Review: Resolution Audio Opus 21 CD Player

Category: Digital

I would first like to start off by saying I have finally found the CD player which has made me stop looking at all the other digital options out there. Having first delved into the digital upgrade world about 3 years ago, it has been a non-stop “what if?” since my first digital upgrade made me realize the importance of the front end.

I have spent countless hours researching and checking prices on all sorts of digital solutions from one box designs to two box units. I desired flexibility in my system with the ability to have multiple digital inputs to decode movies from my DVD player, although this was not a necessity, it was an added bonus.

I have owned the following pieces:

Marantz 63SE
Meridian 500 Transport + Monarchy 18B DAC
CEC TL2X Transport + Monarchy 18B DAC
Accuphase DP-65V

I have demoed extensively the following:

Electrocompaniet EMC-1 MKII
Accuphase DP-75V
Marantz SA-14
Theta Miles

I will get into the comparisons later.

I received the Opus 21 last Tuesday; it arrived in a custom wooden crate, about 20 inches cubed and roughly 30 lbs. The top is hinged and opens after releasing two Velcro straps to reveal a well padded interior with an accessory box, a layer of padding, the cd player in a sealed bag, a layer of padding, then finally the power supply in a sealed bag. The whole design is a very functional and sturdy design, alleviating any shipping butterflies anyone may have.

The Opus 21 is a two box unit, one for the transport and DAC, the other for the digital display and power supply-my unit is solver on silver. Each box is very small, and light. The Opus has a 99 step analog volume control which is designed to go direct to amp, as Resolution Audio recommends no preamp! Balanced and RCA outs are supplied. A digital input is included for DVD players or other PCM sources. A remote WITH direct track access and volume control is included.

The overall build quality is excellent, although not up to Accuphase standards (what is?). The remote is simple and functional, although somewhat of an EMC 1 remote-light and cheap. The Opus 21 tracks lightning fast. So fast that when scanning through tracks you actually get the first second of each song. There is also ZERO noise from the transport. I know the old ones had some noise issues; this is clearly fixed in these new units.

I set up the Opus 21 into my system:

Pass Labs X150
Cardas Golden Cross 1M XLR interconnect
Synergistic Research Alpha Quad biwire speaker cable with active shielding
Platinum Solos

My listening tastes include female vocals, rock and jazz. Limited classical. The most important aspects of listening are a 3 dimensional soundstage, the ability for a CD player to clearly carry each instrument within a recording without smearing them together, tight fast bass, and a musical non-fatiguing demeanor. I hate digititis and like everyone else, long for CD to equal LPs.

Upon the first song right out of the box, I knew I was in for something special. Right away there was detail and separation beyond that which I have experienced in my system before. I settled down and allowed the player to run in for a few hours before listening again. Upon my second listen, I noticed an increase in soundstage, more defined bass and greater detail. So after roughly 30 hours of break-in here are my conclusions:

This is the most well balanced digital source I have experienced. The vocals are smooth and rich, although not syrupy or tube-like. The highs are completely non-fatiguing, extended but never ever harsh. The bass is firm and well defined, but never bloated or mushy. There is absolutely no part of this machine which stands over the other, it is very well balanced.

The sound staging and 3-dimensionality is second to none. Instruments appear out of blackness deep behind the speakers, while vocals seem to float over the front of the speakers. There is so much layering and depth that I find myself going through my entire CD collection to see what I have been missing. There is an uncanny air and naturalness to instruments. Drums have a defined impact and resonation within their own space. Cymbals have natural decay not heard on my system before.

I feel very drawn into the music, each instrument has its own space and can easily be followed. There is no smearing of instruments or vocals on complex passages. Amazing. The sound is alive, clean and open!

In terms of musicality, the Opus 21 has it in spades. Having sold my Accuphase DP-65V because it specifically lacked musicality (to my ears) I was delighted and relieved to have the toe tapping musical involvement back.

