Proprietary measurements and modellings were utilized to allow us to simulate a desirable frequency response and maintain an easy to drive impedance of 18-Ohm on the 3-way 8-driver network. Every Opera ships with 8-strand mono-crystal 6N copper MMCX cable.
Opera will reveal every detail in your recordings and projects a fabulous soundstage with "see-through" transparency.
Pros: Naturally unique imaging presentation
Low ear/sound pressure by AGL technology
Wide, in-depth, and headphone-like headroom
Analyticity done smoothly
Cons: Possibility of sounding 'unorthodox'
Not ideal for those who seek strong bass punches
NXEars Opera Review: In-ear 'headphones'
Numbers of new brands are flooding in but we know as a fact that most of them are from China. Not to mean that is a bad thing, of course, but I have been willing to see some new faces from other countries as well - which is why I would like to introduce a new IEM brand from elsewhere called NXEars. Founded in California, USA, NXEars is created by a former Knowles engineer as well as the NuForce founder. Even if your curiosity sensitivity got dull after encountering multiple new brands, NXEars is especially worth the attention as the products show one-of-a-kind characteristics when it comes to the sound. Their first wave of products includes 3 IEMs with different price ranges - Opera, Basso, and Sonata. In this review, we will be dealing with their flagship model, Opera. Let us now take a closer look at its sound signature along with some comparisons.
Opera comes in a white box with a clean, simplistic design. Basic information and specs about the products are described on the rear and the sides. Once unboxed it reveals the earphone and related accessories. Other than the earpieces, it comes with a stock 3.5mm cable, a leather storage case, 4 pairs of silicone eartips, 2 pairs of foam tips, a metal bag clip, a shirt clip, a cleaning tool, and some paperwork. The included shirt clip has a typical form factor which is quite tricky to install it on the cable due to its small lips. The case is durable, light, and large enough to store extra accessories or another set of earphones.
Earpieces - The techs (1/2)
Opera utilizes 3-way 8 Knowles balanced armature drivers per side that are applied with NXEars' unique tuning methods. The core technology of NXEars IEMs is Aperiodic Ground Loading (AGL) which a patent-pending structure that restores the balance of natural pressure that occurs in the ear canal. You would be familiar with ear pressures that build up as you insert the IEM into the ears. Although building a higher ear pressure usually makes the sound more dynamic and intense, it is not so desirable in forming a natural tone and, most importantly, your health. Since that, companies started to look for solutions to relieve ear pressure without killing the dynamics and isolation an in-ear provides, though not many are out there, yet. A good example would be the APEX technology that 64 Audio uses. In that sense, NXEars' AGL technology is very welcoming news as we are served with another good option for hearing protection.
Another feature from Opera is their 'Linear Phase Crossover' where it corrects the irregular phasing that occurs from multi-driver setups. This happens mainly happens due to two reasons - different bandwidth and driver position. Bass travels slower while the treble travels faster. Plus, multiple BA drivers that are all placed in different positions are tied together, causing extra differences in tube length. These features lead to different arrival times to the nozzle, causing sound cancellation and phase irregularity. Therefore, appropriately setting up the crossover and distancing the drivers according to their travel time would solve such issues. JH Audio's FreqPhase technology is another excellent example.
Earpieces - The techs (2/2) / Design
However, I would like to highlight that both techs (AGL and Linear Phase Crossover) applied for NXEars IEMs are fundamentally different from others that were mentioned. The concept varies, though they all sure have the same goal. Thanks to these two technologies, Opera retains dynamics and isolation while eliminating the ear pressure, thus having a more natural timbre throughout the range. Applying both these technologies makes a chain reaction and form a unique headroom that expands wide and spatial, as NXEars describes that the sound would feel like an "over-the-ear headphones". That sure is one of the key topics that I would be dealing with at the impressions section and more analysis of the sound will follow at the later part of the review.
The earpieces are 3D-built with mildly transparent, dark navy bio-resin cavity. The faceplate is topped with their Stardust Blue design where every earpiece varies in its pattern. The blue "n." logo that represents NXEars is placed at the upper part of the faceplate. I would have liked to see the logo to be brighter or more reflective it is not easily visible unless I reflect it towards the light. Fitting is very comfortable and hassle-free, having no edges that would potentially bother me nor does the ear pressure builds up once inserted to the ears. The earpieces are detachable and terminated to standard MMCX connection.
