Several months ago I reviewed Oppo’s BDP-83 universal Blu-ray player and found it to be “the biggest bargain in home theater.” To provide a brief recap, let’s note that the BDP-83 can play almost any kind of material that comes on a silver disc: Blu-ray, DVD-Video/Audio, SACD, HDCD, CD material and more. Better yet, the player not only plays these types of materials but also plays them well, offering exemplary video performance and very good (and for the price, extraordinary) sound quality. In short, Oppo’s little $499 player did so many things so well that it immediately claimed titles as both the king of versatility and value. But one thing that the BDP-83 could not do (though heaven knows it tried) was to deliver sound quality that would enable it to compete with upper-tier audiophile-grade players. Good though the BDP-83 is, there are some universal players (admittedly less versatile than the Oppo) in the near-$2000 price range that have it beat for sound quality, while even higher-end players can up the sonic ante further still.
While acknowledging these limitations, Oppo also knew that its BDP-83 platform offered untapped sonic potential, and therefore decided to address the audiophile market by building a significantly upgraded, hot-rodded version of the BDP-83, called the BDP-83SE Special Edition ($899). How does the BDP-83SE differ from the original BDP-83? There are two main changes, which involve an improved power supply circuit board and a substantially revised audio circuit board, plus subtle changes to the player’s rear I/O panel. The audio board of the BDP-83SE will feature the combination of the new ESS Technology Sabre32 Ultra DAC (ES9016) and the ESS Sabre Premier 8-channel DAC (ES9006), with the Sabre Premier used to power the player’s 7.1-channel analog audio outputs. The video section of the player remains unchanged.
For those of you unfamiliar with the ESS DACs, it may prove helpful for me to supply some background material drawn from a related press release from Fremont, CA-based ESS Technology, Inc. The release explains that the Sabre32 Ultra DAC differs from conventional sigma-delta DACs in that it “incorporates innovative patented circuits to deliver spectacular music with an unsurpassed sound stage, with up to 128 dB dynamic range and 0.0003% (-110 dB) total harmonic distortion.” ESS goes on to say that the Sabre32 Ultra DAC specifically includes three patented circuits: the 32-bit HyperStream modulator, the Revolver Dynamic Element Matching circuit, and the Time Domain Jitter Eliminator circuit, which is designed “to remove the digital jitter that causes distortion.”
I approached the BDP-83SE Special Edition with two questions in mind. First, does the player really sound significantly different from the standard BDP-83? Second, if it does sound different, how big is the difference as judged by audiophile standards? The short answers to these questions are that yes, the BDP-83SE does sound different and better than the standard BDP-83, and that the magnitude of the change is—again, by audiophile standards—quite large and significant. In fact, I feel confident in saying the BDP-83SE is the model audiophiles and music lovers will want to own (and for them, the Special Edition may be an even bigger bargain than the original BDP-83 was).
Consider this Blu-ray player if: you want everything that Oppo’s original BDP-83 had to offer, but with substantially better sound quality that makes particular gains in the areas of resolution, focus, three-dimensionality and overall refinement. The player’s ability to dig deep into recordings to retrieve key bits of low-level musical detail is very impressive, easily enabling the Special Edition to compete with players two, three, or perhaps four times its price. In short, this is the Oppo built by and for hardcore audiophiles.
Look further if: you want to press on toward state-of-the-art or near state-of-the-art audio performance. While the Special Edition Oppo can and does take you well up the high-end audio ladder, I would be misleading you if I told you it can take you all the way up to the very top-tier (nor is it reasonable to expect it to, given its price). But trust me on this one: nothing I’ve heard that’s even remotely close to the Special Edition’s $899 price can touch its sound quality.