4 responses Add your response
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.