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July 2015

The Oppo 105D Blu-ray Player

Your Reality is All Depends

Francis Vale

 

You’re marshmallow comfy in front of your big HDTV, now lazily lunging at a fatly laced brownie, and for buzzed reasons no better than any other it hits you that this moving picture show has nothing to do with real life. Of course it doesn’t. In truth, you’re witnessing your reality’s hidden seams silently coming apart, and Schrodinger’s punked and pissed pussycat, both alive and dead at once, is beckoning you to join him in his insane quantum box.

The light coming from your HDTV has a dual nature. Sometimes it acts as a wave spreading out over objects, and other times as an elementary particle—a photon—traveling in a straight line (yeah, yeah, I’ll let you calculate the Feynman path integral).

There is a totally whacked thing called a double slit experiment, which entails putting on a table a small barrier with a couple of vertical slits cut into it, and then placing a screen behind the barrier. You then shine a laser on the front barrier and see what happens on the rear screen.

If your experimental setup intends to observe light behaving as particles on the rear screen, you get particles. But if you intend to observe light behaving as a wave, you get waves. You want particles and waves simultaneously appearing on that screen? Easy, shut off the detectors, turn your back and don’t watch the experiment.

The universe is busy rearranging itself into particles or waves based on your observations. Better yet, it seems the experimenter’s intent determines the wave or particle outcome. And intent is a mental game, not a physical one. The universe appears to be reading your mind.

It gets weirder. Some physicists think that in quantum mechanics time is capable of simultaneously flowing both forwards and backwards. So your particular results on the rear screen may actually be reaching back from the future, where the result of your double slit experiment is already known, and informing your present experiment’s outcome. Your experimental data, hell, maybe your whole life could be quantum predestined. Yes, the universe is apparently just as stoned as you are.

Paul Darbee could have had quantum hoodoo in mind when he figured out you could embed stereo depth information into plain vanilla 2-D or monoscopic TV images and get realistic results. Your brain picks up these embedded Darbee cues and says, hey, this picture looks like something my stereo visual system expects to see in real life. Your fooled mind then shows you an image with fake-a-believe enhanced definition. It’s a quantum rabbit neatly plucked out of a photon hat. The Darbee algorithm applies these image enhancements only to the areas of your likely viewing interest. The processing is all-local, and modifying the image luminance is done on a per pixel basis.

Darbee is reliant on the concept of saliency, which is defined as the state or quality by which an object, a person, or even a digital pixel stand out relative to its neighbors. Saliency detection is about learning and survival.  Your brain’s capabilities are limited when it comes to processing many at once perceptual cues.  If a lion is skulking around in the grass and eyeing you as its next lunch, what do you care about those pretty nearby flowers while doing a Usain Bolt?

How do I know all this?  It’s because lately I have been using Oppo’s current top of the line BDP-105D Blu-ray player/HT control center/network media player, which also has Darbee processing built in.

Darbee’s algorithms and their reliance on saliency thus cause your imperfect brain to focus on the image data they believe relatively important and make it pleasantly pop on your TV screen. This could have interesting results if your viewing diet includes lots of hi-def porn. What panting pixel parts does Darbee highlight as being relatively important to you? In addition to the 105D’s S/PDIF audio inputs maybe it needs a S/LGBT video selector. (If your selection is “B” wowever, Darbee might melt down switching back and forth.)

So, are Darbee and the 105D good enough to forget about buying a new 4K screen?  No. But together they work so well you could happily wait for these new high-resolution commandos to parachute down in price, and also for a new generation Oppo to appear that natively supports 4K instead of the 105D's 4K upscaling.

The 105D, which costs $1,299, is your go to bad boy for media source support and connectivity. The 105D offers: two sets of HDMI inputs; two coax/optical inputs/outputs; Digital Media Player and Digital Media Renderer, SMB, and CIFS file system support; wired and wireless network support; and a USB DAC that supports DSD audio in standard rate (DSD64) or double rate (DSD128 or DSD 2x).  

