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Review: Oppo BDP-95 Universal 3D Blu-ray player

It's not cheap, but considering its performance and versatility, it's a bargain

About a year ago I started shopping for a new Blu-ray player. I have a nice basement theater setup and I wanted a player with top-notch picture and sound quality. Actually, sound quality was my number one priority. There were a couple of worthy contenders among the players we carried. But I ended up buying a player we didn't carry at that time: the Oppo BDP-95.

Oppo BDP-95

Jumping on a bandwagon

The BDP-95 had already been available for several months, and received glowing reviews from home theater and audio publications as well as the A/V forums I occasionally hang out at. Another reason I was interested in the BDP-95 was that I'd had a chance to audition its predecessor, the BDP-83. This particular player had had its audio section modified — basically "hot-rodded" — by NuForce. Its picture quality was great, but it was the sound quality that really grabbed my attention. That and the exceptionally well-designed user interface and remote control. All of this convinced me that Oppo's flagship BDP-95 was the player for me.

The "Oppo experience" started when I took the player out of the box. The BDP-95 has a reassuring heft and solidity about it. It is extremely well packed, and all the accessories most folks will need are included: Wi-Fi® dongle, HDMI cable, USB cable, and a printed manual, which is becoming a rarity. (Note to manufacturers: Not everyone has a laptop PC on hand for downloading a manual or playing a CD-ROM when setting up a new component.) The BDP-95's manual is easily the best-written and organized manual I've ever used. Similarly, the player's menu only has a couple of levels so you don't have to drill down several layers to make an adjustment. The remote control has a logical button layout and is fully illuminated.

Making the most of every video source

My old Blu-ray player was a Samsung BD-UP5000, which had one of the best video processing chips available when it was introduced (2007). I've had no complaints about its picture quality with Blu-ray and DVD. The BDP-95's picture quality is terrific, but I'll admit that I often don't see significant differences with Blu-ray playback — even today's inexpensive players do a great job. I will say that the Oppo's picture seems to have a bit more dimensionality on some discs. Even fairly minor differences in picture quality are visible on my setup, which is a Sony SXRD projector and 84" fixed-frame screen.

When I switched to standard DVDs the Oppo (pronounced "Oh-poh") really pulled ahead. The BDP-95 uses Marvell's advanced Kyoto-G2 video processor with the second-generation suite of Qdeo™ technologies, which includes video scaling, noise reduction, and some enhancement capabilities. This system delivers superb DVD upconversion. The Oppo can't perform magic on older DVD titles that look soft or grainy, but some high-quality DVDs look surprisingly close to HD via the BDP-95. The Oppo also does a great job with streamed Internet video. Lately, I've been watching more movies and TV shows streamed from Netflix® and some of the HD material looks surprisingly good.

I recently borrowed an Epson Home Cinema 3010 projector so I could try out its — and the Oppo's — 3D capabilities. I watched a handful of 3D Blu-ray movies and found Avatar and Tangled to be especially enjoyable. In fact, Avatar in 3D was the most immersive movie experience I've ever had, whether at home or in a theater.

BDP-95 audio boardThe BDP-95's audio board is packed with high-quality parts.

Better sound by design

As impressive as the BDP-95's picture quality is, it's not the primary reason for the Oppo's rave reviews, and you don't have to spend $1000 to enjoy a picture this good. In fact, if you'll be using an HDMI connection to send audio from the player to a receiver or preamp-processor, you can get Oppo's BDP-93 for $500 and enjoy identical picture quality to the '95 (Crutchfield doesn't currently sell the BDP-93). The primary reason to get the BDP-95 is its sound quality. When the player was being designed, the engineers' goal was to build a player with such extraordinary sound quality that even demanding audiophiles would have no reason to invest additional dollars in aftermarket modifications to improve the sound.

The company's hard work paid off in spades. The BDP-95 is a fantastic-sounding player, both for movies and music. But to experience this extraordinary sound you have to use the player's analog outputs. Using the analog outputs is the only way to experience the Oppo's exceptional audio section, which is packed with carefully selected parts that you'd typically find in components costing much more than the BDP-95. The player's digital-to-analog converters (DACs) are the top-performing model in the acclaimed ESS Sabre DAC family (model ES9018). There are two of these 8-channel DACs: one handles surround sound via the 7.1-channel set of RCA outs, while the other is configured to provide four stacked DAC channels for each stereo channel, feeding the dedicated sets of unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR connections.

