OPPO Digital BDP-95 Universal Disc Player Reviewed

OPPO Digital BDP-95 Universal Disc Player Reviewed

OPPO Digital continues to prove why they deserve the accolades heaped upon them. That said, the OPPO Digital BDP-95 universal disc player is not without its problems, which reviewer Brian Kahn discovered during his evaluation.

Oppo_BDP-95_Bluray_Player_review_keyart.jpgOPPO Digital‘s long anticipated, audiophile fabulous BDP-95 is finally available. When the highly acclaimed BDP-83 Special Edition was discontinued and the BDP-95 announced, there was a lot of speculation floating around. Would the BDP-95 be a worthy successor? Would it simply add streaming capabilities to the prior model or rather bring the performance up a level?

Additional Resources
• Read more Blu-ray player reviews by the staff at Home Theater Review.
• Find a Plasma HDTV or LED HDTV to pair with the OPPO BDP-95.
• Explore AV receiver options in our AV Receiver Review section.

Unless you are brand new to home theater, you likely know about the above speculation and are aware of OPPO Digital’s role as the company that offers products that provide high performance levels at reasonable prices. Two years after introducing their first Blu-ray player, OPPO Digital remains on the performance forefront with the introduction of the BDP-95. The BDP-95 is the successor to the BDP-83 Special Edition with the addition of 3D and streaming capabilities. At $899 the BDP-83 Special Edition set the performance benchmark in its price category (and well above). The BDP-95 is slightly more expensive at $999 and for reasons you will read about below, remains the universal disc player benchmark for audiophiles.

As the BDP-83 Special Edition was the performance version of the BDP-83, the BDP-95 is the audiophile version of the BDP-93. The video and digital audio circuitry is the same in the two units. The differences lie with the analog audio performance. If you are only going to use the digital outputs, save some money and buy the BDP-93 (or spend the same amount of money and get two BDP-93s). You can learn all about the BDP-93 from Adrienne Maxwell’s review.

Unlike the BDP-83 Special Edition, the BDP-95 features a different chassis than the model from which it was developed. Accordingly, it is not possible to upgrade a BDP-93 to a BDP-95. At sixteen pounds the BDP-95 weighs five pounds more than the BDP-93 and was the first thing I noticed when I removed the tote bag ensconced player from its Apple-like packaging. Upon opening the bag I was greeted by a front panel unlike any other OPPO panel I have seen. The heavy gauge metal front panel is finished in an attractive matte black finish with bevels along the top and bottom edges. The majority of the front panel is occupied by a glossy black panel that hides the disc tray and transport controls. The panel is flanked on the left by an OPPO badge that doubles as a power button and a covered USB port on the right side. The rear panel has the same plethora of connections as the BDP-93: dual HDMI v 1.4a outputs, stereo and 7.1 analog outputs, component and composite video outputs, IR input, RS-232, digital outputs, USB and eSata connections with the notable addition of balanced stereo outputs.

While OPPO advises that there are a host of component upgrades distinguishing the BDP-95 from the player it was based on, there are two that stand out and immediately caught my attention. The first are the DACs. The BDP-95 features two of ESS Technology’s newest high performance DACs – the ES9018 SABRE32 Reference Audio DAC, one for the 7.1 output and the other for the dedicated stereo output. The second is the toroidal power supply custom designed and built for OPPO by Rotel. As most audiophiles know, power supplies can have a huge impact on analog audio performance. More on both of these features later.

As with its spiritual predecessor, the BDP-83 Special Edition, the BDP-95 utilizes ESS Technology DACs in the special edition in place of the Cirrus Logic CS4382 units in the standard version (same as in the prior BDP-83) and an upgraded power supply. While ESS Technology was a relative newcomer to the high performance audio market when I reviewed the BDP-83 Special Edition, it now has an established and growing following, giving the old line chip companies a run for their money. The BDP-95 incorporates two of the eight channel ES9018 Sabre(32) Reference DACs. One DAC is utilized for the stereo output and another for the 7.1 channel output. The stereo output effectively stacks four DACs together to maximize performance.

