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OPPO BDP-105 universal player

[Oppo BDP-105 front view]

Great sounding multi-talented digital replay machine

[Italian version]

Product: BDP-105EU Blu-ray player
Manufacturer: OPPO, USA
Cost: £1000
Reviewer: Maarten van Casteren - TNT UK
Reviewed: September, 2013

OPPO is a big name in DVD and Blu-ray players. They have a tremendous reputation for affordable quality and innovation. OPPO players are manufactured in China and distributed in USA by OPPO Digital and in the UK and the rest of Europe by OPPO BD UK Ltd. OPPO have been making high value, high quality DVD and Blu-ray players for years, and these have been reviewed very positively here, and here on TNT before. Don't let yourself be put off by the fact that OPPO call this a Blu-ray player: I've called it a 'universal' player in the title, and not without good reason. I could have also called it a DAC, an (SA)CD player or a streamer.

That is because the OPPO is much, much more than just a Blu-ray player. It will play CDs, SACDs, DVDs, DVD-Audio discs and even has a full set of digital inputs to be used as a DAC. There's optical and coaxial digital in, network input for DLNA streaming, asynchronous USB and even two HDMI inputs. Additionally, you can plug in a USB disc and play the content from that. In short, the OPPO is a complete media centre solution and will basically play (almost) everything you can throw at it. Amazing.

The BDP-105 replaces the BDP-95 and is basically an audiophile version of the OPPO BDP-103 Blu-ray player. It shares the same design, but has a bigger case and an additional dedicated two-channel audio board to satisfy our audiophile desires. It also adds the full DAC input facilities and lacks the fan that's present in the 103: the 105 is cooled passively, and silently instead. The BDP-105 indeed is completely quiet in operation, with even the transport not making an audible noise while playing a disc.

The casework is good, and the player as a whole has a quality feel about it. High-end it's not, but it is certainly more than adequate and well put together. Packaging is excellent too, and the 105 comes complete with an HDMI lead and a USB wireless network adaptor. The remote is a more or less standard plastic one, but works well and seems sturdy enough. Setting up is done interactively on screen and is simple and clear, especially since the manual is quite good too.

[Oppo BDP-105 rear view]

The OPPO uses two ESS Sabre32 9018 Reference DACs, one for the 7.1 multichannel outputs, and another one on the 2-channel board for the stereo audiophile outputs, which come in single ended RCA as well as balanced XLR. In addition, the audiophile board also provides a good quality headphone output. It is mainly this stereo board that justifies the extra cost for the 105, compared to the 103. For ultimate audio performance the OPPO even features a 'pure audio' mode, switchable with a dedicated button on the remote, where all video circuitry is switched off to prevent interference. I cannot say I heard a big difference, but I still used it all the time: it's only a press of the button, after all.

One advantage of using the Sabre DACs is that they have the option of digitally attenuating the output, basically providing a fully digital volume control. Now, if you are alarmed by this then let me explain before you dismiss the whole idea immediately. When a digital signal is attenuated in the digital domain, this just means we reduce the numeric value of each sample. Simple enough. But, that must mean we then lose resolution, doesn't it? It certainly would if you did it in the 16 bit world of CD, but the trick is that the Sabre DAC converts everything to 32 bit, and only then attenuates. Every extra bit gives you 6dB of extra headroom, so the additional 16 bits will theoretically give you a whopping 96dB of extra dynamic range. Obviously, you will get closer to the electronic's noise floor when you start attenuating the signal that much, but Sabre claim a signal to noise ratio of 120dB for these DACs, so you should be able to turn the volume down by a good 20 or 30dB before you run into the first hint of trouble. This means that, as long as you don't attenuate by more than that, you should have a virtually perfect preamp in the OPPO, enabling you to drive your power amp directly. And even if the signal is degraded a little bit: remember that a traditional analogue preamp isnít perfect either.

