DETAILED DESCRIPTION & FAQ:
March 2016: Oppo Level 4.1 - Oppo BDP-105/D & BDP-95
$1990.00 Upgrade - to your supplied player
We live in a cynical world. New improvements are either
just the latest fad or claim and last for a month or two. But when genuine
breakthroughs occurs in software, we all laud those, but improvements in
hardware and actual new developments are often disbelieved and
doubted. Not surprising, when it comes to the Oppo Level 4 upgrades, where
things that are done in a totally different and original ways and with
tangible results as verified by serious audiophiles, the rest of the world
will not readily accept it as quickly as it ought to.
So while you feel there are good reasons to be cynical
about the claims made here, please trust that we are not trying to trick
you and that we are primarily interested in furthering the art. To see
years of hard work paying off is not a monetary thought - we are now
finally listening to digital playback that sounds so musical that our most
critical pro-analog observers are finally saying, it has arrived.
This page is a response for those who want a more
technical level of detail in what is called "Level
3.11" in the upgrade of the two Oppo players that come fitted with ESS
Sabre DACs. I suppose there is quite a story behind these upgrades
- they took several years to develop and some of the techniques
(technologies?) were developed with Allen Wright of
Vacuum State Electronics in Switzerland. Alas, Allen passed away
and is very much missed.
The Terra Firma
'Heavy' Clocking - is our exclusive and is
basically a method of creating a power supply foundation for extreme
stable clocking. The Terra Firma incorporates a servo control that is
tuned to a few millionth of a Hertz. The end results is that it gets rid
of the worse kind of jitter that occurs at ultra-low frequencies.
The original Terra Firma 'Lite' was made in Australia and designed for
internal installation. The UberClock was a 'Heavy' version made
in Switzerland and designed as an external box (expensive metalwork) and
tuned even lower than the Lite. The UberClock is no longer made and it
also is not compatible with the Oppo BDP-105 and BDP-95 players. So a
'Heavy' version of the Lite is used, but only for these two models.
Hence we have the Terra Firma 'Heavy'.
Unique SAW Oscillator/Clock.
All Clocks are actually Oscillators and they are not digital
devices at all, they are very much analogue. Conventional Oscillators are
actually of the BAW type. This means Bulk-Acoustic-Wave and while they
never specify themselves as BAW, it is the default if nothing is
mentioned. But there is also the SAW type Oscillator. Here SAW stands
for Surface-Acoustic-Wave and they were not originally intended for audio
use. They are not available in frequencies used in digital players and DACs
- in fact, with modern manufacturing methodologies, they can make SAWs working up in the GigaHertz ranges. We first saw them in
slated to the military and they are also more sturdy than conventional
oscillators. They praised their superior 'stability' and that hit a bell
- digital playback and Clocking is all about 'stability' and so we had
to try them, for the simple reason that the Sabre DAC can handle
100MHertz and that is SAW territory. Only the Sabre DAC is compatible
with SAW technology. The SAW Clocking is a winner, it just really makes
the music swing, swing. We now use two SAW Clocks in the Oppos,
one for the Sabre DAC and another for the Master Clock. For the latter,
we had to get them custom made by Seiko Toyocom of Japan, as 54MHertz
was not available. We then put that through a divide-by-two circuit to
get 27MHz, the Master Clock frequency.
Post-DAC Circuit - Diamond Transistor.
Want the sound that is more associated with tubes? Diamond Transistor
theory. It is recognised that the humble Triode is the most linear
voltage device we know and that transistors are not as linear in their
native current device mode. The Diamond Transistor is not a transistor
perse' - but rather is circuit method or topology, that achieves an incredible level of
accuracy and works as a transconconductance amplifier, where input is
voltage and the output is current. Literally one point in the circuit
emulates a near perfect Collector, and another point is the Base (high impedance)
and finally the Emitter (low impedance). I do know one very high-end
manufacturer that uses Diamond Transistors in their very best designs,
and we have a lot of respect for this designer.
