Review: Oppo Ram 981 CD Player

Category: Digital

Review: Reference Audio Mods
Oppo 981 DVD Player.
Full Mod $1635.00 With Deck.
Date: 5/23/08. Website:

System: B&K 505. Krell kav-250.
Classe cp-35. Ming-Da MC-7.
Ref-Mod Oppo 981. Chang 3200 PLC.
B.G. 420’s Bolender Ribbons. B&W-804.
SPK-Cables Analysis Plus Bi-Oval 8.Anti-IC.
RS Cables Solid Silver and Duet IC’s.
Sony A602000 SXRD Rear Projection T.V.

Background: Electronic Tech. Telemetry/Radars/GPS.
30 years U.S. Gov. Audio/Videophile 30 years.

To mod or not to mod, that is the question. How can someone make a $200 dollar DVD player sound like a $4000 dollar deck? Easy, by replacing the old run of the mill parts that we see in most inexpensive CD and DVD players. RAM also will replace those high Jitter-clocks that plague most players. Cheap clocks lead to inaccurate timing errors, which produces wrong results and less musicality, the lower the “jitter” the better the sound. Also this modification will work with very expensive decks as well.

Well meet Mr. Kyle Takenaga of Reference Audio Mods in Riverside California. Let me say this, this guy cuts no corners with his modifications. Just about everything is upgraded. And what’s nice about Reference Mod is, you can start out slow and send your deck back for the other upgrade options latter. For this review I ask for the full mod except for the Cryo Treatment. I ask Kyle and he said after each mod you should have your player Cryo Treated. I ask him does it make that much of a difference in sound, oh yes he replied. Well my deck sounds so good I won’t bother with it, maybe next time. Cryo treatment after modification basically gels’s everything together such as, soldering, wires, connectors and so on.

All I can say is nice work and the modified 981 looks and sounds Dangerous. The video is very close to the Sony PS-3 blue-ray deck at 1080P/HDMI. I can almost put my hand right through my 60” display. That’s how clean, clear and colorful the picture looks. Just like looking through an open window on a bright sunny day. It’s not that the 981 looks so much better than other players, the Ref-Mod 981 just looks more real. The 981 has DCDi by Faroudja video processing technology, witch makes it all the better. Folks we are talking big time resolution! This was the deck I wanted from the start. Also all the circuit boards in the 981 are separate, instead of everything being on one motherboard. Ok but how does it sound; hey that’s what I asked Kyle. Where are the reviews of your modifications, and can the Ref-Mod 981 handle my Bel Canto Dac-2. I always wanted a single deck that does it all. Audio/Video with state of the art performance at the same time and now I have one. Most audiophiles have two or three decks, one for music and one for video and an outboard dac. Why don’t companies make one reference DVD player with selectable tube/solid state outputs? And the ones that do will charge you $4000 to 10,000 dollars for it. With this modification you can eliminate the high cost, the need for outboard dacs and the cables that come with them.

The Ref-Mod sound is right up there with the big boys like Esoteric, Bel-Canto, Benchmark, Audio Research, Krell and may surpass some of those decks. If you ever been to CES and step into some of the high-end digital rooms, you would know what I am talking about.

Day 1:

Now for the juicy part the sound. The Top-End is extremely detail and clean with lots of air and more air around the instruments. That razor sharp detail and snap on symbols and percussions was awesome. I like how the Ref-Mod 981 floats these instruments off the sides of the ribbon speakers. I could not hear any artificial brightness and distortion. This Mod also sounds good with silver interconnects that matches the 981’s output silver wire. My Bel Canto dac-2 lacks the upper air and detail. From the midrange on up the Ref-Mod 981 reminded me of the Benchmark dac-1. The Top-End on the benchmark is probably the best I have heard. The Ref-Mod 981 was dead on its tracks!