For comparisons:

Meridian + Monarchy: The Meridian was great, smooth and detailed, but lacking emotion and musicality. The sound was also somewhat sterile and the soundstage was not as deep or wide as it should be, very digital sounding in comparisons. The Opus 21 is superior in every aspect of listening.

CEC + Monarchy: The CEC added detail and musicality at the expense of some low end definition. The vocals are second to none, extremely smooth and liquid and the soundstage was wide and deep (very 3 dimensional). Female voices on belt drive transports are exceptional and the Opus cannot fully match the CEC on this. The CEC was also somewhat limited at the extremes and lacking somewhat in dynamics. The Opus 21 retains about 98% of the CEC liquidity in the vocals and adds in bass definition, dynamic attack, detail and added dimensionality and layering.

Accuphase DP-65V: This player was a big disappointment. Other than being the most impressively built piece of audio equipment I have ever owned, it seemed outdated. I did like the 65V better than the Meridian + Monarchy, but I preferred by a large margin the CEC + Monarchy combo. The 65V simply lacked the 3 dimensionality of the CEC as well as its musicality. The bass seemed improved, however as my wife put it, the Accuphase hurts my ears. Just not fun to listen to complex passages on.

CEC into DP-65V DACs: Simple…I liked the CEC + Monarchy better.

Accuphase DP-75V: My memory of this player proves that it was indeed a step up from the DP-65V, although it had the familiar Accuphase sound. Meaning, very smooth, detailed, but just not at all musical. The 75V was closer to the Meridian than the EMC, somewhat digital sounding. The Opus 21 adds in musicality and openness I felt were missing in the DP-75V.

EMC1: Very musical, but from memory I felt the Opus 21 had it beat in detail and layering. The Opus 21 was much more 3 dimensional.

Marantz SA-14 + Theta Miles: Just in a completely different league. I had the SA-14 on redbook in my system the day before I got the Opus 21. It was being run with a Hovland HP-100 preamp and Audioquest Amazon interconnects. There just was no contest, the Marantz was great but seemed compressed and flat compared to the Opus. The Theta was in the same boat.

Order of preference: 1) Opus 21, 2) CEC + Monarchy, 3) Accuphase DP-75V and EMC1 in a tie (for musicality and emotion go with EMC, for detail and politeness go with DP-75V), 4) DP-65V, 5) everything else.

So the main question is, yes the CEC is great, but what about a great DAC to match. This is where I had to make a decision. If I had gone a new DAC route, who knows? I contemplated the chord, Kora, CEC DACs, birdland, levinson, ECD-1, Audio Aero. Problem is, it was going to be much more $$$ and I couldn’t justify it. I run direct into my amp and have no preamp so some of these DACs required the purchase of a preamp and tons of cables. The DACs in the opus are top notch and I would love to compare a complete high end 2 box to it, but honestly do not feel it would better the opus without going into major major debt. Also, having the preamp, DAC, transport introduces so many variables it will make you crazy. Every cable makes a difference and makes room for error.

In summary, I am now very satisfied with what I have. I do feel I have a real high-end digital source and I have no intention on selling. Are their better sources? You bet. Will it cost absurd amounts of money? YOU BET! I feel I would have to spend at least 3-4 times the price to better this piece ($9-$12k).

Strengths: Seems to do everything just right, does not stand out in any area, very neutral open and dynamic. The sound is so open and deep, you can see right into the music. Very musical and somewhat emotional sounding, although not as emotional as the CEC.

Weaknesses: Cheap plastic remote, but it is very functional.

Associated gear
Pass Labs X150
Cardas Golden Cross 1M XLR interconnect
Synergistic Research Alpha Quad biwire speaker cable with active shielding
Platinum Solos

Similar products
Meridian 500 Transport + Monarchy 18B DAC
CEC TL2X Transport + Monarchy 18B DAC
Accuphase DP-65V
Electrocompaniet EMC-1 MKII
Accuphase DP-75V
Marantz SA-14
Theta Miles

Thanks for taking the time to provide your review and comparisons. You're conclusions about the sound of the Opus 21 are similar to my own. Its a very un-digital sounding CD player, with great musicality and yet lots of low-level detail.

