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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Audiophile Review!
Oppo Flagship UDP-205
May Be The Only Player
That You Will Ever Need


Brevis...
Price $1,299
Likes: best sounding Oppo UDP ever
Dislikes: does not play SACD ISO rips
Wow Factor: still the universal king!
More info: Oppo UDP-205

by John Gatski
  Oppo released three new products this year: the Oppo UDP-203, the entry level universal player upgrade; the stand-alone Sonica DAC and the much-awaited update of its flagship universal player, the new UDP-205.
  They are all home runs in terms of performance price and features in their respective niches, but I consider the UDP-205, the most impressive of the three. With the addition of a new 4K video decoder for video, and the new ESS Pro DAC chip for the audio, the new top-of-the-line player serves up increased audio refinement and accuracy, better video, while keeping its versatility intact: including analog multi-channel, unbalanced stereo/balanced stereo output structure.

Features
 Priced at $1,299 the UDP-205 is a bargain considering all its audiophile capabilities. Equipped with dual-ESS ES9038 Pro 32-bit chips, one for the multi-channel music and movie soundtracks, and one for the dedicated stereo outputs. The UDP-205’s  stereo audio output, through the dedicated ES9038PRO DAC chip,  also incorporates a specially designed analog buffer and driver stages.
  The ESS Pro DAC chips (ES9028 and ES9038) are impressive performing D/A circuits that reveal a more linear, accurate dynamic sound stage and detail over previous ESS chips, such as the widely used ES9018 that was used in the BDP-105.


ES9038 D/A chip: increased sonic articulation

  The '205’s stereo output offers both XLR balanced and RCA single-ended connectors. Oppo’s balanced output features a true differential signal path all the way from the DAC to the XLR. By transmitting a pair of differential signals, the balanced output provides better common-mode noise rejection and improves measured signal quality.
  Likes its predecessor, the Oppo UDP-205 can play almost anything through its internal DAC. From its USB input, an external software player from a computer or smart device enables the '205 to decode and play PCM up to 32 bit/768 kHz sample rate, and DSD to 11.2 MHz sampling.
  With the addition of a new 4K video decoder for video, and the new ESS Pro DAC chip for the audio, the new top-of-the-line player serves up increased audio refinement and accuracy, better video, while keeping its versatility intact: including a set of analog RCA multi-channel, unbalanced RCA stereo/balanced XLR stereo output structure.

  Via tracks loaded onto a USB drive, the 205 can play up to 24/192 PCM and 5.6 MHz DSD, plus  it handles any SACD, DVD-Audio Dual-Discs, Blu-ray, CD, etc. The only audiophile format it does not play is SACD ISO rips. For most serious stereo music listeners, however, the BDP-205 is all you would ever need. You get an excellent DAC and a player that will play almost any kind of format all in one box.
Need more connections? I doubt it.

  On the audio-for-video side, Oppo is still one of the few players with full analog 7.1 outputs. And since it has built-in set up DSP and a multichannel 32-bit volume control, the Oppo players can be used as a standalone video player/preamp, if you are just using it as the solo source. Output the HDMI video to a screen and hook up the 7.1 RCA’s to a multi-channel amp and a sub.
  Oppo also improved the headphone amp in the UDP-205 with more gain and a more direct path from the stereo ESS DAC. The HP amp was pretty good in the BDP-105, but it sounds even better, thanks to the new chip.
  For the video fan, the BDP-205 supports discrete 4K Ultra HD Video Blu-ray playback, as well as upscaling from 1080 to 4K. The UDP-205 is also capable of playing 4K media files and user-generated content. Support for decoding the HEVC, H.264, VP9 4K, and Hi10P video codecs provides increased compatibility with user generated media.

High Dynamic Range Video
  The UDP-205 also supports High Dynamic Range (HDR) and Wide Color Gamut used in today's better TVs. The HDR’s showcases enhanced resolution, refined contrast, greater brightness, and expanded color produce stunning video with unparalleled clarity and detail.

 You can play DSD to 5.6 MHz or up to 24/192 PCM  via tracks on a USB stick inserted into the front USB port. Simply insert the drive, navigate your LCD via the remote and push play, The UDP really becomes a hyper Hi-Res player as a USB DAC via computer. It is spec’d to play up to 32 bit linear/768 kHz sample rate PCM and 11.2 MHz DSD! 

  In addition to supporting the HDR10 format on discs and video files, the 205 is also capable of providing an accurate conversion of HDR to SDR for older displays, as well as conversion between various color spaces such as BT.2020, BT.709, and BT.601.
  With its latest firmware, UDP-205 is the first Ultra HD Blu-ray player to support. Dolby Vision, which require Dolby Vision-encoded discs and a Dolby Vision-enabled television to utilize it.
  According to Oppo, the '205 also received an internal parts upgrade over the 105; the capacitors, resistors and power supply have all been improved in the new player. The UDP-205 has separate power supplies for digital and analog circuitry, said to eliminate virtually all harmful interference. The analog audio circuit is powered by a larger toroidal power transformer, which provides a very clean and robust power source to the audio components.
  To enhance its reputation as high-end optical disc player, both the UDP 205 and little brother UDP-203 received a disc transport/loader upgrade. It is faster, quieter and less prone to loading glitches and lockups. My old 105, on more than one occasion, locked up after disc load-in.

