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July 2017
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Best Audiophile Product Of 2017 Blue Note Award
OPPO UDP-205 Hi-Res Music & 4k Ultra HD Audiophile Blu-ray Disc Player
A truly outstanding high–end audio and video player at real–world pricing.
Review By Leonard Norwitz

 

OPPO UDP-205 Hi-Res Music & 4k Ultra HD Audiophile Blu-ray Disc Player Review

 

  So satisfied have I been with my OPPO BDP-95 that, when news and early viewings of what was called "4K" came along a few years ago, I was not among the infected. Looking at LED displays of "live" and digital file content a year later didn't argue for its adoption any better – not by me, anyway – nor did reports of improved color space. What may have been missing from what I saw at home whetted not my appetite. I was happy. My home theatre guests were happy.

My one issue of concern that the OPPO BDP-95 (reviewed here) did not address that the next generation BDP-105 did was audio/video lip sync, which was so far off in some instances that it made watching a frustrating experience. All the same, I skipped the 105 since I understood the audio section was not significantly upgraded.

So now we have the UDP-205, the "audiophile" version of the UDP-203 that was introduced to acclaim late last year. (I rather like OPPO's curious, but consistent nomenclature.) As with the 93/95 and the 103/105, we must ask if the extra $750 is worth the specified improvements in the audio section, since the video performance for the 203 and 205 is the same. The following does not address this question directly, but inferentially, since many potential buyers have an earlier audiophile OPPO BDP model and have waited until now to consider an upgrade. So, comparisons here will not be between the UDP-203 and 205, but between earlier "5's" and the new one. In this respect, the short answer for those of us who value good audio performance is: YES! If previous experience holds, the cost difference is very much worth it – even more so than with the previous pairings.

 

Product Description And Upgrades
OPPO states that the UDP-205's "reference level sound quality" derives from its superb DAC's, especially for the dedicated stereo output, improved clock precision of the HDMI audio output and increased power for the player's built-in headphone amplifier. OPPO maintains that its upgraded HDMI clock includes circuitry that significantly reduces jitter and eliminates timing errors at the audio-only HDMI output whilst improving the sound of PCM and DSD signals. Furthermore, the compressed bitstream audio may also see improved audio performance depending on whether the audio decoder in the AV processor or receiver uses a synchronous or asynchronous clock scheme. 

The 7.1-channel analog audio outputs, as with previous models, is configurable in lieu of an A/V receiver (which is how I use the player.) The UDP-205 utilizes the ES9038PRO digital-to-analog converter (DAC) – the flagship of the ESS Sabre Pro series. There are actually two pieces of the ES9038PRO DAC chips in the UDP-205: Both the dedicated stereo outputs and the 7.1 channel outputs feature specially designed buffer and driver stages. The stereo outputs have an advantage over the 7.1 outputs due to its power supply and component selection. (How much greater that difference shows itself depends largely on your amplifiers.) The power supply is placed closer to the stereo output circuits, and the larger board area per channel allows the use of components such as copper power conductor rails, electro-mechanical relays etc. The headphone amplifier is also connected directly to the ESS DAC. (The 203, by the way, uses the AK4458VN DAC made by AKM.)

 

OPPO UDP-205 Hi-Res Music & 4k Ultra HD Audiophile Blu-ray Disc Player Review

 

OPPO claims that by bypassing the typically poor quality DAC used in computer soundcards, the UDP-205 can turn any PC into a high performing multi-media source – this, in addition to making use of its high-performance DAC to convert digital signals from cable and satellite boxes, TVs, game consoles and other digital transports to analog.

Finally, the UDP-205's audio circuitry is powered by a "massive" toroidal power supply, which should provide a clean and robust power source to the audio components. A new double-layered chassis is designed to help cancel vibration. OPPO adds that the player's internal layout and chassis promote healthy air flow so that critical components can be naturally cooled with strategically placed heatsinks and ventilation grilles.

 

Operations
There are some nice touches since the BDP-95. There's a front panel entry for USB and XLR balanced outputs for dedicated stereo. Most useful for the everyday is the UDP-205 remote which backlights itself the moment you pick it up. This is great for the larger functions like Play, Pause & Stop and works reasonably well for fast forward/rewind and chapter advance/retreat as well as the number keypad, but it helps if you learn what and where the small buttons are (e.g. volume, subtitles, audio, home and set-up.) And, for a change, there are fewer of them.

The UDP-205 is heftier and bigger than the BDP-95, which is no surprise, bestowing confidence and authority. This is no toy. The 205 is fast loading – though UHD material seems to take just as long as 1080 did on the 95, which makes sense considering how much more there is to load. And it's quiet from any position beyond a foot. The rear panel layout is sensible, intuitive and roomy enough so that bulky terminators and fingers do not get in each other's way.

It is entirely possible, even likely, that you aren't likely to own a surround sound processor with DACs as good as those in the 205, which, unfortunately, makes half of your processor redundant, perhaps counter–productive.

