A couple of years ago we reviewed a universal CD/DVD player, the OPPO 980H. At that time, we wrote that: “Audiophiles are a tough bunch to please. If you’ve ever walked into the showroom of a high-end audio store, you would be hard pressed to find systems priced less than ten grand at the low-end. Naturally, the secret desire of most audiophiles is that bargain system that sounds as good as those outrageously priced ones. While it’s a bit of an impossible dream, when an affordable product emerges that deserves serious consideration, then an underground whispering campaign begins.” We followed by writing, “Oppo is unique in that as it only offers a few products, and those products are thought out very carefully. They sell direct, without the middleman overhead, and the units are astonishingly good, especially for the price point.”
Does this evaluation still hold up today? We spent several months putting OPPO’s new Blu-ray player to the test. And after throwing every possible disc, content, and format at the OPPO BDP-83 Blu-ray player we can state that they still offer great sound at a budget price, with a strong feature set in a well built product.
The OPPO BDP-83 Blu-ray player was the first Blu-ray offering from the company and, according to Jason Liao of OPPO, the challenge of creating a new product in an entirely new format was not a light undertaking. A few decades ago, we witnessed the introduction of the compact disc format, which was criticized from the start for the cold sterile sound of the CDs, a lack of a believable sound space, and a bit rate that shortchanged the original recordings musicality and accuracy. This wasn’t just the opinion of rarefied audiophiles, but also of the general public who loved the ease of use, yet noticed that some CDs just didn’t sound “right;” in the years that followed, consumers saw the widespread understanding of the “Newly Remastered” label driving what is left of traditional music sales, which seemed to embrace that consumers were aware and sought better sound.
While many serious listeners embraced the release of SACD and DVD-Audio formats, finally unleashing what digital audio was capable of, those formats never really took off, and the fact that we once again had a VHS vs. Beta format war didn’t help. Still, the audio quality was often superb with the right equipment. A few manufacturers introduced “Universal” players that would read just about any disc out there. These units ranged in price from $100 to thousands of dollars. Enter folks like OPPO whose goal was not only to create units that offered high-quality video, but to also pay serious attention to sonics and audio.
Blu-ray offered yet another holy grail – a single, high-resolution, high capacity format with tremendous flexibility, that could be all things to all people. Unfortunately for the first couple years of the formats’ rollout, the players seemed to be focused on the video aspect, and the few units that took the audio seriously were expensive units, beyond the reach of most consumers, and dare I say it, less fanatical audiophiles. I heard multiple players that were OK; video was great, but audio was just acceptable. Not bad, but not great. So when OPPO introduced the BDP-83 Blu-ray, SACD, and DVD-Audio player for $499.00 dollars it made waves.
The BDP-83 can play just about every format, from the expected Blu-ray capability, to standard CD and DVD formats, but including SACD, DVD-Audio, HDCD, Kodak Picture CD, AVCHD, MKV, and other audio/video/picture files on recorded discs or USB drives can be played back on the BDP-83.
This capability means that even that HDCD disc sitting on your shelf for years will suddenly benefit, and with Blu-ray providing the option of 24-bit non-compressed audio, this is a simple solution to the format wars. This wouldn’t be a Blu-ray player if the video didn’t measure up, and the use of VRS™ by Anchor Bay Video Reference Series (VRS) technology delivers a clean, accurate picture that is free of artifacts. We tested a variety of content including old, somewhat scratched DVDs, Blu-ray, and fresh DVDs and nothing seemed to bother it, with video playing cleanly. The promised up-conversion capability resulted in a picture that provided a smooth reference to Blu-ray video. I tested the same titles on DVD and Blu-ray and while the Blu-ray was demonstrably sharper and more detailed, it wasn’t as dramatic as I expected. Viewing animation titles from Pixar, DreamWorks SKG, and Sony/Imageworks really showed off the Blu-ray stability with rock solid imagery with no jitter or artifacts.
What really interested me was the audio capability. With both a digital HDMI and analog output stage, the user has the option of leveraging either depending upon their receiver or pre-amplifier choice. I tried the unit with both, but since the HDMI decoding is highly dependent upon the AV Receiver, I concentrated on the analog stage. When we reviewed the 980H we noted that it was mighty crowded back there with all the analog cables running out, so it was a welcome change to have a slightly larger back panel easing the congestion. The back panel is cleanly organized, with high-quality fittings and jacks. The front panel continues OPPO’s minimal design aesthetic, for a clean elegant appearance. The backlit remote control is easy to use, and well built. One nice surprise is that our Logitech Harmony 700 remote, which had been programmed for the 980H, worked perfectly with the BDP-83 with no need to reprogram. As convenient as the Logitech Harmony is, I found us keeping the OPPO remote close by for easier control.
