Oppo BDP-83SE Special Edition Universal Blu-ray Player (The Perfect Vision 86)

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OPPO BDP-83SE
Oppo BDP-83SE Special Edition Universal Blu-ray Player (The Perfect Vision 86)

 

Several months ago I reviewed Oppo’s BDP-83 universal Blu-ray player and found it to be “the biggest bargain in home theater.” To provide a brief recap, let’s note that the BDP-83 can play almost any kind of material that comes on a silver disc: Blu-ray, DVD-Video/Audio, SACD, HDCD, CD material and more. Better yet, the player not only plays these types of materials but also plays them well, offering exemplary video performance and very good (and for the price, extraordinary) sound quality. In short, Oppo’s little $499 player did so many things so well that it immediately claimed titles as both the king of versatility and value. But one thing that the BDP-83 could not do (though heaven knows it tried) was to deliver sound quality that would enable it to compete with upper-tier audiophile-grade players. Good though the BDP-83 is, there are some universal players (admittedly less versatile than the Oppo) in the near-$2000 price range that have it beat for sound quality, while even higher-end players can up the sonic ante further still. 

While acknowledging these limitations, Oppo also knew that its BDP-83 platform offered untapped sonic potential, and therefore decided to address the audiophile market by building a significantly upgraded, hot-rodded version of the BDP-83, called the BDP-83SE Special Edition ($899). How does the BDP-83SE differ from the original BDP-83? There are two main changes, which involve an improved power supply circuit board and a substantially revised audio circuit board, plus subtle changes to the player’s rear I/O panel. The audio board of the BDP-83SE will feature the combination of the new ESS Technology Sabre32 Ultra DAC (ES9016) and the ESS Sabre Premier 8-channel DAC (ES9006), with the Sabre Premier used to power the player’s 7.1-channel analog audio outputs. The video section of the player remains unchanged.

For those of you unfamiliar with the ESS DACs, it may prove helpful for me to supply some background material drawn from a related press release from Fremont, CA-based ESS Technology, Inc. The release explains that the Sabre32 Ultra DAC differs from conventional sigma-delta DACs in that it “incorporates innovative patented circuits to deliver spectacular music with an unsurpassed sound stage, with up to 128 dB dynamic range and 0.0003% (-110 dB) total harmonic distortion.” ESS goes on to say that the Sabre32 Ultra DAC specifically includes three patented circuits: the 32-bit HyperStream modulator, the Revolver Dynamic Element Matching circuit, and the Time Domain Jitter Eliminator circuit, which is designed “to remove the digital jitter that causes distortion.”

I approached the BDP-83SE Special Edition with two questions in mind. First, does the player really sound significantly different from the standard BDP-83? Second, if it does sound different, how big is the difference as judged by audiophile standards? The short answers to these questions are that yes, the BDP-83SE does sound different and better than the standard BDP-83, and that the magnitude of the change is—again, by audiophile standards—quite large and significant. In fact, I feel confident in saying the BDP-83SE is the model audiophiles and music lovers will want to own (and for them, the Special Edition may be an even bigger bargain than the original BDP-83 was).

OVERVIEW

Consider this Blu-ray player if: you want everything that Oppo’s original BDP-83 had to offer, but with substantially better sound quality that makes particular gains in the areas of resolution, focus, three-dimensionality and overall refinement. The player’s ability to dig deep into recordings to retrieve key bits of low-level musical detail is very impressive, easily enabling the Special Edition to compete with players two, three, or perhaps four times its price. In short, this is the Oppo built by and for hardcore audiophiles.

Look further if: you want to press on toward state-of-the-art or near state-of-the-art audio performance. While the Special Edition Oppo can and does take you well up the high-end audio ladder, I would be misleading you if I told you it can take you all the way up to the very top-tier (nor is it reasonable to expect it to, given its price). But trust me on this one: nothing I’ve heard that’s even remotely close to the Special Edition’s $899 price can touch its sound quality.

Important note: Buyers who plan on using digital connections only between their players and home theater or music systems would, for obvious reasons, be better served by purchasing Oppo’s standard BDP-83. The Special Edition version is geared specifically for those who want to use either stereo or multi-channel analog audio connections.

