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  OPPO DV-980H Universal DVD/SACD Player - Price/Performance PLUS!

      Date posted: June 4, 2008

DV-980H, front
Sugg. Retail: $169USD

Manufacturer: OPPO Digital Inc.,
453 Ravendale Drive, Suite D,
Mountain View, CA, 94043
(651) 961-1118
www.oppodigital.com

I should point out off the top that this is an audio review, though I may add a sidebar later about its video performance with one of our projectors. But it’s so hard to even countenance its removal from my audio system that I can’t even predict when it might happen, though when that time comes I’ll probably also compare it with the 970HD predecessor model.

Certainly that’s been done in audio terms, and the differences were not all that subtle. But more detail on these below. First, let’s look at the belly of the beast, and see what tricks it can do. In general terms it is both a full-scale player, with remote control of 5-(or 7)-channel volume and channel trim, making it mate smoothly with any multichannel input group, even the power amplifiers themselves, and will even if they are not all ideally balanced in terms of input sensitivity.
DV-980H remote
So, if simplicity is your goal in multichannel, this feature is a real draw, since pretty much every other universal player demands a multichannel preamp, while this one is one, and provides remote control to boot. All one could desire beyond this is a digital input or two, but that’s asking a lot, especially at this price.

According to the OPPO website, the DV-980H’s D/A converters “feature 192kHz high sampling rate and 24-bit resolution. The driving stage uses carefully selected op-amps and capacitors”. There are a pair of extra rear outputs, which appear to be disabled in audio use, and in setup I did not opt for that extra output, which supports Dolby Digital Surround EX.

Here we were concerned with playing such formats as DVD-A, SACD, CD, and the occasional DVD-V musically oriented discs. As a monitor (necessary with most DVD-As, and their fatal flaw) I used my handy little Pioneer PDV-LC20 portable player through its composite line input, which also allows easy selection of tracks on SACDs using the cursor button on the 980 remote. And just in case you might wonder, this player does not reproduce HD-DVD nor Blu-ray discs, though it will manage computer video files, some better than others. On my beloved collection of avi-type TOP GEAR programs from the Beeb, it does the sound, but provides only stop-action pictures, not good for a fast car show.
DV-980H, rear panel
But as I said, this is an audio review, so who cares? I first hooked the 980H up to my main stereo system (FT Audio passive pre, , Bryston 3B SST, Energy Veritas 1.8, Sunfire subs), then to the surrounds, centre, overhead (Audio Limits passive pre, 2 Bryston 2Bs, one with level controls, 4 ADS 300 speakers, 2 Cambridge Soundworks passive subs), to finalize the completely controlled-by-the-remote surround SACD/DVD-A system. I also took a digital out from the 980H to the Assemblage D2D digital preamp/96K upsampler, and went back to the OPPO’s menu to set digital output to, first, 96K, and later, 192K just to see if the D2D would accept the former, or downsample the latter. It did both, so I left it at 192 out.

But beforehand I had a good listen to some reference discs with the DV-970HD similarly connected, in particular the 5-channel setup, including James Taylor’s Hourglass (Columbia CS-67912, SACD only), Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue (Columbia/Legacy CS-64935 SACD only), Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, Columbia/Legacy S-65122, SACD only), Pink Floyd, Dark Side Of The Moon (Capitol/EMI CDP 5 82136 2, hybrid SACD), Dire Straits, Brothers In Arms (Vertigo 9871498, Hybrid SACD), and a 4-guitar feast, Brazil, with the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (Telarc SACD 60686. hybrid SACD). I’d been using these for demoing surround SACD for friends, as well as listening for pleasure, so was pretty familiar with the sonic signature of the 970HD.
DV-980H, front view
So, when I fired up the DV-980H, I had a good idea of what I’d been living with for about a year, and wondered what improvements it might offer as multichannel player. Even so, I was surprised. The sound was smoother and sweeter in the upper octaves, more focused tonally and (especially) spatially in the midrange, but the biggest surprise, was the tightening and deepening of the bass. Now, in this audio system I run all speakers full range, with the active subs on an Energy EAC electronic crossover, so there’s no LFE silliness to worry about, letting the 192K DACs do their thing from 20Hz (or lower) to 20 Kkz. The subs are generally tuned to come in below about 50 Hz, except with older rolled-off LPs that need a little help a little higher. The larger right channel Sunfire Signature measures -3 dB at 16 Hz, rapidly rolling off below, a good thing with LPs.

