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Friday, June 24, 2011

Audiophile-Home Cinema Review!
The New Oppo BDP-93, BDP-95
Universal Audio/Blu-ray Players







Brevis...
Price: $499 (BDP-93), $999 (BDP-95)
Likes: Wi-Fi streaming, 3-D, audio upgrade
Dislikes: touchy touch panel controls
More info: Oppo Players


by John Gatski

Two years ago, the Oppo BDP-83 and its upgraded sibling, the BDP-83SE, introduced high-resolution universal audio/Blu-ray players to the masses. The $499 BDP-83 was an incredible bargain; the $899 SE version upped the ante with a higher-end DAC board.
The BDP-83 Series was a hard act to follow, but the market moves quickly. BD player manufacturers were adding new features, such as 3-D video playback and Wi-Fi streaming capabilities that merged the PC world with standalone players. If Oppo wanted to stay competitive in the BD player world, it needed more than just better audio performance and good pricing; it had to add those features as well.
With the new BDP-93 and BDP-95 models, Oppo has pulled off the perfect balancing act by maintaining their high-audio and video performance pedigree, but adding the bells and whistles that A/V customers want. And the company has kept the price nearly the same as the old models. From a performance perspective, the new BDP 93 maintains the quality that audiophile and videophiles crave, and the Oppo’s premium BDP-95 ups the audio quality quotient quite a bit.

The BDP-93
Let’s start with the BDP-93. The BDP-93 is priced the same as the venerable BDP-83, $499, and features the same audio engine from the BDP-83 (Cirrus Logic CS4382 DAC). But the player is now equipped with HDMI 1.4A, 3-D playback and Wi-Fi streaming of internet favorites, such as Netflix and Blockbuster On-Demand.
The BDP-93‘s operating system is virtually the same as the old ‘83 — with the additional features —and the player’s aesthetics have been subtly changed to keep it modern looking. The concentric controller ring and most of the push-button, on-board controls have been replaced by flush, touch-panel buttons.
Internally, Oppo switched to the Marvell Qdeo Kyoto G2 video processor, which offers the same subjective performance as the Anchor Bay processor used in the BDP-83 series. According to Oppo, the audio circuit is basically the same as the BDP-83, utilizing the good-performing Cirrus Logic CS-4382, which delivers solid, high-resolution sonics.
The BDP-93 (and BDP-95) mechanical operation is significantly quieter than the ‘83s, due to better noise suppression on the internals of the chassis and a revised disc drawer design.


Connection options now include two HDMI 1.4a jacks, eSATA port, RS-232 port, Ethernet, SPDIF optical and coaxial PCM output jacks, and 7.1 RCA analog audio outputs. Component and composite video jacks are maintained, and two USB ports allow the BD player to be used as an audio/video player using files from a USB portable drive.
For those who like to use peripheral DACs, Oppo has maintained its unencumbered LPCM digital output path. In fact, the BDP-93/95s output 24-bit/native sample rate audio from any PCM media including commercial DVD-As and Bluy-rays. With Blu-ray PCM, the high-res signal must be tapped from the HDMI jack and fed to a HDMI-to-SPDIF converter in order to allow it to connect to a DAC’s SPDF input. The Oppos’ SPDIF LPCM output of a Blu-ray is limited to 16-bit. SACD audio can be converted to 24-bit/ kHz PCM and output via the HDMI jack, too. No SPDIF digital output from SACDs.

The BDP-95
Several companies have taken the basic models used by Oppo and have offered various audio upgrade versions, some in the many thousands of dollars, to eek out the better sound. The BDP-95 is Oppo's “hot-rod” version of their own player, which costs less than a grand!


Operationally, it offers the same video processing, network streaming and 3-D capability as the BDP-93, but the audio section has been beefed up considerably. A toroidal power supply, courtesy of Rotel, SABRE ES9018 DAC chip, National Semiconductor 4562 op-amps and XLR stereo outputs put the BDP-95 squarely in the high-end two-channel player league — without the premium audiophile price. For a grand, this audiophile player is a steal. Throw in the excellent video, Wi-Fi streaming and 3-D capability, and the player package is simply amazing.

