|Oppo UDP-205 and Black Panther.|
At the time of this writing, I see that while the UDP-205 is in very short supply if even available any more (excluding the speculative price gouging on eBay of course), the UDP-203 is still available.
Today, as a start, let's just spend some time talking about this device and the features. By now there's no mystery since reviews over the last year have been thorough such as from TechHive and Audioholics. Oh yeah, even The Absolute Sound put in a review. In fact, the Audioholics review provides some excellent data on the performance of the Oppo UDP-205 versus its sibling the Oppo UDP-203.
As I mentioned a few weeks back, when I heard about the announcement that Oppo Digital was going to exit the audio/video hardware business, I put in an order for the Oppo UDP-205 4K Blu-Ray player. This is what arrived:
Honestly guys, I'm not much of an "unboxing" kind of person :-). No, I don't watch those countless videos on YouTube with people opening packages and showing off how something was shrink wrapped or surrounded in foam. Nothing wrong with "pride of ownership" I suppose. Having said this, Oppo is well regarded in terms of the user's opening experience. The UDP-205 arrived securely protected by a double box. When you open it, there's a color printed sheet that announces the product and features (not shown). As you can see above, the player was wrapped in a black reusable Oppo labelled fabric bag which can be used when you go grocery shopping :-). Thick foam packaging material on the sides to keep the contents snug inside the box.
Then there's the black accessory box with contents taken out and the relatively thick and well-written printed manual (manual PDF found here):
There's a good back-lit remote control with all the usual functions (it's plastic so not one of those metal remotes that can double as personal protection device). A generic looking but "premium" HDMI cable is also included which obviously is capable of 4K/60fps/HDR (I'm actually using it right now to connect to my receiver - no problems). Batteries and a rather thick stock power cord included.
Well, there she is. The machine itself. Of course this is a UHD Blu-Ray player which plays almost any disk format you can throw at it including DVD-A and SACD. The only real exceptions are the long-dead HD-DVD and HDCD decoding has been dropped in this generation. IMO, dropping HDCD is no big deal since software options to decode HDCD to 24-bit audio is available if one wants to do that quite easily (check out dBPowerAmp). The front of the chassis is the "standard" Oppo look. As you can see from my previous shots of the BDP-105, it looks quite similar. Notice that the BDP-105 in the bottom right has 2 ports - both a USB and HDMI 1.4 input. In comparison, Oppo has taken out the front HDMI input but has left the USB2.0 input with the UDP-205.
The UDP-205 drive mechanism appears to be very well built. The tray opens smoothly and is quiet during playback. Without audio playing in my room but fed a disk to spin up, I can hear the drive spinning with a low hum, very little audible "head seek" sound during loading of data like the Blu-Ray menus. Data transfer speed seems fast - UHD Blu-Rays load up quite quickly. Menu navigation likewise is very responsive.
As you'll see below looking at the back of the machine, there is now one single HDMI 2.0 input so you can connect another 4K/HDR device and switch between the inputs. Another update over the BDP-105 are the rear USB ports are now 3.0.
Here's a closer look at those rear ports. Notice the ethernet is now 1Gbps speed. Like in the BDP-105, looking from the back, the left side consists of stereo outputs - both RCA unbalanced and XLR balanced. You can see the USB2.0 DAC input along with the usual S/PDIF TosLink and coaxial. Like the Sonica DAC, the USB2.0 DAC input can decode up to 768kHz PCM and DSD512. As I've said before, I doubt any music will ever be released in these ultra-high bitrates as there are no benefits for homo sapiens (even 24/192 is overkill). The only benefits from this kind of sampling rate are to extract funds from the naïve, bolster audiophile bragging rights and for the hobbyists who want to do one's own digital upsampling (as previously discussed).
Notice the presence of 2 HDMI outputs. One for the full HDMI 2.0 video stream to your receiver / TV, and the other being HDMI 1.4 audio only for those who want to play audio with lower jitter. This is an interesting, rather unique step taken by Oppo to appease the audiophile community!
And on the right side looking from the rear are the 7.1 RCA outputs for analogue multichannel output. Standard IEC power connector with AC voltage switch for international use.
