OPPO Digital first entered the market selling a $199 upscaling DVD player around the end of 2004 or the beginning of 2005. At the time, that put them pretty firmly in the entry-level sector of the market. As the years have gone by and the market has changed, OPPO Digital has evolved as well. Their new offering, the BDP-95, represents the latest step in that evolution. With a price tag of $999, it is the most expensive product they've brought to market - $100 more than the BDP-83SE that preceded it and $500 more than the BDP-93 that it was derived from.
The BDP-95 can trace its lineage in two directions. First, it shares its transport, digital components, and firmware with the BDP-93 that I helped beta test. Second, it shares its mission and design concept with the BDP-83SE. Like the BDP-95, the BDP-83SE was built on the company's existing Blu-ray player but made changes to the power supply and analog audio board to improve analog audio performance. Both of these upgraded designs have also used digital-to-analog converters (DAC's) from ESS. That's where the comparisons stop, though, as the rest of the BDP-95 ventures into new territory for OPPO Digital. Unlike the BDP-83SE, the BDP-95 does not retain the original player's chassis and faceplate. Instead, it has a different front panel design on a taller case. It uses that extra height to make room for the more spread out analog audio connections and the inclusion of XLR stereo analog audio outputs, all of which are part of a much larger audio board than the one found in the BDP-93. The player also includes a much different power supply, including a toroidal transformer. Where the BDP-83SE was a somewhat "stealthy" upgrade to the BDP-83 (only identifiable by the "Special Edition" label on the front and rear panels), the BDP-95 is distinctly different from its sibling, the BDP-93.
I spent a good bit of time with the BDP-93 during the beta testing of that player, as documented in my BDP-93 review. Shortly before the BDP-95 was ready to be released, I swapped my BDP-93 beta sample for a BDP-95 to help OPPO Digital test that hardware. I've spent six weeks with the BDP-95 so far, and have assembled some thoughts on the player here as a companion to my BDP-93 review. Because the two players have so much in common, I will gloss over or even skip over some aspects of the BDP-95 when the BDP-93 review covers them sufficiently.
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From a distance, the BDP-95 appears similar to the BDP-93. Up close, the differences become more pronounced. The black plastic center of the faceplate still houses the tray in the very middle of the faceplate. The BDP-93's split front panel display is merged back into a single display to the left of the tray, while the right end of the plastic area now houses front panel transport controls. These controls are a very cool touch: backlit capacitive touch controls are provided for play, pause, stop, fast forward, and rewind, and the array can also double as a navigation pad. It's a very handsome solution that keeps the front panel very clean and simple.
It is outside of that plastic central area that the differences between the two players get really noticeable. The BDP-93's aluminum faceplate is a flat black frame around the tray and display, with power and transport control buttons flush mounted very discretely into that frame. The BDP-95's faceplate is a contoured frame that sweeps outward gently both above and below the display, with only a power button (hidden inside the OPPO logo on the left) and USB port (hidden behind a rubber cover on the right) breaking up the softly curved surface. It's the most striking design OPPO Digital has ever released, and it allows the player's added height to look proportionate with the overall design.
The lower half of the rear panel will look very familiar if you've read my BDP-93 review: two HDMI ports, Ethernet port, USB port, eSATA port, IR port, RS232 port, component and composite video outputs, optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, and IEC power. My BDP-93 discusses these features in some depth, including the purpose behind the two HDMI ports and the external wifi adapter that can be plugged into the USB port. The power cord is three-pronged instead of two-pronged, which is a result of one of the new features on the upper half of the rear panel: a balanced stereo analog output. This output is joined by an unbalanced (RCA) stereo analog output and a 7.1 channel analog output, and all 12 analog audio outputs are arranged in a widely-spaced line across the rear panel. These audio outputs are all fed from ESS Sabre32 DACs, one ES9018 eight-channel DAC driving the stereo output(s) and a second ES9018 DAC driving the 7.1 channel output.
