The BD Player Test Part 1: The Why

It all started when I wondered what kind of audio I'd hear from the Blu-ray players I had on hand if I used them from their analog outputs. Most Blu-ray player reviews treat audio playback as a given. But is it?

I'm talking primarily 2-channel CD replay here. Many audiophiles insist on using separate players for CD and movie sound, but not everyone has either the space or budget for this.

For the past couple of years I've been listening to CDs--happily--from the SPDIF coaxial digital outputs of two dissimilar machines: a Pioneer DV-79AVi DVD player and a Cambridge Audio Azur 840C CD player. The Blu-ray players that I own, and those that have just been passing through, have been used almost exclusively for movie sound over HDMI.

But I wanted to know more about those two players' analog output capabilities. Things came to a head when I received two Pioneer Elite Blu-ray players for evaluation, the BDP-23FD and the BDP-09FD. How would these stack up? The latter, in particular, was designed with a heavy emphasis on its analog audio circuitry.

An Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray player was also on hand, the only model in the bunch to also offer SACD and DVD-Audio playback. To add to the festivities I arranged for two additional players from a source that will be named after they arrive.

This will be an ongoing report posted in multiple blogs, rather than a complete review posted in fully fleshed-out form. It will lean heavily on comparisons between the players, using gear that can precisely match playback levels. This is particularly important with analog outputs; digital outputs are nearly always designed to be at a standard level, but analog outputs often fall all over the map.

This multiple blog test format has the advantage of providing you with information each week or so, rather than forcing you to wait for the whole story. The latter can take a reviewer weeks, or even months, of endless dithering. The disadvantage of piecemeal information is, of course, that there may be course corrections midstream. But that's all part of the fun.

The evaluation will be limited to looking at few key areas. First, how does each player perform from its analog outputs in two-channel mode? Second, how does it perform from its standard SPDIF digital outputs? Third, how does it sound from its HDMI digital outputs?

It will also take look at how each player does on video, primarily Blu-ray but with a brief look at its upconverting / video processing capabilities as well. To keep things from getting too unfocused, however, the evaluations will not cover a number of other areas, such as a player's multichannel analog outputs, internal bass management, or how well it converts a bitstream source to multichannel PCM output over HDMI.

The tests will also use somewhat different system setups for the analog and digital audio evaluations. We'll take a look at this next time, but check out the photo for a clue to the analog configuration.