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BR player – audio quality, bitstream vs LCPM, lossless vs lossy shootout

petetherock

Well-known Member
This is an AUDIO ONLY comparison between:
Oppo BD 83 (standard)
Oppo BD 83 (SE)
Denon DVD-4010
CD players:
MZH 88D tube CDP
Marantz SACD 8003 (modified version)

This shootout was done on 22nd January, in a domestic premise with the aid of a few hobbyists, some newbies and a classically trained piano female teacher who has no audiophile aspirations.

Aim:

We wish to find out:

A
Can we discern lossless vs lossy;
B
Can we discern LPCM vs bistream;
C
Can we discern using DAC (analogue) vs HDMI?
D
Compare the difference in analogue performance between the players
 

petetherock

Well-known Member
The enjoyment of hi fidelity music as well as home theatre can be a rather subjective affair, with some favoring one brand over another with such fervor that their enthusiasm borders on the zealous.

I have been pondering the question of whether it all matters, lossless (in the form of bitstream signals or LCPM) and lossy and where the decoding is done since I joined Hi Def. most of the replies on the net are opinion based, with statements like “the signal is digital, therefore there is no difference!”. But such statements were seldom backed with real world tests and comparisons. No A/B test themselves to prove their claim.


Oppo has been in the news and owners have been also feverish in their belief that it can do no wrong. Owners have also made claims as to the audio quality of CD playback and how it can rival players which cost much more.

And some of us are also sitting on the sidelines waiting for someone to tell them if lossy sound is really much worse than lossless.

We also have the usual Tru-HD versus DTS-MA debates and since not many discs exist which both tracks, this again has been poorly tested before.

This is where our review or shootout comes in. There are relatively few such sessions where people are willing to travel miles and bring their favorite player along, and try it out against other players. Some forums where threads on certain brands exist, seem to feel their player can do no wrong and yet refuse a head to head objective session with other players with opinions garnered from a wider audience.

We believe this is one of the first to gather a series of current generation Blu Ray players in a single session to be assessed with a well defined methodology.
 

petetherock

Well-known Member
Methods
Our associated test equipment was:

2 amps were used:

Denon AVT 4810 with Denon Link 4, and HDMI switching.

Marantz SR 12 Reference series AV amplifier, well reviewed for its musical qualities.
B/W 805, HTM4 based system, using QED XT 300 cables and anti-cables.

Audioquest Columbia interconnects

Monoprice HDMI cables.

IEGO and other power cables.


A Radioshack analogue SPL meter was used to ensure the same volume was maintained even after switching players. 80 db was used as a standard.
 

petetherock

Well-known Member
Test players:

Oppo BD 83 (standard)

Oppo BD 83 (SE)


Denon DVD-4010

CD players:

MZH 88D tube CDP

Marantz SACD 8003 (modified version)

Just some information on the 2 cd players:

The MHZS 88D tube CD player:

MHZS CD 88 uses two 12AX7s for signal processing, a 6Z4 and WY2 tube for rectification. Along with the CD 33, and the CD 66, the MHZS uses its own chip design, which allows for filtering, conversion and upsampling in one single chip. This greatly contributes to the unmistakable sound of this
CD player. The special low pass filter contributes to the pure and natural tonal quality that breathes new life into every CD. Selecting the upsampling frequencies on these players allows you to change the
characteristics of the digital filter resulting in different sound presentation each frequency (44.1 kHz, 88.1 kHz and 174.1 kHz) The fully balanced design with high-quality XLR-type connections takes maximum
advantage of the MHZS’s impressive audio capabilities.

Ultra-Quiet Power Supply

Like other MHZS products the CD-88 boasts an exceptionally quiet power supply. The oversize torodial core transformer contributes to the silent background, allowing musical details to emerge with
realistic nuances intact. Other features include a quality detachable IEC power cord and replaceable rear panel fuse. The gorgeous brushed aluminum front panel is available in black or silver and includes a well laid out complement of controls plus indicator lights, fluorescent display and unique blue light and window over the vacuum tubes.

http://www.lampizator.eu/LAMPIZATOR/REFERE...MHZS_CD66F.html


Solid Transport

The MHZS CD 88, like the CD 66 is a top loading unique with a SONY transport and Phillips controller of exceptional quality aimed at rotating your CD with minimal error correction. The reduced error correction allows for a more life-like presentation of details especially in the lower registers.