As with ESS Technology’s prior DAC (the ES9016), the ES9018 Sabre(32) Reference DAC claims to differ from conventional sigma-delta DACs, incorporating patented circuits specified to provide up to 135dB dynamic range and -120dB total harmonic distortion plus noise (compared to 128 dB and 110 dB for the prior version). ESS Technology touts the following features: a 32-bit HyperStream modulator that is capable of 100 percent modulation and unconditional stability; a Time Domain Jitter Eliminator to “provide unmatched audio clarity free from input clock jitter;” Revolver Dynamic Element Matching to increase performance over a wide dynamic range; support for incoming audio up to a 500kHz sampling rate in PCM, DSD and SPDIF formats, and; customizable signal processing.

The ES9018 Sabre(32) Reference DAC retains the flexibility of its predecessor in that it can be configured for either Quad Differential Stereo or 7.1 channel modes. OPPO uses both modes in the BDP-95 with one each of the two DACs programmed for stereo and multi-channel.

As with the BDP-83 Special Edition, the BDP-95’s stereo output is fed by a DAC configured in Quad Differential Stereo mode. However, there is a notable improvement with the BDP-95 other than the evolution in DAC technology discussed above. With the BDP-95, this balanced audio signal that flows from the Quad Differential Stereo mode DAC can actually be output as a balanced signal.

Many of you are familiar with some of the more prominent aftermarket modification companies. These companies flocked to the prior OPPO player and many of these modifications focused on upgrading the power supply. With the BDP-95, the power supply already comes upgraded. While I am sure that many of these companies will still develop upgrades, they will have to work harder to do so as the Rotel Toroidal based power supply is a significant upgrade from prior offerings.

The Hookup
The BDP-95 is equally at home in either a reference stereo system or a multi-channel home theater. I used the player in both settings. All of my listening for this review was through the analog outputs, as the performance through the digital outputs should be no different than that of the previously reviewed BDP-93.

The BDP-95 replaced the BDP-83 Special Edition in my theater system. It fed my Anthem D2V preamplifier / processor via HDMI, component video and analog 5.1. Amplification is courtesy of Halcro’s MC70, although I did use a Wyred 4 Sound amplifier in for review towards the end. Video is provided by a Marantz VP-11S2 projector and Stewart Filmscreen Studiotek 100. My speakers include Martin Logan Summits, MartinLogan 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. All of the multi-channel listening for this review was done through the 7.1 channel analog output. I was able to use the BDP-95’s cross-over to adjust the settings for the rear speakers and subwoofer as they now allow the selection of cross-over points, a welcome addition.

I connected the BDP-95 to my reference stereo system through its dedicated balanced stereo output. This system is currently comprised of McIntosh Laboratories C500 and MC501 preamplifier and amplifiers, respectively; and MartinLogan Summit speakers. All cabling was Kimber Select. Power conditioning was by a Richard Gray RGPC 1200 unit.

The BDP-95 comes with OPPO’s now familiar “Easy Setup Wizard.” With one exception, I found the Easy Setup Wizard to be informative and easy to use. My theater system is not 3D capable so I did not have a need for the dual HDMI outputs. (Adrienne describes how dual outputs can be beneficial in her review of the BDP-93.) However, if I wanted to use both outputs, their setup would be more confusing than I have come to expect from OPPO. The player has two HDMI connectors, labeled “HDMI 1” and “HDMI 2.” The BDP-95 also has two groups of HDMI settings, again labeled “HDMI 1” and “HDMI 2,” the rub being that these settings do not necessarily correspond with the connections on the back. It seemed a bit confusing to me and I am sure it will be to end users as well. However, OPPO assures that the answers lie within the User’s Manual.

Lastly, I used a wired Ethernet connection as I already have cables run to my equipment rack. For those of you who do not have such cabling handy, the BDP-95 comes with a wireless 802.11 N adapter which can plug directly into the back of the player or into the included extender cable. I acknowledge that the external wireless adapter may not be aesthetically pleasing to some, but I much prefer to have wireless transmissions emanating from outside the chassis than directly next to sensitive audio components.

Before getting into the audio performance, I must point out that the BDP-95 had an entirely new way of being used, as a streaming device. When I reviewed the BDP-83 I lamented the lack of streaming capabilities. The BDP-95 can access the following streaming services: Netflix, Blockbuster, VUDU, Film Fresh and photo-sharing site, Picasa.