The 105D also offers 2-D to 3D conversion that transforms your 2-D flat DVD/Blu-ray world into a new dimension, plus that 4K-upscaling. It also has individual analog (RCA) 7.1/5.1 channel surround outputs, a dedicated 2-channel analog output with an optimized ES9018 DAC and output driving stages. The stereo output offers both XLR balanced and RCA single-ended connectors.

The 105D also has three USB 2.0 ports, and a MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) port for connecting your rabbit multiplying smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices to your home theater. The 105D uses two high-end ESS SABRE DAC chips for providing 32-bit audio. One of the DACS is for the 7.1-channel output, and the other is for the dedicated stereo output.  The 105D’s headphone amplifier is also connected directly to the Sabre DAC.  The 105D also supports the usual streaming suspects, Netflix, VUDU, CinemaNow, Pandora, etc., as well as Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio.

TV will be obsolete and movies wetwired directly into your brain by the time you have explored all of the 105D’s possibilities.

Let’s talk 105D setup idiosyncrasies.  In the Oppo’s speaker configuration menu and using metered SPL calibration I adjusted multiple speaker sound levels, some up, some down. Sounded good. Then I plugged into the BDP-105 headphone jack. The distorted sound was all batshit bees bouncing off my cans. I subsequently learned from Oppo that, “The speaker trim setting may affect the headphone output due to the same DSP in the signal path. The front speakers should be set at 0dB. If you need speaker trim for the 7.1ch analog audio output, please set the least loud speaker at 0dB and apply –dB trim to other louder speakers. This will leave enough headroom for stereo down-mixing for both speakers and headphones.”

Speaker trim on the 105D is not intended to replace a proper EQ system. You also won’t find auto-EQ and other state of the art Pre/Pro audio processing bells and whistles. That said, the 105D could breathe extra life into an aging Pre/Pro. One strategy is to connect the 105D into a past its prime A/V processor via 5.1/7.1 analog connectors, which is what I did. Or forgo a Pre/Pro entirely and connect the 105D’s RCA analog outputs directly into a multi-channel amplifier. Because the native audio of the 105D is so good you could use an outboard EQ unit and be assured the sonic result will be first-rate (audio suck in + EQ = EQ’d audio suck out).

Now let’s go on a thrill-seeking trip to the other side of the Oppo audio tracks. I have a Windows 8 PC whose A/V output runs perfectly fine via the Oppo’s HDMI connectors. But, the 105D’s rear USB DAC connector was an audibly lusting hookup waiting to happen, and I succumbed.

 I installed JRiver’s Media Center software (2.0) on the PC, connected it to the Oppo’s USB DAC, and punched the switches. If you like your music served up in your face and all hot and sweaty, leave the chamber music missus and run off with this hottie. But if your audio exotica require something less than being turned on all the time abandon JRiver’s Direct Sound mode and its wild binary mattress and skulk home. Subtlety and finesse are not on the audio pleasure menu here.

However, JRiver’s option settings offer Audio Sutra possibilities aplenty to indulge all your F sharp fetishes. I saw on the JRiver’s option menu many tantalizing possibilities for bedding down with this USB DAC, including Oppo ASIO, Oppo WASAPI, Oppo Kernel streaming, and Oppo/JRiver Direct Sound. So down the back USB road I went in search of some high-end pleasures.

First, in the Windows Sound Device settings, under speaker options I selected Oppo, which appeared after I hooked up the USB cable to the 105D.  Next, from the JRiver DSP Studio options I chose the 2X DSD in DoP format, which is supported by the 105D’s USB DAC. Then in JRiver Device settings the bit depth was set at 24 bits. Play files from memory instead of disc was also chosen in JRiver general preferences. Note: Macs do not need a special USB driver to work with the Oppo DAC, but Windows system do. (Download the Windows driver here)

Finally, I worked my way down JRiver’s Audio Device Player options. Of all the available choices, the Oppo Kernel streaming option was the best, audibly surpassing the 105D’s network media streaming mode. Close behind was the sound from the Oppo ASIO option.

