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The Pinnacle of The Electrostatic Sound

Friday, December 2, 2016

Portable Audio Review!
Oppo Sonica Hi-Res Wireless
Portable Stereo Speaker System


Brevis
Price $299
Likes: super sonics, connection options
Dislikes: No wireless DSD playback
Wow Factor: Oppo oh la-la!
More info: Oppo Sonica

by John Gatski
  Oppo always has a knack for coming up with crafty, quality audio products. The infamous universal BDP-95 and BDP-105 universal disc players, the PM series of planar magnetic headphones and the killer HA-1 and HA-2 HP amp/DACs: they are all successes in the audio market place.
  Why would the new Oppo Sonica be any different? A compact, musically accurate boom box that uses your phone, tablet or network to play hi-res, low-res and anything in between. In fact, the audio output on the Sonica is exceedingly good enough to pass muster with the most finicky of audiophiles.

Features
 Designed by Igor Livitsky and the Oppo engineering division, the manufactured-in-China Sonica consists of two parts: a “boom box” style hardware amplifier with a multi-speaker driver complement and a software player that works operates on any smart device: Android or IOS.
  Via Wi-Fi, DLNA, or Network streaming, the Sonica app can play all PCM-enabled formats (AAC, AIF, AIFF, APE, FLAC, WAV, Apple Lossless, ALAC, MP3, M4 and WMA), up to 24/192. It also supports Tidal and Spotify streaming. It does not, however, play DSD files.
  The key conduit most audio quality-conscious people will use is the wireless Wi-Fi connection, which operates 802.11 protocol, Bluetooth 4.1 enables the lower quality wireless signal. You can also wire your computer Network directly to Sonica via Ethernet.
For $299, Oppo Sonica is a steal. Via Wi-Fi, you get up to 24/192 quality from a smart-device app that wirelessly beams your music to a great-sounding, compact speaker/amp package. You can place it almost anywhere!

  Other connectivity options include the Aux 1/8th-inch, stereo analog input, which comes in handy if you want to have a CD or portable digital player option to go along with your hi-res play options. You could even hookup a turntable/preamp combo through the analog input and make the Sonica your center piece for all your small room stereo listening.
  What really makes the Sonica app/hardware system a music library-rich experience is the ability to hook up a USB drive. You just plug the drive into the unit, and the player accesses all the tracks folders, playlists. I tested my Sonica with a Western Digital 2TB drive full of  hi-res music. No need to clutter up your precious internal smart device memory, or have to pay for cloud storage.

The hardware
  Sonica’s 30-watt, Class D amp drives a 3.5-inch subwoofer, two 3-inch mid/upper bass drivers and two 2.25 mid/treble drivers with neodymium magnets. Each gets its own 10-watt amp. Noted Speaker Designer Igor Levitsky designed the Sonica amp/speaker configuration. Levitsky also developed the Oppo PM series of headphones and has had a hand in a number of speakers designs, including the acclaimed SLS ribbon speakers.The Sonica measures a compact 11.8-inches wide and is only 6-inches tall. Front-to-back dimensions are is just over 5-inches. Unit weight is 5.3 pounds. Color options are grey/silver and black.

Sonica's multi-driver/amp combo makes for HQ sound

  The Sonica hardware is very minimalist with its front-mounted grilled speakers, volume  and network push controls on the top. Round back are connections for the USB drive, Ethernet, and the 1/8th-inch mini-jack. The Sonica has a detachable, two-prong AC cord that is 6 feet in length.

The set up
  The Sonica playback set up was simple. Install the Android version Sonica App from the Google Play Store to a Android phone, select a Wi-Fi network, type in the password and click “Add” when the Sonica appears on the screen.
  The Sonica Music menu includes options for setting up access to music from Spotify and Tidal streaming services. The menu also gives you a selection option for the device's internal  memory music storage, termed “On the Device.” Other play options include Network Playback, USB Storage, Aux-In or Bluetooth. Once you have chosen your Music source, you get a choice of viewing the music from the All Music, Artist, Albums, Genres and Folders option.
  The Settings menu enables Bluetooth, the Aux-In setting, Sound Optimization (EQ presets), Sleep Timer, Advanced Settings, Night Mode (changes background color) and About, which give detailed info about the app and enables software/firmware updates.

Put it anywhere
  I placed the Sonica speaker unit on top of my my Yamaha U1 upright piano, plugged it in, and I placed it about 4-inches from the back wall. From the Android Sonica app, which was installed on my Android-based smart phone, I selected my Wi-Fi network from the app, typed in the password and pushed the Add icon. The onboard Sonica player was now wirelessly linked to the hardware amp/speakers. For my music source, I plugged in a WD 2 TB drive full of hi-res music into the Sonica unit.

