People always think it's OK to ask me what I think about a particular piece of electronics gear. I try to answer as best I can, but I prefer not recommending an exact model to buy. I don't like being blamed if something goes wrong.
On the other hand, when certain people tell me I have to test something because it's amazingly good, I tend to listen. That's exactly what happened when two knowledgeable hi-fi buddies said I should audition some stereo components from a small, San Francisco company called Resolution Audio.
I'm really glad they did.
Resolution Audio. He believes audio equipment should not only sound great -- but should also look great. His Opus 21 system does just that. Instead of creating giant metal behemoths, Jeff has designed a very sophisticated high-end system in small, stackable containers.
There are currently four different "boxes" in Jeff's system:
CD/The Compact Disc player: A refined multi-bit DAC design with an ATAPI-bus drive that enables ideal low-jitter design and reads all discs, including CD-R/W, SACD-hybrid and copy-protected discs, with ease. There is no display on the front (you'll see why in a second) and a bare minimum of user controls.
PS/Power Centre: Jeff figured out that keeping the power supply separate from other components makes everything sound better. That's why every part of the Opus 21 system runs off of one, independent power supply box. The box also contains the digital readout panel for the entire system.
S30/Integrated Amp: This is the power amplifier of the system. Jeff sought and received help from legendary British hi-fi guru Denis Moorecroft of DNM products. Jeff's amp is based on DNM's PA3 -- part of a series of esoteric and expensive amps and pre-amps. Jeff says there's a lot of DNM thinking in the S30, including DNM's three-dimensional circuit construction and internal components. This amp provides 30 heavenly-watts per channel. Jeff also has a new, larger amplifier for less efficient speakers.
XS/Extra Sources: The XS box is a lot more than a few extra inputs. XS adds a moving coil phono preamp, a moving magnet phono preamp, a FM/AM tuner with RDS, five digital inputs, including USB for PC/Mac, two analog inputs, fixed and variable analog outputs, a headphone amplifier, the Opus 21 system bus for direct connection to the Opus 21 CD player and s30 amplifier. It also houses the system remote control.
Put all these together and you have a very sophisticated hi-fi system that takes up very little space.
The Resolution Audio Opus 21 system comes with very few wires. That's because the components plug directly into each other. There is a proprietary system bus on the top and/or bottom of each enclosure that connects everything together when you stack the boxes. The power supply box does have one AC cord and one connector cord (to the CD player).
The flexibility of the Opus 21 system is amazing. I was able to plug in every kind of component I could find (analog or digital) -- and still have room for more.
Opus 21 can also be a mix-and-match affair. You can buy only the CD/PS-Power Supply combo and attach to your current system. Or, the CD, PS and S30 amp and just add speakers. Or the CD, PS and XS/Extra Source box and use your own amplifier and speakers. Or go for the "Full Monty" -- CD/PS/S30/XS -- and sit back and enjoy.
As for the sound quality -- it was (and is) impeccable. Even though these half-sized components might give the impression of being "small" they are anything but. On my big home system (with a pair of legendary Quad ESL-57 speakers) the Resolution Audio gear performed magnificently. I will miss listening and enjoying it when it heads back to San Francisco next week.
As for price, the entire Opus 21 system, as described above, sells for $7,500. You can also buy the components separately -- but you would miss out on the system synergies. The system is available in four color combinations: All silver, silver with black trim, all black and black with silver trim. I can report that the system has a very high WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) as well.
One thing to consider about the Opus 21 system: interconnects and AC power cords -- or the lack thereof. In these days of hand-made wires selling for hundreds or even thousands of dollars each -- think of how much money you might be saving by buying a system that doesn't need them at all! That could be a huge selling point.
One last note: The components I tested were the exact ones Jeff had displayed at CES in Las Vegas, earlier this year. But, there was another box attached -- a very early preview of a matching, digital ripping/storage/playback box that would plug right into the system. Could be a very interesting addition.
Gary Krakow is TheStreet.com's senior technology correspondent.