The nozzle length is about T400, making it compatible with most aftermarket eartips out there. Speaking of eartips, I would strongly suggest trying to match Opera with AZLA Xelastec tips. If so, the sound would become more expansive, airier, and open-field than the others. Opera is very eartip-sensitive and would advise doing enough tip-rolling before you conclude your impressions.
Opera comes with a Mono-crystal 6N copper stock cable. The 8-braided wires are well-braided without any loosen part along with being soft, light, and non-microphonic. The end termination is done with a TRS 3.5mm plug. There are blue and red rings at the tip of the MMCX connectors, making it easier to recognize the L/R earpieces. There are shrink tubed earguides that secures the cable to stay around over the ears. Besides, while this is more of a personal wish than a disadvantage, it would have been even better for them to be incorporating interchangeable plugs (such as Dita, Dunu, etc.) or include conversion connectors for wider usability. Overall, a solid and well-built cable that is included here.
Sound impression - Staging
This time, the order of the impressions will be a little different as the sound philosophy is different from our casual earphones. Let us first consider how a casual earphone would rather sound like - it would be whispering close to your ears, creating a headroom where you are the one in the center of the field. It is basically having you to be the cast of the music. Though in the case of Opera, its headroom would form a large, concave curvature right behind you - looking like a shape of ")", where a standing half-sphere would be containing you - by having you fully covered in all directions except the front which is opened. While mids feel to be fairly close to you, lows and highs would reach out frontward and forward, as if creating a floor and roof for the headroom. Comprehensively, the impression would be closer to having you to be the audience of the music - creating a snug, relaxed environment that embraces you.
It is both interesting and surprising to explore the type of sound Opera has, as this resembles the impression you would normally get from a closed-back headphone. This staging would be spread out vast, large, and three-dimensionally. Its unique soundstage easily gives impressions where the staging would extend beyond the earphones, and if I just add a pinch of an exaggeration, it also gave impressions where it feels to be extending beyond the head. It is uncertain if I should really call it an exaggeration since it actually does feel to be extending as such. Be aware that this does not mean the sound is off focus or having the imaging warped, as both of them are well kept.
Sound impression - Lows
Being thick in both color and size, lows are full of seriousness. Bass rumbles would approach from behind, sweeping with realistic vibrations that give tingles to the ears. However, what that might be unexpected from this stage is that the sub-bass is not particularly strong in quantity and slams. Opera keeps a bass response that is just adequately emphasized from a flat signature. The bass response is up to speed though - it is just that these slams are done softly and flowingly.
Hence the bass reproduction is up to par, but if you are looking for a rigid and snappy bass, its impact could feel too soft and gentle for your taste. Although the dense kernel is clearly present, so you would still feel that in-focus bass strikes that deliver the impact. Besides, it would be too early to underestimate the bass performance as they show vast coverage in terms of area. Lows would dive deep and have the density stacked up from the rock bottom, covering the back of the head, and then spreading out sideways. Since that, even with a gentle quantity, lows are able to show a highly dominating role in the music. Having ultra lows and upper lows are similar in quantity, the bass flows very steadily and evenly throughout the range.
Sound impression - Mids, Tone
While mids would feel recessed, shortly you will notice that the way how its recession is made is different - feeling to be the position that is only pushed back rather than becoming weaker in presence. Normally when a muffled feeling is present on the mids, there are high chances for the bass to eat the vocals and killing off the details. Interestingly enough, that is not the case here. For Opera, it is more due to its "standing half sphere" (that I previously mentioned as a metaphor), therefore the vocals are not really shadowed as lows do not flood into the vocals. This particular recession appears to be purposely done to trigger a speaker-like effect.
Another characteristic of mids is its tone. Opera possesses a mildly muffled or a fabric-like tone to its nature. While I usually dislike IEMs with recessed or muffled mids, Opera's vocals attract me quite much as they give a similar feeling to, again, a large speaker - both in presentation and texture. It is eerily attractive as mids are vivid and kept with delicacy while I thought its presentation would turn all hazy and overwhelmed. Speaking of textures, mids tend to break down the strands of sounds into relatively thicker pieces, bringing an analog vibe where soft and refined grains are present throughout the sound. The grains do not get dry or edgy to the feel but remain smooth and finely polished. While this may come across unorthodox, yet in the ears, it sounds musical and harmonic without breaking the accuracy.
