Thanks to Oppo for the sample
First Impressions: Oooh an all black minimalist box. The case too, this is all looking nicely put together, I’ve read that the headphones are pretty lush in the hands and everything so far is looking good. The headphones themselves one in my hand and I can see why they have been so nicely spoken of. They feel so plush, the pads feel so soft and supple. God the build on this all feels so lovely on the fingers. This is a proper grownups headphone.
So pretty aside, how does it sound? Now I’ve been told that they want a good 50 hours burn in but I do like to record my, just out of the box thoughts. The first thing I notice is that for a planar they haven’t the over V shaped dazzling sound signature. Planars want to do epically punchy bass and blinding treble but hey, these sound kinda grown up too. They are more smooth and relaxed than I expected, more like the sort of thing you can hear all day long without wearing yourself out. Gosh the treble really is delicately refined. I think I’m going to really quite enjoy this. To a burn in you go.
Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-650, 1G Ipod Shuffle, Nexus 5 and Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear.
Low: Mesmerising. Well that needs a caveat, “I” find them mesmerising. Will everyone else, I suspect not. For me there is ever a balance, open vs closed, punch vs bloom, depth vs midbass rambunctiousness, you get the picture. These are closed headphones, so you think well they will have “closed” bass, it’ll be big, weighty, impactful and pretty abundant depth, right? It’s no secret I prefer “open” bass, agile, lithe, delicate and flighty. Sure open bass sucks for depth but I’m generally willing to make that trade. These break those general rules. They are closed, they really are closed headphones but isolation aside I’m not sure I’d instantly know it from my ears alone. They don’t do the closed, whack up the deep bass to appeal to the mainstream consumer but more incredibly they don’t have that weighty slowness that’s so endemic to closed. It is so light and artfully graceful. Not light in that there isn’t plenty but that it feels feather like, so captivating and soft and delicate. It’s a deceptive little feather however. It has a sculpted depth to it that is beyond what an open can do and it has an impact at the lower reaches where the HD600 just outputs nothing. Otherwise I find them so similarly natured. It’s so weird, a closed feeling so capably open, so pure and not aiming for a skull raping power (yamy pro500, I’m thinking of you here,) It’s just so, so, it just feels like it shouldn’t exist. The bass just feels so graciously composed and elegant.
Quantitatively it’s a teeny bit above strictly neutral but only a hair. It can output significant amounts if you make it but its heart is never in it. It just is not in its nature to be aggressive or savage in any way. Like a perfectly calibrated TV, it’s natural, effortless, achingly accurate but next to an OLED screen with insane levels of colour saturation, it comparatively feels a little plain. Sonically these are that little plain, so nicely balanced, accurate, paragons of purity that is simply perfection, for me. To others I think they may find its bass and lack of explosiveness to be a little polite for them. A thrill ride the PM-3 is not.
Mids: Exquisitely open. Once more I feel these are playing to my personal preferences. I love mids, these portray them with such openness and such clarity, they make me want to check they really are closed headphones! Again I find myself looking at the HD600 and thinking someone at Oppo has a pair and said one day, let’s make something that can beat them, oh and let’s make them closed too, just for giggles. Planars give you a BA like directness in the midranges that they can feel so gloriously intimate. Like the vocalist is there with you alone, singing to you and only to you. Yet they still capture an openness and air that contradicts their intimacy and their closed nature. There is something effortlessly natural in its feel, xylophones are fantastic, so realistic it’s creepy. Guitars too, there is a faint lack of bight to the initial note but once more I’m struck by how realistic it sounds, which is not something I associate with a closed headphone. I keep mentally snapping back to the HD600 but this is just better, not by a vast degree but everywhere just better, more resolving more emotive more natural, just more everything.
Quantitatively it is a hair behind the bass and there is a bit of a lower treble spike that can slightly lean in and overshadow the mids but it’s only very slight. If you aren’t paying attention you might not really even notice it.
