2014 has seen a lot of well-known companies jump on the headphone bandwagon, but of all the new headphones that have popped up, it wasn’t a high-end hi-fi manufacture such as Kef or Focal to attempt a flagship model but, Blu Ray and (mobile phone) making Oppo Digital. They went hard from the start dropping the £1099 PM-1, a “luxury” planar magnetic headphone. I haven’t got the PM-1 though; I have the PM-2, which in a rather dickish (smart?) way followed shortly after the PM-1 launch. I say dickish because the PM-2 is pretty much a PM-1 with cheaper materials, less accessories and a huge £400 price difference, you can see why they didn’t release them together. This being said it is wrong to believe that these are the same headphones. They look identical to the naked eye, although the PM-2 replaces some of the 1s metal with plastic and has synthetic leather pads and headband instead of 1s real leather. Obviously the pads make a difference on their own but so does the differences in the driver. Now they do indeed use the same driver but the 1 has a better done baffle. For more information on the difference I recommend checking out the article that Innerfidelity done on the two headphones, measuring the difference between the two, using the range of different pads. For now though we will focus solely on the £699 Oppo PM-2.
With the price comes great responsibility. I know, I know but seriously, in the UK it is only a £100 off the Audeze LCD-2 and is double the price of the likes of the Sennheiser HD650 and Beyerdynamic T90. So what does the Oppo do to justify this price, well for a start it has taken a different approach for a planar magnetic. Other planars such as what Audeze, HiFiMAN and Fostex offer tend to be big and heavy while Oppo have almost gone for a transportable planar, its sleek and fashionable and while it is still open, it could isolate worse. However it still matters little as just to see I tried them in the car and it was pointless, and lets face it, as nice it is for them to come with the ability to swivel the earcups, a carry case and a portable cable, your only ever going to be able to use the in a quiet environment, be it work or at home and any other of my open, home use headphones can be transported just as easy. So in reality you might just think they look nicer and they are also comfier.The looks I can get over, I still personally prefer how my HD800s look or the wooden aesthetics of Audeze, bit these are stylish and understated with the silver accents being a nice touch. The comfort is a bigger deal, my HiFiMAN HE-500s used to cause discomfort and these are much lighter and easier to wear. The vented pads let my ears breath and the headband is comfortable. These are certainly taking flagship headphones in a good direction in terms of comfort, now injuring your neck is important, looking at you HiFiMAN HE-500s.
Even though these use less premium materials than the PM-1, I don’t have any issues with how these are built, I have not felt a PM-1 and I am sure they are a little sturdier but these still use metal where needed, have smooth and easy headband adjustment and removable cables, which is the most usual area a headphone will ever break anyway. The headphones actually come with two cables as well. One that is longer terminated in a ¼ inch jack and covered in what seems to be a sturdy cotton sheath. It is a sturdy cable perfect for home use. You then get a second, much shorter one, it is thin and comes with a 3.5mm jack but I think its just to short for any practical use (1.1m).
I have to say I like what Oppo have done though in terms of the headphones design, it’s stylish, comfortable and is fresh in a world of bulky home used headphones, but that alone shouldn’t get you reaching for your pockets. Not from our perspective anyway, we put sound at the top of our list and that’s the same ethos as the other planar producers such as Audeze, HiFiMAN and even that of the pro modifiers like ZMF Headphones Mr.Speakers. So it really does matter where Oppo’s priorities lie.
For a start they have made the PM-2 pretty efficient, the easiest to drive planar in my collection, and even that I have tried away from home. I still wouldn’t recommend it out of your smartphone but from a better portable player like an Astell & Kern or iBasso or with most half powerful portable amps you will be fine. The only portable amps that I have tried that don’t quite cut it in terms of power are my amazing Vorzuge VorzAmp Pure and KoJo KM-01, which both clearly have IEMs and IEMs only in mind! This is not something to be taken lightly either as it means building rig for these ends up being a lot cheaper because you don’t need a huge dedicated system, another reason these are a little more portable.
When you first listen to the PM-2s a couple of things will hit you, first of all the fluid, punchy bass and then a very artificial treble and do you know what’s really bad, once you hear that treble, there is no escaping it. For a while the treble may fool you, you will appreciate what the headphones do well and there is enough of that but the faults just end up more glaring than the positives in my eyes and they become hard work. The metallic, fake sounding treble is aided by a peak at 8kHz, one that clearly to big and one that really takes honesty out of the region.
It is funny as well because the treble isn’t even that bright yet it seems like it’s trying to push its presence across, like they trying to make more treble out of nothing. It is just a so-so treble that is a bit excited and a bit uncontrolled.
Moving away from that these are a soft sounding warm and lush headphone but I just had be honest with the treble because it could be easy to try and dumb down what is going on. Especially at £700 you should think it is more tonally correct. I say this because the better qualities of this headphone can easily leave you blind to it. For example that bass is very loveable, reminding me very much of the Audeze LCD-2 in this area, spongy, warm, hard hitting and deep. It stays flat all the way into the midrange so it is very full all the way from top to bottom and it makes headphones like the legendary Sennheiser HD600 sound a little bit slow as well as weak on impact, it really does punch hard. Playing Skrillex “Make It Bun Dem” the ambience in the bass and the rumble from the low regions is mighty impressive, although it does not keep as tight as the ZMF Blackwood’s. The bass is not boosted with these; there is some warmth from a touch of a prolonged decay in the bass, with the warmth just trickling into the midrange.
The midrange can sound a bit off or narrow but that being said for the most part it is very much an easy listen. Lush and thick, and even a little bit laid back. Yes you can hear that there is a little more exaggeration in the lower midrange and yes it does sometimes make an obvious effect but the upper midrange is still very much in the mix with the bass and treble so doesn’t sound distant. I think the tuning does cause it to sound a little sloppy at time, maybe these just aren’t the quickest headphones but is one of the notable things that in my mind prevents them from being top tier, that and the treble. The Oppo’s show off some great clarity and they are also very strong with female vocals, powerful and bold.
For an open headphone these don’t really show it, comparing to the similarly priced closed ZMF Blackwood’s, they are clearly more spacious, with better instrument separation. It is really the imaging that ruins any sort of space or good soundstage qualities in this headphone. They are just so muddled, always, there is times when listening to my Hidition Viento-R and Sennheiser HD800s when I feel like I am their, imaging is just that realistic, well here we just have the opposite. I am not even surprised if the drummer is singing with the guitarist elevated above him… Yes I am as confused as you; well at least it isn’t a crash helmet of sound and your not going to feel claustrophobic. I will say that sound is always cohesive and comes across as one unit, never disjointed.
I do want to say a few things before I go though. Regardless to how brutal I have been to these headphones, I don’t hate them and I know a few things. I know people will like them, they are not as good as you can get in the price range, just look at the ZMF Blackwood for example, it is in a different caliber. But people will like its lush, light and easy going sound, even if it does have its caveats that can be quite glaring to those who know better. I also think this is great that companies are joining in and not just sticking to the conventional. I know Oppo will learn the technology they are using better and also use feedback to push forwards. Their next model, the PM-3 will be closed, naturally what I think a portable luxury headphone should be and my disappointment with this doesn’t stop me being excited for that. I also think this being the same price in pounds than dollars has left me being a lot harsher to it, for me I can get an Audeze LCD-2, a better headphone, no doubt, for little more, whereas in the US, the price between the two is more considerable. My last point is this, if you want a planar magnetic headphone that has swivel cups, well your just going to have to buy these! They aren’t the full package but their physical elements are still along with the best in this higher end category of headphones.