Remember that last year, I had already measured the Oppo Sonica DAC which is also based on the ESS ES9038Pro DAC chipset and probably similar analogue circuitry so that will already give us an idea of the level of performance to expect. The UDP-205 has two ES9038Pro chips - one for high quality stereo decoding and the second one is fed multichannel data for the 7.1 output; remember that each ES9038 is capable of 8-channel operation. As for the main processor that runs the screen GUI, menu, etc. it's the MediaTek MT8581 with quad ARM Cortex-A53 @ 1.3GHz and Mali-T860 MP2 GPU. The GPU is a 650MHz part doing the heavy lifting with HDR processing including HDR-to-SDR and HEVC hardware decoding necessary for the high-resolution video.
In terms of 4K Blu-Ray performance, it looks great. I'm using the latest firmware - UDP20X-56-0224 (March 2, 2018 release). One of the additions Oppo made to this version can be found in the HDR menu:
There are now four HDR-to-SDR modes to choose from. A few weeks back, someone asked about comparing the HDR-to-SDR conversion on the UDP-205 to computer sofware (madVR). As you can imagine, it would be hard to compare reliably given the HDMI 2.0 digital copy protection and inability to "rip" images to compare, plus now with 4 modes, there will be some variability and perhaps a different "optimal" mode for any specific movie.
Because this machine has a more powerful processor inside, it can handle MQA decoding (the lack of computing power prevented the Sonica DAC from being fitted with MQA firmware). As I mentioned previously, the MQA decoding currently only can be applied to the media plugged into the USB-A ports and MQA-CDs. Unfortunately (so far) the USB-B input from a computer or streamer will not decode MQA. This means you can't just plug your computer streaming Tidal into this unit and expect full decoding.
Oppo claims that although the device has been discontinued, they will continue to offer firmware updates for a time. If there is one feature I hope Oppo can implement for UDP-205 owners, it would be to complete the MQA capability by supporting decoding from the USB-B DAC input. Of course while I'm far from being an MQA supporter/believer, I do believe it would be a nice final "icing on the cake" feature to implement as Oppo AV rides off into the sunset at the top of their game having already partially provided MQA support. From a user perspective, USB-B input decoding is without doubt the most important simply because other than Tidal streaming, there's just little MQA content.
Having said this, there are caveats I hope Oppo remains mindful of in order to do it right:
1. Please make sure MQA filters are ONLY applied to encoded music and not to standard PCM input!
2. Make sure MQA does not sacrifice other features.
The first point is important because subjecting standard PCM input to MQA filtering would be using suboptimal settings and adding frequency and time-domain inaccuracies. It would also be rather silly if incorporating MQA results in loss of features (like what happened with iFi's firmware update and loss of the advertised DSD512 and 768kHz PCM). I'll go into more details when I show the measurements, but I can tell you that the current set of digital filters programmed into this machine is excellent - don't mess this up with MQA filters unless specifically intended while decoding!
Subjectively, using my Raspberry Pi 3 Touch with piCorePlayer connected to my Logitech Media Server running in a Linux VM hosted in Windows Server 2016 using standard USB to the Oppo UDP-105 played through the stereo XLR output to:
Emotiva XSP-1 pre-amp --> dual monoblock Emotiva XPA-1Ls --> Paradigm Signature S8 v3 speakers with SUB1
The analogue output simply sounded transparent. Backgrounds are silent, frequency response is full, sound is clean with no audible distortion. Details/"microdynamics" sounded well nuanced. I enjoyed Rachel Podger & Brecon Baroque's recent The Four Seasons (2018, DSD64 from SACD). Spent an evening reliving some of Leonard Cohen's works (The Best of Leonard Cohen, Live in London, Old Ideas, You Want It Darker) - beautiful rendering of his signature bass-baritone in those later recordings. Then there's the highly "produced" pop sounds of the Finnish a cappella group Club for Five's You're The Voice (DR8, 2009) with the typical modern compressed sound and the processed artificiality one comes to expect (still sounds good though for what it is similar to the likes of Pentatonix).
