Oppo has been garnering glowing reviews across the globe for its line of Blu-Ray players, which we have enthusiastically reviewed in the past. Each iteration of hardware from Oppo doesn't simply introduce radical new features, rather each one offers refinements that enhance previous models. The BDP-103 and BDP-105 up the ante with revisions to just about every subsystem, and we wondered how the new models measured up.
Before I begin my discussion of the new Oppo units, I'd like to detour for a moment and mention a new line of AV Receivers by a large manufacturer. When I first met with this company during CES I was perplexed because I couldn't get a handle on the naming sequence, the product matrix, feature sets, or meaning of their higher end branding versus normal product due to the breadth of their product line and the overlapping of features. The same problems don't face Oppo customers; Oppo has two - count ‘em, two - products. Well actually, three but one is a tweak of one of the two (the BD-103) with Darbee video processing. We can safely say that Oppo isn’t trying to emulate a large company, opting for a small but mighty model. But a large product matrix isn’t indicative of great products; great products come from creativity and innovation, and by that measure Oppo has it in spades.
The list of included components for both the BDP-103 and BDP-105 units is impressive and is detailed on the Oppo site, so need to reiterate them here, but suffice to say there are few units in their price range that match the feature set and high-quality of build and components. The BDP-103 is aimed at a home theater user with both HDMI and access to discrete analog multi-channel inputs. The 7.1 outputs can fully support audio up to 192kHz 24bit without downsampling, and the 7.1 outputs can be down-mixed for home stereo use. This compares with the BD-105 that has a dedicated set of stereo outputs, as well as 7.1 outputs. Since many AV receivers are now lacking multichannel analog inputs but still have stereo analog inputs even a moderately priced system can take advantage of the excellent stereo analog audio output from both units, with the BD-105 aimed an higher-end audio solution.
At the $500 price point, the BDP-103 is certainly higher then many competent Blu-Ray players in a big-box store, but those don't boast the impeccable audio or video credentials of the Oppo. With the advent of 4K resolution displays on the horizon, if not already in the backyard, these are capable of upscaling a 4K signal. The BDP-103 is best utilized for connection with HDMI although the stereo analog stage is first-rate in our listening tests. Both the BD-103 and BD-105 have refined their user interface and it more polished than before. Users can control them through a dedicated app for the iOS, and Android platforms, and both apps worked well. The players need to be attached to a network (although I can't imagine any consumer would use them without a network connection) and a wireless adapter is provided. Of course, both units offer 2D to 3D conversion, as well as full 3D capability. And they boast up-to-date Dolby and DTS decoding solutions, as well as SACD, DVD-A, DSD, and just about any format you can throw at them.
The units seemed more responsive to commands from the remote compared to earlier units. The GUI scrolled more smoothly, and built-in apps like Netflix seemed to load faster and were more responsive to moving through the menu options. The graphics have been refined, and are more elegant, while the remotes are similar to earlier models, which worked well with a solid, practical design. One noticeable fix - earlier units tended be a bit finicky with the angle of view for the remote to the deck. This is no longer a problem and I was able to be off-axis and the remote still worked fine. It's the small fixes that often are most noticed!
The overall industrial design is similar, which is a good thing given the quiet, no-nonsense elegance of the last generation. The BD-105 is about an inch taller than the BD-103, with more room on the back panel for the multi-channel output jacks, and room for the headphone jack on the front. The BD-105 incorporates the highly regarded ESS SABRE32 Reference ES9018 Audiophile DAC from ESS Technology and is considered to be among the best performing 32-bit audio DAC solutions on the market. So, serious engineering chops from the beginning.
The headphone jack is an important addition to the BD-105. I've grown to love the BD-105 for the jack and headphone amplifier, and it points toward an important distinction on the direction of products like this. Previously, I might have used an output DAC, possibly with a headphone amp, plus a preamp, and other bits of gear. With the BD-105, I can simply load a disc into the player, or load my digital audio files onto a USB hard drive, plug into either the front or rear jack, or use DNLA source over the network, and use a pair of headphones or earphones with the built-in amp. The headphone amp feeds directly from the DACs, eliminating cables, noise, extra equipment or expense, and voila, an entire media center capable of playing just about any file, format, source, and outputting directly to a high-quality headphone jack.
In reviewing high-bit FLAC and DSD titles from Society of Sound, HD Tracks, Linn Records, Blue Coast Records, or Cedille Records, the BD-105 paired with the recently released Audio-Technica ATH-AD900X headphones, whose combination of air, solid bass, and smooth response was revealed without any coloration or bias by the BD-105, and the ease with which it handled even the most complex audio files was exemplary. I thought that the BD-105’s headphone amp might not handle difficult to drive headphones, but it proved up to the task without any trace of clipping. I was especially struck as I listened to the recently remastered Crosby, Stills, and Nash debut title from HD Tracks - it full of surprises, and the excellent remastering revealed the air in the room, with a solid bass full of nuance and grit. This superb title really came to life on the BD-105.
