Friday, March 1, 2013

OPPO BDP-103 - Part 2

After a bit of a delay from the huge storm that rolled across the country (Mother Nature flexing her muscles again), Federal Express delivered our newest toy safe and sound Wednesday morning.  Initially, I was bummed hoping to have it last weekend but alas, I watched the Daytona races Saturday and Sunday instead of our movies.  More and more titles are showing up on the edge of the table so this nonverbal communication from my story-loving wife continues.

The feeling of a new addition to the audio family is one of mixed emotion. On the one hand, I am thrilled to finally get a Blu-ray player that can play movies with the clarity I dreamed of for years. On the other hand, I am fully aware of other scrutiny I will impose on our existing equipment as a result of playing movies with the clarity I dreamt of for years. This is truly a two-edged audiophile sword.

Ignoring this dilemma for the moment, I realized how much adrenaline was flowing through my veins so I slowed myself down and cautiously unpacked the unit, inspecting it carefully.  I already downloaded and read the manual last week so I was pretty much prepared to get going and see what it could and could not do.  With the adrenaline dissipating, I detached the old boat-anchor of a Blu-ray player from the system routing cables and cords for the physically larger OPPO.

With the unit lovingly connected, I realized that in my haste I unplugged the network cable (must be some residual adrenaline I can blame for this).  The unit powered up and now came the steps to get it working synergistically with the rest of my system.

I do not have a surround sound home entertainment system nor do I desire one.  So the first task was adjusting the myriad number of settings, most of which I had never seen before in any Blu-ray player, to convert this multi-channel system to a stereo player.  With network connectivity working, I then had to administer my router and network access storage system for the new configuration.  All went well and Pandora was billowing from my speaker within a few minutes.  Streaming audio…well, we’ll get to that in a minute.
Most audiophiles understand that there is a “break-in” period new electronics must undergo before a component’s audio quality can be properly evaluated, the OPPO being no exception.  I have read online that 50 hours of play is typically what it takes so my initial response to the unit’s rather midrange-dominant and forward sound kept me hopeful for improvements in the future.  I used a Monster HDMI cable to the Samsung’s LN52A650 HDMI-1 input and fed audio directly to my Dared MC-7P tube preamp via my custom made single-ended RCA interconnects.  Until the unit settles down (at least after this 50 hour break-in is completed), I have decided against performing the video calibration with my DVE HD Basics calibration discs.

After about 30 hours of play, the OPPO is starting to sound rather musical and the midrange dominance has significantly subsided (alleviating my initial fear that I had just bought another boat anchor).  Pandora is amazing.  I initially bought this unit as a “background music streamer” and I am delighted to say that it significantly exceeds these modest expectations.  The Cirrus Logic CS4382A DACs (8-ch, 24-bit, 192kHz) are more than adequate for my modest expectations and have proved to be a delight.  The bass is sweet, tight, and snappy while the midrange smooth and revealing.  The highs are still a bit edgy compared to my analog vinyl reference but even this seems to be subsiding as time passes.  It still has that “digital signature sound” where in seems to pre-echo but not to an overly objectionable standpoint.  All in all, with only 30 hours of break-in, this is a solid audio performer.

Now, on to the video section.  After using the Sony, this is eye candy.  My wife’s favorite phrase is “Did we buy a new TV?” to which my response is “Sort of…”  Seriously, this is the clearest I have ever seen our TV appear.  Colors are deep and rich and many of the resolution and approximation problems of the previous players are now gone.  The processing is very fast and hesitation free.  Only once have I observed jitter and that was on a PBS video last night watching the special on the Canadian Wolves and Buffalo.  There is still some random “JPEG” noise at the borders of high-contrast regions in motion scenes (e.g., face edges have a speckled halo around them), but these are no worse than ever before and once I finish calibrating the system I hope that this too will improve.

The picture quality is truly remarkable.  Watching old videos is like watching a new video in that we see more than we ever have before.  For example, the iris in the opening scenes of SKYFALL have enough detail to resolve curved lines etched into the elements of the iris.  Before, this appeared to be a flat piece of metal, no texture or lines.  Men’s suits too show pinstripes before unknown and there is a texture to sweaters and folds in clothing that draws you into the scene even moreso than before.  Other detail enhancements include better color balance, better color blending, better deep blacks, and less softening or intentional blurring (what I perceive as digital approximations).

The most pleasant surprise feature of the OPPO was its remote-volume control and muting independent of the preamp volume control.  Now, I can set the playback volume on the preamp to a level I desire for playing my reference vinyl albums and adjust the volume of the OPPO up or down without grabbing another remote.  These folks were really thinking when they implemented this feature and I love it!

So, now I have the other video source piped via an HDMI cable into the back of the OPPO (my DirecTV DVR) and I can use the DACs in the OPPO to decode the audio stream from the DVR.  This too is cool since the audio quality of DirecTV is abominable (not even what I would qualify as low-end hi-fi).  Even though sibilance is still an issue, the sound is smoother and less irritating than if I were to run the DirecTV audio direct to the preamp (i.e., use its built-in DACs).

Now for the not-so-good news.  I have a Seagate NAS 200 configured as a music server.  My old WD TV Live streamer did not have an issue streaming audio from this box, but the OPPO does.  This is not an issue with the OPPO but rather that NAS.  The Seagate uses what is called “mimiDLNA” which is not DLNA certified.  The result is that the OPPO “sees” the server and the server “recognizes” the OPPO (login and password are matched appropriately and trying to access shares not granted permission from this login are rejected), but when viewing the FLAC files in the MUSIC folder, the list is never displayed (LOADING icon never finishes).  Other friends with DLNA-compliant servers do not have this issue (a recent email from OPPO's outstanding service department has assured me that they will address this in a future firmware release and not to sell my NAS).

For now, I have a backup USB drive plugged into the back of the OPPO from which I can stream any of these FLAC files with no problem and amazing clarity.  The high-res 24-96 and 24-192 files are stellar and dearly demonstrate the audible differences between the three formats (from 16-44).  This DLNA issue was raised by OPPO owners even before I bought the player so I was aware of my chances at making this work.  As of today, I have not found a solution to this issue so it appears that I must go for a very different NAS (other than the Seagate BlackArmor series anyway).

I will update this posting and give whatever tips I can on how to improve this already fantastic player’s performance.  Give me some time and who knows what I’ll uncover.  For now, I am a very happy camper!

Related ArticlesSee all entries about the OPPO BDP-103 in Part 1Part 2, and Part 3; see all entries about the OPPO BDP-105 in Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4 and the updates here and here.

Also, see the simple FRED diode modification to the BDP-105 here.

Yours for higher fidelity,
Philip Rastocny

I do not use ads in this blog to help support my efforts. If you like what you are reading, please remember to reciprocate, My newest title is called Where, oh Where did the Star of Bethlehem Go? It’s an astronomer’s look at what this celestial object may have been, who the "Wise Men" were, and where they came from. Written in an investigative journalism style, it targets one star that has never been considered before and builds a solid case for its candidacy.

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