The Midrange is almost scary, completely detached and in the room with you. This is my best department, because if the midrange isn’t right nothing is right. From the midrange down the Ref-Mod sounds like the Bel Canto dac-2. Hey I got two dac’s for the price of one. If I could take a knife and cut the Ref-Mod 981 in half, then label one half Bel Canto from the midrange down, and the other half benchmark from the midrange up, that’s what you would have but with a much more cleaner sound. The mid’s have that you are there quality just like the big expensive CD players have. Open clean and smooth without that nasty digital sound. This Modification gave the Oppo that good old analog sound, and reminded me of my old Baby-Grado and Grace F-9E cartridges. It also reminded me of that dangerous sounding Grasshopper cartridge, by Van Den Hall. The palpability factor was magnificent from these cartridges and my all time favorites. That rich open magical sound you hear with tube equipment is what you hear with the Ref-Mod 981. Just close yours eyes and you can almost touch the voices in front of you. Open your eyes and you can almost see them. This is one of the most transparent decks I’ve heard. And the better the recording, the better it sounds. I put on Patricia Barbara’s “Café Blue SACD” just to see what all the fuss was about over SACD CD’s. WOW! What the heck is this coming out of the Oppo. I sat back with my mouth hanging open. I said to myself now I can start buying more SACD CD’s, this is what high-end audio is all about. The soundstage was from wall to wall and from ceiling to floor. My speakers completely disappeared as I sat there looking at this little $200 dollar modified DVD player. I put on Gino Vannelli’s “Storm at Sunup” CD; just to hear what the deck sounded like with an older CD. And again the Ref-Mod 981 put Gino right in the room with me and took me back to1975 when I first bought the L.P. There was nothing missing just a little noise from the older 1990 CD.

We took out Audi’s Sony DVD player and put in the Ref-Mod 981 with the new RS Audio Duet IC’s. We got the same effect; his B&W 804’s also disappeared. In the midrange, you could see the people standing next to the microphone right in the recording studio. I look over at Audi and said what you think. Goosebumps all over me this is the best sounding deck in the house. I said to him you got to have a good source to hear your system perform. The source is the most important part in your system, even though some say the speakers are. Anyway it looks like Kyle at Ref-Mod got it right and passes the midrange test.

The LOW-END is very good having tremendous weight that is fast and fleshed out. What I mean is that the bass sounds blended, instead of slow or lagging behind the music. It punches you in the chest! Also low-level resolution was easy to hear. The Mod is dead on in the Bass department. Bass guitars sounds real and acoustic upright bass fiddles sound like they do at the concerts. You hear all the alternating notes on the bass fiddle and can almost see the wood, frets and the strings on these instruments. The bass just sounds clean no matter what speaker the RAM-981 was hook up too. There was just much more information in the low-end that wasn’t there before.


With all the CD and DVD players out there, the RAM Oppo 981 is one of my favorite decks, and can save you a few thousand bucks in the process. I sent in a Mustang and got back a Ferrari. Also let me say this is a safe modification and Kyle Takenaga is easy to work with, I should know.

Bill Glenn

Associated gear
System: B&K 505. Krell kav-250.
Classe cp-35. Ming-Da MC-7.
Ref-Mod Oppo 981. Chang 3200 PLC.
B.G. 420’s Bolender Ribbons. B&W-804.
SPK-Cables Analysis Plus Bi-Oval 8.Anti-IC.
RS Cables Solid Silver and Duet IC’s.
Sony A602000 SXRD Rear Projection T.V

Similar products
Bel Dac-2
Thanks for the great review.

I have the RAM modded Oppo 980, full mod version with cryo treatment. Although they are different platforms for mod, your review essentially capture what I heard with this player as well. I could only hope for more tonal hues and colours.

The one area which I like to remind those interested in this player is that the Oppo convert the DSD format of SACD into PCM and defeat much of the SACD advantage. In my system I did not hear much discernable difference between standard redbook CDs and SACDs. I heard a much greater leap in performance in SACD with the other SACD player that I owned, the $ 5,500 Musical Fidelity Trivista, while the RAM modded Oppo completely outcast the Trivista in terms of standard redbook CD performance.

That being said, the standard redbook CD performance of this player is good enough to worth the admission ticket.