new PACKAGE - Technology Factory
Made by: ClearAudio, Germany
Supplied by: Audio Reference
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All-in-one manual belt-drive turntable/arm/cartridge
Clearaudio Concept £1100)
|п а world bursting with superlative budget turntables, here comes a stand-out from
Germany's Clearaudio — and it even comes with a tonearm and cartridge!
Review: Ken Kessler Lab: Paul Miller
f someone had told you, even as
recently as 2000, that the market
would be overrun with genuinely
stunning turntables at sensible prices
in 2010, you might have snorted with
derision. During the LP’s limbo period of
1985-2005, as it clawed its way back to
its current ‘cool’ status, the focus seemed
to be on extremely expensive high-end
players. That limbo period is now over
thanks to CD's decline, and the black vinyl
record is regaining small but steady market
share, including crucially an audience
amongst those born after CD arrived.
Clearaudio has always had affordable
turntables for newcomers, but the
company created something special with
the Concept, one of those rare occasions
when the object isn't merely greater than
the sum of its parts: it merits, straight out
of the box, a gold star, an Oscar and a
Michelin rating.
You don’t have to be a seasoned turntable
user to be struck by the Concept’s special
qualities; they're immediately apparent.
For decades, we've seen turntables that
come pre-fitted with arm and cartridge, all
adjustments set at the factory, requiring
nothing more than plugging into the mains
and the phono inputs of the integrated
amp or receiver. Budget decks have
always been that way. But the Concept
applies high-end standards to entry level
convenience and price, and done in such a
way that you have to be a churlish hound
to look for compromises in the design.
Indeed, the only way you can suggest
that ‘Clearaudio cut corners’ is to point out
that the chunky, acoustically-dead plinth’s
corners are rounded. It’s a sandwich
slab made from an unspecified inert
material with a Medite-y feel, trimmed
with a brushed aluminium frame, with
no suspension. Rather, it rests on three
RIGHT: The arm - pre-set at the factory for
the supplied MM cartridge - needs careful
adjustment if you wish to change cartridges;
anti-skate is applied underneath
height-adjustable pointy feet. But | do not
consider the lack of a springy suspension to
be economising with a deleterious result:
to save money, you compensate for this
by positioning it away from physical or air-
borne vibrations. Tweakers, if anything, will
welcome this because it also encourages
them to play with aftermarket feet.
Once it’s freed of the packaging, you
see the arm held in place with sticky tape,
Styrofoam inserts protecting everything
else. It was no more complicated than
removing a CD player from its box. | had it
making music in four minutes, even with
checking the settings post-transit. The
external power supply was plugged into the
mains and then the back of the Concept,
the phono leads inserted into the Audio
Research PH5 phono stage, and, later, the
line inputs of the Valvet P2 [see p60] and
Mcintosh C2200 preamps. | had a hefty
table cleared for it — the GM Accessori BCD,
stupendously over-engineered and spiked
to my listening room's concrete floor — with
a couple of LPs primed for play. Off with the
stylus guard, and it was instant bliss.
After a few hours running it in, enjoying
the sound as it improved, | investigated
further. The spookily-invisible, magnetically-
suspended tonearm reminded me of the
Well-Tempered, if only because it hangs
there, but there's no string holding it in
place: two powerful magnets position
it in a friction-free manner. Closer study
revealed set screws that allow you to
play with the arm height and the cueing
lever reach, while tracking force is applied
with a conventional balance weight. The
supplied cartridge operates at 2.4g.
Overhang and azimuth are also blissfully
easy to set, reminiscent of the Syrinx (had
it ever been properly manufactured). The
only tricky bit, not covered in detail by the
instructions, is setting the anti-skating bias,
which is accomplished by trimming the
leads via a bolt from underneath.
This only affects you should you change
cartridges, which | did in order to hear the
deck with costlier designs. They included
moving coils from Transfiguration, Koetsu
and Lyra and MMs from Shure and Ortofon.
A word of caution, emphasised in the
owner's manual, is the need to set the
tracking force without an LP on the platter.
