Chinese audio company Opera Consonance has been in high-end audio manufacturing business for over 15 years. While not a household name in the U.S., their products are beginning to get more and more notoriety. The company is operated by chief designer and owner Mr. Shi Hui Liu. The Droplet LP 5.0 MKII turntable system (turntable + stand) is a beautiful and comprehensive design with the fit and finish on par with many more established turntables from brands costing twice as much and more. The quality is first rate and the design is visually fetching.
According to the company, the Droplet LP 5.0 MKII turntable’s own matching stand is constructed from two slabs of polished marble separated by triangular sectioned support columns with threaded rods running through the structure. The shape of the stand matches the shape of the turntable and is visually cohesive. This review is conducted without the stand, as the cost of shipping it to me was deemed prohibitive.
The Droplet 5.0MKII does not break any revolutionary ground in design but rather handily uses a more tried and true Mass = Silence approach.
The table is a two-part plinth design. There is the base itself which anchors the table, with a one half inch solid aluminum sub plinth to which is mounted the tonearm and bearing seat. The 67 mm thick acrylic platter spins on a large diameter inverted fixed spindle with polished ceramic ball on a teflon thrust plate. The German manufactured precision high-torque AC motor rests in a separate housing which then sits on a cork base within the wooden section of the plinth, isolated from the bearing and the tonearm. The main bearing and mounting board of the arm are rigidly linked and both are bolted to the thick alloy plate sub plinth which sits via three alloy cylinders onto the wooden part of the plinth. The platter is driven by a nylon thread to minimize transferred motor vibration. The drive belt is miniscule to say the least. If you drop it, you may spend months trying to find it. At first it looks as though it could never withstand the strain to spin the huge platter. Not to worry, it does a fabulous job. The 5.0 MKII comes with a separate speed controller to address stability of platter speed.
I have heard it stated that the Droplet 5.0 MKII is “eye candy” of the first order. I would say that is a very astute description. It really looks like no other table I can think of. Nothing too out of this world but a sensuously sculpted combination of gorgeous and exotic looking wood, black anodized aluminum and steel all topped off by a massive acrylic platter. Eye candy does it no justice. It is just downright sexy. Is it possible for something like a turntable to be sexy? You bet your sweet a** it is. (Oh Lord. –Ed.)
Here is where I am supposed to mention that the 5.0 MKII is not just a turntable but a “System” consisting of the table and stand. While I am sure that it is, I cannot attest to that as I never got the stand, although I would like to see the entire unit together. I would like to have had the stand as this table should really benefit from a dedicated stand. Besides, that would be the perfect place to also place the speed control unit and phono stage! The table alone weighs in somewhere around 75 pounds and with the stand the entire “system” weighs over 175 pounds. I say that qualifies as mass! The stand costs $800 alone, and as I understand it can cost a considerable chunk to drop ship from China. Rachel or Ian at Grant Fidelity, the North American distributors, can give you more specifics on that.
Opera, unlike many manufacturers, does not make claims as to the top secret nature of materials or design parameters. They do not make up techno jargon to explain the shaping of the table. In talking with Ian about the table he was very candid in that the table was designed to look appealing. Wow! Designed to look good and sound good. How refreshingly direct and honest. Great news! It accomplishes both goals.
While there is nothing revolutionary or ground breaking in the design, that does not detract from the execution of a time-tested practice and the utilization of premium parts packaged at a price point that defies industry norms. Great quality, exceptional aesthetics and a price under $5,000 US for the table and if you add in the fabulous stand you are still talking about $5700 total. I know of dedicated turntable stands costing that much! While the American audiophile has come to associate China with cheap quality products, that image is rapidly changing and the Opera Consonance Droplet 5.0 MKII is a great example of the quality units coming from China now. If I were to have guessed as to the country of origin of the Droplet I would have immediately guessed Italy and I would have been immediately wrong! It just has that sexy look that is so often identified with Italian-made items.