Lower mids are kept relatively warm and thick. However, its considerably nimble and airy nature prevents itself from vocals getting sluggish. Upper mids would get slimmer and gain shininess and transparency, making equally ideal for male and female vocals. Overall, mids show an organic tone that brings a mild, cheerful echo that is nowhere near to getting shouty. Sibilance is not present but nicely finished, adding finesse to the upper mids.
Sound impression - Highs, etc.
Compared to mids, highs would break down the sound further into smaller pieces, showing more analyticity and separation. It is dimmed in brightness (although still brighter than lows and mids) and relatively lesser in quantity, so it would not give much upper-end freshness. However, the treble details are not left out. Big and small details are not shadowed by lows or mids whatsoever and make their presence stand out clear-enough on a black background. Treble splashes peacefully spread out with good analyticity, managing to disassemble all the fine strands and textures from them.
What I have also noticed is that the upper ends in general (mids and highs) are relatively positioned lower than many IEMs in a similar tier. This leads to a difference where mids and highs are inherently positioned up high in the sky for those casual IEMs while Opera feels as if mids and highs would extend upwards from a lower position. The extended height from Opera is still relatively lower but achieves more low-end coverage and stability. Separation is up to quality with that involves nice spatial effects.
These two are quite a lot different in their characteristics and natures. S8 is all about neatness and neutrality, keeping the quantities considerably flat throughout the range. The overall sound is snappier, brighter, and white-toned in its background. Each note is clearer in shows a faster transition that leaves minimum residues or reverbs. In contrast, Opera shows more dynamics and a fuller, thicker body with more reverbs (but not muddy). It is also thicker in color, adding depth and boldness to the tone. This leads Opera to present a more serious, wider, and in-focus atmosphere while S8 takes advantage in terms of cleanness, speed, and openness. Texture-wise, Opera is on the softer and smoother side as S8 is harder and crunchier. Although Opera does not get to the point of being 'dull', it sure is on the softer side. I would say it is closer to the fabricky impression from an over-ear headphone, feeling more organic and moister. However, if the bright and crisp tingles are what you are looking for, perhaps S8 would be a better alternative. If for the smooth and wide headroom with gentle crisps are enough for you, Opera would likely make a superior choice.
Only to a mild extent, Phoenix's mids are positioned closer while mids from Opera are more expansive. Both are on a similar range in temperature, though there still is a difference. In the case of Phoenix, while staying tender, the overall atmosphere feels more relaxed, soothing. The vocals are relatively less fuller than Opera but they carry more air and clarity that gives the upper-end breeziness. The atmosphere from Opera is nearly as smooth as Phoenix, yet the core is rock-solid which makes faster and snappier impacts. Since that, Phoenix shows better flow and grooves as Opera shows superiority in terms of analyticity. The brightness from Phoenix is right on neutral while Opera is a bit dimmer. Lows are closer and stronger on Phoenix as Opera's lows show a more subdued, subtle approach. For the highs, Opera's are moister, dimmer, and thicker, both in color and density. Phoenix keeps the highs thinner yet finer as well as showing more finesse.
Although I prefer to compare to an item that is similar in price and performance level, Opera takes a different approach to sound than our usual IEMs, we will also compare it with Opera's little brother, Basso. Looking at the big picture, Basso is more densely-packed and closer while Opera expands wider and fuller. The bass quantity is a bit higher on Basso with tighter, punchier strikes. Opera approaches with a calmer, smoother punch that brings in more reverbs and largeness. In the case of mids, Opera shows a fuller and thicker body while Basso is relatively slimmer that scales just about being neutral. Basso's mids are edgier since it results in a bit of sibilance as it passes the upper mids. This acts as to spice up the mids, but at the same time, causes more turbulence to the vocals as well as getting vulnerable for those who are sibilance-sensitive. Meanwhile, Opera is more leveled and tranquil, not causing any spikes or sibilance that could possibly make the listener fatiguing. Alongside this, the tone is more organic and neutral that makes the presentation to be less colored.
