Premium Portable Headphone Shootout – Oppo PM3 vs B&W P7 vs Sony MDR-1A vs Denon MM-400

Introduction –

With an overwhelmingly positive response on my Oppo PM3/Bowers and Wilkins P7 comparison review, I have decided to expand this article to include a few more models that I’ve been listening to. The two that I have decided to add today are the Sony MDR-1A and Denon MM-400, the former being quite recognised yet with mixed reception and the later bearing very minimal online presence, but what is there is almost exclusively positive. Again, all of these headphones carry a similar price tag around $400 USD, however the P7, MM-400 and MDR-1A can all be had for significant discounts, at times even up to half off their RRP. On the other hand, the PM3, on account of their universal acclaim, have retained much of their original value and have even appreciated slightly in Australia. Regardless, extensive comparison between these four models has given me two key insights: How similar the performances between all high-end portable headphones is and a new found appreciation of the Oppo PM3’s midrange presentation. Keep reading to see which one is for you!

 

About Me – Some background, Gear of choice, Preferences and Biases

I generally prefer a slight v-shape to my sound, but still closer to neutral. I like a lot of detail and clarity, but can appreciate a smooth, laid back sound such as that on the X10`s. I prefer a more neutral midrange within a relatively tight tolerance, but I`m probably more forgiving of brightness over darkness. I`m not particularly treble sensitive and can tolerate large amounts without fatigue, though too much ruins the enjoyment. If I use a different eartip/pad/cover during the review I will note that and describe the sound changes.

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Accessories –

The unboxing experience, whilst insignificant in the long run, can really heighten the premium aura surrounding a headphone; ensuring the buyer that the product deserves its high purchase price. Whilst all of these headphones are very nicely packaged and presented, I still consider the P7`s to have the most professional packaging. The P7`s are beautifully displayed within a moulded, silk lined plastic inlet with a pull tab that reveals the purse-like carry case, extra cable and papers. The dark renders and matte textures all do a fantastic job at conveying the workmanship and design that went into the headphones, it’s truly a refreshing experience.

The Denon MM-400’s actually present very similarly, albeit in a lighter, less sumptuous manner. The MM-400’s are well showcased with a similar moulded inlet and pull tab that allows for easy removal of the top layer to access the accessories below.

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Denon include a nice soft pouch with an extra pocket for the additional cable (includes a remote and audio cable) as well as a 1/4inch adapter for use with home amplifiers.


The Oppo PM3`s on the other hand present less refined but more extravagant, packaged within an astounding 3 boxes. A plain protective shipping box contains a nice black box like the P7`s with a brushed textured box inside. The zippered denim hard case lies inside the inner-most along with a 1.2m cable of your choice, a 3m cable with screw on 1/4inch adapter and papers. Of note, the P7`s come stock with an iPhone cable but include a
non-remote cable as well. Despite some reviews stating that you receive 4 cables with the PM3, I only received 2. Buyers have the choice of no remote, Android or iPhone cables (just have a different remote) and all units come with a 3m cable. So while the P7`s may present better, the PM3`s do come with a more usable selection of accessories.

The MDR-1A are also well packaged with a large box coated in punchy renders. The un-boxing experience is sound with a slide off cover and weighty hinged box.

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The MDR-1A sits within a fabric cradle, another pocket on the opposing side contains the 1.2m Remote cable in addition to an audio-only cable and drawstring pouch.

 

Design –
P7

The P7`s immediately draw the eye with a striking design melding aluminium faceplates with embossed Bowers and Wilkins logos, lambskin leather ear cups and headband and very solid feeling twisted stainless steel links. The headphones utilise a sliding mechanism for the headband with almost unlimited amounts of adjustment between the end stops. The mechanism is perfectly weighted and holds its position well during use. The P7`s fold up completely and become quite compact considering their size. They don`t swivel much, but the metal links have some degree of flexibility for comfort.

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Although the P7 has thin earpads, they are are still very comfortable, with soft and plentiful cushioning. In addition, the already supple lambskin leather softens over time, further increasing comfort. During usage, the P7`s are well-sealing and as a result, can be a little hot. The ear cups are large and deep, fitting most people comfortably.

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The headband is less agreeable for me. Like the ear pads, the headband is quite thin, but is packed with much denser foam. This is no problem initially but repeated long listening sessions (>2 hours) result in discomfort. Regardless, the earcups are encompassing and isolate all frequencies of external noise quite well. The ear pads are fully replaceable, attaching via two magnetic prongs. The earpads have built in acoustic chambers that augment the bass response and seal with the drivers through a thin ring of memory foam. This also grants access to the hidden 2.5mm cable jack for replacement.

