It combines this level of core engineering with a very complete set of streaming and USB connectivity. It can stream 24 bit 192 kHz files from DLNA servers over WiFi and USB, plus DSD64. When connected via USB, it can decode PCM at 32 bit, 768 kHz, and DSD512. Streaming Apple Lossless files from my DLNA equipped network attached storage device, it worked flawlessly. The free OPPO Sonica app works on both iOS and Android devices, and provides an effortless, convenient way to access your music. This is a significant step up in audio quality and features compared to the OPPO HA-1 headphone amplifier and BDP-105 Blu-ray player.
Oppo Digital Sonica DAC
- State of the art digital decoding of pretty much every file format there is, and even some that don’t even exist yet (find me a 32 bit, 768 kHz PCM file someplace?).
- State of the art WiFi connectivity and streaming functions, along with traditional asynchronous USB and even more traditional Coax and Toslink inputs.
- Oppo Sonica app allows control of the Sonica DAC from your phone or tablet.
- Fully balanced analog and digital signal path.
- Digital volume control allows you to use the Sonica DAC as a preamp. It even has an auxiliary analog RCA inputs to allow the use of one additional source.
- At $799, a super value.
For many years the separate DAC as an audio component was declared dead. But with the ascendency of computer based music, especially now for audiophile ultra-high resolution files, the DAC has been reborn. OPPO has always been a company that has offered excellent value for audiophiles. I’ve been using a BDP-105 Blu-ray player as a USB DAC now for several years. Now, OPPO has finally released a stand-alone DAC, the Sonica DAC (although you could argue their HA-1 headphone amplifier was sort of a stand-alone DAC).
Dimensions (H x W x D):
3.0 x 10.0 x 12.2 inches
AC 110-120 V ~ / 220-240 V ~ 50/60 Hz
30 W (operation), 0.5 W (standby)
USB Audio Input (USB B Type)
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)
Coaxial and Optical Digital Audio Inputs
Stereo PCM, Stereo DSD (DoP v1.1 or native)
44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, 192 kHz
DSD Sampling Frequencies:
2.8224 MHz (DSD64)
USB Ports (Type A):
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)
DAC, Streaming, Preamplifier, DACs Reviews 2017
The Sonica’s spec sheet reads like a serious assault on the best you can do with a DAC these days: Quad ESS ES9038PRO Sabre DAC chips implemented in a fully balanced topology, an oversized power supply with toroidal transformer, and the ability to decode basically every file format there is over USB and streaming connections. It even does native DSD decoding up to DSD512 for the USB input (DSD64 for streaming). You can’t even get DSD512 source material yet, as far as I know. This all seems straightforward until you get to the price. $799. Really? That’s standard OPPO. Offer pretty stupendous specs, then slap a relatively small price on it. As usual, the question is, does it actually live up to the specs. In the case of the Sonica DAC, the answer is an unequivocal yes. This is a wonderful sounding DAC that is supremely convenient. I’m not sure I can continue without it.
Like every OPPO product, the Sonica DAC is a beautifully made piece of hardware. The fit and finish is first rate. Even better than most “high end” electronics, in my opinion. The quality and feel of the front panel and controls is second to none. It is a relatively small unit from the front panel, but will a full depth case allowing room for the large linear power supply mounted on the left side of the chassis. About 1/3 of the internal volume of the Sonica case is taken up by the power supply, as it should be in a proper piece of HiFi equipment. A central board takes care of all digital signals and control, while the analog output is separated on its own board on the right of the case. A rear mounted daughterboard handles the inputs and outputs. The signal path is fully balanced, including the use of quad DAC chips implemented in a balanced configuration. The RCA outputs are generated by summing the balanced outputs, so they reap much of the benefits of the balanced topology too. A volume control on the front panel uses the extra bits provided by the 32 bit DACs for about 48 dB of volume control from full scale before you start to lose anything even with 24-bit source material. This volume control can be turned off if you use a traditional preamp like I do. The volume control bypass can be set to be output specific too, so you can use one output with a preamp and the other without. There is one RCA single ended output and one XLR balanced output.
There are single ended and balanced outputs, coax, optical and USB inputs along with and RCA auxiliary device input, an Ethernet connector for wired internet connection and an IEC power jack. A USB-A port for mass storage device connection and 12V trigger inputs and outputs are also offered.
It’s in the input department where the convenience of the Sonica shines. There are traditional RCA coax and Toslink optical inputs that work up to 24 bit 192 kHz, and also accept up to DSD64 in DoP v1.1 format or in raw, native DSD format. The USB input accepts basically everything. Even things that don’t yet exist. PCM in every combination you can think of all the way up to 32-bit 768 kHz and DSD up to DSD256 in both native and DoP and DSD512 native only. I don’t think any source material exists in DSD512 or in 32-bit 768 kHz format. Yet. There’s a USB-A port on the front that can talk to USB mass storage devices (thumb drives and hard drives) that supports basically every computer audio format (even OGG!) up to 24 bit 192 kHz and DSD64. And then there’s the streaming.
