Tuesday, April 2, 2013

OPPO BDP-105 direct-to-amp connection

I live in central Florida where winter usually runs the four weeks from the last week in January to the last week in February.  During these days, the heat may come on for six of them, the rest being hugely mild and the best of the year.  During these mild days, the house is very quiet with neither the air conditioning nor the heat interfering with your ability to hear details in the distant background.  This is a good thing when it comes to feeding the ears of an audiophile.

However, as April approaches and the earth passes the midpoint in its orbit around the sun, spring passes and with this passing the weather changes.  Temperatures rise and along with it the ambient comfort level in the listening room.  Tubes are small furnaces and even a modest seven-tubed preamp generates a microclimate of its own.  Combine this with a large-screen television and the two become a significant heat source.

A few years ago, I invested in a new one-piece metal roof with a standoff frame in which additional insulation could reside.  Custom made at the factory and rolled out like a rug, this investment proved to not only shed water exceptionally well keeping us as dry as the Mohave Desert inside but also significantly lower the air conditioning needs of our home by keeping cool air in and warm air out.  A major side benefit of this type of roof is its ability to lower ambient noise in the home because of the added insulation overhead, something I had not considered possible when contemplating this investment.

New Argon-gas filled windows also keep the influences of Mother Nature from creeping in and again prevented normal neighborhood distractions from interfering with my listening pleasure.  You can still hear lawn mowers or leaf blowers but the distraction level and resulting annoyance factor has all but been eliminated.

The point is that home improvements can make a difference in your listening pleasure and in the extreme quiet you are able to hear things that would otherwise be masked by nuisance noises.  As a result of these investments, the ambient noise level in my listening room is now measured at 27-31dB. A low-level gurgling can be heard deep in the noise floor from the water garden fountain  gurgling just outside.

With a listening room nice and quiet, you can hear more information and detail than if it were not (something that should be obvious but is often overlooked even by the purest golden-eared audiophiles).  Like going to an action movie in a theater, the extreme sound pressure levels experienced during explosion scenes will easily mask any nuances, so will distracting ambient noises mask your ability to hear all of the benefits and cloak the handicaps your audio playback system possesses.  I prefer to have a very quiet listening room.

Because of this, I notice things that a lot of other reviewers do not.  I notice that not only does the sonic signature of a piece of gear more readily reveal itself in this murky quiet but also this same quiet will reveal its shining attributes. 

My OPPO BDP-105 is a great piece of gear.  This player has a volume-level adjustment (and muting) function on the remote control allowing you to set the output level to match the level of other components.  This means that when you switch your preamp from this player to another source, you do not have to adjust the volume of the preamp to match the different volume levels of the source signals.  The music flows from your system at the same intensity regardless of which source you are listening to.

Today, with summer rearing its hot head, I decided to let the listening room stay cooler and disconnect the OPPO from my preamp and directly drive the amp from the player.  In the stillness of the morning long before the sun rose, I swapped cables and flicked off the power switch to the preamp.  Experimentation can yield amazing discoveries.  In this case, the experiment of driving my amp with my OPPO gave some positive and some negative results.

First, the sonic differences were few and hard to discern, reassuring myself that the preamp was not introducing much in the way of coloration.  But after listening for about an hour in this extremely quiet listening room, I can begin to hear things.  The clarity in the bass region - especially the very deep bass - changed a little with a more flat affect rather than the "tube sound" inherent when listening through the preamp.  The sound is considerably more sterile and the tweeters and super tweeter reveal more of the old screeches I recall from hearing digital recordings way back in 1983.  There is an edginess to the sound that is unpleasant to my ears that extends all the way down into the noise floor.  This appears not to be a function of the DACs but rather a design limitation of the anti-aliasing filter.   Too bad.

On the bright side (pun intended), the sound stage is better defined, especially with high resolution source material.  With 24/96 files, the sound stage is nice and formed with excellent stability and position.  Switching to 24/192 adds more depth and dimensionality with inner detailing trailing off into the echoes.  Even with very low level presentations the Sabre32 DACs do a superb job of decoding this low-level data stream and uniformly recreate the same instrument with the same tonal balance.  This is a good thing, a very good thing.

Listening to Pandora, the music is just wrong.  There is a over-emphasis in the upper midrange that is frankly disturbing.  I use Pandora like elevator music just to fill the day with memories of good music but now it appears that this pleasant background experience has changed.  I feel like I am sitting in a dentist's chair waiting for the piercing sound of the drill in anticipation of the unpleasant sounds to come.  I find myself listening to Pandora at a much lower volume level than before to hide these undesirable effects. 

I admit it: my name is Phil and I'm a tube-aholic.  I need a meeting now, so I will go over to a friend's house and listen to his Martin Logan electrostats through his CJ tube preamp and matching power amp and spin some good vinyl to resynchronize my ears.  But I will leave final judgment to my wife to decide: should we remove this furnace-of-a preamp from the playback system during the summer months or not?  I have high hopes that she opts for good sound rather than creature comfort and I believe that the preamp tubes will soon be glowing in the listening room once again.

The reason I am so optimistic is from her response to the question "Why did you marry HIM?" when we were first married.  Most folks perceived our personalities much like mixing water and oil - they just didn't see it working out.  Her immediate and unfaltering reply was "I married him for his stereo."  She too has golden ears and we shall see what the final verdict is in this matter.  BTW, I say this in jest since we both really do deeply love each other.

For those of you considering connecting your OPPO in this the same way in your playback system, I would advise against it.  While it may be tempting to appreciate the momentary sonic clarity improvements, the ear fatigue may be unbearable for prolonged listening.

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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