The only thing I missed on the new units, was a headphone jack for the BD-103, and the ability to use an older CRT TV or display with the units, as they have eliminated the analog video ability in order to meet the new rules regarding the use of HDMI. So, if you have that old display laying around or CRT, and hoped to use it as a display you are a bit out of luck. There is a diagnostic analog video jack that can be used to some degree, but not with DVDs or DVD-Audio discs, so you might as well recycle your old non-digital displays. One other feature that I think that is interesting is the ability to input HDMI from outside sources including your set top box, allowing you to take advantage of the superior video processing offered by the Oppo and actually improve the video quality. Neat, huh?
Another distinction held by the BD-105 that might escape your attention is the incorporation of an Asynchronous DAC, so that you can use the unit as a full-fledged standalone DAC with the source materials of your choosing. This feature alone should cause more than a few DAC vendors to take notice, since it allows the owner of a BD-105 to eliminate another unit from the signal path. Their upcoming standalone HA-1 DAC and headphone amp, as well as their PM-1 Planar Magnetic headphones planned for release in 2014 takes this to a new level. With so many of Oppo's customers choosing their flagship products for audio quality as primary, this new unit will address the customer whose files live on hard drives or the network as opposed to optical media, but the genesis of these upcoming products seems to have startd life in the feature set of the BD-105. We look forward to testing those units.
The picture quality is quite superb, so distinguishing a difference between the previous models and the new ones is almost impossible, since video has been one of Oppo's strong points since their introduction. The future impact of 4K displays will ultimately be hard to predict, but my hunch is that they will prove more successful then the 3D push. Think about it this way: Apple's Retina Display made everything look better, even the non-optimized content, and when coupled with high-res content, they looked even better. Because both the BD-103 and BD-105 are designed to accommodate 4K display devices, they should be somewhat future proof in that regard. That they meet the specification now is testament to their engineering concerns. I was a bit confused on this point and Oppo provided this clarification. “The players cannot internally decode 4K content. 4K is only available via up-scaling. This is because the current generation of the Blu-ray decoder chip does not have the 4K H.265 decoder hardware built-in.”
One area that sets Oppo apart from competing companies is their customer service. Considering the size of the company, it was surprising (but pleasing) to see Consumer Reports include Oppo in their ratings, which earned top marks up against far larger competitors. Yes, more expensive, but a small company that cares for its customers can deliver a positive customer service experience, especially in a time when that seems to the first thing to be curtailed by larger companies. When I discussed Oppo with colleagues, friends, and installers, all said the same thing: they loved their units, loved the company, and looked forward to finding an excuse to purchase their new models. We couldn't agree more.
Both the Oppo BDP-105 and BDP-103 Universal Blu-ray Disc Players are superb units. If you don't need the headphone jack and full-suite of audiophile class stereo analog outputs, the BDP-103 will satisfy the needs of even the most demanding home theater user. If you’re looking for a fully featured audiophile class machine with dedicated analog stereo output using its own dedicated DACs, as well as analog surround sound outputs (also with their own dedicated DACs), and a first-rate audiophile grade headphone amp and output stage, then the BDP-105 will meet the demands of the most demanding audiophile systems. Oh, in case I forget, the 105 is available in either black or silver!
During last fall's Axpona (Audio Expo North American) show in Chicago, I wasn't surprised to see that in the minds of many audiophiles, price is no object as long as it is in the stratosphere, yet the reasonably priced BDP-105 was at the heart of many systems. There are other manufacturers who purchase the BD-105, move the innards to a new box, tweak them a bit, and charge more, but from my listening tests, the difference, if any, was subjective at best, and I couldn't really discern a difference. In the final analysis, the 105 is so good and so versatile, the question isn't whether you should consider the 105 for your system, but rather after you purchase it, what gear will you no longer need to own or use. The Oppo BDP-105 and BDP-103 Universal Blu-ray Disc Players both come enthusiastically recommended without any reservations whatsoever. Once again Oppo raises the bar without even looking they broke a sweat. Bravo!
Harris Fogel, Posted 11/26/13
For more information on the Oppo BDP-105 and BDP-103 Universal Blu-ray Disc Players visit: www.oppodigital.com
For more information on the Audio-Technica ATH-AD900X Headphones visit: http://www.audio-technica.com/
For more information on HD Tracks visit: www.hdtracks.com
For more information on the Society of Sound visit: www.bowers-wilkins.com/Society_of_Sound
For more information on Linn Records visit: www.linnrecords.com
For more information on Blue Coast Records visit: www.bluecoastrecords.com
For more information on Cedille Records visit: www.cedillerecords.org