Roy Harris -- During 2009, ESS Technology introduced a 32 bit Sabre DAC chip. I am also aware of a Wolfson 32 bit DAC chip, too. During 2009, I reviewed a DAC furnished by ESS Technology. The Oppo is the first one-box player utilizing the ESS Sabre chip. The following are the salient differences between the Oppo and ESS products: 1) Chip Set: ES 9016, 4 DACs/channel in stereo mode (Oppo), ES 9018 4dacs/channel (ESS). 2) Op Amps: Analog Devices AD 790713 per channel (ESS), TI NI 5332A (Oppo). 3) Power Supply: Digikey rectangular power supply (ESS), model 83 improved switching power supply (Oppo). The OPPO BDP-83 SE will be reviewed as an audio component, only. Price is USD$899.00.
The review will be divided into three sections:
1) Redbook playback
2) SACD playback
3) Transport function
Holly Cole’s voice exhibited a reduction in sibilance relative to other listening experiences. While bass frequencies were controlled, there seemed to be a slight loss of bass frequency and the body of the instrument seemd somewhat under represented. This can be heard on track 1, Holly Cole Trio, Alert Z2 81020.
The harpsichord played by Sophie Yates (Fandango: Scarlatti in Iberia, track 1, Chandos 0635), seemed a bit smaller in scale. There was less emphasis upon the wood body of the instrument, creating an imbalance toward the strings. The sound reminded me of the early “tube” sound—attenuated at the top and bottom. However, whatever imperfections were noted were not irritating to my ears.
Joey DeFrancesco’s organ seemed slightly rounded and a bit lacking in bass extension, while the cymbals sounded a bit soft and the shimmer, slightly veiled. The saxophone was perceived as timbrally accurate (Joey DeFransesco Ballads and Blues, track 7, Concord CDC 2108-2). In addition, the guitar sounded like there was an attenuation somewhere in the treble region.
Arthur Fiedler’s recording of Offenbach’s “Gaite Parisienne”, is a classic. There are many versions of this composition. I selected the JVC pressing, JVCXR 0224, track 1. The strings and brass sections seemed somewhat subdued, while the woodblock was full bodied and sounded timbrally correct . However, the triangle lacked some sparkle. Overall, the sound was pleasant with a slight prominence in the upper bass. In spite of the subtractive colorationsand loss of resolution, the enjoyment of listening to this selection was not affected.
The sound of Steely Dan, AJA, “Deacon Blues”, MCAD37214, was smooth in many respects. Cymbals were soft, Donald Fagan’s Voice was slightly out of focus, and the chorus pronounced “saxophone”, like “saksophone”. The tenor sax exhibited a timbral realism not usually heard from other digital hardware.
The default setting of this player is PCM. That is, DSD is converted to PCM and passed to the analogsection. I changed the setting to DSD with help from Oppo’s customer service. It is necessary to interface a monitor in order to accomplish this task.
I compared redbook to SACD to ascertain the difference in sound between the two formats. Most SACD discs have a hybrid layer. Again, one must rest from DSD to redbook. The time involved renders the comparison of the hybrid layer to the SACD unreliable.. Thus my solution was to compare a redbook CD to its hybrid duplicate. Such a comparison is indirect. Hopefully, it has some value to the reader.
My first selection was an Audioquestsampler (AQ SACD 052), track 9. The Redbook version is AQ 1052. Both were recorded in 1999. The SACD was characterized by a full-bodied sounding cymbal and vocal clarity with minimal sibilance. The redbook version featured more sibilance, a less full-bodied drum, with less impact, a slightly subdued cymbal and a guitar which sounds more timbrally inaccurate, relative to the SACD..
