You might say it’s time for Oppo’s round three of headphones. The esteemed Silicon Valley-based manufacturer—whose popularity appears to be on the rise—first offered the PM-1 headphones ($1099), which were soon followed by the PM-2 ($699). Now Oppo has added the PM-3 headphones to its lineup, priced at a modest $399. Using technology trickled-down from its more expensive models, the PM-3 promises to deliver the Oppo sound in a smaller, more portable, closed-enclosure headphone. Will the new PM-3 provide the same level of sound, ergonomic elegance, and style as its larger siblings? Let’s see.
The PM-3 uses the same basic technology as the PM-1 and PM-2 with its sound emanating from a seven-layer planar diaphragm of double-sided spiraling coils made from flat aluminum conductors. Thanks to the double-sided diaphragm, the magnetic field is populated with twice as many conductors as a single-sided diaphragm. This, in turn, dramatically increases the headphone’s sensitivity and ability to withstand higher drive forces. Combined with Oppo’s FEM optimized magnet system, which employs high-energy neodymium magnets, the Oppo PM-3 achieves a 102dB sensitivity figure. With such high sensitivity, even a smartphone will easily be able to drive a pair of PM-3s to satisfying volume levels.
The physical design of the PM-3 is reminiscent in many respects of Oppo’s other models. It has a similar padded headband, except the PM-1 employs genuine leather while the PM-3 uses an artificial leather substitute. The PM-3’s earpads are also man-made rather than genuine cowhide. Pivoting yokes on all Oppo headphones have the same elegant design, but are constructed out of slightly different materials. I could see that the PM-3 yoke and pivot had fewer parts than the PM-1, but in overall fit and potential longevity both headphones were equal.
There are two big differences between the PM-3 and Oppo’s other headphones. The first is size. The PM-3 has a slightly smaller circumference than the PM-1 and PM-2, which means for some prospective users the PM-3 headphones will be an on-ear rather than an over-ear fit. Other users will discover that in actuality the PM-3 is an almost-over-ear design. On my 7-1/8-sized head the PM-3s cover my entire ear and the outside edges rest on my head around my ear, delivering a more complete seal than most on-ear headphones I’ve tried. This better seal around the ears translates into better isolation and less bass leakage.
Besides their smaller size, the other major difference between the PM-3 and Oppo’s other headphones is that the PM-3 is a closed- rather than an open-back design. This means that the PM-3 should provide more isolation from outside sounds and reduce the amount of “bleed” from your music that anyone will hear nearby. But the disadvantage of closed “cans” is that they have to attenuate the sound reflected off their closed backs, so it does not interfere with the direct sound coming from the headphones. This is a challenge. It is far easier to design and manufacture an open-enclosure headphone because there’s no “back wall” to reflect sound, out of phase and out of time, back into the mix.
Ergonomics and Fit
Like other Oppo headphones, the PM-3 has a removable cable connection, but unlike other Oppos, the headphone cable for the PM-3 attaches only to the left side of the headphone. If you already own another Oppo headphone and have purchased custom cables for it, you’ll be disappointed to know that, unlike the PM-1 and PM-2, which have the same connectors, the PM-3’s connector is not the same, so no cable swapping between models is possible. The PM-3 does come with two cables—a short one with navigation and volume controls for iPhone/iPad built in, and a longer one without any controls.
As noted, unlike the PM-1’s earpads, which are made of leather, the PM-3’s earpads are made of a man-made leather substitute. Natural leather has some ability to breathe and absorb moisture, but the artificial material has an impermeable surface where moisture remains until it evaporates. That means if it’s hot out or your ears are prone to perspiring when enclosed, you may find the PM-3 earpads are not as pleasant to use as the leather ones. Unfortunately, you can’t swap out the PM-1 earpads with the PM-3’s since their circumferences are different.
The PM-3’s ability to isolate your ears from outside noise is slightly better than some on-ear headphones such as the V-Moda M-80, but not as complete as the over-the ear sealed-enclosure Mr. Speaker’s Alpha Prime headphones or any in-ear monitor. In an open office environment, the PM-3s would shield fellow employees from your music, but would not insulate you from the sound of the approaching coffee cart. I like this level of isolation when I’m in an airport and need to hear the announcements, for instance, but it is not sufficient for the actual flight itself.
The PM-3 comes with a very nice selvedge denim carrying case. Like Oppo’s other models, the PM-3s can fold flat so the overall package of case and headphones is compact and thin enough to fit easily into an attaché case. The denim case also has enough room for the headphones, both cables, and the supplied mini-stereo-to-1/4" headphone-jack adapter, with room left over for an energy bar or two.
The PM-3’s headband appears to be virtually indestructible, but this robustness does have a price—prospective users with larger than normal hat sizes could find the pressure from the headband oppressive. Adjusting the PM-3’s side-pressure isn’t an option, so if the fit is too tight, there’s little you can do in the way of on-location modifications to reduce the pressure. For me the PM-3’s side pressure and fit are perfect.