The setup
Both players were tested in my audiophile rig, then integrated into the home-cinema system. Audiophile components included Pass Labs XP-10 preamplifier, Pass Labs X350.5 amplifier, Benchmark Media DAC1 Pre D/A, Oppo BDP-83 and 83SE universal players, Esoteric DV-50 universal player, and Legacy Classic HD speakers. I also added a couple of additional audio tools, an ATI ADAC — an A/D, D/A/sample rate converter (with its very useful word length/sample rate status display) and an Altona HDMI-to-analog multichannel/SPDIF stereo digital converter box to gain access to PCM stereo signals from the HDMI port.

Oppo has pulled off the perfect balancing act by maintaining their high-audio and video performance pedigree, but adding the bells and whistles that A/V customers want.

Cables included Alpha-Core solid-silver interconnects, Westlake Low-PE interconnects, and Alpha-Core solid-silver speaker cables. Essential Sound Products Essence power cords and power strip connected the components to the AC. Headphone monitoring was courtesy of my AKG K701 and K702s and Benchmark H1 headphone amp.
The home-cinema rig components included an AudioControl Maestro M3 preamp/processor, Carver amplifiers, Sony BDP550, Oppo BDP-83SE and Pioneer BDP-09FD Blu-ray players. Speakers included Westlake LC8.1s for L-R, Westlake LC2.65 for center-channel duties, and a pair of NHT Ones for the rear surrounds. My reference Paradigm Sub 15 subwoofer provided the deep bass. MIT speaker cables connected the amps to the various speakers, and Alpha-Core solid silver RCA cables linked the preamp and BD players. Essential Sound Products power cords and power strip provided the AC.
A Sony XBR4 LCD was used to evaluate the video quality; I did not have a 3-D screen at the time of the Oppo testing, but I plan on updating the review later with 3-D Blu-ray playback.

The audition
In the audiophile rig, high-resolution media playback — DVD-A, SACD and my own home recordings on DVD-V — revealed the Oppo BDP-93’s similar sonic character to the BDP-83, which is to be expected since they both use the same DAC. Playback from the Natalie Merchant - Tigerlily 24/96 DVD-A was detailed, present with very good spacing of the instruments. On the Anthony Wilson Trio - Our Gang SACD, jazz guitar, organ and drums were equally as good with the familiar warmth on the organ and jazz guitar and a sheen on drum cymbals that was quite realistic. If you liked the BDP-83’s sonic attributes, you will like the BDP-93.
In the home cinema setup, the analog output matched well with the high quality A/V preamp section of my AudioControl Maestro. Like the BDP-83, the DTS Master HD and Dolby TruHD decoding is first rate, as is the lossy DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks. The Incredibles Blu-ray soundtrack — with all its subwoofer effects and aggressive surround effects —was a joy to listen to on the BDP-93. The spaciousness of the 5.1 soundtracks really allows you to zero in on the subtle sound effects in the mix. As with the BDP-83 cinema playback, the BDP-93 player delivers smooth music soundtracks from BDs — with good energy in the top-end.
Video-wise, I did not notice much difference between the BDP-83 and the newer BDP-93. The BDP-93’s Marvell Qdeo video processor outputs native 1080P performance subjectively equal to the BDP-83‘s Anchor Bay processor. It also was difficult to see any real difference in the DVD-upscaling between the two players.
The BDP-93’s real improvements come in the extra features set: the ability to stream video/audio from the internet and its 3-D capability. It was easy to set up the menus to allow streaming via the BDP-93. The player supports streaming services such as Netflix instant streaming and Blockbuster On Demand. It also supports BD-Live and BonusView (Profile 2.0).

