Exemplar eXpo T105 Digital Player
Oppo has become the counterpart to the Swiss Army knife of digital. It is a universal player that handles CD and hi-rez SACDs just as handily. The Oppo also offers a digital input so it can be used as a stand alone DAC. Further, if you don't mind a digital volume control, the Oppo can even be used as a line stage. Originally, the Oppo under review is the model BDP-105.. The unit I am reviewing is modified extensively by Exemplar Audio and is hereby named the eXpo T105. I have been using it as a DAC fed by an Empirical Audio Legacy music server playing CDs, hi-rez downloads from HD Tracks, and SACDs in 192/24 PCM. I have also played CDs and SACDs on it.
The Exemplar eXpo T105 replaces in my system a prototype Exemplar DAC, which was to be replaced by their new Exception DAC. I decided that the Exemplar eXpo T105 would have greater interest for our readers. I have not had a universal player for several years. The Exemplar eXpo T105 retains three digital input alternatives- Toslink, SP Dif, and USB. I used the USB asynchronous input. It is a pleasure to have this unit serve as both my all purpose player. The Exemplar Audio modifications include removing the original analog output stage and substituting a direct feed through high quality film capacitors to the new tube analog stage. This two stage, directly coupled, analog, tube stage has actively loaded, low impedance outputs through high quality, film capacitors with long crystal copper wiring. Tube analog boards sit next to each channel with high voltage, proprietary, shunt regulators. The filaments are fully regulated; all resistors are 1 percent metal film; and the outboard power supply uses shielded transformers. Finally the power supply is connected to the eXpo using a fully shielded umbilical cord. It is this analog output that makes the greatest contribution of this modification.
One thing that I quickly learned with the Exemplare eXpo T105 is that it changes greatly as it breaks in. I had to wait a week to feel it had settled down. Additionally, its broad capabilities entail reading a lengthy manual. The player was placed on StillPoint Ultra Minis on that company’s Grids and ESS Rack. The Exemplar eXpo T105 requires two power cords, and initially, I used the power cord provided into the normal IEC plug. This provides the current to all but the new tube output section in the Exemplar modification. I used an Exemplar Portal AC cord to the external power supply. After being totally unimpressed, I found another Exemplar Portal AC cord for the basicOppo. I would not recommend depending on the provided power cord.Since for the prior several months I had used my music server as the sole digital source and had no transport to play CDs, SACDs, etc., I used the USB digital input. I mainly used the USB but did try the coaxial, SPDIF input. The USB cable was an Entreq Konstantin. The input must be chosen each time the unit is turned off, which I did because of the tube circuit. At a later time I listened to CDs and SACDs through the Oppo’s transport. When you choose ‘play,’ the Oppo identifies the type of disc and begins playing it.
Normally reviewers substitute the component to be reviewed into his or her reference system and notes differences. This review, however, spanned a much longer comparison, as I thought a prototype Exemplar DAC would shortly be replaced by the production version and would sound largely the same. Since it was clearly better than my Weiss DAC202, I elected to sell that DAC.
Two discontinuities exist between then and now. First, the Exemplar Exception DAC has changed substantially and the Exemplar eXpo T105 has come into existence. I elected to review it. Second, my system has changed greatly. The High Fidelity Cables CT-1s have come and later been displaced first by the CT-1 Enhanced and then by the CT-1 Ultimates and then by Ultimate Reference speaker wires. My Empirical Audio Legacy Mac Mini died and was replaced with a newer Mac Mini with built in StillPoints standoffs and isolation feet. I acquired a TriPoint Troy Signature, a much improved version of their original Troy that I reviewed sometime ago. It also has the Troy power cord upgrade that makes a very substantial improvement in its performance. And finally, I have prototype power cord pigtails with special beads to keep RFI, EMI, and power company modulations out of my system. These beads were also incorporated in the Exemplar eXpo T105. Initially the beaded pigtails, High Fidelity WGPC, and the TriPoint were removed. Nothing else was removable, but I had heard the Exemplar eXpo T105 without the beads at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. This served as my benchmark.
In the last nine months I have experienced a very substantial improvement in my music reproduction, namely I am getting a very detailed, wide, encompassing, and realistic sound stage. Especially, in live recordings, I get a very realistic sense of being on the stage with the performers with the audience before me. Since the performers are closer to the microphones, they sound near me, and since the audience is further away, they seen to be out in front of me. Realism in this circumstance is disconcertingly implausible unless one were one of the performers. In studio recordings I get a very good sense of the decay of notes off the studio walls and sense that the performers are playing before me, not that I am among them. Basically, I am hearing what the mikes are experiencing. Often, this leads to the impression that one is on the stage with the performers. It is realistic and thrilling despite being somewhat implausible.
