This time I have for you a review that I would hardly call a regular one. I took a 500$ BR player and had it modified by well known Dan Wright from Modwright Instruments and was hoping to get a very satisfactory result as reported by many happy users in US.
Oppo is an American company well known on local market and not so well here in Europe. Sure they make some good DVD players and you can find some of these here and there. As far as I can tell these products are valued because of their solid design and good performance, all offered at a reasonable price. But nevertheless Oppo is a BRAND in USA mostly. That changed and only few saw it coming. One day people all over the world read about great Blu-ray player Oppo BDP-83. Attractive price of 499$ and ability to play not only BR and DVD discs but also CD, SACD and DVD-A! Well we saw lots of DVD players that were advertised also as SACD players (sometimes also DVD-A) and they actually played such discs but … nobody wanted to listen to them as the sound was … crappy (forgive my language). I myself own a Samsung DVD player that plays also SACD via analog outputs of course, hence using its own internal DAC. I am not going to describe this sound as some kids might read it … . To make a long story short – all sorts of DVD players proudly presented labels saying that they were capable of playing some audiophile's formats, none of them did it well but some naive Customers bought them anyway. Probably none of them is ever going to make same mistake again.
But … Oppo's approach was different. How? Before releasing this player to the public they ran two rounds of beta tests. The „funny” part is that they really collected feedback from those tests and they worked out some solutions and implemented them! Of course they also benefited from couple of hundreds of beta-testers leeching lots of positive feedback about the product to the public. As soon as BDP-83 was released to the market there was a crowd of people craving to buy it. They knew already that picture quality was very good, sound quality was very nice and they could be sure that the device had been tested extensively by real users. Interestingly some companies dealing with audio modifications had their mods for Oppo ready the moment first customer could buy it. What we knew from beta-testers was that sound quality from CDs, SACDs and DVD-A was already quite good – comparable to specialized players at same price level. That was interesting enough for many because of all additional benefits (like DVD and BR playback ability) – why pay 500$ for CD player if you could have a player with BR/DVD/CD/SACD?DVD-A playback capability at the same price?
It didn't take long for many threads to appear mostly on American forums claiming the sound quality offered by Oppo modified by one of the companies offering such service (like Modwright, ASi Teknologies, RAM, or NuForce) could be compared to players costing couple of grands. Sure – modes were two/three times more expensive than player itself but still price/value ratio seemed to be extremely good. On one hand we saw tones of information like this in the net – people claiming they found some fabulous product costing small money and most of such claims were just a PR or ad But on the other hand if guys like Dan Wright gave their name for such a mod – that looked promising. Some months later Oppo released SE version of the player addressed mostly to those using BDP-83 for stereo playback. They introduced the whole new analogue section, improved power supply and they used new DACs – real audiophile ones from ESS Technology. For stereo playback they used Sabre32 Ultra (ES9016) (4 pieces per channel!), and for 7.1 output 8-channel Sabre Premier (ES9006). Additionally company decided to play fair towards owners of basic version – all of them were given an option of upgrading their pieces to SE version paying in fact less than a price difference between regular version and SE. Oppo also honestly encouraged to the upgrade only these customers who used their player mostly as a stereo one.
I don't know about you but I did some „crazy” purchases in my audiophile's live based on a hunch – I mean there was no chance to listen to these devices prior to a purchase but I bought them anyway. This is a very basic rule every audiophile should obey – buy nothing if you can't listen to it in your own system. And I use this rule most of the time but sometimes there is absolutely no chance for an audition and I simply feel it is the right choice. So far this few decisions I made in this way were all great ones. That's how I came by a wonderful NIBIRU phonostage – maybe my personal best buy ever.