As mentioned earlier, I use the UDP-205 (as I did with the BDP-95) in place of a surround sound A/V receiver – the preamp part of it, anyhow. You can hook up an A/V receiver via the extra HDMI output on the 205 or with as many coax cables as you have speaker channels available. My set-up is a seriously unconventional 4.0, with the front left/right speakers doing triple duty as center and subwoofer, which is only possible thanks to the 205's speaker configuration menu – and works satisfactorily in all three departments thanks to Audio Note/UK – so say my guests more critical than I.

 

The Case For Less
(A brief digression as a thought experiment: It's an idea that Andy Grove of Audio Note/UK started me on recently. It's a variant of Rimsky-Korsakov's (or was it Prokofiev's?) observation and consequent admonition about orchestration that a solo instrument sounds so incisively that it can be heard above an orchestra playing much louder. However, the more instruments you have playing the same melody or part at the same time diffuses the sound. This is not necessarily a bad thing, else why would the string sections of an orchestra sit in depth? But it is important to keep this effect in mind when constructing one's surround system. A first class row of horns sounding out Don Juan's theme in Strauss's tome poem is one thing. Multiplying one's amplification and speaker system, even when fed ostensibly different parts, is quite another. Our playback system, as good as it might be, is not the Berlin Philharmonic; it's not even a good youth orchestra. In short, eight times mush is not just mush, it is eight times mush. I used to feel I needed to defend my surround system for its lack of, shall we say, discretion. But perhaps the reason, in part, that it sounds as clear and dynamic as it does has much to do with there being so little of it. Try it for a spin in your own playground and see what happens.)

The UDP-205 speaker configuration menu permits individual volume (aka "trim") settings as well as defining speaker size, crossover point and distance from listening position. There is also a mix–down operation available in case you have fewer than the seven independent speakers needed for 7.1 operation. Additional audio processing settings include: headphone volume, DTS Neo.6 mode, a half–dozen digital filter characteristics, and (I love this one!) the option to utilize the dedicated stereo outputs (either RCA/coax or XLR) in place of the front left/right channel outputs to take advantage of better DAC support. There is even a setting to reverse polarity of the XLR pins. Oh, frabjous joy! And if you believe you already have a superior DAC at your beck and call, you can direct a stereo signal to it from your 205 via optical or coax. We shall see what happens trying this trick with the Triode TRV CD player since it has the necessary inputs.

 

The Playback Chain
So much for the recipe. What about the pudding? As readers of my columns know from decades' experience, I eschew (that's onomatopoeic for "sneeze at") measurements and specifications as evidence for performance only because the numbers do not objectively correspond to the listening experience... or subjectively for that matter unless you've convinced yourself that they do. (Been there, done that.) Since I haven't a clue how to objectively describe my listening experience, I will try to convey in words – miserable substitutes they may be – what I hear and how I react to it. But let's first look at the path from OPPO to my ear. This is the information required to prove one's credentials and to activate one's prejudices.

In order to arrive at useful subjective responses and to minimize distractions presented by the playback equipment involved, I use only the finest ingredients and the most experienced tasters. As I am fond of saying, the amplifier at the heart of this audio system is good enough that a deaf person can hear the difference between two masterings of the same recording with the water running – or, in this case, between two DACs, three if we include the CD player. The speakers are matched to the amplifier for accuracy, maximum dynamic contrast and relative absence of coloration. Together, they do the work required to reproduce distinctive dialogue and useful, if not entirely cellar–worthy bass, in addition to the anticipated musical values, regardless of source. The cables are, with the exception of an Ethernet for Hi–Res Music download transmission and an optical between OPPO and Triode CD player, pure silver.

 

OPPO UDP-205 Hi-Res Music & 4k Ultra HD Audiophile Blu-ray Disc Player Review

 

The projector is several years old and, alas, cannot reproduce UHD material or corresponding color spaces. But, then, this is primarily a report on the audio capabilities of the player. That said, until finances take an unexpected turn – and, in part, for this very reason – my set-up is quite satisfactory in only (!) 1080p. The video screen has undergone a considerable upgrade since my BDP-95 review. In place of a Goo-painted board, I have a proper Stewart Full Lambertian Diffuser. The listening room is smallish (12 x 15) and transfigures itself into a black cave at the flick of a switch.

Projection: 
Projector: JVC 1080p e-shift3 DILA RS-57
Screen: Stewart StudioTek 100 – 110" diagonal

Video:
Blu–ray Player: OPPO UDP-205 vs. BDP-95
Audio Processor: OPPO UDP-205 vs. BDP-95

Audio:
Blu–ray Player: OPPO UDP-205 vs. BDP-95
CD Player: Triode Corporation TRV-CD5SE
Audio Note M3 Preamplifier (2015 version)
Audio Note Ongaku 211 Amplifier (UK/2012)
Audio Note AN-E SE/Signature Speakers (2009)
Audio Note AN-K speakers (surrounds/1998)
Audio Note AN-Vx & Zx pure silver interconnect and speaker wire

 

I imagine that Audio Note is not a brand name familiar to most readers in this magazine – or if familiar, it is by name only. Suffice to say that all of our panelists spent many hours with the OPPO BDP-83 and 95 in addition to the new UDP-205 and have ears–on experience with Audio Note components and systems and understand their contribution.

