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Oppo Digital UDP-205 Multi-Format Disc Player and DAC

Oppo Digital UDP-205 Multi-Format Disc Player and DAC

It isn’t often that I have to review a product on several different levels. The Oppo UDP-205 Ultra HD Blu-ray disc player, however, is an exception. It provides outstanding value for money in four very different roles: as a CD, SACD, and virtually any other form of stereo music disc player; as a DVD, Blu-ray, and Ultra HD (4K) Blu-ray video player; as a surround-music disc player; and as a digital preamp.

I can strongly recommend it in any of these roles in competition with other units in anything like its price range. It is also, however, the best surround-music player I’ve yet encountered, and this potentially gives it a very different role than an ordinary stereo disc player. If you put it into a high-quality AV system it does an outstanding job of reproducing the multichannel music on many SACDs, older DVD-As, and DTS surround recordings, as well as on PCM surround recordings like those put out by AIX.

I realize that surround music has gone out of fashion in much of the stereo world, but I think this is a bit of a tragedy. If you have a really good AV system, you also have a really good surround-music system, and it is a pity not to take advantage of it, even if it does not match your stereo system in some respects.

As for its capabilities as a control unit, the Oppo UDP-205 does not provide analog inputs, so it is not a preamp in the usual sense. However, it has built-in Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and RS-232 connections, and TosLink optical, coaxial, and two USB 3.0 inputs. It also has XLR and coaxial stereo outputs, seven separate multichannel coaxial outputs, and a separate audio-only HDMI output with unique jitter-reduction circuitry. If you use it as a digital preamp, its remote control allows easy selection of inputs and volume, and provides the ability to trim each analog output for balancing your music separately from every digital source.

The Oppo UDP-205 as an “Almost-Everything” Audio Disc Player and DAC
At $1300 the Oppo UDP-205 is an outstanding buy as a stereo disc player, even if you ignore all of its video and surround-sound features. Its basic sound quality is excellent for the money, although it does not perform miracles in terms of value. It doesn’t have the same upper-midrange life and air as my $10,000+ combination of a PS Audio DirectStream DAC and Memory player, and it doesn’t compete with my Meitner XDS1 SACD and CD player, which costs some $25,000. But it does provide really good sound in every major respect, and is certainly competitive or better than any of the CD players I’ve auditioned at anything under twice its price.

It also is about as close to a universal stereo player as you are likely to get. It can not only play CDs and SACDs; it can also play stereo and multichannel DSD64/128. (DSD64 is played back in native mode or converted to PCM; DSD128 is converted to PCM.) It can play the 192kHz/24-bit PCM signals used in high-resolution lossless formats such AIFF, ALAC, APE, FLAC, and uncompressed WAV. It can also play back high-resolution PCM streaming, HD Blu-ray discs, Dolby discs, ordinary and high-resolution MPEGs, DVD-As, the full range of DTS musical discs, and AVCHDs.

While the formats are used almost exclusively for video soundtracks, the Oppo can also play Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio surround formats, and Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. In addition, it has an asynchronous USB DAC input that can play back PCM at sample rates up to 768kHz and DSD512. For additional convenience and flexibility, the UDP-205 can convert digital signals to analog from cable and satellite boxes, televisions, video-game consoles, and other digital transports with coaxial and optical digital outputs.

About the only things the Oppo cannot play back are DVD-RAMs and HD-DVDs, but its unlikely that you have any of those, and you certainly aren’t going to be buying more. One caution, however: Oppo says it is examining MQA, but has made no decisions and had no comment on a potential future upgrade.

The UDP-205 is superbly built, and its weight provides a good instant indicator of quality. Lift any of the similarly priced competition (which can be done easily with one hand); then try lifting a unit as solidly built as the UDP-205. Take a look at how well its connections are built, the quality of the screen display and of the drawer mechanism. Many far more expensive units show less attention to detail and sturdiness.

What counts even more for audiophiles, however, is that it is engineered to provide excellent sonic quality. Oppo does not list all of its design features in its advertising literature, although it does note that the UDP-205 has a “high-stability, high-precision HDMI clock and a special HDMI audio jitter-reduction circuit” that reduces jitter and eliminates timing errors “when you use the audio-only HDMI output port for connecting the audio signal.” If the UPD-205 is used as a digital front end for stereo and surround-music purposes, it is the only unit I know of that advertises special circuitry to reduce jitter from its HDMI audio output. I didn’t find that I could hear any consistent improvement in stereo performance with this output, but there were times when SACDs seemed clearer and more open.

 

Oppo also notes that it is equipped with two ESS Technology ES9038PRO 32-bit HyperStream DACs for both stereo and 7.1-channel analog audio, and claims that the ESS PRO sets a new benchmark for audio excellence with its best-in-class 140dB of dynamic range, and that the XLR outputs are fully balanced to provide common-mode noise rejection.

