The Amazing Oppo DV-980H Universal Player

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OPPO DV-980HD
The Amazing Oppo DV-980H Universal Player

Oppo Digital is a Chinese/American company whose mission is to build the best value-priced universal players on the planet. Do they succeed? Let’s just say that the firm’s new DV-980H is one the best sounding universal players we’ve heard for less than about $750—or maybe more. It’s video performance is good, too, making it one of the two best “starter” players we can recommend (the other is also an Oppo, but one that trades off a bit of sound quality to achieve even better video performance).

Oppo’s DV-980H can handle just about any disc format you might what to play, save for Blu-ray Disc or HD-DVD. Supported formats include: DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, SACD, HDCD, CD, Kodak Picture CD, WMA, and DivX. Relative to the award winning DV-970HD, the DV-980H offers a number of noteworthy changes.

Video Performance

We came to this test expecting the DV- 980H to perform about the same as the DV-970HD had, but the new player surprised us. On the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark disc, the DV-980H handled all three of the difficult jaggies tests (which can reveal problems where diagonal lines in motion sometimes show annoying, “staircase”-like edge effects) very well— better than other sub-$200 players we’ve tried. The same is true for the DV-980H’s performance on film detail tests. In those tests, the camera pans to follow a race car sweeping past empty grandstand seats, and many players have problems where swirling, visually disturbing moiré patterns appear over the empty seats. Not so the DV-980H; within a split second it “locked in” and produced a steady image of the grandstand.

To split hairs, I would say Oppo’s more expensive DV-981HD is an even better video performer, producing onscreen images that are ever-so-slightly smoother and more “film-like” than the DV-980H’s, but in practice the differences are relatively slight. The fact is that the DV-980H is a strong video performer in its own right. One very tasty (and valuable) detail touch is that the DV-980H—like all Oppos— comes with an HDMI cable.

Audio Performance

When I listened to music through the DV-980H’s analog outputs, it instantly became clear that this is hands down the best-sounding player Oppo makes, and across all three main music disc formats: CDs, SACDs, and DVD-Audio. In fact, nothing else I’ve heard in the sub-$200 range even comes close. In a nutshell, what you get is a modest-looking little player that simply stomps like-priced competitors in three audible ways: top-to-bottom smoothness, detail, and overall sonic focus (the sonic equivalent of a good camera suddenly pulling visual images into fine focus, where edges and textures suddenly become crystal clear). The original DV-970HD did a very good job in these areas, but the DV-980H is even better, and for just $20 more.

To appreciate how these qualities play out on real music, I put on the title track of Sara K’s Hell or High Water [Stockfisch]—a sumptuously recorded multichannel SACD. Three things stood out for me. First, Sara K’s voice sounded unusually well-resolved, so that I could enjoy the warm, well-supported body of her notes along with the gently expressive breathy quality that makes her delivery so special. Next, I enjoyed hearing the Oppo reproduce the sound of the accompanying flute, which is sometimes deliberately overblown for added emphasis. When those moments arise, the Oppo lets you hear the flute notes break from their typical smoothness into a temporarily rough, gruff timbre, and then float right back into smoothness again. It’s the sort of subtle distinction that lesser players often miss— or muddle. Finally, I was wowed by the way the Oppo reproduced the plunging sound of Hans- Jörg Maucksh’s fretless electric bass, where I could actually feel—more than hear—the deep, resonant, low-frequency shudder of the lowest notes. Any player can show you that the bass goes low, but it takes a player as good as the Oppo to capture those rich, shuddering inner textures behind the notes.

My point is that it’s simply more rewarding and fun to listen to music through the Oppo than through other inexpensive players, because it extracts more of the richness, fullness, and textural detail from discs than other players do. There is, as the famous saying goes, more “there” there. Setup, too, is a snap thanks to one of the clearest, most easy-to-use interfaces in the business. Importantly, the Oppo lets you to make most adjustments on-the-fly—something few other players at any price allow.

Can the Oppo be beaten? Sure, if you’ve got three or four (or maybe more) times its price to spend. Players such as the more-than-ten-times more costly NAD Masters Series M55 are arguably better in every way—more focused, smoother, and more holographic in their overall presentation. But it is greatly to the Oppo’s credit that one inevitably looks to far more costly players to find challengers worthy of comparison.

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