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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Home Cinema/Audiophile Review!
Oppo UDP-203 Universal Audio Player:
"The New King Of The All-In-One UDPs"


Brevis...
Price: $549
Likes: video, audio performance
Dislikes: I would not dare complain
Wow Factor: best of  budget audiophile UPs
More info: Oppo UDP-203

by John Gatski
 Oppo Digital has always been the bang for the buck leader for universal disc players and, more recently, DA converters. The BDP-93 and 95, the BDP-103 and 105, as well as the HA-1 and HA-2 headphone amps are amazing performers, based on their generation status.
  Oppo recently refreshed the line with three new products: the new UDP-203 (replaces the long-running BDP-103 universal player) reviewed here, the UDP-205 universal flagship (replacing the BDP-105), and the Wi-Fi wireless/wired Sonica hi-res DAC, which uses the same  wireless hi-res smart device play capability as the best-buy Sonica wireless speaker.
  For this review we will focus on the UDP-203, which is, perhaps, the best audiophile player/DAC you can buy for the money.

Features
  The UDP-203 is an all new entry player from Oppo. No longer designated as a Blu-ray player (BDP), it is now tagged as a universal player (UDP), which previous models were anyway. From an audio improvement standpoint, the UDP-203 features a new DAC chip, the premium 32-bit DAC from AKM; the AK4458VN is an eight-channel DAC  chip with support for formats — such as 192 kHz/32-bit PCM and multi-channel DSD. 
  AKM D/A chips are used in numerous high-end stereo DACs, including the Bryston BDA-3, TEAC UD-503 and the well-regarded Hegel units. Anthem also uses the multi-channel AKM chip in its top-rated receivers and pre/pros.
  As an all-in-one comprehensive audio/video player, it still takes a really good DAC to outperform the UDP-203. Overall, I give it a 10 out of 10, and an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award.

  Having listened to virtually every Oppo ever made, the AKM-equipped UDP-203 is the best sounding, entry-level budget player the company has ever produced. The BDP-93 and BDP-103 used Cirrus DAC chips, which were good, but did not have the ultimate resolution and ease of listening character of this AKM chip. Music listeners who want one great sounding player for CDs, SACDS, DVD-As, downloads, etc. will find that the UDP-203 can be a budget, single-player solution. It is that good.
  The Oppo UDP-203 and its new big brother, the UDP-205 are just about the only multichannel players that still come standard with analog outputs. Most other players  are audio via HDMI. The UDP-203 includes eight analog outputs for 7.1 (subwoofer, main L/R, center, L/R surrounds, and back channels L/R).

Oppo still equips UDPs with analog outputs

  As with previous Oppos, you can still use the player as the decoder/level controller for your multi-channel amps (look ma, no preamp) by simply doing the onboard setup and using the variable option  volume through the remote control.
  Oppo also modernized the video playback by adding 4K native playback via HDMI 2.0 and 4K upscaling, as well as HDR (high dynamic range) processing, which really increases the color accuracy and dimensionality of video playback. The quad-core video engine offers up equate quality via 1080 or 4K.
  Other useful features include two HDMI outputs (including the 4K), an HDMI input, front panel and rear panel USB 2 inputs so you can plug in a drive or use the UDP as the player for PCM up to 24/192 and DSD up to 5.6 MHz.

For just over $500, good parts abound in the  UDP-503

  The transport has been beefed up and is considerably faster than the BDP-103. The high-precision, well-balanced laser optical disc loader ensures smooth, reliable playback of all types of disc media. An optimized laser mechanism provides super fast disc loading and strong error detection & correction.
  Even though the UDP-203 is the “budget” entry level Oppo player, nothing about it seems low cost. While, you now see under $100 BD players that seem like throwaways with low cost plastic build, the UDP is still first class all the way; a rigid steel chassis, premium disc drives, gold plated connectors and that spacious, big button Oppo remote that we have come to love.

The setup
  I used the UDP-203 as a high quality home cinema player and as an audiophile player. In the home cinema room, the Oppo was used as a BD player/audio player linked to an Anthem AVM-60 pre/pro for HDMI connection, to an Audio Control Maestro 3 M3 pre/pro for analog connection, and I also ran it directly into an AudioControl Pantages amplifier via the player’s analog outputs, engaging the remote control’s variable volume feature for level control.
  The rest of the system included my professional Westlake LC 8.1 speakers for front L/R, a Westlake LC2.65 center channel and two NHT One rear surround speakers. The Paradigm Sub 15 subwoofer handled the low bass duties.
  All cables were via the Wireworld Eclipse line, including speakers, interconnects and HDMI. Essential Sound Products Essence Reference II power cables were used on every component.
  The audiophile setup matched the UDP-203 with a number of current DACS, including the Benchmark DAC-3 HGC, Mytek Brooklyn and TEAC UD-503. Preamps on hand were the Coda High Current solid state and the Rogue Audio RP-5 tube pre. Reference listening amps included the new Bryston Cube 14B, Rogue Audio Medussa hybrid Class D/tube, Merrill Audio Veritas all Class-D monobocks and Pass Labs Int.-60 integrated. Speaker listening was done primarily on MartinLogan Montis.

