Oppo Digital's first Blu-ray player the BDP-83 entered the market in mid 2009 to numerous accolades. A mere half year later, Oppo Digital, not satisfied with the untapped performance potential of the player, released the BDP-83 Special Edition reviewed here. Despite the relatively short release interval between the standard and Special Editions, Oppo Digital was not the only company to recognize the untapped potential of the BDP-83. Modwright and Nuforce, among others, have introduced a variety of modified editions of Oppo's Blu-ray player, which should come as no surprise as Oppo's prior products were popular with electronic hot-rodders. I can recall walking the halls of audio shows and seeing several modified players that transformed the solidly performing Oppo products to true high performance contenders.
The Special Edition version of the BDP-83 at $899 commands a $400 premium over the standard version that is itself a solid performer. The Special Edition is designed for enthusiasts whose systems will utilize the analog audio outputs of the player. On the outside, the BDP-83 Special Edition is differentiated only by the modest silkscreen of the words "Special Edition" to the left of the front panel display. The real modifications are internal and center on the use of ESS Technology DACs in the special edition in place of the Cirrus Logic units in the standard version and an upgraded power supply. ESS Technology is a relative newcomer to the high performance audio market. Despite their new arrival to the market, companies such as Samsung, Krell and McIntosh, not to mention Oppo, have all been sufficiently impressed to utilize the ESS Technology DACs in their products. The BDP-83 Special Edition incorporates the ES9016 Sabre (32) Ultra DAC for the stereo output and an ES9006 DAC for the 7.1 channel output.
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The ES9016 Sabre(32) Ultra DAC claims to differ from conventional sigma-delta DACs, incorporating patented circuits specified to provide up to 128dB dynamic range and 0.0003 percent (-110dB) total harmonic distortion, and freedom from clock jitter. Some of the patented circuits in the Sabre(32) DAC include the 32-bit HyperStream modulator, said to be capable of 100 percent modulation and unconditional stability, the Revolver Dynamic Element Matching which ensures the highest performance over an exceptionally wide audio dynamic range, and a Time Domain Jitter Eliminator to remove the digital jitter that causes distortion. The ES9016 Sabre (32) Ultra DAC is flexible in that it can be configured for either stereo or 7.1 channel duty.
The BDP-83 Special Edition's stereo output is fed by the ES9016 Sabre(32) Ultra 8-channel DAC configured in Quad Differential Stereo mode. The ES9016 Sabre (32) Ultra DAC significantly improves the analog audio performance of the BDP-83 Special Edition Blu-ray player to a level allowing it to compete with audiophile-grade components. The stereo output is not the only benefactor of upgraded components; the 7.1-channel output features the ES9006 Sabre Premier 8-channel DAC, which also provides a notable improvement over the original BDP-83.
In addition to the audiophile features highlighted above, the BDP-83 Special Edition is a full featured universal disc player, which like the BDP-83 plays nearly every disc format other than HD DVD. In addition to the feature set of the BDP-83 which is more fully described in my prior review of that player, the Special Edition comes standard with a RS-232 control port and with the latest firmware update, add two experimental features (also now available on the standard edition player), home network streaming and BluTv, an interactive television service.
I used the BDP-83 Special Edition in both of my stereo and theater reference systems. All of my listening for this review was through the BDP-83 Special Edition's analog outputs. I connected the Oppo to my dedicated two-channel system through its dedicated stereo output. This system is comprised of Conrad Johnson's CT-5 preamplifier driving a Halcro DM-38 amplifier and Martin Logan Summit speakers. All cabling was Kimber Select. Power conditioning was by a Richard Gray 1200 unit.
I also used the BDP-83 Special Edition in my theater system, connecting it to my Marantz AV-8003 preamplifier / processor via HDMI and analog 5.1. The rest of my theater system is currently comprised of a Marantz MM-8003 amplifier, Marantz VP-11S2 projector, Martin Logan Summits, Martin Logan Stage and a Paradigm Sub25. All cables were from Kimber with the exception of the 5.1 cables. The 5.1 cables were comprised of three pairs of Ultralink's Platinum series interconnects. Again, all of my multi-channel listening for this review was done through the 7.1 channel analog output with the speakers set to large / full range. I used my subwoofer's internal crossover on the .1 channel. The Oppo only provides one cross-over point at 80Hz for small or limited range speakers. While this may work for most systems, some users may be forced to do their bass management by other means.