Highs: There is a little peak in the lower treble, it encroached a little at times but not so much it was a bother. Well maybe a teeny tiny bother. Unsurprisingly it was not notable in more poppy, assertive music where things can explode out of nowhere, some would just be that touch too aggressive in that zone for my tastes. Still I feel like I’m being petty. It’s not really an issue most of the time and not really at all unless you playing silly buggers with the volume dial. Though I will grant that with these I did find myself cranking the dial regularly. The extension was another aspect that I felt was maybe not quite all that it could be. Again it’s not that its “bad” it just didn’t seem to quite go all the way up, or maybe I’m just getting old. The spec say it goes up to 50kHz so vastly beyond the human range. Maybe it’s that lower treble eagerness that’s upstaging the extension? Again they performed more nicely than the 600, they tend to get brittle and over abrasive where the PM-3 stayed much more delicate and refined as it went up. It felt like it had the headroom to not just cope with extended highs but the enough agility that it could do it with some ease. Lesser things sound like they are straining to accomplish that feat, planars are just that much quicker than dynamics.
Quantity wise there is a bit of a peak as I mentioned. That aside the treble to my ears was a bit more prominent than the mids and bass but only by a very small margin. I’m fairly treble sensitive so I’d personally would have preferred that the treble was behind the other two but the quality was of a sufficiently high ability that I didn’t mind terribly.
Soundstage: For a closed it’s got a remarkably talented semblance of air and space to breathe. Still vocals especially wanted to come up and veer towards the close in intimately and casually close in. For me I like that greatly. Curiously though strings and orchestral works still gave you that grand elegance of a large hall, all that planar speed and air coming into play I’d bet. Still it was a large hall, not the great outdoors. For a closed headphone it was fantastically impressive, in a blindfold test if it wasn’t for the sound isolation you could be convinced they were open I’d bet. Instrument separation is somewhat casual. Things are all clear enough to be distinct but I never felt like anything had an exact location. Integration was flawless so the cost of a hint of separation is an easy price to pay.
Fit: They went on head, and voila. The pads aren’t massive though, they fully encompassed my ears but not by lot. That’s the price of being “portable” so if you are big eared you may want to test first. Same if big headed. Normaly I’m near the min size on headbands but not so on these.
Comfort: I have seen people comment that the pads are pleather and it generates too much head. Well living in This Sceptred Isle, for all its rich blessings that nature hath provided, scorching heat is not among them. My only little issue is that the pad depth on the left wasn’t quite holding the cup off my ear, after a couple of hours use it became irritated. My ear was just making contact and that low but constant pressure feeling bothered after a few hours use.
Cable: Weirdly the thing came with 3 cables. A plain, very long normal cable i.e. no mic on it. Then I had 2 Android and Windows phone compatible mic’d cables. One in white and one in black. Is that supposed to be like that? I suspect one of them should have been an “Apple” one rather than a black and a white Android ones. The quality of them all seemed fine but really did the non mic’d one need to be 3 meters long???
Isolation: I consider all proper headphones, all circumaurals (ones that go over rather than on your ear) to be things you use at home. You use open if you have the room to yourself, closed if you aren’t. Now these are marketed as “portable” headphones, they even come with phone mic’s so clearly the idea is you plug them into your phone and use them out and about. So in terms of isolation, well you actually could. They are roughly about the same sort of level as you would expect from a dynamic IEM, which is certainly in the realm of usable. On a bus, out and about in normal traffic should ass be okay. Flights or Tube commutes I’d probably give a miss but they would do in a pinch. It goes without saying they are good enough to get you killed if don’t keep an eye out for traffic.
Build Quality: Excellent. They feel extremely sturdy and well put together. The construction isn’t just premium feeling it’s impressively thick and metal. They are a bit weighty but that just lends to the feel that they will survive some “out and about” trauma. Everything about them, to the eye or the touch, says these are good quality product.
Aesthetic: Well they look great quite frankly. Very much on the grown up, respectable sense of the aesthetic. Pure, unfettered metal and then morphing into the soft pleather coverings. They have a minimalist look to them that I highly approve of. I have the black here which is normally what I like most but the pics of the white ones. I normally hate white things but the white with the silvered metal cup backs, they just look so much nicer than the black ones here. Shame they aren’t silvery too on the black ones. Even though they still look very appealing to my eyes.
Phone Use: So only having the Android and Windows cables here. Plugging it in to my Nexus 5 and Lumia 735 it all worked good. No volume controls on the cable but oh well. Tring out the Iphone 5 anyway, the audio worked fine as did the play/pause/skip button. I didn’t test all the phones, just the N5 for mic use as my sister was getting annoyed and it’s a giant pain to test the three. I would bet they all work just fine though.
