Sunday, March 24, 2013

OPPO BDP-103 - Part 3

Home theater systems have come a long way since their conception. With its infancy in the 1970s and 1980s FM simulcasts where video was shown on TV monitors and stereo audio heard through FM radio stations (TV/FM stereo simulcasts), attempts to improve the quality of sound found in standard Over The Air (OTA) broadcasts slowly moved forward from this highly resourceful approach.  As sort of test to understand how receptive an advance in OTA technology would be received by the viewing audience, audiophiles (myself included) took every opportunity to schedule any viewing of these broadcasts and made sure to supply feedback to the radio and television stations involved.

1973 Cat Stevens TV/FV Stereo Simulcast Concert

From these early efforts by audiophiles and videophiles, continual improvements in technology were pushed forward.  Without this urging and demand, the state of the art will not advance; there must be a demand for a product without which even the best ideas will never see the light of day.  The proof lies in many areas, the most notable in digital television. With digital television, good audio is available OTA without the aid of additional components and complicated setups.

Digital media is now maturing from its modest beginnings also starting in the mid 1980s to sophisticated players, outboard DACs, enhanced source formats (24/192, etc.), and lossless file formats.  Players too have kept up with this frantic pace by investigating and resolving many of the issues unknown to exist until comparing the original sound of the instrument to the sound produced through the players.  Anti aliasing filters, clock jitter, power supply isolation, noise immunity, grounding, and many other areas of design within these new generation players have produced products that actually are beginning to sound like the performances they wish to preserve.

It took Nakamichi 20 years to add adequate bandwidth to cassette tape recorders and players to capture much of the realism possible with slow cassette tape speeds; it took the digital industry a bit longer to understand what was wrong with the original digital standards and theories. But now, finally, 1s and 0s are starting to sound more like the real thing and one bargain player to do this is the OPPO BDP-103.

Nakamichi 1000ZXL

While not perfect and not what an audiophile-aholic would consider to be in the current high-end class, the OPPO BDP-103 is a real bargain and literally performs heads and shoulders above the crowd. For its price point, this player should find its way into many (hopefully all) up-coming audiophile home theater systems.

Not only does this player provide WOW video quality on everything I have played including NETFLIX streaming videos, but also the sound it produces is remarkable for such a cheap product. It takes at least 60 hours of playtime for this player to begin to sound decent but after this time the annoying edginess disappears and music begins to flow. After a full week of 12-hours a day play time, this is what I hear.
What I noticed in particular is the roundness in woodwinds where clarinets deliver those sweet resonances in the lower registers of its range. Trombones do much the same yielding similar characteristic nuances of big brass horns coupled with the texture of the vibrating lips inside the mouthpieces. Such clarity can only be revealed in players that do things right, as does this one.

As the spectrum demands increase with rising frequencies, this is where the OPPO begins to reveal its design compromises.  Ambience, echoes, and front-to-back imaging is highly adequate and much better compared to the average Blu-ray player on the market  although mediocre compared to the SOTA.  Listening to streaming digital music is no longer so objectionable (fingernails on a blackboard) that it must be done from the quietest background volume levels. You can actually turn up the volume and appreciate the performance without getting fatigued by digital playback, at least on quality recording (nothing can improve a source already hopelessly digitized). 

For example, the Bluecoast 24-96 recording of Alex de Grassi playing Greensleeves on his 39-string guitar ( is light, airy, and delicate as the fingering slides effortlessly across the frets and glides gracefully down the strings. The tonal character of the guitar body is full and vibrant along with the upper resonances of the wirewound strings held during long notes decaying uniformly into the distant background. Ambiance of the performance is somewhat masked by the addition of reverberation and the spatial characteristics of the room suffer as a result. But the emotion and the mastery of the instrument shine through to that point where the upper harmonics are just not present as with the finest DACs.  As a result, the overall performance sounds a bit veiled, compressed, and muted as if the recording somehow compromised on the quality of the process (something I am certain that is not happening here). So thus a quality digital audio recording can reveal the limitations of this unit.

Alex de Grassi 39-string Guitar

I can only imagine what the BDP-105 sounds like in comparison to this unit. Would is sound twice as good?  Now the answer to that depends upon the system into which it would connect.  If you are running average equipment, I would say no. If you - or if you soon plan to - have high-end gear, then yes.  Even so, consider the 103 if you believe it will be two years for your system to climb the high-end summit - OR if like me - you do not use a digital media streamer for serious listening.  During this time, you will enjoy a great piece of gear and when OPPO comes out with the BDP-115 or BDP-125 or BDP-135 or whatever, you'll be among the first on the list to pre-order yours.

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

Copyright © 2015 by Philip Rastocny. All rights reserved.

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