I recently received an email from Rachel Zhang of Grant Fidelity offering me the first crack at the new entry level Opera-Consonance LP6.1 turntable and TP988 arm combination. As my plate has been pretty full these days (and I am trying to abort an overflow situation) I nearly passed on it. But the more I looked at the information she sent, and the price ($1325 sans cartridge but including shipping in North America with a special introductory price of $995 shipped) I became more and more intrigued. Throw in the fact that my good friend and fellow Enjoy the Music.com reviewer Scott Faller owns (and loves) his top of the line Opera Droplet 5.0 ($5700 plus arm and cartridge.) We may not always see eye to eye on speakers (or politics) but when it comes to analog, I trust his judgment. Who am I kidding? What the hell- ship it! I will fit it in somehow.
After I received the turntable, I sent an e-mail to advise of its safe delivery. That's when Rachel told me how this turntable came about. She and her partner Ian Grant had seen the turntable and arm on a recent factory visit to China. They convinced the factory to allow them to import the 6.1 and TP988 to North America, telling them that especially now, with our economy in the dumper (my words, probably not theirs), we North Americans needed high performance, relatively low cost hi-fi. The first combination shipped to North America is happily spinning in my system as I write.
Opera-Consonance 6.1 Turntable
A couple of observations here: the spindle is unusually tall, allowing the use of nearly any make or model of aftermarket mat desired. Also, should one be so inclined, one can move the arm mount to accommodate the 12-inch Consonance TP1288 ($795 with an introductory price of $695, or $100 additional at time of purchase) for lower tracking error.
Opera-Consonance TP988 Tonearm
The unipivot design is up for debate. The advantage is much lower friction as opposed to a gimbal equipped tonearm, as there are no bearings on each side of the tonearm near the pivot point. There is a point on the underside of the arm wand that rides atop a bearing in an oil soaked bath. Because there are no side bearings, the arm can freely "rock" from side to side. This is the downside. As the arm rides record warp, it is prone to rocking, and changing the orientation of the stylus from side to side (azimuth) as it rides within record groove. Which camp you fall into is a personal choice: roll the dice and pay the price. While I can see the logic, I never detected any issues tracking warped LPs with the TP988. The user can of course experiment with lubrication. Those that wish to do so are encouraged to check out this link, provided by Grant Fidelity.
I can also see people with large LP collections having multiple arm wands: one holding a stereo cartridge one holding a mono cartridge. As the wiring plugs into the top of the arm base, and VTA is easily adjustable, it would only take a couple of minutes to swap arm wands, especially if one were to use a fine point Sharpie to mark the bottom of the arm mount for the proper VTA for each cartridge. Numerous counterweights are included to facilitate cartridge matching.
North American buyers are covered by a two year parts and labor warranty.
In a nutshell, this is what you need to do to set up the LP6.1 turntable and TP988 tonearm:
1. Open box. Remove and identify parts and accessories
2. Lubricate the main bearing with the included oil
3. Put on white gloves (included) and gently lower platter onto the bearing
4. Install belt- this takes patience- follow the advice in the manual
5. Trial fit arm base on the plinth.
6. Secure signal wiring to the arm base
7. Secure arm wiring to socket on the arm base
8. Trial fit counterweight
9. Trial fit cartridge and secure cartridge wiring
10. Fill arm trough with included oil
11. Place tonearm onto bearing
12. Set Vertical Tracking force
13. Set Overhang with included template
14. Check cartridge azimuth- see text- not in instructions- adjust if necessary
15. Set Vertical Tracking Angle
16. Check and adjust cueing height as necessary- see text- not in instructions
17. Hang anti skate weight
18. Check speed with included strobe disc
19. Connect to phono stage and enjoy!
I did run into one snag during setup. The cueing assembly did not work properly- when the cueing lever was in the up position the stylus was still in the groove. This was easily remedied. There is a 3mm Allen bolt the holds the cueing assembly in place. I loosened the bolt, raised the assembly, and tightened the bolt and it worked perfectly.
