a bit extra lower-treble, and is slightly rolled off in the top octave. I heard it as very slightly "U" shaped due to the slight upper-bass/low-mid and low treble peaks...initially.

A slightly "U" shaped response means it should sound slightly exciting, but somehow they just don't to me. If anything, they sound slightly boring...again, just slightly. Problem is, for quite a while I really couldn't figure out what was going on that might give me that bland impression. The bass hits hard; mid-range is very well behaved with low distortion; treble seemed slightly forward in the presence region and slightly laid back in the top octave. But there was nothing blatantly obvious that I could figure out.

Then, I was listening to Rickie Lee Jones album "Pop Pop" to the track "Dat Dere" and 18 second in the drummer starts some soft brushwork on the snare in the background. I was switching back and forth between the NAD VISO HP50 at the time and, BAM!, it hit me: The brushes on the snare sounded more withdrawn to me on the PM-3 than on the HP50. In words, I characterize this like the difference between "sss" and "th". In numbers, I'd say we're talking about the 4-8kHz region being a little subdued.

This 4-8kHz region can be really horrible sounding if over-accentuated—think piercing sibilance that makes you wince. I've also seen headphones (Philips X2) in which this area is intentionally reduced to make the headphones more pleasant to hear, and it does seem to take the edge off harsh recordings. I wouldn't characterize this as a big problem in the PM-3 because it means they're not strident—even though their presence region (say 800-3kHz) is a bit forward. But having it (4-8kHz) lay back 2-3dB does have it lacking just a little bit of liveliness for me.

This is a bunch of nit-picking though, for the most part the PM-3 frequency response just sounds straight down the middle. You may have seen my article with a first pass of applying my interpretation of the Harman target curve as compensation. (I say my interpretation for two reasons: The only published curve is Harmans first pass on the subject and not a final official target; and after I eyeballed their curve onto a spreadsheet and started to make the comparisons I found everything was showing too much treble in the top octave, so I did slightly adjust the high treble.) The following frequency response plot of the PM-3 is compensated using that target response curve.

Oppo_PM3_Graph_PM3HarmanCompensation

Raw ear drum response is the lower set of lines, which can be compared with Harman target response below. Upper curves show frequency response compensated with Harman target response.

For reference, I'll also post the Harman response curve (in black) here.

Harman target response (black trace) with characteristic features highlighted with additional axis.

The thing I'd like to point out is the gently rising section of the curve from 200Hz to 800Hz. Most headphones are flat, or even falling, in this area. What I hear on the PM-3 is that vocals have a very power presence to them. I hear a better balance between the singer's fundamental tone and the overtones of the voice giving it more strength. There also seems to be a better balance between the voice and the noises made by the mouth and throat—lip smacks, spittle in the throat, air passage through the nose, etc. Switching back to headphones without this rise seemed to deliver voices that were more distant sounding and less rich with information that made the voice organic and powerfully human. I'd love to hear from readers who might be able to make this comparison and express your experience with vocals. This sound is not common with headphones, so it's a bit new to me as well and feedback would be very interesting.

Outside of neutrality, the PM-3 has good dynamics and imaging, but I wouldn't call it great. They're a sealed can and bound to sound a little closed in, but I'd say they image fairly well for a headphone in that category. Dynamic impact is a stronger suite for the PM-3; bass it tight and undistorted and they've got plenty of snap when called for. I also noticed when switching from my HeadRoom Max Balanced Amp—which I use for basic comparisons due to its 4 outputs—to the Simaudio Moon Neo 430HA, dynamic impact (and everything else, really) improved significantly. The PM-3 does scale well (respond well to improved upstream gear). The PM-3 also does a very nice job of remaining clean sounding at loud levels.

In comparisons with the Oppo PM-1/2, I did find the PM-3 to be the more tonally correct, but the PM-1/2 had a more airy and open sound. Personally, in terms of sound quality, I think I prefer the PM-3 to the other two models.

In comparisons with other cans of this type (NAD VISO HP50; Focal Spirit Pro; Shure SRH1540; Audio Technica ATH-MSR7) I found the PM-3 to easily sound the most neutral, but all but the Focal sounded more lively and open. Varying tastes among enthusiasts will have to decide which suites best, but audio pros should probably go straight for the PM-3.