Performance
As this player handles nearly every format, this section would be painfully long if I were to delve into detail for all of them. Accordingly, I will focus my review of the BDP-95’s performance on the audio features that make it special.

Read more about the performance of the OPPO BDP-95 on Page 2.

Oppo_BDP-95_Bluray_player_back.jpgThe overall sonic presentation of the BDP-95 was similar to that of
the BDP-83 Special Edition. This is not surprising, given the similar
DACs and having been designed by the same design team. However there
are some differences in audio reproduction between the two units.

For consistency’s sake I pulled out some of the same software I used
in my prior review. Before settling into any listening sessions, I let
the player break in for a few weeks. All listening notes are with the
player in pure audio mode (except movie playback) and stereo listening
was from the balanced outputs. The primary advancements of the BDP-95
over the BDP-83 Special Edition with CD playback were at the ends of
the octave range. On the low end, notes had slightly more energy and
were even better defined from the mid-bass region downward. For
example, the BDP-95 edged out the BDP-83SE with respect to the texture
and weight of the low beats in the opening of “Breathe” on Pink Floyd’s
Dark Side of the Moon (Capitol Records/ Mobile Fidelity). On “Money”
the reproduction of the guitars was the biggest difference between the
BDP-83 and the SE. However, the BDP-95’s biggest performance increase
was with the bass and high end. The bass notes had noticeably more
texture and detail than with the BDP-83SE. On the opposite end of the
spectrum the tracks “Money” and “Time” demonstrated the further
refinement of the BDP-95; the highs were more pronounced without
tipping the scales to being forward and they were delicate and refined.
I was impressed by this balance as many sources this detailed have an
artificial forced quality about them that was not present with the
BDP-95. Another area of the BDP-95’s performance was its dimensionality
of the sonic image; the images had depth and believability to them. The
soundstage seemed to be slightly deeper with the BDP-95 as compared to
the BDP-83SE but similar in width.

In comparison I found the McIntosh Laboratories MCD-501 to have a
darker, but lusher presentation with a more liquid midrange. This
difference was most notable on vocals such as “Hallelujah” on Jeff
Buckley’s Live at Sine album. The sense of space and dimensionality was
very close between the two players. Both the Cary Audio CD 303T and the
McIntosh players edged out the BDP-95 when it came to reproducing
detailed yet natural higher frequencies but the differences were much
less than their respective price points would suggest. The performance
gap between the OPPO player and the audiophile CD players has been
narrowed even more.

SACDs can be much more revealing than CDs due to their higher
resolution; this extra resolution was something I expected the ESS DACs
to take advantage of. One SACD that can show off the format’s
capabilities is Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana (Telarc SACD) which I
listened to in both stereo and multi-channel surround. The improvements
at the ends of the octave spectrum I noted with CD were also present
with SACD. The SACD performance of the BDP-95 distinguished itself even
more in the midrange area. The BDP-83SE did a great job with the chorus
on Fortuna Imperatix Mundi but the BDP-95 brought it to a whole other
level. I could “see” much further into the recording. The BDP-95
resolved more of the individual voices of the chorus and was able to
place them appropriately in the sound stage. This was an area of the
BDP-83SE’s performance I thought could be improved and this player does
so. Not only does the BDP-95 resolve more of the detail, it does so in
a natural and relaxed manner.

While many would argue DVD-Audio is a dead format, many of us early
adopters have a stack of DVD-Audio discs, myself included. One of my
first favorite DVD-Audio discs was Toy Matinee’s self titled album
(DVD-Audio, DTS). I found myself listening to the entire multi-channel
DTS track from beginning to end. I know that higher resolution audio is
available but have to say that this disc provides a great job involving
the listener and reproducing vocals and guitars. I also popped in Missy
‘Misdemeanor” Elliott’s album So Addictive (Warner / Elektra) to see if
the low end performance I noted with other formats carried through to
DVD-Audio. It does. My go to bass track on this disc, “Get Ur Freak On”
has synthesized bass beats that were reproduced with strength and
clarity even better than I remembered from the BDP-83SE.

Before moving to movies, I also played some audio files off of USB
sticks, from a DLNA server through the Ethernet input and a Reference
Recordings HRX disc. I did not have an eSata drive to try. Navigating
music files over the network server function could be tedious and
gapless playback was not available. I find these qualities to be common
with many DLNA players which are dependent on DLNA server software and
the proper setup thereof. OPPO classifies the network features as
experimental and continues to update and improve them.