There’s Bluetooth and Apple Airplay to casually stream from your phone, tablet or computer. But best of all, the Sonica is a WiFi device that can see your wireless network. And your DLNA servers. The streaming input accepts the same file formats and sampling rates as the USB-A port. Again, basically every format you can think of up to 24 bit 192 kHz and DSD64. All my music is on a Netgear ReadyNAS Duo network attached storage device. In the past I managed to set up my iTunes library to use this remote file location, then played the music back with PureMusic software and the OPPO BDP-105 connected as a USB DAC. The Sonica allows me to bypass all this complexity. The NAS has a DLNA server which I enabled and the Sonica was immediately able to see it. Using the OPPO supplied app (free for iOS or Android) I could browse my library and control playback from my phone or tablet with ease. No computer or wires needed. It’s fantastic.
With separate PCBs for the power supply, digital section, analog output section and inputs.
For this test, I used the OPPO in only one mode. There are so many options it would have taken me forever to test them all properly. So I chose the one I wanted to work well and tried that, which was the network streaming input. All my music is in Apple Lossless format in my iTunes library located on my rather old Neatgear ReadyNAS Duo device. This device is known to have a “not the best” implementation of DLNA. It doesn’t work reliably with many other DLNA devices. But it works perfectly with the Sonica DAC. I put the DAC on my wireless network with no trouble. Getting the device on your network requires the use of the Sonica app on an Android or iOS device. After putting the DAC into network setup mode, the setup is continued on the app. My DAC immediately saw my DLNA server and I was able to start streaming files.
There’s also an Ethernet connection on the back, which is set up exactly the same way if you want to use a wired connection. I set up both an Android tablet and my iPhone to operate as controllers. Since all my music is 16 bit 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz and 24 bit 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz and 192 kHz, there would be no gain for me to go to the USB input directly connected to my computer. It is worth being careful that your DLNA server streams files in native format without any sort of transcoding or adjustment. My old NAS has no options here, it can ONLY send files in native format, so I was always sure I was getting an unchanged file. Since the files are sent natively, the transmission is fundamentally asynchronous. So no worries about jitter or signal degradation. Unlike the OPPO Blu-Ray players, the Sonica DAC cannot stream content from an SMB server, only DLNA. I used the RCA outputs of the Sonica DAC to connect to my single-ended-only Rogue RP-1 preamp. Since I am using a separate preamp, I disabled the volume control of the DAC for my review.
The Sonica DAC does not come with a traditional remote control. That’s all done with the OPPO app, which can control browsing of streamed and USB connected mass storage devices and the volume control if enabled. It also controls OPPO’s Sonica WiFi speakers, which you could use as a whole home music system if you’d like. It also allows access to internet streaming services like Spotify and Tidal. The app cannot turn the DAC on and off, however. You still need to drag your butt out of your chair for that. There are 12V trigger inputs and outputs for system control and even a grounding lug for taking care of hum should it arise.
Another useful feature is a set of RCA analog inputs that will allow the connection of another source to the Sonica DAC. The DAC can then either play this input back through its own analog outputs or stream it to other Sonica devices. The penalty is that this input needs to be digitized to go through the Sonica’s volume control and be available for streaming. The input is digitized with a TI PCM1808 ADC chip at 24 bit 48 kHz. This input is not intended as a high quality “preamp” input, just as a way to add an analog source to a whole-home Sonica audio system.
The initial impression I got of the Sonica DAC was similar to that of the BDP-105, but the more I listened, the more differences revealed themselves. Initially the Sonica was a bit bright. It took a week or so for the DAC to break in and smooth out. Once it did, it was clear that the Sonica presented quite a bit more resolution, sharpness and detail than the BDP-105.
On well recorded albums, like many of my high bit rate albums, this added sharpness and detail was very rewarding. On more poorly recorded material, the detail and resolution could be a double edged sword. On Daft Punk’s Random Access memories, the differences in the microphones used to record Giorgio by Moroder were more apparent than ever, even more so than with my high quality office headphone rig, which was very unexpected.
The sound of the Sonica DAC was completely seamless. Many components have particularly good bass, midrange or treble. The Sonica DAC presented all parts of the tonal spectrum equally, with no one part of the experience calling any undue attention to itself. The soundstage is wide but not unnaturally so, with a middle of the road depth presentation.
With my Gallo Reference 3.5s, the soundstage was typically about the same distance away as the speakers, maybe a little farther. Width was 2-3 feet past the speakers to the left and right, with height about a foot above the speakers. On my 24 bit 96 kHz recording of Beck’s Morning Phase, “Say Goodbye” was haunting. The detail of Beck Hansen’s voice, acoustic guitar and percussion was about as good as it ever gets. Here, the detail and resolution squeezed every last bit of excitement, life and realism out of the recording. It really took my system to another level.