For those who have already listened to these, I am sure most would agree that NXEars gave Opera its name for a valid reason since a little opera would be going on in your ears as you hit the play button. Although there are IEMs that focus on digging into small and detailed bits of expressions, Opera takes an opposite approach where it draws a large picture, looking at the overall mood, and putting them together into one piece. NXEar's imaging and staging concept are charmingly different and unique from most IEMs I have heard until now, making it worthwhile to call it an eye-opening experience. If you would like to take a full taste on NXEar's take on an in-ear headphone and its unique staging concept, Opera would be a flagship choice where you never knew before you needed one, but now you do!
Pros: Highly defined yet coherent midrange, Outstanding imaging, Squeaky clean transient response, Great ergonomics, Competitive pricing
Cons: Low-end lacks dynamics, Odd bass tonality, Minimal sparkle and limited air up top
The Opera’s magic lies in its ability to bring every element together into a highly coherent, composed and effortless whole.
If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re familiar with Knowles, NuForce or Erato. If that’s the case, then you would be well acquainted with Casey Ng whose expertise was invaluable to all. NXEars is his latest venture, uniting the core principles of each brand. These earphones feature strong value per driver from his relationship to Knowles, a phase-coherent crossover ala NuForce and have been tuned to perform well in both time and frequency domains. The Opera is NXEars’ statement product, with a 3-way, 8-driver configuration and a $799 USD asking price. You can read more about the line-up and technology behind NXEars here. With that in mind, these are my impressions.
I would like to thank Casey very much for his quick communication, clarification and for providing me with the Opera for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. The earphones have been reviewed under flexible terms meaning that they will be shipped back as required by NXEars. As always, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation. This review also features a pre-production unit that came with no packaging nor the full set of accessories. The retail units will also feature heavy copper faceplates that Casey assures will enhance bass heft.
The Pitch –
Aperiodic Ground Loading
Casey’s patent-pending AGL technology isn’t fleshed out on NXEars’ website but is a development that is worth taking some time to understand as it contributes to some key characteristics of the Opera’s sound. It consists of driver body damping on the faceplate in conjunction with a vent that controls driver resonance while bleeding over-pressure. As a result, these will be very non-fatiguing on the eardrum and low in distortion.
The Opera implements a sophisticated crossover system to achieve a low-distortion and linear sound. It is both frequency and time-aligned ensuring phase coherence in addition to a smooth and coherent frequency response. In real-world listening, this should translate to clean transients and sharp imaging. There are only a handful of phase-coherent earphones on the market, notable to me are the JH and Custom Art flagships that are all more expensive than the Opera.
I personally love the design of the Opera which merges elements of custom and universal IEMs to create a very unique aesthetic alongside excellent ergonomics. The 3D printed housings are perfectly realised with an immaculate gloss finish and a complete absence of bubbles, seams or defects. The smoke design provides a window into the complex driver and crossover designs inside. Meanwhile, stardust blue faceplates glittered with lustrous gold accents provide a truly otherworldly aesthetic that is gorgeous to photograph and even more captivating in person.
This is complemented by a removable MMCX cable with 8-core 6N mono-crystal copper conductors. It’s very soft and easily coiled for storage. The jacket is a touch rubbery which can make untangling difficult; however, the 8-wire braid does resist tangling very well. There is ample strain relief and convincing build quality without cumbersome weight. The memory wire ear guides hold their position well and provide a confident fit. Meanwhile, the MMCX connectors themselves are snappy and even in tension between sides.
Fit & Isolation –
The housings are on the larger side both in terms of height and depth, however, they are very smoothly formed and sculpted to complement the features of the outer ear. In conjunction with long, tapered nozzles that provide a deep fit, the Opera feels very stable and locked into the ear. I also found the deeper fit to permit the earphones to sit flush with my outer ear while their sculpted design avoided hotspot formation over longer listening.
Due to their vented nature, isolation is good but not outstanding like a custom or fully sealed design. They are still perfectly suitable for commute and potentially air travel with foam tips that said. On the contrary, though functionally different, I did find AGL to provide similar pressure relief to my ADEL and APEX earphones which makes them very comfortable for extended listening despite their fit depth. They provide a similarly strong seal to other high-end IEMs but without the vacuum so the Opera will be a good choice for those sensitive to that kind of discomfort.
