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Reviewer: John Potis
Analog Source: Rega P9 turntable, RB1000 & Hadcock GH Export arms, Rega Super Elys & Garrott Bros Optim FGS Cartridges.
Digital Source: Accustic Arts Drive 1, Audio Aero Prima SE DAC
Preamp: Bel Canto Pre2P
Power Amp: Art Audio Carissa, Bryston 7B ST
Speakers: Hørning Perikles, Anthony Gallo Acoustics Reference 3, Ohm Acoustics Walsh 4 with 4.5 mk.2 upgrade
Cables: JPS Labs Superconductor and Superconductor FX interconnects and speaker wire, Furutech Digi Reference digital
Power Cords: ZCable Heavys & Black Lightnings, PS Power AC, Analog AC, Digital AC and Kaptovator power cords,
Powerline conditioning: Balanced Power Technology 3.5 Signature Plus with ZCable Heavy Power Cord, Auric Illuminator
Sundry accessories: Vibrapod Isolators and Cones, Ultra & Heavy Z-Sleeves
Room size: 12' by 16' with 9' ceiling
Review components retails: Consonance A120 hybrid integrated amplifier $1,350; Consonance A120S solid-state stereo amp $995; Consonance CD-120 $1,100; Consonance 120T tuner $659; Consonance Eric 1 speakers $995/pr; Consonance stands for Eric 1 speakers $250; Sound Quest Iso-Pads $50/4-set

You may well know it. Or then you may not. But if you don't know the name Opera Audio - well, I really don't know where you've been. Opera was one of the earliest invaders from China and their products have been widely (and positively) reviewed all over the place. My first personal exposure to Opera came by way of two pairs of their Consonance 9.9 monos, one using 300Bs, the other 845s. Consonance is the name Opera affixes to their entire line of audio components. It does not seem to signify a particular series as one may expect.

The two amplifier designs may have shared the same chassis (a beautiful one at that) but they couldn't have had more different personalities. I judged each a success. Each amp demonstrated the properties and personalities of its chosen tube with aplomb - which, at over $5,000 a pair, it should have. But Opera also makes a host of much more affordable amplifiers and integrated amplifiers. Those have been reviewed by ears I trust. I've thus always been curious as to how well Opera can design on a budget. When a pair of Consonance Eric-1 loudspeakers came up for review, I recognized my opportunity and requested an entire Consonance system. I was more than a little surprised when my request was not only spared ridicule but NAT Distribution's Stephen Monte insisted on sending along an entire list of components plus an assortment of vibration isolation pads, speaker wires and interconnects. Now I know what they mean by "be careful what you wish for".

The list of components and accessories received could easily constitute my entire reviewing queue for the upcoming year were I to attempt an exhaustive evaluation of each and every component. Not. My goal was simple: to assemble an entire system of Consonance products, thereby putting myself in the place of the one-stop shopper rather than the obsessive-compulsive audiophile who prefers to sweat each and every component purchase by cherry-picking from this manufacturer and that. While I may count myself among the latter group, deep down inside I've always known that buying from the same manufacturer can offer assured synergy which the cherry-picking approach cannot. On so many levels, it makes sense to buy components that were designed to work together. Right? So why don't we? Hmm. Perhaps that discussion is best left for another time.

The anchor of the Consonance system under review would have to be the A120 hybrid integrated. Hybrid? The A120 is a solid-state power amplifier with a single dual-triode 6H30 "super tube" in the preamp section. Fully remote controlled, the A120 is rated at 90wpc into 8 ohms and said to drive speakers presenting a minimum load of 2 ohm (a claim I was unable to test). The A120 has 4 selectable inputs (3 single-ended RCA and one pair of balanced XLR) said to be switched by gold-plated relays. In the A120's price range, one is usually happy when the manufacturer includes a single pair of preamplifier outputs (generally used for driving a subwoofer). The A120 integrated offers two such pairs, one for a subwoofer, the other for a second amplifier should one want to biamp.

Opera's specifications include a S/N ratio of >100dB, crosstalk of <100dB, distortion at < .04% @ 50w/8Ω and intermodulation distortion of < .04%. The A120 measures 4" x 17" x 14.5" H x W x D. As for build and component quality, I wasn't excited to see rather closely spaced generic PCB-mounted RCA inputs even if they were gold-plated. The left and right plugs were placed in such close proximity that even Opera's own interconnects didn't have enough room and the locking RCA sleeves rubbed as I tightened them down. Other than that, everything else about the A120's construction is absolutely first class. WBT-like shrouded 5-way binding posts looked and functioned nicely and the A120 is entirely encased in sturdy brushed aluminum. Granted, the
two control knobs are plastic. If that bothers you, use the remote instead. It too is of the sturdy aluminum variety and gives you complete control over volume, input selection and mute.

For purposes of biamping the Eric speakers, I was also sent the Consonance A120S, an all-transistor stereo amp. The 120S is sized like the A120 and a visual match. Curiously, Opera steps up the 120S' hardware to a pair of much nicer chassis-mounted gold-plated RCAs. Two pairs of identical shrouded binding posts and an IEC power inlet complete the accoutrements. While we're at AC power, there's not a single hard-wired AC cord to be found in the entire system anywhere. Specs and power output are identical to the A120 but of note is Opera's claim of a high damping factor at 500. If true, the A120 should be capable of bass control unprecedented in this class.