 

OPPO UDP-205 Hi-Res Music & 4k Ultra HD Audiophile Blu-ray Disc Player Review

 

Since it played an important role in our product comparisons, I should add that the Triode TRV-CD5SE is several years old and that it employs nine year old Burr–Brown PCM1792, analog buffered 6DJ8 output tubes, and supports only (!) up to 24-bit/192kHz oversampling for Hi-Res Music downloads. But, as we know from past, present and future experience, implementation is everything. Power supply and output stage count at least as much as the DAC chip. So, lest we forget, the UDP-205 is making a determined effort to offer what the Triode TRV can, plus a host of additional functions, in roughly the same size package for a third to half the cost. Has technology progressed so far that we can toss the once–serious standalone CD player? The answer, no surprise, is that it depends on one's needs. We'll return to this question in the evaluation part of this comment.

 

A Word On Video Performance
Despite the announced focus of this review, I would be remiss if I didn't say a few words about the 205's superb video performance, even if my projector is limited to 1080p. I use one of †he UDP-205's two HDMI outputs for a direct connection to the JVC RS-57 projector via a 50-foot run of Celerity Optical. (I might add that the substitution of the Celerity for a somewhat shorter length of my top grade Blue Jeans cable was both astounding and unexpected even for 1080p projection.) Alas, this generation of JVC e–shift cannot unwind UHD in any useful way even though it "accepts" a 4k signal. So I configure the 205's video output settings for 1080p and, because of HDMI improvements in the player, along with the Celerity, my 1080p image is very much improved.

How much is "very much"? Enough so that, even though I have at last seen what true UHD can offer elsewhere – glorious white, juicy saturated colors not possible with 1080p, higher resolution that "virtually" eliminates artifacts which the 95 could not, even during the IMAX shots on The Dark Knight – and, not least, a brighter image to make apparent all sorts of detail and color contrast previously only suggested in the shadows – I do not worry myself about not having it, nor am likely to have it for a few years to come. To put it another way, as I review many of my Blu–ray titles, it's like seeing them for the first time, so there's hundreds of hours of free viewing possible with what stock I have on hand. For starters, I now have an artifact-free rendering of The Dark Knight.

Much the same can be said for DVD, which, by the way, the BDP-95 had always been able to upscale to 1080p. While not entirely seducing me into a belief that I'm now seeing HD where only 480 DVD once was, there is a quiet authority to the reproduction such that, with a good source, the image sits still and moves when called on and is less beset by fluttering artifacts. Depending on source and projector/display, image integrity can be compelling enough to make us forget we are watching DVD instead of Blu-ray. (A travel advisory here: In order to minimize or eliminate DVD judder, start in Video Settings with the 24p DVD conversion set to "Off." If that doesn't provide smooth movement across the frame, you may need to set the output resolution to "ON" as a temporary alternative.) As for the dozen or so titles I have in UHD, I ask the 205 to downsample to 1080p, and this seems to work quite well – visibly better, if not by much, than the native 1080p version.

 

Conversion Audio
Let's get a quasi–semantic issue cleared up from the onset and, at the same time, clarify my feeling about digital as it now stands as a commercial medium. To wit: There is no such thing as "digital music – or "digital sound" for that matter. "Digital audio" only exists as a useful way of addressing and manipulating the universe of ones and zeros that make up the digital universe. But it is not possible for humans to hear it. Sound is analog by definition, requiring a vibrating membrane at one end and a hearing ear at the other. Sooner or later, the digital universe needs to reckon with this in the analog world.

The term "audio" comprises both the technology involved and the resultant sound. Insofar far as music reproduction is concerned, what's the point of digital audio if the end result is audio shite? Measurements can provide engineers data about certain parameters of performance and suggest changes that should improve the outcome but, in the final analysis, it is our ear that determines the truth of the thing.

That said, I continue to be astonished by the number of engineer types, living in Silicon Valley as I do, who find this an inconvenient truth – it seems they would be a whole lot happier if analog would just go away somewhere and die the death it so obviously deserves. What we see with our eyes, just as what we hear with our ears, is an analog experience. Come to think of it, given what our species are born with, all sensory perception is analog.

Betcha can't wait for them androids, eh!

All of which brings us to the precipice between these worlds – in short, digital to analog conversion – or, in the case of the UDP-205, digital to analog conversion x 8 (I keep forgetting that there are separate channels for center and sub.) While the foregoing may come off as a thinly disguised rant, my intention is to underscore the importance of conversion and its implementation, given the marketing parameters and objectives of the product. I don't intend to get into questions of design – it's not an area I am qualified to discuss anyhow. But I do feel I have a perspective not generally shared by critics that I hope will help focus buyers to matters of pertinent value. Bottom line: We don't hear bits; we don't hear sampling rates. We hear sound, which isn't either bits or sampling rates, and isn't made up of either.

Recollecting our listening panel's observations of the BDP-95, I should mention that none of us felt that the 95 actually made music that could be seriously enjoyed for the length of a disc, unlike a much costlier transport/DAC that we had at our disposal, which at least kept a couple of our panelists interested for as long. We thought of ourselves (and still do) an extremely difficult audience that does not represent the general public, who would be perfectly happy with the BDP-95.

