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September 2005
Enjoy the Music.com
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Opera Audio Droplet LP5.0 Turntable
We're Talking Some Serious Eye Candy!
Review By Scott Faller

Click here to e-mail reviewer

 

  In world of high-end gear, the name Opera Audio should come as no stranger to most of you. Opera Audio has been around for over ten years producing some fine sounding, affordable gear. Being one of the better established and highly regarded Chinese manufacturers; Opera has over 20 distributors worldwide easily reaching well over 100 dealers globally. For those of us here in the States, Stephan Monte at Quest For Sound / NAT Distribution is our point of contact. Quest For Sound actually carries a myriad of high end products, from the ultra affordable to the ultra expensive.

As you flip through their line, you'll notice that Opera has an offering for nearly each persons price point. Whether you are looking for a nice sounding solid state amp, an affordable tube amp or tuner, or an ultra cool CD player or turntable, Opera offers a little something for everybody.

 

Basic Design
Lets start by taking a quick look at the specifications of the Opera LP-5. 

Suspension: Mass-loaded on 3 point solid aluminum domes
Plinth: One piece machined anodized aluminum.
Platter: Machined 67mm acrylic contoured to match record surface (indent for record label)
Bearing: Large diameter inverted fixed spindle with polished ceramic ball on Teflon thrust plate.
Motor: German manufactured precision hi torque DC motor with pulley (33+45rpm).
Control: Power supply, speed control (33+45rpm) with fine speed adjustment mounted off plinth in a separate chassis for complete decoupling of motor and bearing vibrations.
Drive: Monofilament, non-classic drive belt.
Weight: > 175 pounds

As you can read, there isn't anything ‘new' or innovative about the LP-5's design. Opera has just taken solid turntable design and applied it to their own vision of what a turntable should look like. Lets examine the table a little further if we can. Lets do a ‘bottom up' approach to our analysis.

 

Her Legs Went On Forever, Like Staring Up At Infinity...
Opera Audio Droplet LP5.0 TurntableThough similar to other turntables out there, the LP-5 is quite different on one respect, the stand. Opera sells this table with an integrated marble stand. Opera refers to this as a ‘system' (approach). As you can see from the pic, the shape of the stand matches the beautiful flowing lines of the plinth. There are two 40 mm thick pieces of solid, polished marble that are integrated into the finely machined three-point alloy stand. The hollow legs of the stand are held together by a threaded rod that is torqued down during assembly. If you are adventurous enough, the stands hollow legs could be filled with sand. I personally don't think it's necessary but one never knows.

One of the key items to take into account here is the integration of the turntable and a stand adds effective mass to the overall design of the table. The stand (alone) tips the scales at nearly 110 pounds. The combined weight of the stand and turntable weighs in at over whopping 175 pounds! Think about that for a second, that's (about) the weight of an average height human male. This makes me think back to the old Price per Pound Scale of Audio that Sam Tellig did a while back. One of the best deals I know of right now is the Odyssey Audio Khartago amplifier. It weighs right at 30 pounds and costs a mere $795. That makes the Khartago a screamin' deal at $26.50 per pound. Using this same logic, the Opera LP5.0 costs $22.85 per pound. Could we have a new cost per pound champion here?

Anyway, of all the turntables our there, I can only think of three that come with an integral stand, the Rockport System III Sirius, the Goldmund Reference and maybe the Ghibaldani Domus (of which maybe three were made, talk about an obscure turntable) all of which check in at twice the cost of my first house.

Directly coupled to the Operas massive stand is the base of the LP-5. As you can see, the base is made of some sort of Asian solid hardwood. The wooden plinth is finished with a luscious, deep red stain. Attached to the bottom of the massive wooden plinth you will find three more adjustable alloy cones for leveling the turntable. The wooden portion of the plinth is almost 3 inches thick. Routed into the plinth is a slightly recessed region that houses the LP5's DC motor (more on the motor later). On the backside of the base is a standard IEC female connection that the power cord plugs into. Buried within the wooden plinth is the DC power supply. It's located well below the platter and arm to insure no EMF interference.

Hovering 20mm above the massive LP5.0 wooden plinth is a secondary plinth. This plinth is manufactured from 20 mm of solid aluminum. The aluminum plinth is attached to the base via three, solid aluminum standoffs that measure 25mm in diameter.  This provides rigid coupling between the two plinths with minimal transmission of their own unique resonant frequencies.