Be forewarned that this table comes in a very, very large box. Due to the size and the weight it can be quite a chore to wrestle it into your home. Having some assistance is highly recommended. Anyone who reads my reviews is familiar with my son Matthew who often provides the much needed muscle to help Dad get these things in the house. When he leaves in January to go to Ohio to live happily ever after with his soul mate Tiffany and her 3-year-old son Kaden, he will be sorely missed when the big heavy crates show up. I guess I will have to work him twice as hard till he leaves.
Thanks to a very simple and straight forward manual, setup is actually a breeze once you get it all unpacked. One very nice touch is that as soon as you open the box you are greeted by a nice pair of white, cotton gloves. This helps to prevent the transfer of body to the acrylic platter. Be sure and use them! The manual includes large and very clear pictures that make this a turntable even a Caveman could set up. Once the table is located and leveled, via the adjustable cones, you may then loop the drive thread over the motor pulley, mount the tonearm of your choice. For me, this was the Consonance ST600 tonearm. Flip the switch and voila! You are off and running. Now dial in the speed via the control box for both 33 and 45 and you are ready to sit back and enjoy. The table even comes with a cartridge alignment protractor and a strobe disc. Easy to set up and SIMPLE!!!
Opera Consonance ST600 Tonearm
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and if that is true, then the Opera Consonance ST600 is the ultimate form of flattery for the Tri-Planar tonearm. To say that the ST600 borrows some design elements of the Tri-Planar would simply be an understatement of the grossest kind! Not only does this mimic the Tri-Planar in basic design but it even goes the Tri-Plana one better by making the arm tube adjustable. The tonearm employs a uni-pivot dynamic balance design with oil damping. Oil is not exactly the most accurate descriptor of the damping material. It lies somewhere between oil and gel. The arm can be set to either between 10.5” and 12” and has a 16mm overhang and is offset 29 degrees. The arm will handle cartridges in a range from 4 to 16 grams, which means it will handle just about any cartridge on the market today. The counter weighting system utilizes two 50 gram weights and a 2 gram anti-skate weight. The arm base and the headshell are stainless steel and the arm tube is carbon fiber. Just like the Tri-Planar that it pays homage to, it includes a VTL adjustment tower and can be adjusted on the fly. Pictures do not do it justice. This arm is simply beautiful and crafted like a fine piece of jewelry. Set up is relatively straight forward. The arm comes with a mounting jig, although my table was provided with a tonearm mount for the ST600. The tonearm cable is also replaceable and uses a din pin jack to make switching out the stock cable for other higher-end cables a breeze. From the time I began unpacking the arm to having the cartridge installed, it took less than an hour. As a side note of sorts, I ran the tonearm as a 12” arm from the second day I had it. With this tonearm and table setup the 12” mode is vastly superior in my view to the 10.5” mode.
Once everything is up and running the Droplet 5.0 MKII is a pleasure to use. There is no suspension so it makes cueing the tonearm a relatively uneventful affair. Simply flip the motor switch, which is actually located on the top of the motor unit in easy reach, and the turntable spins up to speed quickly and quietly. Speed stability is reached almost immediately. I tend to turn on my table and let it run for a while before playing any records on it just to be sure it has had time to settle in and stabilize the speed.
Well, who can do a review without finding some little niggling annoyance to harp about? Me? No way. So here is the first little gem. No record clamp! Personally I believe that even the most modest table deserves a puck. A day without a puck is a day without proper flattening of the record, which in turn decreases the enjoyment of my record playing. At this price, throw in a nice record clamp and charge another $100.
I have also heard that there can be clearance problems with some arm-boards. As I understand it, the fitment with SME arms can be extremely tight and some arms like the Dynavector 507 will not work at all. If interested in this table, make sure you speak to the dealer about arm compatibility before you purchase it. Since mine was mated with the ST600 I experienced no issues with clearance whatsoever. In use, the tonearm performed flawlessly. It mated extremely well with a number of cartridges I tried including the Koetsu Azule Platinum, Koetsu Tiger eye Platinum, Koetsu Urushi Vermillion, Dynavector 17D, Goldnote Tuscany and the Benz Micro Ruby. All tracked well, even standing up to the torture tracks of a couple of test records.