 

Digital Versus Analogue Performance
At the risk of beating this horse to death, I should stress that I am one of those Jurassic Park relics who do not find CDs particularly involving – they usually strike me as a good outline but lacking in body, a bit too transparent for their own good, perhaps. Pretty much across the board, they hold my attention less than LPs, for all of the older medium's foibles. Even so, my library of CDs has grown from about 150 in 2010 to something over 1500. While I have yet to take them seriously as music reproducers, they come in handy, especially for acquiring memorial compilations from Chuck Berry's recordings for Chess Records (none of which I have on LP) to Marcelle Meyer's legendary piano recordings for EMI from 1925 to 1957, plus all sorts of titles that can be found only in (or is it, "on"?) this medium. Hi-Res Music downloads are a quite different matter since there are more variables extending from source through to the final transducer. I'll summarize my experience in this area presently.

I've own a dedicated CD player (the Triode TRV-CD5SE) since about 2012, and I do run plastic through it at least weekly. I find it passes the time and provides a remote pleasure of sorts. The 205 requires fewer components to be powered on in my setup, so my hope going in was that I can make use of it more frequently for CD play than I did the 95. High–resolution downloads are hit and miss, as we shall see. However, all of these (save, perhaps MQA, which the 205 does not support) pale in comparison to once commercially available reel-to-reel tapes, and those, in turn, to second and third generation 15-ips copies of master tapes. You can still find a good selection of the former on eBay. But, in the "real world," as Herb Reichert reminds us, we have what we have, and what we had to audition the UDP-205 with were these:

Blu-ray Audio:
Weill/Ibert/Berg – Baton Rouge Chamber Players – SonoLuminus
Jonas Kaufman: Wagner ODOB, Runnicles – Decca Pure Audio
2L Nordic Sound (sampler)

Blu-ray & DVD video (PCM stereo, DTS/Dolby HD 5.1 & Dolby Digital):
The Dark Night – Chris Nolan – Warner
Drag Me to Hell – Sam Raimi – Universal
Hanna – Joe Wright – Universal
Interstellar – Chris Nolan – Warner
King Kong – Peter Jackson – Universal
Mad Max: Fury Road – George Miller – Warner
Melancholia – Lars Von Trier – Magnolia
Les Misérables 25th Anniversary Concert – Universal
The Paranoids – Gabriel Medina – Oscilloscope DVD
Sunshine – Danny Boyle – Fox Searchlight
Sweeney Todd – Tim Burton – Dreamworks
Toy Story 3 – Lee Unkrich – Pixar/Disney
Wagner: Lohengrin – Baden–Baden (2009), Kent Negano – Opus Arte

SACD:
2L Nordic Sound (sampler)

CD:
Nils Lofgren Band Live: "Bass & Drum Intro" – VMCD
Infected Mushrooms: Friends on Mushrooms – Dim Mak
Punch Brothers: The Phosphorescent Blues – Nonesuch
Andres Segovia Plays. . . [from the American Decca recordings] – DG
Emmanuel Ceysson, harp: OpéraFantasie – Naïve
JanneRättyä, accordion: The Italian Album – VMS
Kenneth Boulton, piano: Louisiana–A Pianist's Journey – Cambria 
Glass: Etudes – Maki Namekawa, piano – Orange Mountain
Dianne Reeves: Good Night, and Good Luck – Concord Jazz
Mozart: String Quintets, K 515 & 516 – L'Archibudelli – Sony
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto – Kopatchinskaja, Currentzis – Sony
Shostakovich: Symphony #8 – RLPO, Petrenko – Naxos
Messiaen: Turangalîla–Symphonie – FRSO, Lintu – Ondine 
Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker – LSO, Dorati – Mercury

Hi-Res Music Downloads:
JS Bach: Goldberg Variations – JanneRättyä, accordion – VMS (24/96)
Glass: Piano Works – VíkingurÓlafsson – DG – 96/24 (24/96)
Messiaen: Turangalîla–Symphonie – FRSO, Lintu – Ondine – (24/96)
Punch Brothers: The Phosphorescent Blues – Nonesuch – (24/96)
Schubert: Octet, Op. 166 – Fine Arts Quartet et al – RCA – (24/96)
Shostakovich: Symphonies 2 & 15 – Liverpool Phil / Petrenko – Naxos (24/192)
Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker – LSO, Dorati – Mercury – (24/88)

 

The Evaluation
We did our listening over four sessions, from media to media as the spirit moved us. We decided to start with the most problematic area: Hi-Res Music downloads. As mentioned earlier, there are a number of variables involved here that don't exist with CD. In the case of the latter medium, there is only the CD itself and the CD player (transport & DAC); whereas the performance of Hi-Res Music downloads is dependent on the source of that download and how it was "mastered" into a digital file, the bit depth and sampling rate of that file, the application that prepares and propels that file from the computer or storage device, the transmission medium through which the file makes its way to the DAC and the associates connectors at either end. All of this before the DAC has its say in the matter, and far too complex a matter to cover adequately in this essay. So we settled on a playback chain that, theoretically and by reputation, should provide discriminating results. I expect you'll judge for yourself.