Obviously, this preamp functionality will only work with digital sources, as the OPPO doesnít have an analogue input, but as long as you don't need that, you should be perfectly set up with the OPPO. The volume can be set in 100 steps, of 0.5dB each, from the remote control. The OPPO will remember the last volume setting you used, even if the mains power was removed, so you should always be safe, even though I think it is probably wise to check the initial volume setting before you hit 'play' on that AC/DC disc, but again, the same is true for an analogue preamp.

Apps

OPPO provide two apps for the BDP-105: a Remote Control app and a Media Control app. Both are available for Android and Apple iOS. The remote control app is of limited use, as it just copies the physical remote control, without adding any functions. The Media Control app is more interesting. For starters, it includes the Remote Control functionality so you donít need to have both apps on your phone or tablet. It also enables you to play files from an attached USB disc. I tried it on my iPad with a 64GB USB flash disc plugged straight into the back of the OPPO, and this worked very well indeed. The Media Control app is quite basic, but reasonably quick to respond and robust, which is all I need. Sadly, it cannot play files from an attached NAS using DLNA. The OPPO can do this using the screen interface and remote, so it is a bit disappointing not to have this on the app. A real problem is the fact that the app, or the player, cannot play gapless. This can be very annoying with continuous recordings that are split into separate tracks. There will now always be a gap of about half a second between each track. It would be great if this could be improved. Another small point of criticism is the volume control on the Media Control app: it is a slider which is far too small for precise volume adjustment. It would be far, far better, to just have an 'up' and 'down' button combined with a simple numeric volume indication. I now always switch to the remote control part of the app, press the 'up' or 'down' button there, and then check the volume on the player's display. This should not be necessary! Finally, I have also had some connection issues with the Media Control app: sometimes you need to restart the app, or even switch the player off and on again to make things work. Once it is connected, it works fine.

[Oppo BDP-105 inside view]

In use

There's one disadvantage to having all these options: operating the OPPO becomes a bit more complicated than just hitting 'Play'. Sometimes this can be annoying: for example, when a digital input is selected you can still open the drawer and put a disc in it, but the machine will not respond to 'Play' until you've changed the input to 'Blu-ray player'. And without a telly attached, or when the telly is off, it can be difficult to know where you are and which button to press. Playing DVD-Audio discs can be problematic too, with most playing the 5 channel mix by default, which is not what I want. Playing CDs and SACDs is very easy, though, so this can be used as a stand-alone (SA)CD player / preamp without problems. In my room, with the speakers next to the telly the sound isn't very good, so I have my stereo on the other side of the room. I just bought a cheap 6m HDMI lead to connect it to the telly and that worked fine. Don't let anybody tell you that you need to spend a lot of money on an HDMI lead.

One annoying thing is that the sound of file replay is always interrupted when the OPPO connects to an HDMI input or output. Even when the connected telly is just switched on, with another source selected than the OPPO, audio replay is interrupted for half a second or so while HDMI connects. This does not happen with disc replay.

I also experimented with a terminator for the coaxial digital output. This likes to see a 75ohm load, and can sometimes be noisy when left open. Since it is located directly under the audiophile stereo board the effect could be bigger than usual. I tried this and indeed could hear a very slight improvement in the sound. I left it in for the duration of the review.

The sound

I'm going to be very old fashioned here and first review the BDP-105 as if it's just a simple CD player. I'm doing that for three reasons. First, TNT is a two channel site, we don't do multi-channel audio. Second, I don't have a good quality Blu-ray or SACD player to compare it to, so I cannot really tell you how well it is performing in those areas. Third, and I think most importantly, the ability to play CD's well is still the first priority for me, as I'm sure it is for many others. I wouldn't care how well it did all the other things, if it could not match a good quality CD player when playing a CD, it would not cut the mustard for me. The machine is also too expensive to have as an 'additional' player for Blu-ray or SACD, at least for me. This is the special audiophile version, after all, so it will have to perform with the good old CD. For this reason I'm also going to restrict myself mostly to the audiophile stereo outputs.

