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Opera – A first review

post #1 of 424
Thread Starter 
In the last two weeks I had the opportunity to listen at home extensively to Jan Meier’s first Opera prototype and the second prototype, a pre-production model, already in the final optical design. To my knowledge in comparison from the second prototype I heard to the final product there will be only minor changes by Jan.

For pictures of the amp please visit the homepage of Jan Meier:
http://www.meier-audio.homepage.t-online.de/

First some descriptive aspects:

Frontside:
Left headphone jack 120 Ohm
Right headphone jack 0 Ohm
Crossfeed switch (crossfeed in the same intensity as Aria or Headfive)
Front selector switch: Digital, Analog 1, Analog 2
Amplification factor: +12 dB

Backside:
Backside selector switch: S/PDIF coaxial, USB
Inputs: S/PDIF,USB, Analog 1, Analog 2,
Output: Pre-out

The sound of the headphone amp can be described with some phrases I will explain in more detail:
- Clarity and purity of sound
- No coloration
- High stability
- Broad usability for headphones of different sensitivity

For comparison I have used my personal headphone amps the Earmax Pro Aniv. (reverse engineered), the CEC HD 53 (slightly modified with lower impedance than the original model) and the portable Ray Samuels Emmeline SR-71. In addition to that I had during the last years the opportunity to listen to several other headphone amps like the Corda Aria, the Corda Prehead MK II SE, Lehmann audio Black Cube Linear, the Rega Ear and the Grado RA1 (which I owned over a year). So I will explain the sound signature of the Opera in the broad context of all headphone amps I heard up to now.

As sources for this review I used as a CD player the CEC CD 5300 and the combination of Cambridge azur 340C (completely modified by http://www.hoer-wege.de/) and the DAC AQVOX USB 2 D/A. This is especially interesting since the Opera is not only a headphone amp but in addition offers a D/A-section on base of the Burr-Brown PCM1794.

As headphones, I regularly use the following headphones (in the order of my personal judgement):
1. Audio Technica ATH W-5000
2. AKG K-1000 (cabel Stefan ArtsAudio hardwired)
3. Sennheiser HD 650 (with Cardas cabel)
4. Shure E500 PTH
5. Grado RS-1
6. AKG K701

Clarity and purity of sound
Most people who know the high class Corda Preheads will agree that Jan emphasizes this strongly with its amplifiers. During the headphone meeting in the Netherlands http://www6.head-fi.org/forums/showthread.php?t=163108 Jan and I discussed what true sound is and Jan used a piano track on one of his CD’s to demonstrate to me the clarity and at the same moment firmness of notes played on a piano. During the meet I was immediately able to hear the difference reproductions of the piano on the different headphone amps. But I wasn’t too sure how a real piano sounded as it was quite some time ago when I have heard a real one. When I visited Jan at his home, he played some minutes on his grand piano to demonstrate live the aspect of firmness.

On the Chesky Ultimate Demonstration Disc they stress on one track (12. Transparency Introduction; 13. The Fred Hersch Trio ‘Played Twice’) the aspect that a piano is also a percussion instrument as the hammer hits the strings and that is the firmness I mean (hope I found the right word to descibe this). Since this lesson of Jan, I have left out no opportunity to listen to real instruments (even if it is played by a very fresh beginner).

When listening to new equipment I often use the opus 3 “Test CD 4 – Depth of image – Timbre - Dynamics” in the XRCD 24 version. When I listened to the first tracks with the Opera I thought about the strange sounds I heard for the first time. After listening to the tracks with more awareness I found that in the song “Try a Little Tenderness” one of the musicians can not hold himself and “sings” while playing on his instrument (reminded me of Glenn Gould). In the first track “From the Drottningholm Musice” from the Omnibus Wind Ensemble I heard for the first time in my life the keyworks of the clarinet.

No coloration
When users of the German www.hifi-forum.de criticised the aspect of coloration of different headphones I was never too sure what was meant by this term. I have to admit that this makes more sense to me since I listened to the Opera. The Opera is able to show the real differences between different headphones. Surely the difference between different headphones is also there with other headphone amps but it was often more a question which headphone sounded better with the amp and not so much what is the ideal this headphone tries to reach. With the Opera the differences between a W5000, a HD650 and a RS1 start to make sense. You start to understand what the headphone maker had in mind.