We used WAV files mostly, with values from 24-bit/88kHz to 24-bit/192kHz. A Plex station was installed on my iMac and downloads were relayed to the UDP-205 by shielded CAT7 Ethernet. For two-channel music files, the OPPO 205 fed the Audio Note 211A Ongaku directly. We settled on using the dedicated stereo outputs at all times on principle. We compared the downloads to the CD played back with the 205 and the Triode CD player, using the identical signal path from player to speakers. We also compared DAC implementation of both players by connecting the Triode CD player from the 205 by way of a high quality optical and coax cable.

The short of the matter is this: The difference between CD performance on the 205 and the Hi-Res Music download of the same title into the 205 is inconclusive-to-favoring the download = enough that the question could come down to the quality of the interconnecting cables used. In fact, I inadvertently used what I mistakenly thought was a shielded CAT7 Ethernet to start with until my mistake was uncovered well into our evaluation of this medium. The difference wasn't at all subtle in favor of the CAT7. The solitary treble and bass notes on Philip Glass's Piano Etude #2 are instructive: the treble now has life and is absent any ringing or clatter and, in place of such distortion, there are hints of proper overtones. The bass has solidity, warmth and depth, its overtones blending nicely with the rest of piano. It's surprisingly listenable and – caution: heresy ahead – serves the music better than the DG vinyl if for no other reason than the LP, as is too often the case in recent years, is affected by poor quality control and frequent defects. Not knowing the identity of the the previous Ethernet cable, I can't account for the difference in performance except to observe that this is a critical area, and should not be taken lightly. Consider, too, that it is the ES9038PRO DAC of the UDP-205 over the 203, which offers this level of music enjoyment.

If the download was of a proper re-mastering since the CD's initial publication – such as Antal Dorati's stereo recording with the London Symphony on Mercury of The Nutcracker, which hadn't had its bits massaged since 1991 – it outperformed the CD even at only 24/88. There was just more there there with this download, more hints that an actual performance of Tchaikovsky's brilliant score was being communicated. In the case of something newish like the Punch Brothers album at 24-bit/96kHz, we felt that the Hi-Res Music download was marginally better than the CD. The Shostakovich, with its superior sampling rate of 24-bit/192kHz, from the multi-layered, deathly quiet opening of the Second Symphony to the climaxes of the Fifteenth, offered a still more positive impression of the downloads over the CD. I might add that this had not been my observation in years past, so downloads have come a long way since, and the UDP-205 makes good use of them.

 

OPPO UDP-205 Hi-Res Music & 4k Ultra HD Audiophile Blu-ray Disc Player Review

 

In most cases, though, whatever was inconclusive between CD and download on the 205, became conclusive when a better DAC was involved, either with CD or download via connection from the 205. Such was the case when the Triode CD player was daisy–chained to the 205, proving once again that implementation is everything, since there is no reason to think that a nine-year old Burr Brown DAC could outperform the new Sabre. That said, keep in mind that the Triode player has only one thing to do, and it does it well; the OPPO performs many functions for less than half the cost.

Comparing the UDP-205 with the BDP-95 was next on the list, and this was considered with five varieties of plastic media rather than downloads. Again, the focus was on 2–channel rendering, and quite frankly, this test had us giggling uncontrollably, the 95 coming off as plastic as the medium compared to the 205. Totally unexpected… thus the laughter. That same Philip Glass Etude #2 on CD made the piano sound more like a toy on the 95, whilst solid and alive on the 205, if lacking in the needed overtones to complete the illusion. Even more instructive were the harp, accordion and Segovia CDs: the harp lacking the air around the strings on the 95; the accordion lacking the whoosh of air produced by the instrument itself; the Segovia, a soul… all recovered nicely when played on the 205. The bass on the Lofgren Liveset, has significantly more drive and, at the same time, more twang on the 205, and you can play it louder with less strain – in fact, it seemed louder to start with just because the 205 is more dynamic. Voices are more soulful, less mechanical on the 205. Not surprisingly, the Triode player performed better in all these regards, but the difference was not nearly as great as between the 95/205. Meanwhile, let's not forget that the Triode player cannot play Blu-rays or SACDs.

One of the more problematic music genres to comment on is that over–represented icon of audiophillia: pop vocals, more specifically, female vocals. If you've ever attended a hi–fi show, you cannot help but notice how many people bring along their favorite female du jour for just this purpose. What are they listening for, I ask myself? What useful takeaway can there be? (Jeez, I'm such a snob! An altogether too wordy exposition on this subject can be found in my essay from 1983 "Are You on the Road to Audio Hell?") Be that as it may, vocals must be addressed in the present context even if we usually haven't a clue as to how they were recorded or mixed or transferred to the current medium.

So as not to strain your patience, I will settle for one female jazz vocal and one classical male vocal with orchestra. The former is represented by Dianne Reeves and a small backup group (piano, sax, bass and drums for the most part) as they appear on the album "from and inspired by the motion picture Good Night, and Good Luck." As an attempt to be a realistic manifestation of a performance, this comes off rather well. How do we know that this is the objective? Because George Clooney, the film's director and the album's executive producer, says so. When the camera spies Ms Reeves doing what she does best early on in the movie we are given to understand that this is a live take for the film itself, and that this level of "truth" is intended for the CD. The result, even though recorded in two different studios, is indeed effective – limited, I think, mostly by the CD medium itself. Still, it is live and alive both. Once the mikes are in place and the levels set, we are convinced that there is no further manipulation, no personnel "flown in" from another location on the planet to be mixed in later. The take is the take, and so we respond to it.