The BDP-105 is good, with many of the same tonal characteristics and presentation, but the Sonica DAC pushes that performance up a notch or two. Play a “bad” recording, and you’ll know it, though. I have a HDTracks download of Pharell William’s GIRL. This is a very bright album. Particularly the popular song “Happy”, which seems to be purposely recorded brightly to give an upbeat sound even with low quality headphones.
When I first got the Sonica, the song was almost unlistenable. Once the DAC broke in, matters were a lot better, but I was able to hear every last questionable decision the recording engineer made.
My 24 bit 192 kHz recording of David Bowie’s Space Oddity revealed all the compromises of the original analog tape recordings remastered to high bit rate digital. Still wonderful to listen to, but you do hear every last little flaw. Another thing to keep in mind is that the Sonica’s detail, resolution and completely un-rolled off treble will call attention to any shortcomings of your downstream electronics or speakers.
The combination of my Rogue RP-1 preamp and NewClear NC1000L IcePower amplifier was a good balance between detail retrieval, control and smoothness to match well with the OPPO. It was the combination of the performance of the Sonica DAC, along with the effortless operation of its DLNA streaming services over WiFi, all controlled with the excellent Sonica app on my tablet that kept me coming back for more. I was listening to my system more, and getting more enjoyment out of it. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it?
Measurements were made with my M-Audio ProFire 610 firewire audio interface and Spectra Plus FFT software. I drove the Sonica DAC with a 24 bit, 192 kHz SPDIF signal from the coax outputs of the ProFire 610, and measured the analog output of the left balanced output. The signal was input to the DAC as 0 dBFS, with the gain of the sound interface input tuned to deliver the maximum dynamic range.
Distortion spectrum results are excellent, with very low absolute levels of harmonic distortion. In addition, this distortion is concentrated in the 2nd and 3rd harmonics, dropping significantly in higher orders. This is generally a good sign of a component that sounds good. In addition, these numbers are very similar to what I get when I run a loopback test, meaning connecting the ProFire 610 output directly to the input with just a cable. This means the results above should be treated as upper limits, since a significant amount of the distortion shown above is likely to come from my measurement tool itself.
The intermodulation distortion results are also very good, with mixing products about 100 dB down from the fundamental and total IMD measured at 0.004%. Again, this result is similar to a loopback test.
Frequency response is flat as a pancake to the limit of the sound interface. The gentle rise towards 96 kHz and the sharp cutoff at 96 kHz are an artifact of the measurement.
The noise floor was not measurable. I ran the FFT software with the Sonica DAC turned on and off but with no input signal and got the same result. What you see here is the spectrum with the OPPO Sonica turned on but without a digital input signal.
In summary, these measurements are without fault. They are near or at the limit of my test equipment to measure.
THE OPPO SONICA DAC Might Be One Of The Best Value Audio Components Available Today, Offering Superb Audio Performance And An Unmatched Feature Set.
- Superb sound quality with excellent resolution, sharpness and detail retrieval.
- Excellent build quality and styling.
- An unmatched set of features including the ability to decode pretty much every file format at bit rates and depths that don’t even exist yet, and exceptional streaming features from both local servers and internet sources though WiFi or Ethernet.
- Very convenient operation from the OPPO Sonica app for Android or iOS.
- Measurements are flawless.
- Pretty much nothing. I don’t have a single complaint, really.
As I was coming to the end of the review I started to wonder how I could live without it, both the sound and the convenience. I want to buy this DAC. But OPPO is also coming out with a new high performance Blu-ray player, the BDP-205. This player, the successor to the BDP-105, will offer the same or better video performance of the new BDP-203, but with much of the high performance audio of the Sonica DAC. It will use the same DAC chipset, USB interface and analog architecture as the Sonica DAC on the audio side. It will also be able to play from a DLNA server (in addition to a SMB server, which the Sonica DAC cannot do), and accept and decode many (if not all) of the same file formats and bit rates. It will not offer Spotify or TIDAL streaming, Airplay, Bluetooth or integration with Sonica Wi-Fi speakers like the Sonica DAC, however. And it’s of course still unclear whether the audio performance will be as good as the stand alone DAC. My guess is the Sonica DAC will have the edge there because it doesn’t have to coexist in a chassis with all that video hardware or deal with multi-channel analog outputs. If I had an audio only system, and didn’t own any SACDs, the decision would have already been made. There would be no way I would let the Sonica DAC leave my system. As it is, I think I’ll wait to see what the new BDP-205 will deliver. But you can bet that I’ll buy one of the two. Because I really can’t live without it.