This isn't an Ultra HD Blu-ray player review. An odd claim to make right from the giddy-up, I know--especially given that the headline above reads "OPPO Digital UDP-205 Ultra HD Audiophile Blu-ray Player Reviewed." But I'm not approaching it as such. Instead of evaluating the UDP-205 as 4K video player with audiophile enhancements, I'm sizing it up more as high-performance music player/hub/DAC/preamp/headphone amp that also just so happens to have the latest in video wizardy thrown in for good measure.
And by "the latest in video wizardy," I mean that the UDP-205 is built on the same platform as OPPO's UDP-203, which Adrienne Maxwell reviewed back in January. As with that player, the UDP-205 shares quite a lot in common with OPPO's previous universal disc players, and it features a number of noteworthy differences. Gone, for example, are streaming services like Netflix and YouTube. That's not a major loss, given that most of us have probably moved on to dedicated streaming media players for accessing such services. But gone, too, is the front-panel MHL HDMI input, which is a major bummer for me, since I use said input on my BDP-103 to connect my MHL Roku Stick.
However, the features that make an OPPO an OPPO at its heart are all here: dual HDMI outputs (although, in this case, one of them is a fully featured HDMI 2.0a port with HDCP 2.2 and the other is a dedicated audio-only HDMI 1.4 output, in the event that you need to run video directly to your display and audio to a receiver or SSP without current video connectivity); advanced video processing and scaling (including, in this new generation, HDR and numerous color space and color depth tweaks); subtitle shift options for those who have constant-height video projection setups; and numerous other enhancements that you're likely all familiar with by now.
As with previous generations, the most significant differences between the UDP-205 and the UDP-203 boil down to audio performance. And there are quite a few of them. In lieu of the UDP-203's AKM AK4458VN DAC chip, the UDP-205 relies on dual ESS ES9038PRO SABRE DAC chips, one for its 7.1-channel analog output and another for its dedicated stereo audio outputs, with a true differential signal path to its pair of XLR outs. The player also boasts a high-precision HDMI clock and specialized HDMI audio jitter-reduction circuitry, a hefty toroidal power supply, and an asynchronous USB DAC input with support for PCM up to 768 kHz and up to DSD512. This USB DAC input only supports two-channel audio, and it outputs directly to the player's dedicated stereo output (no HDMI out, no bass management); however, the UDP-205 can also access digital audio stored on external drives via dual USB 3.0 ports on the back and one 2.0 port up front, as well as via your home network--with support for AIFF, WAV, ALAC, APE, and FLAC files, as well as multichannel DSD. These inputs, along with the optical and coaxial digital inputs (which can receive Dolby Digital, DTS, AAC, and two-channel PCM up to 192 kHz), can be output any way you'd like.
In addition, the UDP-205 features an upgraded headphone output connected straight to one of the ES9038PRO chips, with upgraded power output compared with previous-generation audiophile players like the BDP-105.
All of that does, of course, add up to some substantial differences in form factor between the two players. The UDP-205 is, at 4.8 inches, a good 1.7 inches taller than the 203. At 22 pounds, it's a solid 9.5 pounds heavier than its less-expensive counterpart.
Putting the UDP-205 through all of its possible paces would have been an unreasonable task, but I did my best to set it up in as many ways as possible to replicate the various ways it may be used in different hi-fi and AV systems.
I decided to start with a connection (several, actually) to Classé's Sigma 2200i stereo integrated amplifier. Of all the integrated amps I have kicking around the house, I zeroed in on the Sigma 2200i due to its direct-digital design. For an in-depth discussion, see my review from earlier this year. The "TL;DR" of it all is this: the 2200i routes the DSP output of its stereo preamplifier stage direction into its amplifier DSP, eliminating the need for digital-to-analog conversion (although it does do analog-to-digital conversion on its analog inputs). In short, it's as neutral and coloration-free as any component I've heard in quite some time, and it features HDMI inputs, giving me a chance to evaluate the UDP-205's DAC in as controlled a setting as possible. I connected the UDP-205 to the 2200i via a combination of HDMI (with output set to bitstream, except when listening to SACDs), XLR cables and custom-made RCA cables out of the dedicated stereo output, and custom-made RCA cables out of the front left and front right channels of the multichannel output section. Speakers for this setup were a pair of Paradigm Studio 100 towers connected via Kimber Kable 12TC speaker wires.
I then brought the UDP-205 temporarily into my bedroom home theater system, routing it via both HDMI and stereo RCA through Anthem's MRX 720 receiver into my old Samsung 1080p plasma, mostly to test the player's HDR-to-SDR conversion capabilities and to perform some quick listening comparisons between the Anthem's DAC and that of the UDP-205.
