To Wes Marshall,
I read with interest your review of the new Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player. I listen to a wide variety of music, but especially jazz and vocals. I am considering buying fine bookshelf speakers such as the Dynaudio Confidence C1s or Harbeth M30.1s and amps of that quality such as Naim or LFD. A friend of mine told me he heard great things about Oppo. Do you think I would be happy with the new Oppo player or should I still consider a player at the $3500 level such as a Naim or an Ayre Acoustics to truly enjoy this system?
Well this is a conundrum for me. I have to make a few assumptions based on what you’ve sent me. First, based on the information in your signature regarding your address and occupation, I’ll assume you live in a city in an apartment. Therefore, your neighbors won’t allow enormous amounts of volume or pounding bass, which is why you are looking at quite expensive speakers with limited bottom-octave response. Since you say “amps” but don’t stipulate a preamp, I assume you are looking at one of Naim's or LFD’s integrated amps, both superb, but again, made to play anywhere from soft to loud, but not into dance land. It also appears that you will be using this system only for music and you have no interest in vinyl. If any of those are incorrect, then my answer will change.
To answer your question directly, I am a big believer in Naim products and doubt you could do much better than a full Naim system. Past that lies asymptotic improvements that cost ever more and return ever less. That being said, should you have unlimited amounts of money, feel free to pursue those improvements. On the other hand, if you are asking me whether I’d rather have the Oppo or the Naim, for my money it would be the Oppo. Then, with the money left over, I’d buy lots of downloads from Naim Label! Part of the ride when you get into these price levels is the importance of pride of ownership, so if you would feel a lot more pride in telling your fellow solicitors and barristers about your Ayre or Naim CD player, then you must advise yourself.
I can’t help but recommend a slightly different tact. Again, following the assumptions in the first paragraph, I would purchase the following system. Now, you have to understand, I am not a traditionalist and we have plenty of superb writers who are. They may be able to help you along the route of searching for every iota of “perfect sound.” I happen to believe that other than your speakers and your source components, nothing makes as big a difference as your room. So I would get a MacBook Pro with a Retina display and the largest flash drive possible, a killer DAC (see Jeff Fritz’s recommendations in Ultra Audio), and active speakers. You obviously like European gear, so look at one of the great monitors like ATC’s SCM25A, PMC's IB2S-A, or Neumann’s KH 310 A. All of these have surprisingly deep bass and will play beautifully clear music at volumes anywhere up to jet-engine levels. Add an Oppo for those times when you just have to listen to a silver disc; otherwise, get your ripped music from a Goodwin’s High End fanless music server and your streamed music from the Mac. Then take advantage of the free give-it-a-try program from Dirac Research and try out their room-management software. I believe that, within the frequency domain offered by each individual speaker, you will have some of the most amazing sound you will ever hear.
All that opinion stuff aside and back to your original question, I have a slight personal preference for Harbeth over Dynaudio (I’m an imaging freak), Naim over LFD (owing mainly to the company’s longevity), and Oppo over the other CD players mentioned (based on cost/quality ratio).
Let us know what you do. . . . Wes Marshall
To Doug Schneider,
In your review, you used the Cambridge Audio 851C in your high-end system with reference components.
This product ranks very highly, but you did not print any comparisons of your reference DACs to the Cambridge DAC’s performance. Could you elaborate now?
Cambridge’s 851C is an extremely well-built, great-sounding player, so you can match it with components of the highest caliber, which is why I used it in my reference system.
Insofar as how its DAC section compares to other external DACs, it ranks right up there in terms of tonal balance, detail, refinement, soundstaging, imaging, and clarity -- all the main areas. You can find something that has higher resolution, but to do that you’d have to spend quite a bit more -- the Calyx Audio Femto ($6850), which I reviewed for SoundStage! Hi-Fi a little while ago, and the Meitner Audio MA-1 ($7000), which I’m not reviewing but have in-house, are the next steps up. So the 851C accomplishes a lot for its $2000 price, since there’s really not one area where it falls back.
