Pros: Build quality of a Lexus.
Good quality vocals.
Very good detail.
Gorgeous looks + tasteful.
Fit is good.
Cons: Clamping force too much (but change is coming).
Sliding adjustment may loosen over time.
Not enough fore/aft rotation of cups for me.
Fit is good.
Andover PM-50 ($500): A Pleasant Surprise, Indeed.
Initiale: When @Wiljen contacted me saying he was sending a critter my way, I realized that I had been looking at the very unit he would send, the Andover PM-50. Intrigued by their ad as well as the other products listed on their site such as an all-in-one turntable/amp/speaker kit; I kindly thanked him and waited. Through our conversations he relayed that the PM-50 was quite a unit, and I would be in for a treat. I currently listen to the critter as I peck on my keyboard. And I can say that Will isn’t wrong. This is a good little unit, and one in which I am enjoying my time (extended due to COVID-19).
I thank Andover for allowing the unit to come my way, and to Will who in my opinion has very good taste and is as honest a reviewer as you will find. No, that is not an exaggeration. I thank both and please know that I am not being paid for this review, nor is there an financial incentive for doing a positive review, just a critter that passed through my doorway of which I will gladly review.
Headphone Style: Over-Ear
Enclosure: Genuine Walnut Hardwood
Ear-Cushions: Two Sets
Cable: Removable / Upgradable
Headphone Impedance Rating: 32 Ohms
Frequency Response Range: 15Hz – 50kHz
Driver Sensitivity: 102dB/1mW
In the box:
• PM-50 Planar Magnetic Headphones
• High-Grade OFC (Oxygen Free Copper) Removable Cable
• 1/4″ (3.5mm) Adapter
• Second Set of Swapable Ear Cushions
Verum Audio Verum 1 ($349)
Sendy Aiva ($479)
Dan Clark (Mr. Speakers) Aeon Flow ($799)
XDuoo X10Tii/iFi Pro iDSD
Los Lobos- Disconnected in New York
Van Morrison-Three Chords & The Truth
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado
twenty one pilots Regional At Best, Trench
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Big Head Todd & The Monsters-Beautiful World
Mark Knopfler-Down The Road Wherever
In talking to Will and Andover, it was mentioned by both of us to Andover that the clamp pressure was too tight. Andover did not hesitate to state that we could carefully bend the headband to accommodate our cranial matter. I did so gently, and also note that Andover is aware of this and working to correct the “issue” as we speak. I will also note that the careful bend (since the unit was not mine…) seemed to be temporary as the critter would be back to near normal the first couple of tries. I then added a bit more pressure and the unit fit my head quite well now as a result.
With an interesting mix of products ranging from a stand-alone turntable, to an “all in one” set up, Andover decided to take the dive into the headphone business. Using the tried and true Planar Magnetic technology, Andover decided to go the somewhat “safe” route. Using a 50mm square planar driver, Andover espouses the virtue of multiple-source usage without much effort. The PM-50 is quite easy to drive as a result.
Coming in a sleeved black box, the PM-50’s outer sleeve is simple and appreciated. Basic grayish silver colored in drawing, the unit is portrayed on the front, with company address on the back. Pretty much it. Slipping the sleeve off, a clamshell box is revealed, complete with a ribbon material loop to open at the front. Opening, you reveal the PM-50 set in custom formed medium hardness foam complete with a slot for not only the cable, but the extra pair of pads. That extra pair is about 2/3 as thick as the ones installed, and I will state here that I prefer the thicker pads and listened to that combo about 95% of the time. A simple instructional sheet finishes the box.
Not so long ago there was a wider chasm between build quality of brands. Now though most are built well or move on to a better build for Gen-2 models. Here, the PM-50 nails the build out of the box, first try. A thinly padded strip underlies the metal headband, which could be changed in the future to allow more modifying or personalization. As is though the fit works quite well. With walnut accents and cups, the PM-50 is understated in its looks, which I do appreciate. Here simple and straightforward is the way, as opposed to the Verum 1, which tends to shout at you (not badly mind you, just different).
The gimbals have a built-in swivel, which makes for about a 15-degree movement fore/aft, which is GREATLY appreciated. Some manufacturers (HiFiMan I’m talking about you) would be well to follow suit, as user comfort is as important as sound to many. A slight silver ring separates the cup from the pad, giving a light but elegant look to the overall appeal. Removing the earpad takes a bit of pressure, so one would be wise to be very careful removing from the five spots. An benefit of the five spots is that there is only one way for the pad to go on. Good for them in my book.
Made mostly of metal and wood, the PM-50 exudes quality like a Toyota. Understated, and appreciated. This is top a top-quality build, with no visual flaws. Screws on the outer decorative plate are even with no marrs or scratches, a sign of quality care and workmanship. Easy cable plug-ins round out the bottom, with no L/R marking on unit. Only marking on the cable and a red cable protector to discern the differences. In conversation with Will, he noted that the unit is indeed “ambidextrous.” For a solid, mostly un-adjustable frame, the PM-50 fits my cranial well with and without a hat. Kudos to Andover for making a well-fitting unit, and one could imagine they will build upon this for future models. As a first try, this is quite good.
