As most of you know, I’ve been an unabashed fan of Oppo since I got my hands on their first Blu-ray player, the BDP-83. They’ve managed to build a well-deserved reputation for reliability, support, sound and video quality AND VALUE. These days, it seems my entire facility has items with the Oppo logo on them. Except the latest additions are not spinning discs but rather delivering the last couple of steps in the music reproduction chain. Their PM-1 Headphones came out several months ago and now you can plug them in to the new HA-1 Headphone Amplifier. But the HA-1 is much more than a simple headphone amplifier.
I was fortunate enough to get a sneak peak at the new HA-1 unit at the recent AXPONA 2014 show. The good folks at Oppo got their very first shipment and asked me if I would like to use it at my demonstration/sales table. Of course, I said yes and was pleased to find a box waiting for me at the front desk of the Westin Hotel. Inside the box, I found a silver HA-1 and a new set of the PM-1 headphones. Combined with the BDP-83 that I brought with me, the AIX Records sales table was almost 100% Oppo powered.
The BDP-83 was used as the source and played my latest Blu-ray HD-Audio Sampler. The various outputs from the BDP-83 were split across several devices. The HDMI signal was connected to my Smyth Realiser, but unfortunately the Smyth power supply failed and I wasn’t about to demonstrate the Headphones[xi] “surround headphone” demo. The HDMI connection was rerouted to the Toshiba video monitor. The optical output carried a S/P DIF digital signal to my Benchmark DAC2 and the coaxial output was routed to the coax input on the HA-1. But what do you supposed the HA-1 and DAC2 displayed on the front as my tracks were playing? They appear as “downconverted” 48 kHz/1-bit PCM stereo audio. Why?
In fact, I was asked about this by several of the AXPONA attendees. “You’re the high-resolution audio guy, right? Why are both the HA-1 and the Benchmark DAC2 indicating that your stuff is only 48/16?,” they wanted to know. As I’ve explained in a previous post (click here to read it), the labels forced the labels to downcovert the S/P DIF outputs to 48/16 to deter theft of the their master recordings. [NOTE: they don’t have a problem licensing their high-resolution masters to the likes of HDtracks and Pono at 96 kHz or 192 kHz but from optical discs? No Way!]
This unfortunate reality makes the HA-1 subject to the copy protection scheme associated with the S/P DIF outputs…if you’re using one of the HDMI de-embedders (such as the Kanex Pro unit I purchased) AND the right Oppo BDP player (sadly the 83 is not one of the blessed units) you can get the 96 kHz/24-bit high-resolution signals to externals DACs. Using the Kanex box with my BDP-83 bumped the word length to 24 bits but the sample rate stayed the same…48 kHz.
So maybe I would get better sound if I hooked up the analog outputs of my BDP-83 and connected them to the analog inputs of the HA-1 using the new headphone amp as a preamplifier with volume control? Since the same ESS 9018 Sabre Reference DACs are in both units and the engineering focus of the HA-1 keeps reference quality analog audio front and center, I think the quality would be the same or better. In my brief listening tests this morning I confirmed this.
I’ve break down the HA-1 unit in more detail tomorrow.