Ratings (relative to comparably priced Blu-ray/universal players)

  • Video Quality DVD: 10
  • Video Quality Blu-ray: 10
  • Audio Quality: 10
  • Features: 9
  • User Interface: 9
  • Value: 10

 

FEATURES:

Media Formats:

  • Blu-ray Disc with BonusVIEW and BD Live support (includes 1GB of onboard memory).
  • DVD-Video/Video.
  • DVD-Audio.
  • SACD.
  • CD.
  • HDCD.
  • Kodak Picture CD
  • AVCHD, MKV and other file formats from discs or USB drives.

 Video Features:

  • Anchor Bay Video Reference Series video processing technology.
  • Scaling options: 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i and up to 1080p at 50Hz or 60z.
  • 24p video options: for users with 24p-compatible displays.
  • Source Direct mode outputs audio and video content as read, with no processing of any kind (intended for use with external video processors/scalers).
  • Multiple Zoom modes: provides “multiple levels of aspect ratio control and image zooming, including a vertical stretch mode for customers with a 2.35:1 CIH (Constant Image Height) display system.”
  • HDMI v1.3 digital video and audio outputs with 30-bit and 36-bit Deep Color support.

Audio Features:

  • Improved power supply board.
  • Improved audio circuit board with ESS Sabre Premier (ES9006) 8-channel DAC feeding the player’s 7.1-channel analog outputs.
  • Improved audio circuit board with ESS Sabre32 Ultra DAC (ES9016) feeding the player’s 2-channel outputs. Specifically, Oppo adds that, “the dedicated stereo output uses another 8-channel Sabre32 Ultra DAC chip by stacking 4 DACs for each of the Left and Right channels to achieve even greater audio performance.”
  • Onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD with analog and bitstream outputs and (optional) conversion to LPCM.
  • Onboard decoding for DTS-HD Master Audio with analog and bitstream outputs.
  • SACD digital audio output either as DSD bitstream or in LPCM format.
  • 7.1/5.1-channel analog audio outputs.
  • Dedicated stereo outputs.
  • Coaxial and optical digital audio outputs.

Other:

  • Two USB 2.0 ports (one front, one rear).
  • NTSC/PAL conversion (subject to DVD and BD region restrictions).
  • Provides IR In/Out ports.
  • HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) compatible.
  • Universal voltage power supply.
  • Back-lit remote control.
  • Accessories include 6-foot HDMI cable and copies of the Spears & Munsil High Definition Benchmark Blu-ray Edition disk and of the excellent AIX Records Audio Calibration Disc/HD Music Sampler.
  • (Optional) IR External Sensor Kit ($20).
  • (Optional) Wireless Bridge Kit ($79).

USER INTERFACE

The BDP-83SE has a highly intuitive user interface that, on first-time start-up, presents an Easy Setup Wizard to walk users through basic setup procedures (though experienced users can bypass the wizard if they wish, to access a more advanced menu).

Once basic setup is complete, or whenever you press the Setup button on the Oppo remote, a menu opens up with seven clearly labeled options: Playback Setup, Video Setup, Audio Format Setup, Audio Processing, Device Setup, Network Setup, and Exit. 

Following standard Oppo practice, menu options are extensive and, importantly, allow you to make on-the-fly adjustments so that you can see and hear what effect your choices have on sound and/or picture quality. I applaud this approach and offer the comment that I wish all universal players allowed real-time, on-the-fly adjustments.

After setup is complete, the Oppo will, on power up, take you to an all-new user interface screen that offers six options: Music, Photo, Movie, BluTV, My Network, and Setup. The BluTV option is of particular interest, as it provides a combination of Games and Internet Widgets (weather, clock, unit conversion tool, and biorhythm calculator), plus a Channel option that’s reserved for future use. While Oppo’s online content options are pretty minimal at this stage, the new interface obviously points the way toward a future when additional content options should become available.

I have only two nits to pick about the Oppo’s various menu options, and both have to do with the way the player’s Speaker Configuration controls work.