This time this little devil (sitting most of the time on my left shoulder) kept whispering to my ear that I needed to get acquainted with BDP-83 modified by one of the modders. I fought bravely, struggled and … failed eventually. The only question left was: „who should modify this player for me?” This problem seemed unsolvable for quite some time and I began to think about giving up regardless of some emails I already had exchanged with some of these modders by that time. I simply wasn't able to make a simple (yeah!) decision which mod was the best. Finally I came across a thread started by a guy with exactly same problem. One of the answers was a revelation to me (that's not an exact quote) „let's see – which of these modders has been a modder for years and which of them was a modder and now has a respected company manufacturing even his own products?” As I said it was like a revelation to me – I had a chance before to listen to some great products of Dan Wright from Modwright and I had truly liked them so why would I be thinking about anybody else right now when making my decision? One more argument for Modwright – they have a Distributor here in Poland. Well Dan's policy was not to sell mods via distributors but I decided that it might be easier to contact him on the matter using Soundclub as an „intermediary”. One thing this approach gave me was an honest reply to a question (I don't know – maybe I would have received it anyway) if it was worth to spend 400$ more for SE version and modify this one. Before he put his hands on SE version Dan was convinced it was worth to wait for SE but when he finally got it … he wasn't so sure anymore. I mean he wasn't sure if there was a clear sonic advantage of SE. Well, if he couldn't tell I wouldn't pay … meaning I decided to go cheap. I chose standard version with stereo mode only.
Modding by Dan was not, like by some other guys, just replacing some elements with better ones. He took it seriously with a simple objective in mind – the best performance – and re-engineered analogue stage and upgraded some others. This particular modification done for me included:
- Upgrade of stock power supplies.
- Burson Clock upgrade.
- Installation of proprietary, dedicated analog power supply of Modwright's design.
- Upgrade of Stereo Left and Right analog channels only with Modwright's discrete FET-based circuit.
- Damping mods to chassis and drive.
According to Dan what one gets eventually is „a TRUE UNIVERSAL player with stereo channels all upgraded with Modwright's proprietary discrete mosfet analog stage circuit featuring zero global feedback and NO op-amps. All analog stage circuits are fed via Modwright's own internal dedicated power supply”. Is it really enough to make Oppo a serious challenge to well known brands? Can it compete with more expensive CD and/or SACD/DVD-A players? Well, despite many people claiming just that, I found it hard to believe it was such a „killer”. Even my own personal respect for Dan Wright's achievements like his great KWA150 amplifier, LS 36.5 Linestage or wonderful SWP 9.0SE Tube Phono Stage was not enough to just take his word for it. When I finally picked up my player from Soundclub I was excited and … afraid to turn it on. At the same time I was reviewing ARC CD5 and loved it very, very much – that was probably the best CD player I'd reviewed so far so how could I have compared Oppo to it? So all I did with Oppo was turning it on to play continuously one record just to give it time to break in. After couple of days I was finally ready to … listen to my new BDP-83.
Discs used for listening sessions
- Anne-Sophie Mutter, Carmen-Fantasie, DG 00289 477 5721, SACD.
- Janos Starker Schuman, Cello Concerto; MERKURY 475 6621, SACD.
- Muddy Waters, Folk singer, CLASSIC RECORDS, 24/192 DVD, HDAD2008, DVD-A.
- Możdżer Danielsson Fresco, The Time, OM CD001, CD.
- Pink Floyd, Dark side of the moon, TOGP-15001, SACD.
- Pink Floyd, Dark side of the moon, CDP 0777 7 46001 2 S, CD.
- The Nordic Sound, 2L-RR1-SABD, BR/SACD.
I've never had a SACD or DVD-A player before so my music library is composed mostly of CDs and vinyl records, and only very few SACDs and one (!) DVD-A disc. But since it took quite a while before I got my Oppo I had a chance to acquire some new titles. Disc used for break-in period was Manger Sampler (CD) – it was just lying around when I needed to insert something to the player but it also contained quite varied musical material so was a right choice to do the job. At the very beginning of my listening session I just chose the right input in the amplifier and listened to some pieces from this particular disc. So called „first impression” was triggered by bass range. Wow! Surely much better than from my CEC 51XR – better extension, well controlled, punchy and all that without my subwoofer even turned on. I was really impressed cause the difference in the bass range was comparable to extend of changes that had happened when I'd first added sub to my system. That was my first impression but later when listening to Pink Floyd's DSOTM (SACD) or Muddy Waters Folk Singer (DVD-A) I realized that low range was presented in a great way by modified Oppo but on the other hand so was the whole frequency range.
That reminded me my encounter with Hansen Audio Prince V2 – the sound was fabulous but what I remembered most was uniquely fantastic bass range. BDP-83 made similar impression (although of course it was not a high-end device unlike Prince V2) – simply what I noticed first was well extended, rich bass and after that I started to appreciate also the rest of the range.
