Opera Audio is a Chinese company that has garnered an excellent reputation for the tube amplifiers it’s been building for14 years. This hasn’t stopped the company branching out into source components and loudspeakers, and its stand at the Munich High-End show was replete with CD players, turntables and horn loudspeakers. Horns are notoriously hard to get right and truly low coloration, wide bandwidth designs are rarer than hen’s teeth – still that’s no reason not to keep up the search. Consonance is Opera’s primary brand, possibly named to avoid a clash with a certain Italian company that uses the Opera name in this part of the globe. The Consonance Droplet series consists of CD players and turntables, the former being particularly attractive examples of the art. With both analogue and digital varieties there are entry level and hardcore options; the LP3.1 is the more affordable of two vaguely puddle-shaped turntables and is very straightforward in appearance and largely in execution too.
It is based around an acrylic plinth that sits on three stainless steel towers that offer adjustment for level and a degree of decoupling by means of fairly soft, squidgy feet. The main bearing is clamped to the plinth using graphite rings on either side of the acrylic in an attempt to isolate the platter with what Opera describes as a “hard damping system”. I suspect that it’s the difference in materials that affects resonance transmission more than any damping that might accrue from such hard interfaces.
The bearing itself is a stainless steel shaft in a brass bushing with a ceramic ball and pad taking the weight of the platter. The platter itself comes from the Consonance Liu turntable, which has a square plinth and the stylish Forbidden City square dot finish. Like the plinth it is acrylic albeit with a machined black finish, which makes a change, and has a label indent and a slightly larger spindle than usual. It’s turned at the usual speeds by a free-standing AC motor of the same type found in the more expensive Droplet LP5.0 (no sub-woofer required?). The motor is apparently of German origin and has soft feet to stop it exciting the supporting surface. Speed change is manual and, just to keep you guessing, the smaller pulley is under the larger one. Which made me wonder if someone put it on upside down but the image on the website seems to be the same. Because the motor has a switch on top it makes sense to orientate it so that the belt does not obstruct this switch, but doing so means that the mains lead comes out directly underneath the turntable when it would be a lot neater to have it exiting backwards. This freedom of motor movement also means that you can have different degrees of belt tension depending on how it’s placed and while the manual suggests an easy switch access set up there is scope for variations within that.
The ST100 tonearm is apparently made for Opera by another Chinese company and shares the impressive appearance of the ST600 recently reviewed by RG. It can be purchased on its own for £595. The main tube on this nine inch, gimbal bearing arm is carbon fibre and extends an unusually long way behind the pivot, necessary because the supplied counterweights are unusually light. This approach flies in the face of contemporary thinking, which suggests that a heavier counterweight placed close to the pivot will exert less influence on the behaviour of the stylus. The arm clamps onto the plinth in much the same way as the main bearing, with graphite rings under large knurled nuts, a system which allows height adjustment if you loosen one side and tighten the other. On our first sample one of these nuts had a damaged thread so had to be replaced, while on the second sample the bolt that locks adjustment of azimuth at the headshell could not be undone because the allen socket had been damaged, factors which took some of the sheen off the otherwise impressive quality of build, but were easily enough and quickly rectified. The headshell is a rather beautiful thing, albeit one which can’t offer a great deal of rigidity.
Getting the deck up and spinning with a van den Hul Canary cartridge in its grip (all of my more affordable MCs seem to have suffered cantilever deviance) proved a relatively straightforward affair. The counterweights can be adjusted very finely and the ability to slide the cartridge in, bolts and all, is quite handy. The resulting sound is calm and substantial, much like the Canary itself really, because this is a surprisingly neutral and self-effacing turntable. It produces plenty of space and air around acoustic instruments and resolves the leading edge of notes with considerable precision. The fretless bass on Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones for instance being superbly intonated. There is a slight tendency to emphasise the upper midrange however, which pulls out certain instruments more than others, vibes and piano on one album, steel acoustic guitar strings on another.