First, I wish that Oppo instead gave users the ability to specify subwoofer crossover frequencies on a channel-by-channel basis. At present, your only setting options are to select Large, Small, or None, where small speakers are automatically assigned a 100Hz crossover frequency. But the reality is that a 100Hz crossover setting isn’t what necessarily works best for all systems. It would be nice to have more options.

Second, I wish Oppo allowed users to specify exact speaker distance settings on a channel-by-channel basis. At present, distance settings for the L/R main speakers are ganged (when you change left speaker settings the right speaker settings automatically change with them, and vice versa), as are distance settings for the L/R surround speakers. What is more, distance settings for the Subwoofer and Center channel are constrained so that they can never be greater than settings for the Left/Right main speakers. This is simply unrealistic, given the fact that in many home theaters the sub and center channel will wind up being placed behind the L/R main speakers.

With the two menu tweaks I’ve proposed above, I think this already flexible player would become even more versatile, and more finely attuned to audiophile’s needs.

REMOTE CONTROL

The BDP-83SE uses the same backlit remote that comes with the standard BDP-83, which feature soft orange control buttons, which illuminate whenever any control is pressed. There is also a backup light switch.

Like the BDP-83, the Special Edition provides variable analog outputs that can be controlled from the remote, meaning that you could conceivably run the SE directly into a power amplifier (though for best sonic results I would again recommend running the volume control full up, and then adjusting volume levels via an A/V controller, AVR, integrated amplifier, or preamp). The remote provides a Pure Audio button, which shuts down the player’s video circuitry to improve overall sound quality, plus a Resolution button that lets you toggle through the player’s many upscaling/down-conversion options.

VIDEO PERFORMANCE

The video performance of the BDP-83SE is identical to that of the standard BDP-83, which is to say that it is simply exemplary. Rather than providing an elaborate re-hash, let me instead supply a link to my original BDP-83 review for those who wish to learn more about the player’s video performance.

The short form result is that the BDP-83SE, like the original BDP-83, delivers video performance as good if not better than that of any other Blu-ray player I have seen or tested.

PERFORMANCE AS A DIGITAL TRANSPORT

After I published my initial review of the BDP-83, many readers said they wished I had tested the player as a digital transport that could be used to feed a high quality outboard DAC. With readers’ requests in mind, I took the Oppo Special Edition home and installed it in my reference high-end audio system, where I was able to compare its capabilities as a transport versus those of my reference Musical Fidelity kW SACD player. For purposes of my tests, I first connected the digital outputs of the Musical Fidelity player, and then those of the BDP-83SE, to the superb DAC section of a Peachtree Audio iDecco, which in turn fed my reference preamp and amplifier.

As I did my series of back-and-forth listening comparisons, it found that the sonic qualities of the two transports were very similar, though not—in a strict sense—absolutely identical. The Musical Fidelity transport enabled the Peachtree DAC to capture soundstages that sounded very slightly deeper, wider and more cohesive than those I heard when the Oppo was used to play the same material. On the other hand, the Oppo enabled the Peachtree DAC to render certain kinds of transient sounds with just a hair more energy and “pop” than I heard with the Musical Fidelity in play. In any event, these differences were small and subtle enough that I could live quite happily with either player as a digital transport in a high-end audio context.   

SONIC CHARACTER

Like the BDP-83, the BDP-83SE offers a noticeably warmer, richer and more full-bodied sound than earlier generations did. But where the Special Edition steps ahead and stays ahead of its lower-priced sibling is in its handling of all kinds of low-level transient and textural details in the music. It’s almost as if BDP-83SE removes a subtle sonic filter from the signal path, giving you a much more direct and immediate connection, and letting you explore every little twist, turn, nook and cranny the music has to offer. A visual analogy might fit, too, at least for those of you who happen to wear glasses. The sonic impact of stepping up to the Special Edition player is not unlike that delicious moment when the ophthalmologist finds your just-right prescription and everything in your visual field goes from “almost in focus” to “well and truly sharply focused.”

