This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

The modwrighted Oppo 105 begs a question. Is it more decisive to have the most advanced D/A conversion or the best analog output stage? One could for example argue that AURALiC's Vega with its 32/384kHz reception, DSD64 and DSD128 readiness plus selectable custom filters should be a cut above Oppo's digital (the latest firmware upgrade for the 105 actually has it compatible with DSD64 if only via USB storage device, not PC streaming). In the same breath one could argue that ModWright's analog output stage with its boffo dedicated PSU ought to bury what's in the Vega. If so, should one shrug it off as a wash? Six of one, half dozen of the other? Or would the Oppo enjoy a modrigged advantage because in the end analog trumps digital?

with ModWright KWA-100SE stereo amplifier and Aries Cerat Stentor speakers

Given the case evidence, I'd vote 70:30 in favor of analog's weightiness in this mix. I thought the Vega and Metrum Hex—the Dutch lacks a conventional output stage altogether—both more finely resolved and articulated. Yet there was no denying that the Oppo quite literally crushed either on bass power and raw whomp. It also beat them on tone density. The dedicated converters meanwhile sounded cleaner. Here language misses. The Oppo wasn't dirty by contrast. Its octal valves—here I ran Psvane's bulbous CV-181T black bottles as my best—simply exhibited more connective tissue. Removing that connective tissue between performers seems more transparent (here comes 'cleaner') but also leaner and contextually a bit stripped back or bare. How this factors in the end depends on ancillary context and taste.

Endowed with a piquant 3rd-order pentode bite, Tellurium Q's Iridium 20 single-ended Mosfet amp loved the Oppo. So did Rethm's 100dB Saadhana thin-paper wideband drivers when mated to my wide-bandwidth FirstWatt SIT1 monos. With Vega or Hex in the loop those Indian speakers still betrayed some tonal whitishness or sharpness. It's why premium valve amps which I no longer own really are their most suitable mates. Here the ModWright leveled the 'need tubes' field. Then the Tellurium Q amp and Rethm speakers made onward tracks to their respective owners. Next I moved in Stavros Danos' 88dB Aries Cerat Stentor speakers. Those lack the gushing impulsiveness and concomitant quicksilvery directness of the Saadhana. With the Cypriot boxes I thus found the Oppo's tone density too thick and starchy. Ditto for the upstairs Sven Boenicke B10 slivers with their sidefiring dual 10-inch mid/woofers shown on the previous page. One (im)practical upshot was that with these speakers I felt the need to listen louder as though to overcome some drag or reluctance to crystallize and achieve complete clarity.

When 1+1=<2. Thinking this over, I concluded that all the Oppo really lacked functionally was lossless volume control. What I really had was a fixed-output preamp followed by another full-blown preamp. What's more, my series preamp also was of the tube variety. It even had its own outboard PSU. So out it was with the Nagra Jazz, in with my autoformer passive Bent Audio Tap X. And what a happy game of bingo this proved to be. It instantly rectified the somewhat elephantine earlier bass balance and its associated sense of opacity and energetic reluctance. I had deeper insight without giving up the very attractive valve-based textures.

Whilst still optimizing the review system in the context of the Stentor speakers and properly powerful ModWright KWA-100SE amp, I next checked whether the Oppo preferred PureMusic 1.89g or Audirvana 1.4.6. I fancied the latter in 176.4kHz upsampling and integer mode 1. The final decision concerned the elephantine 5U4G rectifier. How would swapping in the stock Sovtek 5AR4 fare? Everything got more laid back literally and figuratively. The soundstage moved back and shrank, the overall gestalt got lazier and looser. I heard less pressurization from within, less lateral expanse, less focus, duller colors. Here elephantine had it. Quickly out it was with the petit Russian and back in with the grotesque Czech.

Whilst swapping rectifier types might seem as silly as dancing the audiophile power-cord shuffle, it was effective and pronounced. That's no blanket endorsement for the Emission Labs monster. Another recto might work better for you. It's simply a reminder. Don't overlook the contributions of this valve. It's substantial. With these concessions to personal taste and ancillary interactions in place, the Oppo acted distinctly analogue if by this we mean big, round, smooth, warm, colorful, bassy and beefy. It in fact quite reminded me of my prior equally 6SN7-powered ModWright LS-100 line stage. Both decks' valves have a rep for 'big tone'. As harvested here this seems well deserved. It's distinct from numerous iterations of 12AT/AU7-based decks I've heard. Where those tighten up the overall rigging, the 6SN7 journeys on with fuller sails. It feels more generous, less meticulous. A nicely plump pillow perhaps. Rolling valves and shuffling preamps moved and shifted that picture like a joy stick is confined to its circular range of motion. No matter what sector one aims for, strongly saturated colors and slightly soft outlines/attacks should remain a pervasive leit motif. So make that a nicely plump pillow with rich Venetian embroidery to stand in for high-relief colors.

