Opera Platea Loudspeakers Reviewed

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It's not just sound which comes in waves: hardware trends seem to as well. With domestic congestion, urban dwelling and bitch-wives* from hell deeming with increasing vehemence that any speaker larger than a loaf of bread is an intrusion, it looked like the floor-standing speaker was heading the way of the turntable - into cultdom. Then the backlash hit. The first-ever tower from Sonus Faber, brand-new floorstanders from B&W at both ends of the catalogue, the re-launch of the Kelly name with a vertically challenged design and enough others suggest that audiophiles are tiring of the compromises. And now Opera has a new entry-level floorstander, bringing the cost of Italian towers way down. And, no, it doesn't lean.

But let's not be too pleased with ourselves just yet; huge speakers are still the exception. The returns of either the 6ft tall dynamic behemoth or the huge dipole panel are not nigh, and people aren't buying as many horn systems (none of which are tiny) as certain zealots would have you believe. Amusingly, a typical modern floorstanding speaker occupies the same amount of space as a tiny monitor on a 24in support; the difference is that a cabinet measuring 950mm tall with a 200x200 footprint simply more intrusive to a pain-in-the-ass interior decorator than a 350x200x200 speaker on a 600mm pillar. So, given that it's all down to psychology and to people only seeing or believing what they want, it's more a case of coincidence than design which makes the Opera Platea seem like an Opera Duetto which just happens to sport an integral stand in the form of a larger enclosure.

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Opera's budget two-way Duetto impressed me enough to make it my fave speaker at around the £400 mark, even though its bass performance is typically small speaker-ish. When it was announced that Opera had a floorstanding version in the works, well, I just had to hear it. Keeping in mind that the Duetto is easy to drive, smooth-sounding and capable of imaging to a level of near-LS3/5A competency, all a "Duetto-Plus" has to do is add more bass and sport a price at a sensible level.

Let's deal with the last part first. At £795 per pair, Opera has certainly maintained the price relationship with the Duetto, located centrally in Bargain City. Just look at what's on offer:

The Platea's 190x900x200mm (WHD) cabinet is, like every Opera model, made from solid, 25mm-thick, interlocking hardwood sections, with extensive internal bracing. Each cabinet is hand-polished with five coats of lacquer to protect and enhance the natural wood finish, with mahogany as standard and American Cherry announced as an extra-cost option, Opera's US importer probably having something to do with this. As is the Italian wont, all of the enclosure's edges are rounded to eliminate the possibility of diffraction problems (while enhancing the looks), and the rear-firing, flared port "...allows good breathing at high volume levels". Actually, that should read 'no breathing', because the bass is whoosh- and woofle-free. The cabinet's lower cavity can be filled with lead shot or sand for additional mass loading, and supplied as standard with the Platea is a separate, solid hardwood plinth and solid brass cones. Opera can also provide as an option a 3cm thick marble plinth stand, as seen in the UKD room at the Hi-Fi Show.

The Platea is fitted with the same 19mm doped silk dome, three-fixing SEAS tweeter specified to Opera's requirements and now found in the Duetto. Below it and crossing over at 2.8kHz is an ATD-made 130mm bass/midrange driver with copolymer cone and hefty chassis/magnet construction, specially developed to provide the extra damping demanded by a larger enclosure. The crossovers, hand-made and tested by Opera, use audiophile-grade components including high-saturation, self-cementing inductors and close-tolerance non-polarising capacitors. Drive-wise, this system is as easy and amp-friendly as the Duetto, with a nominal 6 ohm impedance, sensitivity of 89dB/1W/1m and recommended amplifiers including valve amps of 12W or more, or solid-state amplifiers of between 30W and 80w.

Like the cones, Opera makes the 24k-gold-plated brass terminals found on the back of the speaker. Shock! Horror! Some might cry upon seeing that it's not bi-wirable. But the reason is a good one: the cross-over network design is deliberately simple - for sonic and cost reasons - and it doesn't allow for bi-wiring. Which is kind of amusing when you learn that Opera will be launching its own range of cables next year: the single-wiring set-up just cost Opera a bunch of extra cable sales. Not to worry: you can use the money you saved on an extra set of cables to pay for the marble plinth.

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