Opera Callas loudspeaker

Colleen Cardas strongly urged me to try the Callas loudspeaker from Opera Loudspeakers (whose products she also distributes in the US), which she claimed was an ideal match for the Unison S6 amplifier I reviewed last August. In my experience, the stand-mounted Callas ($5000/pair) is unique among loudspeakers in being the logical contrapositive (inverted and flipped, so to speak) of the usual D'Appolito driver array of midrange-tweeter-midrange (MTM).

In the well-known D'Appolito array, one tweeter is partnered with two midrange drivers, one each above and below it. Opera's two-way Callas has one vertically centered 5" mid/woofer with a copper phase plug, and identical 1" soft-dome tweeters above and below it. As if that weren't enough, on the narrow rear panel are three more tweeters, identical to those in front, in a vertical array. The enclosure has two small ports, side by side at the top of the rear panel.

The Callas measures 14.8" high by 9" wide by 13.4" deep, its cabinet symmetrically tapering toward the rear, and weighs about 57 lbs. The cabinet is made of elegant solid woods and veneers in a high-gloss finish of medium-shade cherry (except for the recessed, black-painted base plate), with black leather cladding on the faceted fascia. There's a small brass badge on the base plate. Front grilles are provided, but I didn't use them. A single pair of robust, naked (non–Euro-Nanny) speaker terminals is at the bottom rear. Opera claims for the Callas a frequency range of 32Hz–25kHz, sensitivity of 86dB, and a nominal impedance of 4 ohms. The mid/woofer and front tweeters are crossed over at "around 1500Hz," the rear tweeters at 2000Hz.

Sound Quality
I placed the Callases on 24"-high stands about 5' apart, 2' from the front wall, and toed in to face my listening position, about 8' from each speaker, and toward the nearfield side of midfield listening.

After hooking up the Callases, I braced myself to be bombarded with five times as much treble as normal, even with a tube amp like the Unison S6 that was a bit on the rich side. My fears were totally unfounded. The Callas was very well-behaved, with a genuinely sweet disposition. That just goes to show that a name is not always an omen. (Diva Maria Callas was reportedly a bit of a handful on her bad days.) After quite a bit of listening to the Callas-S6 combination with Parasound's CD 1, via Cardas Clear interconnects and speaker cables, I came to some strongly held conclusions.

813opera.bac.jpgFirst, this is just a great system, ready for you to pack up and take home—a true get-off-the-audio-merry-go-round system. Colleen Cardas was right: the S6 and Callas are hugely synergistic.

Second, I was pleasantly surprised by both the dynamic capability and the bass extension of the Callas-S6 combo. Unlike with many two-way speakers, I never got the sense during most normal listening (as distinct from playing very loud to impress myself or friends) that there was "almost" enough bass—there really was enough bass.

Third, as expected, the Callas-S6 combination was the timbral polar opposite of the Spiral Groove Canalis-AVM receiver system. The latter led with information from the treble, the Callas-S6 with tones from the midrange.

The Callas-S6 combo delivered a sound that was, first of all, widescreen. I think the rear tweeters produced a wider soundstage than conventional speakers (there was no way to turn the rear tweeters off), in a way reminiscent of most Shahinian speakers. There was never a sense of too much treble unless the recording itself was too hot; the treble and midrange were very well integrated. In addition to being widescreen, the sound was a bit soft-focus, but by no means grainy. Last, tonalities were a bit on the Technicolor side, but always addictively enjoyable.

In addition to the recordings mentioned above and in my last column, the most frequent flyer of which was Aaron Diehl's The Bespoke Man's Narrative (CD, Mack Avenue MCD 1066), I spent a lot of time with a new set of old works by Arthur Bliss (5 CDs, EMI Classics 29018); a wonderful set of symphonies and orchestral works by Franz Berwald, performed by Roy Goodman and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and engineered by Tony Faulkner (2 CDs, Hyperion Dyad 22043); Iona Brown and Josef Suk's underrated recording of Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante with the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields (CD, Argo/Decca 411 613); Lucia Popp's radiant disc of Mozart opera arias (CD, EMI Classics 09679); David Oistrakh's recording of Brahms's Violin Concerto with Otto Klemperer and the French National Radio Orchestra (CD, EMI Classics 74724), which sounded better than ever through the CD-1–S6–Callas system; Mahler's Symphony 3 with Glen Cortese conducting the Manhattan School of Music Orchestra (2 CDs, Titanic), which did not make the system cry "Uncle"; and, to change things up, Procol Harum's In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (A&M/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab) and L. Subramaniam's Electric Modes (2 CDs, Water Lily Acoustics WLA-ES-4&5-CD).

Summing Up
It's funny that, 10 years ago, while reviewing Unison's S2K amplifier, one of the speakers I listened to was the late, lamented ASA Pro Monitor, a two-way stand-mount from France that I and a few others (including Sam Tellig) found offered a musical trueness very difficult to describe. The Pro Monitor's recipe was simple: an Esotec rather than an Esotar tweeter, a Dynaudio 6.5" mid/woofer with a magnesium basket, a double-walled cabinet clad in ¾"-thick exotic hardwoods, and a simple crossover with premium parts. Perhaps the real secret, though, was that all of ASA's design decisions, such as using the less swank of Dynaudio's available high-end tweeters, were claimed to have been arrived at by listening. By the time ASA threw in the towel, the US price of the Pro Monitor had risen to $5000/pair.