And I suspect most SACDs don’t have much energy down in the arm/cartridge resonance range, either, so you can have your 12-Hz window-rattle energy if you need it. But I digress. The 20 to 20 range is pretty much flat. And the 980′’s bass sounds truer as it gets deeper, with seemingly lower doubling or harmonic distortion. And if was in doubt about the greater clarity of sound with video circuits switched off before, I’m quite certain now that a little audio congestion disappears when this button on the remote is pressed. I can always get my display back with another button press when I want to jump or program tracks.

In play either way, I thought I heard more of the mumbling in Dark Side more clearly, the same true with the other discs, the LAGQ guitars in the 4 corners being a little sharper and cleaner while maintaining that gut-string sound I know so well. And Paul Chambers’ bass on Kind of Blue had a slightly solider and deeper quality in the centre channel, while the drum solo in Take Five was even more dynamic, punchy, and explosive. And the rather overbearing bass in JT’s Line ‘Em Up seemed to have more fundamental and less overtone, so I turned it down only half as far as before.

I could go on (said the actress to the bishop), but I’m sure you get the idea. There’s a little more more here, both in frequency and spatial domains, and I like that. As a transport, the 980H was also spectacular with CDs, though its own playback was very close in quality because of its own upsampling. As an aside from my experience recording in 96 and 192 Khz, and comparing them, I have to say that when it’s a live feed there’s a lot more difference than when the source is a 44.1 Khz digital signal. It could also be that the discrete op amps in the Assemblage DAC 2.7 select version are a little better than those in the OPPO.

The 980H transport is, by the way, quite a bit faster in loading and other transitory functions, another welcome improvement over the 970. And I hate to end on a slightly down note, but neither player handled the avi files, as noted, and I also couldn’t get them to do any more than simply list the wav files recorded on my ZOOM’s SD cards. But that’s OK. I’m sure I can get an outboard DAC that will do the latter, and my laptop does a great job on the former.

I’ve used the word spectacular already, and will happily apply it to the overall performance of the the OPPO DV-980H universal DVD/SACD player. I’m sure there are $1000+ players that do not meet the audio standards of this unit, let alone its versatility. Buy one now!

Andrew Marshall

Comment From A Reader:

Hi,

Thanks for your review- the timing could not have been better- my 980 arrived today!

I was hoping to use the 980 rather differently, as a 2-channel only system, following what I understood the Wes Phillips/Stereophile review was doing:
(http://www.stereophile.com/hirezplayers/507oppo/index.html)
This, it seemed, was the easy and cheap way into high-resolution.

At the moment I use a Linn Genki to feed a Musical Fidelity X-DAC V3 via the Monarchy DIP Upsampler (48/96 version). My idea was to put the Oppo in place of the Genki so that I could play SACDs in 2-channel mode. Playing just the CD layer through this system is fine; so is SACD via the mixed output.

However, so far, although the monitor shows the SACD are being read properly, I can get no digital output either via RCA or optical, and I’ve tried all the configurations which I can think of..

Your Assemblage combination seems quite similar to mine, and you got things to work. What am I missing? I’d be glad of advice.

Cheers,
Bob Lloyd
Girton
Cambridge, England UK

AM Replies:

There are several possible answers to your question, depending on how one understands it. First of all, even if the 980H  converts SACD bitstream to 192 kHz (which is suggested in its description), it does not output an SACD digital signal except via HDMI. And even if it did, that signal would not be recognized by any outboard DAC, but only certain home theatre receivers.