Amped/Unamped: Being planars, even given the claims about how they aren’t power hungry, you still think but yeah they will be so much better with an amp right? Certainly that’s what I thought. It just seems so obvious. So when I first plugged them into a phone, the Iphone btw and I was agog. Holy crap!!! They sound good, not just “good” but like F me these are really good. Nexus 5 and 735 up too and again, holy crap these sound amazing out of a phone. Even the crappy treble of the Nexus 5 sound good. I almost don’t know what to say, I’m a little in shock I think. Yes if you flick about its not like you don’t gain with amps because you do. More though you gain by the resolution of the DAC/source file than by the amp ability. That said they did make an excellent partner for the Oppo HA-2, its review coming shortly btw.
Still the take away is the PM3 are insanely easily driven by any old junk so if you are one of “those people” who insist on using your phone as an audio source then with these you not only get away with it, you get seriously, seriously good audio quality. However, I would still say if you’re pending to get this level of quality an audio product your next purchase really ought to be an amp.
Accessories: You get a pleasant case thing and 3 cables. I’m still not sure I was supposed to get that white android one, getting a black Apple one instead. Also the 3 meter long non mic’ed one, I could have done with it being normal length, I use big cans at my desk I really don’t need all that length. Oh and it came with a 6.25mm to 3.5mm adapter.
Value: It’s retailing in the US at US$400, and in the UK at £350. Hmm the exchange rate then plus 20% VAT added comes to £308. So a headline figure of £350 vs £257, well if I had a trip to the US planned anytime soon, even when you dutifully declare them to Customs on your return, as I am sure you all rightfully would, you still make a reasonable saving. Disparity aside they sit at the top of the typical headphone world and they don’t sound like they belong there. They belong on the next wrung of the ladder upward where you start encountering weird stuff. The resolution they offer is superb and the delicacy they are capable is phenomenal for a closed can. They are so open like yet they isolate well enough you could use them outside.
Conclusion: Shut up and take my money!!!
Grown up brain may demand that a certain level of detached objectivity be maintained. Grown up brain knows the PM-3’s certainly are not perfect though if you asked to me really pick out an actual flaw, errm right now I’m hard pressed to really think of one. There isn’t really any specific flaws per say, there are just little issues here and there. Like the bit of a lower treble assertiveness, the pads maybe being a tad on the snug side, that gigantic 3m long cable, that they pained the backs of the cups black instead of leaving them as bare metal. Erm, I think that’s about it really
Sonic signature wise I’m sure that the PM-3 won’t appeal to all as it’s certainly not as potent at either end of the spectrum for some. When I had the HE-500 in, the last planar I reviewed, that thing, my god it was fast. So lightning fast that the treble was like ear stabbing pinpricks of light and the bass was a brutal ensemble punching you from one side of the room to the other. It was so dramatic and exuberant and showed off just how much more capable than it was over your typical dynamic, so slow and weighty in comparison. It made for an incredible presentation. The PM-3 doesn’t do any of that.
The PM-3 is very much more grown up. It’s all about the clarity, the refinement, the soft beauty of a piece. It’s not wild nor especially exciting. It’s so very, VERY highly detailed but it doesn’t feel the need to slap you in the face with it screaming “LOOK, LOOK AT THIS, LOOK LOOK AT IT, SEE AREN’T I AMAZING, LOOK , LOOK WHAT I CAN DO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” No no, the PM-3 is so much more nonchalant, it knows it’s excellent and it doesn’t need to behave like a 5 year old that’s just eaten a bag of sugar to show you what it can do. You can take or leave its presentation and capabilities. The PM-3 has a good sense of its own abilities and abounds in well-deserved self-confidence.
Now the only real issue for me with the PM-3 is that while you absolutely could take it out and about, the fact is I’d never do that. Still it’s just so good, so open sounding for a closed headphone I cannot help but think what if Oppo made an open version, I find myself so wishing for the mythical open version that I’m not entirely satisfied with the 3 as it is. I’m not sure it’s really a criticism to say that its problem is that I think its theoretical sibling will be even better. If that is about the worst thing I can say then you realise that it’s a rather good product. I mean fact is the PM-3 is a freakish concoction. It’s a planar, closed, that you can freekin’ use out of a mobile phone, even a crap mobile phone and yet it still sounds like a better, faster, more resolving HD600 yet somehow closed. Seriously, just how the hell did they do that??? Seriously, shut up and take my money!!!