REVIEW: OPPO PM-3 Planar Magnetic 'Phones
& HA-2 Amp/DAC
Two tasty bits of audio gear for the budget-minded music
Review By Steven R. Rochlin
has been a heavy-hitter manufacturer that offers very high quality, excellent
sounding electronics at a variety of price points. Cases in point are the $399
OPPO PM-3 planar magnetic headphones and $299 HA-2 headphone DAC/amplifier as
reviewed here. Sure, if you invest more and choose the next model up within
their product lineup, you receive higher sound quality. But what if you were on
a budget and wanted great sound without breaking the bank? This is where the new
OPPO PM-3 closed back planar magnetic headphones and HA-2 come into play. After
years of selling more expensive products, OPPO took all that experience and put
as much of the great stuff into the most cost-efficient package yet without
sacrificing build quality and reliability.
A Bit About The OPPO HA-2
Let us take the HA-2 headphone DAC with amplifier as
an example for starters. OPPO combined the popular ESS Sabre32 Reference
ES9018-K2M DAC with the versatility of working with nearly every conceivable
device as digital input, headphone amplifier output and a standard output to
feed your home receiver, powered speakers, etc. Do you want the HA-2 to work
with your Mac or Win machine as an external DAC to feed your external amplified
speakers? Yup, it has you covered. What if you want to hookup the HA-2 to your
Android or iOS phone/tablet/iTouch/etc device? Sure, it'll work with all those
too. What if your headphones are highly sensitive CIEMs (custom in-ear
monitors) or highly inefficient power-hungry headphones? You guessed it; the
OPPO HA-2 will work with all those too via an adjustable amplifier gain output
setting. Perhaps the only exception is if your headphones are extremely
power hungry and you like your music on the ultra-loud
side. Now what if you wanted all this flexibility combined with reliability and
beautiful build quality for only $299? Are you friggen nuts!?!? Don't cha think
you're asking for bit too much there mister? Oh, wait, hold on there, you can
get all this incredible convenience and flexibility since the OPPO HA-2 is
priced at $299.
A Bit About The OPPO PM-3
So what is it about the OPPO PM-3 headphones that make
them so special? Am glad you asked. What if, say, you wanted a set of planar
magnetic headphones because you heard they sound great as compared to normal
driver types as used by Beats and others? Well, you're on the right path, yet if
you've been looking around you've also noticed the pricing for a good set of
planar magnetic headphones can reach thousands of dollars! For those unfamiliar
with the difference between normal drivers and planar magnetics within
headphones, am sure there are plenty of websites that cover this topic in
detail. Staying on-topic, planars are an excellent design yet can cost a bundle.
Here is where OPPO comes in as they have been making these headphones for years.
So with R&D and manufacturing already in place, they found a way to bring a true
high quality set of headphones down in price. When I say "down", we're
talking the highly competitive $399 price range. Sure it may be a tad bit more
than those fashion-types you've seen at big box stores over the years, yet those
are old designs using basic technology. Imagine if you wisely chose to invest
just a tiny bit more. For if you did, you could get a great set of very durable,
high quality planar magnetic headphones!
more details about the build quality and technical description of OPPO's HA-2
and PM-3 see my preview at this link.
An Impossible Task?
It is always a challenge to review portable audio
devices as the variables can be mind-boggling! Take the OPPO PM-3 planar
magnetic headphones and HA-2 DAC/amp combo as reviewed here for example. Am 99
44/100% sure after this review gets published my e-mail box will be filed with
how the PM-3s sounds with _____ DAP/amp or how the HA-2 works with the _____
headphones / IEM / CIEMS. As you can see within the photo below, there was an
abundance of options to choose from and to cover them all would be an exercise
in futility. Since i have five CIEMs, four IEMs, three high quality sets of
headphones, three, no make that six headphone amps, a variety of DACs... and an
abundance of units to use as a source for digital files from Android (six
different) and Apple (five different). To review each and every
combo in every possible
configuration would mathematically be like hitting the lottery. So my strategy
here is to use a few popular items and try a few, i said a
few, variables. The goal is to assess the sound quality of the DUT
(devices under test) in a general sense. As you can see by the photo below,
which only shows a handful of all the devices employed during this review, I did
my best to ascertain how the OPPO PM-3 and HA-2 units will sound given a good
variety of a wide range of common circumstances.