The BDP-95‘s upgrade list is more significant than the BDP-83SE. It includes a high-end SABRE DAC (ES9018), National Semiconductor 4562 audio-path op-amps, Rotel-supplied toroidal power transformer and improved power-supply components, balanced XLR stereo outputs and unbalanced stereo outputs.

Ergonomically, there are niceties such as the eSATA port, two USB inputs for playing audio or video from USB drives, and two HDMI jacks, which can allow you to output video straight to the LCD and use the other for audio connection to your processor.
I noticed that Oppo omitted the separate RCA stereo audio outputs from the BDP-93. If you are listening to stereo, you have to use the L-R jacks in the multichannel output section. The BDP-83 was equipped with dedicated stereo jacks as well as the multichannel jacks. This omission also further differentiates the BDP-93 from the BDP-95 — which not only has dedicated RCA stereo output jacks, and multichannel jacks, but XLR stereo outputs as well.
Overall, the BDP-93 maintains the good video and audio performance of the BDP-83, but adds Wi-Fi streaming and 3-D. Its redesigned cabinet and loading mechanism also, is quieter than its predecessors, giving it a bit more high-end refinement.
Best of all, the direct purchase price of $499 has not changed at all. With all the extras, it is still the same price as the BDP-83. Where can you get more features and equal performance for under $500? You can’t.
The BDP-95 is Oppo’s “hot-rod” audio player; it is the step-up for those who want a bit more out of the audio performance. Although it is double the price of the BDP-93, it is only $100 more than the BDP-83SE, which was their previous flagship player, and there are sonic improvements that audiophiles and picky eared home-theater fanatics will appreciate.
Oppo first indulged their customers with their factory upgraded player with the 2009‘s BDP-83SE. It was a BDP-83 with upgraded ESS SABRE DAC and a slight reworking of the power supply components — increasing the “smoothness” quotient and adding just a tinge more air to the sound.



The BDP-95‘s upgrade list is more significant than the BDP-83SE. It includes a high-end ESS SABRE DAC (ES9018), National Semiconductor 4562 audio-path op-amps, Rotel-supplied toroidal power transformer and improved power-supply components, balanced XLR stereo outputs and unbalanced stereo outputs. Versus the old ‘83SE, the BDP-95‘s multichannel output jacks get more real estate on the chassis’ back-end, so it can accommodate high-end cables.
Since the major selling point of the BDP-95 over the 93 is audio performance, I set up a critical test to see if I could hear any improvements versus the BDP93 and the older BDP-83SE. I digitally dubbed several DVD-As to PCM wave files using a TASCAM DVRA-1000. Music included Natalie Merchant - Tigerlily, Eagles - Hotel California, Beck - Seachange and bits of several Blu-ray music tracks. I burned the tracks to identical DVD-As. All the players were connected to my Coda preamp (with the analog output levels matched). The Coda then fed its stereo output to my Benchmark H1 headphone amp. With the Coda selector switch I could quickly switch the player outputs and evaluate the audio performance of each player.
With accurate headphones and amplifier, headphone listening allows you to hear deeper into the mix to pick up differences that may not always be audible when listening midfield or far-field with speakers. Subtle nuances can be heard in the close headphone monitoring environment.
In the first minutes of my comparison, I could definitely hear the improvements in the BDP-95. Versus the 83SE or the BDP-93, it was slightly more present in transient detail and space, but also smoother. Its sonic characteristic was closer to the $2,000 Vacuum State clock mod I have heard from a modified BDP-83SE. On recording after recording, those audible characteristics remained intact. And when I finally switched over to speaker and amp listening, my consensus stayed the same — the BDP-95 is clearly the better sounding player.
On PCM, the BDP-95 also kicked my first generation Esoteric’s DV-50‘s butt. The Esoteric’s upsampling PCM DAC, circa early 2000s, was just not in the league of the fresher BDP-95. The Oppo was way smoother on classical music that contained brass and solo violin, or jazz with lively drum cymbals. On SACD playback, the Esoteric is still pretty competitive with the Oppo.
The BDP-95‘s performance is equal to or better than DAC separates I have tried. With my Benchmark DAC1 Pre D/A converter. it was really hard to hear any substantial differences versus the BDP-95. I am impressed. The improved sound also translates to a bit more of the width and detail in analog multichannel output with lossless soundtrack movies. BDs with Dolby TruHD and DTS Master 5.1 audio were impressive. The Who - Live at the Isle of Wight DTS Master soundtrack showed how good the 1960s recording technology was. Outstanding guitar tone from Pete Townsend and clear energetic drumming from Keith Moon.

