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Andover Audio PM-50: A Refined Open Back Planar Magnetic Headphone

By Eric Benoit | Testing Ground | April 28, 2020
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The magic happened about halfway through Amon Tobin’s 2019 album Fear in a Handful of Dust. The beautifully damaged, burnt red and blue synth tones of “Pale Form Runs By” flew around the stereo field of Andover Audio’s PM-50 planar magnetic headphones, and we knew we had a winner on our hands.

Why did this particular recording bring out the best qualities in these headphones? Read on -- we’ll get deep into it.

But first, we are glad to announce that we’ll be giving away a pair of these excellent headphones along with a free six month subscription to the Qobuz Studio Premier Hi-Res streaming plan to one of our readers. Enter here for your chance to win (no purchase necessary): https://www.andoveraudio.com/pages/qobuz-headphone-giveaway

History

Andover Audio launched back in 2012, but they are still considered a new kid on the block when compared to the decades-old companies that define the audio manufacturing industry. With a group of industry veteran audio experts and engineers, they nonetheless have set out to innovate in the home audio space.

Their flagship product — the Model-One Turntable Music System — combines high fidelity vinyl audio reproduction with innovative design to make a statement piece designed to be displayed (and played) as a centerpiece in homes.

Model-One Turntable Music System, image provided by Andover Audio

The Qobuz team loves and celebrates vinyl. But as a Hi-Res digital streaming and download service, our interest is focused on the company’s most recent product, the PM-50 Planar Magnetic Reference-Grade Headphones. After encountering the cans at CanJam NYC 2020 and speaking with Andover Audio’s Marketing Director James DiPaolo about their unique qualities, we requested a pair for review and giveaway.

Look, Feel, and Comfort

At $500, these headphones are a competitively priced planar magnetic design yet still firmly within the luxury product category. Owing to Andover Audio’s approach to beautiful design, they are the sleekest and best looking planar magnetic headphones this author has come across. Crafted from genuine walnut hardwood, they have an attractively slim profile and a striking but unobtrusive outer metal grille. We’d be very tempted to wear them in public settings, were it not for the open back design that opens up the soundstage but allows for some sound leakage.

PM-50 planar magnetic headphone, image provided by Andover Audio

After sending us a sample unit for review, DiPaolo assured us that the clamping force can be adjusted by bending the headband outward. Indeed, the headphones were slightly too tight for comfort at first, but after adjusting the band and listening for several hours they conformed to this author’s head. We have since been told that a minor production change has been implemented to reduce the clamping force overall, as this issue has come up for a number of customers.

Due to the low profile design of the headphones, there is not much extra room for the listener’s ears. We could see certain customers with larger ears finding the headphones uncomfortable during long listening sessions. We found that switching the stock thicker cushions out for the included thinner cushions made for a more comfortable fit, while also providing a slightly more forward high-end sound (our preference). A third, more roomy cushion option is in development and will be available in Q3 2020.

The Sound

In our listening tests, we compared the PM-50s to the Dan Clark Audio Æon 2 closed back planar magnetic headphones ($899).

The PM-50s earn their “reference” designation through a neutral frequency response, plenty of detail, and an overall sense of ease and refinement.

We found them to be exceptionally easy to drive, with plenty of headroom even on lower-powered headphone amplifiers.

Beginning with the aforementioned “Pale Form Runs By” by Amon Tobin, we were impressed by the PM-50’s detail retrieval, especially in the upper midrange. These headphones excel on busy, detailed recordings, such as orchestral, big band, and certain styles of ambient electronic music.

We recommend pairing them with a DAC and headphone amplifier that emphasizes detail and neutrality. We found a good match in the Pro-Ject Stream Box S2 Ultra network audio streamer connected via USB to the Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital DAC/preamp/headphone amplifier.

Stream Box S2 Ultra / Pre Box S2 Digital, images provided by Pro-Ject Audio Systems

Switching genres to the funk classic “Can You Get to That?” by Funkadelic, the upper midrange was once again impressive. The guitars sat perfectly in the mix with the midrange drums, and overall we were left with an impression of accuracy in both the frequency response and the reproduction of transients.

We would particularly recommend this headphone to those who prize a neutral frequency response. Though Andover Audio’s customer base is primarily home audio enthusiasts, these cans would do well in a recording or mixing engineer’s studio. In comparison, the Æon 2 provides a more detailed, deep, and “fun” listen at the expense of a colored frequency response and an additional $400.

Auditioning 2020’s WHAT WE DREW by deep house producer Yaeji, we uncovered some of the drawbacks of the PM-50’s design. In comparison to the Æon 2, they lack some bass extension and macrodynamic heft. Though they can reproduce frequencies all the way down to 15Hz, the focus is on refinement rather than the satisfying “thump” of drum kicks and bass licks. As such, fans of bass-heavy pop genres may be better suited with another option.

Additionally, the PM-50’s attractively slim profile results in a narrow soundstage and limited depth as compared to larger headphones. Fortunately, their command of detail and their imperceptibly low distortion mitigates this issue as much as possible in such a low-profile design. We’ll chalk this one up to your personal preference — not everyone appreciates wearing gigantic cans on their head all the time, after all.

Image provided by Andover Audio

Conclusion

Overall, we would recommend Andover Audio’s PM-50 headphone to music fans who appreciate subtlety, refinement, and neutrality in their headphones. If that sounds like you, don’t forget to enter our giveaway here: https://www.andoveraudio.com/pages/qobuz-headphone-giveaway

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