Summary
I don't think I've ever had a headphone come through the lab ticking so many boxes so confidently. Sound quality, styling, comfort, build quality, isolation, and accessorization are all very well executed for this price. The Oppo PM-3 may be the most well rounded headphone offering I've seen to date.

On the other hand, it's a bit like going to a party with the honor roll students—straight A's and across-the-board competence can feel a little boring. A little missing info mid-treble and in the top octave has the PM-3 sounding just a bit laid back and closed in. Fortunately, a near ideal response, in my opinion, between 500Hz and 3kHz, delivers vocals with an organic balance I've rarely heard before. All-in-all, though lacking in that last bit of refinement and air (that's generally reserved for open acoustic headphones), the PM-3 is an extraordinarily competent sealed headphone.

You betcha the PM-3 is going up on the Wall of Fame. It's going to knock off the Focal Spirit Professional, which seems to me the weakest on the page at the moment. I'll keep the SRH1540, HP50, and MSR7 up as they all have better resolving power. (The M100 stays for its basshead nature.)

Video
Click here if you can't see the video.

Resources
Oppo Digital home page and PM-3 product page.
Head-Fi Reviews and threads here and here.

COMPANY INFO
Oppo Digital
2629 Terminal Blvd., Ste B
Mountain View, CA 94043
(650) 961-1118
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Claritas's picture

The pads are listed as 60 mm, but they're actually 57 mm! Whereas the average guy's ear in America is 65.9 mm. Their being average size for the industry doesn't change that. The bottom line: this isn't going to be circumaural for *most* people. It's a failure of design, plain and simple.

zobel's picture

These are dead in the water for me for that reason.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Thanks for your comment. Your numbers look legit. I'm going to have to think about this for a while to know where I come down on it. These cans felt cozy, but not confining to me at all. I don't know that I'd call it a failure of design, there may be mitigating factors---maybe when the pads get bigger they also get less stable on the head, the ears may register the headphone better in place and actually feel more comfortable. Dunno, just saying that I wouldn't be too quick to judge. My ears are 66mm, so about average. The FSP and original Momentum were problematic, though. Anyway, thanks for the poke, I'll keep it in mind.
zobel's picture

They wouldn't work for me. What size ears do they fit?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Mine are 66mm and they seem fine. So mine are boggier than the opening, yet it doesn't feel that way. Like I say, I'm gonna have to think about this a bit and ask some people some questions. Don't have any good answers right now.
zobel's picture

What size ears will these fit around?

JE's picture

Indeed it is a failure of design. Manufacturers need to understand that these pseudocircumaural designs are not doing any good. If you need portable, go for portable offerings. Circumaural headphones should guarantee big enough pads/cups for the best comfort AND sound quality.

I have discussed this numerous times in recent months on our website (headaudio.weebly.com) or discussion boards because I am really sensitive to pad sizing... It is a much more important topic than people seem to realise. In order to achieve a proper seal and comfort, you not only need large enough diameter but also enough DEPTH. The smaller the pads, the more your pinna or the surrounding area is 'interfering' and ruining the proper seal. Manufacturers then sometimes try to compensate for this using increased clamping force which is something I distaste as well. I sometimes wonder if they are trying to invent a new category of headphones: half on-ear, half over-ear.

I would be somewhat more willingful to accept a bit smaller earpads with dynamic offerings where the sweetspot radius is not ideal (due to the driver's nature => you have to take care about how to position the headphones properly on your head to get the ideal FR) but we are talking orthodynamic here. Look at the Hifiman headphones - extremely consistent despite different positioning. Why? Because they designed the section between driver and your ears properly. No need for smallish earpads with properly designed orthodynamic headphones.

halcyon's picture

Oppo would have easily gotten couple times more sales, had they made the pads user changeable and/or included even slightly bigger/deeper pads to begin with.

Yes, headphone design if full of compromises and so are sales!

TMRaven's picture

When beta testing the headphones, I found that the initial PM3 had very good if not the best vocal performance I've ever seen in a headphone, vocals just seemed so realistic and well imaged. The second version was a tad too forward in the upper midrange, causing it to lose some of that magic, so we settled on something that was a mix of the two. The end result was a headphone that still held the vocal magic of the very first beta PM3, but with some extra liveliness in the upper midrange and treble to 'lift' it off the ground.