There are a few, mostly coming from the CD perfect sound, forever lost tribe who say that Kernel mode is a fool’s errand when playing uncompressed WAV files, which is what I almost exclusively use. Let them eat their bitter file pits, you head straight for the succulent music.

In Oppo Kernel mode the soundstage significantly expanded. Musical details I thought I knew well now glistened with previously unheard nuance. Overall sonic resolution went up, not by a hard to discern little bit, but by a lot; Toto, yelp hello to musical Oz.  If PC or Mac streaming via USB connection to you’re A/V rig describes your setup, the 105D and JRiver are your keys to the audio pleasure dome.

Regardless of how you connect with your music, it’s going to cost you two or three times more than $1299 for another Blu-ray player that could equal (maybe) the 105D’s remarkable sound. It’s also doubtful that a more costly player will have all the flexibility and capabilities of the 105D. In short, the Oppo is a high-end audio bargain.

The 105D’s sound was also an object lesson about arranged audio marriages of electrons and silicon. Before they get down, get busy some extended musical foreplay may be in order. I happen to own an Oppo BDP-95, and which took a way long time to break in, especially to tone down the sound’s initial leanness.  Even so, the 95 stayed leaner than most, and it’s best used with speakers that don’t care much about that. 

On the other hand, the 105D had no initial leanness. Right on the first electrical toke you know the 105D’s sound is the-you-betcha, audiophile grade shit. I figured hey, this review is going to wrap up quickly, no waiting around here for some sorry we lost the musical address notes to finally show up.

Wrong.

About two months into the review, just when I was about to put keystroke to screen, the 105D’s inner Gabriel suddenly appeared and sounded a musical Annunciation. Timbre, soundstage, detail, et al, overnight had changed for the way better. An extended break-in time is not unusual for high-end (read $$$) audio gear, from speakers to electronics. But it is unusual to find it in “consumer” gear. Wedded patience is indeed rewarded with the 105D.

Initially, even after correcting speaker trim settings per Oppo's advice I was not overwhelmed by the 105D's headphone output on either music or movies. So I stayed put with my Musical Fidelity headphone amp. But when my Analysis Omega speakers proclaimed their musical leap of faith to the god almighty better it made me curious. The headphone amp’s electrical bits sat in the front pew of this greatly improved circuitry church. So maybe their wayward signal path also found sonic salvation?

I have two sets of headphones, the Sennheiser HD 600 and the Grado Prestige series SR 325. I love both of them, but these audible children have very different playground personalities. The HD 600’s are my go to cans for serious music listening. Their massive bass jackhammers stuck wax. The 325’s don’t have the same bass slam, or the top to bottom musical wholeness of the 600’s. But where the 325’s excel over the 600’s is in retrieving ambient information, which makes them really good for live venue recordings, movies, and especially for gaming. You can hear a critter clattering on broken cement a mile way.

In went the Sennheiser audio jack. The revitalized sound of the 105D’s headphone amp slapped me upside my listening head. The improvement was even greater than what I was hearing from my testifying Omega’s. The born again Sennheiser’s rocked my world. And the 325’s previously remiss bass suddenly showed up at the service. This all of a sudden transformation was one of my great audio revelations. I had dejectedly hung my cans up on the 105D way too soon. Now all my headphone music listening is joyfully done via the HD 600’s and 105D. For private movie viewing I switch to the newly holographic 325’s. If the Grado’s put you any closer to what was happening in a scene you would be paying dues to SAG-AFTRA. 

BTW, I also use Grado’s 4.57m (15 feet) headphone extension cable that’s made with the same high quality wiring as its headphones. At $39.95 (Amazon) it’s a Lou Brock steal and good for use with any vendor’s cans. If you don’t hear a big improvement over cheap wires your 105dB listening habit has OD’d your neurons.

And that’s it.  Outwardly the Oppo 105D is an unassuming black (or silver) box, but with tremendous inner strengths and capabilities. If you intend to purchase one, your quantum future self will reach back and reward you. Enjoy the predestined great results.

 

 

21st, The VXM Network, http://www.vxm.com