Opera Audio Consonance C100
amplifier simplifies your system by housing the preamplifier and power amplifier in a
single box. Some people feel that an integrated is compromised in performance when
compared to a roughly equivalent pairing of a separate preamplifier and amplifier.
Im not sure thats true, but even if it were, the advantages of an integrated
amplifier are many. If youre putting your system in a living room or bedroom and not
a dedicated listening room, an integrated often makes for an easier installation, greater
acceptance by spouses or roommates, and fewer interconnects.
Although the concept of an integrated amplifier is simple
-- to keep the preamp and power amp in a single chassis -- manufacturers can implement it
in myriad ways. Im always interested to see how manufacturers configure their
integrated amps to compete with others. Some aim at a minimalist approach, for audio
purists who want the simplest way to get the signal to the speakers; others try to provide
as many bells and whistles as possible (e.g., tone controls and headphone jacks). Opera
Audios Consonance C100 integrated amplifier puts out 120Wpc into 8 ohms or 180Wpc
into 4 ohms, has a solid set of features, and sells for a competitive price: $1249 USD.
Features and setup
The Consonance C100 has a sleek appearance: its black
chassis sits on four substantial silver-gray footers. On the front of the amp are two
large silver-gray knobs, separated by a raised panel that houses the power button and the
blue LED that indicates that the unit is on. The knob on the left-hand side selects among
six labeled inputs: Balanced, DVD, CD, Tape, Tuner, and Auxiliary. The knob on the right
is the volume knob. The only way to know which input has been selected or where the volume
is set is by looking for a small round indent on the knobs.
A small, rectangular remote allows you to raise and lower
the volume, but input selection must be done from the unit itself. The Rotel RA-02, which I reviewed recently, had the nice feature of
a blue LED on the volume knob -- as you change the volume level from the couch, you can
see where its being set. A similar feature on the Consonance would have been useful,
but its certainly not mandatory. Such an indicator would have been nice on the input
knob as well, but as you must change the input from the unit itself, the indicators
absence is inconsequential. Some people may miss tone controls; Ive found that I
never use them.
The back of the Consonance has a very neat appearance, with
logical layout of all inputs. Starting on the far left, there are the six inputs for
sources: five pairs of RCA female connectors for the various inputs and a pair of balanced
inputs, which sets the Consonance apart from many of the integrateds in the GoodSound!
price range. Of course, not all sources have balanced outputs, so this feature may not be
useful to everyone. However, if you think youll be upgrading your source in the
future, having a balanced input on your integrated amplifier will open you up to sources
that support this feature. Balanced inputs and outputs seem to be standard on
higher-priced gear, so this is a good way to future-proof your system.
After the input connections, there are three RCA female
connections for outputting the signal from the C100. One of these is a tape output, whose
signal level is unaffected by the C100s volume setting. The other two, however, are
variable outputs that are affected by the volume setting. These could be used for
one of two functions. First, you could use the C100 as a preamplifier if, at some point,
you choose to get a separate power amp. As with the balanced inputs, this means that the
C100 is ready for budding audiophiles who see themselves upgrading their systems over
time. You can also use the variable outputs for connecting a subwoofer to your system. I
prefer full-range speakers, but if your taste is for subwoofers and smaller speakers, the
C100 is ready for you.
I set up the Consonance C100 in two systems. First, I used
it with a Sony SCE-775 SACD player, a Transparent Link interconnect, Axiom M22ti speakers,
and Kimber 4PR speaker cables. Second, I connected the C100 to my Rotel RCD-1070 CD player
with a pair of Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval interconnects, and to my Quad 21L speakers with Kimber 4PRs. I was ready to begin.
The first thing I noticed about the C100 in both systems
was that it could play loud. At my usual listening levels, I didnt get the volume
past nine oclock; when I did go above that, the sound remained clear and did not
distort in any way. The volume control is very sensitive, which made it much harder for me
to set the volume correctly at lower levels: the signal seemed to go from too low to too
high. I learned quickly to ramp the volume up very slowly to get it right where I wanted
If you really like to rock the house, then you might not
need to look any further for an amplifier. In fact, over the period I had the Consonance,
I noticed I was playing many more of my rock, hip-hop, and electronica CDs than I usually
do. While this was not a scientific study, I would estimate that my usual listening
breakdown is 60% jazz, 20% classical, and 20% rock; with the Consonance, my percentages of
rock and jazz listening were reversed. I may have just been going through a rock phase,
but I think the Consonance was especially apt at reproducing that kind of music.