Overall, listening to instruments with the Opera gives a much more realistic feeling which might have a lot of different reasons but one I am quite sure is that the Opera is less colorating the sound.

High stability
Some years ago when I bought my K-1000 I thought it would be a nice idea to try it with my headphone amp. I bought an adapter and tried it. It did not work out. The sound lacked power, dynamic and was somehow dull.

During the Netherlands meet I again had the opportunity to listen to a K-1000 which was driven by one of the headphone amps available. Although some liked it, I found my former findings confirmed. Since then I have not tried my XLR to headphone jacket adapter again. I later learnt from a high end developer that the K-1000 is quite a special headphone to drive. On the one hand side the K-1000 needs loudspeaker voltages but low current, on the other hand a typical speaker has 4 ohm but the K-1000 has 120 ohm. Quite an unusual load and therefore for me it is not strange that people sometimes favour unusual amps for the K-1000 as the Nelson Pass F1 Firstwatt. Sometimes one is often happy if the K-1000 overall does not sound too bad, as it is the case with the cheap T-Amp.

After Jan wrote me that he had especially worked on the stability of the Opera I suddenly thought it might be worth giving it a try with my K-1000. I was quite astonished to find that this worked out quite well. I would not go so far to say that this is “the” amp for the K-1000, but for those users of the K-1000 who have not yet found the right amplifier and like to have only one headphone amp, the Opera is sure worth a try.

Broad usability for headphones of different sensitivity
Due to the gain switch the times where I had to use my W5000 at the lowest end of the poti are over. This is especially frustrating since potis tend to have a left-right-imbalance at their lower end. Quite annoying, so I ended up with one of my headphone amps having changed the poti three (!) times and the Grado RA1 also traveled from Germany to NY to have its poti changed. This now seems like a bad dream of the past as the Opera allows to lower the volume close to not audible at all without reaching the end of the poti.

On the other side the Opera is able to drive the K-1000 (with only 74 dB for 1 mW) with sufficient loudness, which means that you will normaly not face the situation that you buy a new headphone and afterwards also have to rethink your headphone amp.

I also tried the Opera with my Shure E500 which I normally use with the SR71 as a portable high end solution, but here the new technology Jan Meier used for the amp seems to strike back. With the new technology he calls balanced ground (the sum of all electric potentials is kept to zero) the noise level of the amp is increased by 3 dB. With the super sensitive E500 this means a small hissing I did not liked particularly. Still they sounded great with the Opera.


Four things I will not discuss in detail:
1. Although I am using the DAC function of the Opera all the time I do not feel to be the right person to judge the D/A-section. I tested it over some hours in comparison with the D/A-section of the CEC CD 5300 (then plugged in via a Fadel Arts RCA cable in the analog section) and found no particular differences. Maybe it is not my core competency to judge such subliminal differences, maybe there are no huge differences.
Since I have no profound technical background I do not want to try to argue why a DAC section in and headphone amp might have some tangible advantages, but it is at least very practical and might mean in one or the other case quite an improvement compared to mid-class-CD-players, especially if they are not very new.

2. In case the digital input gets no signal a relais cuts the DAC from the amp in milliseconds. This was for my taste a bit loud with the prototypes. So I sent Jan an email asking if this will still be the case with the final model. Jan wrote that the relais will be much quieter but still will be audible. So something I can not finally assess now.

3. The USB ability I have not tested up to now.

4. The price is still unknown as Jan has up to now not finally anounced this. As I already have ordered mine, I hope it will still meet my budget restrictions.

So overall the Opera is actually my first choice and I am looking forward to getting my ordered Opera soon (which I will then use for more extensive testing).

All the best, Reiner
post #2 of 424
Great Review. Time to start saving up some money.
post #3 of 424
this sounds liek a great upgrade for me coming from my aria. i've been wanting an amp with pre out and muiltiple inputs and this seems like a a logical step. that and i love the sound of my aria, so i'm sur ethe opera won't disappoint.
post #4 of 424
Good review!