Once up and running with my Koetsu Azule cartridge mounted, it was time to get down to the business of playing vinyl. Paula is not much for the ritual of playing vinyl but she found the Consonance not only easy to operate but also very easy on the eyes; especially after I lit the platter with blue LED light from behind. This is something Opera might consider making as an option for the table. With such a large mass of acrylic the idea of offering colored lighting options seems a natural.
In addition to the beauty of the table with its sleek and flowing lines the sound of the Droplet 5.0 MKII is simply outstanding. Over the 6 months I have lived with this table it has all but replaced my Nottingham Analogue rig. I have played not less than 200 records on this table and what is immediately noticeable is the completely silent and black background that it has. I recently reviewed the Montegiro Lusso table and remarked on how totally silent it was, even when listening for noise with a stethoscope. The Droplet is not a Lusso but it is every bit as quiet as one! Considering the $45,000 price difference I would say that is fairly impressive. There is no rumble, no low frequency nastiness, nothing at all. It is actually kind of spooky. You have a better chance of hearing the stylus making contact with the grooves of the record than you do of hearing inherent noise in emanating from the table.
I never stop getting a kick out of hearing new things in a recording. One area of significant improvement in sound seems to be bass guitars. The Beatles’ “Something” from Abbey Road has some of the most melodic bass you will ever find. Paul McCartney’s playing is just superb. With the Droplet 5.0 MKII that bass becomes more tightly focused and there is an added dimension of lyrical musicality in the notes.
Most anything I threw at it seemed to simply be “better”. Micro dynamics were coming out in places I had not noticed before, especially with live cuts. I have amassed a pretty large collection of Art Pepper and Chet Baker recordings, many of which were recorded live. I hear more of the club ambiance. The clanking of glasses, the small talk, footsteps of people moving about and at one point I even caught the sound of someone taking a drag off a cigarette and then exhaling it all very close to the recording mike. It was so clear that I was certain that it was a woman who was the smoker. If that does not make you sit up and take notice then my guess is that nothing will. Yes I am absolutely certain that credit for the incredible detail goes in large part to the Koetsu Platinum Azule cartridge. However I am also certain that if the table did not provide an absolutely black and silent canvas to start with, those details would simply be lost.
Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” from their double album The Wall is another example of fine detail that lies in the grooves of an album I have heard at least 500 times. The subtle way in which the changes in bending of strings by David Gilmour during both solos just jumps off the record, now it also catches you off guard. His gentle harmonic overtones actually reveal the slight sound difference in the string making a light contact with the flesh of his right thumb while he is picking the string. That is some incredible detail. Again that would not be possible to hear this without the sounds emanating from a totally silent table.
These are just a few examples of what the Opera Consonance Droplet 5.0 MKII turntable and ST600 tonearm provide the user. Could it offer more? Yes. As I said earlier a nice record clamp would be good as would a record matt, and while I am at it, a nice acrylic dust cover would be nice. If you are not going to buy the dedicated stand make sure you have a very stout rack and provide some type of isolation for the table.
And In The End…….
The love you take is equal to the love you make! (Apologies to John, Paul, George and Ringo.) Clearly a lot of love went into the design and building of this turntable. This is not a radical re-invention of the turntable but rather a well thought out take on an old tried-and-true design philosophy. It exhibits a lot of pride and an eye for delivering it in a beautiful and artful package. There are more expensive tables. There are less expensive tables. There are a number of solid competitors in this price range that must be taken into account. Clearaudio Master Solution, Nottingham Analogues Hyperspace, Acespace arm combo, Trans Rotor, Final Tool, Avid and many other makes of fine tables in this price range. All of them are gems in their own right and worthy to sit on anyone’s rack. If you consider the Opera Consonance Droplet 5.0 MKII as a system with the integrated and matching stand, then you are talking about a more unique offering. This is a table that sits at the top of my list for a second turntable and would most likely become my main table, relegating the Nottingham Hyperspace to second seat. Yes it is that good! I highly recommend taking a look at it if you are thinking of buying a mid-level turntable that will accept almost any cartridge with ease, provides silent running with extremely stable speed control and aesthetics that will score you big points on the W.A.F.
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