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Resolution Audio and Verity Audio Review by Sandy Greene

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by Sandy Greene on July 08 '07

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Got your $4k "Macassar Ebony" rack? Check. Four sets of three each of those $80 a piece "Twice-Fire-Glazed Cryogenic Ceramic" equipment footers? Check. "Walla Walla" cable loom? Check. "Shook-Nu Stones" and "Whoopie Pads" of different shapes and sizes strategically placed on each component? Check. Wait, don’t forget to strategically place "Auditory Buddha Bells" around the room. They only cost $2,300 for the platinum ones (and you need more than one).

Good, now that you’ve spent $15k on voodoo tweaks and enough cables to make the Brooklyn Bridge jealous, go sell the lot on Audiogon. While you’re at it, sell you gear too and get simple… get elegant… get soulful… and get the Resolution Audio Opus 21 system.

You already have an excellent pair of speakers? Great. Think they’re as musical and as smartly crafted as the Verity Audio Rienzi? Doubt it.

Together, the Resolution Audio Opus 21 system and the Verity Audio Rienzi’s is a match made in heaven. They’re musical angels. They’re beautiful, glorious even. They’re sweet and nice, cherubic even. They’re honest and truthful. They deliver euphoria, happiness and great memories.

Let’s start with the Resolution Audio Opus 21 system ($7,500 for complete system). It’s a very flexible and modular system of up to four components each measuring 9.5 x 9.8 x 3 inches in size. The boxes themselves are black and the faceplates are available in all silver, all black or a combination of silver and black. The components available from Resolution Audio are the S30 integrated amplifier designed by DNM of England; a preamp of sorts, which they call XS for extra sources; a power centre and display unit and a CD transport of their own design.

The Opus 21 system is so well equipped and integrated as to basically be the best Swiss Army knife of audio functions I have seen assembled. But you know with a Swiss Army knife of multiple pieces, how difficult it is to get out a specific piece and use it? Not so with the Opus 21 system. The remote is slim and simple, extremely well laid out and a simple choice of function easily enables that part of the stack to act.

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In the full stack, you have amplification, USB, Coax and Optical digital inputs routed to the super high quality internal DAC; up to five analog external inputs, a CD player, MM and MC phono preamp, headphone amplifier and an AM/FM tuner. The overall power unit contains the most readable of displays I have yet experienced in audio gear… easily visible from across the room.

In my current set up, I have my Apple Airport Express’s optical output going into the Resolution Audio XS. I also am reviewing the Slim Devices Transporter and have its analog output going into the XS as well. My Rega P25 has a new Exact II cartridge feeding the XS’s MM input all sorts of vinyl goodness. That’s three external sources plus the Opus’ own excellent CD source and FM radio, which here in Philly is quite worth it.

Switching between all those yummy options is as easy as pressing play on the CD player or “Band” on the remote of XS for FM. You can effortlessly cycle through external sources as well. Everything switches with ease and confidence, never missing a beat. Without a doubt, the Resolution Opus 21 system is the most carefree, easiest to set up and the easiest system to use I have ever experienced.

Now onto the sound…

This review will reference the Resolution Audio Opus 21 system through the Verity Audio Rienzi speakers. I did hook up my Duevel Planet loudspeakers briefly, but when I am lucky enough to have such an excellent, elegant and opulent pair of speakers around as the Verity Rienzi’s, I might as well take advantage of every second I can with them.

The Planets sounded great by the way, but I actually preferred them with my personal Rogue Audio set up as driven by the Resolution CD player. The Planets are quite robust and the Rogue gear helped give the Planets some extra definition and dynamic impact. The Verity Rienzi’s didn’t need that help at all and were actually more musical with the Resolution Audio system as a whole than with the Rogue amplification.

The Resolution CD player in comparison…

The Slim Devices Transporter, now in for review, retails for $2k. The Resolution Audio Opus 21 CD player alone retails for $3,500. Not exactly a 1:1 comparison… more like a 1:1.75 comparison. But if you read Wes Phillips recent review of the Transporter for Stereophile, you can read how he feels the more mass produced aspect of computer industry products like the Logitech Transporter means the Transporter is much more comparable to the expensive small quantity production of high-end audio. So let’s just call it even in that respect. Of course the Transporter has no transport, and the files are transmitted to it wirelessly. The quality of your ripping and encoding matters (Apple Lossless in my case). Since the Transporter was hooked up to an analog input on the Resolution Audio XS preamp, it was a decent choice to compare.

