The Oppo PM-3 are highly unusual headphones, much as they might look like a more grown-up take on the Beats Studio. Why? They have a completely different sort of driver – planar magnetic – a type only usually seen in headphones much more expensive than this £350 pair. They’re the most affordable planar magnetic headphones we’ve ever worn.
It’s not just the price that caught our attention, either. The Oppo PM-3 are also the first planar headphones designed for use outdoors, not only for chin-stroking audiophile types who listen to vinyls in dusty old rooms.
They’re Oppo PM-1s for normal people, more or less. And the amount they manage to bring over from those £1100 cans make the Oppo PM-3 some of the best portable headphones ever devised.
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The Oppo PM-3 are closed-back, over-ear headphones; it's pretty much the only style to go for if you want to offer both portability and extreme comfort.
Naturally, this means they're on the larger side, but they skilfully manage their size to avoid becoming too big to wear outside without making you feel self-conscious. The cups don’t stick out too far from your head, and neither does the headband.
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We’ve been wearing the Oppo PM-3 as portable headphones for a couple of weeks now, and the design is perfect for the job. The look is a bit classier than most portable headphones too.
The Oppo PM-3 have brushed aluminium caps on the cups and chunky black leather-style pads on the headband and earpads. These come to characterise the PM-3 look. It’s not all that vivacious and youthful, but it’s neutral enough to cater to just about any crowd.
For £350 you might be expecting the Oppo PM-3 to be made of high-end materials. And from other brands, so would we. However, these headphones only put the expensive stuff where you’ll notice it, while the main frame is actually plastic. And all that leather is actually fake.
Synthetic leather can make your ears heat up quite a bit during hotter weather, but we used them in the gym a few times and on a walk in 20-odd degree weather without any real discomfort. Live in Miami? We don't have that sort of heat to test in.
Comfort is one of the Oppo PM-3’s real strong suits. The pads are very thick, and despite being synthetic the leather is soft, not tacky like cheaper kinds of fake stuff. And the way they distribute their weight and pressure is absolutely perfect. They don’t clamp too much, the headband doesn’t dig into your head. As a result you can wear these headphones all day without any ear ache. Unlike with on-ear headphones, that stands for glasses-wearers too.
The Oppo PM-3 are not particularly light, but among planar headphones they are very light indeed. As headphone nerds may agree, it’s remarkable enough that you can wear these headphones without even realising they have planar drivers, which require much larger magnets than a standard dynamic driver set.
With a design that gets you some of the best bits of portable and at-home headphones, the Oppo PM-3 are pretty versatile. And they have the accessories to match. The cable is removable, and you get four as standard. That's right: four.
One is a 3m cable for use at home, two are portable 1.2m cables for iPhone and Android users and another has no remote at all. The difference between them is that the iPhone remote has three buttons, the Android version just the one.
The remotes are a style-free area, but what matters more is what's going on in the core Oppo PM-3 hardware. Right near the top of the list is excellent isolation.
They block out as much sound as you could hope short of upgrading to active noise cancellation headphones such as the Bose QC15. For public transport, they’re a dream, and good isolation is also a part of making the PM-3 sound work in pure practical terms.
Unless you have very good isolation, headphones need to inflate the lower-end a bit as this part of the audio spectrum is the most obviously affected by lots of ambient noise. The Oppo PM-3’s don’t need to do this.
Among style-influenced portable headphones, the Oppo PM-3 sound is incredibly natural, making even the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 look a bit like Beats by Dre wannabes. They don’t lack in bass, but there’s not a hint of bloat to the lower mids, the sound equivalent of having a bit of winter weight around the tummy.
Voices sound incredibly natural because the mid-range is just so well-rendered. Its combination of amazing ‘structural’ integrity and detail makes the Oppo PM-3 very much three-dimensional, even though the other characteristics don’t immediately make you head to such a description.
What do we mean? Well, a lot of headphones try to sound big and expansive by either aiming for a super-wide soundstage or by not making the mid-range sound too forward, something that makes the sound appear to be ‘closer’ to your ears.
The Oppo PM-3 do not have a remarkably wide soundstage, as you’d expect of a closed headphone, and the mids here are quite forward. Here, the sense of scale to the sound comes from having superb coherence and sound 'contours' you can clearly differentiate between. This likely has a lot to do with the low-distortion properties of the planar magnetic driver.
This is something that becomes clearer as you live with the Oppo PM-3 because, unlike so many headphones, they do not rely on the treble to provide that perception of detail. Treble is quite restrained. There’s no pushing to reveal sound in the very highest registers, and the tone is not particularly bright.
As a result, the Oppo PM-3 can seem a little ‘ordinary’ on first listen. But on closer inspection, they are in fact very special.
What about bass? Its depth is excellent, but thanks to the great isolation there’s no need for much of a bass boost to make the low end apparent when the Oppo PM-3 have to contend with outside noise. It sounds balanced and natural. If you want very obvious bass thrills, look elsewhere.
When the Oppo PM-1 arrived we were a little sceptical. They were too expensive for the vast majority of people at £1100, and placed a bit too much emphasis on how luxurious they were, including the box the things come in. Being used to high-end headphones such as the Grado GS1000, which come in no-fuss cardboard boxes, we don’t like the idea of too much of the budget going on fluff.
However, the Oppo PM-3 cut all that out, and the impression we get is that a much greater percentage of your cash goes into the sound quality. And all without trading away comfort or a classy-looking design.
The Oppo PM-3 are some of the best portable headphones ever made, offering comfort, sound quality and isolation that should make most other headphone makers extremely jealous. They hit the target so dead-on you could almost believe a soul or two has been traded away at the crossroads just for their sake.
You can still get more expansive sound from a rival open-back pair such as the AKG Q701 if you’re going to be listening indoors in a quiet room. However, we can think of few better choices if isolation is a must. Simply fantastic.
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The Oppo PM-3 are some of the best portable headphones ever made.