Concerning cartridge azimuth, this can be adjusted with the Opera-Consonance T988 arm. What we are trying to accomplish is make sure that the cantilever is perfectly perpendicular to the record groove. If the cartridge body is tilted to the left or right when viewed from the front, there will be unequal signal output from the cartridge, shifting the sound either to the left or the right, which also negatively affects imaging. While one can try to "eyeball" azimuth, to adjust this perfectly one really needs a good test record, such as Hi Fi News and Record Review Test Record, which is heartily recommended. To adjust azimuth on the T988 gently rotate the arm tube to the left or the right as needed.
One (of many things) that I really like about the T988 is that all of the adjustments needed to get the most information out of the grooves are able to be performed. Many lower priced arms do not have any sort of azimuth adjustment possible.
The rest of the rig was my reference setup that can be seen here. The only exception is that amplification varied between my Bella Extreme 3205 Signature MKII amplifier/ Juicy Music Peach preamplifier and the most excellent Manley Laboratories Stingray iTube integrated ($3400, review seen here) running in triode mode.
When the Opera-Consonance LP6.1 and TP988 combination was offered for review, Rachel also asked if I needed a cartridge as well. I have my "Dynavector by Sound Smith" custom- a DV10XL with a ruby cantilever fitted with a line contact stylus, which is honestly not the right cartridge for this table- no one is going to (or should) spend $1000 on a cartridge for a $1325 turntable. I also have a Denon DL110 ($139), which is a fantastic cartridge for the money but may not be "enough" cartridge for the Opera-Consonance. Rachel offered to send a Dynavector DV10x5 ($430 in the United States). When the shipment arrived, I was surprised to find a Dynavector DV20XL ($750 in the United States) in the DV10x5 box! While I have no experience with the DV10x5, I owned a DV10x4MkII for some time years ago, before I upgraded to the DV20XL. The main reason for the upgrade was that I had a couple of unfortunate incidents with wiped out cantilevers- one my fault; one was the child of a houseguest. The upgrade was mainly due to the fact the 20X series comes with a stylus guard, something the 10X series sorely lacked. And although Mike Pranka, the Dynavector distributor for the United States was great about replacing the cartridge at a reduced cost under his "oops" policy (something he does for everyone, not just reviewers) it was still costing me cash each time it happened. When the DV20XL arrived, I was rather underwhelmed -- it sounded very close to the lower model. Remembering this, I decided to mount the DV20XL to the TP988 and proceed with the review. Also, I have years of listening experience with the DV10XL, so it all worked out well in the end.
Another LP that caught me by surprise was Crosby, Stills and Nash's debut [Classic Records/Atlantic SD8229] While I have always loved the music I have always hated the sound quality of this album. The low frequency politeness of the Opera-Consonance LP6.1/TP988 combo really helped this record. I always found the sound to be thick, muddy, and slow. It irritates me to the point that I rarely listen to it. With the Opera-Consonance rig, most of the mud is gone: the music goes from being caked in mud to just a small layer of grunge: still far removed from the best sounding LPs in my collection, but it has transformed from an LP I generally ignore to one that I find at least listenable.
Let's visit some female vocals, shall we? I'm a rock and roll guy at heart, but sometimes, I just need a break. I enjoy some jazz, so I pulled out Dinah Washington - The Jazz Sides [Mercury EMS-2-401 2LPs] a 1976 reissue of some of her sides from the mid to late 1950s. "Blue Gardenia" features a saxophone as well a hollow body electric jazz guitar of some sort- yes you can hear that is definitely not an early Fender or Gibson solid body. The performance is spellbinding- the whole album sounds fantastic. Many recordings from the 1950's had a beautiful, immediate, and realistic quality that I find largely missing today. As far as Washington's voice, the liner notes state: "There are all kinds of singers. Somehow, Dinah made most of the others sound like little girls." I agree. Dinah knows what she wants (put your mind in the gutter.) Great stuff- highly recommended.