Perched 45mm above the aluminum plinth, on 30mm solid aluminum round bar stock, is the 13mm thick aluminum arm board. The arm board utilizes a single machine screw to connect itself to the 30mm ‘standoff'. The LP-5 comes with two arm boards. One predrilled with a slot to handle a variety of arms and one blank ready for drilling in case your arm has special requirements.

Unlike some traditional arm boards, the massive aluminum ‘standoff' and single mounting screw for the arm board allows some transverse adjustment so you can dial in the arm tracking to this table. Oh, there are no worries regarding the single machine screw used for attaching the arm board to the standoff. The connection is extremely rigid with little (if any) possibility of slippage. Just to test the connection, I grabbed the arm board and gave it a good hard twist. It didn't budge. I'm sure if I'd used both hands and put my back into it, I could have gotten it to move but there is zero chance this type of force will ever be introduced to this table under normal use.

 

Setup
When this table arrived, it came in a huge box. It actually had me a little worried. I had cleared a spot in my system (which consists of three racks) and from the size of the box it didn't look as if I had cleared enough space in my system. The other thing, by the size and weight of the box, negotiating this thing down my basement steps was completely out of the question.

I decided to wrestle the box into my garage and start the unpacking process. As I popped the packing tape, I could see that the folks at Opera take shipping audio gear quite seriously. Guessing, I'd bet there was at least 3” of soft, formed foam between the outermost part of the table and the shipping container. This insured that the LP5.0 would arrive at its destination unscathed regardless of how hard the morons at UPS, FedEx or DHL tried to destroy it in transit.

As I continued to unpack the LP5.0, I found a couple of interesting items. First was a simple pair of white cotton gloves. These are for handling the platter so you don't deposit any body oils on the acrylic. Next was a syringe, a medical syringe, filled with a clear liquid. At first glance, I started having flashbacks of the 70's but then the audiophile in me kicked in. The syringe is filled with bearing oil. Actually, considering the oiler is at the very top of the bearing, accessed from above the platter, this type of dispensing makes perfect sense. I'm just glad that nobody X-rayed this thing while it was in customs. I could see the DEA showing up at my house, carting me off to the pokie and impounding the turntable until they figured out that the liquid was bearing lube as opposed to joy juice.

Anyway, set up was a snap. The table and stand went together in just over an hour. Moving back to the bottom of the table and stand, both the cones on the turntables plinth and the stand are adjustable making leveling (even on heavily sloped floors) a snap.

Mounting the tone arm to the arm board is a slightly different proposition. For most people, you will need to have NAT Distribution provide you with a pre-drilled arm board that is tapped for the arm you intend on use on this table. For me, it wasn't as big of an ordeal. I wanted to mount the ultra-cool Dynavector 507 on the arm board. Fortunately, I own a decent drill press and have a full set of boring bits and tap set (I used to be a gear-head before I turned into a geek). If you have the impression that a simple hand drill will suffice, get that thought out of your head. Remember, you are drilling through 0.5-inch thick hardened aluminum. Even trying to drill a pilot hole for the arm mounting screws will snap a tiny drill bit in a heartbeat. You need a drill press, trust me.

With the table and stand assembled, the arm mounted and cartridge installed, I have to say the factory pictures really don't do this table justice. In person, the finishes are truly stunning. With the Dynavector 507 mounted, this setup will give even the seasoned audiophile, wet dreams. Deservedly so, Opera has outdone themselves regarding styling this time. I'm sure that all of the turntable manufacturers are green with envy when they look at this table. I know I would be if I built tables.

After the initial setup, you are going to have to allow a bit of time to allow the bearing and motor some run-in time. 10 to 20 hours should be just fine. What I did was after about 20 hours I pulled the platter and cleaned the bearing of any oil and residual debris from the mechanical run-in. I re-installed the platter and re-oiled the bearing. Did it make a difference? I can't say for sure but lets look at it this way, if you were buying a new car, would you change your oil after the first 500 miles of break in? I do (regardless).

After living with this table for a while, I've learned that the DC motor likes to be readjusted at start up. I can only assume that it this is due (partially) to the variance of my incoming power. As you (should) know, your power company doesn't provide you with a constant 120 volts of electricity. They (in my case) can vary the amount of voltage delivered to the house by 10 percent without notification. Checking the power with the Fluke verifies this fact. Fortunately, Opera has included a platter sized speed disc that handles 33's and 45's at both 50Hz and 60Hz. A simple twist of the speed adjuster screw brings the table back to proper speed.