Circuit - SuperReg. Basically can be described as a two-stage
Regulator, a Constant Current Shunt Regulator. The first stage locks in
the current and hence establishes a huge Power Supply Rejection Ratio
(or PSRR) and trust me, this is a good thing. This isolates the Voltage
Regulator from the worst noise. Then the Shunt fixes the
Voltage. So this is effect a Class 'A' Regulator in a similar way that
some Amplifiers are called Class 'A' and the speaker is the Load. Here
the Load is the actual Post-DAC Circuit. The implementation is not brute
force, but simply clever engineering. We first did the SuperReg way back
in 1980 and now it is much more commonly used by other high-end DIY'ers
The Sabre DAC
Output is Pulled to Ground.
We were the first to do this and have told other Oppo upgraders this is
the way they should go too. This
can only be done with the Sabre DAC and should not be attempted
with any other DAC. The Sabre DAC's 1.65V offset voltage is the converted to
2.1mA of offset current per phase. This means we get proper current mode and the operation
is an I/V Converter. Others use the Sabre DAC in inferior voltage mode. Our method of
pulling the DAC to Ground also means we can operate the entire post-DAC
circuit in DC coupled mode -
there are no audio coupling capacitors in the signal path. The best audio
capacitor is no capacitor at all.
New Type of Post-DAC Filter -
Dominant First Order. This is a controversial,
but only because it has not yet been properly discovered. Most modern
DAC chips are of the Delta-Sigma variety. These are essentially
single-bit processing (or low bit) and have inherent noise issues that
are dealt with using things like 'noise shaping' and dither to overcome
the problems. We are not able to have any direct say in this and we have
to leave it in the hands of the DAC manufacturers, we are at their
mercy. The people at ESS, who makes the Sabre DAC, are very well aware of
this and we have nothing but good to say about their expertise. But we
have found, as is normal, that post-DAC filtering has to be applied as
usual, but the current multi-pole filters have audible problems. We have
also found that the best way is to use a Dominant First Order Filter.
Ours is basically two staggered filters, one high and one low. The high
is not as critical as the low, and it is the low that is the Dominant
Filter which we make 1st Order. This kind of filter cannot 'ring' and it
seems to have 'Damping' ability that no other filter has been shown
capable off. We have blind tested this filter and its positive influence
is a no-brainer and very immediately obvious. But it also deserves being
looked at more closely from a research point of view (the filter seems
to act as a kind of Integrator, according to one source). But in the
meantime, just enjoy what it does so well. Musically more authentic,
more expansive midrange, better layering of depth, larger soundstage,
and bass that seems to more pristinely balanced and more. There are
benefits from top to bottom. We as yet know of no-one else who is doing
this... but we encourage them to discover it.
Supply Noise Reduction: The worst noise is the noise that
impinges directly on the DAC. There is some level of recognition by the
manufacturers of DAC chips and their Technical Data Sheet has
recommendations, but they are woefully inadequate. There are many
upgraders that will milk you for expensive components, as power
supply upgrades, that have minimal benefits when other glaring problems
are ignored. Hence, not just to be cost-effective, but be clever and use
actual engineering solutions. In our case, we concentrate on absorbing
the back-EMF noise of the DAC and while affecting a 2nd order filter
effect. The former treats by far the worst kind of noise, just as we
ourselves breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, and if you
don't get rid of the carbon dioxide, it will in effect poison your
environment and you. This is what back-EMF (or sometimes called
'switching noise') does. The second is to attenuate the noise
that originates from the power supply. The components used, were for
some times rare and expensive, but thanks to the computer industry,
these devices are now highly cost-effective and even more important,
they are effective!
