We were planning on posting an evaluation in March of the new Oppo Blu-ray Player (BDP-83), but unfortunately the Oppo player was not available to listen to until just recently. Oppo has had quite an extensive customer evalation period before releasing the new player. Luckily for us, a friend and customer of ours was among the few people who participiated in this evaluation. He liked many things about the new player, but was not totally satisfied with it. On some discs, the player seems to present a highly detailed presentation with a very pinpoint sound stage and superior dynamics, but on other discs, the player made his CDs seem almost unlistenable; in his words being much too "dry" (We will get to our theory about this later). As he knew we do modifications to receivers, players, and Blu-ray players, he wanted us to take it home and evaluate it ourselves on our system and see if there were any improvements we could make. As it happened the new Samsung Blu-ray player BD-P3600 came out just a month before this player (in Oregon) and we have not had a chance to evaluate this unit either.
We were able to evaluate both players side by side and came up with some interesting conclusions. The Oppo right out of the box, has stunning Blu-ray video, with some of the deepest blacks we have seen so far. The Samsung right out of the box was very excellent and is far better than its earlier model (BD-P2550), but we found at first it did not have quite the black levels or three dimensionality / detail, as the Oppo unit, which we were very impressed with. Later, we discovered that the difference in between players was mostly able to be adjusted out with black corrector settings on our TV; the Oppo player itself boosts up the black levels internally. But even with these adjustments on the TV, while playing the Samsung player, the Oppo was just a bit better in three dimensionality and detail when both units were factory units and not modified.
As for the sound of both units, the Oppo boasts the ability to play most any format available (Blu-ray, DVD, DVD-audio, SACD, HDCD, CD, etc), while the Samsung is strictly a Blu-ray / DVD / CD player. You do pay for the extra formats on the Oppo player, though, with the Oppo being reported to be around $600 and the Samsung being $375. The sound of the Oppo is greatly improved from previous Oppo units we have tested, which always had a characteristically brittle top end and shallowness of bass response. The unit appears to have been completely redesigned, with a completely different sound characteristic and much better build quality than previous players from Oppo. We compared theOppo to our reference player, which is a Modified Pioneer Elite DV-48AV Universal Player.
At first, we were very impressed with the Oppo player (BDP-83), as it has a very transparent mid range / lower top end range, but then on other CDs we started hearing some things that were not quite correct. For instance, on a Shirley Horn CD, there was a harmonica that just sounded hollow, lacking the usual body / tone of the instrument, which we thought was rather strange. After testing various formats and discs we started to see a pattern. The transparency of the Oppo in the mid-range and lower top end was due to a lack of very bottom end frequency extension and thinness on the very top end frequencies. Especially, with less bass extension, you will get the feeling of more transparency / a lighter feel to the sound, as there is less lower bass to mix in with your mid range frequencies. On the top end, the lack of extension at certain high frequencies, will tend to help with accentuating certain frequencies and give you a greater degree of transparency, as well, in those frequencies. But as stated earlier, this can lead to certain aspects of the sound that may be impressive, but not necessarily correct. I found the Oppo tended to sound better on CDs that had a warmer characteristic to them, than on CDs that tended to be a bit cooler/ neutral. The warmer CDs would sound cleaner and less warm and the cooler discs would tend to sound dryer / more analytical. This happened to several SACDs / DVD-audio discs, where the stage would sound larger, but at the same time, the instruments had lost their fluidity (became rather analytical) and the ambiance in the recording venue, was not as transparent at the very top, with the overall performance taking on a slightly unnatural characteristic. On DVD-audio the Modified Pioneer Elite unit, had more texture to the voice and more detail, as well as lower bass levels. These same characteristics seemed to follow the Oppo player into every sound format we tried, including Blu-ray high resolution formats, with the bass not extending as low and being thin on the top end.
The latest stock, unmodified Samsung Blu-ray player (BD-P3600) out of the box had it's own particular characteristics. The bass right from start had lower bass extension than the Oppo (not quite as low as the Modified Pioneer). There was no thinness to the top end as we heard with the Oppo, but in our opinion, it could get a tad harsh on some frequencies (for classical music mostly), as it did not extend as high as the modified Pioneer player. An interesting observation is that on music CDs the player tends to favor rock / jazz much more than classical music, as classical music is often more difficult to play well. On our test of Jack Johnson on CD, it played it sounded rather remarkably good. It was quite a bit better than how the Oppo sounded on that disc, being thinner and shallower on the bass. On classical music, the Samsung did not fair as well, sounding a bit harsh and constricted.
Blu-ray playback was very good, with the video being quite excellent and an improvement over Samsungs last model, in terms of sound and video. The unit did not have built in boosted black levels so one had to adjust the TV to get near to how the Oppo looked, but for comparing unmodified units, I would still give the slight edge to the Oppo in detail and three dimensionality. Samsung's Blu-ray audio was very excellent. It had lower bass levels than the Oppo player and also lacked the thinness, which plagued the Oppo. With the Oppo player this thinness at times seemed to give the sense of more immediacy, but it cut back on the extension of the unit, leaving you with less ambiance and presence of "air" on the top.
We then modified both units to see how each took to the modification. The modified Oppo (BDP-83) player was definitely much less thinner. The thinness did not totally vanish (and I doubt it ever will), but it was greatly improved. The bass extended to a lower frequency, adding some warmth to the sound, but it was still not as low as the modified Pioneer player on many formats. In terms of the video, the playback for the Oppo was noticeably improved in terms of three dimensionality, and color balance.
The modified Samsung player (BD-P3600) took to the modification quite a bit better than the Oppo player. It's bass extended to an even lower frequency than it had originally been across all audio formats. And its highs extended higher as well, giving it more of a sense of air and being much less harsh. I would say that the modified Pioneer still has a slight edge in CD playback, but the Samsung player was greatly improved in audio playback after the modification. As for Blu-ray video playback, the Samsung caught up to the Oppo (with the proper TV black level adjustments) and in my opinion, was a bit more detailed / three dimensional after being modified. We did try to play the modified Oppo player at identical black level adjustments on our TV as the modified Samsung player, but found that it became too dark. Blu-ray audio on the Samsung playerwas also greatly improved, with the frequency levels going lower and extending higher as well, giving the player a quite stunning Blu-ray playback package.
As for conclusions, we would say that the Modified version of Samsung's latest Blu-ray player (BD-P3600) is a superior player than even the Modified Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray player, especially when it comes to the Blu-ray audio. The Samsung goes lower, is more dynamic, captures the highs better and has none of the thinness of the Oppo. The video of the Modified Samsung player, is also quite stunning when the TV is properly adjusted and slightly edges out the modified Oppo player in terms of clarity and three dimensionality. We are not saying the Oppo Blu-ray player is a bad unit, in fact we think very highly of it as a very good effort by Oppo and a great improvement over their earlier generation units. The video is quite frankly stunning on the Oppo.
As this is a non-commerical forum, we will not post prices for modifications, but we will say that modifications for both players will be available shortly, as we know a fair amount of audiophiles will purchase the Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray player for the multi-format playback capabilities and may have issues with a certain thinness or analytical quality on some recordings. Our friend had ribbon tweeters, which seemed to magnify these flaws to a certain extent. On our own speakers (custom single driver speakers and custom modified subwoofers), these shortcomings were even more evident. We hope this article has been both informative and interesting to those of you who have not got a chance to hear the new and much awaited Oppo Blu-ray player.
Sean and Rick
Stereo Dave's Audio Alternative