Over the years, I have heard people claim that there's an ESS "glare" to the sound of Sabre DACs. Heck, some people even complain that this "digital glare" is present in most delta-sigma converters. Can't say I've ever heard of such a problem with machines using chips from ESS, TI/Burr-Brown, and Asahi Kasei (AKM). Having previously heard DACs with tube output stages including a modded Oppo BDP-105 a number of years ago with someone who preferred the sound with the mod (he better prefer that sound... cuz he spent more money on the mod than the machine itself!), I suspect some audiophiles simply do not like the "sound" of transparent devices. Like film grain in movies, some audiophiles seem to like an extra bit of noise or maybe even order harmonics added. Of course, this gets into the territory of subjective preferences. I have no qualms about noise and distortion in the service of the artist. Overdriven guitars can sound great, DSP effects that add noise and distortion can make music more interesting, heck, even the occasional vocal AutoTune is fine! These can be artistic choices, but I have no need for the audio reproduction hardware itself throwing off all kinds of frequencies or adding noise absent in the original recording (as previously expressed). Only then can I consider my equipment to be capable of "high fidelity" in the service of reproducing the sound recorded in the digital data. By definition, "transparent" gear will not impart its own sound and that's what we're getting with the Oppo UDP-205. We'll discuss further and more specifically when I post the measurements...
Speaking of "going out on top", congrats are in order for Tyll Hertsens and his fantastic articles at InnerFidelity over the years. As you may know he announced his retirement this week. Although I'm not a huge headphone fan, I always enjoyed his humor, writings and of course excellent headphone measurements. Sounds like quite the adventurous retirement!
In other news, it is sad to hear of Arny Krueger's passing recently. I know he raised quite a ruckus on rec.audio.* back in the Usenet days (1990's). There was also this debate with Stereophile's Jon Atkinson in 2005 dubbed "The Great Debate: Subjectivism on Trial" (wow, 13 years ago!):
Nothing much has changed fundamentally in the debate between objectivists and subjectivists over the years - check out the segment around 25 minutes arguing about power amplifiers for example.
The discussion at 29 minutes I think is also very important - as Arny points out, the psychology/consciousness of the listener affects subjective evaluation the moment the reviewer takes up the task of critically trying to characterize sound quality (and ultimately expressing it in an article). Perhaps the realization that one will have to write about the device will itself change the relationship one has with the gear.
Ultimately, on the subjective side, Jon Atkinson's rationale essentially boils down to his anecdote at 10:00 when he was 30 years old in 1978 at Hi-Fi News. He claims that he took a blind test between a solid state Quad 405 vs. a tube Michaelson & Austin TVA1 and could not differentiate between them. So he sold his Lecson solid-state amp and bought the Quad 405. The story goes that over the months, he "hated" the "unlistenable" sound of the solid-state Quad 405 in his system thus began his "conversion" (his "Road to Damascus moment") into the belief that "there must have been something wrong with the test" - blind testing failed him. By about 13:30, he says "there's something going on here and we don't know what it is" and "there's something about the audio equipment ... which isn't fully characterized by testing".
Obviously, this is an anecdote and like most subjective evaluations or "witness accounts", we'll just have to take it at face value and accept that for him, at that time, with his equipment and with that specific Quad 405 amp (a rather
I see that Atkinson repeated the anecdote at the recent AXPONA 2018 talk describing that he had the Rogers LS3/5a speaker at the time (12:00 in, the blind test is dated as 1979 in this talk). Also, as usual with subjective talk, others like this fellow disagrees with JA's take on the Quad 405 amplifier sound describing low noise with a "warm, detailed and three-dimensional" mid-range - who to believe as neither have measurements? :-) [Here are some measurements BTW.]
If you have not heard the debate, enjoy the dialogue and decide for yourself which of the two "debaters" won out. In the last couple years, it certainly has been fun interacting with arnyk over at the Squeezebox Forum and through PM. Whether one agrees with his positions or not, he certainly had a deep fund of knowledge and experience. RIP Arny.
By the way guys, notice in the Oppo UDP-205 picture I showed at the top, I bought the Black Panther 4K UHD Blu-Ray. The movie looks great on the 4K format. It was filmed in "almost 4K" resolution with the Arri Alexa XT Plus in 3.2K, it features Dolby Vision HDR (as well as HDR10), and the audio is presented in Dolby TrueHD with Atmos. That's about as good as we can get at this point in terms of the technology. Great looking image quality with excellent blacks, color saturation and shading. Sounds great as well. Recommended disk and movie.
Hope you're all enjoying the music and movies!