The vocal performance just seems to be an inherent strength to the PM3 and its driver/enclosure, even if you tweak its sound somewhat. The ear openings are too small for me to be considered fully circumaural, but the pads are good enough for decent comfort for 30-345 minutes. I'm glad that Oppo and us Beta testers could work together to get a very good end result.

TMRaven's picture

I also prefer the PM3 to the PM1 as well.

money4me247's picture

I've posted a head-fi review on the PM-3 and I agree with the majority of impressions made here. I've always found Tyll's reviews to be pretty spot on if you take into account his personal sound signature preferences. I greatly enjoy the PM-3 and highly recommend people to try them. I also prefer the PM-3 over the PM-1 like TMRaven and Tyll.

I also personally found the PM-3 to also be very representative of neutral to my ears. I thought there was a subtle emphasis on sub-bass over other neutral-oriented dynamic headphones and some slight smoothing of the upper treble. I agree the vocals are a strong suit for the PM-3s with a very organic presentation of the midrange.

re: on the earpads, I've found the PM-3 earpads to actually be more comfortable than the PM-1/PM-2 earpads whose hard surface of drivers lightly brush against my ears. the foam disk that the PM-3 has above their driver really helps. I am one who has a lot of issues with earpad size, but the PM-3 was surprisingly comfortable for me without any issues.

ps: my review is found here for those interested (http://www.head-fi.org/products/oppo-pm-3/reviews/12713)

jcheadphone's picture

I had a chance to listen to the PM-3s at Axpona 2015 and I really liked them for their $399 price point. Of the new headphones I tried at Axpona I liked the PM-3s and Dan Clark's (aka Mr. Speakers) Either the best. Didn't get enough time with the HE1000 to form an strong opinion. I thought the PM-3a offered a better price to performance ratio that the new EL-8 and I own the XCs so I generally like Audeze products.

kman1211's picture

This headphone has been on my must listen list for some time. I can't wait to get a chance to hear it. I am curious how it stacks up against the DT 150 in terms of fidelity and scalability. Having similar levels of sound quality and what seems better neutrality in a more appealing and more portable package will be nice.

Hjelmevold's picture

Judging by the measurements, it should be really interesting to have someone compare the Oppo PM3 to the Soundmagic HP100/150.

The PM3 seems to be more practical due to its size and foldability, it has less harmonic distortion, cleaner impulse response, and more even bass response. On the other hand, the HP100/150 is cheaper (but with some issues with headphone cups breaking off), and has better isolation than the PM3. The frequency responses look fairly similar to me, with the HP100/150 being perhaps a bit more energetic around 10k.

Nomad_Soul's picture

Thanks for the great review, Tyll. How would you compare the comfort of the PM-3 vs the Shure SRH1540?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
The Shure SRH1540 is an amazingly comfortable headphone. More comfortable than the PM-3 and just about everything else in the category.
Long time listener's picture

"This 4-8kHz region can be really horrible sounding if over-accentuated—think piercing sibilance that makes you wince."

That's because THAT is the presence region--actually, it's defined by John Atkinson of Stereophile as roughly 2kHz to 5kHz, but close enough--and it's known as the presence region because that's where our ears can be most sensitive. Hence the piercing sounds if over-accentuated.

The following, I believe, refers to the midrange--and while the midrange has plenty of presence, it's not what is meant by "the presence region":

"I wouldn't characterize this as a big problem in the PM-3 because it means they're not strident—even though their presence region (say 800-3kHz) is a bit forward."

Cheers

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Not sure where you got that idea. From this Stereophile page:

"presence range The lower-treble part of the audio spectrum, approximately 1-3kHz, which contributes to presence in reproduced sound."

Seth195208's picture

..the experts always say "Don't be swayed by the exciting sounding ones, because what sounds exciting for five minutes in the show room sounds irritating and fatiguing for more than five minutes at home" The same thing goes for headphones. The difference between "long term exciting" and "short term exciting" is a very fine line. After listening to these headphones for a couple months now, I can say with confidence that Oppo nailed it!

