Introduction and disclaimer
If you are a first time reader of our website you should know that here at Pocketnow we focus mostly on mobile technology. We’re well equipped to do that, and we like to think that we’re knowledgeable enough to opine on smartphones, tablets, wearables, accessories, and everything else we deal with as our main scope of coverage, every day, day after day, for 15 years.
However, right from the beginning, we have to confess that we’re not equally geared up to review headphones, so don’t expect to see in-depth frequency analysis, oscilloscope snaps, or other deeply technical aspects that would otherwise be part of a headphone review on a dedicated website. We do love our music though, and we’ve got a few audiophiles on the team. Couple that with our admiration for the geeky stuff, as well as our living and breathing technology on a daily basis, and we’re confident you’ll enjoy the below review.
Our regular readers (thank you!) are familiar with the smartphone manufacturer OPPO –we’ve reviewed the Find 7, Find 7a, R5, and soon the N3– but the company happens to manufacture other products too. Enter the PM-1 headphones which, as the headline implies, have wow-ed us from the first second we heard the sound coming out of these cans. We were excited to get the opportunity to take the OPPO PM-1 for a spin, and man, we love them!
Now that we’ve got all of that out of the way, let’s proceed with our OPPO PM-1 review.
Depending on where you live, these OPPO PM-1 headphones will set you back $1,099, or £1,099. Don’t click away! The price is justified by the extensive research behind the product, the expensive technology inside it, the quality of materials used, as well as the stellar presentation. However, there’s also a cheaper solution, called the OPPO PM-2; it costs $699, or £699, and doesn’t compromise the sound quality, but is lacking some of the features of the PM-1. These are mostly aesthetic, like synthetic leather earpads instead of lambskin, matte finish instead of glossy, plastic trims (not build) instead of chromed metal, OFC (oxygen-free copper) cable supplied instead of OCC (Ohno Continuous Casting), and, of course, the display box, and some minor other goodies. More on this here.
The PM-1 name comes from the “planar magnetic” technology that is behind these headphones. Without going into too much detail: most headphones out there use dynamic drivers, which means that there is a magnet inside that moves (back and forth) a diaphragm (membrane) through a coil attached to it. The downsides of this technology –uneven movement, hence not the perfect sound– are somewhat corrected by the electrostatic technology that moves a suspended diaphragm (membrane) between two electrodes, but in order to enjoy your tunes this way you have to use a dedicated amplifier, which isn’t convenient for commuting.
Think of planar magnetic (orthodynamic) headphones as a cross-over between the aforementioned technologies. There’s a membrane suspended between two magnets and, instead of charging the magnets, the membrane is electrically charged. In case of the PM-1, according to OPPO, “sound is generated by a very thin and light diaphragm whose entire surface area is evenly driven.” You can read more on the official product page, but, for now (to simplify everything to the extreme), it comes down to this: the planar magnetic technology inside these headphones is the premise for high-fidelity audio quality due to distortion-free and even movement of the membrane, without the need of a special amplifier to operate them (but employing one definitely makes them shine – more on that later).
Packaging and presentation
When you look at the packaging of the OPPO PM-1, you might get the impression that you’ve bought an expensive piece of jewelry – and you have. The presentation is simply stunning, and we’re guessing it plays a role in the price of the product too. Inside the fairly large carton box you’ll find –well padded and protected by foam– another box, which contains the box itself. No, this ain’t no Matryoshka Doll, but, to be honest, the packaging of the OPPO PM-1 looks better than some of the competitors’ products themselves.
The wooden display box that finally contains the headphones looks a lot like an expensive jewelry case, a duelling pistols box from back in the day, or an expensive cigar humidor. This is not your regular packaging that you cut open as quick as you can in anticipation of experiencing the real product; this also isn’t the packaging you’ll throw away, stash in a drawer, or hide in your closet. You’ll likely show it off on your office desk, living room coffee table, or find a way to make it part of your furniture.
