Welcome to my April column for the insatiable audio tweaker. This month I've happened upon three products which are world premiere reviews. Our magazine's name must really be getting out to the high end community. The first is Oppo's latest product, a less expensive disc player based on their BDP 83 and 83SE universal disc players. These were reviewed previously as world premieres at this link and this link. Then, the newest disc cleaning solution from George Louis which may be a truly universal disc cleaning solution. Finally, a world premiere of a truly universal DAC. I know, I shouldn't be shooting all of my bullets at once with three world premiere reviews in one column, and will probably have to write some drivel next month, but each of these products needs to be presented to you as quickly as possible so you can also enjoy these advancements to audiophile music reproduction.
Unhappily, the three tweakers are either reluctant to put them up for review or are supposedly too busy filling orders to send a review sample to directly compare to an original un-modded unit. Oppo, on the other hand has not been the least reluctant to send their products for evaluation.
Their latest creation is the BDP-80, which is a stripped down version of the 83. Now that there are several excellent pre-pro's out there with HDMI 1.3b inputs that can decode all of the present analog and video codecs, Oppo figured why not build a unit with excellent HDMI pass-through and let the pre-pro do all of the decoding. Plus, they'd have less expensive DAC circuitry that possibly would put other similarly priced units to shame with more than adequate analog audio and video output. At $289 direct from Oppo, it's in the price range of other units that only do Blu-ray and CD playback.
Remember, this is a universal player. Also, just like its higher priced brothers, it has all of the outputs necessary for all analog and digital video and audio output, including 7.1, has an Ethernet connection to automatically download updated software and Blu-ray add-ons, and 2 USB 2.0 inputs for connection to finger drives. The cabinet is similar in build to the 83's, being a little smaller and lighter at 17 x 11 x 2 inches compared to the 83's 17 x 13 x 3 inches, and has different engraving on the front. So while it's a stripped down version, it does everything the better units do, just at a lower analog level.
For break-in, the unit was left spinning a disc for about six straight days prior to doing any listening, and was hooked up along with my BDP-83SE using twin HDMI cables to my Integra 9.8 pre-pro, which was used to do all of the D/A processing. While the 9.8 is not one of the best new high end pre-pro's, it does an excellent job of D/A conversion for its price level. Happily both units use the same remote control, and I have several doubles of SACD, CD and Blu-ray discs (which I mistakenly bought) but work great for comparisons, and had my wife plug the two units into the 9.8 so I wouldn't know which unit was playing. Output of both were set to a maximum of 192 kHz. for PCM, and SACD pass-through, with the video and display turned off.
Through HDMI, listening to all five discs, there was no difference between the two units discernable by this reviewer over several hours of listening. As a plus, when the video was turned on and with my Blu-ray of Roy Orbison's Black and White Night, the video output of both were excellent, maybe a touch better out of the 83SE. I must say though that if they weren't side by side I would have been hard pressed to see the difference.
On the other hand, the 80 was no match for the 83SE's excellent analog output, especially of two channel playback. While the 9.8 has only one 6 channel input so that I did have to stop and change the interconnects between the machines, it does have several 2 channel inputs, so blinded testing could be performed. But, even the most stalwart objectivist should have been able to hear the difference between the two units on analog playback, especially the 83's quieter noise floor, more outstanding presentation of ambiance information, and resolution of the high frequencies. The 80 though did a better than good job of DTS Master audio decoding, and again, is a universal player for the price of those other Blu-ray units that don't even have 7.1 analog output.
For those high-enders with pre-pros without HDMI input or units with excellent analog pass-through, who listen primarily to two-channel stereo, the $899 83SE would definitely be the way to go. I love mine. For those with similar pre-pro's who listen primarily to 5.1 or 7.1 playback, and don't require the best quality of playback, the original $499 83 may be sufficient. For those high-enders with a superb HDMI pre-pro, such as Anthem's $7000 newest model, and are still paying off the cost of it, the $289 this unit costs may be just the ticket, as it make for an excellent universal transport. Such a Deal! My Integra 9.8, which cost $1500 originally, and has excellent pass-through of analog information, is a superb match for the 83SE, especially its 2 channel playback. But the low price of the 80 with its ability to play every disc type available is also a winner for me and is going to replace my DVD player in the secondary system I've built for my wife and for those times when I don't feel like turning on umpteen different pieces of equipment.
The kit consists of one bottle each of his original CleanDisc to initially remove plasticizers, and other disc treatments, the Ultrabit Platinum Plus, two cleaning cloths, instructions, and possibly two microfiber buffing pads with handles for your vinyl. The cost will be $103 plus postage, or $85 for just the Plus solution, the kit should clean about 800 vinyl sides or 1000 digital discs, and he even gives a money back guarantee including the cost of the postage and a $10 bonus if you don't like what the fluid does.
A big advantage of this solution over other cleaning agents used here is its make-up; it is water based so no oiliness and is not furniture polish based so it's very easy to clean off the discs. There appeared to be no residue left, and the discs didn't turn opaque if some was inadvertently left on. As I never can remember what treatments I've used on older discs, I used the CleanDisc on both new and old, followed by the Platinum Plus. The same discs as with the Oppo evaluation were used, with one of each twin being cleaned and the other not, and played them back using the two Oppo's through their HDMI outputs, alternating the machines.
In all cases, George's solution did an excellent job in improving digital playback, with each treated disc seeming to give up more information than its twin. Both the audio and video took on a more 3D imaging, with less grain and more focus. I had on hand two other cleaning fluids (names unmentioned as I don't want to get sued) reviewed many years ago, and a little bit of George's original Ultrabit Platinum solution, and cleaned the previously untouched twin discs with them. In each case, George's new fluid beat them out, with one (not the original Ultrabit) actually sounding a little less clear than when it was untreated.
Whether you should try it on your vinyl is up to you. I've used other treatments in the past on my records cleaned to pristine perfection on a Loricraft record cleaner, and they either didn't make a difference or actually left a residue on the needle after a few plays. Whether George's product will overcome these shortfalls and actually improve vinyl playback will have to be settled by you. But I'd recommend not using your perfect S1 shaded dog copy of Reiner's Scherazade with your $10,000 phono cartridge as your trial.
Now a few words from George:
Since the introduction of digital playback by those damn money-grubbing record companies who wanted to sell us over and over those 1950's classics, we have all complained about how even the best digital just does not come up to even mid-level analog reproduction. After years of experimentation, Dr. Lirpa has developed what he considers to be the best method of digital to analog reproduction.
Like me, Dr. Lirpa noted that computers make very good playback units, quantifying the bits as well as most high end machines out there, but like all digital playback mechanisms, "lose the certain je ne sais quoi of analog, possibly related to the sensations of directly working with the medium of analog" (his words, not mine). He felt that even the 24/96 PCM and single bit DSD just didn't live up to analog's smooth gapless waveform. Therefore, he decided to produce a new system using 104 bits spread over 11 separate converters which could be infinitely manipulated to reproduce the analog equivalent.
While he has succeeded in producing a model of the above, and has asked for a patent on it from the Outer Slobovian government, he still has a few quirks to work out of the system. First, the machine can only put out clicks at present rather than continuous sound, and thus, he has had to hire a bard from the Slobovian National Theater to voice the data derived. Second, while the computations are fairly quick and very accurate, it does take much practice for the operator to understand and manipulate the system.
Dr. Lirpa, pictured below with his invention, is hoping to have all of the kinks worked out by next April first, when, for cost sake and their long history of building digital components, he will present it to the Chinese government for production.
Happy April Fools Day!!!