Oppo Digital's Blu-ray and DVD players have found favor with the most demanding high-end customers. I knew that Oppo has collaborated with a number of high-end audio companies (Ayre Acoustics, MSB Technology, NuForce, and others) on a number of products, but I didn't know Oppo made improvements on its own products based on feedback from those high-end companies.
The Oppo BDP-95 ($999) may have a lot in common with the company's BDP-93 ($499) 3D universal Blu-ray, SACD, DVD-Audio player, but the BDP-95 really is a very different, potentially better sounding Blu-ray player. I say potentially because the $999 player's upgraded digital-to-analog converter and audio circuitry won't make a nit of difference if you're using the player's HDMI v1.4a connections.
I spoke with Oppo's Jason J. Liao, CTO and VP of product development, to learn more about the BDP-95. It was targeted to home theater buyers who have already invested in above-average-sounding receivers built before the advent of high-resolution Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio high-resolution soundtracks. There's also a market for buyers with older receivers lacking HDMI connectivity, but have receivers with 5.1 or 7.1 analog inputs. The BDP-95 can process those high-resolution movie soundtracks and route them over its 7.1-channel analog connections.
Liao thinks the BDP-95's digital-to-analog converters (DACs) might be better sounding than the DACs found in many receivers, even those sporting the latest HDMI connectivity.
He was especially proud of the BDP-95's Sabre32 Reference ES9018 digital-to-analog converters (DACs); sourced from ESS Technology. I said converters because the player uses two DAC chips--one for the 7.1-channel output--and one dedicated to stereo output, which uses four DAC channels stacked together. The player features fully balanced analog circuitry, like the type seen only on high-end players costing many times more than the BDP-95. The stereo output offers both XLR (balanced) and RCA single-ended connectors. The player can also play high-resolution (up to 192-kHz/24-bit) WAV files burned to DVDs or USB thumbdrives, so you don't need a computer to play files in your home theater or hi-fi system. Liao told me the BDP-95 can play multichannel WAV or FLAC files via network streaming with DLNA. Unfortunately, the Oppo cannot be used as an USB-DAC.
Chances are, the DAC probably sounds better than the one in your receiver, and the BDP-95's analog circuitry is also better than your receiver's. Liao pointed out the bulk of the player's internal real estate is taken up by its analog circuitry. The BDP-95 weighs 16 pounds and that's about 5 pounds more than the BDP-93. The weight differential comes from the player's larger, custom-designed power transformer, larger audio board, and stiffer chassis. It feels nice and solid. One other thing: the rear-mounted cooling fan's noise might be audible in very quiet rooms.
I started my auditions comparing the BDP-95 with the older BDP-83SE Blu-ray player and I found the newer model's sound had more body and soul. With the Allman Brothers' "At Fillmore East" SACD I heard a more lifelike presence from the band's two drummers, and the sound of Duane Allman's guitar filling that old theater brought back memories! The BDP-83SE was in the ballpark alright, but the BDP-95 was more natural-sounding. Instruments had more body and the soundstage was more open, and less "attached" to my Magnepan 3.6 panel speakers. No, it's not a huge difference, but if you have a high-end system, it's a difference definitely worth upgrading to.
Paul Simon's new "So Beautiful or So What" LP comes with a code that provides access to a free 96-kHz/24-bit WAV digital download. Burned to a DVD the album sounded remarkably pure and clean. The LP, presumably mastered from the same digital source, sounded a little warmer, but the download's sound was otherwise close to the LP. I have a feeling more and more LPs will be sold with high-resolution downloads in the coming years.
The BDP-95 also played ultra-high-resolution 176.4-kHz/24-bit WAV files on DVDs from MA Recordings and Reference Recordings. Puente Celeste's "Nama" from MA was a standout; the group hails from Argentina. The album was recorded "live," without compression, overdubs, or processing of any kind, and it sounds as lifelike as they come. The band's hand percussion instruments sounded so real I felt like I could touch them. It's funny; high-resolution audio doesn't immediately seem more "detailed," it just sounds more like the band is in the room with you.
To finish up I compared the BDP-95 with a PS Audio PerfectWave Transport and DAC ($3,000 each) with high-resolution WAV files. The PS Audio gear produced a deeper and broader soundstage, and was more dynamically alive. Considering the price differential I'd still say the BDP-95 did a fine job. The PS gear only plays CDs and WAV files, so sure, the Oppo does a lot more stuff, but for hard-core audiophiles with deep pockets, the PS Audio gear is highly recommended. If you're not ready to invest $6,000 on the PS gear, buy the BDP-95, and you'll be glad you did.