The best part of the C100 was its excellent dynamic
capabilities. Listening to Weezers Weezer [Geffen DGCD-24629], I was able to
hear the Opera go from soft passages to full-on sonic barrages without missing a beat. On
such songs as "My Name is Jonas" and "Undone -- the Sweater Song," the
band moves from voice and acoustic guitar to choruses of loud electric guitars, bass, and
drums; the C100 sounded natural throughout these transitions.
The C100s bass performance was another highlight. On
Pailheads Trait EP [Wax Trax WAXCD 047], the driving bass of such songs as
"I Will Refuse" sounded deep and focused, without boom. On hip-hop and
electronica recordings, such as The Best of Eric B. and Rakim [Hip-O 314 556
220-2], the sounds, whether synthesized, sampled, or instrumental, were deep and clean,
and the highs were never shrill or sharp. I found myself grooving along to the more than
seven minutes of "Paid in Full (Seven Minutes of Madness -- the Coldcut Remix)"
and forgetting that I was supposed to be paying attention to the sound. That, I think, is
a good thing: the equipment should fade from view and leave the music alone.
In some ways, the C100 could have been better. The high
frequencies of acoustic music seemed more artificial than Im used to, and the
soundstage was not as deep as I expected it to be. When I played Graham Anthony
Devines Manhã de Carnaval: Guitar Music from Brazil [Naxos 8.557295], the
high notes were not lifelike, and the acoustics of the recording venue (St. John
Chrysostom Church in Newmarket, Ontario) were not conveyed as convincingly as by my
A comparison of the Consonance with my Rogue Audio Tempest
integrated amplifier ($2195) proved interesting. I chose the newly remastered edition of
Cecil Taylors Conquistador [Blue Note 5 90840 2] as a reference disc for two
reasons. First, Andrew Cyrilles cymbals play a crucial role in the title track, and
I was interested to hear how the two integrateds dealt with the hard-to-reproduce crashes.
Second, the recording features two basses, ably played by Henry Grimes and Alan Silva,
that are also difficult to reproduce clearly. When played on lesser equipment, the basses
sound more like a rumbling train than distinct instruments.
The Rogue Tempests sound was fuller, with better
imaging and a deeper soundstage (the Tempest costs almost $1000 more), but the Consonance
was able to reproduce the difficult bass passages without their becoming boomy or
indistinct. The decay of Cyrilles cymbals was less than Id hoped for with the
C100, but this seems to be one of the hardest things to get right. The Operas
performance on transients wasnt worse than that of other amplifiers Ive heard
in this price range, but it was not the players strong suit. The cymbals had a
slight grain and didnt decay for as long as they should; fortunately, this was not
always noticeable in casual listening.
I also compared the Consonance C100 with the similarly
priced pairing of the Anthem TLP 1 and PVA 2 ($1348).
The two systems illustrate a great difference in design philosophy: The Consonance
provides a single-box solution with a minimalist feature set and balanced inputs, whereas
the Anthems lack balanced inputs but seem to be jacks-of-all-trades, including a tuner,
tone controls, a headphone jack, and various setup features. Considering these two
approaches is a good way of determining what sort of system youre interested in.
Think about what you want your system to do, and whether you think youll be
upgrading it. Youll then have a better idea of which features are important to you
and which would be wasted.
The Opera Audio Consonance C100 goes for a very competitive
price, did a nice job with dynamics, and seemed to thrive on contemporary music: rock,
hip-hop, and electronica. I cant be sure how much of its performance was
system-dependent, but I did use it in two different systems, and this sonic signature
seemed to follow the amplifier. Rock fans looking for a single-box solution, and/or those
in need of balanced inputs, may want to investigate the C100 for themselves.
...Eric D. Hetherington
Price of equipment reviewed