Opera Mini Bookshelf Loudspeakers Reviewed

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Opera-Mini.gifAnd so Italy continues its attack on the mid-price market, taking over the role that British manufacturers seem to be relinquishing...willingly or not. With Audio Analogue about to release half-width components with sub-�500 price tags, with Unico's integrateds setting new value-for-money standards, with wonderful and affordable models from Pathos, Chario and just about every other Italian manufacturer, it's like 1982 all over again, but with a Latin tang. And nothing exemplifies this better than a revision of Opera's Mini, which you may have missed first time around.

That's because it's so unprepossessing. Odd, I know, for an Italian speaker made from real wood, but the Mini is a simply another small box - shorter and narrower but deeper than an LS3/5a - distinguished from boring dreck only by virtue of its rounded edges. Oh, and an immediate sense of quality. But this is no fashion statement, which is why it might have slipped past unnoticed, lost amidst a few hundred other small monitors. (Sadly for speaker builders, small two-way systems are the 1.1ltr hatchbacks of the audio world.)

Additional Resources
• Read more high end bookshelf speaker reviews from brands like Bowers & Wilkins, PSB, Paradigm and many more here.

Among the main changes are a new, improved 19mm silk dome tweeter and an upgraded crossover. I was told that I should find it 'more lively and vibrant than the previous model but still sweet thanks to the new tweeter.' Additionally, its cabinet is 20mm taller and deeper, a change said to 'take the bass response down a few Hz.'

None of which tells you quite how luxurious this speaker is, a perception lost thanks to its prosaic looks. The grille has a nice, rigid frame made from an MDF-like material, not injection-moulded plastic. The wood - cherry for the review samples, but walnut and other woods are offered - is of a furniture-grade standard, with a magnificent semi-matte finish that reeks of hand-application. Beneath the grille, the one-piece baffle has been finished right up to the driver apertures.

Around the back are the best terminals I've seen in years, multi-way and robust without the nerve-wracking complexity of WBTs nor the flimsiness that the EU prefers. And there are even little touches like a real brass badge on the grille and a metal plate on the back for the serial number and specification. Trust me: this product is the antithesis of bling-bling, a return to the kind of understatement that makes you look inside a man's jacket to learn of its provenance.

But it's the sound that makes the Mini deserve the same levels of success as its automotive namesake. I strapped the pair to the venerable Marantz Pm4 integrated amp, 15W/ch in Class A mode, to two channels of the 100Wx5 Theta Intrepid amplifier and to the McIntosh MC2102 100W/ch valve amp. As you've surmised, the Mini shares something else with the UK classics it emulates beyond size and driver array: a sensitivity of 86dB, which is low by today's standards. So the speaker likes a bit of power, but that didn't stop it from working perfectly well with the least well-endowed of the aforementioned amplifiers.

Read Page 2 for The High Points, Low Points and Conclusion

HTR Product Rating for Opera Mini Bookshelf Loudspeakers

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What I did to burn them in I recommend only to the most committed of blues fans, especially as it shows nothing about the speakers' running-in progress: listening to all five CDs in the box set Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues (Hip-O COL512578 2) in one go. In-between a Mamie Smith recording from 1920 and Keb' Mo' & Corey Harris, ca. 2003, it was as much a lesson in the development of recording as it was in the history of my favourite genre.

By the time the music reached this century, I learned that the Mini has deceptively rich but not deep bass, musical rather than one-note. It still manages to deliver weight and body, without quite fooling you into thinking that someone slipped in a subwoofer when you weren't looking. The stereo imaging will impress the hell out of LS3/5A users, who will note that the sound stage is wider but not quite as deep as that of their BBC fave.

But where it shines is in resolving fine details, especially vocal textures. There's a world of difference between the voices of J.B. Lenoir, T-Bone Walker, Smiley Lewis and Jimmy Rushing. Even with recordings of so vintage an air as Son House's 'Preachin' the Blues', the Mini handled the singing with reverence and finesse.

What I didn't hear was the allegedly 'more lively and vibrant' character I was told to expect. This is one smooth and refined little beauty, adding a warm sheen to the guitar work on B.B. King's 'The Thrill Is Gone', without sacrificing the bite and attack. As for ol' B.B. himself, the voice moved from liquid to rasp with absolute fluidity, the string section behind him soaring but never swamping his solos. We're talking refinement way beyond what's par for modern speakers at 495 per pair.

Then again, they're Italian. And Italians can turn three ingredients - pasta, olive oil and chopped tomatoes - into a feast. If this little beauty were a pasta, it would be 'puttanesca': easy and inexpensive. But with plenty of flavour.

Additional Resources
• Read more high end bookshelf speaker reviews from brands like Bowers & Wilkins, PSB, Paradigm and many more here.

Speaker Type: 2-way reflex, front ported 
Woofer: 110mm 
Tweeter: 19mm, magnetically shielded 
Frequency response: 60Hz-20kHz 
Crossover frequency: 2.5kHz 
Sensitivity: 86dB 
Nominal impedance: 8 Ohm 
Maximum power handling: 50 W 
Dimensions (HxWxD) 260x160x190mm
Weight: 4.5kg each

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