Opera Audio Calaf Integrated Amplifiers

4/5 (1 Reviews)


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User Reviews

Overall Rating:4
Value Rating:5
Submitted by moko a Audio Enthusiast

Date Reviewed: May 12, 2008

Bottom Line:   
It's easy to understand why consumers tend to avoid lesser known audio brands. High end audio equipment is expensive & no-one wants to spend a packet on gear that doesn't live up to review hype, so it seems safer to stick with the names you "know" than to take a chance on relative newcomers, like the Consonance brand made by Opera Audio of Beijing.

Conventional wisdom aside, it's hard not to be impressed by the build quality and standard of finish of the Consonance Calaf integrated amplifier. Weighing in at just over 40kg's and finished in solid brushed aluminium, it is; in terms of build quality, more than a match for similar products from just about any high end brand you care to name. But; convincing build quality is only part of the battle won.

Rated at 200wpc@8ohms the Calaf is the most powerful amp I've owned yet. British hi-fi journal "Hi-Fi News" lab tested their review sample & found that its continuous output (@ 8ohms) exceeded the manufacturer's rating by a full 70wpc. Dynamic power tested as follows: 280wpc@8ohms, 545wpc@4ohms & 1040wpc@2ohms... clearly not what you'd describe as under-endowed in output terms.

In the two & a half years that I've owned my current loudspeakers (B&W 704's) I've had the opportunity to test them with a variety of amplifiers. From least to most powerful: a Denon PMA 500 AE integrated (45pwc@8ohms), a Plinius 9100 integrated (120wpc@8ohms), Rotel RC1070/RB1070 seperates (RB1070 - 130wpc@8ohms) & of course the Calaf. While it's not my intention to focus solely on power output (there's obviously more to a sucessful speaker/amp match than power output alone), B&W's are fairly well known for benefiting sonically from more rather than less power from the driving amplifier (in general terms I guess most loudspeakers do?). But to the 704's credit, and perhaps more importantly, they are sufficiently revealing of the quality of their partnering equipment so as to highlight the merits & shortcomings of each piece on the above list.

Without launching into mini reviews of each of the above mentioned amplifiers (& taking as a given that they represent both entry level & mid to higher end products - and all that is implied by that statement) let me say this: until recently, I was ready to write the B&W's off as sounding lean, dark & small. What a difference the Consonance has made to this viewpoint! The sound these speakers produce has undergone a truly dramatic transformation. In fact the adjectives that I would use to describe my system now would be the direct opposite of the above.

Scale, dynamics & transparency have all taken huge leaps forward, as has an almost tangible sense of presence & immediacy to the overall sound. More importantly, (the admittedly more intangible quality of) "musicality" is now the systems leading virtue, and while detail is resolved at more than satisfactory levels it never dominates the listening experience, instead finding it's proper place in a coherent musical "whole", enhancing rather than distracting from musical enjoyment.

In other words, this amplifier (as used in my system with Opera Audio's excellent CD120 Linear) is technically proficient enough to permit analysis should the need or inclination arise, but produces such an enticing, musical sound that analysis quickly gives way to listening for pleasure.

If I was however, to single out one particular area of the audio band as "most improved" it would be bass. The 704's (in common with other B&W designs I've heard) produce bass which could best be described as dry, with greater emphasis placed on speed & articulation than out & out extention. One of the biggest shortcomings of the other partnering systems I've tried was a consistent lack of drive in the lower registers that resulted in a sound that was weak & lean & consequently left the tweeter sounding shrill & exposed at times. The Calaf, with it's greater output power & slightly (emphasis on slightly) warm, yet well controlled bass (damping factor is rated in excess of 1000) has proved to be a superb match for the inherent LF characteristics of the speakers whilst affording a sense of drive & punch I simply did not believe these speakers were capable of.

To conclude: some people enjoy the type of sound that proffesional reviewers sometimes call "accurate". Experience has taught me that "accurate" is unfortunately often a euphemism for a sterile, mechanical & somewhat "soul - less" take on music reproduction. I've even heard some genuinely expensive hi-fi gear guilty of this - the type that seem to have been manufactured to intentionally sound impressive - all "look at me" pomp & fuss. The great paradox of hi-fi I guess, is that most of us would probably be willing to spend more to hear less of the electronics. To my mind, since music is an emotional medium, a system that renders music this way falls short of the mark. The opposite extreme would be a system that is set up to be so "soft - edged" & warm that it fails to create an even remotely realistic musical picture. At present, I'm reasonably satisfied that my system (in no small part thanks to this amplifier) avoids either extreme, instead managing a very satisfying balance between conventional "hi-fi" performance & high levels of listener involvement.

It may be that in a while from now brands like Consonance will have been absorbed into the audio mainstream and the fear of the "unknown" will no longer factor in the minds of buyers. Until that time, if you're on the lookout for an incredibly well made, fantastic sounding integrated amp and can live without the brand snobbery & mental price tags of the "usual suspects", you might just be amazed at how this product can challenge (as it did in my case) a long held belief that the "big" brands are automatically "best" and that more expensive is always "better".

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Used product for:   3 Months to 1 year

Duration Product Used:   Audio Enthusiast




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