*Of note, the new P7 Wireless comes with memory foam earpads instead of the simple sponge pads on the original P7’s. These new pads isolate considerably more and slightly tighten up the low end in my experiences. You can contact either Bowers and Wilkins or your local audio retailer to order a pair in, the mounting system is identical to the stock P7 pads.

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The P7’s also come with a nice stock cable that is made of rubber but has a smooth finish that doesn`t catch on clothes. Textured aluminium trim enables easy manipulation of the plug and grip on the remote. Buttons are relatively easy to differentiate, the centre multi-function button is slightly raised above the volume buttons. Unfortunately, the cable uses a proprietary, recessed 2.5m connector.

It`s nice to have the option at least, but replacements will likely have to be purchased through B&W themselves.

 

PM3 –

The Pm3`s offer the cleanest look. Their less flashy build is very mature, almost equally well-finished as the P7`s and perhaps a little more solid in the hand. The ear cups employ an aluminium and plastic blend for weight saving, which feels just a little less premium than the P7 but chamfered edges retain an eye-catching look. Notably, they showcase no branding, only small Oppo and PM3 markings on the headband twisting mechanism. As a result of their symmetrical build, Oppo have added a small bump on the left frame, though with the single entry cable also on the left, it`s not too hard to differentiate between sides. The headphones do not fold like the p7`s, but fold flat like the MDR-1A, they are not as wide, but still take up more space in your bag.

The PM3`s are the heaviest headphone in the comparison, clamp force is also on the stronger side. Fortunately, wide ear pads spread the load evenly and the softer, wider headband creates comfort even from the heavy headphone. Oppo claims that the earpads aren`t removable, but they are actually not too difficult to change. You can see my video guide here and read more about earpad maintenance/conditioning here. The earpads have a plastic frame at the base that clips onto the body of the headphone at 6 points. In addition, replacement earpads can only be ordered directly from Oppo, you`ll have to contact their support e-mail to order a new set.

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The size adjustment uses a conventional clicker with 15 steps. It feels solid and is made from thick steel, but there are no markings on the slider which makes re-adjusting the headband a bit tedious (you have to shorten the headband all the way to use the included case). The Faux leather used is of high quality, it`s about as breathable as the p7`s but not as soft and they do not soften over time, rather, they are prone to drying out. The strong clamp force and wide ear pads produce great passive noise isolation, about as good as you could hope for without active noise cancelling and better than the rest of the headphones in this comparison. While the earpads are very plush, with plenty of soft cushioning, they are quite a bit shallower than the p7`s and MDR-1A. Ironically, since the ear pads contact so much skin, the force is dispersed and comfort is retained as there are no hot spots. Some people may have issues with this, but the general consensus is that the PM3 is more comfortable than the P7 and I would have to agree.

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Like the P7`s, the PM3`s have a single side cable entry cable, though it uses a regular 3.5mm port. The port is slightly recessed but most case friendly cables will fit well, I`m using a V-Moda speakeasy cable for reference. This is much more practical and makes cable upgrades a snap, especially pertinent since the stock 1.2m cable is pretty mediocre. All portable PM3 cables are rubbery and thin without adequate strain relief and the plugs are very smooth, making them difficult to use. A cable upgrade is almost a must and with the V-Moda cable I find that the sound is similar if not a little better whilst the build and usability is far superior.
MM-400 –

At their inception, headphones were never intended to be fashion statements, but that doesn’t mean they can’t become one. The MM-400’s always drew my attention in-store, there aren’t actually a whole lot of premium $400 headphones with a wooden construction and the MM-400 stuck out in the best possible way. Whilst users often state that the something like the PM3 is so clean it doesn’t draw attention, in reality, it’s almost the opposite and the MM-400 looks much more iconic and perhaps even mature.

The Denon MM400’s whilst perhaps not as contemporary as some more consumer models, still presents its own flare, just in a more charming, less flashy manner. The sculpted wooden earcups and satin silver hangers contrast nicely to the premium leather clad models offered by Bang and Olufsen or Bowers and Wilkins.

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That being said, they don’t quite have the level of finish offered by other headphones in its class, the outstanding P7 and PM3 especially. The walnut earcups had slight imperfections from the factory as did the paint on the hangers. Regardless, these remain a very attractive headphone and these issues are somewhat offset by the slightly cheaper asking price. They adjust through a marked ratchet mechanism and fold like the P7’s for easy storage, getting quite small on account of their compact earcups. In terms of ergonomics, the MM-400’s earpads are similarly sized to the P7 pads and share a similar square shape, but are a lot thinner, creating a much more snug fitment.

