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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Home Theater/Audiophile Review!
Lexicon BD-30 BD/Universal Audio Player



A High-End Priced Player For Install Customers

by John Gatski
The Lexicon BD-30 has a lot to live up to in replacing the exemplary RT-20 — a $4,000 universal/DVD player made in Japan that I reviewed in 2004. Other than its sample-rate limited, PCM digital output (48 kHz downsample of 96 kHz or greater DVD-A audio), the RT-20 was a terrific player with superb fit and finish to go along with that audiophile price.
Priced at $3,499 retail through dealers, the BD-30 is a full-fledged universal player with it ability to play CD, DVD, SACD, DVD-A and Blu-ray video/audio. It looks similar to the RT-20 and is intended for the home installation market — just like the esteemed RT-20 — with beefy front aluminum faceplate and black cabinet and add-on rack ears, but it is an entirely different player.

Features
The BD-30 is based on a Chinese-made universal player design spec’d by several audio manufacturers. In fact, the well-regarded, made-in-China Oppo BDP-83 (the same electronics as the BD-30) and Oppo BDP-83SE players are based on this design, but they sell via internet dealers for $500 and $900 factory direct.
This Chinese universal player platform is such a fine performing machine that other companies are jumping on the bandwagon and ordering up their own versions. Theta also has a version based on the same player, but with a lot more tweaks.
The Lexicon BD-30, however, is not exactly the same player as the Oppo. The rackmountable Lexicon has a more rigid chassis, thicker housing and a much thicker, noise-dampening aluminum front faceplate. The unit has also been tweaked for THX performance certification (channels levels, crossover frequencies, etc.) for home theater use, but it uses the same Cirrus Logic DAC, transport and power supply as the standard Oppo BDP-83.
The Profile 2.0 player allows Blu-ray live streaming as well as Deep Color video support, 24-frame DVD upconversion, HDMI bitstream output of Dolby True HD, DTS Master HD (up to 7.1 channels), and HDMI bitstream of multichannel DSD. If you choose internal analog conversion, the Lexicon utilizes separate Cirrus Logic DACs for analog stereo and 7.1 multichannel audio. Thus, you can playback your favorite Blu-ray, DVD-A or SACD audio via the analog jacks directly to your favorite preamp or receiver.
The Lexicon even allows high sample rate PCM audio to be transmitted from a DVD-Audio via the SPDIF/TOSlink jacks — up to 24-bit/192 kHz. (More on that later, but I should mention that I was able to digitally back up all my stereo DVD-A stereo tracks with this machine as the source).

The Lexicon even allows high sample rate PCM audio to be transmitted from a DVD-Audio via the SPDIF/TOSlink jacks — up to 24-bit/192 kHz. (More on that later, but I should mention that I was able to digitally back up all my stereo DVD-A stereo tracks with this machine as the source).
Video-wise, the BD-30 utilizes the highly praised Anchor Bay (VRS) video engine, which is excellent in playing 1080P Blu-rays or DVDs with its exceptional DVD upconversion.
The front panel is quite simple with a Play button centered in between four control buttons for Advance, Back, Pause and Stop. Other front-panel buttons include Power and the Tray open/close. The front and rear panels each house a USB 2.0 jack for connecting USB hard drives, thumbdrives, etc. and playing the audio from those drives, including high-res computer audio files.
The back panel contains 7.1 multichannel analog and a separate pair of stereo analog audio jacks, SPDIF RCA and TOSlink connectors, component and composite RCA video jacks and a single-HDMI output. The rear panel also contains a RS-232 port and Ethernet port for network connectivity in an installed configuration. Conspicuously missing from the BD-30, however, are balanced XLR analog stereo jacks and an AES/EBU XLR digital output (standard on the old RT-20). For $3,500 it ought to have ‘em.



The BD-30‘s SACD playback (up to 5.1 channels) is possible from the internal analog converters, or it can be bitstreamed native via HDMI output to a DSD converter onboard a preamp or receiver. The DSD can also be converted to PCM and decoded by internal PCM DAC.
Lossless BD formats such as linear PCM, Dolby True-HD and DTS Master HD can also be bitstreamed through the HDMI to a compatible processor/preamp/receiver, or converted through the internal DACs and transmitted out the analog jacks.

A peek inside
With my trusty Torx wrench, I opened up the Lexicon BD-30 and an Oppo BDP-83SE just to see what the differences were inside. The Chinese-manufactured players are well made — with compact, tidy assembly via multiple boards for video, audio ands power supply. Other than the Cirrus Logic DAC chip (the Oppo BDP-83 standard uses the same chip; the BDP-83SE uses the ESS Saber chip), it looks nearly identical. BTW, both players are designed with 5532 op-amps in the signal path. and the power supply consists of most of the same value parts.