The packaging, remote, accessories, and documentation are all just as excellent as those found with the BDP-93. The last difference is one of weight: the BDP-95 weighs a surprising 16 pounds. While all of OPPO's previous Blu-ray players have been heavy compared to the typical player, this is a noticeable increase in mass that made me glad the packaging included a lot of high-density foam packing to protect the player in transit.
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The feature sets on the BDP-93 and BDP-95 are the same except for the extra stereo analog outputs on the BDP-95. The brains (transport and main board) are effectively identical for both players. Video performance is likewise basically the same for both - if the BDP-95's more robust power supply had any effect here, I couldn't see it on my 40" LCD display. I prefer the front panel design on the BDP-95, as the backlit transport controls and the power button in the logo are easier to find and use than the flush-mounted buttons on the BDP-93. In my opinion, the BDP-95 is also a more handsome player design. There is some potential for the BDP-95's cooling fan to be a noise problem, whereas the BDP-93 has no fan, but even when I had the BDP-95 in an open rack for a while I never had any issues with fan noise.
Aesthetics and larger power supply aside, the only reason I see to move up from the BDP-93 to the BDP-95 is analog audio output. The dedicated stereo outputs (both RCA and XLR) and the 7.1 channel output are all fed by an analog audio board that is really the heart of this player, while its very capable brain is borrowed from its less expensive sibling. It is that very substantial heart which differentiates the BDP-95, and it is the component that demands specific discussion in this review. So without further ado...
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For the first week or so that I had the BDP-95, I had it connected in a two-channel audio system (Outlaw Audio RR2150 receiver and a pair of Outlaw Bookshelf speakers). This system had been using a BDP-83SE as source for a couple of months, and before that had used a DV-980H. This served as a test of the unbalanced stereo analog output. Later I moved the player into my den, where it replaced the BDP-93 and was connected via both multichannel analog and HDMI. Most listening in the den has been via the multichannel analog output.
Before I try to describe my impression of the BDP-95's analog audio performance, let me step back and review what my perspective is. Two years ago, I was extremely surprised at just how good the BDP-83's analog audio performance was. I noted in my review at the time that we regularly used the analog output instead of HDMI with our Onkyo PR-SC885 because the sound quality was at least as good (and in some cases better) even though we gave up Audyssey room correction and more robust bass management when using the analog. A little over a year ago, I upgraded my BDP-83 to a BDP-83SE, but I never wrote a review of that upgrade because I was unsure what to say. It was certainly an improvement, but it was the sort of improvement that really appeals to more hardcore audio enthusiasts (avoiding the term "audiophile" here because of the baggage that word tends to carry with it). More casual users could easily be forgiven for having a hard time hearing the difference, especially on systems that had been built on a budget. It was an upgrade of nuances and subtleties, but because the original player was already more detailed and accurate than most mass-market receivers, those improvements might be simply inaudible on a lot of systems. That's the main reason I never wrote a review for the BDP-83SE, although I did spend a lot of hours happily enjoying the upgrade. When the BDP-93 came along, I initially focused my attention on the HDMI audio performance, not the analog, but when I finally went back to the analog I was immediately reminded of the BDP-83's success. The BDP-93's refinements allowed it to retain the BDP-83's audio performance and even slightly improve on it. Once again, a Blu-ray player priced at $500 was doing things you didn't expect to get for under $1,000. Then the BDP-95 arrived, and I had to decide what I wanted to say about this new player. As with the BDP-83SE, most of the BDP-95's capabilities are identical to those found on its less expensive sibling. This time, though, there were some extra differences, and I convinced myself that it deserved separate discussion.
