hp aWhat: Oppo HA1 headphone amplifier and PM1 headphones

Price: $3498

Tech Talk verdict: Re-discover goose bumps.

I love testing headphones. I can spend hours pretending to be hard at work while I’m listening to my favourite music, and headphones are small and light enough to send safely through the post so there’s no waiting around for couriers.

And so I reach the first unusual thing about these Oppos; they’ve arrived in a box nudging a cubic metre and weighing as much as a dozen bottles of red. Most of the space is taken up by the HA1 amplifier that is six kilograms and costs $1799, both impressive numbers, and the packaging is such that should nuclear war erupt between order and delivery it will likely arrive intact.

The PM1 headphones ($1699) can operate independent of the HA1 amplifier, but given the technology in the amplifier, especially the digital to analogue converter (DAC), I suspect they’ll always be short-changed by anything else. And the way the amplifier handles big musical transients, like the famous thump half way through the Firebird suite, is sensational.

Open the PM1 box and one finds… another box. But it’s beautiful. All laminated wood and gold clasps with the headphones nestling in a bed of velour. The specification sheet calls this a “carry case” but I would suggest most buyers will find a rather more permanent task for it. I’m already weak at the knees and I haven’t plugged anything in yet.

So I rig up the best CD player I own feeding an optical signal into the HA1, which means all those little ones and zeroes will avoid the DAC in the CD player, to be turned into beautiful analogue music for my demonstrably analogue ears by the vastly superior one in the Oppo.

I put on an old Supertramp track, the slowly gathering ‘Fool’s Overture’ from Even in the Quietest Moments and suddenly I’m going all goose-bumpy. It’s exciting, breathtaking, involving – just like the very first time I heard it. I follow that with some hard driving techno punk that probably took an hour to record and three months to produce and I’m stunned that the bass line, moving blindingly fast and deep, can stay so accurately defined.

Rebecca Pigeon is up so close and personal I can see her lips moving, Miles Davis is alive again, I crank Gypsy and the Cat so loud I can visualise the neighbours banging at the door were these not headphones. I’m almost too scared to put on the wonderful Dawn Upshaw and Gorecki’s third, the symphony of sorrowful songs.

But not quite. I turn out all the lights and lie flat on my back and let it rip, and I feel the collective pain of a sorely oppressed people resigned to their fate, every lingering nuance of it. I feel it so keenly I am almost moved to tears.

Now the Oppo folk want their stuff back and I am moved to tears.

Published December 2014



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