Consonance C100 Integrated Amplifier
An integrated 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. I¡¯m not sure that¡¯s true, but even if it were, the advantages of an integrated amplifier are many. If you¡¯re 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. I¡¯m 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 Audio¡¯s 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 it¡¯s being set. A similar feature on the Consonance would have been useful, but it¡¯s 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 indicator¡¯s absence is inconsequential. Some people may miss tone controls; I¡¯ve 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 you¡¯ll 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 C100¡¯s 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 didn¡¯t get the volume past nine o¡¯clock; 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 it.
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 Weezer¡¯s 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 C100¡¯s bass performance was another highlight. On Pailhead¡¯s 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 I¡¯m used to, and the soundstage was not as deep as I expected it to be. When I played Graham Anthony Devine¡¯s Manh?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 reference system.
A comparison of the Consonance with my Rogue Audio Tempest integrated amplifier ($2195) proved interesting. I chose the newly remastered edition of Cecil Taylor¡¯s Conquistador [Blue Note 5 90840 2] as a reference disc for two reasons. First, Andrew Cyrille¡¯s 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 Tempest¡¯s 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 Cyrille¡¯s cymbals was less than I¡¯d hoped for with the C100, but this seems to be one of the hardest things to get right. The Opera¡¯s performance on transients wasn¡¯t worse than that of other amplifiers I¡¯ve heard in this price range, but it was not the player¡¯s strong suit. The cymbals had a slight grain and didn¡¯t 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 you¡¯re interested in. Think about what you want your system to do, and whether you think you¡¯ll be upgrading it. You¡¯ll 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 can¡¯t 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
Opera Audio Consonance C100 Integrated Amplifier - $1249 USD
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