The Marantz SA 8003 was modified with:

Changed/Upgrade and Added Critical Capacitors and Diodes. A total of more than 50 components.
Installed dedicated customed wound transformer for the analog output stage.
Output RCA connectors changed to DHLabs Copper RCA. With Burson Audio Clock.

We used a single input on the Denon 4810 amp for the analogue tests, and HDMI cables for the digital test. We also used the Denon Link for the 4010.

The audience consisted of a couple of new listeners, a piano teacher (lady) and some members who have been involved in previous sessions and have been hobbyist for more than 10 years.
 

petetherock

Well-known Member
Results:
In Digital audio

The Denon Link :

This is taken off the Denon website as to what the link does:

DENON LINK 4th - Glossary of Technical Terms

We have succeeded in using DENON LINK (a digital interface) as a dedicated clock signal transmission line to transmit high-grade digital signals in high speed and with negligible influence from external noise. Previously, the purpose of DENON LINK was to transmit the digital audio signals themselves, but the purpose of DENON LINK 4th is to control the clock.

DENON LINK 4th uses the master clock in the A/V surround receiver as the reference for controlling the video circuitry and the disc drive in the player, and the digital video and audio signals from Blu-ray disc are transmitted to the A/V surround receiver via an HDMI cable. This is how our DENON LINK 4th works.

DENON LINK 4th is able to transmit digital audio signals with negligible jitter because it has audio devices share the same clock. In addition, DENON LINK 4th has achieved a world first by suppressing jitter to an absolute minimum even for the playback of Blu-ray discs that include video signals.

Jitter suppression brings exceptional results to three-dimensional playback in such areas as sound localization, sound spaces and sound images. The sound space of a concert hall, for instance, is reproduced so clearly that it feels as though the artists are performing in very close proximity to the listener.

So does it work?
It was quite obvious to the audience that the Link played a role and it was better with the Link than without.

For this segment, we played the start to the Blu Ray Disc Transformers, concentrating on the narrative voice right up to the appearance of the Transformers logo.
The narrator is Peter Cullen who has a clear, deep voice which has a rich tone. There is a music sequence too and we listened for the clarity of this and how clear the voice was in the midst of all the soundtrack.

The Link gave the Denon 4010 a clear advantage and it emerged top of the pile for audio via HDMI.

So for digital signals to the Denon amp, the order of merit was (from best to worst):

Denon 4010 with the Link
Denon 4010 without the Link
Oppo SE
Oppo Regular

Feeding a bitstream signal to the Denon amp, there was definitely a difference between the players, but between the 2 Oppos, the difference was not much. The power supply has been modified in the Oppo SE, but the improvements were clearly not in the HDMI section.

Even with revealing speakers, the differences are subtle.


But strangely
In playing the piano track, the Denon Link made for the worst presentation.
The Piano was the most unnatural, and unconvincing.
 

petetherock

Well-known Member
This is where the test got interesting.

We used vocals to test this.

In addition we also used:
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2; Paganini Rhapsody played by Lang Lang. this track is challenging and we wanted our piano expert to judge how well the system could suspend belief and make you feel that there was a real piano in front of the listener.

The Denon was set to Pure Direct, switching off all circuits and acting as a stereo amp. Both Oppo and Denon players were also set to pure direct.

The differences between the Oppo and the SE version were quite dramatic. Many people listen to a player in isolation and if you never compare the players, the difference would not be clear. But when you listen to the players and do a direct comparison, there is a big gulf. The regular version was clearly far behind the rest.

Using the standard Oppo as a base, you could get by with it, but in comparison to the rest, the presentation was mechanical, a little more stringent, splashy and the bass was less tight. The extension was also lacking and less defined. There was not the same emotion that the better models here could show.

The Denon 4010 was alright for stereo. But in using the Denon Link with HDMI, the Denon play a piano piece poorly, it sounded quite artificial and lacked the soundstage and involvement that the better players could do.

So now on to the SACD 8003, Oppo SE and the Chinese made tube CD player.

Between the SACD player and the Oppo SE, the Oppo offered slighty more detail. The difference is more subtle, the Marantz retains its basic sonic trait of warmth, but has loads of detail and is significantly better than the Oppo regular, but loses some detail to the SE, although it was not day and night. The Oppo SE has a coherent presentation without any emphasis on any part of the sonic spectrum.
 

petetherock

Well-known Member
Some pictures:

Getting 192Hz...
Hifishootoutaudio010.jpg


The equipment:
Hifishootoutaudio012.jpg
 

petetherock

Well-known Member
How the MHZS tube CD player then?