The transport is the same unit in the Oppo, although the BD-30’s heavier cabinet and thick faceplate quiets the transport noise considerably more than the Oppo housing.

Set up
I first installed the BD-30 in my reference home theater system, which includes an Onkyo Pre/Pro processor, Carver amplifiers, Sony XBR4 52-inch LCD, Westlake LC8.1 left/right speakers, Westlake LC2.65 center channel speaker, and NHT One rear surrounds and a Paradigm Reference 15-inch powered subwoofer that I had in for a separate review. For comparison purposes, I also played the same BDs on my reference Pioneer Elite BDP-09FD Pioneer Elite.
Alpha-Core solid silver cables connected the player’s 5.1 analog audio to the Onkyo Pre/Pro preamp, and a Wireworld HDMI cable handled the video (1ft. length). Preamp and BD players were powered through ESP MusicCord Pro AC power cords.
Control-wise, the BD-30 is easy to operate via its external buttons, remote functions and internal menus and controls. It has numerous video and audio setup adjustments accessible by the remote, but the menus are straight forward and intuitive.
Of interest to audiophiles is the Pure Audio mode, in which the video circuitry is turned off for audio listening. Numerous players have this feature, which is claimed to eliminate noise that could contaminate the audio path. I usually don’t hear much of a difference between the two modes, but the player usually runs cooler with the video turned off.
I found the BD-30 extremely fast in its content load times — often getting to the actual movie in under 30 seconds when skipping the previews. The Pioneer is much slower.
During initial setup, I found that the Lexicon lacks speaker level test tones. If you adjust the analog audio level through the internal setup menu, you must use a separate Blu-ray or DVD audio test disc; Lexicon kindly provides a custom Blu-ray test disc for audio and video setup, and of course, most processors and receivers have test tones and level adjustments as well, including Lexicon’s own products.
I liked the factory default video settings for use with the Sony XBR, so I left those alone. I let the LCD and player warm up for about an hour before I began BD viewing. To check out the audio, I popped in the Blu-ray animated movie — Bolt. The first ten minute action sequence has a soundtrack that contains a lot of different sounds from setup background music to lots of car chase scenes with explosions and motion panning. The Lexicon did an excellent job in its conversion of the DTS Master HD soundtrack — with expansive soundfield, smooth transients and kick-ass bass. I also sampled the first Transformer disc and arrived at the same conclusion — home theater audio that does the high-end proud.


The Lexicon did an excellent job in its conversion of the DTS Master HD soundtrack — with expansive soundfield, smooth transients and kick-ass bass. I also sampled the first Transformer disc and arrived at the same conclusion — home theater audio that does the high-end proud.
Overall, the Lexicon’s internal analog path is superb for movie soundtracks. I compared its audio output to the Pioneer Elite BDP-09FD, using the same movies. I thought the Pioneer relayed just a bit more sense of space in the surround effects, but it was splitting hairs to make a preference. Once I stopped comparing, I did not worry about the minute differences.
I also sampled some Blu-ray movies with excellent music soundtracks: The 40th Anniversary Woodstock — The Director’s Cut concert movie (Dolby Tru-HD multitrack) and The Who — Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 (DTS Master HD multitrack and Linear PCM 24/48). Though based on analog masters from 40 years ago, both movies’ high-res soundtracks offered surprisingly detailed music and separation. The BD-30 relayed those soundtracks with a smooth, open quality and excellent transient response for such old recordings. A good example of its transient prowess is the drum cymbals on Joe Cocker’s “Little Help from My Friends” Woodstock performance.
On the video side, after sampling numerous movies, including the excellent transfer of The Shining, Behind Enemy Lines and the animated feature Up, I can say without hesitation that the BD-30 video looks fantastic. In native BD 1080P with standard video presets, I thought the Pioneer looked a little more detailed and resolute, but I tweaked a few video adjustment parameters and got the Lexicon pretty darn close.
Anchor Bay’s (ABT) Video Reference Series (VRS) video processing chip does an amazing great job of upconverting DVD to 1080P; some of the DVDs I watched looked almost Blu-ray like. I think it does a slightly better job up converting DVDs than the Pioneer, though I like the Pioneer’s overall presentation of native BD just a wee bit better.

