First Listen: Oppo BDP-83SE “Special Edition” Universal Blu-ray Player

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First Listen: Oppo BDP-83SE “Special Edition” Universal Blu-ray Player

Back in November, 2009, I did a news piece announcing the imminent arrival of Oppo’s new BDP-83SE “Special Edition” Blu-ray player, priced at $899. For those who may have missed that article, let me recap the key points.

Charting the Changes

How does the BDP-83SE differ from the original BDP-83? There are two main changes 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 video section of the player remains unchanged.

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. Oppo CTO and VP of Product Development Jason Liao says the ESS DACs deliver “an unparalled sound stage and incredible fidelity in both 7.1-channel and stereo modes,” providing “an exciting upgrade to the original BDP-83 for the discerning audio enthusiast.”

About the ESS Sabre32 Ultra DAC

A related press release from Fremont, CA-based ESS Technology, Inc. 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 explains 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.”

Preliminary Findings

Not long after I published my news article on the BD-83SE, I received a very, very early sample of the player for review and began listening to it immediately. How did it fare? The short answer actually isn’t short, in that it depends on whether you do or don’t come from the dyed-in-the-wool audiophile camp. If you are a consumer who appreciates getting better-than-expected performance at a bargain price, my thought is that you might well be complete satisfied (indeed, overjoyed) by the results you’ll achieve with the box-stock Oppo BDP-83. If you are an audiophile, however, and one steeped in the tradition of paying close attention to small but significant differences in sound quality (small differences that cumulatively add up to big differences), then I think you will absolutely, positively, unequivocally want to step up to the BDP-83SE. Here’s why.

The standard BDP-83 is a very, very good player and a bargain at its price. As I commented in my Playback review of the standard player, “I think the Oppo could hold its own in comparison with many of the $1000 ‘audiophile-grade’ CD players I’ve heard and could perhaps compete even further up the audio food chain.” But that said, the fact is that there were and are sub-$2000 multi-format player that can and do decisively outperform the standard BDP-83 (e.g., NAD’s Masters Series M55 DVD/universal player)—at least in terms of sound quality.

There are some reviewers who claim the standard BDP-83 is the greatest thing since sliced bread and that its sonic qualities can literally take on all comers, but while I appreciate their enthusiasm (and share it to some degree), the fact is that they’re wrong. There are better-sounding multi-format players out there, provided you’re willing to pay for them.

The BDP-83SE, however, is a whole different animal, so that when you listen to it you may find, as I have, that you unconsciously shift from thinking of it as a “very good” player to thinking of it as either a “great” or as a “near-great” player. What changes? In two words, the answers are resolution and refinement; the BDP-83SE takes readily noticeable and in fact quite sizeable steps forward in both areas. How big are the differences we’re talking about? Well, if you’re listening through a relatively decent (though not necessarily hideously expensive) stereo or surround sound system, let’s just say that you won’t have to work very hard to hear them.

So here’s how things shake out. Though the BDP-83 is steal at its price, its sound quality can be topped by that of players selling for under $2k. The BDP-83SE, however, sounds enough better that it can go hunting for much bigger game (think in terms of players in the $4k range and up). While I suspect the BDP-83SE can perhaps be edged out by at least some higher-tier players (for example, players along the lines of the $6000 Marantz universal Blu-ray player my colleague Alan Taffel has recently reviewed), the fact is that the Special Edition Oppo has elevated its level of play to a point where even finicky listeners may be apt to ask whether it is worth the time or money required in order to obtain something that is truly better. This is a roundabout way of saying that, for audiophiles, the “Special Edition” Oppo may be an even more compelling bargain than the standard BDP-83 already is.

Caveat Emptor—or “Why I haven’t published my BDP-83SE review yet.”

My first sample of the BDP-83SE sounded great, but it had a subtle problem, which was that—every once in a great while (that is, perhaps only two or maybe three times per album)—it would exhibit about a 0.5 second dropout in audio output and then resume playing beautifully as if nothing had ever happened. I contacted Oppo about the problem and they advised me that they had a firmware update that addressed the problem. I installed the update and found that, while it increased to time interval between audio dropouts, it did not completely eliminate them. When I advised Oppo of this, they immediately arranged to send me an alternate review sample to correct the problem.

Though Oppo’s turnaround time was admirably quick and I now have a second sample in hand, the fact is that a few other review products showed up in the interim, so that the BDP-83SE’s position in The Perfect Vision review queue got bumped down a few places. I plan to get back to the Oppo as soon as possible and to offer a full review shortly. Stay tuned for more…   

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