As for video sound, I’m about to praise the Oppo UPD-205 for its exceptional surround-music quality, but when it comes to soundtracks, I have to say that the particular processing methods used in producing and mixing a given cut on a soundtrack—i.e., the particular version of Dolby, DTS, etc.—consistently dominated the nuances of the sound. Moreover, there do not seem to be any real standards for the use of the bass channel, the mix of side- and rear-channel energies, and the relative level of highly processed mixes of dialogue, sound effects, and music. I expelain more about this in the next section. But don’t get me wrong, the Oppo does a great job of turning soundtracks into fun.
The more you listen to soundtracks, however, the more you detect the fact that each is engineered and recorded to at least slightly different standards, and for setup you often have to guess at the director’s intentions as to the finer details. This might be different if each disc had reference tones to set levels, if discs had some diagrams to show specifics for speaker location, and if more attention were paid to producing soundtracks designed for home listening rather than for movie theaters.
The Oppo UDP-205 as a Surround-Sound Music Player
For the present, however, the Oppo’s superior capability in reproducing surround music is far more of a test than its ability to get the fun out of sound effects. This also is one of the special pleasures the UPD-205 provides that may lead audiophiles who have far more expensive high-end DACs and disc players to buy it.
The UPD-205 is quite a capable surround-sound music player, and putting one in your home AV system may give you a whole new approach to listening to a portion of your music collection. This will be particularly true if you already have a large number of SACDs, many of which have 5.0- and 5.1-channel music tracks. It will be equally true if you still have DVD-As and DTS surround recordings on-hand or have access to a supply of used ones.
Admittedly, there are some problems in using the Oppo UPD-205 within a sophisticated AV system in the same ways that are best suited for music playback. You don’t have to listen to a wide variety of SACD and other surround recordings to realize that, as with film soundtracks, there is no clear standard for the use or non-use of the .1 subwoofer channel, the relative levels of the side speakers, the placement of the side speakers, and the intended surround listening position. There are no real-world fixed standards, and each recording company seems to have approached things at least a bit differently.
That said, you can still get fairly decent surround music by using the same settings you use for your AV system. The one caution I’d give is that all of the surround recordings I’ve heard to date are three-channel (RCA), five-channel (5.0), or five-channel-plus-subwoofer (5.1) mixes. These recordings still sound pretty good through seven-plus-one channel (or up to 11 channels with height) systems, but this is not their intended approach to surround sound. If you get music out of the rear and any channels other than 5.1, it is a good idea to turn those channels off.
As for music sources, there are some really good new surround Blu-ray music discs from providers such as AIX and Tacet. There are plenty of excellent surround SACDs available from sources like Bis, Channel Classics, Et Cetera, Harmonia Mundi, Pentatone, Reference Recordings, RCA, and 2L. SACD surround has been best for classical material, but there are a surprising number of rock, pop, country, and jazz surround recordings still available used or new.
Let me give a few examples of possible starting points. One is any of the classic RCA SACD recordings such as the Reiner/Chicago Scheherazade. These recordings are particularly interesting because stereo was originally developed as a three-speaker system, and this recording dates back to 1956. Nevertheless, it is still a great surround experience and makes a case for three channels.
The full pleasure in surround music, however, lies in the 5.0 and 5.1 channel recordings. These really open up the sound, provide a different view of the soundstage, and often provide a warmer and more natural timbre. A few discs also given you the option of a normal stage mix and a more immersive one, and even a stereo mix so you can directly compare the surround mix to the stereo version.
The key point is that the Oppo UDP-205 is potentially a lot more than a stereo music player or a source for video playback. It can be a real adventure in expanding your musical horizons. You aren’t likely to turn away from stereo as a result, but you may well wish that the industry hadn’t effectively killed the first major wave of interest in surround music by rushing into competing DVD-A and SACD systems. Surround music deserves better, and the Oppo is a great way for high-end audiophiles to explore it.
Specs & Pricing
Disc types: 4k UHD Blu-ray, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, AVCHD, SACD, CD, Kodak Picture CD, CD-R/RW, DVD±R/RW, DVD±R DL, BD-R/RE BD Profile, BD-ROM Version 3.1 Profile 6 (also compatible with BD-ROM Version 2.5 Profile 5)
Analog output: 7.1ch, 5.1ch, stereo (XLR balanced, RCA single-ended)
Coaxial/optical audio: Up to 2ch/192kHz PCM, Dolby Digital, DTS
USB audio: Up to 2ch/768kHz PCM, up to 2ch/2.8224MHz/5.6448MHz/11.2896MHz/22.5792 MHz (native mode only)
DSD HDMI audio: Up to 7.1ch/192kHz PCM, up to 5.1ch DSD, bitstream
HDMI video: UHD/1080p24/1080p/1080i/720p/576p/576i/480p/480i, 3D frame-packing 720p/1080p24
Signal-to-noise ratio: >120dB
THD+N: < 0.00018%
Output level: (RCA) 2.1Vrms, (XLR) 4.2Vrms
Dynamic range: >120dB
Channel separation: >118dB
Dimensions: 16.8" x 4.8" x 12.2"
Weight: 22 lbs.
OPPO DIGITAL, INC.
162 Constitution Dr.
Menlo Park, CA 94025