Testing Methodology: Arta via IEC 711 coupler to Startech external sound card. Note that 7-9KHz peaks are artefacts of my measurement setup. Casey confirmed to me that the earphones do have a small ~10KHz emphasis but not nearly to the degree indicated here. Take this graph with a grain of salt. Measurements besides channel balance are volume matched at 1K.
The Opera is a mid-centric earphone with a powerful full-bodied, dense voicing and excellent layering. Sub-bass takes a backseat to a very linear mid-bass while a moderate emphasis in the upper-bass imbues a pleasing warmth and euphony into its presentation. There’s a small dip in the lower-midrange that heightens tonal transparency before a rise into the centre midrange for vocal presence and clarity. A dense upper-midrange and smooth lower-treble yield a velvety smooth articulation, while an uptick of 5KHz emphasis retains pleasing crispness and clarity. The background is dark and clean rounding off a highly resolved and coherent if not highly dynamic and separated presentation, I certainly do not hear anything like the peak showcased on my measurement but a nice presence that grants some additional air and headroom. This is another unique earphone that doesn’t trace any conventional curve but does yield a highly pleasing listen with some impressive technical qualities on top.
I deliberated over these comments for quite a while, due to AGL there’s zero sense of pressure from the sub-bass. As such, I would be inclined to suggest that extension isn’t the best, however, any audible if not visceral sub-bass information is present in the track. There remains a very tight slam and defined rumble occupying a laid-back position but due to the lack of pressure, you never feel the sensation of moving air which can make sub-bass feel insubstantial. Meanwhile, mid-bass is flat, linear and clean while a moderate bump in the upper-bass imbues warmth and satisfying note fullness that prevents the presentation from straying into sterility. This creates a low-end that is clean yet musical and never stark if a touch tubby on tracks already mastered with additional warmth.
Casey mentioned that PRAT was a prime focus with this earphone and though I find the earphone’s transient response is best showcase by its treble, bass carries some very convincing properties too. Lows are agile and tactful, driver control is very high and notes are presented in standard BA fashion, being very quick in both attack and decay. It’s a punchy if not hard-hitting presentation that showcases outstanding definition and strong organisation, even when reproducing complex and bass abundant tracks. This comes at the cost of dynamics as the Opera dissects tracks but with subjectively limited range. Still, that is not to say this is not a satisfying listen, not in the slightest; bolstered body and warmth contribute to a grand stage propagated by full, well-resolved notes.
Over extended listening, it’s the midrange that’s really grown on me; the presentation is sublime. The Opera places vocals at the forefront of its presentation yet sans any form of intensity or forwardness. These are also vocals worth showcasing; high-resolution and naturally toned and voiced. With moderate warmth in the low-end, a small lower-midrange dip prevents spill and veil while retaining body and smooth integration for precise instrument and vocal reconstruction. Meanwhile, rising emphasis to a natural hump around 3KHz before subsequent 4KHz dip yields a natural voicing with good clarity.
This is a delightfully musical presentation that finds harmony between musicality and transparency. Sure, the presentation carries a light warmth and full notes but it is wholly resolved without a hint of thinness, rasp or over-articulation. Similarly, though reasonably clear and intimate, never is the vocal presentation chesty or veiled nor strident and overly-forward. The presentation is rather, naturally toned, not perfectly accurate in timbre but rich and portrayed with perfect density and great smoothness so as to maintain ample extension.
The earphones possess convincing vocal clarity and very impressive resolution with excellent layering and notes that are highly defined despite their smooth articulation and full body. The Opera is, therefore, perfect for the vocal lover and boasts a very sound instrument timbre that enables them to excel with acoustic, classical and jazz while upholding enough clarity and energy to flatter other genres too. Unlike many high-end models out there, the midrange steals the show to my ears and this is an excellent thing as the bulk of musical information is contained in this frequency range.