Like the standard BDP-83, the Special Edition features Oppo's "Easy Setup Wizard". As before, I found the Easy Setup Wizard to be informative and easy to use allowing me to quickly set the player up in my theater system. It was not necessary to run the setup wizard for my two channel system as the stereo outputs are always active and by default receive the two channel downmix.
The BDP-83 Special Edition's heightened performance lies in its analog audio outputs. The HDMI and other digital outputs are carried over from the BDP-83 and the increased performance can only be realized by using the analog audio outputs.
As I had only recently reviewed the standard edition of the BDP-83 and the main goal of this review is to describe the differences between the two versions of the BDP-83 now offered by Oppo. As before, I compared the Oppo player to my reference CD player, Classé CDP-202. My listening notes indicated that the low beats in the opening of "Breathe" on Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon (Capitol Records/ Mobile Fidelity) were reproduced with significant weight. Playing this same track through the Special Edition, the low frequency energy was even more substantial and fleshed out while remaining detailed and taut. On "Money" the guitars were better reproduced than with the standard edition, with the biggest difference being the increased sense of space and dynamics. With the standard edition the guitars lacked the weight and ambience of my reference player but with the Special Edition the gap was dramatically narrowed. The differences between my reference rig and the two Oppo players were generally the same in character but were greatly reduced in every respect with the Special Edition. The increased detail resolution of the Special Edition provides a significantly enhanced sense of aural texture and sense of space which provides a much more realistic sonic reproduction.
The improved sense of space was very noticeable while listening to "Hallelujah" on Jeff Buckley's Live at Sine album. The midrange thinness and lack of fine detail that I experienced with the original version of this player was all but eliminated with the Special Edition. Listening to "Hallelujah" through the BDP-83 Special Edition was much closer to my listening experience through the much more expensive Classé than the standard BDP-83. The Special Edition was much faster on the leading edge details of the musical notes and provided much more of the textural details that provide a heightened sense of realism. The overall sonic presentation was a bit recessed as compared to my reference gear, as though my listening position was moved back in the auditorium.
The new Black Eyed Peas album The End (Interscope Records) highlighted the Special Edition's increased leading edge speed and dynamics over the standard edition. The opening track "Boom Boom Pow" is a hard-hitting, high-energy track. The track is filled with sharp and powerful synthesized notes that were notably faster and more dynamic on the Special Edition.
The SACD format remains the pre-recorded disc format of choice for audiophiles. Newer, higher resolution formats are on the horizon but for the time being the SACD format has the biggest catalog of high resolution audio recordings on the market, including new releases. My SACD listening started with the BDP-83 Special Edition in my stereo system before I moved it into my theater system for multi-channel listening.
As with the CD portion of my review, I used some of the same SACDs in my review of the BDP-83 Special Edition. Paul Desmond's saxophone on "These Foolish Things" from The Dave Brubeck Quartet's Jazz at Oberlin (Fantasy Jazz) sounded quite good on the regular BDP-83, striking a good balance of energy, remaining energetic and involving but never harsh. In listening to the same track on the Special Edition there was even more texture to the notes, the tones were flushed out with more body and substance. Also, when comparing the two players I noted a slight presence of glare on the standard BDP-83 that was not present on the more refined Special Edition. This was also noticeable when listening to Brubeck on the piano. As compared to the Classé CDP-202 and, to a lesser extent, the Marantz UD-9004, I could not see as far into the music details with the Oppo. While the Oppo's image was very good and much more convincing than many of the players on the market, the more expensive players let me see deeper into the image, making it that much more realistic.
I also listened to Carl Orff's Carmina Burana (Telarc SACD) in both stereo and multi-channel surround. Fortuna Imperatix Mundi, the opening two tracks of the disc demonstrated the BDP-83 Special Edition's ability to resolve layers of the chorus concurrently with the deep and powerful drums and organ without letting either one overpower the other. The soundstage of the stereo mix seemed to be set slightly farther back than the multi-channel mix with more stage depth to the multi-channel mix. On the second track, energetic strings join the mix adding yet another layer to the mix. Both mixes feature powerful bass courtesy of the drums and organ accompanying the choir. As before, the bass notes felt (literally) more solid and defined than on the standard edition Oppo.
Continue reading about the BDP-83 on Page 2.