In the home cinema
  Through the Anthem AVM-60, as I expected, the UDP-203 played BD discs exceptionally well with better video color accuracy, clarity and sharpness than my stock Oppo BDP-105. I did not even have to tinker with the standard video settings to get a visually impressive-looking film reproduction for movies, such as Lord of The Rings, Gravity and Apocalypto.
  The AVP HDMI link meant I was only hearing the Anthem’s analog audio part of the equation, which is outstanding. But to hear the UDP-203‘s multichannel DAC quality, I also ran the system with the Oppo as the pre-pro/player, if you will.

Oppo still includes a real-button, heavy duty remote

  I connected the main HDMI output directly to the Sony Bravia 60-inch LED TV, and using the player’s handy onboard, crossover, distance and level settings menus, I had the player ready to go in 15 minutes.
  Using the player to directly drive a 5 channel AudiControl Pantages  amplifier, the sound on the last X-Man film, Logan, was quite good. Eliminating an entire component from the chain conveys a directness and dynamics punch to multiple channel soundtracks. 
  Oppo also modernized the video playback by adding 4K native playback via HDMI 2.0 and 4K upscaling, as well as HDR (high dynamic range) processing, which really increases the color accuracy and dimensionality of video playback. The quad-core video engine offers up equate quality via 1080 or 4K.

  The aforementioned BDs and many others showcased the player-direct audio that matched the excellent picture. Though it is a standard digital volume control in the player, the overall subjective impression was on par with most mid-priced and higher pre/pros. Trust me. You can use this player without a pre-pro, if you don’t use more than one component.

The audiophile audition
  Turning to music playback via the AudioControl Maestro M3 pre/pro analog input connections, the UDP-203‘s SACD multichannel playback of the Warren BernhardtSo Real SACD was  definitely audiophile caliber. A well-recorded,  multichannel music is an experience to behold — music with more natural spatial audio cues from the rear and sides, if done correctly. This Tom Jung-produced, piano, bass and drums direct-to-DSD multichannel recording is one of the best, and it showed through the Oppo.
  As a stereo hi-res music player, I really liked the UDP-203 much better than the prior BDP-103, which always had a bit of graininess in the low treble. The new player is ultra smooth, thanks to the AKM chip, but also super precise. My impression is that the UDP-203 also sounds better than the stock BDP-105 with ESS 9018 chip, which can be overly soft on warm recordings.
 Versus the old high-end stock BDP-105 that used the vaunted ESS 9018 chip, I liked the airy transient character of the AKM D/A better on the Miles Davis SACD. Again, I think the AKM is less warm than the 9018, and I mean that in a good way.

  Listening to the Miles Davis Someday My Prince Will Come SACD showcases horn harmonics with both trumpet and saxophone, combined with some mighty fine drumming. The UDP’s sound was pretty much dead on with the TEAC-UD-503 DAC sound quality, which is a best buy D/A in my book.
  Versus the old high-end stock BDP-105 that used the vaunted ESS 9018 chip, I liked the airy transient character of the AKM D/A better on the Miles Davis SACD. Again, I think the AKM is less warm than the 9018, and I mean that in a good way.
  I compared the UDP against the $2,200 Benchmark DAC 3 HGC with the new ESS 9028Pro chip. These new ESS Pro D/A chips have a signature more like the new AKM chips, but a bit more dynamic energy accuracy that makes the Benchmark one of the best DACs out there. There is a bit more finesse and sense of dynamic energy with the Benchmark when comparing it to the UDP-203 player. It is easier to hear these difference when listening to the D/As via headphone than in the room via speakers,

UDP-203 acquitted itself quite well with hi-res music

   If you are looking for the UDP-203 to beat out all the best standalone DACs, that is a tall order. Still, as an under $600, all-in-one player/DAC, most listeners using the UDP-203 will be quite happy. I could certainly live with the Oppo as the primary DAC in my home cinema/audiophile room system
  During the review process, I had not one glitch, snafu or non-functioning feature on the ‘203. No out of nowhere software freezes that require a hard power reboot, or thumb drive tracks that would not play. All discs played, as did numerous HDtracks downloads I played from  a SanDisk Extreme thumb drive via the front USB port. With my small LG LED attached, the 203 is an easy-to-use alternative to computer playback of hi-res music.

The verdict
  The Oppo UDP-203 is the best-sounding budget player Oppo has ever produced, and is one of the last few universal players that features analog outputs. With significant audio improvement over its predecessor and outstanding video for 4K and 1080P video that rivals video processors that cost much more, it also is a true home cinema player bargain.


"Still The Bang-for-The Buck
  As an audiophile player, it ups both the 103 and 105 in subjective play quality, and it can play music from lots of different formats, SACD, DSD files, DVD-A, Dual Disc, music files from a stick, servers, etc.  As an all-in-one comprehensive audio/video player, it still takes a really good DAC to outperform the UDP-203. Overall, I give it a 10 out of 10, and an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award.

   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 email: everything.audio@verizon.net

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