Inside this gorgeous box lies the PM-1, as well as a carrying sleeve which contains a carton box with your supplied balanced headphone cable for connecting the PM-1 to a balanced headphone amplifier.
Not part of the wooden box, but at the bottom of your initial carton box (this is also where your manual and warranty is found) lies a carrying case made out of denim material, which will both protect your PM-1 from dust, shocks, and allow you to easily carry it should you decide to go mobile. Inside the carrying case you get extra headphone ear pads (velour and alternative lambskin), and an additional cable which, while not balanced, has a 3.5mm headphone jack at its end for easy use.
However, you will probably not care, initially, about all the supplied goodies and accessories; what you’ll really want is to admire the PM-1, look at it from every angle, and take in the build quality and materials. That is, of course, if you can fight the urge to immediately plug them in and start cranking tunes.
Build quality and materials
If you couldn’t already tell, this is not your cheap, regular pair of cans. OPPO has used a lot of metal and leather in order to both convey a premium feel and make the headphone look good and stand out, while delivering that stellar sound we’ll talk about later.
Metal parts are chromed and shiny, and the leader headband combined with the pre-fitted lambskin ear pads look great. The back of the cans is black, with a shiny chrome line contrasting with the mesh and the outer aluminum frame with chamfered edges. Since the cable is detachable/replaceable, the bottom of the headphones has a 2.5mm mono jack (one for each driver). This not only makes it easy to switch out cables, but it also helps –a lot– when going mobile, or simply storing the PM-1.
The quality materials enable you to comfortably wear the headphones, and, after a while, you won’t even notice them on your head/ears, despite their fairly heavy footprint at 395g (still lightweight compared to in-class competitors). OPPO guarantees the PM-1 was tested with a clamping pressure of 5 Newtons, and at the factory, OPPO has flexed the PM-1 20,000 times, twisted it 5,000 times, and fully extended and closed it 20,000 times. Oh, and the cups were rotated 20,000 times. This all will probably reassure you that they’re not so fragile, even if you’ll treat them gently because of their looks (or the insane amount of cash you paid for them).
The main 6.35mm cable is also high quality, from the jacks themselves to the textile wrap around the wires. The secondary 3.5mm headphone cable isn’t wrapped in textile, and it serves the purpose of connecting your PM-1 to your regular source of audio, be that your smartphone, laptop, tablet, or portable media player.
It’s one thing for the PM-1 to look good, but it’s another thing for them to sound good. Of course, when you wear them, you’re not really seeing them to admire their looks, and, frankly, you couldn’t care less once you hit that play button.
Yes, they sound incredible. There’s really no easy way to convey the feeling you get when listening to these headphones. To be completely honest, I have never heard a better sound in my entire life, than the one coming out of these PM-1 headphones. And believe me, as an audiophile, I’ve spent a lot of money on audio gear, from various headphones (Sony, Panasonic, Technics, Grado, Sennheiser, AKG, Shure, etc.), to cabling and high-definition audio files. Of course, you’d expect nothing less for the price, but then again, we all remember a time or two in our lives when a fairly expensive product underwhelmed us at the very beginning. That’s not the case with the OPPO PM-1.
These are not initial impressions. I’ve probably listened to every song I could, starting off with the ones I really know, in order to judge the audio capabilities of these headphones. The clear, crisp, smooth, soft-when-needed, punchy-when-required sound will really amaze you. It’s gear like this that makes you instantly recognize that one of your songs isn’t encoded with the best possible bit rate. It’s gear like this which makes you realize that a particular song doesn’t have the bass you’d expected, because these headphones play back the frequency they should, instead of emulating something just to make a track sound “commercial”.
Whether Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd, AC/DC, Katy Perry, Iggy Azalea, Beyoncé, David Guetta, ATB, Armin van Buuren, Blake Shelton, Tim McGraw, or Luke Bryan, the conclusion can only be one: these headphones sound stellar. You know you’ve got a good pair of headphones when you close your eyes while listening to one of your favorite songs, and, all of a sudden, you hear an instrument, a beat, or a guitar chord that you didn’t know it was there, despite listening to that particular track hundreds of times.