Opera claims on its website that "every single aspect of the [Callas] design was subjected to intense musical listening tests at Opera." I can believe it—the Callas sounds like that kind of a speaker. So if you regret having missed the ASA Pro Monitor, here's that rare thing in life: a second chance. And the price hasn't even gone up.

To sum up the Opera Callas: luscious midrange, sweet treble, large soundstage, surprising bass, eminently listenable; Class B (Restricted Extreme Low Frequencies).

Opera Loudspeakers
US distributor: Colleen Cardas Imports

harishcs's picture

   The review doesn't mention any significant shortcomings, other than than a "soft-focus" and "Technicolor" tonal quality.  So why not Class A ?  In particular, what are the  reasons for giving  a "Class A" badge to the KEF LS50  and not this one ?  I mention the LS50 only because it is significantly cheaper.     

Long-time listener's picture

In case you haven't noticed, Stereophile isn't in the habit of allowing you to make a truly informed choice about equipment by giving you the full story, if it includes the shortcomings of any product. When I bought the Stereophile Class-B rated Dynaudio Excite X12, I expected great things, since there was absolutely nothing but superlatives in their review. After I bought it, Iistened to a capella music by Orlando de Lassus that was beautifully recorded, and was surprised to find how rough and unpleasant the male voices sounded (compared to my previous Class C speakers). Likewise, despite their claim that it can handle orchestral works,  when I listened to my Phillip Glass Symphony No. 2 (on Nonesuch, with Dennis Russell Davis conducting; beautiful recording), half of the bass line went missing as it dipped below the frequencies the Dynaudio could handle. And so on. It's a nicely balanced little speaker, but far less perfect than their review will lead you to believe. The Monitor Audio Bronze BX2, at about 1/3 the price, seems to do about as well in most respects. It's more detailed and has better bass extension.

Similarly, if you're lucky enough to buy a T+A Power Plant integrated amplifier, you'll find that despite its Class A rating, voices don't sound natural at all (this was not the pairing I used when listening to the above), and despite their claims that it has ample bass and power at 240 watts into 4 ohms, it still can't drive a 4-ohm speaker like the Dynaudio mentioned above well at all.

And so on. Good luck getting the full story out of Stereophile.

Patrick Butler's picture

A more likely explanation for your experience with the Excite X12s is what you are doing with them in your room, rather than some sort of consipracy perpetrated against readers by Stereophile. 

Long-time listener's picture

No, you're wrong. I'm not suggesting a Stereophile conspiracy, but instead a style of reviewing that highlights the positive in exaggerated terms, while very carefully tiptoing around the negative. You can refer to their review of the Excite X12s to see what I'm talking about. That review contains nothing but superlatives, so there is no hint of why it would ultimately end up in Class B, rather than Class A. This is exactly the question posed in the original post above, isn't it? This supports the idea of reviews that consistently omit important negative aspects of performance heard by the reviewer (or reinforces the idea of conspiracy, if that's what you think well-founded criticism is). [flame deleted by John Atkinson]

I get good overall performance from the X12s, and I'm more or less satisfied with them in their particular system. Their performance is in fact surprisingly good given their size, and my room doesn't pose any particular problems that wouldn't have been apparent with other speakers in the same position. But I was dismayed at their distinct shortcomings, which I simply couldn't have imagined based on their review. After the fact of purchase, however, the review's omissions become apparent. The reviewer raves about how they handle female voices--but hardly a word about male voices (the low crossover point to the tweeter means that some of the female vocal range is handled by that driver, rather than the woofer, which has higher distortion). Likewise, piano was disappointing next to the Class C Epos M5i speakers I had before, whose midrange had greater purity and clarity.

The T+A amplifier is a dog, and there's no way it deserves Class A. Thin sounding, poor timbre, and unable to drive even small 4-ohm speakers well despite its claimed power output. It has a thin, bleached-out, colorless midrange with harsh mid-treble. Terribly disappointing. I trust Stereophile to the extent that it includes measurements--and within the limits of what measurements can tell you--but otherwise I don't trust it much any more. I bought the T+A amplifier without seeing any measurements, a mistake I'll not make again.

volvic's picture

I subscribe to that old addage "trust but verify".  While I respect the reviewers opinions on gear they listen to, I have different needs.  Fremer may say how he loves the pinpoint imaging of the MBL's or Meijas loves to hear the synthesizer growl on a particular track he likes.  I have other needs from a hi-fi system, and whether or not I get to hear the individual plucking in the back of a concert hall of a viola or cello isn't as important to me,being able to follow the line that runs through the music is of greater importance to me.  I guess I am quite easy to please then.  But when a reviewer raves or likes something that I may be interested in I go and listen and judge for myself.  Point being I always use the reviewers opinion as a springboard towards making my own decision.  