The cable does have good flexibility, covered with woven cloth. Microphonics is nil. I will say that as a result of the “springiness,” the cable does not wind well and stays mostly untangled. Mostly. Good protection is afforded each end, and again the quality shows through. The copper cable affords a warmer sound overall, and one, which fits my sound taste as well.
As stated above, headphones of today are mostly good of build and one need not worry too much about that. Sound though is left to the opinion of the manufacturer and can vary greatly. That is a good thing, but within the last several years products have become mostly good of sound, with personal tastes defining the characteristic of choice. As such, I really like what planar’s have done for headphones. Many approaches vary the end product sound, but start with the basic premise of clarity, a somewhat rolled-off treble, mid-vocals that are good, and depending upon tuning solid bass. Here, the PM-50 affords all characteristics above and well. Planar drivability can make a big difference, and it is good that those who use this technology realize that making their critter drivable across sources can enhance their sales. Period. So, in that regard, Andover has done well. A solid overall sound, without bite up top, which would bother me, and vocals that are quite good. Not taking the forefront or backseat. Just right.
I normally start down low, but here will start with the mids. Defined by quite good male vocals such as Los Lobos in Disconnected in New York, I find Hidalgo’s vocals to come across clean and clear. Amongst the cleanest this side of my LCD-3 and it is much appreciated. I can discern good air between notes as well as good clarity. The notes represented are true and honest of character. No covering or artificiality from tuning is wrought by me. I appreciate this factor in giving the overall character a bit more open sound than many planar’s in this range. Not shouty by any means, just open and presentational. Mids usually are not my forte when it comes to sound characteristics, but here they are mentioned first for a reason. They hold the signature together and do so quite well. Plus, these are brighter than I usually like so they must be doing something right.
Cymbal clash and drumstick hit come across as clear and concise in the treble range. Much appreciated again and one in which I can enjoy the sound. I did find myself turning the volume down though on the Los Lobos album a bit over other headphones. This is not a knock on the headphone, just a paucity of my ear-connection to the headphone. At lower volumes, I can listen for hours without fatigue. Many planar’s have trouble with the higher end, and the PM-50 isn’t free of that, no. They just control the upper end pretty darn well. Treble is my well-known Achilles, and this isn’t off from that. Up to about 4kHz they are a bit too biting for me, but thankfully roll off from there. I do have to turn the volume down on some albums or songs as a result. A shame really for some of those are amongst my favorites. Consider that to be a shortcoming of my ears, not the PM-50 by any means.
Now my favorite part of any sound signature. Bass is present like you would expect, but do not expect Audeze-levels. Few can match that. Period. But for a first effort and at the $500 price, the bass provides a solid foundation is missing that rumble. Call it “less-emphasized,” and that would be a good descriptor. Often times I find myself using the same verbiage over and over for very different headphones. But if the idea conveys itself in the same manner, then that is what matters. Here the word “support” would be an apt descriptor, and well earned. The bass neither falls away nor shines too much. It is a means to the whole. And with that in mind, the bass will impress those looking at the overall character of the sound. Bassheads most likely will be disappointed, but I for one do not care.
With a bit more than expected, this shows how different companies have come to appreciate a more open sound to give the illusion of air in note, a better separation. While not on par (and not meant to be) with top class planar’s the PM-50 provides itself well in the soundstage. Wider than some, narrower than others; the sound gives good definition so that separating instruments can be made. A bit higher than deep nonetheless, there is the effect of good layering to be had. Again, this is a function of the whole as opposed to the parts. This in effect presents good detail, which can make up for quite a bit, which may be lacking in some. Here those “lackings” are not very many, though.
Andover PM-50 ($499) v Verum Audio Verum 1 ($349):
Another small company planar, the Verum hails from the Ukraine and while early sufferings hurt the marque, the sound is…well…astounding for the price! I first auditioned the Verum 1 on a loaner tour from TTVJ. After trying the unity out, Todd emailed me stating he had the critter in stock. Knowing full well the draw this critter had on the market, I quickly ordered a pair. My first choice Zebrano actually sold out seconds before I made my choice, so I “settled” on the Bobinga. And I do not regret it at all.
Another stunning looker, the Hello Kitty look aside, the Verum is heralded for its sheer clarity of sound. Astounding would not be an understatement. This headphone took much of the community by storm, even with the issues (which have been sorted) and rightly so. If the Andover would be the quiet reading room cigar-laden scotch in hand headphone, the Verum 1 would be a front row seat at a Sex Pistols concert. Dashing of sound, the Verum fairly shouts its credentials to you. Very easy to drive with a VERY large 82mm driver (quite thick as I understand it), the sound covers all of the bases really well. Good reach of bass, vocals clean and crisp, and sparkle (yes sparkle!) up top, there isn’t much to dislike about the Verum 1. Subsequent “modifications” have been made to the grill and fit system. A more traditional curves headband now comes standard as does an articulate patterned grill. I for one do not mind the Hello Kitty look but will order the “upgrade.”
