Do all Blu-ray (and DVD) players sound the same?

It's a straightforward question, but the answer depends on the rest of your system.

I get this question a lot, "Steve, what's the best-sounding Blu-ray player." Sometimes the questioner is more specific, "I have an Oppo BDP-83, but is the Oppo BDP- 95 better? What are you using at home?"

I have an Oppo BDP-95 ($999), which has a lot in common with the company's BDP-93 ($499) 3D universal Blu-ray, SACD, DVD-Audio player, but the BDP-95 is the potentially better sounding player. I say potentially because that player's upgraded digital-to-analog converter and audio circuitry won't make a nit of difference if you're using the player's HDMI v1.4a connections for audio.

The Oppo BDP-95 Blu-ray player Oppo

I have the '95 player in my 2.1 channel home theater, and it sounds great, but the HDMI goes directly to my Panasonic plasma TV, and the player's analog audio outputs are routed to either my Woo Audio WA-6SE headphone amplifier or to my high-end stereo system. I've never used the Oppo's HDMI for audio in my system, because once you connect this or any player's HDMI or digital output, the player's audio quality is 100 percent irrelevant; the Dolby and DTS processing, digital-to-analog conversions, and analog audio signals are all handled by the receiver. The player is no longer responsible for audio quality, or the lack of audio quality.

So referring back to the original question, yes, if you use a Blu-ray player's HDMI or digital audio output all Blu-ray and DVD players will sound exactly the same. Ah, but if you use their analog outputs, they may sound very different from each other, because you'd be using the players' internal converters and analog circuitry. The latter approach makes the most sense for those of you with older higher-end receivers ($1,000-plus) with 5.1/7.1 analog inputs, and the Oppo BDP 95 would be the way to go.

The BDP-95 rear panel, the 7.1 analog connections are arrayed along the top Oppo

The BDP-95 weighs 16 pounds and that's about 5 pounds more than the BDP-93. The weight differential comes from the player's larger, custom-designed power transformer, larger audio board, and stiffer chassis. Chances are, the BDP-95's digital converters will sound better than the ones in your receiver, and the bulk of the player's internal real estate is taken up by its analog circuitry, which doesn't get used if you use the HDMI for audio.

I hope that clears up the HDMI for audio mysteries once and for all.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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