Was the audio quality better then the 980H? Better playing standard CDs, or DVD-Audio? The short answer is yes. The bass is more detailed, and the high end is cleaner and crisper without sounding brittle. Keep in mind that I think that the 980H sounds quite good, and still a good buy for a non Blu-ray player. While the 980H is no longer in production, OPPO introduced the BDP-80 at $289.00 and according to OPPO it carries forth the audio section from the DV-983H. When I asked Jason Liao about this his reply was that: “Our Blu-ray players indeed sound better than the DVD players. This applies to playing CD, DVD-A and SACD. We put a lot of attention to the audio section design and applied all the experience we learned from the DVD players. The BDP-80 uses basically the same audio section as our DV-983H. The BDP-83 and -83SE uses flagship DACs from Cirrus and ESS.”
With all the variables in audio, great components do not guarantee great sound, but Jason’s statement proved true in testing. With Blu-ray’s video section often garnering the attention, there was a definite improvement over the earlier units, yet with added functionality, ability to read Blu-ray disks, and still at an affordable price point. The build quality of the units has consistently been high, and competes with other higher priced components from other companies.
Neil Young’s Archive Volume I box set in Blu-ray provided an ideal demonstration of the “Newly Remastered” claim, with superb sonics. I compared the audio using the full 24-bit non-compressed audio, as well as lower sampling rates, and surprisingly, the difference wasn’t as dramatic as I expected, but was a subtle, smoother, and more natural revelation. I can't reliably chalk this up to the higher bit rate, since I tend to agree with tests that have revealed how difficult if not impossible it is to detect properly mastered high-bit from low-bit audio. I can't tell if the unit's analog section was responsible over the decoding via the receiver, but either way a carefully remastered project as represented by this set is revelatory. The only thing missing from the box set was the superb DVD-Audio surround mix for Young’s Harvest album by Elliott Mazer. OPPO provided a set of demonstration discs including Dolby’s Sound of High Definition II and The Nordic Sound’s 2L Audiophile Reference Recordings disc. Both are Blu-ray discs and once again the playback and sonics were excellent.
There is always discussion of the merits of different recording technologies, with the Nordic Sound disc offering high-resolution stereo, as well as Sony’s DSD encoding and PCM, while the Dolby disc not surprisingly offered Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD. I played the disks on a more expensive player from another manufacturer as a comparison and the BDP-83 distinguished itself with a tighter richer bass, more present and musical mid-range and vocals, while the high end exhibited a smooth, smear less transition till it trailed off. Early last year they introduced a completely reworked version, the BDP-83 SE, which promised even more definition, especially in the analog. We hope to review that in the near future which will provide an ideal platform to compare the differences.
Setup of the unit was easy, guided by a cleanly designed on-scen GUI, and the Internet connection setup was painless. It sports two USB 2.0 ports, one in the front and one in the back. We used the rear port with a 2gb flash drive for BD-Live storage, and the one in front to play back audio and movie files. We think that most folks would use the rear port as we do, since you don't need to have a USB drive sticking out of the front all the time. We recommend a 4gb drive in the rear, since it can fill quickly. This is especially true with the Neil Young box set which starts downloading content at first play. I do want to mention the documentation. With the globalization of manufacturing, most manufacturers provide documentation that is most likely a translation from another language. Not so the manual for the BDP-83 which is clean, precise, with clear illustrations. Well written and designed, it's a nice surprise!
Compliance with the BD Profile 2.0 was demonstrated by the Neil Young box set, which was designed from the start for such interactive content, making BD-Live possible. One area of improvement for the unit would be the integration of built-in Wi-Fi. I tested with a direct-wired connection, and with an ASUS WL-330g_M Wireless Bridge Kit, which most folks know by the “Wireless gaming adapter” name. It worked like a charm, and in a few moments I had a stable wireless connection. Still, it would be nice to see this integrated into the unit.
For my final set of tests I used conventional CDs since only a few existing titles have or will probably ever be released on Blu-ray, so the units’ sound with what we already have in our library is critical. John Mellencamp’s splendid new 4-disc box set, On the Rural Route 7609, was an ideal source to judge this. The content ranged from analog content early in his career to recently digitally recorded material. Mellencamp's populist political and musical stance has grown and wandered into a definable style, so much so that if one remembers his early “Johnny Cougar” work morph into his current work carrying on the tradition of Woody Guthrie, it’s a fascinating journey, both in approach but in musicality. The CDs sounded warm and convincing on the unit. As his career grew, so did his acoustic work and the BDP-83 handled that transition with grace. Soundstage has always been important, but in the case of acoustic work, the ambience of the room, instruments, and vocals are given a front and center position, so the coloration or lack of is quickly apparent, and in this the unit didn’t disappoint.
For the audiophile seeking wonderful sound on a budget, or a home theater owner looking for exemplary video performance coupled with a noticeable upgrade in sonics, the OPPO BDP-83 comes highly recommended. The holy grail of affordable high quality audio and video is getting closer than we think!
Harris Fogel, Posted 9/11/2010
For more information on the OPPO BDP-83 visit: www.oppodigital.com
For more information on John Mellencamp's On Rural Route 7609 visit: www.mellencamp.com