Where the 851C gets a little difficult to compare with other DACs is in certain aspects of its sound -- it has a very lively, incisive, and immediate sound that makes most other DACs sound a touch laid back by comparison. This has nothing to do with the 851C’s price -- it just seems to be the way the Cambridge Audio design team has voiced it. That sound, at least from my experiences, makes it unique. Whether someone likes this character, mind you, will depend mostly on taste. . . . Doug Schneider
To Wes Marshall,
I just finished reading your excellent review of the Oppo BDP-103 from February. While all reviews that I have read of the BDP-103 have spoken very highly of its video capabilities, most, if not all, have said little about how well it does or doesn't do with plain old CDs. If I were to buy the Oppo, probably 90% of what I would use it for would be to play CDs. What is your opinion of its CD performance?
Currently I am using a Rotel RCD-971 that I bought new in 2000. I am very pleased with its sound, and it still works the way it did in 2000. Could the 971's sound be significantly improved by running its output into a new DAC? I am thinking of the PS Audio NuWave DAC. I realize that you may have no experience with the Rotel or the NuWave, but what do you think would give me better CD performance, the BDP-103 or the Rotel/NuWave combination?
OK, let me give you some gentle encouragement to either simply delight in your current system as is, or start over completely. Every piece of equipment you have is of a very high standard. It is all working, so why not just lean back and enjoy it?
If you have an uncontrollable, irrepressible desire to upgrade something, then start over. Your first decision is whether you want to preserve your signals as digital until just before the amplification stage, or whether you want to use a DVD player, let it handle your D-to-A conversion, and keep the rest in analog. If you have a jones for analog (I don't), then buy the Oppo BDP-105 and let it become the all-handling D-to-A converter. Forget outboards, the D-to-A in the Oppo beats most outboards under $2000. Then you can keep your speakers and integrated amplifier, at least.
T'were it me, I would buy a good-quality home-theater receiver, probably an Onkyo or NAD, for a good juxtaposition of musicality and cost, or a Rotel for a bit more money, and then add a subwoofer, an Oppo BDP-103, and use Audyssey to fix all your room problems. Then, despite the fact that the Oppo would probably have a slightly better D-to-A stage, I'd just use the HDMI cable to the receiver and let it handle the D-to-A conversion. That preserves the digital signal as long as humanly possible.
The one thing I wouldn't do is make tiny changes to your current system. It is just fine as it is. If you want an improvement, don't look to new CD players or DACs. You'll have to make wholesale changes. . . . Wes Marshall
To Doug Schneider,
I read your article on the Cambridge Audio 851C and am very interested in how you think it compares as to the Oppo 105. I recently purchased a Cambridge Audio 851A and am now looking to add a CD player. Previously I used DVD players and AVRs. I am really only looking for a dedicated CDP; however, the benefit of being able to play SACDs and also DVDs is a benefit. Everything will then fit into my cabinet.
I am no audiophile so am a little confused about a dedicated CDP versus a universal player such as the Oppo, as I have read many reports suggesting it is equivalent to a $4000 CD player. But many also suggest that a universal player is not as good as a dedicated CD player, although the Oppo seems to be the standout here.
If the Oppo offers the sound and CD quality that the Cambridge Audio does, I will probably go down that path, as it is simply more convenient to have one box to do both; however, if the Cambridge Audio 851C surpasses the Oppo in CD playback, I would probably go down that path.
I am in Australia, so it is very difficult to audition both at the same store. Can you offer any advice here?
Audiophiles tend to make sweeping judgments, such as the one you mentioned about universal players tending not to be as good as dedicated CD players, but the truth of the matter is that it depends on the implementation. So don’t let those comments sway you. Instead, go with what works well for your situation.
I'd obviously encourage auditioning both, but I realize that's not practical (it's becoming increasingly difficult for consumers anywhere to audition and compare products), so I'll give you my two cents on what I think you should do. I really liked the Cambridge Audio 851C, and I haven’t heard the Oppo BDP-105, but given what you’ve said about the desire to play not only CDs, but SACDs and DVDs as well, I’d lean toward the Oppo because it will allow you to do this. Plus, I hear great things about this unit and it's priced quite a bit lower than the 851C. What’s more, its DAC section now also supports DSD, which a lot of audiophiles like. . . . Doug Schneider
I loved your article ["Raquel Bitton: Rhythm of the Heart"] and I wanted to thank you so very much. I forwarded it to the musicians and to Rafa Sardina (my co-producer and engineer) and they so appreciated it; considering the source, it does not get better.
Merci de tout coeur!