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Now the details. Three music albums on the test bench were Caroline Adomeit’s private label CD Bach to Tango and the two 2L Blu-ray disc mentioned earlier. All music files on the iPad were WAV formatted. Adomeit’s album was ripped directly from the original CD. The 2L albums were transferred through mShuttle from their Blu-ray discs. I opted for WAV for continuity although mShuttle also provides FLAC and mp3 options. The Oppo-nent on the other side of the fence took the technical high ground by playing Blu-ray discs spinning the 2.0 LPCM 24/192 layer with the 'pure audio' function engaged which shuts down all video circuitry. A/B comparison was instantaneous with both systems playing simultaneously. I simply muted one or the other by remote. (The iPad or iPod became a remote control unit with iTX.)


Bach to Tango. The Opal-air4 cast a darker shade in a warm pleasant way over the entire tonal spectrum, with noticeably richer midrange harmonics particularly on moody tracks like "Oblivion". I also felt slightly more weight of the piano hammers to bring out the cembalom effect in the Russian song transcription “Uralskaya Ryobinushka”. The Sapphire on the other hand was more transparent, rendering the violin's high octaves lighter, more feathery and the flautando bowing more airy. Despite that I would still wish for a tad more substantial bass where the Sapphire could get reinforcement from my paired Yamaha subwoofers. If I was blindfolded, I’d definitely think the Opal-air4 the larger speaker or even floorstander.


 
Quiet Winter Night closed the gap. First I did a little trick. I burnt the mShuttle WAV files onto a CD to play on the Oppo BDP-105. The Sapphires driven by the tiny Mouse sounded like big floorstanders even with the paired subwoofers switched off. This race was neck to neck although the Opal-air4 had slightly better layering with the percussion set further back from the vocal and solo instrument in the front. Even so I couldn’t say for sure I preferred one over the other.


Was that drop of sonic quality on the home-brew CD due to one more generational copying from the WAV files? Quiet Winter Night didn’t come with a hybrid SACD/CD so I wouldn’t know. What I did know for sure was that when I stuck in the Blu-ray disc and selected the stereo PCM 24/192 layer, the Sapphire definitely outperformed the Opal-air4 in every aspect from resolution to airiness.


La Voie Triomphale reconfirmed the same findings. The finer the recording the more jaw-dropping sonic excellence of the Oppo universal deck. But that didn't mean the Opal-air4 lagged far behind. Bearing in mind how the wireless Air DAC is limited to 16/44.1 CD quality whilst the Sapphire has the liberty to call in 24/192 Blu-ray that is 8 x higher in resolution, this was a handicap race right from the start. But the test was never intended to find out who'd win or lose but to use a higher benchmark to gauge the merit of the new wireless device. And I must conclude that the wireless device had nothing to apologize for but everything to celebrate. La Voie Triomphale has the most interesting repertoire for wind orchestra and the most challenging for recording engineers. The result is a total sonic triumph where the Opal-air4 didn’t miss a bar communicating. From the old glory pomp and dignity of Berlioz’s Grande Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale to the witty modern orchestration paraphrasing French folk songs and nursery rhymes in Eugène Bozza’s Children Overture, the Opal-air4 paraded the way of sonic triumph in flying colors.


Adding sub bass. One last thing to try before concluding was to connect the Opal-air4 to a pair of subwoofers. By itself the Opal satisfies most repertoires I usually enjoy. But audiophiles always crave more, this one particularly when he plays some organ recordings like the spectacular harmOrgan [2L 077-SABD]. A pair of Y-splitters formed the interconnects between NuForce Air DAC and the Opal and Maximus subwoofer. Ripped WAV files on the iPad still captured the sonorous atmosphere. Nothing got lost in translation.


Conclusion. Active high-end speakers have had a difficult time finding their way into serious audiophile home. Recent efforts from Elac and Dynaudio have helped create more credibility for this unjustly disparaged category. Dynaudio took one step further by synthesizing wireless transmission technology in their award-winning Xeo 3 and Xeo 5.


Also operating on 2.4GHz radio transmission, the Dynaudio package claims to be capable of 24/48 digital audio and sports three inputs, namely USB (computer), Toslink and RCA 3.5mm analog on a transmission station smaller than a Mac Mini. That means all input sources must be wired up to the transmission station. That most likely means the transmission station will be placed within reasonable proximity to the electronics which in turn won't be placed too far from the speakers. See what I’m getting at? The real benefit of going wireless is somehow diminished. From an audiophile point of view, I’d rather keep that last leg of cables (the speaker cables) to enjoy the benefits of a hi-res DAC.


I have not auditioned the Dynaudio Xeo but based on my familiarity with other Dynaudio models and the Facette I still own, I would expect the Xeo to inherit the Dynaudio signature characteristic which would make it very different from the Opal-air4. (One is smoother, the other more dynamic.) But the difference goes beyond that. They both tackle the wireless entry differently. Unlike the Xeo, the Opal-air4 has an analog input for normal cabling to allow a hi-res DAC to work with the speakers. To me that’s a real plus because I don’t believe that an audiophile would trade hi-res for wireless. With the Opal-air4 it’s only the computers and iDevices which are unleashed to reap the real benefits of going wireless. On that note I’ll toast to the success of an innovative speaker that promises music lovers ease of use and sound quality of wireless like never before. It's a perfect partnership between Mark & Daniel’s first active loudspeaker and NuForce’s Air DAC.

Quality of packing: Factory double carton box with foam cradle.
Reusability of packing: A number of times if shippers handle with care.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Entirely unproblematic.
Condition of component received: Speakers were in perfect condition but one back cover and button of the Air DAC had fallen off.
Completeness of delivery: Complete with one uTX transmitter. No iTX which can be purchased from NuForce. No power cords.
Quality of owner's manual: No printed user manual but guidelines are available on the M&D website. For instructions on Air DAC, check out the downloadable PDF from NuForce.
Website comments: Informative specs and product details. Complete with FAQ, worldwide distributors and discontinued products.
Warranty: One year full warranty on speakers and amplifier from the date of purchase. Some conditions apply.
Global distribution: China, Finland, France, Germany/Austria, Hong Kong, Japan, Norway, Singapore, Taiwan, UK/Ireland, USA/Canada.
Human interactions: Professional and friendly, timely and forthcoming responses to technical questions.
Pricing: Exceptional cost/performance ratio. Considering money saved on interconnects, speaker cables and two stereo amps and the peerless performance of the total approach, this is unbeatable value.
Application conditions: Check local power voltage before ordering. Both 115v/60Hz and 230v/50Hz models available. 
Final comments & suggestions: Matching Maximus-stand highly recommended.

Mark & Daniel website