In all honesty though I still wished for more crackle, pop and snap. A faster uptake on the leading edge if you will. More champer's bubbles and airiness. Realizing I'd not get that from these particular ancillaries, it was time to clean house on the amp/speaker front. Out came ModWright and Aries Cerat, in moved my FirstWatt SIT1 monos and the soundkaos Wave 40 augmented by Zu's colossal Submission sub. These more aspirated 93dB widebanders and quick revving lucid-mode SITs moved the attack/sustain/decay meter needle to the left. Instead of pegging it halfway between sustain and decay, it now sat more or less at central sustain. And this reintroduced sufficient transient speed and with it a keener sense of articulation. It was a reminder that system tuning is like cooking. Season to taste. While I ultimately like my needle still a bit farther to the left—that's why I adore Anthony Gallo's Strada 2, Cees Ruijtenberg's Metrum Hex and why I've unapologetically sold off all my valve amps—I now was perfectly tickled with the Oppo. I had the depth of field, image lock and wide-open panorama I favor and the super-important ability to play quieter than before without having things congeal prematurely.

with FirstWatt SIT1, soundkaos Wave 40 & Zu Submission

Dan Wright's makeover of Oppo's BDP-105 not only sprouts 5 tubes, it sounds like it. In full flower. In my usual playbook which runs the Hex—or since its review alternately the Vega—the Oppo got into my own bull's eye if not exactly its cross hairs by using faster more efficient speakers and replacing the Nagra Jazz preamp. The latter's mild tube contributions interacted and added up negatively. John Chapman's pure-as-water magnetic volume control was superior. Financially speaking, I'd replaced one of two standalone DACs with a do-everything player for essentially like coin. I'd then taken out a €10.700 preamp and replaced it with a far cheaper $2.000 passive. This left $8.000 in the bank but added DVD-A, SACD and Bluray audio plus video functionality. Clearly this was math with a very silly grin. And that's exactly today's takeaway. Max value time where the heavens part.

Recap. A busy writer can't recapitulate everything from scratch with each new review. Not only isn't there sufficient space, it gets boring quickly for our reading regulars. So we bank on our audience to connect the dots with our prior reportage. Hence the deliberate decision for the above approach. Rather than move straight for the jugular of the most ideal combination, I took you on a little journey. This involved recently reviewed gear. And that painted a fuller picture (follow the respective links for greater detail). Relative failures or weaknesses don't besmirch test gear. Everything has a sonic signature. Assembling the right ingredients is paramount. That's the writer's job and it obviously relies on a varied inventory. But outright mismatches are just as illuminating as ideal or checkered matches. By showing what worked and how it worked and then placing that against a clearly stated bias, you can triangulate against your own taste. Only this creates personal relevance. And that's your job.  

What the modified Oppo 105 isn't: Sharp. Fast. Incisive. Airy. Pale. Flat. Nervous. Hyper. Lean. Lightweight. Monochromatic. Energetic. Lit up. Ultra resolved, separated or focused. A player with an average tacked-on valve buffer.
What it is: Slightly soft on leading edges, image outlines and bass control. Dense. Generous. Relaxed. Midrange-y and even mildly bassy, i.e. very extended in the bass if not ultimately taut in the bottom octaves. Richly saturated. Colorful. Physical. Very responsive to tube rolling including the rectifier. Super featured but still sonically competitive with modern €3.000 super DACs which themselves compete against pricier fare. Visually unannoying with a display that can be fully extinguished (alas not the piercingly bright blue LED of the PSU). Endowed with proper gain and drive to seem ideal also for affordable passive preamps like this Khozmo. I'd say particularly so if the amps are of the SET variety.

Those who no longer spin quaint silver discs—except for ripping tunes they can't download lossless—should still consider the modified Oppo 105. One, it is a formidable USB DAC. Two, it's the perfect backup machine for that certain future day where the HDD crashes, the OS or USB controller malfunctions, your mouse/keyboard batteries expire without spares on hand. Three, it plays all video formats extant to faithfully feed your television screen in full color and max resolution. Four, it's a headphone amp (though its volume control can only be accessed from the menu). Five, on raw DAC performance the third point costs you absolutely nothing. It's this assignment's freebie power cord though it's been multiplied by infinity. So here's the final message. If you've allocated up to $5.000 for a standalone DAC or audiophile CD player with digital inputs like the recently reviewed Aesthetix Romulus, seriously consider Oppo's ModWrighted universal deck. You'd be salted-pee nuts not to. (Geezus, did I really just say that?)

PS: Anticipating reader emails asking why no award given such extreme value, it's simple. I haven't heard the $1.200 stock player. I don't know what the $2.295 mod buys us sonically. I merely judged it on its own merit. That's enough for a highly laudable review with a strong recommendation attached. It's simply insufficient for an award. Which doesn't matter.
ModWright website