It was unanimous that it was the best sound player that you could play for hours. It seemed a little less detailed actually than the Oppo SE, but the entire sonic presentation was great and less fatiguing whilst allowing yourself to immerse in the music, without sacrificing detail. In comparison, the Oppo SE was more jarring, and difficult to listen for long. The treble was more splashy, had less air and more stringent.

All the differences were clear to our new members as well as the pianist, without any prompting. She clearly preferred the MHZS, and a pretty even fight between the Oppo SE and Marantz, with the Marantz losing out just a tad.

The regular Oppo was clearly the least preferred of the lot.

We also tried the Oppo SE and Marantz SA 8003 on a Marantz SR 12, Reference series amp, and again with a more musical amp the difference was more subtle, and difficult to separate.
 

petetherock

Well-known Member
This is one of the big questions I wish to answer.


Using the Oppo SE as a BR player, we alternated between LPCM, DTS-MA and Dolby Digital (lossy).

The conclusion? There was clearly a difference between decoding done by the player and the amp.

Apart from one reviewer, everyone else heard a difference and preferred the decoding to be done by the amplifier rather than the player. We repeated this a few times and the difference was not hard to hear.

So there IS a difference between LCPM and bitstream. We will discuss the reason later.

As for Lossless versus lossy, most also heard the difference, although I personally felt the difference was not a lot
 

petetherock

Well-known Member
This brings us to our recommendations.


Again our tests were more concerned with audio performance. HT performance had been tested in another session.

First

You will need to audition more carefully. Does music matter that much that you want something better?
If you have a basic HT system with a basic HT amp, that is barely passable in stereo, is it worth your while to spend so much for stereo?

If you have a dedicated stereo system, with a revealing setup, your decision could already be made and you will already own a whole separate system for music. Then getting an Oppo is moot, since the expensive CD player will outperform the Oppo easily.

So who buys the Oppo standard, well that you will need to figure for yourself. Is it worth its asking price and do you want an all-in-one. In such a role it does an admirable job, doing almost everything except toast bread.

The extra money does yield dividends and the Oppo SE is better. Again your call if it makes a difference, but if you put that money towards a CD player, the extra cash will not buy you a CD player that can repeat the same performance. That means putting all your eggs in a single basket.

The CD players do better, and if you value stereo, they are still the way to go.


Now for lossless and lossy, if all you can afford are DVD and Dolby Digital, fear not, you will enjoy HT. It’s just that Hi Def is better, but everything costs more, and that’s how the companies make money, by making you upgrade your gear.

Its better enough and with the marketing hype, entices you to spend. But if you have a modest budget, don’t fret. Just enjoy the show. For those with deeper pockets, the extra sound quality will give you a better HT experience, and also for audio.

Finally bitstream is different from LPCM and in my opinion, better. If you have a good AV amp, let it do the decoding. If your setup is more budget, it may not make such a big difference.

And most of all, enjoy the whole Hi Fi & HT ride!

So the term “your mileage may vary” or YMMV quite aptly sums it up.
 

petetherock

Well-known Member
Limitations

We decided it was nigh impossible to do a proper blind test with the logistics with the logistics involved. There is also an element of fatigue and whether the sequence of players mattered.

Finally we cannot emphasis more that this is a test of audio performance.

As there was only one hotspot, not everyone had the benefit of sitting at the best seat. We gave that to the piano teacher.
 

Welwynnick

Distinguished Member
Well done Pete, this is what AV forums should be about - people getting away from their keyboards and listening to lots of good equipment. I think this is one of the best blu-ray player comparisons I've ever seen, and its great to really get some perspective on the upgraded Oppo. A thousand thanks! I wonder about the valve player though - could that sound better because its adding warmth that isn't there on the soundtrack?

After saying all that, I'm afraid you can expect several people to say that your findings are not valid because you didn't blind test. Having particpated in a couple of similar, ambitious blu-ray player blind tests, I can vouch for how difficult they are to perform fairly. Sighted tests aren't invalid by any means, but blind is more difficult and more reliable.

I'm pleased to hear your findings about player vs amplifier decoding though, which I fully agree with. That will bea debate to look forward to.

