Q: You mostly review low- to midpriced headphones. Could you take it up a notch and recommend a high-end headphone with a $500 price tag? I'm looking for the best.
A: Spending $500 does not get you the best, but it's a step in that direction.
The best would be open-back Oppo planar-magnetic headphones (oppodigital.com), like Oppo's $1,099 PM-1. (The $399 Oppo PM-3 is closed-back and, though excellent, not in the same class as the open-back designs.) These are the Ferrari of headphones, with exotic technology and unmatched performance. Typically, planar designs like the PM-1 need a special amplifier to drive them. Oppo does make two headphone amplifiers that I will discuss in the future, but they are not mandatory. The high-efficiency design allows the headphones to work with the ordinary headphone outputs on portable devices or stereo components.
The PM-1 headphones are delivered in a polished wood box that would be suitable for a $100,000 Patek Philippe watch. When you touch and open the box and see the headphones, you know you are experiencing something very special. As for the sound, they are phenomenal, with extreme detail, naturalness, solid bass and very precise separation of instruments combined with the ability to easily resolve complex musical passages. Beyond that, planar magnetics have a magical quality to the sound that simply can't be duplicated by conventional headphones at any price.
During the review period, I tried to do some writing on my computer as I listened to the PM-1. That didn't work out so well. The headphones sounded so mesmerizingly good that it was impossible to concentrate on my work. I also found myself searching for different tracks to try because when you hear them on the PM-1, it's like hearing them for the first time.
Fortunately, you don't have to spend $1,099 to experience the magic. The Oppo PM-2 headphones use the same open-back design and planar magnetic driver for $699. The more expensive PM-1 sounds a wee bit better, is made of more luxurious materials and comes in the beautiful box, but the PM-2 delivers the same magical, enchanting sound.
Some people may look at the prices and say, "That's too much for headphones." But those who can afford them should really think about it and realize what they are getting. The best is never cheap, and most people would not think a camera or laptop computer selling for $699 or $1,099 is unobtainable. Unlike that camera or computer, the PM-1 and PM-2 are investments that will likely be with you for decades. The pleasure they would bring over that amount of time would be truly priceless.
So, if you're willing to commit $500, I recommend that you spend another $199 to get the PM-2. Once you hear them for the first time, you will be really glad you did. As for others reading this column, if you are looking for a spectacular gift for someone, or simply know of a music lover who deserves the very best, check out the Oppo PM-1 and PM-2. If money is no object and you want to make an impression, go straight for the PM-1 and add the $299 Oppo HA-2 headphone amplifier for good measure. The recipients will fall over when they see and open the beautiful box, and fall over again when they hear the headphones.
Send questions to Don Lindich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadviceblog.com.