The other thing I've found that contributes to the speed adjustments required at startup is the mass of the platter and bearing combination. As it is with any mechanical device (thinking cars again), the bearings need a bit of warm up time before they perform consistently. If you are in doubt, just think about that massive platter that is suspended and spinning on a simple, passively oiled bearing. The coefficient of friction will change as the bearing comes up to its operating temperature. Physics, it's the law! This really isn't a big deal, just give the table about five or ten minutes, then adjust the speed and you are set for as long as you want to listen.

 

The Sound
Besides the beautifully sculpted lines of this table, the sound of the Droplet LP5.0 is simply superb. Over the past few months, I've been throwing everything at the LP5 trying to make it falter. Try as I might, I can't seem to do it. Granted, some of the great results I've had are due to the arm/table combination. The Dynavector 507 is a perfect mate to the LP5. Toss in a stunning phono stage like the Graham Slee Jazz Club and a superior cartridge like the Dynavector 20-XH and you are in business.

Of all the vinyl I've been spinning, there have been a few standouts that may well, best describe how this table sounds. The first of the lot is Sergeant Peppers, by the Beatles. When somebody (anybody) asks to hear the LP5 in action, I grab this one. From the first drop of the needle, you are immediately taken by the completely silent background. By silent, I don't mean quiet, I mean silent. No rumble, no room-filling ambience of low frequency grunge transmitted from a lesser table, no nothing. I'm talking about complete silence. The only thing you hear (if you get close to the speakers) is the gentle hiss of the stylus whisping itself through the grooves. It's almost eerie. Turntables aren't supposed to sound this quiet.

After the lead in grooves on Peppers, the listener is greeted by the all too familiar John, Paul, George and Ringo… but something is different. It's not a little different; it's a significant difference. Anybody 40 years old or older knows Sgt. Peppers inside and out. We've all listened to it more times than we care to remember. The ambient noise that begins track one, side one swells to reveal this evergreen in an entirely new light.

Paul's bass now becomes tight and extremely well defined. When Ringo starts singing With a Little Help Form My Friends, the LP5 helps to project Ringo's virtual image in front of the left speaker. For over thirty years, Ringo has always been just behind the left speaker every time I've listened to him. With the LP5, this album has taken on an entirely new dimension. There are new levels of clarity that never existed before on my vinyl. I overheard one of my local buds mention to one of the other guys “I didn't know Ringo could actually sing”. That should give you an idea of the level of quality the Opera Droplet LP5.0 delivers.

It isn't just the super clean copy of Sgt Peppers to blame for these new presentations. I repeated this repeatedly with other Beatles releases. From my MoFi version of Abbey Road to some ultra cool Odeon releases of Please Please Me and Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!, the LP5 had the same effect. So you are thinking to yourself, the Beatles are fairly simple music, but how does something a bit more complex fair?

I could try to impress by using some obscure symphonic piece but that's not me. Sure, I have (and totally enjoy) Classical music but in the end, I'm still a hard core Rocker. What better to give the LP5 a workout than the epic, Yes Relayer. Between Gates of Delirium and Sound Chaser, there aren't many Prog Rock releases that are this complicated, intricate, and musical all in one release.

Although this piece may be completely unknown to some of you, I've been listening to it since it first hit the airwaves back in 1974. I've worn out two copies over the years. This album has (what I consider) some of the best music Yes has produced. On Gates of Delirium, the chord progressions, timing changes and sheer complexity of the composition makes it a stunning piece. If you have ever experienced this piece, it makes one wonder how on earth they ever laid this track down, it's that complex. Oh, and its 21 minutes long (gotta love the 70's). Though not everyone's cup of tea, it sure wets my whistle.

On Gates of Delirium, the central part of the song has you entering madness. The musical interpretation of insanity is portrayed by Chris Howe's screaming guitar, Chris Squire playing four fingered bass, Patrick Moraz's keyboarding mastery, and Alan White's drumming gymnastics. Often times this song comes across as a barrage of what many might consider noise. Part of this (seeming) noise was due to inferior turntables. The ability to track and translate these overtly complex passages is the key to the musical enjoyment of this piece. The Opera Droplet LP5.0 allowed me to hear these compositions in the way they were truly intended to be heard. The LP5 and the Dynavector sailed through the often-murky waters of these songs with ease. It was able to clearly differentiate each of the musicians as they hacked their way through this manic montage they created. The LP5 helped track the songs so well, I could even hear where Yes cut and spliced pieces from the original master tapes. It's unfortunate, back in the 70's and 80's we (or at least I) wasn't able to hear all of what Jon and company had to offer because of mediocre turntable designs.