I started with the 105 plugged into my Django preamp by its single ended phono outputs, parallel to my Astin Trew At3500+ and it didn't disappoint. The 105 sounds confident and comfortable, even compared to the more expensive, dedicated CD player it was up against. Bass especially is strong and exposes the Astin Trew as somewhat soft in the lower regions. The top end, on the other hand, was stronger with the Astin Trew and in comparison the OPPO seemed to be a little more laid back in the treble, perhaps even rolled of. The overall sound is therefore on the warm side and very well composed. It's an easy sound to listen too, while still not making the impression you are missing anything, really, as resolution in general is very good. And it is a sound that will never irritate or make you tired. Basically, the OPPO is never putting a foot wrong. The Astin Trew, on the other hand, has a bit more refinement and a wonderful, silky top end that still produces more air than the OPPO.

There's a feeling of consistency and solidity to the OPPO's sound. It almost sounds 'safe', were it not for the fact that it actually has great drive and pace, so it certainly does not sound slow or boring at all. Transients in particular are dealt with very well. It might lack that last little bit of bite, or crispness at the top end, but it still is a very articulated sound with a tuneful and well textured bass and great transparency in the midrange. What the OPPO especially manages to do exceedingly well is to sound coherent and natural. Even if this could be perceived as coming at the cost of the last little bit of 'air', it still convinces you that this is a completely valid way of presenting things. Other players can actually sound a bit 'oversharpened' and disjoined in comparison. There's just an effortlessly unprocessed quality about the OPPO's sound that works very well with live recordings and voices. The powerful bottom end and crystal clear transient handling also work very well with piano, adding to the scale and impact.

But there's more to the OPPO than just single ended output into a preamp. To start with, we can also use the balanced outputs with the Django. They are clearly louder, making a direct comparison with single ended trickier, but on the whole I had the impression that the balanced output had a little bit more drive and impact, and slightly more top end as well. I preferred them, but by a small margin. Still, the Astin Trew, which only has single ended outputs, managed to stay in front of the BDP-105, even if the difference is somewhat reduced when using the OPPO's balanced outputs.

So, the OPPO manages to not disgrace itself against the Astin Trew, even if the CD player wins the day in the end with its more open, refined and engaging sound. The differences are small, I have to add, and both players have their strong points. I could easily live with either player, which is high praise indeed for the OPPO, as it is the more affordable player, by far.

[Oppo BDP-105 inputs]

Things get really interesting when we dispose of the Django preamp altogether and simply plug the OPPO straight into my Unity Audio Rock active speakers. Initially I had to turn down the volume on the OPPO to 20 or 30 out of a possible 100, which sounded a little bit grainy and left the music sounding slightly bleached out and mechanical. But then I realised I could turn down the sensitivity on the Rock speakers and that worked a lot better. Now the sound really came alive, with even more drive and power than through the Django. Used like this, especially through the balanced connections, the sound is truly wonderful and probably the best digital replay I've had in my system. Going back to the Django, and/or the Astin Trew, now sounds a little bit blurry, slightly constrained and somewhat less interesting. With lesser recordings the Astin Trew and Django combination still has the advantage, by the way, as the sound is just that little bit softer than the OPPO in direct mode, and this can make things more bearable. The smoothness of the CD player, combined with the slightly softer presentation of the transformer preamp still makes perfect sense to me and sounds great, but there's no denying that the OPPO costs much, much less than the two other components combined, and outperforms them on most material.

I also compared the OPPO to a friend's Naim CD5 player in his Naim system. The CD5 had the benefit of a FlatCap power supply, and we know this to be an excellent source. The CD5 also had the advantage of the DIN connection, which Naim prefer, while the OPPO had to make do with its single ended outputs. The OPPO had more drive and punch in the bass, which was surprising as this is usually a strong point with Naim, but it clearly lacked some top end sparkle compared to the CD5. It will depend on the rest of your system and your preferences if this is a problem. If you like an airy and crisp sound, then the OPPO might not be your cup of tea in this Naim context.