The approach the listener takes is not unimportant, for if the take is a fiction, a creation made up of bits from other takes or sessions elsewhere, we respond to matters other than the performance – viz., audiophillia. Such potential distractions are less evident with the UDP-205 than with its predecessor even while we can enjoy the space in which each performer plays or sings. The sense of a live performance is palpable now, the interplay between the musicians more evident and more interesting, with balances and levels supporting just this outcome. This is a short comment considering all the falderal that preceded, but really, if this is the intent of the recording, then so it must be felt and judged. The rest – frequency response, dynamic range, separation, depth, layering, all that stuff – while commendable and commentable, is less important.

The objective of audio in the home, regardless of source or media, is to convince us of a performance, even it's a presentation of a fictional soundscape in another galaxy. If all our typical audiophile criteria cannot do this on a regular basis, the fault is not the source, however limited it may be. it is the playback chain.

The other vocal recording is another matter – not because it classical and thereby more "serious," but because it is so much more complex, beginning with the medium, in this case, Blu–ray Audio, a two-channel affair with a selection of three playback opportunities. The album is Kaufmann/Wagner: Jonas Kaufmann, tenor, and the Orchestra of the German Opera Berlin, conducted by Donald Runnicles. The program consists of selections from six Wagner operas plus the complete Wesendonck Lieder (arranged for orchestra by Felix Mottl.) This latter entry has few referents in that Wagner wrote these songs for piano and female voice, so we have to take this performance on its own terms. As for the Blu-ray, the three implementations are all 2–channel, 24-bit/96kHz – PCM, DTS HD-MA or Dolby TrueHD, take your pick. The 205 clarifies the choice since the 95 offered little to distinguish them. I settled easily for the Dolby, finding that the PCM had more distortion and the DTS a more pronounced treble, as if to compensate for weaknesses in the usual user's playback amplification. The beauty of the 205 is how wonderfully and readily we can appreciate Kaufmann's differentiated characterizations: Sigmund's heroic stand in Die Walküre, an effete Lohengrin's self–disclosure, Walther's hopeful Am stillen Herd for Die Meistersinger. Kaufmann's approach to the Wesendonck Lieder is different still, where he is narrator and respondent both. The 205 also shouts less than the 95, as if the earlier player was trying to remove a suspected audio impediment – alas, unsuccessfully. The orchestra, too, is richer, with Runnicles directing our ear into the conversation between his forces and Kaufmann.

So let's spend a little while on Blu-ray and 5.1 (really 4.0) in particular. Remember my previous remark about the laughing, well, in this area, the giggling took on a somewhat different character – more like hysteria. Keep in mind that, for all practical purposes, the 205's audio design is only one generation removed from the 95, the intervening 105's contribution being minimal to nil. The general reaction was "WTF!" Remember that this audience, myself included, had been happy with the BDP 95 for several years. But now it seems that my 25–watt Ongaku had doubled, perhaps tripled, in power, and that frequency response was extended in both directions along with important information and tonal values available to each. This was nothing short of an alien invasion.

Dialogue is clarified. I can now understand Australian without subtitles. The dialogue in many cases exists in a new and consistently convincing soundspace. The opening IMAX sequence in The Dark Knight provides an excellent example – as the scene changes, as the actors moved through the scene – outdoors, indoors in a big room or a small room or in a car – the voice changes with the space, as if it were recorded live. This was scarcely hinted at with the 95.

Bass not only deepens and plays with more power, it also plays with less distortion, thus less ear fatigue, greater tonal and pitch accuracy, and more texture. The bass that underscores the opening bank heist in The Dark Knight no longer gives me a headache, yet it is deeper and more interesting. Or try Hanna's escape from government detention to the pulse pounding, gut wrenching rhythms of The Chemical Brothers in the movie bearing her name. This always had plenty of bass, even some bang to that bass on the 95, but never the impression of an actual membrane being struck (which illusion, by the way, may be entirely computer generated – it makes no diff), whilst all the time forceful counter-rhythms and textures never get confused. It's a real tour–de–force that you can play seriously loud.

When Matthew McConaughey and his family race from a ballgame in Interstellarto head off a sand storm, we can feel the grains of sand blasting away at the truck, whereas on the 95 it was more like a hailstorm. And, for better or worse, we can now hear what the sound mix for the take-off from Earth is made of. More bass clarification, less distortion.

While we're looking at Blu–ray, we thought we should revisit a few of the titles that came in for special mention in my review of the BDP-95. Regarding Universal's Les Misérables 25th Anniversary Concert, I wrote:

Universal's new Les Misérables 25th Anniversary Concert, on the BDP-83 with or without [Audio Note's entry level DAC], sounded shrill and compressed. With the BDP-95 feeding the amplifiers directly from its analogue outputs, the orchestra opened up, the voices found their chest tone, the choruses had power.

