While I hesitate to recommend any unit you cannot audition beforehand, Modwright takes the risk out of owning its modified Oppo BPD-105. Although the factory warranty is voided, Modwright offers a one-year warranty of its own and offers to service the unit should it fail in a way that would otherwise be covered by the factory warranty, for cost of parts alone. Because the Oppo is so reliable, this is “very seldom necessary,” according to Dan. Even Oppo’s Jason Liao praised the workmanship of the Modwright modifications as “exceptional.” One rarely hears this kind of praise about any modification from the manufacturer of the original equipment.
The sonic comparisons among the stock Oppo, the Modwright-modified Oppo, and my turntable system were illuminating. As both digital units required extensive break-in, I did not conduct my listening tests until after both had time to fully settle down. I was able to switch between them on several discs, using all the same ancillary components. Since the upgraded tubes in the Modwright and the addition of Shunyata’s Alpha Digital power cable to the stock and the modified Oppo units moved me closer to the illusion of hearing a live performance in my listening room, I used both for my extensive sonic comparisons.
With the glorious Reference Recordings CD of the Rutter Requiem, the stock Oppo sounded surprisingly good for such a modestly priced component, with appealing clarity and bass extension. However, I noticed some sibilance and stridency in the voices, particularly on dynamic peaks. Switching to the Modwright-Oppo, the voices and instruments bloomed, and I found myself immediately more immersed in the music. There was still very good clarity and detail, but now without any of the digital stridency. The soundstage seemed to take on an added dimension, too, with layered depth separating the performers in the chorus and a really good sense of the hall. Voices sounded richer in tonal color and music just flowed with more natural ease. In short, the Modwright-Oppo opened the door more deeply into the music, and I found myself listening to the entire piece rather than a few sample tracks.
On the higher-res SACD of Reference Recordings’ Exotic Dances from the Opera, percussion on the stock Oppo had appealing transient quickness and “snap.” Soundstaging was also good, particularly in width. Turning to the Modwright-Oppo, the decay of the cymbals and triangles sounded more natural, woodwinds had more body, and there was greater separation among the performers on stage. The sonic gap between the Modwright-Oppo and my turntable system was surprisingly narrow, and both left the stock Oppo in the dust. Admittedly, I preferred the enhanced bloom, air, soundstage depth, and more natural timbre of the vinyl to the Modwright-Oppo, but bass articulation, impact, and extension were comparable.
On Reference Recording’s brilliant HRx DVD-R of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances (recorded at 176.4kHz/24), the stock Oppo displayed more of its remarkable bass power and extension, dynamic explosiveness, and clarity. Although massed strings had realistic shimmer and woodwinds sounded good, they were reproduced with some digital artifacts (edge), which detracted from the illusion of a live performance. Moving to the Modwright-Oppo, woodwinds had more body, and strings were more natural—verging on the lush. The timbre was more harmonically fleshed out, the instruments had more air, and the music breathed as it does in the concert hall. Yes, there was more warmth, but no syrupy or caramel tube coloration here, and the enhanced tonal richness didn’t come at the expense of transient speed, inner detail, or dynamic explosiveness. Moving to vinyl, the differences in clarity and inner detail between it and the Modwright-Oppo were too close to call. However, with vinyl the sound was a bit more open, particularly in the highs, with slightly more delicacy and hall ambience, as well as more body and richness. However, I had to give a slight nod to the Modwright-Oppo in bass power and articulation, and its lower noise floor was more appealing.
As expected, the sound of both the stock Oppo and Modwright improved fairly dramatically as the resolution of the digital media increased (on good recordings). Arnie provided me with a 2.8MHz DSD recording (converted to 24/176 PCM) of Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 in E minor from the San Francisco Symphony. The strengths of each unit increased and their shortcomings were less in evidence. For example, the sound on the Modwright-Oppo was stunning in balanced mode with see-through transparency, a deep, wide, and precise soundstage, fleshed-out timbre with no sense of digital artifacts in the pure harmonic overtones, and explosive dynamics with deep bass extension. The fine detail has a delicacy that is mesmerizing, perhaps lacking only the last bit of air one hears with top-notch analog sources, albeit with the benefit of a lower noise floor. Regrettably, in this instance, I did not have the vinyl for comparison, but I must concur with Arnie that on this recording, the Modwright-Oppo certainly conveys the musicality and emotion of a live concert!
One of my audio buddies and a frequent listener to my system said that he thought that I was playing my turntable when the Modwright-Oppo was in the system. I must admit that there were times when I was so lost in the music that I had to look up to see which source was playing. That is very high praise and has never happened to me before with a digital source in my home.
So are the Modwright “Truth” modifications to Oppo’s BDP-105 player worth the cost and the risk? The answer to that question is a resounding, “Yes!” The build-quality is exemplary and the sonics are exceptional. It is the first digital player I have had in my listening room that didn’t make me want to go back to my analog rig right away, and that’s because it sounds so much like analog in many respects, without giving up the bass extension and control, clarity, fine detail resolution and retrieval, and convenience that can make digital so attractive. With outstanding sonics that can make you forget you’re listening to digital, and its remarkable flexibility and compatibility when playing discs from a player or a computer-audio setup, I suspect this is one universal player that you’ll be hanging on to for a long time. While I’m unwilling to abandon my analog rig, I can see why others, like Arnie, have chosen to do take this path, particularly when one feeds the Modwright-Oppo first-rate, high-resolution source material. The Modwright Oppo is now my digital reference.
SPECS & PRICING
Price: $2495 (for Modwrightv“Truth” modifications alone)
Price of stock Oppo BDP-105 (user supplied): $1199
MODWRIGHT INSTRUMENTS, INC.
21919 NE 399th Street
Amboy, WA 98601
Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L 101 turntable with Tri-planer U-II and Ortofon MC Cadenza Black and Kiseki Purple Heart Sapphire cartridges; Esoteric SA-50 and Oppo BDP-105 digital players; MFA Venusian (Frankland modified), PrimaLuna Dialogue Three, and Constellation Audio Virgo II preamps; PrimaLuna DiaLogue HP monoblocks and Constellation Audio Centaur amplifiers; Magnepan 3.7i and Quad ESL -57 (PK modified) loudspeakers; Silver Circle Audio TCH AIK6 power conditioner; Shunyata Research Alpha digital power cable, Nordost Valhalla interconnects and power cords, AudioQuest Niagara interconnects and Metro speaker cables, etc.