Monday, March 25, 2013

OPPO BDP-105 Review

The OPPO DBP-103 is the current entry-level Blu-ray player of OPPO Digital product line, a truly fine Blu-ray player and a really decent streaming media playback system.  I auditioned a BDP-103 for several weeks thoroughly impressed by its stellar video performance but somewhat unimpressed by its average audio circuitry.  The BDP-103 is a solid unit and a super value at $499 but if what you want is the Formula-One version, don’t settle for the frugal NASCAR.

The OPPO BDP-103

OPPO also makes the flagship BDP-105.  With this model, OPPO added considerably more to the design budget and added a seriously good digital-to-analog converter (DAC), the gizmo inside of the player that translates the little ones and zeros into the music.  The BDP-103 uses Cirrus Logic CS4382A 8-channel 24-bit 192KHz DACs and the BDP-105 uses the ESS Sabre32 Reference DACs.  The difference between these two DACs makes the audio section of the BDP-103 is as different from the BDP-105 as an MP3 player is from a standalone high-quality CD playback system.  In other words, both play music but what do you really want to use for serious listening?  Do you want a Generation Six NASCAR or a SOTA Formula One?

The OPPO BDP-105
The ESS Sabre32 Reference DACs in the BDP-105 are in a word amazing.  The sound stage is wide, deep, and tall with rock-solid imaging and inner detailing rivaling that of my analog vinyl – but still with a little way to go.  The sound is crisp, clear, and not at all fatiguing, something I absolutely hate about most other digital playback systems.  Who wants to seriously listen to music for 15 minutes and then go take something to relieve your headache?  Well, the OPPO BDP-105 keeps me out of the medicine cabinet and in my listening chair.

For example, the BDP-103 when playing 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.

With the BDP-105 on this same performance, there is a sparkle to the strings that is muted with the BDP-103.  String resonances take on a luster and sheen that remind you of sitting down at a table in a piano bar a few feet from the instrument.  This unit is so good I am considering what other tweaks are necessary in my system to keep pace with this unit as my signal source.  The new OPPOs both have an R-C coupled output stage meaning that DC pops and bias thumps are not passed on to the preamp (or your speakers) but this compromise adds a bit of top-octave color that other high-end DACs do not contain.  If you have a fast tweeter in your system (either planar or light-weight dynamic), you will notice this lack of detail in the top octave.  The OPPO’s top octave is still “decent” but there are improvements available from many after-market upgrade sources that may cure this compromise.  One of these improvements could be as simple as a high-quality shunt capacitor across the existing electrolytic capacitor, something OPPO could easily institute at the factory.

Anyway, the video section of the BDP-105 is also surprisingly better than the BDP-103.  Although the specs do not show any difference between these two fine units, the BDP-105 has a stunning video image.  The improvement over the BDP-103 is evident but you have to look for it to see it.  The detail in background textures is one place this difference subtle shows up.  For example, look at the clothing worn by Po in Kung Fu Panda – 2.  The brown burlap weave shows its presence in the BDP-103 and in the BDP-105 you can see texture and shadow.  Po’s individual arm hairs stand out with the BDP-105 where with the BDP-103 they are there but not as distinct. 

The BDP-105 also sports a toroidal power transformer, something to look for in any really high-end component.  The audible effect I've noticed using a toroid over an I-E style found in almost everything is that the bass response is thghter and deeper.  This also holds true in the OPPO where bass is exceptional revealing much of the detail in my reference analog source.  There is no strain heard throughout the whole spectrum and listening becomes less critical or analytical and more pleasurable.  SACDs sound luxurious and very close to the "being there" experience all high-enders strive to achieve.  Standard CDs sound - well as good as they can due to the insanely limiting format of 16-44.  While the power supply is not linear, it too is a logical place for aftermarket improvements.

I have not removed the cover as yet since I am waiting a few weeks to rule out infant mortality but once the initial burn in phase is passed I will reveal more of what goes on inside.  Speaking of burn-in, this unit takes a lot longer for this to occur.  Other reviewers have reported as long as 200 hours before things start to settle down and I have clocked about 70 on mine.  I can say that this morning is the first time I have heard any sign of change for the better.  I'll update this review with a followup after the 200 hour mark is reached.

And now for the not-so-good stuff...
I still cannot stream directly from my Seagate BlackArmor 220 NAS but emails with OPPO service assure me that the patch is in progress.  (BTW, their service department is responsive unlike others where you seem to reach a "black hole".)  I have personally heard a Synology NAS stream through a OPPO BDP-95 but neither the BDP-103 nor the BDP- 105 cannot handle the Seagate (a known DLNA and SMB 3.0 issue).  Accessing the 220’s network share infinitely hangs both OPPOs.  For the time being, I have a 1Tb USB drive containing my FLAC collection and, while inconvenient, the OPPO spools directly from this source with no issues.

Another issue I have found is that the volume control is unresponsive when playing a FLAC file with no content information (I play a high-res Pink Noise file for use with my RTA to make periodic before/after tweak measurements).  Holding down the volume key does not show the volume level display on screen and the volume does not change.  After a while, the unit catches up with the remote control command and all is well in OPPO-land once again.  Service asked me to unplug the network and see if I could repeat the problem (disables the search).  It did not and reverted back to its flawless performance coordinating remote volume control and on-screen display (also repeated with an MP3 file at OPPO service).

The BDP-105 is a $1,199 investment and because of its price it is not for everyone.  But for those wishing to combine the features of a spectacular Blu-ray player with a stellar DAC, this is a two-in-one win-win scenario well worth the investment.  For me, serious listening is still delegated to the analog audio source and will continue to do so for some time.  However, the OPPO shows that there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon for one day retiring my vinyl and embracing the digital age fully.  With the introduction of larger size samples (24 and 32 bits) at least music doesn't just go deaf as the echoes fade.  But there is still work that must be done in reconverting digital back to analog and until then, I still think all digital is relegated to the NASCAR category and not Formula One.

Related Articles See all entries about the OPPO BDP-103 in Part 1, Part 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

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