Audiophile Formats
The BD-30 is a universal player, in that it plays SACDs, DVD-As and high-res PCM files (as well as MP3 and CD quality audio) via the USB drive. At $3,500 it ought to be spectacular. On high-resolution PCM, (YesFragile, George BensonBreezin, QueenThe Game, Talking HeadsLittle Creatures, BeckSeachange, my own acoustic guitar recordings, etc.) I thought the Lexicon’s internally decoded audio (different DAC) was slightly brighter sounding than the BDP-83SE, but it was really hard to tell the difference even under careful A-B.
To see how the Lexicon fared against separate DACs, I fed the high-res digital signal to a Benchmark DAC1-Pre (and later a Lavry DA-10) DAC and Mytek 24/96) and routed the DAC's audio and the internally converted audio to my Coda preamp, which fed a Benchmark headphone amp. I could easily switch back and forth between the two feeds.
For speaker listening, The Coda preamp output audio to a Pass X350.5 amplifier. I listened through Legacy Focus HD-20-20 speakers. Speaker cables and interconnects were Alpha Core solid silver. All components were fed AC via ESP MusicCord Pro Power Cords, which plugged into an ESP Power Strip.
In headphone listening, the BD-30 was damn close to the Benchmark in overall presentation, though on some recordings I noticed an ever so slight increase in treble detail and transient response from the Benchmark. However, I could not easily hear those difference through the speakers.
On SACD, the Lexicon was nearly the equal of my Esoteric DV-50, both were smooth sounding with copious audio detail. The Esoteric, however, presented a slightly wider stereo soundstage that was more apparent with the Legacy speakers. Percussion transients on Steve DavisQuality of You Silence SACD were airy, but smooth. A cut with Steinway Piano sounded nice as well.
Versus the Oppo BDP-83SE, both player’s sound revealed textures in DSD and PCM audio that make them desirable machines for audiophiles, but I gave the edge to the Lexicon, likely because of the Cirrus Logic chip, which I am a fan.

But even keeping in mind the market segment, dealer structure and the support they offer, I believe the Lexicon is still pricey — especially with no XLR connections. In my opinion, the BD-30 should retail for about $2,500 tops, which would put a likely street price of $1,800 to $2,000. Not a bargain, but better. However, at the current retail price, I am seeing street prices of about $2,700 to $2,800. A far cry from $2,000.
My favorite feature on the Lexicon (and on the Oppo) is its ability to output native digital audio from the SPDIF and TOSlink connections. These players will pass 24-bit/96 kHz, 176 kHz or 192 kHz sample rate stereo audio without downsampling to 48 kHz.
The unencumbered digital signals can go directly to a DAC, recorder, etc. Even prerecorded MLP-coded DVD-A stereo tracks passed freely to a DAC or one of my high-res recorders. I was able to make digital backups of out-of-print 24-bit/192 kHz DVD-As, such as EaglesHotel California and REMOut of Time (both 24/192) as well as many others 24/96 DVD-As.

The verdict
Overall, the Lexicon BD-30 is a very good universal player that offers all the features of the latest Blu-ray players, plus playback of audio formats, such as DVD-A and SACD. I really like its upgraded appearance over the Oppos — with thick faceplate and cabinet that mutes the transport noise.
The audiophile sound quality and build can’t be questioned, but what about its value? Other than the cabinet/chassis build upgrade and THX mark, does the $3,000 (over the standard Oppo) get you a better sounding player? Of course not. It is essentially the same player on the inside. The price disparity with the Oppo is the result of a more upscale version of the same player being pushed into a different market segment.
The Lexicon is sold through the traditional CEDIA high-end home theater dealer/installers. According to parent company Harman International, it is priced accordingly with traditional dealer margins, etc. The price also accounts for the dealer support you get when buying a Harman product, a company spokesman said —— support benefits you don’t get with mail order.
It is a fact the more plain-Jane packaged Oppos ($499 and $899) are sold direct without dealer markup, keeping the price extremely low for such quality players. If the standard Oppo BDP-83 or SE were sold through traditional installer/dealers, they would likely sell for $1,000 to $1,500 — putting them closer to the Lexicon price.
But even keeping in mind the market segment, dealer structure and the support they offer, I believe the Lexicon is still pricey — especially with no XLR connections. In my opinion, the BD-30 should retail for about $2,500 tops, which would put a likely street price of $1,800 to $2,000. Not a bargain, but better. However, at the current retail price, I am seeing street prices of about $2,700 to $2,800. A far cry from $2,000.
If you look at the Lexus/Toyota analogy (I am sure Harman is hoping that is the case), there are audiophile/videophiles who will likely spend the extra coin at a dealer to get the classier cabinet/faceplate and Lexicon cachet. Ultimately, the market place will decide.
Price aside, the high-caliber sonics, video — and its ability to pass non-downsampled 24-bit audio output — entitles the BD-30 to a Stellar Sound Award.
For more information, visit www.lexicon.com.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you liked the sound of this better than the Oppo SE, then that must mean you like the sound of the stock Oppo is better than the SE, since there is zero difference between the stock Oppo and the Lexicon. That's pretty hard to believe.