Where there any difference between the first and the second prototpye?
post #5 of 424
How is the Opera different to the Aria? Does the amp sound different? It sounds like it's a similar sound signature but I'm wondering how much of a step up it'll be from the Aria to the Opera.

Maybe I shouldn't ask as Dr Meier took all my spare cash last year with the Aria so maybe I shouldn't want him to do the same thing this year for the Opera.
post #6 of 424
Great review, thanks. I made a reservation for when Jan first made the announcement - made I cannot wait to get my paws on one of these!
post #7 of 424
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Peer View Post
Good review!

Where there any difference between the first and the second prototpye?
Yes. The second prototype was more stable in his work. For example it fitted better to the W5000.

Quote:
Originally Posted by m_memmory View Post
How is the Opera different to the Aria? Does the amp sound different? It sounds like it's a similar sound signature but I'm wondering how much of a step up it'll be from the Aria to the Opera.
As I have only heard the Aria once I have no direct comparison. But form my memory I would say it is a huge step.
post #8 of 424
Very nice review. Thanks.
post #9 of 424
excellent review, i've always been a fan of meier products and hope this one is a great seller.
post #10 of 424
Danke!

It seem to be a good choice to spend some before the raise of VAT next year.

m00h
post #11 of 424
Thanks, Reiner, for the initial review! I know you mentioned that you haven't tested the USB dac yet, but would you happen to know if the preamp functionality works when using the usb dac? Also do you happen to know if the preamp outs are muted if a headphone is plugged in? The reason I ask is that I would probably have my preamp hooked up directly to a pair of always-on powered speakers and if the preamp is not muted when listening to headphones, toggling the power on/off for the speakers (located on the subwoofer several feet away from my listening area) would be a pain.
post #12 of 424
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by tim_the_gamer View Post
Thanks, Reiner, for the initial review! I know you mentioned that you haven't tested the USB dac yet, but would you happen to know if the preamp functionality works when using the usb dac? Also do you happen to know if the preamp outs are muted if a headphone is plugged in? The reason I ask is that I would probably have my preamp hooked up directly to a pair of always-on powered speakers and if the preamp is not muted when listening to headphones, toggling the power on/off for the speakers (located on the subwoofer several feet away from my listening area) would be a pain.
As I have only the prototype "I" here at the moment, since Jan asked me to sent "II" back for measurement reasons, I would not feel right to answer the question on base of the "I". It could happen that Jan has changed this from "I" to "II" and I would not know it and provide you with a wrong answer.

Due to this I have forwarded the question to Jan and asked Jan either to answer directly here or if he does not want to interfere in the thread, to provide me with the answer and I will be happy to post it then.
post #13 of 424
How much (if any) did you listen to the Opera with your K-701s? I'd like more info on this.

Either way, you've got me excited:

I had been saving up for either a Headroom Desktop or Grace m902 because I have for some time wanted a clean, powerful, analytical, solid-state headphone amp/DAC that could also be used as a pre-amp. I bought the Headfive to get me through until I have enough saved, and then the Opera was announced. I am so impressed with the Headfive that I am for sure leaning towards the Opera now instead of the Grace or HR models with similar features.

Obviously, I can't wait till this amp is in the hands of more folks!

--Chris
post #14 of 424
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by hempcamp View Post
How much (if any) did you listen to the Opera with your K-701s? I'd like more info on this.
--Chris
Hi Chris,

thanks for asking. I bought the K701 one year ago and was quite excited at the beginning. But after a while I found that they did not sound exiting enough for me. In addition I often had the feeling that the sacrifice for the huge soundstage was a sort of "hole" in the middle.

Due to the light crossfeed this "hole" is gone.
Due to the energetic punch the Opera offers the exitment is back and I listend due to this even more with the K701 than I did with my normally favorite W5000.

Hope that helps.

Best, Reiner
post #15 of 424
Quote:
Originally Posted by Richter Di View Post
Hope that helps.
Not only does it help, it has me trembling in anticipation!!!

--Chris
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