The earpads are very thin both in width and height, but the drivers are angled to prevent the ear from making too much contact. They don’t fit like the PM3 and MDR-1A, instead, they take a bit of fiddling to find the right position. Once the headphones are adjusted correctly, they were actually quite comfortable, even during long listening sessions, but I never forgot I was wearing them. The seal is strong due to similarly strong clamp force (the strongest of all portable headphones I’ve tested) and the grippy ear pad fabric. Isolation is similarly impressive due to the use of a dense memory foam; just slightly worse than the class leading Oppo PM3’s but improved over the P7 and more so over the MDR-1A which sounds to be more semi-open.

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The same goes for the headband. It’s coated in a soft pleather with a breathable fabric underneath. It’s comfortable for the most part, the flatter profile sits better on my head than the B&W P7’s and doesn’t form any hot spots. That being said, the MM-400’s does lack a little padding, making them a bit hard wearing if not unbearable over time. They also don’t quite spread their weight as effectively as the PM3 due to improper headband shaping that concentrates the weight in the centre, the headphone should be more curved to hug more of the head.

The cable, on the other hand, is by far the worst of the bunch. It’s thin, tangles easily and has a rubbery texture that catches easily on clothes. The terminations look and feel cheap as does the inline remote; which is a pretty hollow feeling plastic with a loose click. At least the cable is decently relieved and the use of a right angle connector should protect against some stress on the go. Replacement is unnecessarily complicated due to the use of a recessed oval connector. It’s recessed just slightly more than the protrusions of case friendly cables, making mainstream cable replacement unviable. Certain custom cables will fit but are very costly, the cheap cable and difficulty of replacement is definitely something to consider.

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MM-400 with imitation MSR-7 earpads

Unlike the other headphones in this comparison that use custom mounting plates, the MM-400’s have very easily replaceable earpads. Considering that the shallow pads are most user’s main concern, this does make them a much more attractive offering from a comfort standpoint. It also opens up the possibility of sound alteration through earpad swapping. In daily use, I do strongly prefer to use the MM-400’s with Audio Technica MSR-7 earpads. They’re almost the same diameter as the stock pads but are almost twice as thick. They don’t adversely affect the sound but provide a larger soundstage and more pronounced high end (which sounds more balanced since the MM-400 are a darker sounding headphone). All in all, given that these pads go for around $16 AUD online, this is a cheap and simple way to tailor the headphones slightly to your own listening preferences.

 

MDR-1A –


The Sony MDR-1A have distant roots as a studio headphone. Whilst the modern consumer disciple is most definitely a portable headphone, these roots can be observed in the simple, if attractive styling, supreme comfort and also questionable passive noise isolation. Whilst styling always remains subjective, I find the MDR-1A to have a nice, understated look that will be sure to get a nod on the street from the more audio savvy.

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The fully polycarbonate build doesn’t match the feel of the luxurious metal P7’s and PM3’s nor the beautiful walnut MM-400’s, but the headphones are incredibly lightweight on the head in return.

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The fit and finish is also top notch; the earcups employ a satisfying speckled texture similar to Sony’s high-end DSLRs whilst the metallic hangers draw the eye with an almost liquid quality under light. Subtle accents such as the metallic red ring and gold 3.5mm connector provide a bit of flair and the MDR-1A are a very stylish headphone to my eye. They employ a similar ratchet mechanism to most other headphones, unfortunately, there are no markings so, like the PM3, finding the correct setting after unpacking can get a bit tedious. They also fold flat like the PM3, getting compact but not to the level of the more elaborate P7’s and MM-400’s.

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The earcups are solid without creak though some users of older batches have made complaints (easily fixed with a small amount of lubricant). They are the largest headphone in this comparison, not outrageous, but hardly as sleek as newer headphones. This does grant them plenty of space to fully encompass the ear, making the MDR-1A easily the most comfortable portable headphone I’ve tested, more so than the Bose QC25 to put that statement into perspective.

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Part of this is due to the rather unique earpads which are not only very wide and slightly angled, but also have contours that reduce pressure around the jaw and back of the ear, they just perfectly fall into place. The faux leather is also incredibly soft to the point that they are prone to damage; when I was testing the mounting mechanism, my fingernail grazed the pleather, leaving a small tear. Although the driver is exposed, they too are angled to aid comfort and natural soundstaging.

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The headband is also super soft and wide enough to effectively disperse weight force. Clamp force is on the looser side, but the wider pads create plenty of stability on the head. Here, the light weight of the headphones is especially appreciable and the MDR-1A caused me absolutely no discomfort over almost any duration of time; I listened for over 5 hours straight with only slight stuffiness caused by the solid seal. Unfortunately, isolation does lack as the headphone do have a large bass port on the top of the earcups. They isolate a lot more than my Grado and Alessandro headphones, but I wouldn’t use them outdoors or on public transport. Leakage isn’t bad at all, and using these headphones in a library should be fine unless you like to max out the volume.