Miles Davis KIND OF BLUE, track 1, CK 64935 and CS 64935, respectively enables a direct comparison between redbook and a non-hybrid SACD. Regarding the SACD, the cymbal was more fleshed out, Miles Davis’ trumpet was more extended and articulate and there was greater weight (emphasis) in the midbass region. In addition, the flaws in the r4ecording were more evident. Regarding the Redbook version, Coltrane’s sax solo, while further back in the soundfield, was timbrally more inaccurate. Cannonball adderley’s sax seemed to have more weight, was more extended in the lower register and more forward. Bill Evans’ piano solo solo was positioned further back than that of the SACD and Paul Chamber’s bass seemed to have more weight and articulation.
The difference in the sound of these discs might be attributable to the condition of the master tape as well as the mastering process.
I have never been disappointed in the sound of Telarc’s SACDs. This label was an early proponent of the SACD format. I own about 5 Telarc SACDs. From my small collection, I selected Fennell conducts the Cleveland Winds in compositions by Holst and Handel, CD 80038 and SACD 60639, track 1. The highlights of the SACD revealed greater articulation of tubas, and more observable fingering of flutes. The CD seemed slightly unfocused and distant, in comparison to the SACD. However, the CD displayed greater presence and heft with respect to the bass drum.
My last selection was Respighi’s “Ancient Airs and Dances for Lute”, track 1, conducted by Dorati –Mercury CD 434304 and SACD 470637, respectively. The contrasts between the two were easily noticeable. Strings sounded smoother and more natural on the SACD, and there was greater presence of the acoustic bass, than heard on the CD. On the CD, the string tone was inaccurate, having a steely quality. The CD seemed to embody some of the early deficiencies of the compact disc. To a greater extent than the SACD.
Oppo 83 SE as a transport
The Oppo was linked to the previously-mentioned ESS Sabre DAC, via coax. I will favor brevity, as I cycle through the CDs which were selected for use when the OPPO was considered as a one-box player. With respect to the Holly Cole CD, previously cited, there was a slight increase in sibilance, without sounding peaky in the upper midrange/lower treble. There was greater bass extension and as a result the acoustic bass had more weight. “Deacon Blues”, from AJA, revealed somewhat less veiling than was heard on the player itself. There was slightly more resolution from the chorus and the tenor , while retaining its natural timbre in the lower register, evidenced a slight peak in the upper rgister. Perhaps the ESS DAC was revealing flaws in the recording..
A recording, Scarlatti in Iberia, was perceived as more percussive in timbre. There was a more realistic balance between the wood body and strings, and the release of the strings was clearer than the Oppo’s analog stage. “Gaite Parisienne”, used to test the OPPO’s analog stage exhibited changes in presentation. The strings sounded a bit more animated, the snare drum was less veiled, there was a tad more separation between the woodblock and triangle, and the latter had more sparkle (treble more extended).
Finally, the sound of the Joey DeFransesco CD changed in a manner consistent with the Offenbach CD. Namely, the electric guitar was more in the foreground, the saxophone was less timbrally inaccurate and more resolved. The organ exhibited greater delination of individual notes and the cymbal was less veiled.
The Oppo BDP-83 SE was analyzed consistent with its capabilities. Two formats—Redbook and SACD were examined and a comparison was made between the Oppo as a player and as a transport.
No component is perfect. One’s preferences and perceptions will ultimately determine the Oppo’s suitability for a particular stereo system. As a player, some subtractive colorations were noted. This player was also placed briefly in another system with Thiel 3.6 speakers, a Classe amp and Audio Research 9 Mk.1 preamp. Results were quite different, as that system was highly resolving. The subtractive colorations noted in my system were not noticed. At times, that system exhibited a “bright” character, and after replacement of the Oppo’s power cord, the frequency response became more balanced. In my stereo system, there was never any harshness, edge or unpleasantness accompanying listening to any CD. As a transport linked to the ESS DAC, there was an increase in resolution and extension in the bass and treble frequencies. Using SACDs, depending upon the recording, certain digital artifacts were diminished and the frequency response was more in balance. This result is no surprise, as SACD is considered a higher quality medium.
Further information: Oppo Digital