I don't own an A/V receiver; instead I use a PS Audio PCA-2 stereo preamp with a factory-installed multichannel input/output section that allows me to hook up one home theater source. The preamp feeds two amplifiers: a PS-Audio GCA-500 stereo amp and a Carver AV-806x multichannel amp. My connections for 5.1-channel sound are a little complicated, but they work well. I use RCA connections for 5.1-channel surround sound from the BDP-95 to the preamp, but I also use the Oppo's stereo XLR outputs to connect to the preamp for 2-channel sound. (I always use XLR connections if they're available because they sound noticeably better than RCA connections, with lower noise and greater dynamics.)

One funny note: When I first began using the BDP-95 I noticed that the player produced a series of audible clicks when it was switching audio formats, like from multichannel to stereo. When I spoke to an engineer at Oppo about it, he explained that the BDP-95 uses "relays" to mute the audio output when switching formats, and it's these machanical relays that make the clicking sounds. Most players, including Oppo's lower-priced BDP-93, use transistors to do the muting, and they make no mechanical sound. The BDP-95 uses relays because they are sonically superior. You'll often hear this clicking when you switch on a high-end A/V receiver. And in fact, my Carver power amp makes the same clicking sounds whenever I fire it up. Mystery solved!

Listening impressions

I'd been using my Samsung Blu-ray player's multichannel analog outputs for surround sound on movies. For 2-channel listening, I used the Samsung as a CD transport to feed a PS Audio Digital Link III DAC, which was connected via coaxial digital cable. The Oppo's multichannel sound was dramatically better than the Samsung's, which came as no surprise. The front soundstage was huge yet fleshed out in rich detail. I also noticed more details in the surround channels — not just the obvious stuff like ricocheting bullets, but subtle ambience sounds like barking dogs, street sounds, and muted conversations from adjoining apartments. There was more of a sense of a wraparound soundfield, with a seamless sound from front to back.

I probably spend at least as much time listening to music as I do watching movies, so the BDP-95's performance with CDs and other music discs was crucial. Even cold out of the box the Oppo sounded very promising, and the sound improved a bit over the next few weeks. (I'm convinced that some of the perceived improvement attributed to component break-in is simply becoming acclimated to a slightly different sonic presentation). Despite all of the rave reviews and other praise lavished on the Oppo, I wasn't really expecting it to sound better than the PS Audio DAC, but I ended up preferring it. Both presented a big, detailed soundstage with plenty of warmth and energy. The Oppo's state-of-the-art DACs consistently resolved more detail, and I felt that the player's bass extension went slightly deeper, while the PS Audio DAC had a bit more bass weight and dynamic slam. For me, the Oppo won out because it sounds fantastic with CDs as well as SACDs, DVD-Audio discs, and high-res downloaded files.

One of my favorite surround music discs is Jorma Kaukonen's Blue Country Heart SACD, a beautifully recorded collection of country blues nuggets performed with the assistance of ace acoustic players like Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, and Sam Bush. The soundstage on this disc was wall to wall, and on several cuts, the wiry whine of Jerry Douglas' dobro seemed to float in the far right corner. Each instrument could be clearly heard, but they all gelled as a seamless whole, too.

My introduction to web streaming

My Samsung player lacked any web video streaming ability, so I was very happy to have options like Netflix® and Vudu™ available. I wasn't expecting to be bowled over by the picture quality on my setup's 84" screen, but both video services looked crisp and clear, especially Vudu. And even Vudu's high-def formats didn't look as good as a Blu-ray, but I was nonetheless very impressed. I used the supplied Wi-Fi dongle to connect to my home network, and it was the easiest wireless setup I've done.

Conclusions

For audiophiles looking for one disc player that does it all, Oppo's BDP-95 should be a top contender. And for videophiles who demand great sound and can take advantage of the BDP-95's analog outputs, the list of comparable players is even shorter. You might think that working at Crutchfield, I'd be prone to changing equipment whenever the mood strikes. But when I find something I like, I hang onto it for a long time. I've had my speakers for 15 years and my PS Audio electronics for 7. The BDP-95 is probably the most reliably enjoyable component I've ever owned. It has worked flawlessly, playing every disc I've thrown at it, including a few that caused other players to stumble. I plan to immerse myself in its vivid picture and sound for many years. It's not cheap, but when you consider how much it can do, and how well, it's one of the best bargains I know of.

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