Finally, did you start a thread a while ago on a similar subject, maybe at the beginning of January.

Best regards, Nick
 

Nic Rhodes

Distinguished Member
Good job, way too little of this done around here. No great surprizes either which is always re assuring.
 

petetherock

Well-known Member
This is the thrust of the suspicions which led me to this test.

Both bitstream and LCPM are both digital, but so much happens in between before they arrive at the speakers.
This will vary with each amp.
The decoders can be of different standards between the player and the amp, then within the amp, the signal may be subject to more manipulation before it finally gets broadcast as sound.

Hence it is not a surprise that despite both being lossless signals, there IS a different when you send a bitstream raw signal to the amp as compared to the LPCM one. The whole pathway of signal processing can be totally different and that is where variations and differences in sound quality can emerge, and also this can be a variable amongst different standards of players and amps.

Jitter is one of these variables, but many more variables exist. Finally you simply decide based on your audition experience, rather than worry about how much signal manipulation has been performed.




This is one of the big questions I wish to answer.


Using the Oppo SE as a BR player, we alternated between LPCM, DTS-MA and Dolby Digital (lossy).

The conclusion? There was clearly a difference between decoding done by the player and the amp.

Apart from one reviewer, everyone else heard a difference and preferred the decoding to be done by the amplifier rather than the player. We repeated this a few times and the difference was not hard to hear.

So there IS a difference between LCPM and bitstream. We will discuss the reason later.

As for Lossless versus lossy, most also heard the difference, although I personally felt the difference was not a lot
 
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petetherock

Well-known Member
This is kind of a follow up to the other thread - audio:

Most of the budget level players we used in the earlier shootout, the Sony, Panasonic etc, did CDs.
Unlike the kind of flowery stuff you read in What Lo Fi, they are OK, and will be alright for background listening, but once you get critical and compare them to an average CD player of the same cost, the sound is nothing to boast of.

So stay realistic, using the budget BR players for BR playback, decent DVD upscaling, and alright CD playback.

You do get what you pay for and if audio really matters, you will need to dig deeper into your pockets.

Cheers
 

Pecker

Distinguished Member
I'm afraid you can expect several people to say that your findings are not valid because you didn't blind test.

I hope no one says that, as this test is obviously very valid. However, it would be equally unfair to say that knowing which player was in operation couldn't have possibly influenced the comments.

Having particpated in a couple of similar, ambitious blu-ray player blind tests, I can vouch for how difficult they are to perform fairly. Sighted tests aren't invalid by any means, but blind is more difficult and more reliable.

I think that's exactly as I'd put it.

Well done to the OP and all the participants on the test.

Steve W
 

Mr_Sukebe

Active Member
Good test, thanks for that!

Did you test the analogue outputs from the Denon BDP4010? If so, how did it compare against the valve CDP and the Oppos?
 

Mr_Sukebe

Active Member
Sorry, one other question.
Did you compare:
1. Denon via HDMI > AV amp, vs
2. Denon via analogue 7.1 > AV amp

Again, my thanks for (a) running the test and (b) bothering to post your comments. Definitely one of the more useful things to read on these forums.
 

petetherock

Well-known Member
Oppo BD 80s are now reaching owner's hands, so I reckon another comparison will be due in a few weeks, lets see :)

Some early notes on the SQ:
Oppo BDP-80 Universal Bluray/DVD Player


Sound-wise, with HD bitstream output to the Denon 4810 AVR for decoding, it sounded just as good as the Oppo 83. I don't know how much better the BDP-80 would be after some running in.. but Sean did say to give it 50-60 hours and see how it goes.

I guess unless you are using analog outputs for audio and watching a lot of DVDs, the lack of the better DACs and analog output stage and the ABT processing circuitry is probably inconsequential. Especially if you have an AVR that has good DACs/analog section and good video processing.

I also did some additional tests for the eggheads:

a. Nordic 2L sampler 192kHz 5.1 DTS HD MA soundtrack to AVR? CHECK
b. Nordic 2L sampler 192kHz 5.1 LPCM soundtrack to AVR? CHECK
c. Stereo DSD over HDMI for decoding by AVR? CHECK
d. Multichannel DSD over HDMI for decoding by AVR? CHECK
e. "PAL" HD 1080i50 Jacky Cheung Concert BluRay? CHECK
f. Hitman Region B BluRay (does not work on Sony S550)? CHECK
 

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