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Wish I had a "like" button for posts. Yours would get one, you're exactly correct, IMO.
MLegend's picture

So wait.....since there are 3 different frequency response graphs which one represents the final version of the PM-3 available to consumers today?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Sample B and C. The first one was early production. Samples B and C are quite close.
emelius's picture

Any comments on where the wired version of the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Over Ear might fit into the mix?...Forthcoming?...

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Requested numerous times, they just aren't available yet for reviewers. (I think they're pushing the wireless versions ATM.
potterpastor's picture

I'll send you my Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 for two months if you let me use your HD 700 for two months.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I don't have an HD 700 here.
subguy812's picture

Sennheiser created confusion by releasing a wireless and a wired version so close to each other. Many folks think if they listen to the M2 wireless in passive mode it is the same headphone as teh wired only version...two different worlds. M2 wired is a much better sound signature.

ADU's picture

But what's up with the treble on this puppy?

http://cdn.innerfidelity.com/images/Oppo_PM3_Graph_PM3HarmanCompensation...

It looks like there's a modest rise in volume between 10Hz and 4kHz. But the average dBs appear to take a nose-dive above 4kHz.

I'm looking at the two compensated curves on the top of graph btw.

ELPCU's picture

And you are right about above 4khz IMO.

I won't say there is modest volume rise from 10hz to 4Khz, because frequency below 20hz is virtually not audible. You should look after 20hz, and these slight volume difference from 20~40hz is very very hard to distinguish. And I can still say the bass of this PM-3 is extended extremely well. Yes, extremely.

Considering these information, you will say it is about flat from 30hz to 2khz. and very slight emphasis from 2khz to 4khz.

And from 4khz, it drops. I consider -5dB line on graph is about reference line of this graph. And it drops like 7~8dB.

There is definitely noticeable treble drop in this can. I notice this right away when I started to compare my Sennheiser HD 600 / hidition NT-6. Though it is not terrbie by any mean. Good thing is that around 6khz is frequency range that makes treble harsh. It is range of sibilant sound. having a drop on this region make this PM-3 more relaxing, and much more comfortable sound.

At the same time, you can clearly argue this is a bad thing, and I believe it is the bad part of this can. Probably the biggest complain of mine.

Though I just cannot complain too much, because 7~8dB trench through small region is not a worst thing, and having trench right on sibliant region has some pros; And PM-3 offers everything including overall design, quality & finish, isolation, comfort, uniqueness(hey, the only outdoor planar magnetic), price, and sound quality except that treble portion.

I just cannot complain too much. Overall, I agree with Tyll. Your point is right. It is definitely worth of mention, and it is arguably cons, but it is not too bad.

All I can say is if your are treble geek or treble enthusiast, then you have to think twice before purchasing this can.

ADU's picture

It helps to get some confirmation from another user on this question.

There are some fairly prominent spikes in the 9-10kHz treble range on the Oppo PM-1 and PM-2...

http://www.innerfidelity.com/images/OppoPM1.pdf
http://www.innerfidelity.com/images/OppoPM22014StockPads.pdf

...so maybe that's one reason the treble was dialed back a bit more on this newer PM-3 model? If that's the case, perhaps they overcompensated a little too much.

I was also wondering though if some of Tyll's tweaks to the Harman curve could be slightly exaggerating the falloff above 4kHz in the corrected curves on this PM-3 plot...

http://cdn.innerfidelity.com/images/Oppo_PM3_Graph_PM3HarmanCompensation...

Or does the downward tilt between 4kHz and 20kHz on the upper curves seem about right in people's experience with this headphone?

FWIW, the NAD VISO HP50 still looks a bit flatter to me on its Harman plot (though it has a slightly darker overall tilt than the PM-3, and isn't planar-magnetic)...

http://cdn.innerfidelity.com/images/140321_Blog_HarmanResponseFR_NADVISO...

Since these seem to be two of the top contenders in the "flatness wars", did you give the NAD any consideration before getting the Oppo PM-3?

Also, how different is the sound quality on the PM-3 vs. a regular headphone? And which do you like better?

Appreciate any further thoughts you or others may wish to share on this subject.

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