The top-end is crisp and well-detailed with very clean transients. It is defined by a modest 5KHz peak followed by a 6KHz trough and lack of any subsequent background brightness. Despite being small in magnitude, this is a narrower emphasis that produces a thinner instrument body. Nonetheless, texture and decay are both natural and notes are well resolved overall. By attenuating the 6KHz region, sibilance and sharpness are mitigated and this tuning retains a crisp image with just a hair of warmth. The net result is a slightly smoother note attack which results in a note presentation that is thin and highly defined but never fatiguing or uncontrolled. Detail retrieval is good both in the foreground and background but some competitors offer slightly more insight here.
Meanwhile, the especially clean transient response aids this IEM’s outstanding note definition and spatial positioning. Upper-octave extension is also what you would want from a high-end IEM, but there is little sparkle and diminished air due to the darkness of its tuning within the middle and upper-treble. Still, the Opera provides an immaculately clean space that greatly contributes to its defined and layered presentation in addition to retrieving enough background detail to enable an involving sense of distance and scale. Again, there isn’t abundant shimmer, pristine clarity or energy up top, but a controlled and focussed detail presentation with great contrast between foreground and background.
The presentation is something special. After trying a few of Casey’s earphones such as those from NuForce and the NX Ears Basso, the Opera exemplifies everything he’s strived to achieve. Some will be surprised that the soundstage isn’t the largest, expanding just beyond the head in width with more intimate depth but certainly not providing boundless presentation of say, the Campfire Audio Andromeda. Instead, the focus of the Opera is its imaging. Vocals occupy a very strong centre image while layers are highly defined and the background well resolved. Defined, clean transients produce pinpoint precise directional cues and panning. These qualities give its presentation great dimension and a holographic sense of positioning. Separation is also quite good. Though the earphone is warm with large notes, tending to prioritise coherence, the highly organised nature of its presentation makes it easy to pinpoint small details.
The Opera is efficient with a 106dB sensitivity and 18-ohm impedance. It has been designed to keep impedance within a range friendly for most devices. In turn, I found the Opera impressively resistant to hiss but still susceptible to output impedance if to a lesser degree than some competitors. Comparing between the 10-ohm Hiby R6 and Shanling M2X, for example, I heard a markedly smoother and darker sound from the Hiby. Bass transients became softer while mids became fuller and smoother. Highs were attenuated losing some shimmer and crispness. As such, a low output impedance source is desirable to extract maximum fidelity from the Opera but those wanting a warmer sound can experiment with impedance adapters. The earphones’ resolving nature also lends them well towards dedicated sources where they sound noticeably cleaner with more involving imaging.
Audiofly AF1120MK2 ($699): The AF1120MK2 is also a nicely balanced and natural sounding earphone. It provides more slam at the very bottom and a more mid-bass focussed low-end, being warmer and fuller with more natural decay on top. Altogether, this makes it more dynamic with greater range. The Opera, meanwhile, is more controlled and agile, with noticeably more note definition and organisation on complex tracks. The midrange shares similar values but different approaches. Both are also smooth, natural and place vocals forward. Where they most differ is with regards to vocal size, being bigger and more powerful on the Opera, and density, the Opera also offering meatier notes. The AF1120MK2 isn’t as full-bodied, instead providing a touch more warmth counterbalanced by greater clarity and upper-midrange extension.
The Opera has noticeably higher resolution through the midrange. Both earphones feature a lower-treble dip and peak tuning, 5KHz emphasis on the Opera, 6KHz on the Af1120MK2. Neither are sharp or bright, nor sibilant. The Opera is a touch more detail-forward, it has slightly more defined transients while the AF1120MK2 has a touch more warmth and instrument body. The Opera is more detailed, it has a more immaculate background and better extension. The Opera’s soundstage trumps the Audiofly, being larger and also more organised, with a stronger centre image and slightly more defined layers.
Campfire Audio Andromeda ($1099): A staple around this price range, providing a more u-shaped and vivid tuning. Sub-bass extension is better on the Andromeda with more slam and rumble. It has noticeably more mid-bass presence and a touch of emphasis in the upper-bass too. As such, it’s low-end is noticeably larger, warmer and fuller but also more dynamic. The Opera has less depth and power but greater cleanliness, higher control and more defined notes, being punchier and more tactful. The Opera has noticeably more forward vocals and a more natural timbre, the Andromeda rather has greater clarity with more upper-midrange presence and it’s a touch warmer too from its bass. The Opera has more body and is much denser with smoother articulation, it is more coherent with greater note definition and resolution.
