Oppo PM-3 and HA-2: Practical, Affordable, High-End Portable Audio

To enjoy their gear, high end audio enthusiasts have generally been trapped at home. From speakers, to receivers and amplifiers, none of the means of reproducing quality sound were exactly portable. Even the enthusiast-level headphones that have arrived on the scene over the last few years are large, unwieldy, unfashionable, and require at minimum a decent headphone amp to function. (See: most Audeze, Oppo HA-1, HiFi Man, etc.)

In addition, most planar magnetic headphones are open-backed, which means listening in less-than-quiet or public situations can be a challenge. Well, my fellow audio recluses, the PM-3 by Oppo aims to change all that.

Closed backed, planar magnetic, and exceptionally light at 320g, the PM-3 look astoundingly like regular dynamic headphones. They have a close-to-the-head design that is sleek and unassuming-looking in a good way. The earpads are soft memory foam that have a pleasing and ultra comfy squish. I admit, after spending years strapping Princess Leia’s-hair-bun sized headphones to my cranium, I was skeptical that a small package could pack truly quality sound. Boy was I wrong.

Simply put, the Oppo PM-3 are my favorite closed-backed headphones currently available. Why? First of all, the folks at Oppo managed to come up with a “small” (ie: standard-consumer-headphone-sized) planar magnetic headphone that is not only practical for use in daily life, but is affordable enough to reasonably do so. At $400, they surpass anything else in their price range. A clear, delicate, responsive sound that is largely neutral across all frequency ranges. While they don’t have the air that open-backed headphones offer, the sense of space in the PM-3 is still remarkable from a closed backed headphone.

The soundstage was something that Oppo really focused on when developing the PM-3. When I discussed the design process with them at CES 2015, it was stressed to me just how much time they spent trying to get the earcup shape and driver position absolutely perfect to prevent any unwanted sound reflection, and yet avoid that closed-off feeling many sealed headphones deliver. And they largely succeeded. Although no, the sound can’t escape and “breathe” as with open-backed designs, the PM-3 don’t give you the sense that the music is coming from inside your head, which many monitors are afflicted with.

What’s also astounding is that the PM-3 sound really great right out of your portable device’s headphone jack. In fact, they’re even available with an iPhone or Android remote and mic cable. I can hear some audiophiles now, “You’re using the included DAC on your device?!” Blasphemy, I know. But let’s be real, folks. As much as I love quality music, sometimes I just don’t have one more pocket left to carry a bunch of equipment. And in that situation, knowing my headphones will adapt to work with me is a truly beautiful thing.

However, if the PM-3 sound great out of an iPhone headphone jack, they are phenomenal with an amp. With a claimed frequency response of 10 - 50,000 Hz, a low 26 Ohm impedance, and a sensitivity of 102 dB in 1 mW, adding even a small headphone amp makes the PM-3 shine. The separation, dexterity of attack and decay, and overall soundstage are enhanced through an amp, especially one with a quality DAC. And, if you don’t happen to have one yet, Oppo also introduced the HA-2 in conjunction with the PM-3.

The HA-2 is a portable headphone amp about the size of an iPhone 6, and includes a USB DAC that supports 384 kHz PCM and DSD256. The two DAC input ports support USB for iPhone/iPad as well as mini USB for Android and laptops. If you only need amplification, a third 3.5mm analog input rounds out the port lineup. A low or high gain switch means you can power more than just lower impedance headphones, plus, in a pinch, the HA-2 can switch the direction of current and charge your portable device. The bass boost switch is a nice feature for those who need/like that sort of thing, but I personally liked the sound just fine with the switch in a neutral position.

The HA-2, while not necessary to enjoy the PM-3, does add enough sparkle and fine detail to the sound in all frequency ranges that I think true enthusiasts with the means will be well served purchasing the two together.

As someone who has reviewed literally hundreds of headphones over just the last two years, it’s been some time since I’ve been this excited about a new product. While I love sitting at home with a gorgeous high-impedance (and high priced) headphone, the pragmatist in me is even more excited when I can take some of that quality with me. The PM-3 made me want to keep them on beyond the review process and just enjoy my music; outside! So on the first day of spring, with a spring in my step, I snagged my iPhone, actually left the house, and did just that.

The Oppo PM-3 and HA-2 are available for $399 and $299, respectively at OppoDigital.com

James.Seeds's picture

I appreciate Sound and Vision making me aware that Oppo released a new pair of headphones, as for the sound and how they compare with other brands, well that'll depend on an audition to verify what Lauren has said to be true, even if there is a hint of advertising or revenue bias a simple audition will clear it up.

JayhawkLaw's picture

Great review. It raises a question for Lauren though. From other reviews I know that the PSB M4U 2 headphone is your reference and that you obviously like it. Let’s say, hypothetically of course, that I want to buy a pair of closed-back headphones. I listen to mostly rock (I’m afraid much of which is now referred to as “classic”), some symphonic classical as well as smaller chamber style classical music. I also listen to a small amount of jazz, no electronica, hip-hop, rap or country music. I will be listening – at least for the immediate future – through my iPhone 6 alone. I may jump to either a dedicated DAP or a portable DAC/Amp (Oppo HA-2? Ifi DSD Nano?) after the first of the year. I want to simply hear my music at its best; if that means some coloration exists to make poor recordings more listenable, so be it. I don’t need to be able to identify the brand of spit-valve used by a given trumpeter. I travel a little, but short distances so portability isn’t a huge issue. Style and “hipness” are even less important than portability. Sound quality and comfort are my main concerns. I have $400 to spend. Any comment you make will have no negative repercussions; pretend we’re just talking friend to friend. Do you recommend the Oppo PM-3 or the PSB M4U 2?

Thanks again for consistently great reviews-