Opera Audio Consonance Forbidden City Ping

No, it's not an ancient Chinese puzzle, but the name given to Consonance's new all-in-one system, the Forbidden City Ping.Adam Smith listens in...

cast your minds back for a moment if you will, to the good old nineteen seventies. Often referred to as the "decade that taste forgot", I'm sure it will bring back pleasant memories of Worthington Party Sevens, Ford Cortinas and Space Hoppers, and somewhat less happy ones of three day weeks and the "Winter of Discontent”.The hi-fi industry of this time also had good and bad memories. Although there were a few shining beacons that have attained cult status, like the Technics SL1200 turntable and Yamaha NS 1000 loud-speakers, for many people, their tunes were provided through a good old music centre.

For those of you young enough not to know these beasts, they were all-in-one units, usually featuring and amplifier, cassette deck and a turntable which would often be either made by BSR (bad),Garrard (better) or Dual (better still).These were all laid out horizontally, with primary controls on the top surface and sometimes some secondary ones along the front. With the exception of a few high end units, including those from Bang and Olufsen, most weren't much good-with cassette mechanisms, loudspeakers and those BSR turntable units generally being the weak points.The arrival of the rack system in the eighties consigned these items to memory, and we moved on...
Until recently, it seems. It now appears that the humble music centre has undergone something of a reincarnation and has resurfaced in the 'noughties', boasting higher technology, better build and superb sound quality. Units of the likes of the Arcam Solo, Linn Classik and, of course, the lovely Shanling MC-30 are bringing the convenience of multiple sources in one box to the modern market, whilst banishing memories of the aural wounds some of the old timers used to inflict.

The latest unit is from Opera Consonance and forms part of their 'Forbidden City' range, named after the Chinese Imperial Palace in Beijing.The range itself consists of a turntable,two CD players, two amplifiers and the Ping all-in-one system considered here.
The Ping itself is based around the innards of the CD 120 Linear CD player, reviewed in Hi-Fi World's August edition and features that unit's 16bit non-oversampling DAC with no digital filter, that can be switched between 44.1 and 88.2kHz sampling rates.Also under the bonnet is an FM/AM tuner with nine presets and a IOOW amplifier, making use of Consonance's 'Cool Class A' technology, which they claim offers the same "linear sound performance" as Class A but without its high power consumption.

Spare socketry is also provided round the back for an auxiliary input through phono sockets, as well as a USB I .I connection to a computer, which allows the Ping to reproduce your audio files from an external source. Consonance have also built into this a feature they call "SpAct" memory architecture, which recovers the audio clock from the incoming signal and thus is able to reproduce it with minimum jitter.

The Ping is very sturdily built from solid blocks of aluminium, accounting for its impressive weight, and is available in a number of finishes. Our sample had the grey panel with grey detail squares, but black and red versions are also available, the latter very striking! It is supplied with a weighty and solid metal remote handset in a pleasing black aluminium finish.

In use, the Ping proved something of a mixed bag. It is quite simple, with not too many buttons, but has a couple of quirks that are learnt the hard way. Firstly, you can only insert or remove a CD when the unit is actually in CD mode and, secondly, the tuner does not appear to have an auto-seek mode.Tuning is accomplished by scanning up and down the wavebands manually until you reach the frequency you desire (which you obviously need to know beforehand).