Other features

OK, OK, it will play SACD, DVD-Audio, HD files and even HDCDs, so I should say something about this too, perhaps. On the whole the OPPO sounds very consistent, whatever disc you feed it, but the higher resolution formats, like SACD and DVD-Audio, do add something to the party. It is mostly a feeling of even more effortlessness and even more engagement that I experienced. It is not a world apart from CD replay, but the difference can be worthwhile, given a very good recording, obviously. Especially SACD seems to sound a bit more 'analogue' than the other formats, but it is entirely possible that these differences are just a result of the SACD having a different master. Under most circumstances I was very happy with the standard CD replay, very happy indeed.

One feature that makes a real difference, more than HD recordings, is replay from USB disc. I just inserted a USB flash drive in the back, and this then shows up in the 'Music' section of the OPPO's menu. An even better way to play these files is with the iPad or Android 'Media Control HD' app, as discussed before. Tracks can be selected quite easily and the sound quality is excellent. File replay sounds superior to CD replay and made the speakers disappear more than even SACD. USB drives are getting really cheap, so this might actually be one of the best ways to use the OPPO for music replay. It certainly is the way to go if you want the best possible sound quality from the BDP-105. There's more depth to the sound, and even less digital edge or other artefacts. The same is also true for DLNA streaming, by the way. DLNA and USB replay are so good that it actually becomes a little bit frustrating to listen to a disc, even a SACD or DVD-A, as it never sounds as good as file replay and makes you thinks you should rip all your discs, which is problematic with SACD and DVD-Audio. It is certainly not the case that disc replay sounds bad, not at all, but file replay simply sounds better.

And, let's not forget it's a Blu-ray player as well. It did a good job playing Blu-ray discs on my 50 inch Samsung plasma telly, but it wasn't really better than my cheap Samsung Blu-ray player. The big difference came when playing DVDs. These look awful when played on the Samsung, but looked much, much better on the OPPO. It was mostly the absence of artefacts, which were very obvious on the Samsung player, but almost completely gone with the OPPO. The result was a much smoother and more natural picture, with more depth and flow.

Modifications

Because of their relatively low price and technical potential, all OPPO players have always been very popular with people who like to modify their audio. There are already at least half a dozen companies that will modify your OPPO BDP-105 for you, sometimes at prices that exceed the cost of the original player. Most modifications focus on power supply, output stage and/or clock. I had a look inside and noticed electrolytic capacitors in the output and couldn't help wondering what the difference would be if these would be replace by a pair of film capacitors. As I decided to purchase the review sample, this then became a real option. Just before publication of this review I actually did put in a couple of Hovland Supercap film capacitors and, even if is early days, I can report a worthwhile improvement in sound quality. I will need to do more listening, and I'll also try one or two more mods, probably, and then write another review on this at a later date. Keep checking TNT Audio, and not just for that.

Conclusion

Although this is a machine that can do much, much more than just play a CD, my main interest lies with CD replay and in this respect the OPPO performs very well. If this would be just a CD player, it would already be quite decent value, sonically, although my Astin Trew is still a bit better. It does sound a bit rolled off at the top end, but is absolutely brilliant in all other areas. It is also fantastic as a Blu-ray player, and as a Media centre. Move to balanced outputs and the sound becomes even better, but for the best results the OPPO needs to be plugged into your power amp directly, using the digital volume control. Hooked up like this it becomes a fantastic and great sounding multi-talented digital replay machine. The only slight criticism remains that lack of top end sparkle, but that's more a question of taste than a real problem. Highly recommended.

© Copyright 2013 Maarten van Casteren - www.tnt-audio.com

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