Along with heightened detail and resolution, and perhaps because of them, the Special Edition Oppo has an even more transparent and focused sound than the standard model, and it produces more fully fleshed-out and vividly three-dimensional soundstages. Put all these elements together and you have a player that takes you much further toward the sonic mountaintop than it has any right to for the money.

If you listen to the standard Oppo as it navigated a complex musical passage you might rightly think, “Man, that’s pretty great sound for a $499 player.” But listen to the same passage through the Special Edition and you’ll discover that perceptual centers in your brain suddenly have much more high-quality information to work with, so that you can’t help but relax and think, “Ahhh, now this is how that passage is really supposed to sound.”

Just to satisfy my own curiosity, I took the Special Edition home, plugged it into my high-end two-channel rig, and compared the Oppo vs. my reference Musical Fidelity kW SACD player. Not too surprisingly, the big Musical Fidelity player did outperform the Oppo both on CD and SACD material, offering even finer shadings of detail, a smoother yet still very tightly focused sound, a bit better bass definition, and even more expansive soundstages. Even so, the Oppo certainly did not get “blown away,” so to speak, nor did it embarrass itself (its superb resolution would never, ever allow that). But when you stop to consider that the Musical Fidelity is a very expensive, vacuum tube-equipped, audio-only player that handles just two disc formats (SACD and CD), while the BDP-83SE can play just about any audio or video disc format under the sun and for many thousands of dollars less, its sonic prowess seems all the more amazing.

Is the difference between the BDP-83 and the SE version worth the extra $400? For casual listeners perhaps not, but for audiophiles and music lovers who cherish the richness and intricacy of fine recordings it emphatically is. In fact, I would argue that in terms of performance per dollar, the SE might be an even bigger bargain than the standard model is.

Are there other universal/Blu-ray players that can beat the BDP-83SE in terms of sound quality? Well, I haven’t had a chance to try either of the top two Denon universal/Blu-ray players (the DVD-A1UDCI at $4500, or the DBP-4010UDCI at $1999), nor have I tested the new Marantz flagship (the UD9004 at $5999). Any one of those units might given the Oppo stiff competition. But at the $899 price point I think I can safely say the Oppo Special Edition is in a class of its own.

AUDIO PERFORMANCE

Movie Soundtracks

Readers have asked if the BDP-83SE’s superior audio circuitry makes a difference for movie playback if the player’s multichannel analog outputs are used in lieu of digital audio connections to an AVR or A/V controller. The answer is that yes, you can enjoy the superior sonic quality of the Special Edition player--especially on high-res concert film soundtracks (though only you can determine whether the Oppo’s DACs and analog audio section sound superior to the DACs, etc. found in your particular receiver or controller).

To give the Oppo a workout, I put on a favorite Blu-ray test disc, Return to Forever Returns—Live at Montreux 2008 (the film features a beautifully produced DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack). Two particular elements of the soundtrack will show what makes the Special Edition, well, special. First, I played the “Al’s Solo” sequence, which features a deliciously subtle and elegant, flamenco-inflected acoustic guitar solo performed by Al Di Meola. What I found fascinating about the Oppo’s performance was not only the things it did do, but also those that it did not. On the one hand, the player captured the smooth, rounded attack and sweet but never saccharine tonality of the acoustic guitar (which stood in sharp contrast to the more biting, incisive sounds of the electric guitars Di Meola had used earlier in the concert). Di Meola’s blazingly fast solo lines were presented with great clarity, and I was impressed to find that the Oppo also nailed a certain elusive quality of fluidity in Di Meola’s playing that is not always easy to reproduce. On the other hand, the Oppo thankfully did not inject any kind of artificial sonic “edge enhancement” to soup-up or over-dramatize the impact of Di Meola’s cat-quick fingering changes. Throughout the solo, the Oppo kept its composure, revealing—but never overemphasizing—the sheer technical brilliance of Di Meola’s performance. What I especially liked, then, was the fact that the Oppo got out of the way and let the music speak for itself.

