SACD, PCM and Video Playback
Impresses Veteran Audio Pro
by Tom Jung
Oppo Digital media players have been making quite an impression over the last three years. Players, such as the Oppo DV-980H upconverting DVD player, have impressed reviewers and discerning customers — with their welcome blend of value and performance.
Since its announcement late last year, I have been patiently waiting for Oppo’s BDP-83 universal player. I must say that after a month of viewing and listening to a multitude of BD, SACD and DVD-Video and DVD-Audio media, this player has far exceeded my expectations.
The BDP-83 is a true universal audio player; it can handle all the major audio and video formats including: BD-Video/Audio, DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, SACD, and CD, AVCHD, as well as several less significant formats. All this for a street price of $499, available directly from Oppo.
Physically, the BDP-83 looks as good as it sounds — with all the really necessary front-panel controls cleanly laid out. Both front and rear USB ports can play digital music, movie and photo files, as well as from disc. Separate analog multichannel and stereo outputs are provided, the later sending a down-mixed signal from the multichannel sources or discrete stereo.
As you would expect from a top-notch Blu-ray player, the Oppo internally decodes to analog up to 7.1 channels of multichannel audio. It handles the lossless formats: Dolby Tru-HD and DTS Master, uncompressed PCM; and the various lossy formats, such as DTS and Dolby Digital. Analog decoding of multichannel DSD (Direct Stream Digital)-encoded music SACDs and the mostly abandoned DVD-Audio music format solidifies its universal player status.
The dedicated analog stereo output signal path is designed with high-end audiophile grade parts, according to Oppo, to make sure that that the two-channel listening experience is as accurate as possible.
The player also digitally bitstreams all the multichannel formats via the HDMI output jack — including DSD. Thus, compatible processors and receivers can decode the programming, if the end-user wants to bypass the internal converters.
In addition to HDMI digital output, PCM stereo audio output is available via optical and coax SPDIF in the source’s native resolution, up to 96 kHz sampling, as long as copy protection is not software enabled. Thus, the Oppo Digital can transmit 24/96 kHz stereo PCM — unlike many of today’s Blu-ray players that automatically downconvert to 48 kHz sampling frequency, regardless of source resolution.
For video output, the HDMI output is V1.3 with 30-bit and 36-bit Deep Color support, and it offers Source Direct output resolution for use with external video processors or high-end TV’s. Component and composite video outputs also are available.
Internal video processing is handled by Anchor Bay’s Video Reference Series technology, and is said to deliver a picture that is cleaner, smoother, true-to-life and free of artifacts. I have to agree. The Blu-ray video and DVD upconversion video are stellar.
An Ethernet port is provided for the BD-Live feature offered on an increasing number of Blu-ray titles, as well as online firmware player updates.
An easy “setup wizard” gets you up and running without cracking open the excellent owner’s manual (although I highly recommend reading it anyway). Many of the advanced operations cited in the manual allow you to get the most out of both the player and your A/V system. The on-screen Setup Menu options are nicely designed, easy to read and a piece of cake to navigate.
In the “Audio Format Setup,” the HDMI Audio can be set to output LPCM, which lets the BDP-83 decode the bitstreams including Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby True HD, DTS HD and DTS HD Master Audio. Selecting Bitstream will allow the receiver/preamp to do all the decoding.
SACD output can be set to PCM or DSD through the HDMI, depending on what the receiver/preamp can handle. The Integra Pre/Pro used in this review can handle both.
The remote has nicely illuminated buttons that even I can read without my reading glasses. The Pure Audio button (which turns off the video circuit) is claimed to lower the already quiet, audio noise floor (factory rated at -110 dB nominal).
I configured the player using both analog and digital outputs. The unbalanced analog outputs were plugged directly into my high-end multichannel Meitner Switchman analog preamp, while the HDMI output fed the Integra DHC-9.9 Pre/Pro; its balanced outputs were plugged into the balanced inputs on the Switchman.
(Editor’s Note: The Integra DHC-9.9 is a highly recommended audio/video preamp for those who need a comprehensively featured controller with excellent decoding of digital signals — as well as very good analog audio performance).
Each input of the Switchman was gain-matched for easy A/B comparison. The Switchman outputs its five-channel analog signals to my Bel Canto e.One power amplifiers, which drive five SLS ribbon monitors and a pair of SLS 12-inch powered subwoofers.
On the video side, the Integra HDMI output was connected to my Epson Home Cinema 1080P projector that beamed its image onto a 120-inch screen.
I had heard a lot about the BDP-83’s sound quality before getting my hands on one. After having produced and engineered more than 20 SACD albums on the DMP label, I bekieve that no other recording format can achieve the level of quality that DSD (the source for SACD) can deliver.
So I figured that playing well-recorded SACDS would ultimately reveal whether the Oppo’s Internet praise was justified. Guess what. The SACD multichannel output of the Oppo BDP-83 sounds as good, if not better, than some $5K plus stand-alone SACD/CD players that I have tested. In playing numerous SACDs, the sound was truly high end. Great detail, wide soundstage and super-smooth audio — without the harshness of inferior converters.
In fact, the Oppo’s converters were only just a couple of notches below the quality of the Meitner DSD converters, which are many thousands more in price. Impressive indeed!
When listening to SACD music and switching back and forth between the analog and the HDMI digital feed to the Integra, I clearly preferred the Oppo’s analog output. I found the stereo and multichannel image collapsed a bit with the digital output/external DAC decoding of the Integra. They both sounded good, but the pure analog output of the Oppo is so fine — with a smooth, sweet high end, without any trace of harshness.
When pure DSD is available without any conversion back to PCM, the end-user can experience what was heard at the original recording session.
High-resolution PCM via DVD-A playback via the Oppo’s internal converters also was quite good — about as good as I have heard from a combo player. However, as a recording engineer, I still believe that SACD still sounds more real than PCM.
In addition to the incredible sound, the video performance with 1080P Blu-ray and upconverted DVD is as good as I have seen through my projection system. Life-like detail, accurate color make for quite a video experience when watching on a 120-inch screen.
In the home theater world, I have always believed that the picture or “V” side of the A/V equation got more attention than the audio side. Such is not the case with the Oppo; the audio from multichannel Dolby True HD, DTS Master HD or linear PCM sources was astounding; more openness and full fidelity than the tired, old Dolby Digital /DTS lossy coding schemes. Music sounds much more dynamic with these lossless format
Besides the awesome audio and video quality, I also liked the BDP-83’s player’s ergonomic touches. For example, the load time is much shorter than any Blu-Ray player I’ve tried, and a SACD loads as fast as a CD.
Complaints? I had no major criticism. How can you complain — with this much performance at $500. My one quibble is that the analog outputs are closely grouped together, and some of the larger audiophile RCA cables may cluster so tightly that they could be hard to remove.
As a professional who has made high-quality audio my life’s work, I say bravo to Oppo for paying as much attention to the audio design as the video design. The Oppo BDP-83 is an incredible audio (as well as video) performer at an unbelievable price. Definitely worthy of the Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound designation.
For more info or to buy direct, visit www.oppodigital.com
A professional audio engineer for almost 50 years (Sound 80, DMP Records), Tom Jung reviews home theater, audiophile and high-end recording gear for the Everything Audio Network, testing products from his home studio in North Carolina. He can be reached via email at email@example.com