Control the level via onboard volume or Sonica app


  With Sonica's small footprint and ease of location, I played various types of music to get a sense of the optimum placement and desirable EQ settings, of which there are four settings Preset 1-4. By listening to Pop music,  I quickly surmised that the presets decrease the bass as you advance the EQ presets. Preset 1 has the biggest bass boost; Preset 4 has the least.   Since the unit was pretty much next to the wall, I used Preset 4 to flatten the bass as much as possible. I wish the app had adjustable bands in the EQ, but at least the four presets gives you a modest amount of EQ flexibility.

The audition
  With the sound dialed in, I finally got my chance to listen to Sonica’s potential as a portable, but serious, hi-res listening system. And guess what. It is, indeed, an impressive playback system. The first audible character I noticed was how balanced it was. On the Warren Bernhardt — So Real SACD 24/96 PCM dub, I took a serious listen to the lead track, “Autumn Leaves,” which I have used as a demo tracks at least 200 times or more.
  Played through Sonica, the track’s bass, drums and piano had that open, detailed, dynamic persona that i am used to hearing from a good audio system and quality hi-res portables. The piano, had a bit of extra tinkle emphasis, but the cymbals and bass were audibly painted with a generous presence spread that reminded me I was listening to better than CD quality. Very Nice!


All control, setup and play are done via the app

  And on the title tracks “So Real”, with all that transient energy via the drum cymbal miking, focused piano fills and a tight, percussive bass tone, I was downright tickled on how good it sounded. and that is with Sonica’s drivers in a configuration of just a few inches apart.
  In fact, the stereo separation is superb, considering the small package. Although I had two units, to use as separate left and right speakers, which does add extra dimension in medium-to-large rooms. I did most close monitoring duties with just one Sonica. Linking two Sonicas is just matter of selecting the Stereo Pair option after the initial Wi-Fi settings: one Sonica for L-channel and one Sonica for R-channel.

On the title tracks “So Real,” with all that transient energy via the cymbal  miking, focused piano fills and tight, percussive bass tone, I was downright tickled on how good it sounded. and that is with Sonica’s drivers just a few inches apart.

  After the delightful experience with the jazzy “So Real” album, I switched to Pop music, and  played a dub of the Roxy Music Avalon SACD (at 24/192). Again, the little Sonica dug deep to give me a HQ presentation of the title track. Tremelo-tinged electric guitar jangle, precise percussion and generous layers of vocals: all were heard with clear delineation. And up to fairly loud volumes, it held together. Damn, this Sonica is good.
  I played a 16-bit recording, the CD remaster tracks of Aretha Franklin 1981 album  Jump To It. The Queen of Soul’s funk-infused album was produced by Luther Vandross, and percolates with energy, especially the title track. The funky keyboard riffs, bass, rhythm guitar and drums, combined with Aretha's scatting, playful, vocal style, the Oppo Sonica really delivered. I did not sense that the sound came from a small box of drivers. Unlike other boom box systems I have auditioned, the sonic balance on Sonica is key to its enjoyment.

The living room piano: a perfect perch for Sonica

  After a week’s worth of listening to 50 or more tracks, i could not fault the Sonica as a portable hi-res app/hardware audio player. I sampled the Aux-In with a portable CD player, which made it handy for music you have stored on disc. I even sent smart phone playback via the Bluetooth option. Obviously, there is definite loss of fidelity — compared to the pristine Wi-Fi,   Ethernet or Aux In sources — but listenable none the less. I did not try the Spotify or Tidal streaming services (I rarely stream unless it is true hi-res, service such as Prime Seat), but I would predict that Sonica would easily handle the streaming service within the prescribed fidelity limits.

Wireless or wired connection is possible

  The only wish-list item I would like to see in a Sonica upgrade, is the ability to play DSD tracks, I have hundreds of DSD downloads (and my own home brew DSD guitar recordings) that could enhance my use of Sonica. However, I was able to listen to DSD tracks, via the iBasso DX-80 portable player which does play native DSD. I simply connected a 1/8th-inch stereo jack cable from the iBasso to the Sonica’s Aux-In.

The verdict
  In two words, “Heck Yeah!” For $299, Oppo Sonica is a steal. Via Wi-Fi, you get up to 24/192 quality from a smart-device app that wirelessly beams your music to a great-sounding, compact speaker/amp package. You can place it almost anywhere.
  The voicing of the speakers, the driver dynamics and the surprising amp power simply blows away most “wireless” or wired boom boxes in this size range. Whether you use one or two, you will be happy with your Sonica choice. Throw in the multiple connection options and you will quickly see why we gave Sonica an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award and a definite EAN 2016 Product Of The Year Award — Personal Audio category.

   John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1988. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice, High Performance Review, Radio World and TV Technology. Everything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via everything.audio@verizon.net

1 comment:

Jerry Snead said...

Nice review, looks like a good portable option