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OPPO DV-980H & OPPO DV-983H Multidisc Players

Oppo vs Oppo!

[Italian version]

Products: OPPO DV-980H & OPPO DV-983H Multidisc players
Manufacturer: OPPO - USA
Cost, approx: OPPO DV-980H/198 Euro - OPPO DV-983H/388 Euro (YMMV)
Reviewer: Geoff Husband - TNT France
Reviewed: January, 2009

[Oppo 983h]

Introduction

This is a first for me - a review of two DVD players. Before you start writing to the editor about h*m* ci**ma I'll add that I don't even own a TV so this is purely 100% an audio review.

But why, you ask, am I therefore reviewing a couple of the dreaded DVD machines. Well it comes because in the hi-fi underground there have been few posts singing the praises of OPPO DVD players when used as purely 2-channel audio players.

In case you've been living on a desert island for the last 15 years, when DVD was launched it was designed not only to replace VHS videotape players, but also the players were capable of replacing dedicated CD players. At a stroke the silver-box count in your living room went down and various sections of the hi-fi press began lauding these new players as hugely superior to their CD predecessors.

Now why do they do that? I mean - it was the same when CD was launched in the first place so you'd think they'd have learnt their lesson, but no - seduced by advertising dollars and steeped in ignorance they decided DVD players were set to wipe dedicated CD players off the planet.

Which was of course garbage and even now if you want to play CD's properly you generally buy a CD player. To muddy the waters we had SACD and DVD audio, both of which are dead in the water, but which produced another raft of players that "played CD's better than a dedicated player" and so on.

I bought a cheapo DVD player a while back but it was predictably useless until I wired it though an offboard DAC and even then an old second-hand budget CD player would have made a better transport. However one thing to mention is that current CD players will almost inevitably use a DVD drive as CD drives become phased out.

But I digress... There are now some very expensive multi-format DVD/CD/SACD etc players out there which I'm told make a decent fist of audio, but here we are right at the other end of the scale, and the buzz on the net was that a budget DVD player was making music.

The DVD player was made by a specialist company called OPPO and the machine in question is their OPPO DV-980H. However, just to muddy the water Oppo have just brought out a player which is supposed to be even better - the DV-983H. Luckily I was sent both, and so here's what I found out...

Construction

[Oppo DV-980 front]

Both players are in full width, slimline metal chassis, and look very much like the bargain basement output of the majors like Toshiba, certainly nothing to hint that there's something special going on. Looking behind both machines does look promising with decent gold plated sockets - of course I only used the red and white one - I know, I'm a Luddite. The use of standard IEC cables rather than a cheapo flying lead looks good at the price too and will allow fanatics to upgrade...

The DV-983h is a bit heavier and has a slightly different control layout, but it's not really different enough to remotely justify the doubling of the price from the DV-980h's 197 Euro to the 983H's DV-388...

There're differences in the internal spec but as it's all mumbo-jumbo to me I think it only fair to point you to their own technical pages The DV-980h And The DV-983h [Oppo DV-983h back] However special mention is made of audio CD output on that page and perhaps the most relevant section is as follows.

"Its digital-to-analog (D/A) converters feature 192kHz high sampling rate and 24-bit resolution. The driving stage uses carefully selected op-amps and capacitors. Each section of the audio circuitry is powered by its own isolated power regulator, and the main power supply unit is electro-magnetically shielded."

Which sounds fine.

So there we have it, simple but not unattractive generic boxes, standard remote control (same for both) and the hint of some thought being put into the sound output.

Sound quality.

Before I go on there is one problem with both players, the typical achingly long disc recognition time that is a feature of all the DVD players I've tried, and a couple of recent CD players that use DVD drives. My old Onkyo will swallow and play a CD in 3 seconds from hitting play, the OPPO's several times that. That said, once the disc is recognised actual track access was surprisingly swift.

I don't have a budget hi-fi set up at the moment and so it was the 980's misfortune to be dropped into a system driven by the SQF amplifier into some monster Opera M15 speakers - the total cost of which was over 50 times that of the poor 980. As a reference I had my Audionote 2-box player - and oldie but still a goodie and probably equivalent to most good 1500 Euro CD players at least.

With such a high-resolution system and pitted against a fine dedicated CD player it was hardly fair to expect too much. But then it's the dream of every hi-fi reviewer (well the independent ones at least) to introduce readers to giant killing kit - why Lucio got so excited over the T-amp some time ago.

But putting on Joni Mitchel's 'Blue' brought me back to ground. Straight away the sound was grey and lifeless, the wonderful warm bass replaced by a rather wooden rendition and a two dimensional soundstage struggling to reach the width of the speakers. Ambience was generally absent.

I know it's not fair but I'd hoped for more. A good period of running on repeat loosened up things a bit, but the time when I was prepared to put up with this level of fidelity are sadly long gone.

Which is all a bit sad, but actually it wasn't a dead loss by any means. I had a couple of budget CD players around, an Onkyo and a Phillips and in their company suddenly the OPPO did begin to make some sort of sense. Both Onkyo and Phillips produced a more textured view of events generally, but the OPPO hit back with slightly better detail retrieval and a lack of harshness that could irritate on the other players at times.

What this means is that if you are running a budget system, which also doubles as your AV system, then there's little point in buying a cheap CD player when the OPPO will do just as good a job and leave an input on your amp free. For those looking for a giant killer the hunt goes on...

Which brings us to the 983H

What came out of this player, given its similarity and shared gene pool with the 980 was quite frankly a revelation. The 983 just sounded so much bigger and warmer. That greyness had gone to be replaced with a level of fidelity that I could live with in that hi-res system. This was totally unexpected. Almost without exception tweeked versions of an established player sound just as you'd expect, a bit better than the original. In this case there was no resemblance.

Not only that but it went head-to-head with the Audionote pairing. Listening critically, the OPPO lacked the energy of the AN (an area which is almost its 'raison d'etre') and could sound a bit flat in back-to-back comparisons, but it always sounded smooth and in control as a result. The tonal pallet was very good for CD and both bass and treble extended with a wall filling soundstage to boot. Would I take it over the old AN? No, but on the other hand, if the AN went 'pop' I'd happily replace it with the OPPO and get on with life. If I'd owned the 980 (or a typical cheap CD player) I'd just stop listening to CD's.

So one happy reviewer, because though I don't have a raft of 400 Euro CD players to hand, I'd be surprised if many of them came close to the OPPO.

Conclusion

So here we have a budget DVD player in the 980 that will happily take on a similarly priced CD player and let you watch re-runs of the X-factor as well. The 983H is a very different beast, a player worthy of consideration in a quality hi-fi system in it's own right. As it is such a good source maybe it'll turn on some AV fans to stereo as they find their CD's sounding better than they ever expected - here's hoping.

systems used

Copyright 2009 Geoff Husband - www.tnt-audio.com

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