More importantly, the BDP-95 gave of its best on high quality HD images, where—in a subtle and yet noticeable way—the player produced onscreen images with remarkable depth and “snap” (this in contrast to players whose images offer the expected high levels of resolution, yet that seem a bit dull, lifeless, and “flat”).
The BDP-95, like many high quality players, benefits from a generous amount of run-in time, after which its sound quality becomes very special indeed. As I perceive it, the BDP-95 has three signature qualities that set it apart from the competition.
First, the flagship Oppo has a highly detailed sound, yet a sound where the different aspects of “detail” are so thoroughly and beautifully integrated that you may not, at first blush, notice just how much sonic information this player can convey. When I use the term detail to describe the BDP-95, I am thinking of the complete package: that is, of subtle timbres, textures, harmonics, transient sounds, reverberations and echoes, and especially spatial cues. Put all of these elements together and listen to a familiar piece of music and you may be apt to conclude that, with the Oppo in play, there’s suddenly more “there” there.
Second, the BDP-95 is remarkably smooth sounding, which all the more impressive when you consider that it also highly detailed. In my experience, the qualities of detail and smoothness don’t necessarily travel together, so that it’s a rarity to find them working synergistically as they do in the Oppo. There’s real sonic “magic” in this combination of virtues—sort of the audiophile equivalent of all gain with (surprisingly) no pain. In the case of the BDP-95, detail may be what draws you in at first, but the player’s relaxed, effortless smoothness is what keeps you listening, hour after hour. If you were to try to capture the player’s sound in a “formula,” it might look something like this: Detail + Smoothness = A Musically Natural Sound.
Finally, the BDP-95 is capable of an exceptionally three-dimensional presentation, whether it happens to be playing stereo or multichannel (i.e., surround sound) material. This quality, more than any other, is the one that makes the top Oppo sound like a much, much higher-priced component than it actually is. During our listening tests, for example, I spent a fair amount of time comparing the sound of discs played through the digital front-end of our excellent Anthem Statement D2v A/V controller (a superb-sounding controller, priced at $8499) vs. the sound of the same discs played through the DAC section and analog audio electronics of the BDP-95. As you might expect, the Anthem sounded fine: clear, tightly focused, and well defined. But what was most impressive was that the BDP-95 consistently sounded even better—at once smoother and more detailed, and substantially more three-dimensional and therefore enveloping in its presentation. It is precisely this kind of sonic difference that makes it worthwhile for music lovers to consider stepping up to the BDP-85.
To get a glimpse of the Oppo’s almost spooky-good 3D sonic qualities, put on the Blu-ray version of Batman Begins and make a point of watching and listening to the scene where Bruce Wayne visits the underground cavern that will eventually be transformed into the “Bat Cave.” Wayne enters the cave through the bottom of a well or cistern (the same one into which he had once fallen as a child), where a tiny crevasse opens onto the enormous cavern below. As Wayne descends to the bottom of the cistern and then work his way through the small opening, you can hear the acoustics palpably shift. Initially, you hear the hard, bright reflections of sounds off the tightly confined brick walls of the cistern, but then—as Wayne presses through the crevasse—the acoustic suddenly shift to become those of a giant, reverberant cavern where Wayne’s footfalls echo, reverberate, and slowly decay with the hall-like space, while the faint sound of an underground waterfall can be heard in the background.
The effect is breathtakingly expansive, and highly realistic, so that you instinctively feel Wayne’s sense of awe at finding such a space deep below the mansion in which he grew up. But the whole tenor of the scene shifts as Wayne flips on a portable lantern and realizes—with equal parts horror and amazement—that the cave is also home to hundreds if not thousands of bats. Sensing Wayne’s presence, the animals suddenly take flight and swirl around Wayne’s figure as he stands stock-still, transfixed. Eventually, the frantic beating of the bats’ wings and their communicative squeaks drown out the roar of the waterfall, neatly expressing both Wayne’s deepest fears but also the bats’ collective power. Here, the Oppo produces a giant 3D soundstage, complete with an uncanny illusion of height (which reinforces the idea that the immense cavern is deep below ground).