Long-time listener's picture

Yes, I agree completely. That's the way to do it. But sometimes you're looking for something, and a certain item seems to fit the bill, but there's little information available on it, and you can't audition it in a meaningful way that would tell you how it will work out in your own system. I guess if that's the case, the answer is simply not to buy. Trust but verify, then buy. Otherwise don't.

Nellomilanese's picture

I'm a newbie in this field but I have been visiting audio dealers obsessively in the last year and experienced everything from 200 $ to half a mil $ system, and I completely agree with the above. 

Here's something interesting: I buy at least 3 Hi-Fi mags / month and I always try to go hear their group test winners....GUESS WHAT...most of the time I come back dissapointed....and I would like another speaker just happened to be on display.

It happened with the B&W CM7&8 series which for me was my dream speaker...until I heard it in an otherwise wonderful system playing a Blu-ray concert with excellent cables, Oppo player, Rotel amp etc.! I know the recording of that concert is very good...so it wasn't the source or the amp.

I didn't like them...I was up on my feet constantly tweaking the system...after 3 minutes I got tired and walked into another demo room. It all sounded to clinical, no warmth, it didn't draw me in....and it only got worse as I drive up the volume! The CM series would've worked for me problably only connected to a record player and valve amp.

Same thing happened at this dealer with the "award winning", 5* Tannoy DC6T...couldn't stand that tweeter....dialed the highs to 0 and even negative values and yes it got a little bit barable but stil no way in hell I would've buy them.

Btw I did an audio test in a showroom with high grade Grado headphones and test file, and I could hear all the way up to 17-18 khz. The 18khz was barely audible, mostly a high-energy "feel".

The saleman said that might be my "issue" LOL

So there you go....what's 5* for someone might be 1* or less for you :D

Long-time listener's picture

Having lived with this amplifier for some time now, my impressions are the same. Break-in has allowed the bass and mids to settle in, and they're acceptable, but there are serious problems in the upper midrange and treble. As often as not, cymbals are just white noise. Trumpets are ear-piercing. Strings are shrill. Pianos seem made out of metal, not wood. 

I cant' imaging how on earth this got a Class A rating. I thought Stereophile was more dependable and more objective than other magazines; it's not. I've lived with this amp for a while now, and my "associated equipment" is good stuff--the Stereophile Class A+ rated NAD M51 DAC, first-rate cables, passive line conditioning, and a room with good acoustics. I don't think it was appropriate to just put on a few electric guitar CDs and pronounce it Class A. Reviewers should be more thorough. They should listen closely with lots of genres, especially if the equipment is not going to undergo a measurement routine. I give the Power Plant Class C. Equipment with such audible flaws, and such clearly distorted highs, should not be in Class A.

rapet's picture

I have heard these Operas and they are far superior than other stuff rated class A. One thing, the Josehp Audio in Class A use the same drivers...I heard them in a show and even though it was not the right environment I do not remember them to be superior than the Operas in any way....yes, rating in Stereophile is quite subjective....

John Marks's picture

For the most part, when I decide which class I will NOMINATE a loudspeaker to be placed in (because the final decision always is John Atkinson's), for the most part I intentionally DISREGARD whether there are any inclusions in a class that I might disagree with. I act like an Originalist, or, at least, I go back to the text.

There can be no argument that the official rubric of Stereophile RCL Class A is:

The best of the best, regardless of price or practicality.

Or, other words to that effect.

As much as enjoyed my time with the Opera Callases, and as much as they reminded me of one of my subjective-favorite loudspeakers (ASA Pro Monitors), I found them to depart from "accuracy" in rather noticeable ways, and also to lack the resolving power of a speaker not in but certainly near their price tier--the Vivid V-1.5.

There have been other speakers, such as the Vivid V-1.5 that I enjoyed as much as the Opera Callas, and which also did not depart from accuracy in any important or even noticeable way. Therefore, I made the decision that as far as I was concerned, the Opera Callas was not The best of the best, regardless of price of practicality, but rather, "The next best thing," and that is Class B.

For Heaven's sake, Class B is where Harbeth's P3ESR is. Class B is not a slum.

I am sure that JA did not merely rubberstamp my suggestion. He measured the Callas and I believe he listened to the pair. Had he disagreed with my suggestion, he could have put the Callas in Class C...

Of course, I speak only for myself, and that also means that I am not going to defend any RCL placement I had nothing to do with. And in that regard, I think that it is a good thing that not all the writers toe the same company line. So, expect some differences of opinion.

I respect the feelings and the listening skills of people who think the Callas should have been put in Class A. However, I try to stick to the literal wording of the gatekeeper clause, and the Callas did not in my view make it into Class A. Perhaps if some other writer had covered the product (Hi, Art!), the end result would have been different.

But I again restate that Class B is not Santa's Island of the Broken Toys.

Class B means this is a great product, and nearly the very best you can get.

John Marks

engineer's picture

The measurements show what you can expect when you place two tweeters apart. This can't sound well. Figure 6 is hilarious and the red trace of figure 3 shows the reflex port is radiating at 700 Hz.