Opera Audio, a.k.a. Consonance, certainly has one of the widest ranges of audio electronics on the planet. This new model is part of the ‘Forbidden City’ range, which comes under the ‘Stylist’ heading on the company’s website. It’s a nice touch that all the models in the range are named after opera characters, in this case Tristan, the tragic lover from Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde.
Many Consonance models feature valves, but this one is resolutely solid-state, with a transistor output stage driven by more transistors. Construction is partly dual mono, principally for practical reasons, with a separate output circuit board for each channel mounted on the appropriate side of the chassis with an internal heatsink. The preamp board is separate and is mounted at the rear, right up against the input sockets, while the mains transformer and power supply board are towards the front.
Unusually, for an integrated amp in this class, the Tristan features a phono stage as standard and it’s quite a generous offering. It’s built around one of the lowest-noise op-amp chips available and is actually better suited to moving coil duty than moving magnet. But as an overall compromise Consonance could have done a lot worse.
Alongside the phono are three line level inputs, which pretty much conclude the list of features. Volume control is electronic and so is input selection. The + and - buttons for selecting input seem to be labelled incorrectly, but with only four inputs to cycle through it’s hardly a big deal.
‘Impressive’ would probably be the best summation of our listeners’ comments on this amp, with both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ connotations of the word. Good, in that there’s plenty of drama at the start of a Michael Jackson track and in the heavy-duty sawing of the double basses in the Rachmaninov. Bad, in that the violins and other bright instruments quickly became overbearing, with the fine line between treble clarity and over-brightness frequently being seen from the latter side.
This kind of sound has its place and with dull loudspeakers (in dull rooms) it could be just the thing to spice up a hi-fi system. Placed side-by-side with more neutral amps, however, it drew distinctly tempered praise in all the varied musical selections. In other aspects, the Tristan seems generally competent, indeed very assured in some. Imaging is good, for instance, with clearly defined instruments playing in clear, stable acoustical space, space that extends well beyond the loudspeakers.
Detail is also good, with differentiation between sounds and players. But what this amp truly excels at is bop and ‘fun factor’.
It’s not even notably rhythmic because in the end the rhythm is just a tiny bit untidy. But it is clearly audible and with the right kind of music there’s an exciting level of energy and enthusiasm that makes the amp a very entertaining listen. The phono stage is unusually good, particularly with moving coil cartridges, and is quiet and detailed. Our overall view, though, is that for a grand there’s not quite the kind of all-round achievement we’re looking for and our recommendation is distinctly qualified.