GOODSOUND!GoodSound! "Equipment" Archives

Published December 1, 2007

 

Oppo Digital DV-980H CD/SACD/DVD-A/V Player

GOODSOUND! GREAT BUY


"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 that.

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.

Used with…

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 speakers? $12,745.

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.

Listening

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.

Versus

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.

...Marc Mickelson

Price of equipment reviewed


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