First Listen: Lexicon BD-30 universal Blu-ray player

Multi-format disc players,
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First Listen: Lexicon BD-30 universal Blu-ray player

I first saw the Lexicon BD-30 universal Blu-ray player in the Harman International display booth at CEDIA 2009 where my initial impression was that it looked like a heavily overbuilt, upscale, Lexicon-themed interpretation of an Oppo BDP-83. The similarities were striking enough that I asked my booth tour guide if Lexicon had teamed with Oppo in developing the BD-30 and he replied (mistakenly as it turns out) that the BD-30 had been developed solely by Lexicon. On the basis of that information, I immediately requested a review sample.

Once my review sample of the BD-30 arrived (toward the end of 2009) and I got a chance to inspect the player closely and to put it through its paces. In the process, I became even more convinced that there must have been some collaboration between Oppo and Lexicon in creating the BD-30 (there are many physical similarities between the machines in terms of control and I/O layouts, and the user interfaces are similar, too). Accordingly, I asked again whether Oppo and Lexicon had worked on the BD-30 and learned that in fact they had. Marc Kellom, Harman International’s head of High Performance A/V products, indicated that the same supplier that builds the Oppo player in its entirety manufactures core elements of the BD-30 in China. Final assembly, firmware loading, and quality control testing for the BD-30, however, take place in Lexicon’s facility based in Elkhart, Indiana.

Kellom explained that during the development of both players, Lexicon had evaluated the then-current Oppo design and suggested some video-related changes—changes that were eventually incorporated in production versions of both players. Similarly, Lexicon bore the costs of having the Oppo design put through conformance testing relative to various worldwide consumer safety standards and to put it through THX qualification testing, again leading to changes that were incorporated into both players.

Knowing that it would sell its version of the player through its upscale, service-oriented retail dealer channel (where the standing expectation is that dealers will provide expert custom installation/integration services), Lexicon decided that its version of the player would need several changes vis-à-vis a standard Oppo player. First, it required a significant more beefy and elegant looking chassis (and one strong enough to support rack mounting), plus firmware modifications that would make the player easier for dealers to integrated with other Lexicon high-performance A/V products (e.g., the MC-12). Second, the player required formal THX certification—if only for the sake of consistency with other THX-certified Lexicon products. Third, the BD-30 would need to ship with somewhat different accessories than those that come with the standard Oppo player, including a set of rack-mounting “ears” plus a copy of the well-regarded Joe Kane Productions Digital Video Essentials HD Basics, Blu-ray Edition HD set-up toolkit disk.

The upshot, then, is that the BD-30 takes the core chassis, circuit boards, and drive mechanism of a standard Oppo BDP-83 universal Blu-ray player, and mounts them within a heavily built Lexicon enclosure, “re-flashes” the player’s firmware EPROMs with Lexicon-spec code, and then performs its own battery of final quality control tests in the US.

In practice this means the BD-30, like the Oppo upon which it is based, is an incredibly versatile, multi-format disk player that delivers exemplary video quality and very, very good (though definitely not state-of-the-art) sound quality. The BD-30 can handle Blu-ray, DVD-Video, SACD, HDCD, and CD disks without breaking a sweat. Interestingly, the BD-30’s manual indicates that the player cannot handle DVD-Audio disks, though in fact it can and does.  

But there is an element of controversy surrounding the Lexicon BD-30, and it has to do with pricing. The BD-30, you see, sells for quite a lot more money than the Oppo: $3499 for the BD-30 vs. $499 for the BDP-83. At first blush, the extra $3000 seems a heavy price to pay for enhanced chassis casework, revised firmware, and a few extra accessories, leading some skeptical online A/V pundits and consumers/forum participants to cry “foul!” As it turns out, however, some of the Oppo’s most vociferous critics turn out to be “reviewer/journalists” who in fact work for organizations that are online resellers of the Oppo. So much for impartiality and fairness…

One key point I think many people miss (or simply choose to ignore) is that, with the Lexicon, you aren’t just buying the player, but also the highly-supportive expert dealer network that stands behind it—a factor that, in my experience, means much more to some prospective buyers than to others. Though consumers sometimes pretend otherwise, the fact is that the benefits of a good dealer network are tangible and, yes, costly. Bluntly, rock-solid dealer networks don’t come for free.

Price does, however, inevitably influence our perceptions of any product, and in the BD-30’s case comparisons with Oppo’s BDP-83 are inevitable. While the latter is arguably the greatest $499 player yet made, the former faces much stiffer competition in its higher price class—especially in the area of sound quality. In taking notes on the BD-30 I wrote this:

“With the BD-30, what you get is the pleasing and eminently listenable sound of very good A/V equipment, but what’s missing is that magical spark of realism that comes with components that have a bit more resolving power—especially when it comes to reproducing upper midrange/treble details and high-frequency harmonics. “

The was a relatively minor criticism I made of the Oppo BDP-83, but it is a more significant one in the case of the Lexicon BD-30, given that with higher prices come heightened expectations.

At any rate, the video and audio performance characteristics of the Lexicon BD-30 and Oppo BDP-83 are essentially identical, with one small difference. The much heavier chassis casework of the BD-30 makes its mechanical operation noticeably quieter than the Oppo.

Given that The Perfect Vision has already done an in-depth review of the BDP-83, we have elected not to do a full review of the Lexicon. However, if we had prepared a full review, the concluding paragraphs might have read something like this:

Bottom Line:

The Lexicon BD-30 is an excellent universal Blu-ray player, offering exemplary video performance and very good, though not quite great, sound quality. I expect the player will find favor among customers who appreciate the benefits and services that Lexicon’s excellent retail dealer network can provide.

Even so, there is an element of disappointment here, and it revolves around the fact that the BD-30 does not, apart from its somewhat quieter mechanical operation, improve upon the core A/V performance of the inexpensive Oppo BDP-83 upon which it is based. Given the BD-30’s hefty price tag, I think customers might well have expected more.  

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