I wouldn’t say anything really negative about a vendor’s choice of DAC chip. The DAC chip itself has very little to do with sound quality. That being said, it could be anything from two different design teams working on the UHD player and the Sonica DAC. It could also be timing of the design projects, as the AKM4458 has been out since early 2015 and was already available in Onkyo receivers in May of 2015. The new ESS9038 was only released in January of this year (2016) at CES. The UHD player project may not have had the ability to change design mid-stream if it was far enough into the manufacturing setup for the digital boards. It may also have been too costly to change at that point.
Many designers regard the AKM DACs among the very best you can buy. It’s more than just the price or newness of the DAC chips. Use your ears.
While I love my 103, Oppo is not exactly consistent. If possible to audition any of their products for sound quality before buying I'd encourage it.
I have heard the Oppo BDP-105 stock and for the price you are paying for it, it is an excellent product. You get a whole lot for the cost. That being said, there are definitely better DACs out there. I have completely rebuilt the analog and power supply sections of an Emotiva XDA-2 dac. It uses an Analog Devices AD1955 dac chip and the I/V stage is interesting in that it is an "active" I/V stage. This means that it presents 4 volts DC on the -input- of the I/V op amps. The power supply has to be able to supply constant current to this section (very much like a Class A stage). I have made this Emotiva beat the crap out of the Oppo. The Oppo 105 is no slouch in the power supply department, but overall design and capacitor choice, as well as choice of op amps, definitely affect sound quality.
On the other hand, my Krell S-1200 pretty much beats the Oppo - and it uses the same Sabre 9018 DAC chip. The focus is on using a TCXO clock oscillator as well as extremely well designed power supply and analog circuits. I have not really put my Emotiva up against the Krell yet, but I suspect it will be close.
The choice of Sabre dac here really doesn't have much to do with it. That being said, I remember hearing and reading in early years that the Sabre DAC was very hard to work with -- you really had to design the circuit to work well with the electrical properties of the Sabre. I don't know if this is true anymore or just heresy, but it's something to remember.
On a related note, the oppo "store" http://oppodigital.com/products.asp really leaves something to be desired. Not that I'm in the market for it, but why should only the 103 model blue ray players be listed and even then are out-of-stock? Where is the 105? Where is their inventory?
The analog output stages have a much bigger impact on the sound quality than the DAC chip, IMHO. I have an OPPO 95 and have never been very impressed with the sound from it's analog outputs. The same digital (from the Oppo) processed through my Bryston BDA-1 sounds a whole lot better, because the analog output circuits in the Bryston are far superior.
The Oppo 103 was never designed to be a high end analog out player. The 103 was mainly designed to be used with a Pre-pro. Same with the new 203 player. The analog outputs are just throw ons. However, the AKM DAC chip you mention is way better than the 8 channel Cirrus DAC used in the 103....so I would expect better sound quality. So this is an upgrade.....not anyone losing their way. In fact, with mods it could be killer. However, the even better analog out machine (UDP-503) will be out next year some time. I expect it to have ESS9038 DACs for both two channel and multichannel (we shall see). Oppos power supply parts, output stages, coupling caps, clocks, etc. are not state of the art. This is why modding Oppos make such a great improvement. There will be several of us modding the Sonica DAC and also both new UDP players.
There are no more 103Ds or 105Ds available (except for dealers trying to rip you off on the very last ones). Please wait for the new models if you really have to have an Oppo or find one used.
I try not to get tooooooo commercial here but you can contact me anytime through my website....tweakaudio.com, and you can call me anytime to discuss. The new players and DAC are not out yet so there is no pricing yet (multiple levels/pricing usually are available....say a few hundred $ to mucho more). You can check my website for current mods to 105s, etc. I warrantee my own work for life.....yours or mine...he he. If you want a warranty on the entire modded player then I can do that for $50 for two years.
I use the 103D with a M51 DAC and it's a kilier combo. It's worth noting that I use the stereo analog outs for casual listening, mostly to take advantage of the remote volume...the M51 has volume control but I love the OPPO app on my tablet. It sounds pretty good, no comparison to a serious DAC but that's why the 105 exists. I was looking for a universal transport that could stream Netflix and Pandora and for $600 it was a no brainer......awesome machine for three money
I don't know about the Oppo Sonica. It uses a switching power supply and from my own experiments that is a big no-no in analog stages. I have also tried iFi audiophile power adapters that uses noise cancelling technology and my $40 linear power supply decimated it. I measured the noise on a Tektronix 150Mhz analog scope and the switching supply had more noise although both were quite low and I was getting to the limits of my scope.
Well-modded players can be giant killers. As stated by dhl93449 and ricevs above, the output stage plays a huge role as does the power supply. Better clocks too if applicable. Cabinet and transport damping makes an audible improvement. Racks/footers/isolation platforms as well.
All of the DAC chips mentioned/recommended above are more than capable of SOTA sound given the right inputs and outputs.
Best to you gdhal,
@dlcockrum Thanks. I'll give serious consideration to modifying the UDP-205 once it is available, I purchase it and listen to it stock for a little while. This way I can at least have an idea of the "before and after" sound.
@ricevs I glanced over your website. Nice job on the photos. Everything is well explained too.
I've been thinking about the original question of this thread, "Is Oppo losing it's way?". I don't think they have lost their way because they still make good products, but I miss the days of the BDP-83 when their top tier product cost $500 and you didn't have to choose between it and a higher tier option. The 83 came with separate analog outputs for 2-channel stereo as well as 5 analog outs for multi-channel, different dac chips for each. Oppo made its name by being the smart choice for budget conscious audio/video enthusiasts. I don't think that is their M.O. anymore. I chose the 103 because I believe external DAC's are the way to go, so I appreciate having a 103 to choose, but the same $500 that bought me the 83 with the top of the line features no longer buys those features. They're gone from the $500 range. And the next step up is a big one.
The Oppo 83 was all they could do at $500. To give you the better analog stages and DACs and power supplies they had to make it a bigger machine and charge you $900. The of course, the newer ones got even better and slightly more expensive. The new 4K baby machine coming out will be $500. It will be better in every way than an 83....better picture, better sound and more features. Hardly losing their way! Of course, they will have a more expensive version with better DACs and power supplies, etc. No one has ever given as much value as Oppo. They have the highest resale value of any component. Heck, right now, the last few 105Ds that dealers have are selling for way more than the list price.
Oppo is a huge phone maker in China & I am interested that they are in the audiophile disc player market at all - I've only seen one interview with the head honcho (or one of them) but I get the impression he is interested in sound himself
no business has the say 'way' or direction as all their customers - just enjoy it while it lasts