The cable is also one of the MDR-1A’s strengths and, thankfully, is easily replaced like the PM3. The cable is the thickest of the bunch, but also the most supple. It has a smooth, matte texture and parallel ridges that mostly prevents tangles. The right angle jack is gold plated, case friendly and has awesome strain-relief. The same applies to the plug that inserts the earcup though the smooth texture can be hard to grasp. The remote is also quite good, the mic sounds clear and the single multi-function button is responsive but a little mushy.

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Whilst the jack on the left earcup is recessed, any case friendly cable will fit. My home-made silver cable that didn’t fit in the MM-400’s strange oval port, worked perfectly with the MDR-1A and PM3.

 

Sound –

This is where all of these headphones depart. The P7 immediately impresses with a V-shaped signature combining powerful bass and bundles of clarity. The MM-400 and Sony MDR-1A are somewhat similar with a warm, bassy and darker tonal balance. Finally, the PM3 flaunts the flattest response, with increased midrange detail and presence compared to the rest. The P7 and Sony MDR-1A both have especially expansive soundstages for closed back headphones which, in culmination with their great bass extension, make them ideal for classical and movies. The PM3’s sound more like a good iem than a headphone in terms of space with the Denon MM-400’s lying roughly in-between. Imaging is most accurate on the PM3’s on account of their more linear sound whilst the MM-400 holds a close second, also sounding quite accurate. The P7’s and Mdr-1A’s, whilst not quite as sharp as the Oppo’s and Denon’s remain impressive within this price range. Instrument separation is especially impressive on the MDR-1A’s and P7’s, both of which possessing very dynamic, expansive sounds. By contrast, the more forward sounding MM-400’s and PM3’s feel much more intimate, the PM3 more so on account of it’s slightly recessed treble responses. This, in addition to the PM3`s slightly veiled mids, produces a sound that can be congested at times, something the other headphones rarely experience if at all.

In terms of drivability, all of these headphones were designed to run from portable sources such as smartphones and, as such, will reach high volumes from weak sources. Despite this, all of them do scale very well with higher end sources; the P7’s in particular really tighten up when running through my Oppo HA-2. The P7`s and MDR-1A’s are the most sensitive, slightly more than the MM-400’s which are in turn, slightly more sensitive than the PM3`s. As expected, none of these headphones are particularly prone to hissing either. I feel that the PM3`s with their less sensitive planar magnetic drivers do benefit the most from amping though, as aforementioned, all benefit nicely from a dedicated source.

Bass –

As expected, the PM3 has the most linear bass response with just a small sub-bass boost, it`s mostly flat elsewhere. The bass is very well extended with great texture and PRAT. It`s very punchy and well-textured, I have no real complaints with the PM3’s bass performance.

The Bass response on the MM-400’s is similarly quite linear (more so than the P7 and MDR-1A) but has a moderate boost overall. Lower and mid-bass bear most of the emphasis with sub-bass and upper-bass being slightly less accentuated. The MM-400’s have nice impact, just a hair less extension than the PM3 and P7 but also more texture. It’s a very organic bass response that manages to boost quantity whilst keeping bloat minimal, bass remains quite tight and composed.

Onto the P7`s, the low-end response is equally well extended as the PM3’s, perhaps even slightly more so. They have the greatest sub-bass slam of the bunch, favouring impact over speed. As a result of the P7`s large sub-bass and moderate mid-bass boost, low notes can sound flabby/boomy and bass gets lost quite easily in complex passages (not too noticeable unless comparing to a headphone such as the PM3 with a focus on accuracy and detail) but it is well suited to certain generes of music. The P7`s have a lot of bass quantity all round but it remains of good quality, the PM3`s and MM-400’s do resolve a little more detail in the bass region but the P7’s are still a lot more resolving than the MDR-1A.

Speaking of the Sony, the MDR-1A does have a solid bass response, though it’s emphasis does come with more caveats than either the MM-400 or P7. They have a similar quantity of low end to the P7’s but the focus lies more so in the mid-bass. Sub-bass is also quite present and well extended but lacks tightness and definition. Upper-bass is more naturally tuned with plenty of texture and resolution, but as notes get lower into the mid and sub-bass regions, the headphones tend to lose composure. There is a decent amount of bloat to the low end, slightly more than the P7’s, but bass notes have more impact in return. The P7’s still have more slam due to their greater sub-bass presence.

Overall, whilst I never feel that the PM3`s are bass deficient, I do generally enjoy the added punchiness of the MM-400’s and slam of the P7’s; which headphone is right for you really does depend on personal preference. The bass response is very good on all of these headphones, even the MDR-1A is a decent performer, it just pales in comparison to the best in the business. Objectively, the PM3 is the best performer, it is the most linear, the most resolving and has no bloat. But if you want a headphone for commuting, or maybe just have a bassier preference, the MM-400 is a great alternative with a linear boost that avoids the same bloat and muddiness of the P7’s and MDR-1A’s.