There are many examples I might give of the detail and precision of the presentation of the music including the studio or stage where it was recorded. Paul Simon, “The Sound of Silence,” on Songwriter (Sony Legacy B005KLNOLA) is a live recording. His guitar has great realism and timbre accuracy and he sounds present. Furthermore the audience is definitely out there. Many of the other choices he included in this collection are not as good of recordings. Frank Sinatra and Count Basie Sinatra at the Sands (Mobile Fidelity MFSL 2-332) doing I've Got A Crush On You has a trumpeter off to Sinatra’s right, a band, and, of course, a large audience. The realism of the audience’s presence is captured as is the trumpeter preparing to interact with Sinatra and Sinatra’s presence is also quite clear. Much of this is not musical detail but lends to the realism of the recording. Holly Cole’s live performance in It Happened One Night Metro Blue (CDP 7243 852699 0 5) is another example of realism. One can hear the decay of the music in the arena. Diana Krall’s “A Case of You”, from her Live in Paris CD [Verve 00006RG7F] is the final live performance. Since she is singing and playing the piano, one does hear the clear presence of the piano in front of her and her pedaling. Her performance and realism closely matches that of Joni Mitchell’s Blue in 1971 and on Miles of Aisles in 1974.
Ansermet’s Swan Lake Duo selection on the K2 Sampler This Is K2 HD Sound [FIM K2 HD 078] is a studio recording with a great sound stage, but soloists have their microphones also. With them you can hear the violinist move from one side of the mic to the other. The sonic character of the violins, violas, cellos, and double basses are clearly audible. One really feels present at this great performance.
Finally, Rickie Lee Jones’ Pop Pop [Geffen GEFD 24426] proved to be a crucial recording as I had it both on the music server and on the original CD with and without treatment with the Essence of Sound disc treatment. Most of my CDs on the raid have been put away. I now know that many must the found, treated, and then ripped once again to the raid.
There was no contest between treated and untreated CDs. The Essence treatment lent detail, dynamics, and a very impressive sense of presence to the sound. Without it I preferred the music server’s perfect copy, but once the treatment was done, I could not really say that I could tell a difference. But I have yet to do a rerip of the treated CD. I have done it on other sampler CDs and think the treated CDs when ripped to the raid sound much better than do the initial rip. I must admit that since the initial rip was perfect, I cannot understand how the new rip could be any better, but it is.
I must say that this recording is exceptional as is her performance. Pieces such as The Ballad of the Sad Young Men and the Love Junk Yard have real poignancy to them. On the Exemplar eXpo T105, one has the real sense that you are in the recording studio and appreciate the honesty of her rendition. Notice that this is either using the music server or just playing the treated CD itself.
Much of the improvement in my sound of late is reducing noise bringing out details in the recordings that heretofore, have been buried in the noise that has been greatly lowered. Much of this is musical, such as the ripeness of a coronet, the skin noise of the bongo drum, or the nasalness of the singer, but some is also not musical but rather noise of the musicians, lip noises of singers, or the subway noise under Carnegie Hall. But all of this adds to the realism of being there. Were the Exemplar eXpo T105 not to have it in its output, nothing after it could put it into the sound.
The Exemplar eXpo T105 with the bead option without many of my recent improvements clearly gave a more involving sound stage than did the Exemplar prototype DAC. I certainly would NOT say that the TriPoint Troy and the prototype pigtails failed to substantially improve the realism, presence, and dynamics of the Exemplar eXpo T105, but it is a substantial step forward on its own.
I decided that I would purchase the review sample. With it and the other improvements to better sound that I have, I have the most exceptional digital source I heard. I can now play CDs and SACDs with confidence that the sound is at its best.
Exemplar Audio LLC
2909 95th Drive SE
Lake Stevens, WA 98258
Audio disc types: CD, CD-R/RW, SACD, DVDA, DVDV, HDCD
Analog output: 7.1 ch, 5.1 ch, stereo RCA and balanced.
Inputs: HDMI Audio, MHL Audio, USB Audio, up to 2ch/192kHz, USB up to 2CH/192kHz PCM.
Power Supply: 115V to 230V, 50/60 Hz AC
Dimensions: 16.8 x 12.2 x 4.8 inches.
Weight: 20 lbs.