The biggest problem, however, is when you have to switch back to your previous headphones, regardless of how well you regarded them, or how good you deemed them before. They’re just mediocre now, and you’ll never want to listen to them again.
Further improved sound quality
If you have the chance (money) to use a dedicated headphone amplifier, then everything above just gets squared up. We’ve been also using the OPPO HA-1 headphone amplifier which plays perfectly with the PM-1, and takes its performance further, to almost perfection. It’s all about the clarity, and the way an amplifier manages to drive a pair of high-fidelity headphones.
Despite the low impedance of the PM-1 (32 Ohm), which enables you to drive them from a smartphone, your iPhone, Android, Windows phone, you name it, will not be able to play your tunes loud enough. Plug the OPPO PM-1 in a headphone amp (preferably the OPPO HA-1), and you’ll be blown out of this world. And, if you’re using high quality optical wires to play back or stream your high quality/high fidelity audio, you’ll never want to put them down.
Cons, because there are
No, it’s not the price. We are used to paying premium in this modern day and age, whether it’s your iPhone 6, your Porsche, your designer shoes. We all accept that, and, once we decide we’re willing to spend the extra, we do. The OPPO PM-1 is just the same (and the OPPO PM-2 is there for a more “budget” solution), so that’s why we’re not going to call the price a “con”.
However, OPPO is marketing these headphones as all-around, every-scenario headphones. While they work alright as marketed, once you get out of the quiet environment and start using them outdoors, while commuting, you name it, the open-back design will let a lot of ambient noise in. If your music listening scenario is, in vast majority of usage time, outside of a quiet environment, you should look elsewhere. Open-back headphones sound extremely good, but they offer close to zero isolation.
This is also valid for sound leaks; if you listen at higher levels, you’ll most likely annoy someone in the same room trying to read a magazine, especially if you’re using the OPPO PM-1 with an amp.
This next one is definitely not a legitimate “con”, but you’ll need to be aware of it all the same. Due to the direction the market is evolving and trending, there are a lot of headphones (marketed for “DJs” or even branded by some) which blow your brains out with a lot of bass. This is forced; most of the time it’s not how music was intended to sound by the artist, but if you prefer the “DJ” sound anyway, you will not like the OPPO PM-1. The PM-1 is about natural, unadulterated sound; bass is there (and a lot of it) when needed … and it’s also not there when it shouldn’t be played at all.
An adjacent “con”, which has nothing to do with the PM-1, is that you’ll have to start spending (money or time) on high quality media. Whether that’s Spotify’s Extreme streaming quality that eats up a lot of data, or a high-fidelity album purchased, a high-fidelity software or hardware player, you’ll have to go beyond your regular 128/256kbps usage scenario for your audio files in order to get any pleasure, whatsoever, from listening to music on the OPPO PM-1.
Last, but not least, let’s talk about the price. There’s no way around it. As mentioned above, it’s all subjective. It’s not about whether you can afford it or not; it’s about whether you’re willing to spend the extra cash to get the perfect sound. And, then again, the “perfect sound” is subjective as well. For me it’s the sound coming out of the OPPO PM-1 driven by the OPPO HA-1, but for you it might very well be a pair of Beats headphones attached to an iPhone. At the end of the day, you’re the one setting your limits, depending on your needs.
I can’t speak for everyone on the team, and, for sure I can’t speak for everyone out there, but, for me, personally, the sound coming out of these headphones is the best sound I have ever heard in my entire life. Are they big? Yes. Are they expensive? Definitely. Do they most often require a silent listening environment? Yes. But, at the end of the day, when you sit down in your living room, light up a cigar, enjoy your favorite drink, your favorite tune needs to sound “perfect”, and that’s what the OPPO PM-1 does for me.