 

Mids –

The PM3`s have much more midrange presence than the rest of these headphones, they are also the most detailed. A slight lower mid boost gives the sound nice body but they do have a very slight midrange veil. I`d give the advantage to the PM3`s here any day, but they do sound ever so slightly dark and lacking a touch of upper midrange clarity.

The MM-400’s are also relatively balanced, they are warmer and darker than the PM3, but very rarely sound veiled. They have plenty of midrange body, making vocals sound quite full. While they are also one of the more detailed headphones in this comparison, but they also have the least clarity. The MM-400 rather sounds natural and smooth, it’s essentially an over-ear Shozy Zero.

A small dip in the lower mids saps a little body from the P7`s in favour of midrange clarity, producing a clear if slightly recessed midrange. Vocals can sound a little thin however. They are still quite detailed and refined, I find that the sound is smooth enough for any genre. The P7’s have the most clarity of all these headphones and are also the most aggressively detailed even if they resolve less than the MM-400 and PM3.

The MDR-1A are a really nice performer with a similar signature to the MM-400 augmented with added clarity. Vocals are slightly recessed and the spacious soundstage almost exacerbates this quality, but the midrange is very clear regardless. With a warmer tone, the MDR-1A are easy to listen to but also resolve quite a lot of detail. Whilst they resolve slightly less than the MM-400, their added clarity does make them sound mostly comparable. Female vocals in particular, are well suited towards the MDR-1A’s tuning, I’m guessing they were tuned for Sony’s Japanese audience. The strong low end does occasionally over-warm the lower midrange.

 

Highs –

The highs are quite controversial on the PM3`s and whilst they are a little recessed, it is not to a great degree and there is still some excitement to the sound. The highs actually resolve a lot of detail but they are definitely not sparkly or shimmery. They do avoid sounding thin and the treble response sounds very pleasing and non-fatiguing. Overall, quantity is below neutral with a slight top end roll off but quality remains as impressive as the rest of the sound.

The MM-400’s once again are quite similar to the PM3’s. They have a slightly more prominent treble response than the PM3, they also extend higher before rolling off. Lower treble, in particular, is actually slightly accentuated from neutral but the rest of the treble response is more relaxed. They have more air than the PM3 but much less than the P7 which are the brightest sounding headphone of the bunch. They also sound less open than the MDR-1A, although that could be due to the more intimate soundstage. Detail retrieval is good though the more relaxed upper treble gives them a more laid back presentation.

The P7`s have a very good treble response that has the most extension and shimmer of the lot. They are a brighter sounding headphone that are very slightly brittle at the top end, but still very impressive. Treble resolves a lot of detail with a natural sense of body and a lot of air. It`s still not overly accentuated and doesn`t fatigue during long listening sessions. To my ears, the treble performance on the P7’s is class-leasing, but those looking for a more neutral, smoother treble response with slightly more texture will prefer the PM3 and MM-400.

The MDR-1A’s similarly sit in the centre of the pack, performing on a similar level to the MM-400 with just a slight variance in tuning. They are quite a versatile headphone overall, treble is more on the relaxed side as with the PM3 and MM-400, I suppose these headphones are all tuned for high-volume listening when travelling to prevent fatigue; in that sense, the P7 is very much an outlier. Detail and resolution are all impressive, they are slightly more linear than the MM-400’s, they don’t have that lower treble spike and are slightly more prominent overall. The Sony’s have plenty of sparkle and texture, extension is also good, they don’t roll off quite like the MM-400 and PM3, but the P7’s still have quite a bit quantity and resolve more upper treble details.

 

Verdict –

The sound of the P7 is extremely well sculpted and specifically designed by Bowers and Wilkins. Whilst not for accuracy, it does portray a reasonably realistic and wowing sound. The headphone is very dynamic and enjoyable, working with all genres of music, it avoids pursuing an overly bassy sound but it is on the borderline for me.

Meanwhile, the sound on the Oppo PM3`s is masterfully designed, with slight deviations from ruler flat reference creating a headphone that is accessible to both audiophiles and general consumers. It is a sound that works with all genres and even directly coming from the P7, the PM3 immediately impresses with more midrange detail and presence and a tighter bass response, but they have an intimate soundstage and treble sounds dull by comparison.

The Denon MM-400’s are similar to the PM3’s, being generally linear and balanced overall but are a great alternative for those looking for more low-end punch, a slightly warmer midrange and spacious soundstage. They are also very detailed and treble is more present and crisp than the PM3.

