|Opera Consonance LP 6.1 Turntable and T988 Tonearm Review|
|Home Theater Audio Sources Vinyl/LP|
|Written by Todd Whitesel|
|Monday, 17 May 2010|
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Turntables are back. Actually, they never really went away, but during the dark decade of 1990 when compact discs threatened to make vinyl records extinct, it sure seemed so. Although we're living in the age of digital downloads, vinyl lovers have a bounty of spoils to satisfy their analog Jones. There is a constant flow of LPs being reissued by labels such as Rhino, and new turntables and accessories make 2010 a superb time to get into or rediscover vinyl.
At one time, the Japanese held a significant share of the turntable – and hi-fi – market, with brands such as Technics and Denon enjoying widespread popularity across the U.S. Now, China has moved into high-end audio, and some of the greatest bargains are coming from The People's Republic. And the build quality can be very good.
I've had great success with all-things Chinese coming from Grant Fidelity. This Calgary, Alberta, audio concern is the North American distributor of brands including Opera-Consonance, a Chinese turntable manufacturer that's been going for more than 15 years. O-C recently released the LP 6.1 turntable and T988 tonearm, designed for high analog performance on a budget. Packaged together, the 'table and arm list for $1,325; but, they are offered directly through Grant's Web site for just $1,125.
When I spoke with Grant Fidelity's founder, Ian Grant, he also mentioned a new isolation platform that used the opposing forces of earth magnets to create a pocket of air between the component and the stand itself. It was in fact a levitating platform, capable of supporting up to 50 pounds. “Interested?” he asked. Absolutely.
Design and Setup
The LP 6.1 employs an elegant and minimalist plinth: A longer, central rectangular bar is affixed to a shorter side “leg” and an additional block that houses the low-noise DC motor. The short leg houses the platter bearing, while the far end of the long leg is pre-drilled for the tonearm. The plinth is made of solid aluminum and finished with an attractive powder coating. Three feet, standing on hard plastic bumpers, are arranged in a triangle pattern to anchor the works.
The uni-pivot T988 is a 9-inch arm composed of carbon fiber, a popular choice for arm tubes as the material is lightweight, very strong and helps reduce vibrations. Uni-pivot tonearms can be intimidating at first. Such arms pivot freely on a bearing at just one contact point. There's nothing to keep the arm from moving – in space – from side to side or up and down. From an audio standpoint, uni-pivot arms are favorable because that single contact point minimizes bearing friction and tracking force variations as a cartridge and stylus navigate a record's walls and valleys. The result is greater dynamics and more natural and musical playback. The T988 is also versatile: the oil-damped pivot makes it possible to use moving coil and moving magnet cartridges of varying weights. Grant included a Dynavector DV-20X ($750) moving coil cartridge for the review.
The first step is filling the bearing with oil to a prescribed level and then fitting the 1-inch thick acrylic platter into the bearing seat. A pair of white cotton gloves are included for clean-room like setup. Installing the belt is a bit tricky, as it's really just light-test monofilament fishing line. It took my not-so-nimble fingers several attempts before I successfully threaded the belt from the motor pulley around the platter. The motor pulley houses two ruts: one for 33 rpm playback and the other for 45 rpm. Set the belt in the desired rut. The 'table comes with two belts, in case you snap or lose one.
Once the belt is in place, it's time to fit the cartridge and make adjustments to the tonearm. The T988 is a marvel in simplicity, but it does require some work to set right. The tonearm cable connection fits directly into the top of the base, secured by an Allen screw. An RCA connector attaches to the audio wire connectors, which then go directly to the RCA cables connecting the phono stage. The tonearm base holds a bearing well, where the “male” and “female” bearings meet. To keep this pivot smooth, a few drops of silicon oil are applied from a plastic syringe. Users can ultimately add more oil to the surrounding tonearm oil cup, if greater damping is desired. The remaining steps require trial-fitting the counterweight, mounting the cartridge, setting tracking force, aligning the cartridge, securing the anti-skate weight to one of three positions according to the mass of the cartridge and adjusting vertical tracking angle. A strobe disc is included to perform a final speed check. Then, it's time to play records! (The LP 6.1 comes with a foam record mat. I'm still on the fence about such products. I played dozens of records with and without the mat and didn't come to a hard conclusion.)