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.
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
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.
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.
Oppo BD 83 (standard)
Oppo BD 83 (SE)
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.
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.
In Digital audio
The Denon Link :
This is taken off the Denon website as to what the link does:
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
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.
Analogue Audio Test
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.
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.
BITSTREAM VS LPCM VS LOSSY
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
I have no financial interest or other interests in any of the items / events I write about.