Later, I moved forward to the “El Bayo de Negro (Stanley’s Solo)” sequence, where Stanley Clarke plays a brilliant acoustic bass solo that stands as a master class of sorts, showcasing a stunning array of plucking, strumming, slapping, and muting techniques. As Clarke works his way up and down the fingerboard of his bass, the Oppo resolves even the smallest shifts in touch and the resulting attack and decay of individual notes, so that you not only see onscreen but also hear and feel the sonic impact of minute variations in Clarke’s playing techniques. This is where the heightened resolution of the Special Edition becomes vital, as it gives you the sonic equivalent of a “zoomed-in” perspective on the music.

CD and High Resolution Music Discs

For a beautiful example of what the BDP-83SE can do for you, try listening to the opening 30 seconds or so of “The Mermaid”, from Norma Winstone, Klaus Gesing, and Glauco Venier’s Distances [ECM]. During this brief passage, you’ll hear Gesing strike a few piano notes, playing them in the conventional way, but then shifting styles to play the piano in an unconventional way, softly drumming on the instrument’s frame, striking and then plucking strings from above (producing a haunting sound reminiscent of an autoharp) and finally setting up a rhythm with gentle hand slaps to the piano’s case. All the while you can hear these sounds reverberate within the recording space, establishing an intimate feel for the song that is shortly to unfold. Now these delicate and, yes, somewhat peculiar sounds can be reproduced by almost any good player, but what happens with the BDP-83SE in the system is that they become explicit, clear, and sharply focused. You’re not left to wonder how the sounds are being produced, because the Special Edition player simply takes you by the ears and shows you what’s happening. If you love this kind of heightened musical lucidity, as I do, then you can immediately grasp the appeal of the BDP-83SE.

For another demonstration of the Special Edition’s finesse, try listening to “Walter Pigeon” from John Abercrombie and Eddie Gomez’s Structures [Chesky SACD]. The track opens with Gomez providing a lilting theme on his acoustic bass, playing arco style rather than pizzicato, as Abercrombie delicately sketches chords on his electric jazz guitar. A certain hush has fallen over the room, so that you can almost hear the players intently listening to one another, while percussionist Gene Jackson supplies incredibly tasteful and subdued commentary, deftly sweeping his brushes over the surfaces of his snare drum and—occasionally—his cymbals. In a way, it is at very quiet moments like these that the Oppo BDP-83SE is at its best, neatly threading its way through tricky territory where delicate sounds are present, but only just barely so. Where lesser players can sometimes lose the thread of such intimate musical conversations, the Special Edition retrieves precious musical information that other players miss, in the process allowing you to feel like a firsthand witness to rare moments of musical communication.

BOTTOM LINE:

Oppo’s BDP-83SE Special Edition universal/Blu-ray player builds upon the rock-solid platform of the firm’s proven BDP-83, making changes that dramatically enhance the already very good sound of the standard player. For audiophiles, the level of improvement is neither small nor subtle; rather, it is essential. This is the Oppo built by and for serious music lovers, and if you are one you may find this Special Edition Oppo is an even bigger bargain than the standard model. I certainly do. 

SPECS & PRICING:

Oppo BDP-83SE Special Edition universal/Blu-ray Player

  • Disc/file formats supported: BD-Video, DVD-Video, AVCHD, DVD-Audio, SACD, CD, HDCD, Kodak Picture CD, AVCHD and MKV files via USB drives.
  • HDMI audio bitstream support: Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Digital/Digital EX; DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-HD High Resolution Audio, DTS-Digital Surround, DTS-ES; SACD via DSD bitstream or LPCM conversion, LPCM 7.1-channel, 5.1-channel and 2-channel
  • Onboard decoder support: As above.
  • Outputs 1080p at: 24Hz, 50Hz, 60Hz
  • Video outputs: One HDMI, one component video, one composite video
  • Digital audio outputs: One HDMI, two digital (one coaxial, one optical)
  • Analog audio outputs: one 7.1-channel analog audio, one stereo analog
  • Other connections: Ethernet (for firmware updates and BD-Live content), two USB ports, IR in/out
  • Dimensions (HxWxD): 3” x 16.875” x 13.25”
  • Weight: 11.2 lbs.
  • Warranty: One year, parts and labor
  • Price: $899

OPPO DIGITAL, INC.
(650) 961-1118

www.oppodigital.com

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