While it might be presumptuous to assume that a manufacturer with just three products in one category can already have a “house sound,” the PM-3 does sound more similar to the PM-1 than different. I hesitate to call the PM-3 a PM-1 “lite,” but it does have much the same sonic character as the PM-1, albeit in slightly lesser quantities.
The overall harmonic balance of the PM-3 is what I would call natural as opposed to razor-flat neutral, tipped-up, or bass-centric. The harmonic balance is relaxed without being dark or murky. The PM-3s are more forgiving of recordings with excess energy in the 2kHz to 4kHz regions than the PM-1s, but that also translates into slightly less sparkle and dynamic energy. I found the PM-3s were also less revealing than the PM-1s because they have less energy in the presence range.
The PM-3 displayed decent dynamic contrast throughout their frequency range, but were not quite as responsive as the PM-1 headphones. While I would not characterize the PM-3s as over-damped, they do not generate the same level of dynamic verve as the PM-1s.
PM-3 bass response was well controlled with excellent midbass definition. Although I wouldn’t call the PM-3s bass monsters, they did an excellent job of keeping the low end clean yet warm. In comparison the PM-1 had greater bass extension, but the PM-3 was its equal in the midbass.
I expected that I might hear some of the less desirable aspects of the closed-enclosure coloring the PM-1’s midrange, yet I found its sound was largely unaffected. The PM-3’s midrange character was very much like the PM-1’s, except that it lacked some of the dynamic verve of its more expensive sibling. I detected no additive colorations that I could attribute to the PM-3’s enclosure.
Upper-midrange and treble energy through the PM-3 was also a bit truncated when compared to the Oppo PM-1. While the PM-3 did not sound hooded or noticeably rolled-off when I listened to it by itself, compared with the PM-1 the lesser amount of upper-frequency air was immediately obvious.
Although the imaging that a headphone produces is quite different than what comes from a pair of loudspeakers, it is still three-dimensional, and different headphone designs do produce differently sized images with varying degrees of specificity and focus. The PM-3’s images were well focused with excellent individualization within the soundstage. But when I compared the PM-3’s imaging with that of the PM-1, it was obvious that the PM-1 produces a larger overall soundstage with more space between each instrument and vocalist.
Admittedly, it is somewhat unfair to compare a $399 headphone with a $1095 headphone from the same manufacturer—the more expensive model had better be superior, and in the case of the PM-1 and PM-3 that is certainly true. So it was time to compare the PM-3 with several other headphones that were closer to it in price. I began with the longtime audiophile go-to headphone, the Sennheiser HD-600, which has an MSRP of $399, although its current street price is lower.
The HD600s lack the easily removable cable of the PM-3s, although its cable is replaceable. Another difference is the HD600s are an open- rather than closed-can design, so they do not provide isolation from outside sounds or shield anyone nearby from your music. In terms of portability, the PM-3’s folding design is a clear winner, allowing for a much narrower package that will fit more easily in your luggage.
Listening in a quiet environment to provide a level playing field between the two headphones, I immediately noticed how much less sensitive the HD600 headphones were. To achieve the same volume level on the HD600s as the PM-3s required turning the volume control on the headphone output on the Vinnie Rossi LIO modular system from 19 to 31. The HD600’s upper midrange had a noticeable peak when compared to the PM-3’s. This “tizziness zone” around 3kHz wasn’t unpleasant on good recordings, but on anything with an even slightly hot top end the HD600 headphone took on an edgy and slightly grainy character. On the same material the PM-3 was more listenable. In overall comfort I preferred the PM-3’s softer earpads and more padded headband to the HD600’s harder pads with their around-your-ear fit.
My go-to headphone for use in airports and other places where I need some, but not complete, isolation has been the V-Moda Crossfade M-80 on-ear headphones ($230). It didn’t take more than a few seconds of listening to the same song that I had just heard on the PM-3s to note the M-80’s added colorations in the lower midrange, almost like a hollow echo. Also, the M-80 didn’t have the same level of control of the lower frequencies—its bass sounded somewhat sloppy compared with the PM-3. Although the M-80s are an extremely well built headphone with an elegant overall design, sonically the Oppo PM-3 is clearly in another league with far less additive distortion and more musical finesse overall.
For a final comparison I chose the Sennheiser Momentum headphones. Although now superseded by the Momentum II, the last supplies of on-ear Momentum headphones have been getting blown out for anywhere from $70 to $160 (depending on color). The Momentums had a more bass-centric frequency response that gave every tune a bit more boom than I would consider neutral, but its bass was cleaner and more tuneful than that of the V-Moda M-80. The Oppo PM-3 delivered slightly better isolation than the Sennheiser and had a smoother upper-midrange and lower-treble response, but the Momentum and PM-3 were very similar in sensitivity. In comfort, the PM-3 won by a wide margin—the Momentums weren’t uncomfortable, but they required a lot more fiddling and minor adjustments to get the fit right.
Near the end of the review period, the AK Jr portable player from Astell&Kern arrived. Priced at $500 the AK Jr is A&K’s new entry-level player. The PM-3 and AK Jr proved to be a potent combination. Even on my own live recordings, which are on average 10dB lower in level than commercial releases to allow for their wide dynamic contrasts, this combination produced adequate volume levels without turning up the level control to maximum. I was especially impressed by how well the soundstage was presented—all the depth cues on my recordings were apparent with little truncation of three-dimensionality. Even on “thick” mixes such as a 96/24 digital recording of Brahms’ German Requiem that J. Gordon Holt and I made several years ago, the AK Jr and PM-3 remained lucid and unfazed.
When I reviewed the Oppo PM-1, I found that “Oppo’s PM-1 headphones take the prize as the best all-around general-purpose headphones I’ve ever used, even though they are not the best performers in any particular category.” Although the PM-3s do not achieve quite the same level of overall sound quality as their larger sibling, for one-third the cost they deliver a good portion of the sonic goodness that made the PM-1 such a fine all-around performer.
If you’re looking for a pair of headphones for situations where you still need to hear some outside sounds but don’t want to bother others with your music, the PM-3 would be a savvy option. It’s comfortable, extremely well made, and cleverly designed. Couple it with one of the new generation of portable players such as the Astell& Kern AK Jr, and for under $900 ($500 for the AK Jr and $399 for the PM-3) you have a portable rig that will keep you enthralled for as long as the batteries last.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: Closed-back, planar-magnetic, over-the-ear headphone
Impedance: 26 ohms
Frequency response: 10Hz-50kHz
Sensitivity: 102dB in 1mW
Max input power: 500mW
Pulse max input power: 2W
Cables: 3m detachable cable (3.5mm with 6.35 mm adapter); 1.2m detachable cable (3.5mm)
Output: 3.5mm stero jack, 3.5mm stereo jack
Input: 6.35mm stero jack, 3.5mm stero jack
Weight: 320g (without cable)
OPPO DIGITAL, INC.
2629 Terminal Blvd, Ste. B
Mountain View, CA 94043
(650) 961 1118