Consonance Reference CD2.2 Linear
Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright SWL 9.0SE; Music First Audio
Amp: 2 x Audiosector Patek SE; Yamamoto A-08S; Canary Audio CA-308s
Speakers : Zu Cable Definition Mk 1.5; Gallo Reference 3
Cables: Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable, Zu Cable Varial and Ibis, Zu Cable Birth on Definitions; Stealth Audio Cable Indra, MetaCarbon & NanoFiber [on loan]; SilverFi interconnects; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; ZCable Hurricane power cords on both conditioners
Stands: 1 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; WorldPower cryo'd Hubbell wall sockets
Room size: 30' w x 18' d x 10' h [sloping ceiling] in long-wall setup in one half, with open adjoining living room for a total of ca.1000 squ.ft floor plan
Review Component Retail: $1,849
Once upon a time -- before the evil empire of Sony took copyright protection all the way to your computer, leaving a back door for hackers to install malware without your consent -- there lived in the digital lands a noble ronin called Kusunoki. While the samurai of the feudal lords were engaged in bitter battles called upsampling, oversampling and digital filtering, Kusunoki-San applied his sharply honed mental blade to cutting away that which he deemed redundant about digital. While the samurai won victory after victory on the killing fields of mammon, this ronin dispatched a secret message to the four white paper winds in the hopes that some wise man would capture and implement it.
That man in the right place at the right time was Kimura-San of 47Labs. He was ably assisted by Segoshi-San of the Cherry Blossom Clan -- otherwise known as Sakura Systems, the US importer for 47Labs -- who transcribed the Japanese ciphers into English , thereby preparing for the inevitable: the rooting of the digital counter message in the mass consciousness of the fickle audiophile zeitgeist.
The moral of this fairy tale? Non-upsampling, filterless D/A conversion à la 47Labs, Ack!, Audio Note, AudioZone, iLungo, Scott Nixon, Zanden Audio and now Opera Audio of Beijing's Chaoyang District. Today's player -- and its $1,000 companion without the 6H30 triode output stage -- are unique in packaging this concept as integrated one-box machines rather than outboard DACs like all their current competition.
With dCS, Meitner and Anagram championing ever higher upsampling rates, this "superior math" technique soon clinched sales to become a de rigeur item. 24-bit was clearly better than 16, 192kHz clearly more advanced than 44.1kHz, 8 cylinders infinitely more macho than six. Purveyors to these manufacturers (BurrBrown, Crystal et al) kept introducing faster and faster chips to play a similar game of instant obsolescence as is par for the course with computers. The coincident gestation of a counter trend then became the recurring testament of audiophilia's core credo: implementation is boss .
Simply put, superior results can often be achieved by apparently mutually exclusive means making for inbuilt contradiction and endless religious debates. In this digital discussion, it's about different kinds of distortions and which are more benign. The up/oversampling brigade concerns itself with pushing digital aliasing or mirrored ghost images into ultrasonic bands well beyond human hearing whereafter gentler, phase-friendlier filters can remove this distortion from the signal with the least amount of impact. The no/no religion -- no upsampling, no filtering -- claims that the pre/post ringing endemic to the other process is far more nefarious whereas the ghost images may well remain in the realm of ghosts where they do zero damage to anyone in the land of the living.
With the Consonance Reference CD-2.2, Opera Audio let's a prospective customer have it both ways. The Linear version of today's review absconds with the digital number's magic to heed Kusonoki's wisdom, the regular 2.2 embraces the opposing stance. If you must compete, compete with yourself and appeal to both camps and capture either type of follower. If that was the underlying motivation, nobody can fault our Chinese friends for following their own advice.
One Sovtek 6H30 super tube made famous by BAT is mounted horizontally to buffer the output. It kicks into "full-on thermionic emissions" after about 40 seconds and is claimed to be sonically stable after as little as 5 minutes, with 30 minutes the maximum allowable time for audiophile neurosis. The clean fascia recalls Accustic Arts of Germany but Opera's two chromed knobs aren't push/turn but funky tilt affairs, with the left one controlling power/open, the right one play/stop/last/next by canting the knob up, down, left or right. Unfortunately, the included metal remote with its 36kHz Philips code absconds not just with user-selectable Fir filters and dither -- expected for this concept -- but also direct track access. If you want that feature, swap the stock remote for the full-function clicker that comes with the Droplet.
However, you might prefer the stocker. That's because it allows for a feature highly unusual in the no/no faith - 88.2kHz sampling by pressing the "B" button during stop. During playback, "B" instead toggles through remaining time modes. "A" proceeds from "bright" to two levels of dim to full blackout for the big, bold and blue display.
The substantial top cover -- readily removable via 4 hex bolts to gain access to the spring-loaded triode -- is adorned with six solid strips of Cherry which add damping and cosmetic appeal. 'round back is the ubiquitous power inlet, an S/PDIF RCA digital output and a 2.35V RMS analog output on high-quality RCAs.
Conversion duties are handled by a 16-bit Philips TDA1543 chip while I/V conversion is performed purely passively for "superb transient response without any overshoot". The analog reconstruction filter is J-FET based to eschew opamps.
In the spec wars, the 2.2 Linear already seems a winner before any listening commences: a claimed >100dB S/N ratio, <100dB cross talk and THD of < 0.12%. Warranty is 1 year and 90 days on the tube.
Would what presents itself in the Opera Audio Consonance Reference CD-2.2 Linear as 35 lbs of smartly styled $1,849 digital source component deliver a potent whiff of Zanden-style filter-less valve magic? If you don't want the triode nor the Cherry, you can enter this game for $995 with the CD-120 Linear stable mate that uses the same circuit but comes packaged in a plainer box.
I will use the Droplet CD-5.5 tubed player for a sane reference while Zanden's mighty separates will be making a brief appearance for ne plus ultra context. Stay tuned as today's ronin does battle against the samurai. Who will make Sushi-style fillet of whom?