With a lot of players it seems like you get great musicality and pace, but with an inherent lack of detail. Other players are just the opposite providing lots of detail and information, but without much "toe-tapping" going on. The resolution player seems to provide the best of both worlds. My musician friends always comment on how real the instruments and voices sound.


Thanks for the great review! Now I'm even more interested than ever in the opus. I don't suppose you can post a pic of the remote? I'm just curious to know what it looks like.
Thanks for the responses.....Audire, I will try to get a pic, but also go to the RA website and look at the owners manual, a pic/drawing is there!
Platsolos, you've captured the essence of what I hear with the Opus 21 in my system. In particular I like the way the Opus 21 remains uncongested, even on the most complex music, and it's musical drive is outstanding. Similar to Naim players, but with much better resolution and balance across the spectrum.

The Opus 21 replaced a Meridian 508.24 and SF Line 3 combination in my system.
Platsolos--Great review. I couldn't agree more. I've had my Opus for about 3 weeks and love it! Receiving the wooden crate, unpacking the player, examining it, and, finally, simply listening to it, has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience!

The player is very well executed with great ergonomics, simplistic design, useful features, and fantastic audio qualities. In comparison to other players from Ayre and Cary that I have used, the Opus creates a more delicate, gentle sound with taught bass, lively highs, and wonderful emotional impact.

Needless to say, I won't be sending it back to you at the end of the audition period.
Sorlowski, this is a little late, but if you click onto another thread: "CD players with volume control ?????" 7-9-03, there's quite a bit of discussion about the Opus, including a comparison to Wadia players.
I got ahold of an Opus21 late last week and had a chance to directly compare it to 2 Wadia players(A 301 and an 861se). All Im going to say is this: Opus21='s Adcom GCD-750 in terms of SQ with a more elegant 2 part case. Its a really good player, definetly has great clarity, but its still a step below the Wadia 301 and a few steps down from an 861se. For $3500 I would take a stock 301 over it still regardless. And for $3500 a Wadia 301 can be had with a GNSC upgrade package its a no-brainer for the Wadia.

I would like to hear head to head a Wadia 301 vs. an Opus21, both with the GNSC Reference level mod packages though. As I believe Steve Huntley does do upgrades for the Opus player too.
I too compared the Opus 21 to the Wadia 301 head to head. I had a different result in my system than Ritteri. I now own the Opus 21. I wanted to buy the 301 because of my favorite local dealer and all, but just couldn't justify it after I compared the two. The only aspect of the 301 that bested the Opus 21 was in shear authority and drive. Soundstage, clarity of instrumentation, vocals, imaging, all were better in the opus 21. My grading scale ended with 1) Opus 21 2) Ayre cx7 3) Naim 4) Wadia 301
Thanks to Platsolos,
A great review! Scince 3 weeks I am the very happy owner of a Opus 21 Player. I will never give it away again! Sondstage, dimensionaliy, clarity and fine resolution are realy second to non I've heard before.
I criticaly tested the following:
Marantz CD12 Ki
Marantz CD 23 (older Music link special edition)
Wadia 301
North Star DAC and Drive
Chord DAC and Einstein Last record player drive
Creek CD53 and CD43 MKII
Electrocompaniet EMC1
Opus 21 beats them all, especialy as I am listening classical to rock and pop musik, the combination was always better in every aspect of dimensionality and depth of imaging on stage.
I have checked also the quality of the volume control and found it very good. I also checked direct DIN Fixed output and diden't found any difference.
Fantastic review! Very complete and I especially enjoyed the comparisons. Thanks for taking the time. This is helping me a great deal in my current "shopping" mode.
Great review. Most enjoyable reading. If the Opus has the same sense of rythm and clarity than the reviewer's style, it has to be a must ;)
One question though : any hint about the specific low bass extension and lisibility issue ?
Hello again,

I meant to ask you, if you've run it straight into the amp as well as through a pre-amp and which gave you the best results???
Running the Opus through preamps that were $6k+ was the only thing to improve the sound from running direct. I am considering modifying the Opus, and my thought is that it will smoke anything out there, direct or through a preamp!
can the volume control be bypassed? I use a preamp that is necessary for other sources due to a mixed 2-ch/HT system...

just a short few comments to endorse these frank and honest reviews..

