Oppo's new flagship 4K player continues the brand's record of excellence
By Jim Bray
Relatively hot on the heels of its outstanding UDP-203 universal player comes Oppo Digital's UDP-205, a sequel that not only equals the previous player's great video quality but which also ups the audio ante substantially.
And how often can one say that a sequel is better than the original?
The UDP-205 is also the successor up to the company's BDP-105, which was a heckuva tour de force in its own right. But like its little brother, the UDP-205 adds 4K disc playback capability to the mix. That could be enough to justify it for folks who've embraced - or are planning to - the 4K disc format (and if you're a "home theatrephile" you really should). But 4K is only one thing that's great about this high end disc player that's also perfectly happy to function as a media hub and more.
I saw an online review that referred to the UPD-205 as analogous to a Swiss army knife because of its incredible flexibility. I can't find the link any more, but the description is actually pretty apt and I wish I'd thought of it first so I didn't have to credit someone else. But how's this for flexibility? Not only is the UPD-205 a great, state-of-the-art video disc player, it's also a top notch music player (discs and more), a network hub, Digital-to-Analogue converter, preamplifer and headphone amplifier.
Heck, depending on the rest of your audio system, you could even use the UDP-205 as a preamp/processor, using its admittedly hefty $1299 USD price as a way to save you money buying a separate pre/pro - in which case its retail price becomes decidedly inexpensive. You might want to check out the advice and experiences of owners on an online forum before you try that, but it's perfectly feasible depending on your other equipment.
As is Oppo's wont, the UDP-205 4K Ultra HD Audiophile Blu-ray disc player plays far more than discs (anything, virtually, from CD's on, including SACD and DVD-Audio discs). In fact, it also plays nearly every type of digital file I threw at it - and that was an abundance of formats, from MP3's to exteremely high resolution audio files.
It also networks, has USB and HDMI inputs (I hooked a Roku Ultra into its rear panel HDMI port) and more.
The 205 features dual HDMI outputs (an HDMI 2.0 for UHD discs and HDMI 1.4 for audio output) as well as the HDMI 2.0 input port on the back panel, which works really well for connecting external streaming devices or set-top boxes. This latter feature may be more important to Oppo aficionados than they might think initially because, unlike the 103 and 105 before it, the UDP line no longer comes with built in apps such as Netflix and YouTube.
If you have a smart TV this shouldn't be an issue (you can use the TV's apps) and if it is an issue you can do what I did and plug in a streaming media device such as the Roku or a Chromecast. The Roku Ultra worked fine, though I couldn't get it to pass HDR to my reference Panasonic 4K TV. To be fair, the Roku seems to have issues doing this even when plugged into the TV directly, so I'll cut Oppo some well-deserved slack here.
On the video side, the UDP-205 offers identical performance and features to the 203, which means you get spectacular picture quality and up conversion to 4K. You also get High Dynamic Range (HDR10) and Dolby Vision (the latter of which is also available now via a firmware update for the 203). And its video performance, like that of its little brother, is simply outstanding.
A "sound" investment…
But the UDP-205 excels even more as an audiophile player, so I'm going to concentrate mostly on that side of it. If you want to look more deeply into its video capabilities I invite you to read my earlier UPD-203 review.
The first thing you notice when unpacking the UDP-205 is its heft. In a day when Blu-ray players can practically fit into your purse, the 205 is full sized (16.8 x 12.2 x 4.8 inches) and carries a substantial weight of 22 pounds (10 kg). It's also built like a tank, with a double layered chassis and substantive construction that should help ensure vibrations and other audiophile no-nos are minimized.
Hookup is as easy as connecting it to the wall plug (Duh! Do this last, though.) and to your A/V equipment via HDMI. And thanks to the dual HDMI outputs, you can output the video directly to the TV and use the other HDMI output for the audio to your A/V system. This works fine, and Oppo has taken efforts to ensure the audio is as good as it can possibly be thanks to HDMI audio jitter reduction circuitry. I have no idea what it's supposed to do, but I do know how the resulting audio sounds. Exquisite!
