It is no secret that i was into headphones since the ripe ol' age of 6. That was my very first exposure to Koss' creation and thus began nearly five decades of this continuing journey. During my youth, one of my jobs was at a top-shelf portable audio store in Ft. Lauderdale's brand new Galleria Mall back in the 1980's. This is when we had clear plastic-encased TVs with neon lights and the Sharper Image was a brand new company selling the hottest in consumer electronics. Actually, before that i was working at a Big Box store and purchased the world's first dual-driver IEMs, which were made by Panasonic. Come to think of it, before that i worked at another Big Box store as the head of their electronics department, and within only a few months promoted to manager of the entire store where i purchased the then brand new Sony D-5. The D-5 holds a special place in history as it was the world's first compact digital (disc) portable media player. It was also weird being so very young yet managing a large staff of employees who ranged in age to well over twice my own. So why all this interest in portable audio you ask? Well, when you tend to live out of your car for months at a time due to your chosen lifestyle, you do not have the luxury of a sound room, or a true roof over your head for that matter. Like Metallica sings, "Anywhere I roam, where I lay my head is home". My good friend and brother-of-another-mother Warren Chi and i have spoken at length about my early years in portable audio and he feels one day Yours Truly should write about my experiences. Tears are filling my eyes as my early life was, well, quite interesting in more ways than even i want to remember. How i survived it all, in the literal sense, is beyond my own comprehension quite frankly. Apologies for this opening paragraph, yet Warren is right and at some point i should write about my early experiences with portable audio devices as he seemed quite interested and, perhaps, it might be interesting to you, too. Not sure when i'll write that article, maybe soon... perhaps never.
Let us fast-forward in time to March 2015, life is good and Mr. FedEx Man just delivered two amazing new products from OPPO. Their new PM-3 closed-back planar magnetic headphones ($399) combine audiophile performance, elegant styling, and noise isolation at a very reasonable price when you consider most audiophiles will invest thousand of dollars on their 'phones and/or custom in-ear monitors (CIEM). These new portable and lightweight planar magnetic headphones only weigh a bit more than 10 ounces are mark their place in history as the world's lightest closed-back planar magnetic headphone design. The closed-back nature of the PM-3 provides isolation from the outside world, blocking out the unwanted surrounding noise whilst also avoiding sound leakage from the headphones. They are very comfortable to wear for hours on end as have been enjoying them as i write this.
OPPO designed a new 55mm diameter round driver, which is said to "maintain the very natural and smooth sound signature of the PM-1, and is tuned to have deep, tight bass and a touch of excitement". Frequency response is from 10 Hz to 50 kHz so easily meet the new Hi-Res Audio standard. OPPO's PM-3 come with a Selvedge Denim carrying case and two cables, one 3-meter cable for home use with 1/8" (3.5 mm) gold-plated jacks on both ends and one 1.2 meter cable for use with mobile devices. The shorter cable also has a built-in microphone and single button to play/pause music plus it can answer/hang-up phone calls. If you want to learn more about other OPPO headphones, Enjoy the Music.com has reviewed the award-winning Oppo PM-1 planar magnetic headphones. OPPO's PM-3 have a high sensitivity of 102dB and thus work quite well with the Sony NW-ZX2 portable media player i recently reviewed. Ok, so they will not get loud with this combination, yet quite acceptable for middle to lower volume levels. If you want to truly jam out you'll most definitely want more amplification.
OPPO's HA-2 portable headphone amplifier and DAC ($299) handles all the latest digital audio files via the ESS ES9018-K2M Sabre32 reference DAC to deliver high-resolution performance with extremely low noise and distortion. Via the digital input on the bottom of the unit you can play music from lossy 1990's technology MP3 to the latest high-resolution PCM up to 384kHz/32-bit and DSD audio up to 12 MHz (DSD256 or DSD4x). Tried it on my Samsung Galaxy Note 3 via the included micro USB cable and the latest Apple iTouch via included Lightening and the OPPO HA-2 worked without any user-intervention other than choosing A or B on the switch at the bottom of the unit. Choosing C allows you to use the 1/8" analog input at the top of the unit by the volume knob.
OPPO's HA-2 uses a hybrid Class AB amplifier mated to their USB DAC. In addition, the HA-2 may be used to charge mobile devices on-the-go with its internal 3000 mAh lithium polymer rechargeable battery, and itself can be efficiently charged in 90 minutes via the included, and very healthy i might add, 5 Ampere charger. It can drive all types of headphones from very sensitive in-ear monitors (IEM) to power-hungry over-the-ears 'phones.
There are two gain level settings and a bass boost adjustment on the side of the unit. The High Gain mode is for power-hungry headphones and can deliverer up to 300 mW into 16-Ohms. OPPO HA-2's Low Gain is for the more power efficient, sensitive IEM. If you desire more bass impact, the HA-2 has a Bass Boost function that is implemented purely with analog audio circuits. Aesthetically, the HA-2 comes in genuine leather casing with contrast stitching and beveled aluminum edges. Most people, upon first seeing the HA-2, think the leather is a case for the unit, when in fact the leather is permanently attached to the aluminum housing.
You can also use the OPPO HA-2 as an external DAC for your home computer. To quote OPPO's website, "Since the internal iOS Music application is limited to 24-bit, 48 kHz output, you will need to make use of 3rd party applications such as Hibiki (for DSD files only, $4.99 in the App Store) and Onkyo HF Player (for DSD and FLAC, WAV, etc. files, free in the App Store, in-app purchase required to enable high resolution playback). OPPO wants you to get the very best from the HA-2, and thus for Android users you may use of two different volume controls: a digital volume control within the DAC itself, and an analog potentiometer. "When used together, the digital volume control can be used to lower the output level from the DAC, and the analog volume control can be used to more finely tune the volume level. Using both volume controls in conjunction with each other is especially useful when connecting IEMs and other sensitive headphones to the HA-2" says their website. Android devices connected to Input B is plug-n-play, yet you can utilize music playback software such as USB Audio Player PRO ($8.99), which will allow you to indicate that a hardware volume control is available. "Once the Android device's playback software is configured to recognize the HA-2's hardware volume control, it will output bit-perfect audio to the HA-2 and the Android device's volume control will be mapped to the HA-2's 32-bit volume control, allowing for finer volume control adjustment when using IEMs and other sensitive headphones."
As i type this, am in the process of breaking-in
both the OPPO PM-3 planar magnetic headphones and HA-2 amplifier/DAC devices
digitally via the latest generation Apple iTouch. Am waiting for a special
digital output cable for the Sony NW-ZX2 from Japan to test DSD during my
upcoming review. As always, in
the end what really matters is that you...
Click here to see Enjoy the Music.com's OPPO PM-3 planar magnetic headphones and HA-2 headphone amplifier / DAC review.
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