Flea market types and dumpster divers will be very well served by the Opera-Consonance combo. I was shocked at the dramatic reduction in surface noise while playing older, less than pristine vinyl on this setup. In fact, I spent one evening searching out "well loved" LPs in my collection. Most sounded as if they were nearly new. I called Scott and asked him what was going on- this rig costs roughly 25 percent of my reference rig, and while I prefer most LPs played on my own setup, the Opera-Consonance rig positively destroyed the Sota/Audiomods setup while playing worn vinyl. Scott believes it is a combination of the carbon fiber arm wand along with oil damping that is doing the trick. Whatever it is, it works- the difference is night and day. While I have found Dynavector cartridges very forgiving in general when it comes to surface noise, this is a whole new ballgame- the improvement is that profound. The difference between the two setups, as far as surface noise, is similar to the difference between playing a dirty versus clean record on my reference rig.
When it was first released, I purchased the Beatles Yellow Submarine Songtrackon yellow vinyl. [EMI 7243 5 21481 1 0] I got a dud pressing: there was a "whoosh whoosh" noise in the grooves on side one between "Yellow Submarine" and "Hey Bulldog." It drove me nuts. Eventually, I caved and purchased a second copy form a different store. Same thing- to say that I was pissed is putting it mildly. The noise is still there on the Opera-Consonance rig, but it far less noticeable. Especially in analog, when one spends more, one gets more- more resolution, more nuances, simply more music, and usually surface noise goes down as the price goes up. With the lower priced rig, I lost most of the irritating surface noise, along with some of the drama and impact of the music. For those who have heard Yellow Submarine Songtrack, gone are the extra impact and slam of Paul's bass guitar and Ringo's drum kit: Songtrackon the Opera Consonance sounds more like the original mixes. The vocals and orchestration, however, were positively magical. Not a bad trade off, considering the price.
Are you in the mood for a full-on head banging musical assault? I can't think of a better choice right now than AC/DC's Let There Be Rock. [Epic/Sony 80203] Remastered in 2003 by George Marino at Sterling Sound, this one is a real powerhouse- real AC/DC before the tragic passing of vocalist Bon Scott. Listening to the opening track "Problem Child" I am reminded that this is a lower priced rig, while the drums are sufficiently detailed, they lack the impact and slam of my reference rig. The vocals and guitars, however, are crystal clear, and the Opera- Consonance setup gives a good portrayal of front to rear depth. At the end of the day, it is not a fair comparison- the SOTA's platter alone weighs roughly 1.5 times what the entire Opera-Consonance rig weighs- better isolation from outside forces equals better information retrieval.
It is probable that a change in cartridge would have changed my opinion at least somewhat concerning the bass performance, possibly at the expense of the seductive midrange using the Dynavector. I was unfortunately unable to mount my Denon DL110 on the business end of the TP988: the screws I have on hand were just a hair too short.
In short, those who own smaller, stand-mounted loudspeakers with limited low frequency extension should be thrilled with the LP6.1/TP988. If it sounds as If I am being harsh, I do not mean to be. There is a whole lot of goodness here, especially for the money.
I did stumble across a worthwhile tweak: the SOTA Reflex Clamp ($245). Due to the 6.1's unusually tall spindle, it just barely fit. And while it seems to make little difference on my SOTA Star, it made an audible improvement in all aspects of performance with the 6.1, most notably bass weight and definition.
The Opera-Consonance LP6.1/TP988 combo is not only a joy to use and listen to, but once I got past the "form follows function" appearance, I realized that it is also a thing of beauty. The entry level Opera-Consonance can not only be easily recommended for those who want their first "serious" turntable, but in these trying economic times, those who may feel the need to "step down" will be well served by the LP6.1/TP988 combo as well. I could easily live with it long term, and will miss it when it is gone.
I think you will really enjoy Opera's other turntables with the isolated motor pod, the combination of fishing line belt with the pod makes belt tension a breeze, place and play. :)
Sorry about sending you the wrong cartridge. I found the 10x5 in the DV20X box getting ready for RMAF. Too bad, because the 10x5 is a better match for this and the Droplet 3.1 tables and ST988 arms, especially if you lean towards rock, blues etc over audiophile jazz etc. The 10x5 is a much meatier cartridge -- not as refined as the pricier models, but more balanced.
When thinking cartridges for the Opera line of turntables, keep in mind that the price of these tables is much less that their performance/cost ratio. One reviewer of the Droplet 5.1 is actually suggesting $10,000+ cartridges for the $6700 table and arm.
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