I then added it to my main home theater setup, connecting it to an Acurus ACT 4 preamp (currently under review) via the HDMI audio output, as well as the dedicated stereo output and 7.1-channel analog output, with the HDMI video output of the UDP-205 routed directly to the One Control box of my Samsung JS9500 Ultra HD TV. Speakers for this setup were a pair of GoldenEar Triton Ones, a pair of Triton Sevens, a SuperCenter XL, two Paradigm Studio SUB12s, and Sunfire's SRS-210R SYS SubRosa Flat Panel Subwoofer.
For control in both home theater systems, I relied on an Ethernet connection, along with the UDP-203/205 Control4 driver available from Annex4, developed in cooperation with OPPO. The player also features an RS-232 connection, trigger input and output, and a back-panel IR receiver (not a 3.5mm IR input, as was found on the BDP-103/105).
Clcik over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
To reiterate, this review will not address the video performance of the UDP-205. I tested the player in that respect enough to confirm Adrienne's findings with the UDP-203. Aside from the fact that I didn't experience any of the HDMI handshake issues she did, our experiences were the same. I refer you to that review for insights into how OPPO's new platform performs as a video player.
I began my evaluation of the player by tapping into its USB DAC and streaming "Over the Hills and Far Away" from the HDTracks 96/24 download of Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy Deluxe Edition (Atlantic Records). My immediate impression was one of exceptional detail, utter neutrality, and a laudable lack of coloration. The harmonic overtones of the acoustic guitar in the intro were delivered with impeccable precision, and separation of the doubled 6-string/12-string guitar track starting at about the 0:25 mark was beyond reproach. Macro- and micro-dynamics both were exceptionally handled, and the track's lush layers of instrumentation after the first verse never muddied in the slightest, as they can with some DACs. In every respect, I found the UDP-205's handling of the track to be truly wonderful.
Compared to what, though?
I also ran an USB cable directly to the Sigma 2200i and was able to switch back and forth between them (rather clumsily) using the sound settings of my PC and the inputs on the Classé, but that meant using the Windows Audio Session API (WASAPI) for one and DirectSound for the other. Still, I struggled to perceive any differences between the two--tonally, dynamically, or in terms of timing--which is saying quite a bit given that one is a $6,000 direct-digital integrated amp and the other is a $1,299 universal disc player.
I then popped the CD release of the same album into the UDP-205's tray and used its inputs to compare between the 44.1/16 and 96/24 release of the same mix. What I'm about to say will no doubt draw some hate in the Comments section, but so be it: I've often found that, the better the DAC and the better its implementation, the less difference there is between CD and high-res (assuming the same master was used). That held true here. When tinkering around with different filter characteristics, I found that I had an ever-so-slight preference for the Linear Phase Slow filter with the 96/24 version of "The Rain Song," and the default Minimum Phase Fast filter with the CD, but any audible differences were so minuscule that I'm honestly not sure I could articulate why. Frankly, in either case I found the UDP-205's audio performance to be top-notch, and what was true with high-res via USB was true with CD: I can best describe the output as uncolored, unfettered, and as neutral as you could ask for.
This setup also allowed me to thoroughly test the UDP-205's headphone output, comparing it directly with that of the Classé 2200i, as well as Peachtree Audio's nova220SE integrated amplifier. The OPPO proved to be a step up from the Classé, at least in terms of punch and dynamics when listening through my Audeze LCD-2 planar magnetic headphones. Detail and noise floor proved to be quite similar, especially with my favorite recording of Star Wars music, a little-known release from 1990 titled John Williams Conducts John Williams: The Star Wars Trilogy--Star Wars/The Empire Strikes Back/Return of the Jedi (Sony Classical). Williams is working here with the Skywalker Symphony, recorded at Skywalker Sound, and it delivers a nice collection of concert suites of some of the original trilogy's best offerings.
With track 7, "The Asteroid Field" from The Empire Strikes Back, it was quite apparent that the Classé and OPPO were on the same footing in terms of transparency and detail, but the former didn't handle the dynamic peaks and punches quite so well as the UDP-205. Both were bested in that respect by the Peachtree integrated amp, which is no great shock, but the nova220SE didn't have quite the same level of open airiness as the OPPO's headphone output.