The Sony’s are more controversial, mating the powerful low end of the P7’s with the warmer midrange and generally more relaxed high end of the MM-400. They do have more clarity than either the MM-400 or PM3 but resolve less detail than both. Their low end hits with real weight and impact but becomes easily un-composed. The high end is much more impressive with both upper mids and treble sounding sweet, clear and generally quite resolving.

 

Accessories –

P7 – 8/10, The P7`s are very well packaged and come with everything needed to get started, but the case is impractical for day to day use.

PM3 – 8/10, The PM3`s come with many additions, the denim case works well but the stock cables are average.

MM-400 – 7/10, Nice selection of accessories, the soft pouch is nice but does not provide a lot of protection. The stock cables are terrible and difficult to replace.

MDR-1A – 8.5/10, Solid carrying case, still not as protective as a hard case but more so than a soft pouch and very compact. Nice stock cables.

Design –

P7 – 8/10, The P7`s have an exquisite and very handsome design, it is a little more flashy than the PM3 but still looks mature. The headband adjustment mechanism is spot on, isolation is good, the leather is of unbeatable quality but comfort falls short with a flawed headband design. Easily removable ear pads, but cables have a proprietary plug design. The headphones fold for travel.

PM3 – 8.5/10, The PM3`s look great if slightly more inconspicuous. They have no markings on the headband clicker which is tedious however passive isolation is excellent, the pleather is still soft and comfort is superb. The cables are easily removable with a standard plug, but ear pads can`t be replaced by the user and have to be replaced by Oppo. They fold flat for travel.

MM-400 – 7.5/10, A very nice looking and feeling headphone but the finish is not quite as good as competitors. Pleather gets a bit hot, is soft but doesn’t match the feel of the PM3 and P7. Comfort is quite impressive but the earpads are too shallow. Seal and isolation are very good. Earpads are easily replaceable. Get very compact when folded.

MDR-1A – 8/10, Stylish if not sleek, cheaper feeling than other premium headphones due to the full plastic build but fit and finish is impeccable. Super soft and plush all around, comfort is unbeatable but isolation is mediocre. Fold flat but are still quite large. Earpads are reasonably easy to remove.

Bass –

P7 – 7.5/10, Boosted and lavish, slightly sloppy, but nicely sculpted. Mid bass is quite pronounced but mids are not overly warmed. Still sounds clean. Well extended.

PM3 – 8/10, Flat bass with slight sub bass boost. Focus on quality over quantity, bass remains well textured and very enjoyable for all types of music. Very satisfying and punchy response. Equally well extended as the p7 and not fazed by complex passages.

MM-400 – 8/10, Super punchy, well extended and linear. Minimal bloat whilst maintaining engagement and impact. Very textured and resolving, works with almost every genre of music.

MDR-1A – 6.5/10, Muddier than the P7, mid-bass focussed but still well extended. Quite bloated and loses composure on a lot of tracks. Heaps of slam and impact to each note.

Mids –

P7 – 7/10, Lower mid scoop leaves vocals without adequate body, slightly warm with great clarity. Vocals sound a little scooped but are detailed and clear.

PM3 – 8.5/10, Not a lot of clarity, but more a focus on smoothness and details. Very refined and natural sounding with good body.

MM-400 – 8/10, Detailed, warm and generally darker, will miss clarity for those used to brighter headphones.

MDR-1A – 7.75/10, Warm but to a lesser extent than the MM-400, they are also not as dark. Slightly less detailed but has more clarity. Well balanced and spacious.

Treble –

P7 – 9/10, Sparkly, airy and extended, not overly accentuated.

PM3 – 8/10, Slightly recessed and rolled-off, very smooth but also very textured. Might be a little dull sounding to some with less prevalent higher details.

MM-400 – 8/10, Slightly recessed, very top rolls off. Laid back but resolving, lower treble emphasis adds excitement to the sound.

MDR-1A – 8.25/10, Well balanced with the midrange, well extended. Airy and detailed, mostly linear tuning.

Soundstage, Imaging and Separation –

P7 – 9/10, Among the best closed-back headphones. Separation and imaging are excellent, the soundstage has great width and depth.

PM3 – 7.5/10, The soundstage is intimate, sounds a lot more like an iem than a headphone. Imaging remains spot on but separation is compromised.

MM-400 – 8/10, Soundstage has good space, quite well rounded in presentation. Imaging is very accurate and instruments have plenty of separation.

MDR-1A – 9/10, Very spacious for a closed back headphone though they are vented and isolate a lot less than the other headphones. Imaging isn’t as sharp as the PM3 and MM-400 but separation is fantastic.