DSOTM on Japanese SACD was another version of this great recording that I owned but so far vinyl records were setting a reference for me. I was hoping though that Japanese SACD would be something special – maybe the best version on silver disc. Oppo proved my hopes were not in vain although in my opinion somehow Japanese sound engineers didn't or couldn't do their job equally well for all the pieces. Some of them sounded very closely to what I got from vinyl but few sounded worse. Time for example was presented by BDP-83 brilliantly – all these clocks ticking everywhere around me – amazing, and when they all started to chime … wow! That was something so realistic that I knew how the watchmaker must have felt at noon. What made the sound even more realistic was differentiation between all these sounds from different clocks and all of them sounding like there was really one metal piece hitting the other. And making these powerful sounds. But on the other hand one of the best vocal pieces ever recorded - The great gig in the sky by Clare Torry wasn't as good as I knew it from vinyl records – it was lacking all that passion, her heart and soul that usually could be easily heard in her voice. Just to make sure it was about this particular edition rather than about Oppo I listen later to a regular DSOTM CD. Clare Torry's magic was back – all these emotions expressed by powerful voice and already mentioned heart and soul immediately became recognizable (still not as great as from vinyl but surely much better than from Japanese SACD). I was relieved – particular edition and not Oppo was to be blamed. I just hoped that one day someone would combine the best parts of both editions as the result would come very close to the best vinyl issues. Of course BDP-83 played its role here – it was capable of showing all the strengths of the recording without hiding its weaknesses but also without drawing them out. Obvious Oppo's advantage was how it set the pace, also its timing – the former came from extended and well controlled bass, the later from ability to follow any pace and playing each tone precisely at the time point where it belonged. Human ear picks up problems with timing very easily and if there is a problem with it that can ruin any musical presentation.
Folk singer by Muddy Waters is one of the best and most known blues recordings ever made and it's one of my favorites too. Same as for Floyds also here my reference version would be vinyl issued by MSFL, although to be honest MSFL's CD is probable as good as the record but I don't need to be objective so my vote goes for vinyl. DVD-A edition is an opportunity to check this recording in 24 bit/192 kHz resolution, which is great but you have to remember it was recorded in 1963. That means 24/192 is not its original quality – it must have been up-sampled for this particular issue. Was it a good idea? Well – both MFSL works (record and CD) offer very palpable, realistic sound, fantastic timbre, amazing recording of Muddy's voice and guitar. DVD-A is more about liquid, smooth sound that is in fact less palpable, less real so MFSL still stays on the top of my private list. It was important though for me, as an owner of modified Oppo, that the player was able to clearly show me differences between these version, thus proving that it didn't add its own sonic signature but rather presented what was originally on particular disc./p>
As I mentioned already many times for me music should a source of joy, pleasure, relaxation and that's why what's most important is if timbre of instruments and voices is presented in a beautiful way – that is even more important than realism. Realism means more „high fidelity” but often less pleasure. So I personally prefer sometimes a sweet little lie from realistic bad sounding viola or double-bass. Again – that is in contrary to high-fidelity idea but why should I spend whole lot of money to build a system that will show me precisely each mistake sound engineers made. Next three recordings were supposed to show me if Oppo wasn't too transparent, too literal showing all flaws of many recordings, especially with „old” ones of classical music like the ones from Mercury Living Presence. These are often transfers from 35mm tapes, so they always include the noise of the tape itself if not some more technical flaws. But the „artistic” value of these recordings is absolutely amazing so these are still highly appreciated by many music lovers including myself. BDP-83 turned out to be more cruel „judge” for these recordings than my CEC 51XR had been before (although CEC played CD layer not SACD). It's probably because it offered more neutral tonal balance and there was no warmth, no rounding on the top and low end which were features of Japanese player. I could still listen to Starker with great pleasure admiring his skills and tone of his wonderful cello but I was aware most of the time of the technical imperfections of this particular recording. The conclusion was that BDP-83 likes „high-fidelity” presentation more than his owner (me), but fortunately for me it didn't cross the line so I could still be quite a happy owner.