Electronic "Flywheel". Sorry if this gets a bit technical. Ted
Smith, the designer of PS Audio 'Direct Stream' USB DAC makes this point
too (see him on Youtube), that the two states of PDM/DSD and Delta-Sigma
DACs is that the 'off' state is really, and hopefully, a clean ground.
the 'on' state it really just clipping the usual +3.3V supply and that
anything irregular on that supply rail goes straight into the process
and is converted into jitter. We have known and this view for years,
that any noise, even from ULF up, even below 1 Hertz, gets turned into
jitter because jitter is noise. Ted's solution is to put a filter that
filters everything above 1 Hertz. I am reading between the line, he is certainly
using a passive filter and I suspect it is 3rd order. That's very good,
but not good enough. We are
quite aware that even 1 Hertz may not be low enough - a normal filter to
have effect under 1 Hertz? we use a different solution. Store a LOT of energy near the DAC,
a HUGE amount, and that energy will act as a "Flywheel" and resist
changes and aberrations, even way below 1 Hertz. So it is not
frequency filtering in the usual sense as Ted Smith does it, but
mass filtering, resisting any change in kinetic energy; as
standard filtering theory implies, works both mechanically and
electro-mechanically. One area that stands out is the improvement to
bass definition and listening to bass textures, but there are benefits
across the board, the whole audio spectrum, a new natural perspective
emerges, so easy on the ear while also incredibly revealing and detailed.
Quality Silver-Clad Copper Wiring. I hear a lot of talk about
Silver versus Copper and there are strong opinions. We use a wire that is
sonically in neither camps and yet use both Copper and Silver. This wire
is totally down the middle, extremely clear and also homogenous
sounding, very even-handed and not at all Hi-Fi'ish. I even make my own
Interconnects from this wire, which is made by a UK company and I order
100 Metres at a time. Not cheap and not super expensive, it has never
let me down.
At this stage we feel that Level 4.0 has reached the final matured
is the Output Level? The Stereo RCA Outputs are approximately
2.4V RMS and hence very healthy. The Red Book Standard is 2.0V RMS and
our experience shows that 2.2V RMS is the average. The Output Level on
the XLRs is the same (many will double to 4V RMS, but our output is
Asymmetrical Balanced and hence stays the same).
Asymmetrically Balanced? This basically means that both Pin 2 and
Pin 3 on the XLR Output is the same Impedance, but that the output is
only on Pin 2. This gives us good Common Mode Rejection and also
simplicity of circuit, as we can power both the unbalanced RCA and the
balanced XLR from the same high quality post-DAC module.
the Upgrade improve Video? According to the feedback we have been
given, the answer is evidently yes, serious videophiles loves what it
does the the picture quality. This is the result of the
superior SAW Master Clocking, which has benefits for both Audio and Video,
all digital and analogue outputs are enhanced.
it improve the HDMI Outputs? Most definitely yes, but keep this
is mind, when using HDMI, all you are doing is transmitting digital
signal to an external DAC that will most certainly not be as good as the
internal Sabre DAC and the full treatment of the JLTi Oppo player.
There will be an improvement, but for critical
use, the Sabre DAC's treatment is where the best performance will be. But no doubt that many
make good use of both features.
the Oppo be used as a Pre-Amplifier? For all digital sources, the
answer is an emphatic Yes! Please set the output of the Sabre DAC to
"Variable" and use the Remote Control to select from various sources,
including putting all your file music on an external hard drive (the
smaller 5V hard drives are recommended as they are powered via the USB
port and have less "sleep" problems). The Variable Output of the Oppo
works like a top class Volume Control. The built-in Volume Control of
the Sabre DAC is one of the great modern wonders of audio, it really is.
It is the only DAC Volume Control that I have ever recommended with zero
reservations. They really knew what they were doing and all I can
say is Bravo!
improvement to Multi-Channel? We make no secret that we
concentrate our efforts to the Stereo performance. But the Multi-Channel
Board does show very significant improvement, but not to the same degree
as the Stereo performance. We now have a Multi-Channel upgrade for 5.1
and 7.1 at reasonable cost, please enquire with your
about Movies and Video? We are mainly interested in the Oppo
players for audio playback, but there is no denying that these Oppos are
stellar video performers. What is of course a real bonus is that
watching Movies that have well recorded sound, that the whole experience
is greatly enhanced. The added dimension that great sound makes to
watching cannot be understated. We can now also offer Multi-Channel
upgrade, contact your installer.
work in progress... almost there.