 

Verdict –

From my recent ventures with a whole range of portable headphones, these four are definitely among the top contenders, each excelling in different ways. That’s not to say that there aren’t other impressive headphones, the NAD Viso HP50’s and B&O H6’s both sounded great to me too, I just didn’t spend enough time with them to add them to the comparison. I do also have a new found appreciation for the Oppo PM3’s, I feel they are somewhat of a standout performer in this price range. The PM3’s are by far the most balanced, the midrange is quite special. However, the treble and bass responses will both be debated and polarising amongst buyers. For the general consumer, the MM-400 is a great, slightly bassier, warmer alternative though you can’t go too wrong with the P7 either. The MDR-1A, though very comfortable and practical, has quite a compromised sound due to its bombastic bass response. While it is the cheapest, coming in at around $200 AUD new (grey import), I would still spend another $60 or so and buy a refurb P7 or B&O H6, both headphones that manage the bassy yet crisp sound much better than the Sony.

P7 – 8.75/10, The P7 is an excellent headphone in all regards. I would not feel compelled to upgrade or buy the PM3`s if not for my personal issues with comfort. They have a wonderful design, strong sound and great features for portable use. They are equally comfortable in the lounge chair running out of a dedicated source.

PM3 – 9.25/10, Equally well accomplished in design and only slightly edged out in build by the p7, the PM3 although the heaviest of the bunch, actually maintains better comfort. The sound is less exciting but equally engaging with a fast-paced, toe-tapping bass response, hyper-detailed yet natural midrange and non-fatiguing treble. The PM3`s are slightly better for travel on account of their high passive noise isolation and more practical case. They are not as sensitive as other portable headphones and benefit the most from a good amp.

MM-400 – 8.5/10, The MM-400 is a very well-rounded and impressive headphone that combines many of the best aspects from the PM3 and P7 but also shares certain downfalls. The fit is questionable as are the stock cables and the level of finish isn’t quite as meticulous as the other, more mainstream headphones, but the unique build and natural sound more than make up for it. They are easy to drive, probably scale the least of all these headphones but in return sound better from most portable sources. I doubt anyone would be disappointed with the MM-400’s, they are simply so versatile and flexible, but fans of brighter headphones will no doubt want more clarity.

MDR-1A – 8/10, Whilst I would like to penalise the Sony more for it’s muddy bass response, the MDR-1A is definitely the easiest headphone to live with on account of its supreme comfort. Besides the bass response, the rest of the sound is very well considered. The upper midrange and soundstage, in particular, are standout performers, they are also one of the more sensitive portable headphones. If you are looking for a very dynamic, spacious headphone and don’t mind the bloated bass and lack of isolation, the MDR-1A’s are still a great choice in 2016, it is also by far the cheapest in this comparison.

Ultimately, as with any audio product, it does all come down to personal preference. All of these headphones are similarly distinguished, but the PM3 is objectively a slightly superior headphone overall. This means nothing if you prefer a bassier signature however, and you are best to try out as many headphones as you can at a local retailer for comfort and sound reasons (if available). It may come as a surprise, but in daily use, I actually find myself reaching for the Sony’s despite their low-end shortcomings, simply because they are so comfortable. For someone who values sound quality above all else, the Sony’s clearly wouldn’t be their pick. So again I stress that understanding your own individual preferences is key here, especially since all of these headphones are mostly comparable in terms of sound quality.

I hope you’ve found this article helpful, feel free to comment or message me with any questions, Ryan.

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16 Comments Add yours

  1. Chris says:

    My question for the Sonys would concern longevity. Alas, Sony build quality today is not the same as Sony build quality of yesteryear. I have a Sony PS4 gaming headset (Pulse) that is literally disintegrating under very light use. Granted, they were $99, but even at that price point I would expect plastic that didn’t crack and separate at every possible stress point. I literally have them held together with zip ties now, a trick I learned online from the many other victims of that particular product. Sadly the microphone has been rendered non-functional, probably because the plastic separation has also resulted in the separation of internal wire connectors.

    If I’m spending $300+ for a pair of headphones, a full-plastic build is simply not good enough. I own the B&W P7 Wireless ($399) and the build and craftsmanship is superb. They scream quality and elegance. If James Bond listens to headphones at night, these are the headphones he chooses. The wired version ($349) would certainly be worth the premium price over the Sony if only for the confidence in knowing they will still be structurally intact a year or two from now. Comfort/weight aside, the Sonys don’t belong in the same company as the other 3 headphones in this comparison.

    Step up your game, Sony. We miss the old you.

    Like

    1. Ryan Soo says:

      The build on the Sony’s definitely doesn’t hold up to the other headphones, especially the P7 and PM3, but they are very light and far more comfortable than all of them.

      My set was an ex demo, they had a hard life in a retail store for several years but after replacing the pads, they look essentially new so I think longevity should not be too much of a concern even if they don’t feel fantastic. I think Sony has a lot of segregation in their various departments, their cameras are superb yet none of their smartphones take photos on par with equivalently priced phones, same goes for audio, I’m guessing that their gaming department came up with that playstation headset instead of Sony’s audio department.