Individually, Sans Their 'Dance'
OPPO's PM-3 Sounding Off
OPPO's PM-3 closed back planar magnetic headphones exude quality and are
very comfortable for those of us who enjoy long-term listening seshs. My ears
are neither big nor small, so of course the opening's size will dictate if they
work as perfectly for you as they do with my ears. With some headphones, after
two or three hours of continuous use you either have sweaty ears, keep grabbing
the headphones because they are so heavy they keep trying to fall off your head,
or the opposite as the headband combo is so tight it feels like your head is
within a vice. OPPO, with many years of producing truly high quality headphones,
struck an excellent balance of secure comfort and light weight design. The build
quality is exceptional at this price range plus you get two cables. Within the
box you receive a shorter 1.2-meter one with microphone for using with your cell
phone plus a longer 3-meter cable for when you need more cable length. The
cables connect via industry standard 1/8" (3.5mm) gold-plated stereo jack.
This allows you to use a variety of other cables, if you insist, or if the cable
itself gets pulled on due to my typical stupidity of forgetting I'm plugged in,
the cable detaches without any damage to the headphone setup. In a sense this is
proof how comfy the OPPO PM-3 'phone are as if I can 'forget' I'm wearing them,
it means they are so comfortable that my focus is on other things. Before I
forget to mention, within the box you also get a nice denim carrying case and
1/8" to 1/4" gold-plated adapter. If you want more details about the build
quality, etc, then see my preview.
After the typical 100 hour burn in it was time to give these
headphones a listen. Due to being exceedingly busy, I had zero time to seriously
listen to them beforehand other than ensuring they worked. So, should I cut to
the chase and say both my muse/wife Heather and I are 'fighting' for 'ownership'
of these or did you really want details about the way they sound? Yeah, we both
want them and we've heard a boatload of 'phones, IEMs, etc. Hmmm, since you're
still reading this, (sigh) well, guess I should at least give you some remarks
about their sound quality. First, they are not the very best headphones I've
ever heard, but then again they are not $4000+ and weigh a kajillion pounds
bearing down on my head plus needing a dedicated specialized amplifier that
needs 1.21 jigawatts of power to make it all work. What if I told you that the
1/10th priced PM-3 is about 85% of that sound quality. Ah, that got
your attention didn't it? Frankly, I want to say 90%, yet us reviewer types are
never one to, proverbially-speaking, paint ourselves into a corner.
Usually reviews are either akin to a shat sandwich with good,
then bad, then good again, or all good and then a few drawbacks at the very end.
I'm going to avoid the former and do the later yet in reverse. So here's the
drawbacks first and then the good news. Starting with the highs, they are smooth
and nicely harmonic up to a point.
Fairly clean with a smooth decay in response/extension somewhere around 9kHz and
then cutting off more through the next octave up at 18kHz on upward is what I'm
hearing. There are advantages to this as, frankly, as typical inexpensive
devices tend to have a bit harsh upper octave response and so the response of
the OPPO PM-3 helps to keep these in check. It also lowers the possibility of
migraine headaches from these lousy devices, which I tend to suffer less from
over the years as the quality of equipment and source material has improved. For
an example, the self-titled album by Dream Theater song "Enigma Machine" was
recorded at 96kHz/24-bit and at the 1:20 mark is when the drummer's ride cymbal
bell hits centered around 7kHz should be there cutting through. With the OPPO
PM-3 they are more recessed into the mix of other instruments that fill the
The great news is that the critical midrange, which frankly is
where most music 'lives' is wonderfully resolved and natural sounding. This is
where those headphones which are beat, yet have great marketing, just can't hold
a candle to a far higher quality headphone as the OPPO PM-3. Perhaps a touch on
the warmer side of neutral, the OPPO PM-3 have very good definition and you can
hear that planar magic come through nicely. Song after song I was impressed by
the quality of these headphones for the relatively low $400 price. For those
looking for budget-beating sound quality without breaking the bank, the OPPO
PM-3 are a winner!
