Myron Ho is a seasoned marketing and brand strategy professional, now working in the Southern California area as a marketing consultant for various large corporate clients. As a youth growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Myron studied classical piano and participated in many statewide competitions for such. A passion for music and movies has naturally dovetailed into the same passion for the equipment and tools that bring about excellent reproduction of both. Aside from home theater-related pursuits, Myron enjoys travelling and exploring new restaurants with his wife, Angel.
Years ago, my penchant for Hong Kong cinema, especially martial arts films, led me to search for a region-free DVD player so that I wouldn't be limited to viewing the titles that were sold in the United States. This was my first experience with Oppo Digital, having purchased an after-market version of one of the company's early up-converting DVD players. I remember that, for the small amount I paid for the player, I was quite impressed with both the video and sound quality, which were certainly a cut above the common line-doubling DVD players of the day. I used that player for years, until Blu-ray became the established format.
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Oppo's new BDP-105, along with the earlier reviewed BDP-103, represents the third generation of Oppo's universal Blu-ray disc players. The previous generation's highly regarded BDP-93/95 players have established Oppo as the "go-to" brand for disc transports, with the BDP-95 considered by many to be a high-value reference-quality universal player. So the BDP-105 certainly has big shoes to fill - so much so that, as with the summer blockbuster action movie that everyone expects to dominate, other producers try to avoid the direct competition during the same opening weekend. At $1,199, the BDP-105 sits relatively isolated at a price point higher than most budget players offered at your local big-box retailer, but far lower than some more exotic makes that can cost multiples higher.
The BDP-105 shares much of its video processing, connections and networking capabilities with the lower-priced BDP-103 ($499), which already won our enviable Best of Home Theater Review 2012 award. The big question is: what does the BDP-105 provide to make it worth spending the additional $700, compared to an already world-class player like the BDP-103? Much of the answer lies in the design of the BDP-105. As with the previous generation, the higher model is positioned as an audiophile product, with improved audio quality - especially analog playback. At first glance, the audio section of the BDP-105 looks very similar to that of the BDP-95, sharing the same ESS Sabre32 Reference DAC chip, toroidal power supply, and balanced outputs. However, the BDP-105 is not simply the old BDP-95 with new functionality slapped on top of it. A closer examination reveals some interesting tweaks. For starters, while the BDP-95's analog section rested on one single board, the BDP-105 is split into two boards: one dedicated to stereo and the other to multichannel audio. In fact, the entire power supply and analog section have been redesigned with dedicated channel pairs for the RCA (unbalanced) and XLR (balanced) outputs and two for the headphone/headphone amp outputs. This serves to reduce signal crosstalk and further improve upon the already fabulous sound quality of the BDP-95.
Using Blue Jeans HDMI cables, I connected the Oppo to my BenQ W7000 DLP front projector. Using balanced XLR cables, I alternately connected the BDP-105 first to my reference Parasound Halo JC2BP preamp and then directly to two amplifiers, which drove my reference Salk Signature SoundScape 12 speakers. Why this complicated setup? With the increased number of features offered by the new Oppo player (including two HDMI inputs and a trio of digital audio inputs: optical, coaxial and USB), there's been a lot of talk about how much of its functionality is encroaching on the territory traditionally occupied by AV preamps and receivers. I wanted to fully test this idea by using the BDP-105 as my AV preamp. It's one thing to be able to connect directly to an amplifier, but how well would the BDP-105 be able to actually drive the line stage output and control an amplifier as a true preamp would? Would the Oppo's digital volume control work well enough for this purpose?
Read about the Performance, the Comparison and Competition, the Downside and the Conclusion on Page 2 . . .
Since the BDP-105 shares the same video circuitry as the BDP-103, I'm going to direct you to that review for a more in-depth discussion of video performance and place greater emphasis here on the BDP-105's audio performance.
As a home theater enthusiast, I consider movie playback and music to be equally important, and I started my review session with movies, using the BDP-105 with my Parasound preamp. With The Cold Light of Day (Intrepid Pictures) on Blu-ray, a smaller-budget film starring Henry Cavill, video processing was flawless as expected. The dialogue and soundtrack were perfectly proportioned and adeptly controlled throughout the film, much like a high-end AV preamp. Early picturesque scenes with Cavill's character Will and family vacationing off the coast of Spain showed beautiful cinematography, but the audio was what caught my attention. The sounds of the waves and the boat were so realistic, I felt like I was out to sea with the cast. Imaging was precise and detailed, especially in a later club scene that begins with a venue packed with people and euro techno/rock music infusing the ambience. As a fight ensues between our hero and one of the villain assassins, the BDP-105's stereo downmix algorithm expertly reproduced clear separation of all the elements. The ambient club music did not die down so that you could hear the dialogue and choreographed action effects; rather, every syllable of every word, every punch and slam was heard while the loud music was blaring. I seldom find this level of precision and separation in any $1,200 receiver or preamp.
Moving to music playback, I selected one of my favorite discs: the Grammy Award-winning Call Me Irresponsible by Michael Buble on CD (Reprise Records). Track Five, "Comin' Home Baby," features Buble and the timeless a capella group Boyz II Men in a duet with a jazz ensemble for accompaniment. Acoustic instruments and vocals all sounded natural and smooth. There was a realism and transparency I heard in the music that was more reminiscent of a $5,000 dedicated CD transport than a universal disc player that is supposed to handle any spinning disc or digital file under the sun.
