The Oppo PM-3's are a truly stunning pair of headphones. Make no mistake, we've reviewed a lot of headphones in the last 10 years but none have we become more fond of than the PM-3.
They've been on sale for two years now and in that time they've become a solid office favourite in these parts - at the latest count there were six pairs of them in the building which isn't bad for a small-brand like Oppo.
This love for the PM-3's might sound odd for anyone who might remember the lavish 5-star review we gave to the Oppo PM-1 a few years back. The PM-1's were simply miraculous, a benchmark in sound quality. And they had to be because even now, years later, you'll have to spend nearly $1000/£1000 to get a pair.
But there were drawbacks with the PM-1 from a consumer perspective.
First, the price was out of the reach of basically everyone in the world. Second, they were massive and quite heavy. And third, the open-back design made them great for at-home listening but totally inappropriate for out-and-about use.
So to the delight of anyone with ears, Oppo came up with the perfect retort to all those drawbacks and of course we're talking about the PM-3.
Instead of a $1000/£1000, the asking price is more like £350/$399 and the more compact, closed-back design makes them far better for out and about listening due to the isolation they offer.
The upshot is that for PM-1 owners, they're the perfect companion headphones. For everyone else, they're the perfect headphones, period.
Why they're special
The Oppo PM-1 and PM-2 (being the same at the PM-1 but with fewer luxurious extras) headphones are special because they use planar magnetic drivers. This method of constructing and moving the diaphragm is far better at producing accurate sound frequencies with minimal distortion compared to traditional technologies (see the PM-1 review for the lowdown on how the tech works).
In other words, they produce sound quality that dazzles with its definition and vast, epic spaciousness.
But in many ways, while they're not as luxurious, the PM-3 is possibly even more special because they retain the use of the planar magnetic drivers and the sonic excellence they deliver, but in a smaller, lighter, closed back design. They're the first closed-back PM headphones we've ever come across and they might be the first ones to roll out of a factory anywhere in the world.
So yeah, they're special.
The Oppo PM-3's really do sound amazingly good. Okay so in side-by-side testing with the far more expensive open-backed PM-1 they are clearly outmatched but compared to any other headphones we have in the office at this price point they're simply unbeatable.
What we're really looking for with headphones in this price range is balance and precision. You don't want too much bass, you don't want artificially enhanced treble and you most certainly don't want a midrange that goes missing in amongst one or both of those two icky extremes.
Thankfully, the PM-3's deliver incredible definition across the entire soundscape, with a superbly detailed midrange nestled between gentle yet clearly defined low ends and crystal clear, natural highs.
Many, if not most, headphones in this class will artificially dial-up either the bass or the treble - or if you really go with the wrong brand, both. That's usually an attempt to hide a feeble midrange or make up for poor isolation which can result in a loss of definition. They hide, compensate and even bluff their way to a 'big' sound.
But not the PM-3. The combination of planar magnetic drivers and closed-back design means they confidently isolate you from ambient noise while effortlessly delivering pristine sound frequencies directly into your temporal lobe.
We have a pair of Sony MDR-1RNC headphones which we go back to every now and then for their noise cancelling skills - they were about the same price when they went on sale. Switching between them and the Oppo's is a real eye opener - they make the Sony's sound totally inadequate, ineloquent and - dare we say it - impotent.
And like any great headphones, with the PM-3's you can pick out and locate individual instruments in a song, and with old classic tracks you'll notice layers to the sound you never even knew were there - that's almost a rite of passage for any high-end pair of headphones.
You get the picture - they sound sublime.
In the box you get a standard 3.5mm cable as well as a super-long one (plus phono adapter) for use at home with your headphone amp. If you buy from the Oppo site you also get additional cables with functinal clickers for iPhone and Android.
Build quality of the PM-3 is excellent. They're admittedly a step down from the ludicrous luxuriousness of the PM-1 but still more than a match for the real competition which are the many other £300/$300+ headphones you see cluttering up Amazon's virtual shelves.
They're comparable in build to rivals from Sony, Philips and other mainstream contenders in this regard and that's no bad thing because those brands, if nothing else, know how to put equipment together competently.
The synthetic earpads might be a turn off for some people, but they needn't be. They're soft and comfortable, and in the UK's recent heatwave we were able to wear the PM-3 outside for extended periods without feeling too hot or sweaty, which is a good sign. They're also compact enough to take with you on holiday and come with a carry case for that exact purpose.
They're robust and feel like they'll stand up to a lot of physical abuse if you're the 'toss into a bag and go' sort of music listener. Don't do that though - they deserve better.
They also come in black of white. So our only real criticism - which you'll see is as faux as the non-leather earpads - is that we were sent the white ones which are a bit too blingy for our understated tastes. Scraping the barrel a little bit there.
There's no other way to say it - if you want to spend £350/$399 on a pair of over-ear headphones, look no further than the Oppo PM-3. They're the best headphones we've ever tested at this price point. They deliver everything you'd expect from headphones that cost this much, and make many inferior rivals look amateurish and overpriced.
They're equally comfortable being plugged into a headphone amp at home as they are commuting through the hustle and bustle of a big city, and they stand head and shoulders above rival products from bigger brands. We really can't recommend them highly enough, they're just amazing.
- Curious about other headphones we love? Here are the best headphones for 2017