The set up
  I set up the UDP-205 in two playback scenarios: as a standalone player/DAC and as Blu-ray/multichannel hi-res audio player in my A/V room.
  The audiophile components used in the review included Rogue Audio RP-5 tube preamp, Benchmark DAC-3 DX DAC, Prism Callia DAC/preamp, Mytek Brooklyn DAC/preamp and Coda high current preamp.
  Amplifiers included the MOSFET output Pass Labs Integrated 60 and Benchmark AHB-1 bipolar output unit, linked to a pair of MartinLogan Impressions, and at different points in the review, the wonderful, airy sounding  KEF 300 bookshelf speakers.
  All cables were Wireworld Eclipse, including USB, digital optical/coaxial, analog line (balanced and unbalanced), and speaker. Per usual, I connected the Oppo and the other associated gear through the UL-approved Essential Sound Products Essence Reference II power cords and power strip.

The audition
  Operating the UDP-205 in my audiophile set up was a piece of cake since the GUI, remote and onboard controls are essentially the same as the previous two generations of Oppo’s. In fact, I love the big remotes the company supplies. Durable, and easy to see each button, which have a tactile feel.
  First up was the my perennial jazz trio favorite, The Anthony Wilson Trio - Our Gang SACD (Groove Note). The album feature Mr. Wilson’s Gibson Birdland hollow-body guitar and melodic lead runs accompanied by a Hammond organ and drums. It is a rich, warm, live-to-two-track DSD recording that needs accuracy from its playback chain to keep it from going over to the extra-warm side.

Mega powerful video chip co-developed by Oppo
  Unlike the BDP-105 with the ESS 9018 D/A chip, the UDP-205’s ESS Pro ES9038 DAC circuit presented the Our Gang SACD with a more refined sound stage and revealed a much more balanced portrayal of this recording. It is similar to the sonic flavor from the much-heralded, Benchmark DAC3 Series, which uses the ES9028. (I have the ISO tracks of this SACD that I play through the computer and into various USB DACs, including the DAC3-DX).
  Through the '205, the organ’s prominent midbass tone, the tube guitar amp hues and the shimmery cymbals are aligned perfectly in terms of balance  — with that wide image presentation that I love from this recording. The Previous ‘95 and ‘105 Oppo UDP models, sounded overly warm on this recording, especially the cut Britta’s Blue.
  In long-term comparisons with the UDP-205, the Benchmark achieves a slightly more present image impressions (and of course, the Benchmark has one of the best onboard headphone of any DAC made), but tonally they are very similar. That is high praise for a all-in-one universal player.
  Switching to Classical, I popped in the 2005 Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto In D by Joshua Bell SACD. This live recording (how did they keep the audience so quiet?) is simply one of my favorite s for the violin in hi-res. Dynamic, full violin harmonics with orchestral accompaniment, the SACD gives a  hi-fi system a work out. The better the system the more real it sounds. Again, the UDP-205 did a fantastic job.
  Through the Rogue RP-5 preamp and the Merrill Audio Veritas Class D mono blocks, driving the MartinLogan Impressions, the violin signature was starkly vivid and a full dimensionality across the speaker plane. It does not sound like a single track mixed into a recording, but with a space impression like you are in the hall — way up front. Just incredible how good it sounded from a $1,299, all-in-one A/V player.
 All the sonic accolades I have bestowed on the UDP-205 as an audiophile player is ditto as a video player. On numerous Blu-ray discs, the ESS Pro chipped ‘205 sounds more dynamic than the BDP105 — if you let it decode and pass its multichannel audio output to a pre/pro analog ins. It is one of the few players left with multi-channel analog output.


  Moving on to Pop/Rock, I played a number of DVD-As, CD’s and Blu-rays and HDtracks downloads, and found the UDP-205 to be just as capable on the better recordings. Steely Dan —  Gaucho in DSD, played from a USB stick, was simply gorgeous with its vast space in between the instruments and backing vocals. Like listening to the studio master.
  Speaking of USB sticks, the UDP-205’s ability to play virtually any hi-res files from either the front USB port as a player, or using as a USB DAC from a computer, makes it one of the best Hi-Res players out there.
  You can play DSD to 5.6 MHz or up to 24/192 PCM  via tracks on a USB stick inserted into the front USB port. Simply insert the drive, navigate your LCD via the remote and push play,
  The UDP really becomes a hi-res player as a USB DAC via computer. It is spec’d to play up to 32 bit linear/768 kHz sample rate PCM and 11.2 MHz DSD from computer players, such as JRiver, Audirvana. The Android app USB Audio Player Pro, operated from a tablet, also made an ideal handheld, ultra high-res player in the bit perfect mode.