If you really want to do the UDP-205 (and your ears) justice, however, you'll opt for the analogue solution that Oppo has enhanced in the 205 as compared with the UDP-203. According to Oppo: "The UDP-205 features improved sound quality from its analog audio outputs courtesy of its implementation of dual 32-bit ESS Technology ES9038 PRO reference DACs, a toroidal power supply, and two sets of dedicated stereo analog outputs (balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA) for 2-channel enthusiasts." This is aimed at audiophiles who take their music listening seriously.
Oppo says the UDP-205's headphone amplifier is designed to be used with high-quality headphones - and they aren't kidding. The 205 also gets three extra digital audio inputs compared with the UDP-203 (optical, coaxial, and a stereo asynchronous USB DAC input.), further upping its audiophile capabilities ante.
In short, if you have it, chances are good that the UDP-205 will play it, and play it beautifully.
I loved the player's sound via HDMI, but once I'd run it through its paces that way I switched to using the analogue outputs, connecting them (in a 5.1 configuration) to the Rotel RAP-1580 surround audio processor. This connection method uses the Oppo's internal processing - which is state of the art, not that the Rotel's is a slouch - to pass the music right through the preamp/processor and to the amplifier section, really only using the A/V system's volume control (though you can use the UDP's volume control, if you like).
This does tend to waste the A/V receiver (or whatever you're using) a tad if its capabilities are similar, but it could be worth it for you because, as great as the UDP-205 sounds via HDMI, there's a perceivable improvement in the volume, the overall quality, and even the channel separation when you go analogue. It's quite remarkable.
The player's dedicated stereo analogue outputs are available in both RCA and XLR connectors - the latter of which is a more industrial type of hookup meant mostly for long cable runs - but it can be positively deafening in a home theatre so I generally prefer the RCA jacks to help keep peace in the neighbourhood and to minimize ear ringing after a listening session (but what glorious ear ringing it is!).
The headphone amplifier also uses the ESS SABRE PRO DAC and offers more power and higher performance than the one offered in previous players.
The rear panel could be intimidating thanks to all the stuff you can in-and-output, but Oppo has laid it out in a nicely logical way, with various connections/functions (i.e. 7.1 analogue outputs, stereo outputs, USB inputs, etc.) grouped together; I had the thing hooked up in about five minutes, including running the six analogue cables for my 5.1 setup.
The Oppo found my network easily and the "kind of new" (compared to Oppo players other than the 203) interface is attractive and easy to use. There's also a new Oppo app you can use to control the unit from your smart device.
I set up and balanced my speakers using the UDP-205, which offers test tones and speaker distance and crossover settings. If you're running the analogue outputs this is the best way to balance your system (since you're bypassing the pre/pro's adjustments). It only took about 10 minutes for me to do this, with a friend holding a tape measure and me in my listening spot with the sound pressure level meter.
One thing I had to do to ensure the subwoofer came on during stereo audio playback was set both main front speakers to "small," which sends the bass info directly to the subwoofer (don't forget to set the crossover frequencies!). This might not be a big deal if your speakers are full range, but the reference JBL's I'm using sound a lot fuller when augmented by the sub, so I configured them to exploit that to its best.
Despite the 205's audiophile bent, I started off my reviewing sessions with 4K Blu-rays such as Deadpool, Passengers, some Harry Potter and Star Trek reboot movies and, as with its little brother, the picture quality is superb - very sharp and detailed and natural. I also tried a variety of high quality Blu-rays and DVD's, as well as some 4K files from YouTube and my own networked hard drives, and marveled at the Oppo's picture quality.
The UDP-205 will up convert lower resolutions to 4K if you want it to, and it does such a great job that I'm not in a hurry to run out and replace all my Blu-rays with 4K versions even though true 4K is definitely better. This means the 205 is also a great way to avoid having to replace all your conventional Blu-rays before you may want to - making the 205 an even better investment.
On the audio side, the player decodes formats such as AIFF, WAV, ALAC, APE and FLAC, and it will also play Direct-Stream Digital (DSD) audio files in stereo or multi-channel. This latter compatibility is a nice touch in my home theatre because my pre/pro doesn't handle SACD files natively but the Oppo will convert the native SACD files to PCM before sending them out - and it works great.
