Oppo Digital DV-980H CD/SACD/DVD-A/V Player
"Dominate!" It's what you hear
football teams yell before the game begins, and it's what Oppo Digital is doing in the
budget segment of the A/V market. This California-based company seemingly stuffs every
bell and whistle into its sleek CD/DVD/SACD players, including advanced audio and video
options, and then charges a pittance for it all. The DV-981HD ($229 USD) was so well
received that consumers and members of the press alike wondered how Oppo could follow up
its success. Easy. Introduce a new player with more features and bring it in at a lower
cost. That's how you "Dominate!"
The Oppo DV-980H ($169) has all of the video niceties of
the DV-981HD. It has progressive-scan capabilities and it upconverts standard-definition
DVD all the way to 1080p. There are a plethora of video outputs, including HDMI 1.2a, and
support for NTSC and PAL formats. But it's the audio features that matter to the GoodSound!
crowd, and there are plenty of them to crow about, starting with support for almost every
physical digital audio format: CD, HDCD, DVD-A, DVD-V and SACD. The DV-980H's Cirrus-Logic
chipset handles up to 24-bit/192kHz digital audio natively, but it converts SACD's DSD
bitstream to high-resolution PCM before converting it to analog. If the idea of converting
DSD to PCM bothers you, the DV-980H is one of the few universal players available that can
output the DSD data (and multichannel PCM data) via HDMI for conversion by a compatible
A/V receiver or processor. There are few megabuck high-end digital players that can do
Oppo also paid attention to the analog side of the DV-980H,
utilizing select op-amps and capacitors in the player's output stage. The outcome,
according to Oppo, is reduced distortion and honest reproduction of the analog waveform,
"resulting in faithful, natural, detailed and rich sound." To maximize the
DV-980H's audio quality, an Audio Only mode switches off the player's video processing.
User-friendly touches abound, starting with the DV-980H's
comprehensive, well-organized user manual, which describes in detail everything the player
can do. The player's remote control includes useful features often buried in onscreen
menus, such as toggling the aforementioned Audio Only mode. You can also control the
DV-980H's volume from the remote and mute the sound completely if you want. I recommend
using the volume control on your receiver, integrated amp or preamp instead of the one for
the DV-980H. The DV-980H sounds its best with its volume set to the maximum. Oppo even
includes all of the cables you'll need to connect the DV-980H to your A/V system.
Is there anything the DV-980H doesn't do? Most notably, it
doesn't play HD DVD and Blu-ray discs. I'm sure Oppo is working on a true universal
player, one that will play every audio and video disc under the sun, but licensing costs
will surely take their toll on the price of such a unit when it comes to market. For now,
if you need to play HD video discs, you'll need a separate unit. Don't be surprised if you
prefer the DV-980H for standard-definition playback, not to mention for music.
I used the DV-980H in a speaker-heavy two-channel-only
system -- that is, one in which the speakers were by far the most expensive
component. An inexpensive TEAC A-1D integrated amplifier drove Wilson Audio Duette
speakers, which were situated on their dedicated stands. Interconnects and speaker cables
were from DH Labs, the well-known budget-priced BL-1 Series II and T-14. Total cost for
the electronics, including the Oppo DV-980H, and cables? About $900. Total cost for the
For comparison, I used a two-piece digital rig consisting
of a standalone digital-to-analog converter and a DVD player connected with a coaxial
digital cable. Total cost of the DAC, DVD player and cable? Almost $1200.
Among all of the components I used, the DV-980H was the
least expensive, and it proved how deceiving price can be.
The DV-980H is diminutive in size and weight -- 16
7/8"W x 2"H x 10 1/4"D and a touch over five pounds -- but its sound is
anything but small. It casts a large sonic picture, portraying everything honestly -- with
neither obvious sweetness nor the edginess that is the rap on inexpensive digital
playback. The music that comes from the DV-980H is right at home in refined audio systems
and, as a bonus, it can play movies too, putting the "V" in "A/V."
I listened to all kinds of music with the DV-980H -- it's
not a source that sounds good only with classical or rock, for instance, or with
recordings whose sound seems to mesh well with it. I admire the atmospheric jazz
recordings on the ECM label, and the DV-980H captured all of the air and texture inherent
in these somewhat dry, always spacious-sounding recordings. Argentinean bandoneon master
Dino Saluzzi teams with German cellist Anja Lechner on Ojos Negros [ECM
B0008586-02] for some rousing multicultural music. The tone of Saluzzi's instrument seemed
to take up the entirety of the recording studio, with Lechner's violoncello keeping the
music grounded in rhythm. This is not an easy recording to get right, but the DV-980H did
it, never letting on that it's a budget-priced digital source.
