If you’re of a certain age, you probably remember Cambridge SoundWorks and their reasonably priced, high-performance speakers from the ’80s and ’90s. I was a fan of their Model Six bookshelf, which sold for about $119 each. They made a big splash amongst music lovers looking for good sound at a fair price.
The company was sold, but a lot of the brainpower behind that original effort (plus several other audio outfits) has returned in the form of Andover Audio. I’ve come to know them via their steadfast exhibitions at major audio shows, and they have never ceased to impress with their all in one vinyl systems.
By the way, a review of their Spinbase, a new all-in-one speaker designed for turntables, is coming soon, so be on the lookout. However, the product I’m reviewing today is a departure from their heretofore vinyl-aligned offerings.
It’s called the PM-50, which is their first headphone, and a Planar Magnetic one to boot. The list price is $500, which is reasonable for a planar headphone. When I first saw pictures of it online, I fell in love with the look and couldn’t wait to see and hear them in person. Fortunately, I got an offer to check them out in my space, and I immediately jumped at the chance.
Disclaimer: The PM-50 was sent to me free of charge in exchange for an honest review. From my understanding, I do not need to return them.
The PM-50 has a luxurious wood/metal retro design that takes cues from their flagship Model One Turntable Music System. They complement each other to the point you would think they come as a set. (maybe something they should consider?) One the side of each earcup is a black metal grill with a die-cut Andover logo, which adds a touch of class.
Build quality is quite robust, with a frame made mostly of thick yet light aluminum. The ear cups are made of solid wood, and there is very little plastic other than the connection between the ear cup sliders and the headband. Even that’s made of heavy-duty hard plastic. I feel pretty comfortable they will last for a while if you don’t toss them around.
Underneath the metal headband is a cushioned leather strap that rests comfortably on the head and supports the weight of the headphones. This, combined with their lightweight construction and plush earpads, makes them pleasant to wear for long listening sessions.
The only thing that may cause discomfort is the tight clamp out of the box (especially with a big head like mine), but a gentle flex of the headband will fix that. The company even provides adjustment instructions on the website. I followed their directions, and the clamp was perfect after performing the procedure.
(Update 5/8/20) Andover now packs a fit guide in with the headphones to help you with adjustments-if need be.
As far as accessories go, for starters, you get a braided OFC (Oxygen Free Copper) headphone cable, which is detachable and tangle-resistant. You also get two sets of earpads, one shallow, rounded set which provides a more open crisper sound, and a deeper, more cushioned set which provides a warmer sound with more punch. Swapping pads is pretty simple, they come off with a slight tug, then reattach with a firm press.
There’s also a 3.5mm to 1/4″ adapter for connection to headphone amps, and a box for storage. Sadly, no bag or case. I’m assuming that’s because they are meant for home use. Not the end of the world, but it would’ve been nice.
Listening to the PM-50 Planar Magnetic Headphones
For my listening test, I hooked the PM-50’s up to the $129 iFi Zen DAC connected to my HP Envy Laptop. I then pulled up the TIDAL desktop app and played a wide variety of music. The Andover headphone is quite sensitive (102dB/1mW), so you can play them from pretty much any source, such as a cell phone, digital audio player, etc.
That being the case, the Zen DAC had no issues driving these headphones to ear-splitting levels. I only had to turn the volume up a quarter of the way to get them up to a nice listening volume.
They came out of the box with the thicker, deeper set of earpads installed, so that’s how I started my listening.
The sound signature of the PM-50 with the first set of pads is what I would call balanced for the most part. There is a slight emphasis on the high end, almost bordering on bright, but never quite crossing the line.
The mids are ever so slightly recessed but not to the point of distraction. The bass is somewhat elevated as well (more upper bass than sub-bass), which means this headphone can thump if pushed by the music selection.
Listening to one of my favorite test tracks, “Father Stretch” by Kanye West’s Sunday Service Choir, I was pleased by the overall resolution. Each member of the choir had their place, sound, and personality, instead of the indiscriminate mass of singers you hear on lesser headphones.
You can also hear the space around the singers and the room they’re in. These headphones do a pretty good job of reproducing a performance.
When the groove drops about two minutes into the song, the PM-50 brought in the drum section with a nice weight that got my head nodding.
The soundstage could be a little wider, but the image focus is quality for a planar headphone of this price range. You will most likely have to spend a couple hundred more to do much better. Overall they are quite enjoyable and the tuning works well with pretty any genre. That being said, they really shine on more modern music like hip-hop, R&B, or Rock.
I have to say I wasn’t a fan of the shallow pads in terms of comfort or sound. They did open up the music a little bit but at the expense of impact. I also found the highs became a little too harsh for my taste. That’s my personal opinion, and I guess that’s the point of including two different sets of pads, you get to choose which one you like more. I preferred the thicker, plusher, pads, but kudos to Andover for giving people a choice.
Compared to my Mr. Speakers Aeon Flow Closed which you can pick up for around the same price right now, I found the AFC to have a better soundstage, sweeter highs, and more air through the mids but they were nowhere near as fun to listen to. The bass on the PM-50 was deeper, faster, and more detailed, which gave them a more rhythmic sound. The cooler, more refined sound of the AFC was definitely better with acoustic and jazz, but boy did the warm thump of the PM-50 sound good on hip-hop tracks.
The PM-50 Planar Magnetic Headphones are a beautiful, well-built set of planar headphones, that gives you nice detail and resolution along with some nice weight on the bottom-end, all at a reasonable price. I also like that you don’t need a fancy (read: expensive) amp to power them. However, highs can be a little elevated on brighter tracks, so those who like their sound with a bit less sparkle may want to listen before they commit.
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I’m an audio writer who started as a young audio salesman/consumer electronics professional back in the late 90s. That’s where I discovered the magic of 2-Channel sound. My thirst for great sound has led me on a delightful music quest that continues today.