For movie soundtracks, the 205 decodes Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio lossless formats as well as the latest Dolby Atmos and DTS:X formats (and the older, lossy Dolby and DTS formats as well). It'll accept input signals via coaxial and optical, and can also output audio that way - though you won't get lossless audio using those connectors (this isn't an Oppo thing, just the nature of the audio format beast).
Everything including the Sync…
Thanks to all the processing going on - at least I assume that's the reason - outputting to a TV can sometimes lead to audio/video sync issues. This isn't an Oppo-specific thing, either, but Oppo has in its most recent lines of players offered an "A/V sync" feature by which you can correct this. It can be a tad finicky to do it, but it works well. The best news with the 205, however, was that in my home theatre the audio and video were synced perfectly right out of the box.
Another feature I love is Gapless Play, which I discovered by accident while poking around the interface of a couple of earlier Oppos. This feature has been a work in progress, not working with all file formats and not necessarily working perfectly at all - especially with networked files - but with the 205 the folks at Oppo have gotten a much better handle on it and, if you use digital files stored on a disc or USB drive plugged directly into the player, it's bloody well perfect.
What's gapless play? If you've ever tried listening to digital file versions of the tunes on an album with continuous cuts - with me it's a lot of stuff by the Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, and The Who's Quadrophenia, among others - you've probably noticed that when one song ends and the next begins, there's a short pause as the player switches from one track to the next. It's a fact of digital life: separate songs on separate digital files mean a short break from one track to the next. And it really annoys me!
Gapless play, via some electronic magic that I don't being to understand, moves the tracks back together again, as if they were all in one big digital file. It's like magic!
This won't be a big deal if you're just listening to individual tracks - for instance, playing your library randomly or listening to albums with discrete tracks - but if you're sitting down to play an entire album with songs that flow together it's wonderful! It doesn't work with all file formats, and it works better with disc or USB-based tracks, but when it works it's fantastic.
I'd pay extra for such a feature, but it's already in the box so that's a bonus. Oppo even has a firmware upgrade coming that lets you set the player to default to gapless play automatically, when it can.
Oppo offers an amazing array of other adjustments with the UDP-205, stuff the average listener won't want to touch with a 10 foot pole - like a selection of DAC filter characteristics such as Brick Wall, Apodizing Fast, Corrected Mini Phase Fast and more. There are also many video adjustments, including brightness, contrast, noise reduction, etc. In practice, once I'd played with the stuff, I returned the settings to their default positions and was more than happy.
Ditto for video resolutions. The Oppo will handle pretty well anything you throw at it, and you can set the Oppo to output up converted, at the source's native resolution, or you can customize it. Once again, I found the automatic settings worked just fine unless I was deliberately trying to watch something at a lower resolution.
All things being equal, which of course they aren't, I thought that the UDP-205, when compared with the already great UDP-203, sounds sweeter, more natural, and more "powerful" (i.e. louder and "ballsier"). The audio features beautifully defined midrange and bass (not that the highs are any slouch…) and a wonderful sound stage that helps your speakers disappear in your room. It's a wonderful listening experience, perhaps the best I've heard to date and, dammit, I'm now hearing nuances and other things that I've never heard before in very familiar tunes.
The UDP-205 also revealed limitations in files that I had thought were really good - a great testament to the player's quality, but an annoying indicator that I need to replace some of my tunes - again.
Naturally, the ultimate sound quality depends on your speakers and amplifier as well, but that's standard operating procedure in the world of audio.
At $1299 USD, the Oppo UDP-205's retail price isn't chicken feed, especially considering that you can buy a 4K player for about $200 CAD these days. But if you refuse to settle for equipment that is undoubtedly not built as well nor nearly as flexible as the Oppo UDP-205 (and which won't offer the same level of performance), you really can't go wrong with this great new home theatre component.
Bottom line? Oppo has done it again. I must admit I'm not surprised.
Look at it as a 4K disc player Plus - a home theatre component that can also act as your entire media hub, while offering high end video and even higher end audio while it does it.
Copyright 2017 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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