I should add now that the four tenors "encore" of Bring Him Home came off well enough when they sang one at a time, but as a quartet, it was shrill city on the 95. And in the multi-voiced memorial to the original cast that followed, the situation was even worse. In any case, how much better sounding could this concert be, given the circumstances? Well, how about goose-bumps and tears, for starters! And those shrill tenors – shrill no longer. In their place, four men reprising their roles as Jean Valjean and, despite their current abilities and contrast in power, we hear them adding to one another instead of jousting for air space. Much the same held for the One More Day reprise. The chorus, never previously convincing as to their size compared to the action on stage, now on the 205 gains some respect in that department – due in fact to my being able to use the HD 5.1 mix instead of the Dolby Digital 2.0 which, despite its compressed status, had been more effective on the 95. A studio recording could have given all this more justice, but given what we're given, we can now enjoy the performance for how it sounds, not just what it ticks off in our memory. As an added bonus, complaints about its ancient VC-1 codec and motion conversion become irrelevant on the 205.

 

 

I wrote in conclusion about the BDP's audio performance for Sweeney Todd, Toy Story 3,Drag Me to Hell, Fast and Furious, Peter Jackson's King Kong, among others: It's like hearing them for the first time all over again – only more so, more nuanced, more dynamic, scarier, sweeter, more powerful. Well, ditto that all over again – and more. The whacking good drum and low brass thrusts over the organ under the opening credits for Sweeney Todd has space and apartment building–filling power that the 95 lacked, and there's a chorus there, too, previously hidden in the blood. Ducking for cover provided no escape for us or the protagonist in Drag Me To Hell when Christine's house comes alive to attack her and scare her half to death. This mix is a good example where DTS's exaggerated treble provides perhaps too much of a good thing. (Or, maybe I'm wrong about this – I prefer seeing blockbusters at the local IMAX with a little cotton stuffed in my ears.) Elsewhere, the extended T–Rex fight scene in Peter Jackson's King Kong, is chock full of gnarly bites and crunches that no longer covers the squeals and screams of our small audience.

We had a few dozen operas on Blu-rays on hand to choose from, most with both stereo and surround mixes to choose between. In the past, I usually preferred the stereo mix. With the 205, the surround gives the stereo a good run. There's a bit in the third act of Lohengrin where Elsa has finally given in to her gnawing doubt and asks the question of her savior she must not ask. Lohengrin dismisses her and she is left alone to wallow in her grief, during which there is a musical interlude consisting largely of fanfares, first distant, and then completely enveloping the action on stage, the gathering of the people and knights awaiting the entrance of the king. The orchestra at its climax is all middle voices: an endless choir of horns, trumpets and strings that climaxes with a salute by the chorus. It kind of takes your breath – unless of course, the musical forces are out of balance or are driven into distortion. The 95 never quite got this right, either in stereo or surround. If the volume was set for the maximum for the chorus, then king was too loud and orchestra not powerful enough. Now, with the 205, all the pieces are in their correct size and shape – and, not a point to be understated, the soloists all have better and more convincing characterization – an achievement I never would have anticipated from an upgrade at this level.

Good reproduction should strive for better separation between strands of sound while at the same time rendering those strands substantial, tonally correct and harmonically related. Heavy stuff should have weight; light stuff should float.

It's likely that you are unacquainted with Gabriel Medina's 2008 The Paranoids, a quirky, low tech Argentinian film that climaxes with one of the most compelling and erotically charged dance sequences I've ever encountered on disc. It's just two people standing in place at a small dance club, moving their arms, shoulders and hips to the pounding rhythms of Nada de nada performed by the three-person band, Farmacia, first in counterpoint to each other, then in sync. Like the rest of the movie, everything we see and hear feels live and unprocessed. Note the decision to include almost none of the club ambiance that usually identifies location for such numbers, since the focus is entirely on the two people dancing and their fate. Even in DVD compressed Dolby stereo or 5.1, this is a knockout musical, visual and emotional number.

The hypnotic visuals that ensnare us in Lars Von Trier's opening hyper-slow-motion sequence from Melancholiaare underscored by Wagner's Prelude to Tristan & Isolde as it builds to its cathartic climax, an ending without resolution., even if the universe continues on without us. Wagner encounters some re–working along the way; strange textures, unseen and unheard on the 95, come and go – the wind whistling through the trees as Kirsten Dunst in her wedding dress tries to escape entwining vines, and that awesome, breathtaking bass every time the camera considers the inevitable collision to come. Was that there before! No, sir. Not like this.

 

 

Faults?
Not really. My misgivings about the OPPO's UDP-205 are precious few:

Perhaps its just my failing eyesight, but while I very much appreciate the movement-activated, back-lighted remote, I still need to remember where some of the more oft-pressed buttons are exactly. The good news is that they are more or less in the same place as on the BDP-95.

Finally, OPPO, like most everyone else, has bought into the corporate cynicism of region-coding. What is needed is for all the big and little manufacturers to give the finger to this idiocy and make their players region–free. I realize this comment is more of a rant than an actual criticism, but I feel strongly that the current political climate all over the world cries out for more cooperation, not more big money interests. In any case, I imagine that you will be able to find warranty-busting mods out there that will unlock the mysteries of Europe and other far-flung regions as desired.

