Oppo makes a good smartphone and Blu-ray player, so what else can the company do well in? Let’s see how headphones go, as Oppo gives us a good play with a pair of planar magnet-based cans, the PM-3.
Features and performance
Much like phones, headphones aren’t created equal, and if you’re after a pair that can provide detailed and accurate song recreation, you always have to contend with other elements such as design, style, and comfort.
Fortunately, some pairs have all of this down in the one hit, and while they might not draw the attention of celebrities, they are simple and comfortable enough to the average Joe all the same.
Oppo’s PM-3 could well be the blend of this, offering an Oppo take on what a pair of headphones should perform like from a company that has spent a good portion of its time engineering some pretty impressive Blu-ray players, not to mention taking the time to break into phones with devices of genuine value.
In the PM-3, Oppo’s offering is a little bit more premium than even its smartphones, however, as the company embraces a different style of headphones against the vast majority of headphone makers out there, opting to use planar magnetic drivers instead of standard dynamic drivers.
A technology typically seen in massive headphones — such as Audeze’s LCD2 headphones — this technology requires more space with larger magnets, which for many can be seen as producing a larger sound altogether.
We’ve seen this one in the aforementioned LCD2 headphones, a pair of $1300 cans that were far too large to be taken out into public and could hardly be driven by ordinary equipment, but in the PM-3, Oppo has found a way to shrink this technology into something small, all while closing the back and blocking much of the noise from both entering and exiting this pair of headphones.
Design on the PM-3 is quite simple, with a body made up of metal framing, plush padding, and 55mm neodymium push-pull planar magnetic drivers, though from the outside, these cans will just resemble fairly basic and black and silver headphones with a brushed steel paint finish.
The cup hinges are a little more useful than we’re used to seeing on headphones, and while there’s pivot flexibility for ear placement, you’ll also find the Oppo PM-3 cups can be swivelled to sit flat on either side.
That being said, even with this swivel action, they won’t fold up for portability. Just something to keep in mind when you’re stuffing them in your backpack.
Pick them up and you won’t find the PM-3 to be the lightest cans you’ve ever seen, with the metal band encased in foam and pleather holding relatively mid-sized ear cups just big enough to be circumaural and fit around your ear.
Don them and comfort can be found easily, with the 320 gram cans a little heavier than the headphones we’re used to seeing here, but a design that encompasses most ears without putting too much stress or weight on them, which is always a good thing.
Oppo is also relying on a standard cable type with the PM-3, and that delights us considerably, with 3.5mm replaceable cable here, of which two can be found in the box: one measuring a fairly comfortable pocket to headphone length of 1.2 metres, and one that goes the extra distance when you’re at a desk or near an amp with 3 metres offered.
We didn’t find a microphone on the cable that was supplied to us, but thanks to Oppo keeping the 3.5mm jacks standard on each end, we were easily able to replace it with one of our own with no problems, meaning if you have a cable with a microphone and remote, it wil likely work here, too. Fantastic.
With the cable good to go, it’s time to check out some music, which allowed us to switch to our 2016 playlist a little earlier, and this has us starting with a bit of electronic music.
Imogen Heap’s “Headlock” was clear and bright, detailed as every beep and book was made by the electronic keyboard on a repeating pattern in the end, bringing to a full crescendo as the chorus kicked in, revealing a full and detailed recreation of the electronic pop track.
Bass wasn’t on full here with the mids and highs taking point, but through to the wordless chorus, you could still feel a punch from the bass, though it isn’t the strongest element.
Demi Lovato’s “Cool For The Summer” was next, and the more modern club track provided more punch, as it’s engineered for today, and again the mids and highs took control, though the bass was still there, with enough sharp attack from the low end to still be enjoyable.
The same dominance from the treble sounds could be heard on The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face”, just as it could on the club track “Get Lucky” from Daft Punk, though in each of these there was more push to the bass, with rounded sounds that you could just feel.
Already at this point, we have the feeling that the Oppo PM-3 are bright cans, but still detailed and well spaced, while providing a level of comfort and design that won’t make you look like an idiot as you walk down the street, as can be the case with large headphones.
R&B and soul were next, starting with Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” which revealed separated instruments and vocals with clear detail, and again, just enough thwack to feel the bass drum and electric bass line as it was being pushed out.