Next I decided to catch up on season three of the critically acclaimed HBO series Game of Thrones. Using the Oppo to decode the digital signal sent from my AT&T U-Verse HD-DVR, I queued up Episode Four, "And Now His Watch is Ended." The opening theme with the chamber music ensemble sounded fantastic, highlighted by the viola's deep, rich lows as the camera pans across the map of all the lands of Westeros, the land heatedly contested by all the various factions in the show. In the final scenes, as Daenerys Targaryen assumes command of her new army and orders them to march against and slaughter her enemies, the battle scene was epic and the accompanying soundtrack was up to the task. Unlike the muddled rumbling of sounds you usually hear with lesser components like low-budget receivers and/or Blu-ray players, I heard all of the individual soldiers' footsteps and weapon strikes deftly controlled by the BDP-105 with extreme accuracy and detail.
What about using the BDP-105 as a DAC? Here I turned to high-resolution downloaded sources. I skipped the use of a computer's processing and soundcard output by storing the HDTracks sampler album on a USB jump drive and plugging it directly into the BDP-105's front USB input. The Oppo unit had no problems reading the 96-kHz/24-bit files in the FLAC format, and I used the onscreen menu to select songs in the playlist. Listening to "Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: The Snow Maiden - Dance of the Tumblers" (Reference Recordings) was a pleasure. The dynamic range of this Minnesota Orchestra rendition was undeniably high-definition. With more compressed sources, music was still a pleasure to listen to; nothing seemed to sound truly bad, but more like I knew that I was listening to a recording. With higher-resolution sources like SACDs and high-resolution downloads, the BDP-105 gave me a greater sense of the live presentation, as if I were there. In fact, for fans of Direct Stream Digital, the BDP-105 (as well as the BDP-103) can be enabled to read both stereo and multichannel DSD files (both DFF and DSF formats). I did not test this function; at the time of this review, only a beta version of the firmware update was publicly available.
So far, I've talked about the Oppo's use as a DAC and a player/controller. Using the BDP-105 as a fully-functioning preamp by disconnecting my reference Parasound Halo JC2BP from the chain, I still got the same level of detail and precision as I repeated my battery of tests. In fact, there was an even greater sense of transparency and openness to the sound. Using the digital volume "knob" via the Oppo remote control was absolutely painless. What I lost was a little bit of the depth, fullness and refinement that the Parasound preamp added to the equation, but this is really an unfair comparison. After all, my JC2BP retails at $4,500 and is considered by many (including yours truly) as a great value, as its performance rivals that of reference preamps costing far more. I would pit the sound quality of the Oppo BDP-105 acting as a standalone preamp against any AV preamp or receiver costing up to $2,000 any day.
One of the truly enlightening experiences as to just how much the BDP-105 is a master, not just a jack of all trades, was when I plugged my Skull Candy Hesh2 headphones into the unit's headphone amp plug. I played Miles Davis' "So What" from the essential album Kind of Blue (Columbia). There was a depth and richness to the instruments that I did not expect to hear with a built-in headphone amp on a Blu-ray player. I had to replay a few tracks on the album just to make sure I heard correctly, but what I got was an actual three-dimensional soundstage. Instead of one blob of sound, I actually heard Davis' trumpet, Bill Evans' piano and Wynton Kelly's piano in distinct locations across the soundstage.
It's my job to come up with faults, so I suppose I will quibble over a few minor points. Making selections using the on-unit display is far less friendly than using the onscreen display, which allows viewing into all possible menus and functions available.
To fully function as an AV preamp, the BDP-105 should also add user-saved selections for those settings. Currently, if I want a different audio configuration for two-channel music listening versus multichannel movie playback, or switching from my cable box as a source to a USB hard drive/computer, the BDP-105 requires me to go into the onscreen menu and manually reselect each setting, which can be cumbersome depending on how picky a user I am.
Also, as fantastic as the headphone amp is on the unit, there is only a quarter-inch plug. The many earbuds and over-the-ear headphones that use an eighth-inch plug would require an adapter, as did my Skull Candy headphones. But I suppose the majority of reference-quality headphones do use the larger plug.
Comparison and Competition
When the Oppo BDP-105 came out late last year, I would have said there was no real competition. But snapping at its heels is, as always, is Cambridge Audio. Just as Cambridge came out with the 751BD with similar functionality and performance shortly after Oppo released the BDP-95, the new Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD universal player boasts competitive functionality and performance with the BDP-105 reviewed here today. In fact, it even shares the same video-processing platform with the new Marvell QDEO chip. Other universal disc players in the same price range include the Marantz UD7007 and Denon DBT-3313UDCI, but these players don't offer as many features (like 4K upscaling and HDMI/digital audio inputs) as the Oppo and Cambridge players. The biggest competition for BDP-105 might be Oppo's own BDP-103, for those who want the high-quality universal player and perhaps the HDMI inputs, but aren't interested in the more audiophile-oriented aspects of the BDP-105's design and performance. To read more Blu-ray reviews from all of the top manufacturers, check out HomeTheaterReview.com's Blu-ray section here.
If ever there is an audio/video component that offers great value with a capital V, it's the Oppo Digital BDP-105. While it's billed primarily as an audiophile-oriented universal disc player, it brings so many other perks to the table: networking connectivity, Ultra HD upscaling, a reference-quality internal DAC, preamp capabilities, a headphone amplifier, and a host of other functions. It's easily a $5,000 universal disc player, $1,000 headphone amp, $4,000 outboard DAC, $1,500 AV preamp, plus a video switcher, network/media server and so on - all rolled into one $1,199 unit. If you have the money, buy the Oppo BDP-105. Even if you have significantly more than $1,199 to spend on a dedicated component for any one of the functions that the BDP-105 provides, consider carefully whether you might not just save the money and go with the BDP-105 instead. Then you can invest the savings elsewhere in your system, for speakers, amplifiers or some facet that the Oppo does not cover. You could easily spend more and actually get less performance than the Oppo BDP-105 provides. Chalk up another well-deserved five-star review for Oppo.