Moving into my home theater systems (again, one running an Anthem MRX 720 receiver, the other an Acurus ACT 4 preamp), my findings were so similar from room to room. I listened to many of the same tracks in both locations; so, instead of dragging you back and forth from room to room, I'll simply describe my listening experiences in terms of whether I was listening via analog connections (hence relying on the OPPO's digital-to-analog decoding and filtering) or HDMI with the output set to bitstream (hence leaving the heavy lifting to the Anthem and/or Acurus).
In both settings, an analog connection resulted in a soundstage that was a little more airy (with a little more space between notes and instruments), a bit smoother, more precise, and more pronounced in the upper treble frequencies (around 5 kHz to 10 kHz), but also a tad less dynamic. These differences were particularly noticeable in the track "Song for George" from Eric Johnson's Ah Via Musicom (Capitol), especially with the advanced-resolution stereo mix. Via analog (again, meaning that I was relying on UDP-205 for decoding and filtering), the harmonics that pepper the track definitely leapt out into the room more tangibly, and the guitar finger work was precise and pronounced. Via HDMI, the track was a little punchier, yet it was also a little more polite, for lack of a better term.
In essence, it boils down to user preference. After listening to the UDP-205, some will describe it as being very accurate, and they'll mean it as the highest compliment. Others may lean more toward a term like "analytical" because they prefer a different kind of sound.
I don't, unfortunately, have OPPO's UDP-203 on hand for direct comparison between its analog output and that of the UDP-205. I do, on the other hand, have the company's previous entry-level offering, the BDP-103, so I did some direct comparisons between the two and found them to be even more pronounced. The BDP-103's output goes one step further than the onboard processing of both the Anthem and Acurus in the direction of punchy, sweet, and smooth. This setup also allowed me to do a more meaningful comparison between SACDs, since neither the Anthem nor the Acurus decodes DSD.
With "Monkey Man" from the 2002 hybrid SACD release of Let It Bleed from The Rolling Stones (ABKCO), the UDP-205 definitely brought out more detail, especially in the percussion and tinkling piano elements. As for the BDP-103, well ... it was just a little more rock 'n' roll. A little smoother and more laid back in the upper treble, sure, but also warmer and with a stronger bite. Frankly, for an album like this, I preferred the analog output of the BDP-103.
On the other hand, with Miles Davis's Kind of Blue (Columbia Records, specifically CS 64935 for those of you who are curious exactly which SACD release), I definitely preferred the precision and detail of the UDP-205. The enhanced air and atmosphere it leant to the recording. The way the bright percussion hung and wafted through the air.
There's no right answer here, no universal better or worse. The UDP-205 definitely excels at giving you exactly what it's given, warts and all, while the BDP-103 adds a dab of Compound W to the mix.
Judged purely on its own merits, there's little to complain about with the UDP-205. I would have liked to see a front-panel display that provided more access to setup features, like the displays of many receivers and surround sound processors. This would have been a boon to users who want to use the 205 purely as a two-channel preamp/player/headphone amp/media streamer. As it stands, though, you really need to connect it to a display at least once.
Compared with OPPO's previous audiophile player, the BDP-105, there's a bit more to grump about. As I mentioned above, the UDP-205 does lack the front-panel MHL input of its predecessor. That reduces its HDMI inputs from two to one, which does limit its use in terms of video processing--if, say, you're currently routing your satellite receiver and a media player (or gaming console) through the BDP-103 or -105.
Comparison and Competition
For now, the OPPO UDP-205 is the only audiophile-oriented universal disc player that I'm aware of based on the MediaTek MT8581platform. As is usually the case, we'll no doubt see similar offerings from companies like Cambridge at some point, but to date your choice is really between the UDP-205 and the UDP-203 (and its competitors).
I've talked a lot about the UDP-205 in terms of comparisons with other players and other DACs. What I haven't discussed, though, is who, exactly, this player is for. It isn't for the home theater enthusiast simply shopping for a world-class UHD Blu-ray player. If that's you, I direct you toward the much less expensive UDP-203.
Rather, the UDP-205 is for the all-around audiophile media enthusiast and physical media lover who wants an exceptional high-resolution audio and CD player, as well as a damned fine headphone amplifier and an exceptionally capable preamp thrown in for good measure. It's also for the discerning listener who demands the utmost in accuracy and transparency. If that's you, and you don't have the space (or inclination) to install multiple black boxes in your media or listening room, the UDP-205 is your solution.
True, a few compromises have been made in the upgrade from Blu-ray to UHD Blu-ray, most notably the lack of streaming apps and the loss of an MHL HDMI input. Those changes are ultimately a reflection of the changing media landscape, though--a landscape that the UDP-205 absolutely conquers.
• Visit the OPPO Digital website for more product information.
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• OPPO Digital Sonica DAC Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.