  To prove its ultimate hi-res compatibility, I played some experimental 32-bit music tracks (integer not floating point) that I had made with the Mytek Brooklyn 32-bit A/D. They played just fine. I also played some 11.2 MHz DSD tracks from Bluecoast. They also played without a hitch. (As to whether you can gear a difference between 2.8 MHz vs. 11.2 MHz DSD or 32 bit vs 24 bit, that  is another story).
  To add to the UDP-205's list of accomplishments, I sampled the headphone amp and I found it pretty impressive, Utilizing a 32-bit digital volume control from the ESS chip, it is not an afterthought. It is pretty neutral in its audio delivery, which I liked through my Sennheiser 650s, Shure SRH-1840’s and AKG K702 HPs, which take a bit more gain to make louder. The '205 had no problem driving them. The HP amp lacks some of the aural nuance of the Benchmark DAC 3 HP amp (and other standalone high-end HP amps I have sampled), but it is certainly no throwaway HP port. After all, it is delivering the signal from the mighty ESS Pro chip.

In the home theater
  All the sonic accolades I have bestowed on the UDP-205 as an audiophile player is ditto as a video player. On numerous Blu-ray discs, the ESS Pro chipped ‘205 sounded more dynamic than the BDP105 — if you let it decode and pass its multi-channel audio output to a pre/pro analog ins. It is one of the few players left with multi-channel analog output and with the quality of the D/A, analog circuit and dedicated power supply. It takes a $3,000+ pre/pro to match or better the sonics of the Oppo.
  Heck, if you just have a Blu-ray player as your only home theater source, you can use the UDP-205 as the player and the preamp. The option to enable the 32-bit multichannel volume control and all the necessary setup DSP are all on the player; you don’t have to have a pre/pro. Just route the multichannel outputs to your favorite amplifier set up.

UDP-205: tidy and clean with quality parts selection

  I tested the ‘205 through a Marantz 8802 pre/pro via HDMI, which means Marantz’s DAC was decoding the audio. However, I also set up the ‘205 as a standalone player/preamp, running audio straight to Parasound Halo three- and two-channel amplifiers.
 With the '205 as the pre/pro, I viewed several Blu-ray movies including the animated fantasy adventure BoltThe Fifth Element and the 24/48 PCM 5.1 uncompressed soundtrack of the animated Meet The Robinson’s.
  The multi-channel delivery through my Westlake Audio professional cinema speakers (three in the front), NHT Ones in the rear and a Paradigm Pro 15 subwoofer was as good, maybe better, than some of the high-end pre/pros. The multichannel soundstage separation and dynamic range impressed me the most. The digital volume is not quite as smooth as the best multichannel preamp analog volume circuits, such as the Bryston SP3 pre/pro, but it is no slouch. It blows away low-end receivers in spades.
  The video features can be used with a pre/pro as well (via the pass-through mode to the TV). Including the 4K upsampling and discrete playback to a 4K TV, plus the HDR (high dynamic range), which I believe is more impressive than just 4K.  The deeper colors make the picture much more dimensional.
  No matter how you use the ‘205 in an A/V system, you can’t top this player. The Oppo UDP-203 is a lot less money and its AKM DAC chip and similar video features get it close to the ‘205, but ultimately, the '205’s audio circuit wins out in my book, especially for the multi-channel.
  Overall, I had not one single problem with the UDP-205. It played everything I threw at it, and never glitches, locked up or skipped a note. I had a few glitches on the old 105 along the way.

 In the ever-shrinking standalone universal player niche, the UDP-205 stands alone at the top. There are a number of us out there, who appreciate the versatility of a quality standalone multi-format player. You don’t need to use a separate computer or smart phone, or a separate CD player. The UDP-205 does it all — right in your rack

  The fan-less system means it operates quietly (remember how loud the fan-equipped BDP-95 was), and it does not run that hot. If you have any problems, as rare as that might be, Oppo has great support staff to walk you through it, and they do software patches to fix media incompatibilities when they discover a problem.
  The only criticism i could dig up on the '205 is that it does not play SACD ISO rips that are easy to make with a certain Sony Playstation. In reality, however, you are not supposed to be playing those anyway, but if the '205 did, it would be perfect

The verdict
  The UDP-205 is now the king of high-end universal players, as was the BDP-105. With its expansive capability to play almost any kind of audio files (stereo or multichannel) and great-sounding onboard ESS DAC. The UDP-205 is,  indeed, all that many audiophiles will ever need to play their music. Videophiles will appreciate the video quality, 4K, HDR compatibility and its prowess as a standalone multi-channel player for HQ movie and multi-channel music soundtracks.


  In the ever shrinking standalone universal player niche, the UDP-205 stands alone at the top. There are a number of us out there, who appreciate the versatility of a quality standalone multi-format player. You don’t need to use a separate computer or smart phone, or a separate CD player. The UDP-205 does it all. Plus, it looks way better in your rack than a laptop. A great big EAN Stellar Sound Award and a EAN Digital Payer of the Year nomination for the UDP-205.

   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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