I have to admit I was sceptical after the above reviews and the rave review in What Hi-Fi etc.. However, its all true and the conclusions about the sound of the Opus 21 being very un-digital sounding CD player, with great musicality and yet lots of low-level detail are spot on descriptions...

With a lot of players I've tried it seemed like you get an inhernet "artificial" musicality and pace, but with an inherent lack of detail. Other players do provide lots of detail and information, but with "musicality" missing. The resolution player seems to provide the best of these twop features and is a definite "keeper" as far as I'm concerned.

Like others, this is the end of a CD player quest for me as there is little scope to do better than this at 3 times the price. I will not be chaning mine for anything else as long as I have CD's. I can't endorse it more than this as I feel the digital journey for a top class Cd player is finally over for me..

Its just a great piece of kit...
Has anyone stepped up to the opus from the cd-55. I did a head to head comparison with the cd-55 and my emc1 mk2. Although the cd-55 was very detailed, it was a little harsh on the top end. The emc-1 eleminated this. I can listen with absolutely no fatigue now. I realize system matching is important and my speakers are Dunlavy 4A's which are known for having an above average treble presence. The emc-1 was the definite choice for me. I was curious however if resolution audio had improved in that area with the opus 21.
I like how this thread keeps going and going. I have compared the EMC-1 and the Opus 21 side by side and prefer the Opus 21. It is more natural sounding, more organic if you will. Hey, I love it.

I also found an Audience Au24 DIN-RCA cable to be a worthwhile investment if you want to bypass the volume control within the Opus 21. Really nice.

BTW, I added a review of the RA Opus 21 s30 integrated amplifier in the amplifier reviews section that touches on the Opus 21 CDP. The direct connection really makes the Opus 21 CDP shine!
Nice review, but I should mention that a few owners of Accuphase cd players that were running there units balanced were not taking into account the balance polarity being defferent then USA made balanced pins 2-hot, 3-cold, Japan is 2-cold and 3-hot, thus you have to reverese the speaker cables at the amp end to put the system back into polarity.

The Accuphase DP75V, DP77 and DP85 are just superb, transparent, 3D imaging and yes they are musical, like real music would sound, it really should have body. I owned the top 5 cd players on the market in the 10-15K range and for the money my DP77 is my final choice.

I am done for the next few years or so. Always check polarity, even ac should be checked, the Sony SCD1 is tranformed once the ac plug is reversed.
I have always listened LP's and have gotten spoiled with the analog sound. No matter which CD player I considered for purchase, the Opus 21 edged them all for clarity, musicality, base and emotion. I have stopped searching for a CD player because I heard the warmth of analog and emotion.

Thanks to all of you for guiding me to the Opus 21.
Having at long last heard the Opus 21 CD Player, with its somewhat noisy mechanism. I have to give the edge to the Oracle 1500 CD Player. In my opinion when price to price is compared and both of these are in that $3,500 price range, the Oracle 1500 is superior to the Opus 21 CD Player. Both are overkill redbook CD Players. But to my ears the Oracle 1500 has a decided advantage in overall sonics and build quality and is graveyard quiet compared to the Opus CD 21.

Of course the Oracle 2500 smokes both of these units. It should it is near 10K.
17 yrs later and both of my opus 21 got new upgraded drives and still the boss compared to ALL OTHER CD PLAYERS IN THE MARKETPLACE