When I switched to a CD that emphasized physical presence
over space, such as French pianist Jacques Loussier's Baroque Favorites [Telarc
CD-83516], the DV-980H adjusted, presenting the different tonal palette and perspective in
a way that made this recording sound unique. There are some very powerful bass chords and
drum strikes on this CD, and while the DV-980H didn't reproduce the full measure of their
speed and weight, it did convey their essence -- the foundation they added to the music
and their ability move some air. Hey, the more expensive universal players have to justify
their prices in some way, and this is one of them -- the ultimate expression of
low-end slam and heft. Still, the DV-980H gets an honorable mention here.
DVD-As and especially 24-bit/96kHz-encoded DVD-Vs were very
impressive with the DV-980H, clearly showing their sonic advantage to CD. Retrieval of
detail and the ability to hear into these recordings were enhanced, and this is just what
happens when these recordings are played with megabuck digital gear. The remastered CD of
Sonny Clark's classic Cool Struttin' [Blue Note 7243 4 95327 2 4] was no match for
the greater resolution of fine detail and presence of the Classic Records 24/96 DVD-V
[Classic Records DAD 1037]. I own a few recordings on CD, DVD and SACD, and while I could
discern slight gains in clarity and immediacy between CD and SACD, they weren't as great
as between CD and DVD-A or DVD-V. High-resolution PCM proved its worth more readily than
DSD encoding via the DV-980H, which is just the opposite of what I have heard with some
much more expensive universal players. I suspect, however, that most DV-980H owners who
play SACDs will do so in surround sound instead of stereo, which will enhance the
experience of hearing those discs.
After a lot of listening, it was obvious that the DV-980H
performed far beyond its cost. I suspect it would challenge dedicated CD players costing
up to $1000, and it would better much of its low-cost universal-player competition. That
the DV-980H plays movies, upconverting their video, is a thick, gooey layer of icing on an
already tasty cake.
I had a worthy adversary for the DV-980H lurking in the
wings -- a Stello DA100 digital-to-analog converter ($695) connected to a Pioneer DV-525
DVD player (around $400 when still available) with a DH Labs D-75 coaxial digital cable
($75). With this setup, I could play CDs and 24-bit/96kHz-encoded DVD-Vs, but not SACDs or
DVD-As. The Stello DAC can handle 24-bit/192kHz data, but the Pioneer player can output
only 24-bit/96kHz data from its digital output. In terms of price, this comparison is out
of whack, and the same is true in terms of functionality. The Stello/Pioneer/DH Labs rig
costs more than six times the price of the Oppo DV-980H, which can play every digital disc
short of HD DVD and Blu-ray.
As good as the Oppo player was, the Stello/Pioneer/DH Labs
combination sounded faster, more open and slightly leaner. These translated into a
lighter, cooler presentation. The ability to resolve buried musical detail and convey the
power of low bass were a notch better as well. However, I can't say that all of this made
for night-and-day improvement, because the DV-980H sounded a little sweeter and more
forgiving in comparison, and these were not unwelcome traits.
I did find that the Classic Records DVDs in my collection
sounded better with the Stello/Pioneer/DH Labs combination, the high resolution of the
playback equipment mating well with the higher resolution of the DVDs. But I can't say
that any of the differences would be enough to cause me to pay the considerable extra
money for the DAC, separate DVD player and digital cable over the Oppo DV-980H, which took
up much less shelf space to boot.
At some point while putting together an audio system, you
just have to write the check and get down to enjoying your purchase. The DV-980H lets you
do this more readily than just about any A/V component I've used.
The dominance continues
My position as the editor of SoundStage! has given me the
opportunity to hear some of the best digital equipment available at any price. I've
literally heard digital gear that costs more than 100 times what the Oppo DV-980H does,
and while I won't say that the extra money doesn't buy you better sound -- it definitely
does -- it certainly doesn't buy you 100 times better sound, nor will it buy you the
ability to play movies.
Thus, first and foremost, the DV-980H is a sane
digital player, one that you don't have to apply for a loan to buy. On top of this is its
rich set of features, including playback of every digital disc short of the
high-definition video formats, and high-quality sound. Yes, you can pay more and get
better sound, but then you will sacrifice so many of the DV-980H's features, not to
mention more of your money.
GoodSound! has covered a number of Great Buys this year, but I'm not
sure that any is greater than the DV-980H. The Oppo team has done it again.
Price of equipment reviewed