 

Conclusion
Was the BDP-95 a useful upgrade at a cost of $500 over the BDP-93? I thought so, even if it had some way to go to sort out transport issues. Now the upgrade costs $750 over the well-reviewed UDP–203. The question of value depends, as always, on our "needs" and our willingness to pay to have them met. At the time, I felt that the 95 met that condition. Compared to its older brother, the 95 did permit a more involving connection to the sound and music that could allow me to lose myself in the movies I watched. Over these past six years, much has changed at home and abroad. My amplification chain and speakers have remained the same, but my screen and projector have seen upgrades, though not yet as far as UHD.

OPPO acknowledged that in the BDP-95 they had not addressed transport issues such as clocking or jitter, so we were not surprised back then to find little if any difference between the 95 and the 83 (or the 93) when a CD/PCM data stream fed the same outboard converter. Clocking and jitter have both been improved in the 205, and by no small factor, and so we are not surprised to find positive differences where there were none before. Huge differences, as it turns out, not least with well-mastered Hi-Res Music downloads thanks to the ES9038PRO DAC. That said, there are CD transports and players out there that better the 205 in regards two-channel music playback, but you would have to spend two or three times the money and they wouldn't be able to do anything in the video universe. And, if you'll excuse the astronomical malapropism, that universe is in a different galaxy altogether.

As for audio performance, loving scales and graphs as I do, let me suggest one here: If the BDP-95's audio performance was a 10, then the 83 was an 8. On the other hand, if the UDP-205's audio performance is a 10 and CD played on the Triode is about 11.5, the 95 scores 5 for CD playback and 3 for surround.

I shall say no more.

No more.

 

PS: Many thanks to: Rich Green of Rich Green Ink fame, Paul Healey, and The True Sound Gang of three for their support and critical openness throughout the audition of the OPPO UDP-205. I would also like to give a special thanks to Jason Liao at OPPO for his technical assistance and product support.

 

Tonality

Sub–bass (10Hz – 60Hz)

Mid–bass (80Hz – 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz – 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: Universal digital disc player, streamer, network player and DAC
Disc Types: 4K UHD Blu-ray, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, AVCHD, SACD, CD, Kodak Picture CD, CD-R/RW, DVD±R/RW, DVD±R DL, BD-R/RE
BD Profile BD-ROM Version 3.1 Profile 6 (also compatible with BD-ROM Version 2.5 Profile 5)

Output Analog Audio: 7.1ch, 5.1ch, stereo.

Dedicated Stereo Analog Audio: XLR balanced, RCA single-ended.

Coaxial/Optical Audio: up to 2ch/192kHz PCM, Dolby Digital, DTS.

HDMI Audio: Up to 7.1ch/192kHz PCM, up to 5.1ch DSD, Bitstream.

HDMI Video: UHD/1080p24/1080p/1080i/720p/576p/576i/480p/480i, 3D frame-packing 720p/1080p24.

Input HDMI Audio: up to 7.1ch/192kHz PCM, up to 5.1ch DSD, Bitstream.

HDMI Video: UHD/1080p24/1080p/1080i/720p/576p/576i/480p/480i, 3D frame-packing 720p/1080p24.

USB Audio: Up to 2ch/768kHz PCM, up to 2ch/2.8224MHz/5.6448MHz/11.2896MHz/22.5792 MHz (native mode only) DSD.

Coaxial/Optical Audio: up to 2ch/192kHz PCM, Dolby Digital, DTS, AAC.

Audio Characteristics
(Stereo Audio Output) Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 160 kHz (-3dB +0.05dB)
Signal-to-Noise Ratio: > 120dBr
THD+N: < 0.00018% 
Output Level: (RCA) 2.1 ±0.2Vrms. (XLR) 4.2 ±0.4Vrms
Dynamic Range: > 120dB
Crosstalk: > 118dB

Analogue Audio Characteristics
(Multi-channel Audio Output) Frequency Response: 20Hz - 160kHz (-3dB ˜ +0.05dB)
Signal-to-Noise Ratio: > 120dBr
THD+N: < 0.00031% 
Output Level: 2.1±0.2Vrms
Dynamic Range: > 120dB
Crosstalk: > 118dB

Headphone Audio Characteristics
Frequency Response: 20Hz to 80kHz (-2dB +0.05dB) into 32 Ohm
Signal-to-Noise Ratio: > 105dBr into 32 Ohm
THD+N: < 0.01% into 32ohm and 50mW
Maximum Output Power: 590mW into 32 Ohm
Dynamic Range: > 115dB into 32 Ohm
Output Impedance: < 0.1 Ohm

General Specification Power Supply: 110V - 120V / 220V - 240V, 50/60Hz
Power Consumption: 65W
Dimensions: 16.8" x 12.2" x 4.8" (WxDxH)
Weight: 22 lbs.
Included Accessories User Manual
  Power Cord
  Certified Premium High Speed 6 Ft HDMI Cable
  Remote Control with Size AA Batteries
Price: $1299

 

Company Information
OPPO Digital, Inc.
162 Constitution Dr.
Menlo Park, CA 94025

Website: www.OPPOdigital.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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