This is my review of the Oppo Sonica DAC, a hi resolution streaming pre amplifier and DAC. Priced near £800 the Oppo Sonica DAC is in a competitive retail space but it certainly packs in the technology for the money, and the quality.
The thing about these DACs these days is that they are (in the main) pretty good. Some are softer, some are harsher but really they’re all pretty good. So now it is coming down to functionality and just pure musical experience and if you’ve just received a 24 bit 96kHz copy of OK Computer (as I have from the amazing 3 vinyl disc box set), you’re looking for a decent DAC. Whether it is TI Burr Brown, Wolfson or a Sabre DAC it really is down to the quality of the recording your ears and turning off all the noise about specific characteristics of equipment. So if you’ve got a good source, Tidal for example, or a decent CD player (transport), or a Networked Source (anything stable really) just feel the music.
In this case, I have the Oppo Sonica DAC with the very latest ESS ES9038PRO Sabre DAC chipset in it (same as the UDP-205 in fact) so all I have to do is download the App on my Android phone and I am away.
Oppo Sonica DAC Design
The Oppo Sonica DAC is a hi resolution streaming DAC that includes AirPlay and Bluetooth. It supports Tidal and Spotify accounts.
It has an asynchronous DAC that is essential to higher quality streaming (the Sonica DAC therefore manages the flow of audio data, rather than the computer or other source, so it “pulls” the audio data under near perfect control). The USB B DAC input supports PCM up to 768 kHz 32-bit and up to DSD512.
The Oppo Sonica DAC is powered by a massive toroidal power transformer that delivers stability and a clean supply to the chipsets. Outputs from the DAC chip is fully balanced all the way to the XLR outputs, and even the RCA output signal is converted from the balanced output. The balanced design provides better common-mode noise rejection, improves signal quality, and results in better channel separation by eliminating the common ground return path. Also, whilst talking about power, the previous Oppo HA-1 ran quite hot if I recall so I’ll be looking out for this again later on.
The XLR (and RCA) outputs from the Oppo Sonica DAC can be output fixed to an integrated amplifier or variable to other power amplifiers giving the DAC a pre-amplifier sticker! What is (sadly) missing is a headphone amplifier output that the Oppo HA-1 had and I for one was expecting an hoping for with this product. Not to worry, again, if it such a big deal maybe a USB style headphone like the DragonFly will keep you happy.
Also different from the HA-1 is the display, which I really liked, however there is not much to complain about here either really as the monochrome OLED display is perfectly good compared to some (including the Oppo UDP-205).
There is not much to say about the front panel after the OLED screen, there is a volume button to the right and a source/input selection dial to the left. The understated, sleek design is completed with a power button and a USB input at the front. Volume is controlled from the knob on the front or the App. There is no remote control, I think it is an option though (it is on the US priced website).
The Oppo Sonica DAC should seamlessly fit in with the other Oppo Sonica Wifi Speakers. I’ve not checked this out, as yet. Finally, also absent, just to get it out of the way, is Roon compatibility which seems to be talked about more these days and an MQA unwrapper.
From the website
Designs and specifications are subject to change without notice
Dimensions (W x H x D) 10.0 x 3.0 x 14.2 inches, 254 x 76 x 360 mm
Weight 10.4 lbs, 4.7 kg
Power Supply AC 110-120 V ~ / 220-240 V ~ 50/60 Hz
Power Consumption 30 W (operation), 0.5 W (standby)
Trigger Input 3.5 V – 15 V, 10 mA minimum
Trigger Output 12V, 100 mA maximum
Operating Temperature 41°F – 95°F, 5°C – 35°C
Operating Humidity 15% – 75% No condensation
AUX Audio Input
Input Impedance 10k Ohm
Maximum Input Level 2 Vrms
USB Ports (Type A)
Profile USB 2.0, mass storage only
Audio Format Support AAC, AIF, AIFC, AIFF, APE, FLAC, M4A, M4A (Apple Lossless) ALAC, OGG, WAV, WMA, DSF, DFF
Maximum Sampling Rate PCM up to 192 kHz / 24-bit, DSD up to 2.8224 MHz (DSD64)
Coaxial and Optical Digital Audio Inputs
Input Format Stereo PCM, Stereo DSD (DoP v1.1 or native)
Sampling Frequencies 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, 192 kHz
Word Length 16-bit, 24-bit
DSD Sampling Frequencies 2.8224 MHz (DSD64)
USB Audio Input (USB B Type)
Input Format Stereo PCM, Stereo DSD (DoP v1.1 or native)
PCM Sampling Frequencies 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, 192 kHz, 352.8 kHz, 384 kHz, 705.6 kHz, 768 kHz
PCM Word Length 16-bit, 24-bit, 32-bit
DSD Sampling Frequencies 2.8224 MHz (DSD64), 5.6448 MHz (DSD128), 11.2896 MHz (DSD256), 22.5792 MHz (DSD512, native mode only)
Profile USB 2.0, USB Audio 2.0
In summary, this specification list means you can stream and plug in USB A 24 bit, 192kHz music files, of most common file types. If you want higher bit rates you will need a USB B connection, probably from a computer. This will give you access to 32 bit and ultra high sampling rates. As I have mentioned there is no MQA unwrap yet, I’ll find out if this is happening in due course.