30 | | JULY 2010
That made sense because logic dictates
that a turntable operates with a record in
place, and that the force (and arm height)
would therefore be best set with an LP on
the platter. Thus the thickness of a record
is represented by a stylus gauge’s platform
— including Clearaudio's own.
Blissfully quiet, the Concept is
belt-driven by a decoupled DC motor
with low noise bearings, powered by
the aforementioned external black box;
fans of 78s will appreciate that this is a
three-speed deck able to accommodate
the higher velocity. The composite 30mm
black platter slides over the spindle
with little resistance, the bearing itself
described as ‘a polished and tempered
steel shaft in a sintered bronze bushing,
running on a mirror of Teflon.’
Although it positively begs to be
tweaked, | avoided any accessories for the
turntable itself. The lack of a suspension
and easy arm-height adjustment will
encourage those among you with ADD
(Accessory Deployment Disorder) to try
assorted mats - felt, cork, RingMat, Funk,
what-have-you — while the chassis’ light
weight and flat underside will send you
running to the drawer that you've filled
with spikes 'n’ feet collected over the
years. | didn’t even try a record clamp or
weight — another source of innocent fun
this might inspire you to exploit.
Creedence Clearwater Revival's
penultimate studio LP, Pendulum, is an
absolute treasure featuring gems like
‘Molina’, ‘Hey Tonight’ and ‘Have You Ever
Seen The Rain’, a showcase for one of
rock’s greatest voices - John Fogerty's. It
was that voice, as much as the churning
guitars and solid bass, that had me choose
it for my first taste of the Concept, which
returned the compliment by delivering
rock-hard punch.
Lord knows why,
but | wasn’t expecting
the deck to reproduce
“The Concept
ABOVE: Utter simplicity and completely
intuitive operation, with a single rotary for on/
off and speed selection. Styling is reminiscent of
far costlier designs, like those from Immedia
Better still was its control of the bass,
not just the quantity nor even the quality:
on ‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain?’, the
sound is full enough to create a dense
and busy sonic field, wide and deep, yet
sparse enough to allow the user to hear
each member of the band. Homing in on
specific instruments proved effortless, a
boon for those moments
when you're trying out
a new component, or
meee Almost matched are time and dont
power of ‘Molina’, one ту reference yet feel like wallowing
of Creedence’s more
hard-driving numbers,
was palpable even
through compact speakers, like the Sonus
Faber Cremona Auditor Elipsa or Rogers
LS3/5A, with fat, tactile, flowing bass. It has
been something of a curse for turntables
that their own mass is reflected in the
sound they deliver, featherweight decks
seeming capable of only minimal bass, with
behemoths producing lower registers that
you actually feel. The Concept, while hardly
pretending that it’s an SME 30, never
betrayed its sylph-like form.
Having been to Clearaudio’s factory and seen how it does nearly everything
in-house, | am reminded of another field that deals with the question of
‘authenticity’. In the luxury watch business, most manufacturers do not produce
their own movements as this leads to a loss of credibility. Transfer it to audio,
and you find serious manufacturers wondering how so many can ‘outsource’
to China. Clearaudio patently avoids this:
the usual trick of fitting an arm from an outside source, usually a Rega. And as
wonderful as Rega's arms are, there's an added frisson of owner-satisfaction in
knowing that your turntable, even at this price point, has a dedicated arm. And
not just an in-house arm, but a bloody clever one at that. In other words, this is a
bargain purchase for which you need never apologise.
the design is all theirs. It even avoids
SME 30 for detail
indiscriminately in the
wash of sound.
Horror of horrors, it
actually reminded me of watching Avatar
and consciously forcing myself to veer from
concentrating on specific 3D details to
savouring the bigger picture. So detailed
yet coherent is the Concept’s delivery — and
| am referring to it with its own cartridge
— that you suddenly appreciate something
else about the deck: in this case, the cost
of a truly pedigreed performer, with a
heritage going back 32 years, has been
lowered by a staggering amount.
It’s important to place this in context,
for we are discussing a German product -
in itself, reason enough to marvel at a low
price - composed entirely from proprietary
parts, packaged to be foolproof to set up
and operate, and yet styled to suggest a
much larger ticket. Add this the final gift, of
true ‘audiophile-acceptable’ performance,
and you'll realise that we are dealing with
something beyond the ordinary.
