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johnmath

Clear Audio Concept - impressions

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Having just had a play with a ClearAudio entry level turntable (for ClearAudio that is!) the Concept, which is ~$2,500 including ClearAudio V2 MM Cartridge, I thought I would share my impressions.

 

I am not purchasing this turntable, but borrowed it from Denis White Audio Visual in order to provide some feedback on its build quality and performance. For what it's worth, I typically repair and/or set up one or two turntables every day, Thorens, Rega, Pro-Ject, Micro Seiki, Technics, Linn, etc. and have been building turntables for professional and consumer applications more than 35 years. I have not played with ClearAudio before, and I have not read any reviews, so my impressions are just that - my impressions of this one turntable alone.

 

The Concept is a little unusual for an audiophile deck in that it comes from the factory with cartridge fitted and completely set up. The only thing you need to do is fit the belt and platter and adjust the three feet for level with the supplied bubble level. The platter is turned from sonically inert polyoxymethylene and is very impressively and perfectly round and flat. The sub-platter is made of aluminium and has no discernible runout or eccentricity which would cause speed hunting. The three speeds were spot on and stable with no hunting when tested by stroboscope, and are adjustable by screwdriver trims on the rear panel. The motor is a little noisy on 78 rpm, but it would be well below the noise floor of any 78 rpm record.

 

My first interest was which tracking alignment ClearAudio had chosen - would it be the Schön alignment ( by Walter E Schön in Germany? it turns out that ClearAudio set the inner null point at 66mm, the same as the conventional Baerwald alignment.

 

Azimuth, offset, vertical tracking angle (for 180 gram records) and pickup lift height were all perfectly set. The online manual says that the ideal tracking weight for this cartridge is 2.0 grams but according to my digital scales it was set for 2.60 grams (within the 1.8 to 2.6 range specified for the V2).

 

The low-capacitance fixed interconnects including tone arm wiring measured 135 pF, series inductance of 0.64 uH and series resistance of 0.7 ohms (all including the tonearm internal wiring) and the cartridge measured 405 ohms at 1 kHz (better - lower - than spec) and cartridge inductance measure 430 mH, all of which means that the cartridge will tolerate a range of load capacitance without too much detriment. The interconnects are well screened and there is no evidence of extraneous electromagnetic pickup - the noise floor was very near theoretical optimal, helped by metal body RCA plugs.

 

The tonearm uses a novel magnetic levitation pivot and magnetic anti-skating for theoretically zero friction, so I was interested to see how it performs. My next test was to test anti-skating performance from outer to inner grooves. Anti-skating performance was good except at inner tracks. As this in not my turntable and the anti-skating adjustment is not described in the user manual, I decided to adjust the tracking weigh to match the anti-skating setting. (*See note below.) It turns out that a tracking weight of 2.40 grams gave the most consistent anti-skating performance across the disc - an error of just 0.1 grams either way degraded tracking ability with the factory anti-skating setting. Once set at 2.40 grams, the cartridge is happy to track at up to +16dB above reference according to the HiFi News Test LP at ~20 degrees Centigrade in my living room.

 

The tonearm horizontal resonance measured at 7 Hz and caused quite a bit of movement of the tonearm, though not enough to cause tracking errors. The resonance will not cause any issues with out-of-round records. The vertical resonance was so well damped it was difficult to determine the actual resonant frequency, meaning this combination of tonearm and cartridge should have no difficulty playing warped records.

 

Now to impressions. The build quality is superb, and surpasses most similarly priced turntables IMHO. The motor appears to be rigidly mounted to the plinth, but in fact is very well isolated - once tensioned by the drive belt I could not hear any coupling into the plinth with my contact stethoscope. There was, however, a very small amount of bearing noise which was audible both by stethoscope and during the silent track of my test record. It may be perceptible between tracks and on lead-in/lead-out grooves, depending on the quality of the pressing. The isolation from environment provided by the feet was quite good (this is a turntable Ã  la Rega or Technics, not a suspended plinth like Thorns or Linn).

 

Bear in mind that this cartridge has had zero break-in time. Whilst good, it did not get the hairs on the back of my neck standing up, with the main weakness being a little stress in the top end. It is likely this will improve enormously with use and I did notice some mellowing in the few hours I played records. Given the standard of the rest of the turntable, it would be well worth considering the upgraded Concept model with MC cartridge. Of course, my personal preference for moving coil cartridges means I would be unlikely to rate any moving magnet cartridge as stellar.

 

Overall I think it is a fantastic turntable for someone who does not want to tinker and just wants to listen to the music unhampered by technical limitations. For a music lover it represents an alternative than to buy a lessor turntable and spend $$$ on endless upgrades in search of nirvana. The moving coil version (~$3000) would be well worth considering.

 

*Note: Anti-skating is easily adjusted by turning a knurled knob underneath the tonearm pivot, but requires a test record to set correctly.

Edited by johnmath

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Guest Muon

That's a pretty comprehensive review, John :cool:

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Amazing review. As a happy owner of one of this is quite nice to know I've spend my money in the right thing. And without having any knowledge what so ever of the technical stuff I can confirm how well made this TT is...it screams "made in Germany" :)

John, question for you. I know after reading this, that your preference is MC cartridges, but what would you recommend me to updgrade in the future, the entry level Clear Audio MC Concept cartridge or for about the same money (a bit more) the top of the line Clear Audio MM Maestro V2? Considering my Luxman E-200 Phono can handle both.

Cheers!

Edited by jrivask

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Very detailed review , thank you .

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Yes, fabulous and comprehensive technical review, John. I'm also the very happy owner of a Clearaudio Concept. It may only be the entry-level table in Clearaudio's lineup, but it really is the little turntable that could. I've posted this view before elsewhere on SN, but IMHO one of the great thing with the Concept is that its basic engineering and build quality is so good, it's not out of its league when paired with a much higher-end cartridge. I swapped the MM cartridge that came standard with a Zyx Airy3 MC cartridge (which is worth more than the Concept itself). The jump in sound quality was astonishing and the humble Concept table was not at all outclassed by the illustrious cartridge hanging from the business end of the tonearm.

I don't know whether I happened to chance upon a particularly synergistic combo with the Zyx/Concept pairing, but I couldn't be happier with the result.

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John, question for you. I know after reading this, that your preference is MC cartridges, but what would you recommend me to updgrade in the future, the entry level Clear Audio MC Concept cartridge or for about the same money (a bit more) the top of the line Clear Audio MM Maestro V2? Considering my Luxman E-200 Phono can handle both.

Cheers!

 

I don't feel I know enough about the cartridges in question to have a position about this, sorry. Perhaps some one else can help?

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Hello John

 

Thanks very much for the in-depth review.

 

I've had the MC version of this TT for almost 3 years, and it was my first TT and introduction to vinyl.

 

At the time, it was well reviewed, and the "plug and play" nature was very appealing to someone who had no knowledge or interest in tinkering.

 

I've been extremely happy with it, but am now wondering about possible upgrades, especially with regards to the cartridge,

 

I must admit, I was going to ask the same question as Jrivask... what other MC cartridges would you ( or anyone else)  recommend for this TT? I asked this question in the TT section of the forum, as I was wondering if anyone had tried using one of the better Lyras, Koetsu's, etc with this TT/Arm. I didn't get any suggestions at the time. 

 

If you'd like to have a listen to the Concept MC here in Adelaide, please get in touch with me.

 

Cheers

 

Suresh

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$1888 at the moment at A2A for the MM version. I couldn't resist and pulled the pin!

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