To sum up the Oppo’s sound on CDs in two words, I would say it sound “soulful” and “expressive.” To explain what I mean, let me draw some examples from a well-recorded acoustic blues album I’ve enjoyed a lot of late.
Blues artist Eric Bibb’s Get Onboard [Telarc] contains a number of tracks that feature simple yet deeply moving arrangements that showcase Bibb’s rich, mellow voice. One such track is “God’s Kingdom”, which has the feel of an old spiritual. Instrumentation and vocals are simple: Bibb’s tremolo guitar; drums, tambourine, and organ played by Glen Scott, and sparse backing vocal contributed by Glen Scott and Nikki Leonti. The simplicity of the arrangement, of course, means each sonic element is exposed and must stand on its own.
The Oppo does a great job in capturing the taut yet deep “thump” of Scott’s bass drum, the crisp “snap” of his snare drum rimshots, and the gentle sparkle of his high hats opening and closing. Bibb’s guitar sets the rhythm for the song, but his richly sculpted voice—presented front and center—carries its melody and draws most of our attention. I was impressed by the way the Oppo captured the tonal richness and almost sculptural three-dimensionality of Bibb’s voice and by the tight, focused way in which the player positioned him at the center of the soundstage (some players render Bibb’s voice more diffusely, which is much less emotionally engaging). Finally, on moments where the backing vocalists join Bibb, I noted that the Oppo presented them at equally precise stage locations, placing them to Bibb’s side and further back. One of the Oppo’s strengths is its ability to present layers of soundstage depth with precision. Perhaps the only thing missing is that elusive sense of high-frequency “air” surrounding the instruments and performers. But to get those kinds of sonic refinement, I suspect you’ll need to invest in a far more costly player.
High Resolution Music Formats
Unlike many universal players I’ve heard, the BDP-83 does an equally good job with high-resolution DVD-Audio and SACD materials. What is more, the Oppo offers enough detail and definition to show you why high-res disc formats are worthwhile in the first place. Let me illustrate this point by describing the Oppo’s performance on a strikingly well recorded jazz SACD disc I’ve recently added to my rotation.
Jen Chapin’s reVisions [Chesky, SACD] offers imaginative jazz treatments of songs created by Stevie Wonder and features performances by a trio comprised Chapin, who supplies vocal, Stephen Crump on acoustic bass, and Chris Cheek, who plays saxophones. You might think it would difficult for such a minimalist ensemble to capture the multi-layered feel of Wonder’s often elaborate arrangements, but in fact the trio does a fabulous job—making the flow of Wonder’s individual musical lines stand out with unexpected power and lucidity.
Almost from the moment you hit the Play button on the Oppo with this disc sounds terrific, and there is no better example than the opening track: Wonder’s humorous yet biting “You Haven’t Done Nothin’.”On the right side of the stage, Crump jumps in with a fiery, syncopated bass line accentuated with percussive hand slaps to the body of the bass. On stage left, Cheek contributes incisive, sardonic comments carried by the deep, plunging voice of his baritone sax. At center stage, but standing a bit behind her sax and bass players, is Chapin, whose feisty and occasionally sardonic voice flirts with edginess (yet never crosses that line), delivering swooping inflections that drive home the point of a lyric with the force of a whip-crack.
The Oppo’s presentation proved impressive in several ways. First, its soundstaging was at once precise and almost shockingly holographic. The performers appear at the exact locations I’ve described, which turn out to be faithful to the recorded event (Chesky actually supplies a stage “floorplan” diagram in the liner notes, so you can compare what you’re hearing to the actual locations of the performers). Next, the timbres of the bass and sax were spot on and highly detailed. You can hear the mouthpiece action and reed of Cheek’s sax and the sheer physical size and deep, woody tonality of Crump’s bass. But the Oppo focuses our attention Chapin’s voice, presenting each vocal inflection, swoop, and point of emphasis with effortless solidity and clarity, creating the illusion that Chapin is performing from just a few feet away from us. This kind of sonic realism shows the Oppo at its best and is, quite frankly, a big part of its appeal.