The Transporter sounds quite good in that it is very even across the frequency range, has decent dynamic range and has pretty good instrument texture and timing. The Resolution Audio CD’s sound quality player blew it away. The sound was way more impact-full and realistic. The low end had more umph. The entire frequency range through the Res CD had more ambient information. The high end of the Resolution Audio Opus 21 CD player has a great balance of detail and air. The midrange was way more accurate than transmitted through the Transporter… being tuneful, engaging, dynamic and rhythmic through the Resolution player. It was one of the more obvious sonic differences I have heard between two digital sources.

I ran the Opus 21 CD player through my Rogue gear directly as a baseline to compare to the many CD players I have reviewed over the last couple of years; and the Resolution Audio Opus 21 is possibly the best I have heard in my living room. Close runners up were the SimAudio Moon Eclipse and the Roksan Caspian respectfully. That’s great company, and the Opus 21 seemed to have more of the better attributes of scale, dimension, weight, timbre, space and pace than what I remember of those other players.

Amplification as compared to Rogue…

How did the compact DNM designed 30 watts of solid-state-ness compare to the brawny 90 watts of glowing tube-ness from the Rogue Audio Stereo 90? Like two different flavors of ice cream. You can’t go wrong with Heath Bar Crunch and Mint Chocolate Chip. They’re both delicious, just different flavors. The Rogue Stereo 90 is more bold and dynamic than the Resolution Audio S30 integrated. The Resolution Audio integrated is more cohesive and musical. With the Verity Audio Rienzi speakers, the Rogue was just a little too forceful for my tastes. The Resolution S30 was more organic. The Resolution had more even bass across a wider span of the frequency. The Rogue had very strong lower bass and a very well defined and delineated bass, but it kind of rolled off pretty hard into the midrange. The Resolution’s low end seems to flow more linearly into the midrange.

I have listened to as many hours with both the Rogue Stereo 90 and 99 Magnum preamp powering the Verity Audio Rienzi’s as I have with the Resolution Audio system. Repeatedly pre, during and post listening sessions, I feel as if the Resolution system is more musical and wholesome. The Rogue gear is very engaging and exciting but the Resolution system really draws me in… both when I am ready to listen and with a sort of mental tug when I am away from my listening room. More than any other system I have had the pleasure to live with for a good while, the Resolution system just pulls me in and back to the music.

Phono pre as compared to Heed Audio Quasar

So here is the only one area where another very small and modular and unique piece of gear (other than what’s in the Resolution system) has me thinking back to separates. And that’s with the Resoultion Audio XS phono section. Not that the phono section of the Resolution XS is lacking. It’s more that the Heed Audio Quasar phono stage I reviewed as part of a system review for Dagogo a while back, has really remained stuck in my head. I’m not convinced that the addition of one extra box and cables justifies the sonic stylings of the Heed unit, but that unit was a step up in quality and engagement over the MM section in the Resolution XS. The Resolution XS’s MM phono section with my Rega P25 and Exact II cartridge has a very neutral sound. With the Heed phono pre, the sound was more alive and electric. But with the Resolution XS you get so much more in one box. You get 5 digital inputs and two additional analog inputs (additional to the 3 analog inputs in the Resolution S30 Integrated amp). You also get a headphone amp and an AM/FM tuner.

The FM tuner sound…

Philly has some great radio stations, and as of late my favorite three are all broadcasting in HD. Sidebar question: Hey, why are there so few home HD radio components? Anyway, you’d figure if these stations have invested in HD technology, their signal must be of higher quality. The Resolution Audio XS’s tuner section does a fantastic job of bringing in these stations loud and clear. In comparison, nowhere near as clear as the Resolution CD player nor the preamps (be it phono or external source).

Our local (evening) jazz station, WRTI 90.1 FM sounds great through the XS. I can sit and listen to this broadcast nightly and be completely satisfied. You can hear all the subtle details of either the analog or digital sources they are playing. And you can hear most of the ambience from those recordings. There’s great emotional pull from these old jazz recordings and the XS tuner does this FM broadcast justice.

Enough gushing…


EdNJessica.jpgYou have read how fantastic I think the Resolution Audio Opus 21 system sounds. To be fair, 99% of the time during its review it was playing through the Verity Audio Rienzi’s. That’s quite the advantage. As far as pairs go, having the Rienzi speakers as a mate is kind of like Edward Norton snagging Jessica Biel if ya know what I mean. He’s no slouch, but Jessica…

Speaking of no slouch… Verity Audio’s North American rep, one heck of a good guy, John Quick, came down to set up the Rienzi’s in my living room. Of course John knows his products very well as he described to me the Rienzi’s marketing goals and what’s innovative and exciting in the new design.

The goal of introducing this product second in the line, just above the Tamino, was of course bring more people in. To introduce them to the quality and craftsmanship of Verity Audio. This speaker is designed and priced to compare with the best in the B&W line as well as compare with the likes of Dynaudio and JMLab (now Focal).