Source duties fell primarily to the Consonance CD 120S solid-state CD player, another cosmetic match to the rest of the system and very nicely built. The only surprise occurred when I removed it from the box. The CD120S arrives with its drawer taped shut. Remove the tape, tip the player forward, give it a little shake and the drawer slides open as though disconnected. Not sure what that means but in day-to-day use, it was never an issue. The CD 120S sports both XLR and RCA outputs and Opera specifics a
2.1V output from both. Opera uses a modified Phillips VAM1202 drive mechanism remote-controlled by the included Phillips RC-5 compatible IR system (36kHz modulation frequency), which also happened to operate both my Accustic Arts Drive1 transport and Audio Aero Prima SE DAC. Opera talks about further goodies such as a 24-bit/192kHz multilevel sigma-delta DAC with asynchronous upsampling and clock jitter of less than 14ps. Opera's manual states that "the Crystal CS4396 is a complete high performance 24-bit 48/96/192kHz digital-to-analog stereo conversion system. The device includes a digital interpolation filter followed by an oversampled multi-bit Delta Sigma modulator that drives Dynamic-Element-Matching (DEM) selection logic. The output from the DEM block controls the input to a multi-element switched capacitor DAC/low-pass filter with fully differential outputs." Essentially ruler flat, claimed frequency response incurs less than +/- 0.01 dB deviation from 20Hz to 20kHz. S/N ratio at the balanced output is a whopping 105dB. Like the power amplifiers, the CD-120S is about 4 inches high, 17 inches wide and almost 11 inches deep. The issue of the sliding drawer notwithstanding, the CD120S is impressively built and uses the same brushed aluminum construction as the amplifiers.

The 120 tuner is built to no less a standard. If Krell could manufacture to this price point, it would not be built as well. It wouldn't be as solid and its level of fit and finish wouldn't be as high. The same can be said of many manufacturers of multi-kilobuck gear. While styling is decidedly understated and will appeal to those who eschew the garish, these Opera pieces will engender real pride of ownership. The remote controllable tuner has only seven buttons on its face to serve 7 functions - selecting between AM and FM, muting output, selecting auto and manual tuning functions, selecting mono/stereo, entering stations into memory, tuning frequencies and powering up and down.

A full-function tuner remote control operates a built-in clock and alternates the display between clock and tuner modes. A numeric keypad allows direct inputs of station frequencies. The remote also addresses the auto scan-save feature, which automatically scans the airways for stations and stores them in memory. From the remote you can further select three different levels of display brightness. Opera claims an FM sensitivity (INF) of 10dB uV/m, a S/N ratio of 55dB and an output level of 700mV per channel at 100% modulation. For its AM section, a sensitivity of 60dB uV/m and S/N of 45dB are given. The 120's casework is sized identical to that of the CD 120S, which means that all the components under review sport the same width and height, with only the depth measurements varying slightly.

So much for the components encased in brushed aluminum. Encased in a very nicely finished Hazelwood enclosure, I present to you the Eric-1 bookshelf speaker system. That's not to say we've run out of aluminum. Not even close. Even the Eric-1 incorporates a heavy plate of matte aluminum that serves as a wave launch plate in much the same manner as, say, the Soliloquy 6.5 loudspeaker. The aluminum mount differs aesthetically from that of the components, which all shine fairly brightly. From just about any angle, the aluminum on the Eric-1 looks fairly dark and imparts an almost antique quality. It also contrasts the ultra-smooth and nicely done veneer. Around back are two pairs of 5-way binding posts that, unlike the amplifiers, accommodate dual banana plugs. Included grills were of a silver color knit that looked nice for the very limited amount of time they actually spent on the speakers.

The 14.25" tall by 11.25" deep by 8.75' wide enclosures weigh 30 pounds each. Opera specifies a frequency response of 35Hz - 24kHz, no tolerance given. Sensitivity and impedance are said to be 90dB and 8 ohms respectively. The inside surfaces of the ¾" MDF walls are covered with damping material and inner bracing is used to further deaden the cabinet. A 3rd-order crossover at 2.6 kHz utilizes air coil polypropylene capacitors. The 6.5" midwoofer has a 1.5-inch voice coil. Six slots on its cone with a large pyramid shape dust cap are said to strengthen the cone structure which is fiber filled. A 1-inch silk dome ferrofluid-cooled tweeter uses a tiny yet powerful neodymium magnet to allow close proximity to the woofer for more closely simulating a point source.

Cables dispatched included the Joplin speaker cables ($395 per 10-foot pair), the Billie interconnects ($249 per meter pair) and the balanced Laday interconnects at $300 per pair, all constructed of 99.99% pure OFC copper. The Joplin speaker cables are constructed of eight copper conductors of varying gauge strands in a sound tube array. The variable gauge is said to prevent a sonic signature associated with a single given gauge. The Billy and Laday interconnects are constructed from seven 35AWG wires and thirty 41-AWG wires protected by optimized shielding of both foil and pure copper braid.

Found within the mountain of Opera gear were finally Sound Quest's Iso-Pads, an isolation footer of high impact rubber with an isolation cork layer in the middle, retailing for $50 for a set of 4. Each pad supports 75 pounds and is 2" by 2" square by 7/8" high. I've owned Iso-pads for a few years now and use them frequently, particularly with very heavy gear. They do the job and don't deform like my favorite Vibrapods do under such weights. The Iso-Pads allow placement directly under a components feet - very effective, very handy and they don't break the bank.

The entire system sat for about a month breaking in and warming up outside my listening room before I gave any
part a serious listen. First for evaluation was the Consonance CD-120 CD player, though it was in the system for a very short time only. The initial impression was very positive. Looking for a full-figured CD player with no digital stridency? One that's slightly warm sounding and smooth as silk to boot? Give the CD-120 a listen. It may just be the most analog-sounding affordable player I've ever used. More on that later.