That brings us to here, and to a curious challenge: explain how the BDP-95 sounds. My first impression of the BDP-95 was in a stereo application, and it reminded me of my first impression of the BDP-83SE almost a year earlier. It is a wonderful stereo audio source: clean, transparent, detailed, and suggestive of all the quirky adjectives that we tend to try to apply to audio equipment. More listening to it later, both in the stereo setup and in the home theater, reinforced this. The noise floor is exceedingly low and channel separation (both stereo and multichannel) is excellent. The things that I looked for most - and consistently found - was an ability to resolve subtle nuances in music and in movie soundtracks. The impression that I got overall was one of transparency, for lack of a better term. The player did not color the sound or blur it. You may be able to find a player that is better capable of acting as the source-to-analog equivalent of a straight wire, but it's going to cost you more - and I don't know of a player that can do it and support all of the formats that the BDP-95 does (CD, DVD, Blu-ray, SACD, DVD-Audio, etc.).
As the previous paragraph may suggest, I'm thoroughly pleased with the BDP-95's analog audio performance. I think that it is as good as anything at or close to its price. That being said, I think it's important to discuss what that performance really means when merged with other equipment to create a complete system. It is this amalgam of equipment that (reasonably) explains why some people won't want to spend the extra $500 on a BDP-95. Once you get to this level of performance, you need complementary equipment all the way through to make full use of it. I recently had an unexpected demonstration of this. It happened with the BDP-83SE instead of the BDP-95, but the lesson learned applies to the BDP-95 as well. One of my wife's co-workers was shopping for new speakers to pair with his fairly new Pioneer receiver, and he wanted to look beyond what Best Buy offers but he didn't know what to listen for. I instructed him to get some demo CD's or make a demo disc, using songs that he liked and was familiar with. We were going to then listen to a couple pairs of speakers at my house before going to a couple of local shops to listen to speakers. We put his demo CD into my BDP-83SE, playing through the Outlaw RR2150 to a pair of Outlaw Bookshelves, and started the first track. My initial response was that something sounded wrong with the system. The tracks were extremely muddled, with no detail or imaging. The disc was authored as an audio CD and the songs were unfamiliar to me, so I withheld judgment at first. After samples of a couple songs, we came to a song that I had on CD and was familiar with, and it sounded bad, too. That's when I asked about the origin of the disc and learned that the songs were ripped from YouTube videos and other online sources. The compression on that original audio was so pronounced as to render the music almost un-listenable. I dropped in the CD that had the same some on it, and the differences were truly night and day (speaking as someone who doesn't like to describe audio or video differences as that extreme). The uncompressed audio was remarkably better. It was the most striking example I'd ever heard of the potential damage done to audio by lossy compression. I don't believe that it would have been nearly as audible in a less revealing system - and I'm not going to try to tell anyone reading this that my little stereo system is any sort of be-all and end-all for audio performance. In fact, the demo disc was still audibly compressed but not as severely so when listened to on less sophisticated demo systems in several stores. The BDP-95 is a great piece of equipment, but you need to pair it with other very good equipment to get the most out of it.
Several weeks after I started listening to the BDP-95, several professional reviews appeared online (at both Audioholics and Secrets of Home Theater) that included measurements of the player's outputs. Those reviews reinforced my opinion of the player, as they reported several instances of the player performing so well that any errors were below the threshold that their bench equipment could accurately measure. This includes the total harmonic distortion, which was measured to be effectively "zero" (or at least less than 0.0000%) by Secrets; similarly, Audioholics was unable to offer a comparison of distortion from the XLR and RCA outputs because the readings were at or near the noise floor threshold of their measuring equipment.
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Third-party mods have been available for OPPO Digital players going back all the way to the original OPDV971H, and more than one OPPO player has been used as a foundation for other companies to build their own players. It wasn't until OPPO Digital released the BDP-83SE that they got into the game themselves, a move that proved very successful for them. This time around, however, OPPO Digital has taken it one step further. The BDP-95 does more than just swap out a few key parts. It uses a taller chassis both to allow for a wider spacing of the analog audio outputs and to make more room for the larger power supply and the huge analog audio board. It is a first-class product from top to bottom. For $999, you should expect to get a lot for your money, and that's exactly what OPPO Digital has provided. The BDP-95 isn't for every user or every system, but for the users who have sufficiently revealing systems and want a truly robust and clean analog source capable of playing any disc you can think of, it represents a tremendous value.
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