Moving onto something a bit more traditional, listening to The Other Side of Round Midnight by Dexter Gordon I can't help but notice several distinct changes. One of the more noticeable items is that Pierre Michelot's bass on As Time Goes By and Paper Moon has become significantly ‘tighter' than I've experienced before. Even though you have seemingly more detail, the trailing decay of the notes are still quite warm and musical. The LP5 hasn't dried up the sound of his upright.

Another fabulous virtuoso performance on this album is Herbie Hancock playing Round Midnight. The realism of his piano is quite stunning. You can tell that the top of the piano is open. With each of the chords struck, you get that immediacy or sharp striking of the hammer to the string. The leading edge of the notes comes quickly. They don't sound the least bit harsh or mechanical or worse yet, they don't sound soft and mushy. There is also a completely believable sustain of the chords. The harmonic structure of the notes played, especially in the lower octaves, is very exacting.

Moving to an audiophile standard that more will be familiar with, Dave Brubeck's Time Out, at the beginning of Strange Meadowlark, Dave makes a number of runs up the ivory. On many tables, when Dave hits that final key with his pinky, it sounds hard and brittle. That final key should have bite but not sound harsh. Here the LP5 performs like the champ that she is. She has just the right balance of attack and neutrality. The reproduction is neither embellished nor subdued.

One of my all time favorite audiophile discs is the Sheffield Labs cutting of Harry James's Still Harry After All These Years. It is simply the best test of how open sounding a system is. When the needle drops on this juicy piece of vinyl, your room should be immediately transformed into a pew within the Wylie Chapel. The sound should envelope you in your listing seat with the wonderful ambiance of the room and this recording. Here the Opera LP5 doesn't disappoint in the least. Each of the instruments in Harry's big band takes up it's own place in the virtual soundstage created before you. You can easily pick up the back wall reflections and the acoustic signature of the chapel. The trombones and tuba sound nice and fat (as they should in real life), the Saxes have a full bodied, resonant presentation that can only be described as marvelous. On Satin Doll, the drummer Les DeMerle shifts from his High Hat to (what sounds like) an 18” Ride (cymbal). On a lesser table, often times that shimmer of gentle taps on a big ride can sound a little brittle. On the LP5 it is a sweet and open sounding as you could expect from a quality piece of vinyl.

As I look back at what I just wrote, I noticed that although I talked about how tight the bass was on the LP5, I didn't mention just how deep it goes. Thinking about what to use, lead me to Depeche Mode's latest release Exciter on vinyl. Anybody familiar with DM knows these guys love to play with synth's and extremely low bass. Listening to the opening cut on Side A, Dream On, DM closes the song with some seriously kick butt bass that dips down into the low 30's. The Opera LP5 faired darned well, not allowing the synthesized sounds to become soft and mushy. Throughout the entire album, the bass stayed clean and punchy even at some extreme SPL's. That's a testament to how the overall mass of the table and its low resonant characteristics don't color the sound.

 

Complaint
Well, there really isn't much to complain about with the Opera LP5. On startup, the speed needs to be adjusted but that's just my local power company and physics. At first, finding the adjuster screw with one of those tiny eyeglass screwdrivers was a pain, but I have that down now. I sorta wish this thing had a dust cover but as you look at it, that ain't gunna happen. Maybe I can talk my lovely wife into making a cloth cover similar to what goes over a birdcage. The only other thing I could pick on is its size and weight. Think about that though, this table wouldn't be the same if you downsized it. Besides, this table is clearly built and sold to guys that have a large, dedicated listening room. If you are looking for something that will fit on a shelf, look towards an Audio Note TT-1.

I wouldn't call this item nit picking but I do feel its worth bring up since I've given the Opera some high ratings. As you will read below, I added the Timing and Speed Stability categories. This addresses the German motor specifically. Make no mistakes when you are interpreting in these comments and my ratings below, it is a fine motor and does a good job but, if Opera wanted to take this table to the next level, a fully speed regulated design with constant speed correction could have been implemented. Several of the best tables in the world incorporate constant speed regulation and correction. This type of constant speed regulation technology comes with a hefty price tag though. Does the lack of this type of regulation detract from the LP5's ratings? Of course it does. Does this rating mean that the German motor does a poor job driving the platter? Not hardly. It is very good unit but when compared to a true, fully speed regulated motor design with constant speed correction it does fall just a bit short, hence my lower ratings. Don't read anything more into it other than that.

 

In The End...
Opera hasn't' tried to reinvent the turntable, they've taken ‘best practices' and designed a table around time-tested principals. I have to say that the Opera Droplet LP5.0 has lived up to all my expectations and then some. Too many tables can cover up the less noticeable details I've been waxing on about. But then again, when you are spending this much on a table, you expect as close to perfection as you can get, and the LP5 delivers.