Used as a full DAC and disc player to provide analog signals, it has high-quality stereo XLR and coaxial stereo outputs plus eight channels of separate coaxial outputs (left-right front, center, left-right sides, left-right back, and subwoofer). The sound from its analog outputs has natural detail without exaggerating the upper midrange. Deep bass is tight, full, and accurate. It does very well in reproducing the upper bass and lower midrange—a region where many players lack the proper energy and balance. Peak dynamics and low-level detail are both very good, and sudden dynamic contrasts do not come with the slight hardening that is common to all too many players when instruments en masse suddenly change radically in volume. Soundstage size and imaging are also very good, and stage depth is good-to-very-good for the money. So is the Oppo’s ability to reproduce the life and air of truly great recordings.

What is particularly striking in a DAC and CD/SACD player at this price level, however, is the UPD-205’s ability to get the best out of ordinary CDs, SACDs, and normal sampling rates when streaming. This latter ability will be critical to anyone with a serious library of existing discs or who does not want to pay high-resolution prices for all-too-ordinary recordings. The ability of the latest generation of current-production CD/SACD/DAC players to make ordinary CD discs and 16-bit/44.1kHz streaming input sound really good is the most striking single improvement I’ve heard in the sound of the best new units. It is also the one most likely to affect the playback use of your entire collection and your streaming experience for years to come.

If you haven’t auditioned the best-sounding CD players recently, you’ll be a bit surprised at how good older CDs can now sound and how competitive the sonic result can be even with higher rates of resolution such as 24-bit/96kHz. Try for example, the Perlman and Ashkenazy performances of the Beethoven violin sonatas on London. This is a conversion from analog originals dating back to the mid-1970s, but it is really good music. It comes across as such with the Oppo—with many older or similarly priced current players, much less so.

A lot of the problems we’ve ascribed to CDs in the past actually seem to really have been inherent to the players. Perhaps the Oppo’s ability to outperform many units at anything near its price range could be ascribed in part to the two ES9038PRO DACs inside. The Oppo also isn’t “picky” in providing its sonic benefits. It does just as well in getting the soul out of blues and jazz vocals as it does out of Mahler. It also does equally well with a wide variety of acoustic performances where the capability to make female voice, upper strings, upper woodwinds, massed brass, percussion detail, and the full range of the piano sound natural is critical.


At the same time, the UDP-205 isn’t euphonic or forgiving; its reproduction of music won’t surprise you by emphasizing a given set of sound features or highlighting a given passage in an unexpected way. But then, the Oppo shouldn’t. What it will do is engage you in the music of any well-recorded performance, and this makes it more of a pleasure to listen to over time than many far more expensive CD players have been in the past.

Finally, it has an unusually good headphone output. Oppo states that “the headphone amplifier is connected directly to the ESS SABRE PRO DAC and offers a unique performance advantage over stand-alone headphone amplifiers. Compared to the built-in headphone amplifier in our previous generation BDP-105/105D players, the new design offers more power and higher performance.” I’m not heavily into headphones, but the sound was quite impressive with a range of different ’phones, and the UDP-205 could easily drive the ones I tried without any sign of strain.

The Oppo UDP-205 as a DVD, Blu-ray, and Ultra HD (4K) Blu-ray Video Player
Video disc performance with the Oppo is as good as I’ve seen and heard. Oppo advertises that it has teamed with MediaTek to produce and manufacture a specialized 4K UHD Blu-ray decoder—called the quad-core OP8591—which offers the most advanced image decoding and processing technology available for 4K UHD Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD, and user-generated media formats. The UPD-205 also has high-dynamic range (HDR) video and an expanded color range to provide more natural and true-to-life hues. Support for Dolby Vision was recently offered as a firmware upgrade. The UDP-205 also supports the HDR10 format, and can provide an accurate conversion from HDR to SDR for older displays. The only set of video features that the Oppo currently seems to lack are the various video-streaming functions built into some players—e.g., Netflix, Amazon, etc.—but almost all 4K sets that take advantage of the Oppo’s Ultra HD (4K) Blu-ray capabilities already have these.

As for picture quality, I am not a video expert, but I do have a calibrated 75″ Sony XBR850D TV set with HDR. I not only use it to display 4K discs and streaming, I make my own 4K films and stills and use my video display to show them. I really care about video picture quality, and the Oppo UDP-205 provides excellent video performance in my setup. In both consistency and detail it outperformed my previous Samsung 4K player and a Sony 4K player I had on loan.

I really did not expect the Oppo to make much improvement in the quality of older DVDs and ordinary Blu-ray discs. At least in my system, however, the upconversion features of the UDP-205 consistently produced video quality that was slightly better in playing back ordinary DVD and Blu-rays than my reference Oppo 105D. The UDP-205 also provided better video quality than the ordinary Blu-ray players used by my friends with quality AV systems. Accordingly, I’d recommend the UPD-205 as much for how well it can play back your existing DVD and Blu-ray collection as I would for its ability to play back Ultra HD (4K) Blu-ray videos.

 

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.
Price: $1300

OPPO DIGITAL, INC.
162 Constitution Dr.
Menlo Park, CA 94025
(650) 961-1118
oppodigital.com

By Anthony Cordesman

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