The improved sound also translates to a bit more of the width and detail in analog multichannel output with lossless soundtrack movies.

From a function standpoint, the BDP-95‘s balanced outputs are a nice touch — in that they give audiophiles a way to make longer cable runs and maintain signal integrity. And I can’t say enough about the low noise of the transport and loading mechanism. The old ‘83 and ‘83SE would grunt and groan noticeably when loading and unloading. In the new players, Oppo did a good job isolating the transport noise and also keeping the internal fan noise to a minimum.
My only complaints about the BDP-95 (and 93) are the control buttons (Stop, Forward, Back, Pause) on the unit; they are flush with the cabinet and it took more effort to engage the function than the old 83 controls. They were also harder to see in dim light. However, the Oppo’s big-buttoned remote control still comes with the new players, These remotes are robust and easy to use. In my opinion, they are among the best remotes ever supplied with a media player

The verdict
Oppo has successfully launched two improved universal players into the market, yet keeping the prices reasonable. The BDP-93 gets Wi-Fi streaming, 3-D capability, quieter operation — while keeping the good sonic and 1080P video performance that home cinema fans desire — all at the same $499 price of its predecessor.
My favorite of the two, though, is the BDP-95. It gets all the bell whistles of the BDP-93, plus a noticeable boost in audio performance thanks to the high-end SABRE DAC, new op-amps and beefed-up power supply. Throw in stereo XLR outputs, a generously spaced multichannel output section, and a selling price under a $1,000 — and you’ve got yourself one damn fine player. I gave both players the Everything Audio Stellar Sound Award, but the BDP-95 is the one to have — if you can swing the extra dough.

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice review

I just love my Oppo BDP-95 and couldn't agree with you more on this review.

Zalman said...

I’ve had the Oppo BDP-93 for about a year now, maybe more. It’s connected via the co-axial digital output to Benchmark DAC1 PRE (which in turn is connected to 2 monoblocks). The player’s analog outputs are also connected to the Benchmark’s DAC1 PRE analog inputs. After playing about 50 opera and symphonic concert BR’s I have gradually started to suspect that I am not getting the best sound possible from these BR’s (I choose “stereo PCM” from the BRs’ setup, I have a stereo only playback setup). There isn’t a single BR I have that sounds as good a good CD (played on the Oppo). Even BR’s that are acclaimed by all reviewers as having fantastic sound do not shine on my high-end, very revealing setup, never as good as the best CD’s. Moreover, when I do A-B comparisons by switching between the digital and analog inputs, I never hear any difference whatsoever. In other words, the Oppo’s internal DAC’s sound identical to the external Benchmark DAC1 PRE over many comparisons of different BR’s over a year. How can 2 DAC’s sound identical? I contacted Oppo and inquired if it’s possible that the digital signal from BR’s is converted to analog using the unit’s internal DAC, and then reconverted to digital before being output through the digital outputs. They said no way; the unit does not have an internal ADC. They surmised that maybe the Benchmark DAC1 PRE is using the same chip as the one they use in their BDP-93. I doubt it. They say all the BDP-93 does to the digital signal from BR’s to the coaxial and optical digital outputs is to convert them to redbook. BR’s are 16-bit-48kHz, hardly a big difference from redbook. What are your thoughts? The HDMI outputs from the Oppo don’t downgrade the signal, so how about using a monoprice HDMI switch box with coaxial output to get an unadulterated digital signal from the Oppo to feed the DAC1 PRE?