Sorry, back to the comparison. If you want superb sound, with a kick then the Verum 1 is the obvious choice. I will caution you that turning up the volume while providing excellent clarity, can be a biting experience. One I cannot handle for too long. If on the other hand you want a more laidback even-handed approach with mids, which are among the best in this type of headphone, you would not be wrong in choosing the Andover product.
Andover PM-50 ($499) v Sendy Aiva ($479):
If this came down to looks and fit, it wouldn’t be close. The Sendy is drop-dead gorgeous, replete with copper cable and “cloud” formation jacks. Add in the beautiful wood flavor and cloud grill and this is a winner in the beauty contest. But as we know, not everything is in looks. Harder to drive than the Andover, the Aiva faults in a too-forward mid, which also conveys a slight bit of veil when compared. A bit brighter signature overall as well, but with better bass reach, the Aiva was a click-purchase on looks alone. And I do not fault that purchase one bit. I like the offbeat sound of it, even with the shouty bits.
Here, the PM-50 takes a bit more laidback approach and one, which I like very much. I would add that the Aiva has a bit better separation of note and air, but one cannot fault the PM-50 for a lack of that. Simply that the Aiva has more. And easier fit, I almost thought it would fall off coming directly from the PM-50. Fit to me is a bit lax (but that could be a pseudo-effect), but with bigger cups, feels more secure in that department.
So, this comes down to whether you like a bit more bass and air between your note like the Aiva (plus the gorgeous look), or wonderfully detailed mids along with very good note separation and an understated elegance like the PM-50. Both are good.
Andover PM-50 ($499) v Dan Clark (Mr. Speakers) Aeon Flow Open ($799):
Agreed by many as the benchmark at this price for an open headphone (along with the HD650), it took me a bit of time to warm to how good the Aeon actually is. Harder to drive than the PM-50, this is not a fault, just the truth. Detail retrieval is superb. A slight roughness around the edge of that sound makes it almost perfect to me. Slightly warm in nature, with mid detail retrieval of the best, along with solid bass push (but again a bit rough) make this my go to at the sub-$800. I do not regret purchasing a used copy at all. Above that, the comfort and fit, albeit a bit different make the AFO the clear winner here. Light as a feather so to speak, one wonders why the others are so darn heavy.
Some of that slight roughness exudes as vivid as a result. The lower mids can come across as vivid to me as a result of this “rough around the edges.” Call it persona or soul if you will. If one wants a detail monster look elsewhere, for the AFO has a mentality about it, which radiates an attitude. Not like the Verum 1, no. One of quiet confidence instead. Knowing it is the one to beat and doing so in the process. No braggadocio needed in that quest. The PM-50 instead comes across as a bit livelier in the mids, and a bit tamer as well. Somewhat smoother, but without the persona of the AFO. Those mids in the PM-50 are really quite good, and account themselves well, but when faced with a benchmark, fall a bit short in overall schema.
I will note, and it should not be a surprise, that the better the source, the better the sound from the PM-50. That said, it scales well with a multitude of sources from smartphone to your TOTL DAP. Paired with the Dethonray DTR1 the two are a hugely fun pair to be had. The detail of the DTR1 makes for a nice alternative to the evenness of the PM-50, bringing out the best. This is a very good pairing for about $1k. The XDuoo x10t ii/iFi Pro iDSD pairing tops even that. It is hard to beat the iDSD in my opinion at its price, and with the ability to tweak the sound, one simply has a very hard time finding something they don’t like from the trio. Making for a bit warmer sound on full tube, the iDSD is a favorite of mine, and will be for some time. Working with the PM-50 on the iDSD, I again appreciate what Andover has done to the PM-50. It really is a fine first effort.
Based upon what I have written you might get the impression that the PM-50 is really good. You would not be far off as it does sound quite nice. Those mids are sublime to me and tie the whole shebang together. Couple that with the understated elegance of the build and model itself, and this is a top notch first effort. A really, really good effort from Andover here. But all is not perfect. Fitting more like an on ear than an over ear, those with larger ears will suffer. Couple that with the fit, which has the high clamping pressure and it brings down the overall score. Yes, you can bend the headband like they said, and I did. This make fit much more comfortable but still on the high-pressure side. Coming from the AFO, which is a feather comparatively, the PM-50 is too tight. This can be accommodated, with care and the bending as stated. And my sneaking suspicion is that a fix is in the works to aid.
None of the downsides should hinder you from giving the PM-50 a listen. The male vocals are amongst the best I have heard lately, and female vocals are just fine as well. With bass to hold down the low end and treble, which neither punishes nor abuses your listening; the PM-50 is a really fine first effort. Tie together the clarity and air of note and this makes a top-quality product from Andover. One, which to me fits right into their eclectic mix of products on their webpage.
I thank Andover for allowing Will to send the unit my way for review. It was well worth the listen, and I shall enjoy it a bit longer due to current circumstances. Give it a listen, it may just surprise you as well.