Monday, December 9, 2013

Oppo BDP-103D Blu-ray Player - An audio evaluation (Revised 8 April 2014)

(Revised 8 April 2014)


A fairly sturdy centrally mounted disc tray and USB port in front.

IEC socket for lovers of aftermarket power cords, two additional USB ports, and optical and coaxial digital outputs. The BDP-103 does not have any digital inputs, you need to step up to the BDP-105 for that.

The Oppo BDP-103 and 105 are very popular Blu-ray players. I recently purchased the BDP-103D (Darbee equipped version of the 103), and put it through it's paces to see whether it could serve as a high quality CD/SACD player or digital transport. 

The 103D was evaluated through its on-board DAC and analog output section, as well as fed into my Calyx Femto DAC.

The Oppo is serious business as far as Bluray players go, tipping the scales at 4.9 kg. Build construction is sturdy and inspires confidence. The Oppo is equipped with a DAC chip from Cirrus Logic, the CS4382A which is capable of 24 bit / 192 khz sampling. It's more expensive sibling, the BDP-105 sports twin ESS Sabre 9018 DAC chips, and throws in digital inputs, including asynchronous USB to allow it to function as a DAC.

The Oppo was placed in my main system rack and supported on a trio of Finite Element Ceraball footers. AC power was supplied by a Furutech FP-Alpha 3 power cord, and interconnect duties were tasked to a pair of Acrolink 7N-A2070 interconnects. SPDIF linkage to my Calyx Femtodac was made with an Oyaide DB-510 digital cable.

My set was broken in over a period of one week of continuous play, either through playback of discs, or music tracks loaded on a thumbdrive.


The Oppo was reasonably fast in recognizing CDs (not always a given with Bluray players). With Pure Audio mode activated (the display and video sections are shut off), playback quality was pleasant, with a slightly forward presentation of the soundstage. Music was dynamic, with a smoothness to the midrange. Image size was quite big, with emphasis on big picture presentation rather than fine detail. 

Listening to familiar albums like Eva Cassidy's Live in the Blues Alley and Patricia Barber's Cafe Blue, it is obvious that the Oppo tends to smooth out sibilance and add a bit of chestiness to female voices. Microdetail in the outstanding percussion work in Cafe Blue tends to be less well separated.

I briefly tried playback through a thumb drive loaded with AIFF files. An iOS app that enables navigation through USB media, and playback can be downloaded. However, this app needs a bit of work as it seemed to have stability issues. Initially, AIFF playback was fine with the original firmware, but ceased to work after my latest  update done in April 2014.

There was a significant deterioration in playback quality with Pure Audio mode deactivated. Sadly, Pure Audio mode is deactivated whenever the Oppo is switched off.

Playing back optical discs, as a rough gauge, the Oppo is on par and exceeds most CD players in the entry level category. From distant memory, it does sound better than the Marantz CD-6003. 

On a scale of 1-10, I would rate the sound quality as 5/10, improving to 6.5/10 using Pure Audio mode.


This is where things get really interesting. As a transport, the Oppo is not bad, not bad at all. Hooked up to the Calyx Femtodac, the Oppo's performance gained significantly from an increase in resolution, soundstage depth and width. 

The sound took on a more confident feel, with firm control over transients. Although the midrange was less euphonic compared to the Oppo's built in DAC, the fine vocal inflexions and texture that were previously smoothed over, were clearly presented.
This is most obvious in the form of better separation, firmer bass and an enhanced retrieval of acoustic space.

Sound quality is easily 8/10 and improves to 8.5/10 when used with the Finite Element Ceraball footers.


I don't think the Oppo is the natural choice for all as a transport. There are cheaper options out there, such as entry to mid-level CD players from the larger companies. 

However, the Oppo is the perfect choice for all-in-one systems that will need to rely on the Oppo for video and audio duties. In that respect, the Oppo is a more than decent choice, whether as a standalone player (in budget setups), or when paired with a high quality DAC, where it should be able to front pretty serious setups. 

Did I forget to mention that its video quality as a Blu-ray player is outstanding ? Throw that in as a bonus and you have a winner on your hands.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

International Sound and Sight Exhibition 2013 (ISSE)

Just came back from ISSE 2013 ! It seems even more crowded than last year.

Live Concerts

Live concerts are my favourite part of ISSE.

Joey - lovely voice with good control and emotion

Astor Fong - Hong Kong's version of Karen Carpenter.

Thank you very much for taking time off from your holiday to sing for us.

Unfortunately, I did not have the time this year to catch the other singers.

The Large Rooms

Steinway Lyngdorf

The eagerness of audiophiles to get into the Steinway room hinted that something special was going on inside.

S$320,000 price tag for the Model D but guess what ? Buy it during the show and enjoy a 10 % discount and get the home theater speakers free. I reached for one of my pockets but only found some lint. I must admire the sales representative, he made the price tag sound like it was perfectly normal for the typical audiophile.

Open baffle design. Air Motion Transformer tweeter. 

The control centre. Fully active system that has room correction processing. The speakers connect to the control centre using Ethernet cable. Don't you dig all that black gloss ? Not if you are the one dusting. Not shown was the small little rotating control that reminded me very much of the Devialet remote control.

The home theater setup. 

A close up of the home theater speakers. Guests were invited to feel the chassis while the home theater demo was playing at full blast. Hardly any vibration was felt.

For the 2 channel setup, the classical, jazz and vocal performances were quite good with transparency, scale and dynamics. I was not so convinced by it's rendition of Michael Jackson though.

