Review: OPPO 83 se Reference Audio Mods Level 2 CD Player

Category: Digital


There is a fair bit of hyperbole in many hi fi journal articles and few writers manage to convey meaningful accounts of the performance capacities of audio hardware. All too often, a component is described as being the best ever, something which constitutes an unimaginable quantum leap in engineering and sound. I have a Russian friend who is an accomplished audio designer with golden ears. If he likes something he just says “ good”. That means, buy and enjoy without reservation, a rare classic.
I run 5 hi fi systems, have 11,000 cd’s, 6000 lp’s, have reviewed classical music cd’s, have contributed to the design of hi fi componentry and play the violin and clarinet. I also attend concerts on a regular basis. I mention this by way of contextualising preamble for the recommendation I about to make rather than to engage in any self aggrandisement.
The Reference Audio Statement level 2 modified Oppo 83 SE is the most outstanding digital player that I have heard and I have listened to very elite multi thousand dollar units. It is not as good as a high end turntable but it comes closer to the reproducing the characteristics of analogue playback than any other transducer in my experience. It exhibits analogue like musical flow and coherence, natural instrumental timbres, inner detail and organic presentation. The effect is both addictive and persuasive. And yes, it is neutral, that is, it is neither euphonic nor bright and there is no audible emphasis in any particular part of the frequency spectrum.
This player produces an expansive sound stage with quite amazing spatial detail and relationships. Other devices seem to produce instrumental images that appear to be compressed and speaker bound in comparison. This is not to say that there is any suggestion of hyper realism, rather that there is a better approximation to the illusion of live performance.
The Oppo was able to resolve the most complex choral music with great aplomb so that the diction of assembled choristers was easy to apprehend. Equally, in orchestral works, there was no difficulty in discerning the various parts played by massed violins and other strings. Brass instruments brayed as they should. Opera lovers will delight at the presentation of male and female voice.
For those who need to know, an early Guarnerius could be readily distinguished from a late example, the same held true for various Amati’s and Strad’s and the similarities between some Guarneri and Vuillaumes were evident.
Large or small scale music, classical, jazz, blues or popular music, Kyle Takenaga’s modified Oppo performed at a level that far exceeded my expectations, especially for a universal player. It forced me to re-evaluate my preconceptions about the limitations of digital playback.
Of course it is a fact that many players are truly exceptional. However, my point is that I don’t think that I have heard any other unit that achieves the totality of effect that the Oppo manages to produce and I make that statement after having listened to the player for 5 months. It was initially difficult to accept that such a relatively inexpensive unit would excel in a $140k+ system and I continued to look for sonic defects but found none. The best audio engineers are constantly seeking to improve designs, so inevitably, there will be something better.
Nevertheless, currently, the Oppo reigns supreme in my estimation and Mr Takenaga has achieved something quite extraordinary. It deserves to be partnered with truly high end cabling and downstream hardware. It is equally accomplished in all digital formats, in fact, its cd performance easily bested the sacd capabilities of the Marantz SA 11 S2 that I have used in one of my systems. It outperformed my Ayre 5X, Accuphase DP 500, Tascam DV 1000A and Musical Fidelity Trivista. I also conducted less rigorous comparisons with higher priced players. In the end, I thought the modified Oppo was so “good” as my Russian friend would say, I bought another.