Let's kick off my exhaustive coverage of new headphones at CES 2014 with a roundup of models intended for serious listening. Of course, that's a subjective judgment; my apologies to any company who believes its new headphones belong in the audiophile category but doesn't find its product here.
My apologies also to any company featured here who'd prefer not to be associated with audiophiles.
Let's start with the new model that most impressed me, the Oppo Digital PM-1 planar magnetic headphone. Oppo's known for making the world's finest Blu-ray players, so I was surprised and impressed to see how serious it is about its new headphone.
The PM-1 is a clean-sheet design by Igor Levitsky, an engineering whiz best known for the work he's done on BG Radia's planar magnetic tower speakers, in conjunction with industrial designer David Waterman.
To improve sensitivity -- sometimes a problem for planar-magnetic headphones -- the PM-1's oval-shaped 85 x 69 mm driver has voice coil wires on both sides of the speaker diaphragm. I'd planned to meet with Levitsky and Oppo's Jason Liao for about 40 minutes, but our talk stretched to two hours as Levitsky relayed all the minute details of the research and fine-tuning he put into the PM-1.
The oval shape makes the PM-1 comfortably light. "It's not like strapping giant buckets to your head," Levitsky quipped. Unlike any other planar magnetic headphone I've seen, the PM-1 folds flat, like the Bose QC-15, so it can slip into a slim case for travel.
While the price of the PM-1 is projected at $1,000 to $1,200, Liao stressed that this is just Oppo's first effort, and that there will be "lots of opportunities to bring the cost down," as well as the possibility of on-ear and noise-cancelling models in the future.
Regardless, if I had to name the audio product at CES 2014 that most impressed me, this is it. In my brief listen, the PM-1 sounded extremely flat and uncolored. The soundstage was spacious, as expected from a planar magnetic 'phone, but it was spacious in a "real space" way, not in an exaggerated or fake way. Bravo!