High resolution audio through the network player feature was
phenomenal. The DACs and balanced analog outputs were able to retrieve
and convey this greater amount of information than what is available on
CD or SACD. Listening to Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” from their album Moving
Pictures which I downloaded from HD Tracks, I noted increased dynamics
such as with the kick drums in the track’s opening and a similar
increase in detail throughout as well. I played Britten’s Orchestra
(HRx – Reference recordings) straight from the disc as well as from my
NAS utilizing the network player feature. This disc (and the resulting
audio file) are 176.4 kHz/24 bit copies straight from the master
recordings. From the drumbeats in the beginning of Sinfonia da requiem
through the orchestral crescendo, the BDP-95 took advantage of the
increased amount of information available to it. Between the network
and direct disc playback of this album I had a slight preference for
playing the music straight from the disc as there was a slight increase
in coherence. How much of this is from the player versus my computer
network I do not know. I only had a few HRx discs available to me and
they all were absolutely stunning to listen to. Admittedly, the music
was not necessarily my favorite but the sound quality was amazing. The
increase in detail between HRx and SACD was even greater than that of
SACD and CD.

The BDP-95’s video and HDMI audio performance is the same as the
BDP-93 we have already reviewed. Nonetheless, I feel I need to at least
mention my observations. Blu-ray video quality was excellent as was to
be expected. DVD up conversion through the Qdeo processor was generally
excellent but there were a few instances of moiré through the component
video outputs that I did not notice with the BDP-83. Load times were
consistently faster than the BDP-83 but the multi-channel digital audio
signal seemed to be identical.

Competition and Comparison
The Marantz UD-9004 and Ayre DX-5 are both substantially more expensive than the BDP-95
and neither has 3D video but they have high performance audio
capabilities that are likely the primary concern of the BDP-95’s target
demographic. The Marantz’s analog outputs edge out the OPPO’s and I
have not heard the Ayre, which has an asynchronous USB 24/192 input.

For more information on Blu-ray players please visit Home Theater
Review’s Blu-ray Player page
.

The Downside
I picked on the remote when I reviewed the BDP-83SE and OPPO uses the
same remote with the BDP-95. The remote is completely functional, it
just is not as nice as I would like with a reference grade component.

I am a big fan of network audio capable DACs but network playback is
clunky and slow with the BDP-95. Granted, this may be partially to
blame on the DLNA server software (I alternated between the Netgear’s
NAS DLNA server and PS Audio’s ELyric.) I hope that OPPO continues to
refine and strengthen this capability as it is a very welcome addition
to the player. Some of the refinements I would like to see would be
gapless playback and better search capabilities.

Conclusion
The BDP-95 is the player to beat if you are looking for a reference
grade universal disc player. I have not had another under-$5,000 player
in my system that could outdo the OPPO with its audio performance.
Without a doubt there will be some new players released from
established audiophile brands that are based on a new OPPO player; some
of them may even offer better performance but they will undoubtedly
come at a much higher price.

As good as the BDP-95 is, it is not for everyone. Don’t bother with
it if you will not use the analog audio outputs. While its digital
audio outputs are just fine, you can save 50 percent of your purchase
price and get identical digital audio performance with the BDP-93. If
you are buying this player it is because you like its analog audio
performance. This performance is extremely good, but it might not be to
everyone’s taste.

The BDP-95’s audio performance was very detailed, dimensional,
balanced with a presentation that was relaxed and natural. These are
all qualities that make for an enjoyable listening session. While the
BDP-95 was warmer than its predecessor, its character was still
slightly to the cool side. This coolness may turn off some potential
listeners. As some listeners prefer tubes over solid state electronics,
others prefer a warmer presentation (and vice-versa). Regardless of
your audio preferences, if you are in the market for an audiophile
grade universal disc player you owe it to yourself to listen to the
BDP-95. I am glad the BDP-95 found its way into my system and plan on
keeping it here as my new reference universal disc player.

Additional Resources
• Read more Blu-ray player reviews by the staff at Home Theater Review.
• Find a Plasma HDTV or LED HDTV to pair with the OPPO BDP-95.
• Explore AV receiver options in our AV Receiver Review section.

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