Oppo Digital is slowly but surely earning a reputation for building products that, in car enthusiasts’ parlance, are sleepers: that is, components that appear to be modest in price and appearance, but in fact turn out to be giant killers. I can think of no better example than Oppo’s slim, $149 DV- 970HD universal player, which supports DVD-Audio/Video, SACD, HDCD, CD, Kodak Picture CD, and DivX discs, and provides HDMI outputs with 720p/1080i upconversion. What really makes the Oppo special, though, is its core sound and video image quality, which are unexpectedly good—not just “for the money” but in a broader sense.
The DV-970HD’s remote control and user interface proved easy to understand and use. In particular, I appreciated the way the Oppo lets me make on-the-fly audio and video adjustments during playback—a thoughtful touch.
The only areas that need further refinement are the Oppo’s unorthodox procedures for setting speaker distances and for controlling SACD playback. Strangely, when SACDs are first loaded into the player, traditional Rev/Fwd and Skip Back/Fwd track controls remain inoperative until after disc playback has been initiated. To select and play a specific SACD track, then, you would first hit Play, and then use the Skip Back/Fwd controls to advance to the track you wish to hear. This isn’t a problem in home theater systems with displays that facilitate track-totrack navigation, but it can make for counterintuitive operations when the player is used in audio systems without displays.
The Oppo acquitted itself well with DVD-Audio, SACD, and CD material, delivering well-balanced performance across all three formats—though DVDAudio discs typically sounded the best of all. The DV-970HD sounded terrific on “Sunshine of Your Love” from Cream bassist Jack Bruce’s Shadows in the Air [Silverline, DVD-A]. What wowed me was the way the Oppo caught the crying sound of guest artist Eric Clapton’s Stratocaster guitar, as well as the deep, throaty snarl of Bruce’s fretless Warwick Thumb bass guitar (I’ve never heard that instrument more convincingly rendered).
Overall, the Oppo sound is characterized by excellent top-tobottom transparency and detail, tempered by a good measure of high-frequency smoothness. But the big news is that all these qualities are delivered with the sort of polish and panache rarely heard in sub-$1000 players. As a result, the Oppo effortlessly reveals variations in production techniques from album to album, and song to song.
I put on Sheryl Crow’s The Globe Sessions [A&M, multichannel SACD], for example, and noted that the first track, “My Favorite Mistake,” had the clean, tight, well-focused sound of a traditional studio recording. But the second track, “There Goes the Neighborhood,” had an altogether different sound that was huge, slightly raw, diffuse, and drenched in reverberation, creating the effect of hearing Crow and her band performing in a big garage. The point is that the Oppo made child’s play of delineating the various textural and spatial differences between the tracks—something few inexpensive players do well.
Compared to more expensive players such as NAD’s M55, the DV-970HD sounds a bit less smooth in the treble region, a little less full-bodied and threedimensional, and produces bass that sometimes seems too lean. But when you consider that the DV-970HD costs less than one tenth what the NAD does, and that it sounds more like the NAD than not, the Oppo’s minor shortcomings become easy to overlook.
While sound quality may be the DV-970HD’s strong suit, it is no slouch in the video department. I put the player through its paces on films and with the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark disc, and in both cases observed optimal performance through the Oppo’s HDMI outputs with upscaling set for 1080i (the TPV test display is a 1080p-capable RPTV). Noise was minimal, detail was very good, and performance on various cadences (video, film, anime, etc.) was fine. The only areas where the Oppo was decent but not great were on certain tests for jaggies and for motion-adaptive noise reduction. But even there the Oppo handily outperformed many mid-priced players I’ve recently tested.
One discovery I made was that the Oppo’s Sharpness control was genuinely useful—not garish as such controls often tend to be. When I watched Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon with the Oppo’s Sharpness control set to Sharp, fine details became so clear that they almost reminded me of the way HD DVD material appears.