The Modwright “Truth” modifications to Oppo’s BDP-105 player were brought to my attention by Infinity co-founder Arnie Nudell when I interviewed him for The Absolute Sound’s Illustrated History of High-End Audio. I asked Arnie which current products most impressed him, and he named two: the marvelous Constellation Audio Reference Series amplifiers, and the surprising Modwright-Oppo BDP-105. Since I regard Arnie as one of the greatest of all high-end speaker designers—having owned many of his stellar creations including the Infinity RS1, RS-1B, and Beta—his opinion carried a lot of weight. What was most intriguing was Arnie’s contention that this set of Modwright modifications vaulted the Oppo to a reference level. He claimed, “With the right program material it does as good a job as anything conveying the musicality and emotion of a live concert.”
I had to hear for myself what these modifications could do to enhance the performance of the already well-regarded Oppo BDP-105. In my experience, incorporating tubes in digital front-ends can certainly lead to better sound. Long ago, I purchased a California Audio Labs Icon II because its tubed analog output stage made those bits sound more natural to my ears compared to other moderately priced digital players of the day. Admittedly, many costly digital front ends have left me somewhat uninvolved, particularly with SACDs, whereas others that sound great are either far beyond my budget, such as the remarkable dCS Vivaldi, or are no longer available. Could the relatively affordable ($2495) Modwright “Truth” upgrade to the Oppo BDP-105 be the solution to my “digital dilemma” and enable me to get more enjoyment from the latest high-resolution digital media?
In my experience, modifying stock products to improve performance can be a slippery slope. One assumes that since most products are designed to a price point, they can be improved, at a minimum, by replacing select components with higher-quality, more costly ones. However, there are several risks involved. First, the manufacturer’s warranty is voided. Second, more costly parts do not always ensure better sound. Product designers spend a lot of time and effort listening to their products to carefully voice them, and monkeying around with the original design can destroy this delicate balance. Third, there is the issue of workmanship and reliability. Whereas the stock units typically undergo rigorous testing, too many modified units do not. Fourth, when you go to sell a modified product, you generally recover only a small fraction of the cost of the upgrade. Fifth, you often take your chances on a modified unit without being able to audition it and without the support of your local dealer. If you don’t like the results, you’re stuck. Last, once you start down the modification pathway, where do you stop, particularly with tubed-based modifications? Besides several additional Modwright options to the basic “Truth” modifications—including the Bybee Music Rail and Audio Magic Pulse Gen ZX upgrades, which were not added—one can also spend a lot of time “tube rolling” to find the perfect sonic match. I did upgrade the Modwright-supplied Electro-Harmonic 6SN7EH driver tubes with some wonderful Sophia Electric 6SN7 tubes, as well as swapping the Sovtek 5AR4 rectifier tube in the external power supply for a taller and wider Philips 5R4GYS, recommended by tube-maven Kevin Deal. (Note: This latter change requires a top plate with a hole, which can be supplied by Modwright.) Both these tube replacements move the Modwirght-Oppo closer to the sound of a live performance with gains in openness, inner detail, image depth, truth of timbre, and dynamic explosiveness.
The key questions for me were: Would the Modwright “Truth” modifications to the Oppo BDP-105 be worth it, and what has Modwright done to help minimize the associated risks?
The Stock Oppo BDP-105
Modwright starts with Oppo’s highly successful, award-winning BDP-105 universal player as its digital platform—TAS’ 2013 Disc Player of the Year that was reviewed quite favorably by CM in Issue 232. He was impressed by its “clean, clear, and detailed” presentation,” commenting that “it is far more revealing than it has any right to be for the money.” I concur and would add that with high-resolution sources this player is surprisingly good. However, during extensive listening sessions, I always knew I was listening to a digital source.
Modwright’s Dan Wright selected this Oppo because “it is universal, state of the art, reliable, and lends itself well to significant improvement by way of our modifications.” (The modifications are the same for Oppo’s new BDP-105D “Darbee” edition that offers 4k video and a DSD input.) Fortunately, I was able to borrow a stock BDP-105 from Oppo’s CTO, Jason Liao, for comparison. My listening observations mirrored CM’s for the most part. I appreciated the Oppo’s remarkable clarity and fine detail resolution; however, I thought that the stock unit was somewhat lean-sounding in the upper midrange when reproducing massed strings, a limitation I hear on most digital front-ends. This limitation has kept me from enjoying digital music as much as I do analog, and typically leads to aural fatigue during my extensive listening sessions.
Jason also volunteered to measure both units using his test software at the Oppo offices near my house. As I expected, the stock Oppo measured better than the Modwright on all distortion parameters, but as most audiophiles know, test results do not tell the whole story. Indeed, according to Jason, the higher level of second-order harmonic distortion of the Modwright is something Oppo is trying to design into some of its products to help them sound richer and more natural.
The Modwright “Truth” Modifications
The Modwright “Truth” modifications to the Oppo BDP-105 are quite extensive and include a total redesign and replacement of the single-ended and balanced output stages with Modwright’s tube analog output stage. The most noticeable physical differences are: the inclusion of two 6SN7 driver tubes rising above the top plate of the Modwright-Oppo; a separate external power supply with one 5AR4 rectifier tube and two 13EM7 voltage-regulator tubes; and a Modwright “Truth” umbilical cord connecting the power supply to the main unit. The Modwright-Oppo also includes upgraded Cardas RCA connectors (for stereo outs), a Furutech cryo-teated IEC, upgraded resistors in the signal path, cryo-treated solid-cord silver wire for the signal path, and damping mods for the chassis and transport. As mentioned, the external supply can accommodate taller, larger-diameter tubes with the new top plate from Modwright.
The digital stage is not touched by Modwright, except that the “Truth” modifications improve the existing supplies that power the digital circuitry. Modwright’s Dan Wright said that Oppo’s stock clock “is excellent and unique,” and its DAC (employing two ESS Sabre ES9018 chips) “is exceptional.” He added that because they could not improve upon the clock or the DAC, Modwright left them alone. My review unit did not include any other optional Modwright modifications, but in addition to “tube-rolling,” I did add the outstanding Shunyata Alpha digital power cord, which significantly increased the transparency and improved the naturalness of the timbre of both the Modwright and the stock Oppo.