SOUND QUALITY

Tuning manually up and down those wavebands, however, does elicit a good result from the Ping. FM was pleasingly clear and free from mush and interference, with radio announcers having good depth and clarity to their voices, and the atmosphere of the studio they were in picked up on very well.The measured bass rolloff [see MEASURED PERFORMANCE] was audible, however, making performances rather more lightweight than normal.Whilst not obviously 'tinny', this did tend to remove the impact from rock music and classical crescendos.
Loading up the CD player was more successful, as music sprang forth from the loudspeakers and it was immediately clear that the Consonance means business.The Forbidden City Ping has a fantastically dynamic presentation that positively grips music and really powers it out of the loudspeakers.
Most noticeable was the bass performance, which is super tight and deep- much better than on FM. Consonance quote a damping factor of 'over 1000' for the amplifier which is very optimistic, but even the measured value of 68 is reasonably high and this can be heard as the Ping had no problems in keeping the rather underdamped Spendor SBes
in a grip of iron. No matter whether it was a pounding dance beat, a thunderous tympani or a thumping kick drum, the Ping remained tight, fast and incredibly deep.
No less impressive was bass detail, the Ping making light work of following the complexities of bass lines. Upper bass was dextrous and fast with the Ping able to pick out every inflection in this area and project it well through the mix.
Simply Red's 'Sad old Red' is a track I often use to check out such aspects of bass detail and the Ping made light work of it, revealing every layer of the recording.
At the top end, the Consonance offered a very spacious and clear treble, again picking up on every high frequency detail to ensure that none were lost. Never veering towards harshness, the Ping had an unerring ability to cut through recordings and pull them right out into the room.
Now, if at this point you are thinking that this sounds like one of those solid state units with deep bass, clear treble and not much to speak of in between, then rest assured this is not the case.To fill in between the top and bottom ends,
the Ping has a lucid and expressive midrange, offering almost thermionic levels of insight, but ultimately lacking that last hint of ultimate valve magic. Nevertheless, vocalists were rendered in a very natural manner, whilst instruments were incredibly Iifelike.The Ping could pick up easily on the inflections that make one type of guitar sound different to another, for example.
No less impressive was the soundstaging. Spinning the Icicle Works' 'Blind' on LP through the auxiliary input, I noticed that the image was nicely deep and wide beyond the boundaries of the loudspeakers, but mainly I was struck
by just how tall it was. Ian McNabb seemed to be almost towering over me, his guitar flailing somewhere around my head as he attacked his solo with great gusto.
Finally, auditioning a few MP3s though the USB input showed that the Ping makes a very good job of reproducing
these as well, its dynamic nature adding pleasing verve to recordings.The downside here was that it was able to reveal the limitations of the source, with material lacking the superb soundstage experienced through the CD player.

CONCLUSION
The Consonance Forbidden City Ping is a fine all-in-one system and offers a dynamic and large-scale performance on all sources, all wrapped up in a stylish and very well built package. Although its performance on FM could be a little better, for those who want top quality performance but lack space, this is a welcome addition to the market.

fOR
- superb bass
- impressive grip and control
- capacious soundstaging
- build and styling

AGAINST
- tuner could be better
- some operational quirks

VERDICT
A stylish and sturdy unit that turns in an
impressive performance.

CONSONANCE FORBIDDEN CITY PING 1,495GDP
Distributed by Alium Audio
Tel +44(0)1273 325901
www.aliumaudio.com

MEASURED PERFORMANCE

The amplifier section of the Forbidden
City Ping delivers nearly 200 watts
into 4 Ohms and is very powerful,
so the Ping will drive just about any
loudspeaker to high volume in any
size room. Distortion levels were low,
primarily second and third harmonic
our analysis shows, so this is not
crossover. Damping factor was high at
68 and, coupled with good power and
a wide frequency response, I would
expect a punchy sound. However, this
comment does not extend to the tuner,
as bass starts to roll off at 130Hz and
is -6dB at 40Hz·not good. Otherwise,
tuner response is flat to a high 18kHz,
because there is no mpx filter to
eliminate 19kHz pilot tone, again not so
wonderful.
The CD player exhibits a flat
measured response, but produces more
distortion than expected nowadays,
measuring 1.8% at -60dB instead of the
0.3% that might normally be expected,
resulting in a very low EIAJ Dynamic
Range value of just NO, against the
better than 106dB figure expected.
The Consonance is a little
inconsistent in what it does. It will
always sound tonally even, but the CD
player and VHF tuner have measurable
limitations that need not exist, as they
are not cost related. NK
Powe                                     122watts
Frequency response      3Hz-55kHz
Separation 88dB  
Noise -96dB
Distortion 0.04%
Sensitivity 210mV
Damping factor 68
CD
Frequency response 10Hz-18.2kHz
Distortion (%)
0dB 0.2%
-60dB 1.8%
Noise (IEC A) -98dB
Dynamic range 96dB
TUNER
Frequency response 130Hz-18kHz
Stereo separation 40dB
Distortion (50% mod.) 0.17%
Hiss, stereo (IEC A) -68dB
Signal for minimum hiss 775uV
Sensitivity, stereo 40uV
   
DISTORTION - AMPLIFIER  

 

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