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Positive Feedback ISSUE 68
Digital Media Marvel: The Oppo
The Oppo BDP-105 is Oppo's newest flagship Blu-ray player, although it's really more of a digital media player, as there's little it can't do. In their own words, "The OPPO BDP-105 is designed from the ground up with components optimized for enhanced analog audio performance. The OPPO BDP-105 features an all-new analog audio stage powered by two ESS Sabre32 Reference Digital-to-Analog Converters (DAC), balanced (XLR) & unbalanced (RCA) dedicated stereo outputs, a Toroidal linear power supply, and asynchronous USB DAC input. These high-grade components are housed in a rigidly constructed metal chassis and work together to deliver exceptionally detailed and accurate sound quality along with reference quality video." The Oppo actually features a lot more than that, but fortunately, it delivers the essentials straight of the box and with a manual that is well laid out and avoids being overwhelming.
The first thing I noticed about this black monolith of evolutionary progress is that it's a frickin' Mercedes-Benz. When you hold this monster in your hands, you know you're holding a serious piece of equipment. It's a rock solid work of engineering.
Huffer really leans on the BDP-105 for its reference quality and versatility
The first thing I tested, as seems to be my habit, was the Oppo's CD function using Radiohead's Kid A. There's a reason I use this particular CD, other than that it's a rapturous head trip. It's almost like a test disc. It's a Chemical Rock album, by which I mean it's filled with sounds that cannot be recorded in open air using a microphone. That gets boring after a while anyway, audiophiles. Don't get me wrong, I love the illusion of a natural recording of real instruments that is perfectly balanced and played on a $0.25 million dollar system and that sounds like the musicians are right there in front of you in quadruple DSD. But it's still an illusion.
If you're like me and can't afford the Apocalyptic Bang Machine, you can always, I don't know, go see a real life orchestra or unamped jazz band. It's a lot less expensive and it's in infinite DSD, with one sample taken every Planck Time, which is 5.39106 x 10-44 seconds. Where was I? Oh yeah, I love Chemical Rock just as much as I love natural hi-res bliss. But here's the difference, and keep in mind that the term "Chemical Rock" is an invention that I just came up with about three small batch bourbons ago. Chemical Rock always contains at least one element that cannot be recorded by microphones capturing air pressure waves from a physical instrument, whether acoustic or electric (i.e., amplification independent of the microphone that produces SPLs picked up by the microphone). Instead, there is at least one element that bypasses the mike altogether. This is usually something generated by an entirely electronic device, such as an electric piano, synthesizer, computer, tape loop, or vinyl record to be chopped and beatified, all directly injected into the mixing board.
That's Chemical Rock.
That's using the studio as a musical instrument. The result, and this may appear blasphemous to some, is that something even purer than a brilliantly recorded piano comes out of your speakers, namely…. drum roll…. your speakers. That's right. Purely imaginary electronic sounds turn thine owne speakers into the musical instrument. Like all my emphatic italics? I was raised in the Loudness War Era, so get used to it.
Anyway, when you hear the tasty, un-miked chemical sounds coming through the speakers, you are listening to the actual instrument, with no intermediary. The first Chemical Rock record, at least that I know of, was The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows", the ultimate song on Revolver and the one recorded first. Apparently, the first thing spoken during the Revolver session was John earnestly and cavalierly explaining to George Martin, "This song is different from anything we've ever done." The Chemical comes in large part from Paul making all the tape loops. Yes, we're in a gray area here because he used microphones to capture what would be that basis for these loops, but these loops are so distorted and processed, he brought them into the studio precisely as their own musical instrument, not as representations of musical instruments. They were morphed into an unrecognizably new form and were delivered to the studio as tape loops, as instruments in their own right. It's difficult to overstate what a quantum leap this was in pop recording. These were fed into the mixing board and the rest is history. In fact, the whole song is based on a loop, which makes Ringo's drums ultra-precise and "Tomorrow Never Knows" the first techno song as well as the first Chemical Rock song.