It is really quite heavy for what it is, lets say it is nearly half the size of normal hifi equipment. It looks very attractive, to me, with a sleek design , no visible screws and pointy bits and the rear is neatly designed. Again, as with Auralic, these are Chinese electronics but that means we are guaranteed quality components thoughtfully put together. I was introduced to Oppo earlier this year at Bath Rugby Club and Oppo’s philosophy is to create high quality consumer products, whilst taking care of the staff it employs and with sustainability to the fore.
My main listening set-up with the Oppo Sonica DAC has been variable output with XLR ouput to a T+A AMP 8 power amplifier into KEF R700s with Atlas Mavros cables with a mains conditioner. I have also run the Sonica DAC into the Auralic Polaris with fixed output and controlled the streamer output volume with the Polaris. The Sonica DAC was network connected though it can be wireless. There are no aerials on the DAC so I guess it is all built in, super sleek.
USB A (Data stick)
first impressions are of a beautiful, resounding and smooth sound from the DAC
The easiest thing to do it seemed to me was plug in my USB stick with my HiRes music on it. Using the Sonica App and selecting USB Storage from the Menu, first impressions are of a beautiful, resounding and smooth sound from the DAC. It really is a good sound.
Well I have to say the Bluetooth connection is startlingly good. I paired my Nexus 6P using the Sonica App then jumping into phone settings to turn on Bluetooth. When paired, I turned on the Tidal App and played a downloaded offline album of CD quality. The sound output was better than I hoped, with the album information, track names etc. coming through onto the OLED screen.
There is no streaming Radio client however you can use this Bluetooth connection and play your radio stations straight in.
Times past I would have not been bothered about ‘Bluetoothing’ in but this was too easy. However, not as easy as streaming Tidal….
If the Bluetooth is great, and dead easy, so is streaming Tidal using the Oppo Sonica DAC App. Having previously logged onto Tidal through the Streaming services options (you can do Spotify too but Qobuz is not there) the Tidal screen is familiar and all the usual “What’s New” and “My Music” options are available. Missing from the menu are the Masters albums as there is no MQA support from the Sonica DAC.
“On this Device” Play from Android Phone
Similarly, you can fire up the App and play music off your Phone (I am Android so I assume the Apple iOS is as good as this) library. This is really cool and sounds great, at least as good as the excellent Bluetooth.
Also from the App you can draw Networked Music through. I have a Western Digital network drive full of random music and it is seamless and seems to be without buffering and pauses. The sound quality is excelent. I am bound to say that Networked Drives are surely all over now, given how easy most music is to access these, however this works beautifully.
USB B Computer
You’ll need to download a driver for the Oppo, in my case the driver is already in there. My J River licence has expired so I was not able to properly play with this. If I get round to this, I’ll comment later.
Other Inputs, Coax and Optical
Rather ludicrously, using a higher quality Coax connector I put the CD output from the Oppo UDP-205 (my CD player basically) into the Oppo Sonica DAC (so digital signal from the CD player, decoded in the Sonica DAC using the same Sabre DAC as in the CD player that I have just bypassed!). As before the sound output is dominant, effortless and I could not be happier with the sound. I’m sure an Optical connection will be fine too but I have not tried this on this occasion.
I must say that the Sonica App has been stable, totally functional and I have no complaints at all. I am always going to want more info (like bit rate and depth etc.) but there we are. When an App is this good, there is no need for a remote control to be honest. In my view, many streaming products suffer from having poor Apps to control their audio, this App is an example of how to do it properly.
I find this Oppo Sonica DAC to be excellent as a pre-amp and as a straight DAC. It has the latest Sabre DAC and the Variable output to the T+A AMP 8power amplifier of the highest order. A wide, solid and dominant sound is what I am looking for and this has the sound in spades, with a consistent platform and tons of resolution, there is nothing you might wish for in an audio sense. I have just checked the price, this is a bargain near £800, it looks great and does a really good job.
All I would say to Oppo is that if they could stick the dedicated headphone output (6.35mm jack or balanced) from the UDP-205 in here and add in MQA (firmware update?), and put £200 on the price, I’m sure Oppo would sell loads of these. Mind you, you might as well buy the 205 then!
All in all, great bit of kit at £800
Sonica App very intuitive and stable
Headphone Amplifier and output
Others may want Roon and Qobuz