      It really is aggravating, I want to like Sony more, but they really do get in their own way, they are kinda stuck in the past and it’s more competitove now than ever. The MDR-1A is by far the cheapest headphone in this comparison, otherwise it would not score so similarly but I still think it’s one of the better products Sony has released in recent years.

      Like

  2. Anonymous says:

    Ryan, what are your thoughts on PM3 vs P7 if I can get the P7’s for $280? Are the PM3 in your opinion worth the extra $120? I could put that saved money towards a Dragonfly Black with P7 but couldn’t do that if I got the PM3’s. For reference, I currently have some lower level V-Moda’s so either set will likely be an upgrade : )

    I’ve listened to the PM3’s briefly and really liked their sound but I don’t know if they will be ~40% better than the P7’s.

    Like

    1. Ryan Soo says:

      Kinda hard to say, the PM3 is both more comfortable and generally better sounding than the P7, I’ve come to enjoy it’s more linear sound a lot more in recent years. That being said, the P7 is a pretty nice buy at that price and if you’re coming from a vmoda headphone then you’ll likely enjoy the bassier P7. I also don’t think the dragonfly will make as big a difference as that between the p7 and PM3 since they are both portable, relatively efficient headphones already, but again, that depends on your current source as well.

      On a side note, I would recommend having a look at the B&O H6, I’ve been listening to the first gen model quite a lot recently and really enjoy it, I think the sound is generally more pleasing than the P7 and the fit is much better for me as well. It’s also become quite cheap, there should be some new sets available around $280. Let me know if you have any other questions, Ryan.

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  3. Kent says:

    Hey Ryan,
    Thanks for the detailed review. I am new to quality headphones, but am wanting to upgrade. At the moment i’m back to using earbuds that came with my phone. I am a student and am wanting a good pair of over the ear headphones i can bring around with me when i study. I will mostly be using my Galaxy S7 edge for listening. What would you recommend? I would prefer a more affordable option but would pay more if it is worth the price. I was also looking at the Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7, and the Sony MDR-1000X (more because of the wireless then the noise cancelling). I appreciate any advice you can give me!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ryan Soo says:

      Hi Kent,

      Thanks for your kind word! If you’re looking for a wireless headphone and don’t mind the lack of noise cancelling, you are probably better off going with a midrange wired headphone (~$300) with an adapter over the MDR-1000x. I have heard the 1000x, it’s a nice headphone overall but is not really economical if you don’t require the isolation (it costs vastly more than any headphone in this comparison). The MSR7 is a nice headphone that can be had for quite a steal at the right times. I do feel that the build and isolation aren’t quite comparable to most other premium portable headphones though if you find them comfortable then they are a nice sounding option for the price.

      Honestly, all of the headphones in this comparison have vastly fallen from their $400 USD RRP. The Denon MM-400 for instance, is closer to $300 AUD and one of my other personal favourite headphones, the Bang and Olufson H6’s go for around $250 AUD. I think both of these models are superior overall to the MSR-7 and are similarly priced in Australia. In addition, both are compatible with the Maceton MC4U Bluetooth adaptor. It’s relatively low profile, supports apt-x and is only $20 AUD; I’ve found it to be a far better alternative to wireless headphones since most are quite new, not to mention acoustically identical to their wired counterparts, and as such, have that new product premium price. I detailed my experiences with the adapter in my Archeer AH07 review, it would be great if you could check that out.

      Hope that helps you out,
      Ryan.

      Like

      1. Kent says:

        Thanks for the prompt reply. Im leaning towards the Beoplay H6 now from your recommendation. Im not attached to any of the choices, just looking for descent pair of headphones in that range that i can take with me around when i go to study. Thats a cool idea to get a wireless adapter, never even crossed my mind, thanks for the tip. Is there any other pair you recommend as well, or are you pretty confident with the H6? This is just a big purchase for me, so i am wanting to check my bases. Thanks again!

        Like

      2. Kent says:

        For example another might be the Sennheiser HD 1(in the U.S.; Momentum 2.0 everywhere else)

        Like

  4. Ryan Soo says:

    The momentum is a nice headphone as well, I personally prefer the h6 in comfort and sound but if you want a bassier sound and have smaller ears then the Sennheisers are a solid choice, most of these headphones are quite comparable, they just have a different kind of sound. The h6s are slightly bright and slightly bassy, they are probably closest to the Sony’s and Audio-Technicas you were looking at before.

    Like

    1. Kent says:

      Thanks for your help! i’m going for them. I don’t have small ears, and your description of their sound is exactly what i’m looking for. Yahoo

      Like

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