The home theater setup impressed many with its sheer bass output. For S$ 86,000 with two subwoofers, it had better.

Clarity Group

Wisdom LS4 speakers, Playback Design and Bricasti source, Mark Levinson amplification.

This was one of the more impressive big room setups. The tonality was a bit brighter than I would have liked, but otherwise, this system had a lot going for it.

Ong Radio

Focal Stella Utopia EM

Cool blue serenity from all those meters courtesy of old uncle Mac. I spent a bit too much time looking at all those hypnotic bouncing meters and I heard a distant voice calling, "Buy me ! Buy me !". 

AV One 

PMC MB2 SE speakers and Burmester electronics. Power conditioning by Isotek.

The bass output slightly overpowered the room. Otherwise, this was one of my favourite large rooms. Balance was on the slightly warm and smooth side, with shocking dynamics when required. Despite the full balance, the system was highly resolving.

High End Research

Goldmund active speakers and digital source provided by EMM Labs / Meitner. Active speakers seem to be the current audiophile fashion, together with computer music and AMT / ribbon tweeters.

Coaxial input - onboard D/A conversion.

The Mid and Small Rooms

It was nice to note that this year, many of the exhibitors were getting quite good sound in the mid to small sized rooms. What was more impressive is that quite a number of them were using relatively modestly priced electronics and speakers.


Von Schweikert speakers. The Cary Audio amp was in use when I was there. Audioline also carries KR Audio electronics.

The very beautiful Triangle ART turntable. This mesmerised many a guest when they walked into the room. One particular gentleman took many pictures at every angle imaginable.


Yamaha speakers paired with Accuphase amplification. The system was not in use when I was there.

Sound Affairs

Yet another active setup. James Soh of Sound Affairs has gone the route of promoting active setups using Oppo players as a source, and Adam speakers. 

Music By Design

Cheng Fai and Desmond posing for a photo.

Music by Design was one of the few exhibitors that were actually using their turntable when I visited. Here, a Brinkmann table is feeding Cary electronics and a Volent speaker. I have not heard of Volent before, but the Paragon VL-2 bookshelf speakers playing sounded very impressive for the price, with scale and dynamics that belied their petite size. Interestingly, apart from the Volent, there were a number of other speakers being exhibited that were using ribbon tweeters.

Horizon Acoustics

Nola speakers with JE Audio electronics. Digital decoding was handled by the Antelope Zodiac Gold.

Nola speakers, this time fronted by Modwright and Merrill Audio electronics

A closer look at the Merrill Audio Veritas monoblocks. 

KM Poon, principal of Horizon Acoustics usually puts on a good showing, and this year was no different. 

Sky Audio

Acoustic Insight FocalStage speakers, driven by DA&T electronics. Source was a Windows based notebook.

Cabling was the in-house brand of Sky Audio, ATS cables. The boxes behind are DA&T mains filters connected in series.

Steve Sai did well again, with good lively performance for not too much financial outlay. The setup was tuned to be a bit midrange centric, but was otherwise quite pleasing.

Raindrop Audio

Gradient speakers paired with SOTM source and Wyred4sound amplification.

Raindrop Audio's room was one of the most balanced and pleasing setups given its relatively modest cost. Despite the Gradient speakers being positioned quite low compared to listener ear height, staging, imaging and presence were impressive.

AVP Soundcraft

I have a soft spot for Nagra equipment. Paired with Verity Audio speakers, this was a very pleasing and musical setup.

AVP's second room. I was quite taken by the performance of the Canton speakers paired with Sim Audio electronics. Despite their very competitive pricing, the Canton had a lively balance with deep low end extension that was almost subwoofer like. Definitely worth further investigation.

AV Intelligence

This setup could be sold on looks alone. The very handome Penaudio Cenya was being paired by the all singing and dancing Devialet 110 (the beautiful mirrored tile hung on the wall !). For clutter-phobes, this system is a god-send. For the uninitiated, the Devialet can play wireless from your computer, or act as a digital decoder too. Did I mention that it can handle a phono source too ?

Digital amp detractors really should listen to this. Closing my eyes, this combination was sweet and liquid.

X Audio

BMC Audio's new Pure DAC

Brodmann Acoustic speakers paired with an Enigmacoustics supertweeter. Amplification was provided by Parasound, and power conditioning by Torus.

Swee Dong Chang of X Audio

X Audio's second room was displaying an even larger Brodmann speaker, with sources from Aurender and MSB Technology. Amplification was from Octave Audio.

The two setups were pleasing and musical. My previous listening sessions with Brodmann indicate that they can be very much dependent on your musical taste, but they are great performers on classical music and vocals.

Atlas Sound & Vision

Piega speakers with Accuphase electronics. 

Accuphase's new A-65 power amp utilises a digital output meter (with peak hold). Not sure about you, but give me a traditional Accuphase needle meter anyday.

This was a very pleasant setup with sweet balance, authority and speed. The solid aluminium facade Piega certainly helped here.

Electrades Audio

Spendor speakers with Sugden Electronics. 

Kondo S.E. Asia

Kondo everything with Proac speakers.

I wanted to make a run for it with the Ongaku under my arm. But I don't think I would get very far given my current state of fitness.

Parting Words

Apologies for missing out some of the rooms, which were closed by the time I had covered most of the rooms. 

Some of my friends had bought 2 day passes and had given some feedback on the systems on the first day. When I visited on the 2nd day, many of the systems that were reportedly underwhelming, performed much better. Either the systems had settled in, or the dealers made overnight adjustments to fine tune their setups.