Sounding Off On The OPPO PA-2 DAC With Headphone Amplifier
Will get this right out of the way and say that yes, with
super highly efficient in-ear monitors or the custom variety (CIEM) there is a
bit of hiss. With the PM-3 this hiss was a complete non-issue. With the Noble
Kaiser K-10 CIEM there was a bit of hiss, yet once the music began to play
to concentrate to hear it when the music had average to loud dynamic sounds (read: not during
silent or very quiet passages). With that said, the OPPO PA-2 is quite a lil'
performer for the money. For only $299 you get the ability to enjoy virtually
every knows digital audio file type available now or in the foreseeable future.
We're talking everything from lowly compressed decades old MP3 to the latest
(?future?) 32-bit/384kHz plus up to DSD256 (11.2896 MHz). If you use Android, it
worked. An iApple device you ask, well, the OPPO PA-2 has got you covered there
too. You want to use the HA-2 as an external DAC for your computer? Sure, it'll
work as that too. During my review I tried the unit on my top-line max'ed out
MacBook Pro, Windows-based home computer, iPhone, iTouch, Android 4x and 5x too.
In all instances it was pretty much PnP (plug-n-play).
After many hours of trying so many combinations it makes my
head spin, my overall impressions are the HA-2, especially with the OPPO PM-3,
is a great all-around no-nonsense DAC with headphone amp. You can also use the
built-in Line Out to feed your home audio system or self-powered speakers too!
The sound is smooth and clean, if a bit dynamically compressed as compared to
the very best cost-no-object comparo. Harmonically, it is more on the neutral
side than rich and 'rose-colored glasses'. If there was one thing I found a bit
distracting, was the lack of extreme frequency extension over 10kHz. Even when
using the Onkyo HF Player it seems there is something not quite getting through
on high resolution audio recordings that have sound above 20kHz.Many reviewers
like to wax lyrically at all the positive, yet there was something holding the
unit back that I could not escape from.
Bringing in the iFi Audio Micro iDSD for comparison and there
simply was more to my liking. Hiss is gone, subtle nuances are more audible, and
there is more power and drive to handle virtually anything you can throw at it.
Then again the Micro iDSD is about 3x the physical size of the OPPO HA-2 and
retails at $499 versus OPPO's HA-2 $299 MSRP. That extra $200, nearly 60% more
in price for you math types, can go a very
long way when you're a manufacturer seeking to squeeze out as much as
possible at the lower price points. If your budget is extremely limited and the
size of the Micro iDSD is simply too large, the OPPO will do nicely. Still, I
can't help but look over and see that for $200 more that my music improves in
virtually all departments. With the Micro iDSD you get better and more extended
highs, firmer bass, adjustments such as 3D and XBass plus better musical
delicacy, more subtle dynamics, etc. Also, the Micro iDSD was far more 'analog-like'
to coin a well-worn phrase. Simply put, the iFi Audio Micro iDSD offered too
many advantages not to be the go-to piece.
OPPO's HA-2 is very impressive for the money, truly it is. I
found nothing offensive and enjoyed many hours of music through it. When
combined with the OPPO PM-3, it is perhaps the best value for your money within the
market today at just under $700. They work extremely well together and I wonder if OPPO voiced this combo to work extremely well
together. Yet taken
separately, the PM-3 planar magnetic headphones outshine the HA-2 DAC/headphone
amplifier. My wife Heather and I are fighting over who gets to enjoy
the PM-3, whereas the HA-2 is more an interesting curiosity without a home.
Perhaps that best sums it all up now doesn't it? Love the OPPO PM-3 closed back planar
magnetic headphones! OPPO's PM-3 headphones are extremely comfortable and very
well-built. They continue to produce hour after hour of great music, especially for the
money. Hmmm, perhaps Enjoy the Music.com
needs a new way to rank Music For The Money (MFTM)? Oh, wait, we do have a
rating for Value For The Money, yet MFTM sounds far more cool! My Blue Note
ratings below will tell the tale. As always, in the end what really matters is
Enjoy the Music (since today, April 7th of the
year 2015, is Billie Holiday's 100th birthday celebration...),
Steven R. Rochlin