In order to set up digital output for CDs only, use the Setup menu for raw digital output, and it should work fine with your Musical Fidelity; however, I’m quite certain that the DACs in the OPPO are at least the equal of the X-DAC sonically, so why bother? Just sell all the other stuff and use the 980  by itself.

It is a  very good transport, however, and set to 192 kHz output should provide a superior digital signal to any high end DAC you choose, if you still feel the need after listening to it alone.

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5 Responses to “OPPO DV-980H Universal DVD/SACD Player - Price/Performance PLUS!”

  1. Ron W c-ca Says:

    An excellent article which reinforces in my mind to, once again, ask the inevitable question, why is it necessary to pay outrageous money for so-called high-end equipment when you have something like the Oppo 980??? I purchased one of these and, of course, compared it to my existing Pioneer Elite 59AVi which at the time of purchase cost me $1500! Other than the fact that the Pioneer loads a little faster and has a nice visual look with its shiny finish, in terms of comparing audio and video performance between the two, I could see OR hear absolutely no difference whatsoever! The Oppo 980 also has several features that the Pioneer does not.

    It also should be noted that their new Oppo 983 flagship player which sells for $399USD was the ONLY player in the history of “Secrets of Home Theater” extensive testing procedures, that passed every single one of their DVD video tests!
    These detailed tests also included players in the 7 to 8 thousand dollar range! In this day and age, it certainly makes you wonder.
    I can’t wait to see Oppo’s Blu-Ray offering in the coming months.

  2. Andrew Marshall c-unknown Says:

    AM Replies,

    Ditto on the Blu-Ray, and I hope it handles the new Hi-Res audio formats, too. The feature that sold me on the 980 was the full volume and balance control for all channels on the remote, which makes it ridiculously easy for anyone to upgrade to multichannel listening, which is now worth it with all the great SACDs out there. People might even own them and not know it, since many smaller labels put out only hybrid discs these days.

  3. Bob Lloyd c-gb Says:

    Continuing the conversation above, thanks Andrew for your suggestions. However, good as the Oppo is, I have a few reservations and comments.

    1) No way am I getting rid of my Genki/X-DACV3 combination for CD. The sound field is wider- the Oppo, with or without the DAC, is a bit compressed in comparison, and spatial definition is not quite as clear.

    2)I do find loading a disk takes rather a long time, and also, on CD, finding a particular track without starting into the first track takes some concentration. I should be able to set things to not automatically start playing, but this is erratic.

    3) SACD with the Oppo analogue output is OK, better than CD through this output, and different from, but not obviously better than, CD via the SPDIF into my DAC. Track control is better.

    4) From your comments above, I now see that I was very naive in expecting to get a digital SACD signal though the SPDIF of an unmodified Oppo. However, fortunately that’s not the end of the story. Shawn Fogg at switch-box sells a board which he, or you if you are braver than I was, can install into an Oppo 980:

    http://switch-box.com/Oppo_DV980H_Modified.html

    This does the magic trick, giving 5.1 channel output via three SPDIFs, bypassing the DACs in the Oppo. I have been using this for 2-channel SACD with my DAC for a couple of weeks now, and it’s brilliant! I find I get so immediately used to it that I don’t notice how good it is, until I go back to the CD layer of the hybrid SACD, and sudddenly it’s all so artificial. This is where the Oppo really shines, even with only 2 channels.

    5) The Oppo, even without Shawn’s mod, is an incredible bargain. With it, you can call it a high-end bargain.

    Cheers

    Bob

  4. which is the best buy- denon 1940 / oppo 980H - AVForums.com c-gb Says:

    […] Re: which is the best buy- denon 1940 / oppo 980H Hi, Please note the attached link. OPPO DV-980H Universal DVD/SACD Player […]

  5. Jack M. c-unknown Says:

    I’ve had mine since 2006. I just discovered in Settings changing the down mix to V. Surround seems to give a more pleasing, punchier sound on stereo CDs. My only connection is HDMI to my Onkyo TX-SR508.

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