In fact, the lack of heavy bass was something we continued to pick up in Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t No Mountain”, both of which sounded excellent and well reproduced through the PM-3 cans, but lacked immense strength in the bottom end.
Instead of overwhelming bass, however, Oppo seems more intent on recreating a strong balance in the upper end of the spectrum, and that’s fine by us, with a spatial awareness that was throwing us in the centre of the music, not bombarding us with low sounds or decibels, both of which are fine by us.
Pop and rock didn’t change this remarkably, with the well-engineered “Phone In A Pool” from Ben Folds providing a multi-layered orchestral light rock change that the Oppo PM-3 had no problems recreating clearly. Again, the bass wasn’t as prominent, losing out to the strings, piano, and vocals, though still clearly there.
Softer rock was just as well produced, however, and because tracks like Radiohead’s “Exit Music” and Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” don’t rely on oomph from the bass, were beautiful and pristine from the PM-3 drivers, as if the singers were singing directly to you in each case.
Turning the music up a bit, Muse’s 2015 harder rock track “Psycho” gave the PM-3 cans a bit more of a flogging, allowing the little bass push to drive a little harder, providing a real solid punch at the back of Matthew Bellamy’s vocals, which take lead just behind a solid and loud guitar riff that doesn’t lose out to noise, fuzz, or overwhelming distortion with these cans.
Bringing it back again, the clear organ and hard guitar strumming of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” was just as detailed and mind-numbing as we had always recalled, though without the huge push from the bottom end. In fact, without excess bass, we could focus on the instrument without being numbed too much by the bass line, still concentrating on the organ in the background.
Ending the test with jazz and classical, that lack of prominent bass didn’t prove to be a problem, with both the soft and playful melody of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” and the rich and detailed two-instrument (bass and vocals) piece of Christian McBride’s and Angelique Kidjo’s “Afirika” providing a sharp and vibrant recreation of these tracks, as if your head was the microphone in the room, clear and precise.
Real instruments seem to be something of a love affair for the Oppo PM-3, in fact, with classical’s Claude Bolling and Yo-Yo Ma showing strength in piano and cello recreation in the 1990 recording of “Baroque In Rhythm”, while the 2015 take on Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons: Winter” from Nigel Kennedy was strong, violent, well-layered, and frighteningly accurate, almost to the point where the sharp attack of the headphones made the piece as sharp as the knife violin from “Psycho” (the film, not the song we mentioned earlier).
One of the world’s greatest jazz recordings — “So What” from Miles Davis — showed just how clear the PM-3 headphones could be, offering up clarity in spades even as the song began, with the bits normally lost out to other headphones coming to the fore. If other headphones struggle to pick up on the nuances of the double bass in tracks, the simplicity of a light high-hat, or the tonality a horn section amidst only drums, bass, and piano can provide, you will find solace in the Oppo PM-3 headphones.
They are just spot on beautiful for jazz. Hell, we’d be happy to walk around the street with these on, though if Oppo ever made a wireless version, you could definitely sign us up.
Overall, these are tremendous cans, and again, the comfort was something we weren’t taking for granted, with the circumaural design fitting nicely on our skull, not bothering our ears as the engineering of the drivers worked their magic to provide some of the most detailed sound we had heard on a pair of headphones that you could take outside.
One thing we do need to comment on is the paint job, because after a couple weeks of wearing these bad boys around and treating them well, we can tell you that they will wear down.
After the several weeks they’ve been around our neck, rubbing against our sweater and occasionally spending time in our backpack, we’ve seen the paint start to wear down on each of the headphones, the dark brushed steel look drifting back to another colour, with a metallic brown now slightly evident underneath.
The headphones themselves are doing well to cope beyond this, mind you, and the leatherette has no sign of wearing in dramatically, and certainly not ripping apart of falling off, but the wear and tear on the metal can be seen, so if you are taking them in your backpack, be sure to use the casing Oppo provides, otherwise you could see some paint deterioration.
Comparable to KEF’s M500 in every way, Oppo’s PM-3 are one of the best sets of headphones we’ve played with, coming in under $600 and sounding like they should cost more.
That’s not a plea for Oppo to raise the price, either; no, they can stay down under the $600 mark perfectly fine, and that’s an excellent value for what results as an excellent pair of can. Highly recommended.