Oppo Digital is earning a reputation for building products that are modest in price and apearance, but turn out to be giant kilers. The $149 DV-970HD supports DVD-Audio/Video, SACD, HDCD, and CD, and provides HDMI outputs with 720p/1080i upconversion. What makes it unexpectedly good—and not just “for the money”—is sound and video quality characterized by excellent overall transparency and detail, a good measure of treble smoothness, taut, clean (though occasionally too lean) bass, and a persona that emphasizes clarity more than it does warmth. As a result, the Oppo effortlessly reveals variations in production techniques from album to album and song to song.
On Sheryl Crow’s The Globe Sessions [A&M, multichannel SACD], “My Favorite Mistake” offered the focused, up-close perspective of a studio recording. But “There Goes the Neighborhood” presented an altogether different soundscape whose huge, raw, reverb-soaked sound created the illusion of hearing Crow and her band performing in a giant garage. The Oppo’s ability to delineate the textural and spatial differences between tracks was impressive.
Better still, the Oppo delivers evenly-balanced performance across all disc formats—something that can’t be said of many inexpensive universal players. For instance, it sounded equally masterful on “At the Gazebo,” from Trey Anastasio’s eponymous solo album [Elektra, DVD-A], simultaneously capturing Anastasio’s delicate plucking and the buttery sonority of the bowed strings, and giving each instrument its proper place on stage.
Alongside more expensive CD-only players, such as the Rega transport and Musical Fidelity DAC combo I had on hand, the DV-970HD was less smooth in the upper midrange/treble region, a touch more forward and less fine-grained in the midrange, and somewhat less full-bodied and three-dimensional. But these drawbacks seem minor considering that the Oppo is the more versatile player, and that it cost less than one tenth what the CD combo does.
The Oppo fits equally well in home-theater or two-channel audio systems, though for best results in the latter, connect the player to a display when performing initial setup, and consider leaving the display connected to take advantage of the Oppo’s graphical user interface. And use high-quality interconnects—ironically, its sound merits cables that may cost more than the player does. Finally, the SACD controls are a bit unorthodox. When SACDs are loaded, users must first press the Play button before using the traditional Skip Forward or Skip Backward buttons.
Despite its few quirks and sonic imperfections, the Oppo DV-970HD is the best low-priced universal player I’ve heard. It does so much, so well, for so little, that it makes many higherpriced players seem like underachievers by comparison. Whether you are a newcomer looking for an excellent starter player or a veteran looking to sample high-resolution formats, the Oppo represents a fine way to get in the game.