On the contrary, the Andromeda is more delicate but also over-articulated and raspy making it sound very glossy if less accurate. However, it also has greater ability to project distance and depth. The high-end is brighter throughout on the Andromeda. It is more aggressively detailed with more pristine clarity and air. The Andromeda has more detail retrieval but it is also splashier which will depend on listener preference. The Andro has better extension and a lot more sparkle, while the Opera is darker and more layered. The Andro has a much larger soundstage, especially depth due to its more laid-back vocals and though it also has a clean transient response, the Opera has more defined directional cues and layers, being more intimate but also more holographic and organised.
Meze Rai Penta ($1099): The Rai Penta sports a similar style of sound too but is more W-shaped with greater tri-frequency separation. It has much more bass extension and lows are more mid-bass focused. The Penta has a fuller low-end with more natural decay and greater dynamics and drive. The Opera is more controlled and much quicker decaying, so it is more defined and organised but also lacking the same depth and information in the sub-bass. Both have similar midrange tuning, being smooth and well-bodied. The Opera has larger vocal size while the Penta has more forward vocals but without the same body and power as it lacks the same kind of upper-bass bolstering. Still, it carries a light warmth but is clearly not as dense and full-bodied as the Opera.
The Opera has higher midrange resolution while the Rai Penta has better extension, depth and clarity. Up top, the Opera is slightly crisper and more aggressive while the Rai Penta is smoother and more organic. The Rai Penta has slightly more foreground detail retrieval, while the Opera has slightly more background detail retrieval. Both extend similarly and feature clean, dark backgrounds, the Opera to a slightly greater extent while the Rai Penta has a touch more air. The Rai Penta has a larger soundstage, especially width. Depth is more intimate on both, the Penta also projects a bit better here too. Both also layer very well, but there is more definition on the Opera and sharper directional cues and directionality.
Custom Art Fibae 7 (~$1225): The Fibae 7 is a formidable earphone, highly rated even at its higher price and praised for its timbre and balance. It immediately has much better sub-bass extension with more solid slam and rumble. The Fibae 7 has similar mid-bass presence and a cleaner upper-bass, producing a cleaner and more linear low-end than the Opera. The Opera meanwhile is quicker decaying and more defined through the mid-bass with a bit more separation while the Fibae 7 is invariably the more dynamic earphone. Through the midrange, the Fibae 7 treads a very impressively reference line, the tone, body and smoothness all operate at relatively neutral levels compared to the dense and powerful Opera. The Opera is more full-bodied and smoother while the Fibae 7 is a touch more forward in positioning with more neutral vocal size.
The Fibae 7 has slightly higher resolution and definition in addition to boasting more extension while the Opera has meatier notes with more defined layers. The top-end is more detailed and extended on the Fibae 7. Its foreground is more linear with more accurate instrument body, texture and greater detail retrieval. The background is immaculately clean on both, darker on the Opera but with more resolution and micro-detail on the Fibae 7. Neither have much sparkle, the Fibae 7 has a larger soundstage, it doesn’t have quite the same layering and holographic imaging as the Opera, however, it has better separation and similarly strong organisation.
The hallmark of a great high-end IEM is a certain je ne sais quoi; some fine quality that can’t necessarily be reasoned but one that captivates, nonetheless. The Opera provides such character, a vector with direction and magnitude. The midrange enthrals the listener, with powerful, meaty notes accompanying larger than life vocal size and impeccable definition and resolution. Meanwhile, highs showcase a clean transient response that contributes to a highly organised presentation with truly outstanding imaging. The low-end is perhaps the weakest link. Though it certainly carries itself with excellent pace and organisation, bass sounds flat and lacking in dynamics in addition to being somewhat strange and unconventional in terms of tonality. This is unfortunate as many listeners tend to start their analysis from bottom to top, leaving a poor first impression. However, give the Opera some time – this is not one to awe in the way that it construes any particular frequency range. Rather, the magic lies in its ability to bring many elements together into a highly coherent, composed and effortless whole.
The Opera is available from on NXEars for $799 USD. I am not affiliated with NXEars and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.