This „hi-fi” approach wasn't a problem when Anne-Sophie Mutter played Zigeunerweisen by Pablo de Sarasate. There was some gipsy's fantasy, fire and tones of emotions in this performance a – all necessary elements of gipsy's music. Oppo presented soloist clearly in front of the orchestra – it was not just about her being placed in the front but also her being the star of the show even though she just played violin and there was a huge orchestra playing behind her back. Player didn't even try to warm up the timbre of Anne-Sophie's violin but still it was simply beautiful offering crystal clear, transparent, vibrant and detailed sound. Also ambiance effects were amazing, the attack and decay of each tone lasted precisely as long as it should have had. BDP-83 presented the soundstage in a very orderly way, showing clearly several layers and precise phantom images.
I had similar impression after listening to the only music blu-ray disc I own from Norwegian 2L label. It would be probably great to listen to it in a multichannel system because the recorded ensemble was sitting in a circle around microphones – they claim that when listening to this recording in multichannel system you should feel like you sit in the middle of the orchestra – might be an interesting experience. When listening in two channels I couldn't really confirm that but still it was greatly mastered and performed recording. Same description I used before (which sounded like a commercial of some mp3 player) about „crystal clear sound” came to my mind first again. There were lots of details, lot of air around each particular musician and the whole ensemble as well. And again rooms ambiance played a great role in the recording creating some kind of „aura” around musicians.
So the big question is: was it worth it to exchange well known player from respected Japanese manufacturer for modded BR player from US? For me it worked very well – CEC was great as long as I wanted my system to sound very „analogue” meaning rather bit warm than transparent. But recently my preferences changed and this step towards high-fidelity was a good one. More neutral, faster, more transparent sound but still with a very nice midrange met my expectations. Additionally I gained better extended, defined and faster bass and didn't loose what I love most – beautiful timbre, spacial effects and palpability of the sound – all the advantages offered by 300B SET together with horn speakers. Surely I'm not going to full myself or you – this is not a high-end player yet – it's a very solid hi-fi device with great price/value ratio. I paid for it bit less than for CEC player and got a better sounding player with additional capabilities of playing SACD, DVD-A and BR discs (could watch movies too). It is definitely a step forward in a development of my personal audio system at a reasonable expense. We can't forget about original manufacturer of BDP-83 – Oppo Digital – thanks to them it is a well tested product and a very attractive object for modifications. Dan Wright's expertise did the rest of the trick and the final product is surely worth audiophile's attention if they don't have too many bucks to spend.
Oppo BDP-83 is a Blu-ray player capable of playing also CD, SACD and DVD-A. One can use stereo outputs as well as multichannel (7+1 or 5+1). Its simple, black housing reminds me more of a BR or DVD player than any audiophile's device. On the other hand though casing is made of quite solid aluminum like most high quality CD players are. In the front there is a nice, easily readable display placed under the drawer, on/off switch, open switch, hidden USB slot and push buttons for basic operations. Back panel includes stereo and 7.1 outputs, video outputs, digital sound outputs (coax and optical) HDMI, USB and LAN (for software upgrades and BR Live function) and last but not least IEC. There is also a small cooler installed in the back panel but fortunately it is very quiet one – I couldn't hear it during players operation. Dan Wright's modifications improving sound for dedicated stereo output include:
- Upgrade of stock power supplies (I found there Mundorf's caps).
- Burson Clock upgrade (very low jitter).
- Installation of proprietary, dedicated analog power supply of Modwright's design (including Modwright's proprietary caps).
- Upgrade of Stereo Left and Right analog channels only with Modwright's discrete FET-based circuit (a separate PCB).
- Damping mods to chassis and drive.
Technical data (according to manufacturer):
playable discs: BD-Video, DVD-Video, AVCHD, DVD-Audio, SACD, CD, HDCD, Kodak Picture CD CD-R/RW, DVD±R/RW, DVD±R DL, BD-R/RE
analogue outputs: 7.1 or 5.1, stereo
digital outputs: optical, coaxial
frequency range: 20 Hz – 20 kHz (±0.4dB)
S/N ratio: >110dB
THD+N: < 0.002%
power consumption: 35 W (0,5 W in standby mode)
dimensions: 430mm x 336mm x 77mm
weight: 5,1 kg