What the hell does this have to do with the Oppo BDP-105, you ask? Well, I'll tell you if you sit down and relax a little. Radiohead's Kid A is a quintessential Chemical Rock album. It will turn your speakers into the musical instrument. Bam. Direct injection into you ear hole. Why is this important? Stop asking such idiotic questions. Because it gives your system the most strenuous workout since Rocky IV. Kid A delivers the entire bandwidth of audible frequencies, from infrasonic to ultrasonic, often within the same song. Yes, it's "just a 44.1 CD," unfortunately, but because that CD is the musical instrument, as integrated within your system, it simply is what it is. And despite this limitation, it does things no physical instrument can do, like produce electronic percussive beats that burst for mere milliseconds, revealing in no uncertain terms whether your speakers, or any other component, are tight or sloppy. And while it's awesome that your million dollar system can reproduce frequencies of 120kHz at 120dB, can it do tightly controlled bass at frequencies that no natural instrument (other than a pipe organ) can produce? Kid A will reveal the answer. If you don't feel the robotic beat under your feet at 1:26 into the song "Kid A", then you can donate your system to the local Goodwill.
Back to the Oppo. This machine, as a CD transport, handles Kid A like no other transport at this price, and many figures above, I've ever heard. Everything is tightly controlled and naturally produced, exactly like the information encoded on the CD. Using my Bryston 2B amp with the Yamaha NS-10Ms the album was mixed and mastered on (these speakers are used in major studios worldwide because of their extremely rapid transient response), every detail was there.
Next up, I put on Sticky Fingers on SACD, because it's an example of rock and roll recorded in a minimalist approach, with natural room ambience and raunchy guitars that are supposed to sound gross. Once again, the Oppo rose to the challenge and then some, reproducing those creamy acoustic guitars, thick bass lines, and the excitement of Charlie's kick drum like you're there in the studio with the band.
Next, I played Sony Classical's Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major, recorded and mixed in DSD straight through the chain. Here, the Oppo really outdid itself, vanishing into the purity of the music. I always like it when an electronic component disappears, making itself less and the music more. This time I used both the NS-10 studio setup and my Von Schwiekert VR-22s through American Electronics' Constellation preamp and Hercules amp. The results were equally pleasing, with the VR-22s handling the bass and highs with a ravishing, voluptuous fullness and a deep soundstage.
The Oppo also handles 5.1 audio with remarkable clarity: strict separation between channels, no hazy residue. For this I demoed Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, The Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Beck's Sea Change, and Nine Inch Nail's The Downward Spiral (all quintessential examples of Chemical Rock, by the way). The Mozart SACD also really blossoms in 5.1, with the orchestra perfectly placed in the soundstage up front and the room ambience enveloping you from the back.
It still boggles my mind that so many audiophiles haven't taken to surround sound yet. What's with you old, gray-haired luddites struggling to breathe through your oxygen tank with ears clogged with hair and wax and decades of hearing damage and substance abuse? That reminds me, Audiophile Rule #1, assuming you can still actually hear (I'm looking at you Neil Young), clean your effing ears out. You can upgrade your system by approximately $40,000 dollars just by washing your ears out. Get one of those rubber bulb things for five bucks, suck warm water into it, stick it in your canal, and blow and keep doing it until you get results. I guarantee you will be shocked and horrified by what comes out. I'm talking black chunks of nasty almost as old and obsolete as you are. Then you'll be amazed at what you hear. Brushing your hands against your shirt will sound like the ocean's roar.
On to the video capabilities. I have little to say here except best picture I've ever seen. Colors that are crisp and detailed, but dense and natural. This is not that ultra-vivid retina display shit you see that sears your actual retina with grotesque colors. This is real color, the kind you see when you look away from your TV or computer screen once or twice a day. You can tell that the people at Oppo really believe in what they're making and strive to make the best product on the market, and, as far as I can tell, they have. With the comprehensive data processing capabilities this thing has, excelling at each one, the BDP-105 is an unbelievable bargain at its price point.
Although this player has far too many features to mention here (including various video streaming options), one of the things I most appreciate about the Oppo is that it's optimized straight out of the box for bit-perfect audio and picture; everything is in native resolution unless you specify otherwise. So many video components today come out of the box compromised. The Oppo starts out of the gate like a pro who knows what you want before you even want it. It automatically plays everything at its native resolution.
For example, if a Blu-ray disc is encoded at 24 frames per second, it will play it that way, unless you're an idiot and go in and change the settings, or you're one of those people who sets up your 5.1 speakers all in a straight row in no particular order under the TV and likes to watch everything stretched out. That's almost like a status symbol for some people; if the image isn't stretched from hell to breakfast, with fat, short basketball players throwing footballs in glaring contrast (or mushed out Crisco color if that's your preference), then it's just not HDTV.
The Oppo makes you work hard to get things that screwed up, and for this reason and all the above, the Oppo BDP-105 is a true reference standard for audio and video.