On a less than stable table, the music can turn into no attack and all decay due to the excessive vibrations. The sound can be slow and sloppy where you loose any sense of rhythm that was laid down the on the studio tracks. On the flip side of that coin, many high end tables can be all attack with little decay. Those tables tend to sound hard, almost is if it is all leading edge. It seems that the Opera LP5 has found that very delicate balance. The leading edges of notes are crisp and immediate without being hard, yet the decay is warm and extremely musical without excessive colorations or overhang. The LP5 is true testament of what a high-end turntable should sound like.

When you start looking around at the competition in the $4,000 range, you will see some heavy hitters. There are tables like the Mitchell Orbe, the Clearaudio Master Solution, the Bluenote Belvedere, the Acoustic Signature Final Tool, the Roksan Xerxes, the Sota Nova and the Kuzma Stabli. Each of them are fine turntables in their own right. When you begin comparing their build qualities, some offer similar features to one extent or another. In closer comparisons, none of them offers the shear mass of the integrated table and stand that the Opera Droplet LP5.0 system does.

Is the entry fee a little steep? Yes and no. For the guys looking for a decent sounding, affordable table (read = under $2k complete with arm), this table is completely out of the question. But, for those of you looking for that last 5%, the Opera Droplet LP5.0 is a downright steal. It's scary good for the money. Very few of the other turntables in this (or nearly any other) price range offer the features and the sound quality of the LP5. In fact, none of them in this price range comes with an integrated stand.

To sum up my thoughts on the extremely sexy Opera Droplet LP5.0 turntable, I'd have to say that if you are in the market for a quality turntable, you may buy different but you won't necessarily buy better.

This table comes with my highest recommendations.

 

My Ratings
As you can see, these are some of the highest ratings I've given any piece of equipment to date. After living with the Opera Audio LP5 for a number of months, I feel the marks are well justified. When you spend this much money for a turntable, you should expect nothing less. I've left a bit of room for that "ultimate" turntable. In my opinion, when you get to this level of table, the ratings will only differ marginally between the majority of the sub-categories. That doesn't necessarily make one table better than another, only slightly different. This table gets all of the basics right. Mate this table with a quality arm, as I have, and you have a piece that will compete with some of the best tables available at nearly any price range.

 

 

Postscript
Thanks to my mate Geoff, I now am in debt up to my eyeballs. That's right, I ended up buying the Opera LP5 and Dynavector 507 combo. Unfortunately, my lovely wife keeps the books in our house. Hiding this purchase couldn't be done. In turn, I've been sworn to indentured servitude for the rest of my natural born life. So it goes in the audiophile kingdom. 

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High-frequencies (3,000Hz on up)

Attack

Decay

Timing (PRAT)

Inner Resolution

Soundscape width front

Soundscape width rear  
Soundscape depth behind speakers

Soundscape extension into the room

Imaging

Fit and Finish

Self Noise

Speed Stability

Value for the Money

Editor's note: Scott and i had multiple calls via voice and a few e-mail exchanges pertaining to his ratings. In the end the above is a result. While it does appear to rate extremely well and perhaps the review should have appeared within Enjoy the Music.com™'s Superior Audio magazine, Scott is a regular writer here so...  In the end Scott was so confident i will allow the ratings above to stand. During our phone conversations it was very obvious that Scott really enjoyed the music! 'nuff said
--- Steven R. Rochlin

 

Specifications
Type: Vinyl record player

Suspension: Mass-loaded on 3-point solid aluminum domes

Plinth: One piece machined anodized aluminum

Platter: Machined 67mm acrylic contoured to match record surface (indent for record label)

Bearing: Large diameter inverted fixed spindle with polished ceramic ball on Teflon thrust plate

Motor: German manufactured precision hi torque DC motor with pulley (33+45rpm)

Control: Power supply, speed control (33+45rpm) with fine speed adjustment mounted off plinth in a separate chassis for complete decoupling of motor and bearing vibrations

Drive: Monofilament, non-classic drive belt.

Weight: approx. 1 ton (?!?)

Dimensions : 17 x 11.5 5.5 (DxWxH)

Price: $4,000 stand included (less arm)

 

Company Information
Opera Audio
797, No.2 Jiuxianqiao Road, 
Chaoyang District
Beijing, China
Postal Code:100015

Website: www.operaudio.com

 

Opera Audio US/Canadian Distributor 
NAT Distribution
2307-Rear Bristol Pike
Bensalem, Pa 19020

Voice: (215) 953-9099
Website: www.natdistribution.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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