Oppo's new headphone, the astonishing PM-1

The Audiophiliac tries out a pair of Oppo PM-1 headphones and likes what he hears.

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Oppo PM-1 Oppo

Oppo makes great-sounding Blu-ray players, but now with the PM-1 the company is jumping into the highly competitive headphone market. It's a bold move, and rather than just introduce a line of Beats clones, Oppo went upmarket and made a headphone that can be judged against the best from established giants like AKG, Beyerdynamic, Grado, and Sennheiser. The company's headphone project started two years ago, but the wait was worth it.

If the PM-1's thick, chromed metal parts, leather-covered headband, and ear pads don't impress, maybe the felt-lined, impeccably finished wood storage box will win you over (there's also a denim carrying case to protect the headphones on the go). The headband isn't hinged, but the ear cups fold flat.

The tech is just as sweet, so rather than use conventional dynamic drivers, the PM-1 features proprietary, seven-layer lightweight planar magnetic drivers. The 9.8-foot-long headphone cable that's wrapped in a black fabric sleeve has a 6.3 mm plug, and the skinny 3.2 foot long cable for use with portable music players has a 3.5 mm plug (neither cable has a mic or phone controls). The PM-1 comes with two sets of ear pads in leather and velour; I found the velour ones more comfortable. The PM-1 is an over-the-ear, open-back design, and its impedance is rated at 32 ohms.

It sounds fine with my iPod Classic, but let's get real: if you're going to drop a lot of cash on a pair of headphones I hope you'd plan on using them at home plugged into at least an AV receiver or better yet, a headphone amplifier. I used my Schiit Audio Asgard 2 and Burson HA 160 amps with my Oppo BDP-105 Blu-ray player for most of my listening tests.

I don't usually make that big a deal about the sound of headphone "break-in," but the PM-1's sound changed for the better after it had 50 hours of use. The initial, fresh out-of-the-box sound was too laid-back and mellow for my tastes. Post-break-in, the Strypes "Snapshot" CD rocked with a vengeance, and even when I pushed the volume beyond my usual range, the PM-1 didn't hurt my ears. The complex rhythms chugging through Radiohead's "King of Limbs" never turned to mush.

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Oppp PM-1's planar magnetic driver exposed Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Watching the space drama "Gravity" I loved the way the PM-1 decoded the Blu-ray's sound mix, namely the shifting perspectives of the voices of astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Mission Commander Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) when they're lost in space. Sometimes the voices seemed to come from inside their helmets, and at others from off in the distance. The AKG K812 headphones ($1,500) did an even better job producing out-of-the-head imaging effects, but the PM-1 trounced the K812's low bass oomph. The PM-1 reached further down into the bass, so it let me feel more of the score's pulsing beats that kept up the film's suspense.

I next compared the PM-1 with my three-year-old Audeze LCD-2 planar magnetic headphones ($1,145). The LCD-2 had a brighter overall balance, and the treble was airier and clearer. The PM-1 was richer, with a slightly warmer and fuller midrange -- so much so the PM-1 sounds like it's hooked up to a tube amp, with my 100-percent solid-state Burson HA 160 amp. The PM-1 is a considerably lighter headphone -- it weighs 13.9 ounces, while the LCD-2 tips the scales at a hefty 18.4 ounces.

With the PM-1, Oppo has joined the big leagues and made a world class, high-end headphone. Priced at $1,099 it's not cheap, but the best stuff never is. The good news is that Oppo is readying a somewhat more affordable model, the $699 PM-2 headphone, for a summer release. They're saying it sounds almost as good, but forgoes the PM-1's deluxe packaging and lavish metal work. Oppo is also working on a high-end headphone amplifier, the HA-1. I'm looking forward to getting the PM-2 and HA-1 in for review.

Oppo sells all of its products directly through its website and through selected dealers.

 

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