The Rienzi’s are the next progression in Verity’s line after the Tamino, which I reviewed (and came so close to buying) a little over a year ago for Dagogo. The Rienzi’s have an improved crossover design and of course the physically decoupled bass and mid/tweeter cabinets of the Fidelio and Parsifal further up the line. With the dual cabinet design, the bass module can fire rearward or forward. I personally much prefer the woofers rear firing aesthetically but even more aurally as I sensed a greater um, sense of physical ambience and sound space with the woofers firing readward.

John says the new design has more bass extension as it can utilize wall boundaries better than other speakers. He says the port design in combination with the woofer and placement leads to better integration with the rest of the frequency range as it better mimics the body of instruments and enhances the sound stage. The mass suspended between the two boxes of each speaker have the benefit of perceived increased definition and clarity.

That was me paraphrasing John from my notes of a few months ago. Did he pre-convince me… Not really since I had the Tamino’s to mentally compare the Rienzi’s to and I really loved the Tamino’s. There is no doubt in my mind the Rienzi’s are a better loudspeaker overall compared to the Tamino’s. The Rienzi’s are more dynamic and create a larger musical space. They are more revealing and very coherent top to bottom. They are fantastic looking and incredibly well crafted. The Tamino’s were a fantastic speaker, especially at almost half the price of the Rienzi’s ($4,995 versus $7,995).

However, if I do continue this audio gear reviewing hobby (see below) then the Rienzi’s are the better speaker and worth the investment. They are more accurate, more dynamic and more revealing than the Tamino’s and in fact they are better than every other speaker I have auditioned in that respect. Yeah I know… another ultimate statement. I just lucked out this time. The Resolution gear and the Verity speakers are simply better together than other gear I have reviewed. They’re also some of the more expensive.

The Rienzi’s sound stage is fantastic laterally as well as vertically. John set the speakers up with a tilt forward perhaps because my seated position is a little lower than average. The set up works very well with a slight toe-in where the speakers point to the outsides of my shoulders.

The sound emanating from the Rienzi’s has body and a three dimensional nature that creates a very realistic front-to-back illusion. I think the sound stage combined with the timbre and tonal accuracy, cohesive seamlessness (I hear no gap between drivers) and dynamic contrasts all work together to better create the illusion of a live performance (and the time travel illusion of a well recorded studio performance).

I was completely amazed with the Verity high-frequency sound ever since I first heard it at an audio show in Montreal a few years ago. There’s air and texture that just has a perfect portrayal that simply sounds like instruments and voices in real space. It never sounds like a recording or a reproduction. It’s natural and not forced and integrates so well with the rest of the frequency range. In the Montreal show from a few years ago, the Fidelio’s I heard sounded like the Tamino’s I heard in my home with sound like the Rienzi’s I now have in for this review. These Verity Audio Rienzi’s represent the best in quality and execution the industry has to offer. They are statement speakers.

Together and concluding…

I’ll tell you what. This gear is so good, so musical, so well designed and attractive… that it makes me want to stop reviewing, settle down and just enjoy the music. Every time I sit down to write this review, I can’t write it in the same room when the Resolution Audio Opus 21 system and Verity Audio Rienzi’s are playing. I just want to put down the laptop and listen. Every. Single. Time.

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Here’s a list of just some of the recent music purchases I have enjoyed on this system:

Death Cab for Cutie: We Have The Facts and We’re Voting Yes
The National: Boxer
Wilco: Sky Blue Sky
The Arcade Fire: Neon Bible
Mendoza Line: Full of Light and Full of Fire
The Ponys: Turn The Lights Out
Voxtrot: Voxtrot
Arctic Monkeys: Favourite Worst Nightmare

Some perennial favorites brought new to life in this system:

Frank Sinatra: In The Wee Small Hours
The Nazz: Nazz
Aimee Mann: Lost In Space
Sufjan Stevens, Illinoise
Jeff Buckley: Grace
Grant Green: Feelin’ The Spirit

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Comments

It would seem the Rienzi's may be a very good match with the RWA Sig 30 also.
The Verity Audio Rienzi have pretty low sensitivity at 87 dB. With the 30w from the Resolution Audio integrated, shouldn't it be running speakers with much higher sensitivity such as Zu Druids or Living Voice?
I can confirm the RA gear is a great match with Living Voice, as I am running such a system myself. It plays very convincingly on extremely low volumes (if that's important to you) and never fails to impress with ANY music you dare to play. Synergy to the extreme, although the Rhethm speakers also seem to be a perfect match with the Opus S30.