Which led me to the sorts of discs |
only normally wheel out on high days and
holidays: sonic spectaculars. First was the
true stereo version of the Dave Clark Five's
‘Glad All Over’, which is powerful enough &
JULY 2010 | | 31
ABOVE: The supplied MM cartridge is terrific, but easy to upgrade: note the absence
of a conventional headshell and uncomplicated fore/aft [azimuth adjustment
just for its bass and rhythm section,
but which soars above the mean for
its sax element. It begs to be played
loudly, at stomping levels that
presage Slade. The Concept kept it
all together, almost matching my
reference system, the SME 30 with
Series V, for detail, if not for absolute
extension and transparency.
What it clearly avoided was the
‘record player effect’, and | mean
that in the derogatory system-in-a-
suitcase sense of cheap Pye Black
Box-type portables, which present a
wash of sound, stripped of details.
und drang. It reveals to inquisitive
listeners the layers of sound that
constitute what may be considered
the evil twin to Phil Spector's ‘Wall
of Sound’. (Note the irony, given
that Spector’s the one inside for
murder.) Instead of pile-driving
excess, the sound acquired the
majesty its devotees attribute to it
for political and philosophical, rather
than sonic reasons.
This is not to be confused with
the far more precisely defined sound
of the Ramones, which possesses as
much majesty as Nirvana ever did,
but without angst-riddled pretence.
‘Rockaway Beach’, easy to write
off as a mere ditty when compared
to the Wagnerian turbidity of,
say, ‘Tourette's’, sounded almost
anthemic, which probably would
find the now-departed members
of the grouped keeled over with
laughter in the afterlife. ©
But there's a place for everything,
and I'm sure some modern converts
to vinyl would be just as happy with
a refurbished SoundBurger. Which
would be a great loss on their part,
because the Concept — while not an
‘introductory’ turntable — excels at
conveying just why vinyl remains the
choice of the cognoscenti.
To prove to myself, if not to
the world of Gallagher/Cobain
wannabees, that such a refined
beast as the Concept could, if
pushed, be as grungy or raucous or
sneering as modern tastes demand,
yet remain utterly free of digital
artifice, | turned to the recent
high-quality vinyl pressings of
Nirvana's oeuvre.
Contradictory as it may
seem - audiophile treatment for
music deliberately fashioned to
antagonise, annoy and possibly
even enervate — the Concept found Sound Quality: 85%
the hidden musical depths buried 0 O a e
beneath the cacophonous sturm
Those new (or returning) to LP
have never been so spoiled for
choice for entry-to-mid-price
‘turn-key’ turntables. Clearaudio’s
rivals — Thorens, Pro-ject, Funk
and the ‘blue-chip’ default, Rega
— all make sublime alternatives.
But this deck offers styling and
finish worthy of a £2000 package,
and an arm ideal for a cartridge
upgrade. The Concept is the most
covetable bargain since NAD's
C315BEE integrated.
32 | | JULY 2010
Clearaudio's magnetic downforce compensation increases as
the arm tube moves above parallel and reduces as it falls below
parallel, so if you set the tube in line with the top of a record
you must also adjust its downforce at this same level. Our
sample was preset at 2.2g, only fractionally below Clearaudio's
specification of 2.4g. Otherwise the arm/cartridge geometry
was very accurate with good azimuth and only a very slight
error in overhang - an excellent result for a plug-and-play
solution. The lightweight alloy tube itself offers an appropriately
low bending frequency of 120Hz [see Graph 2, below] with a
few low-level harmonics thereafter. Any subjective impact will
be in the mid-bass rather than midrange.
Turntable bearing rumble is impressively low for a deck at
this price point with its DIN B-wtd noise measuring-in at -67dB
through the groove and fractionally lower at -68dB via the
bearing itself (all via the integral Concept MM pickup cartridge).
The absolute speed error (3136Hz at 3150Hz) is acceptably
slow at -0.45% (amounting to 33.18rpm) but the speed stability
of the belt-drive regime and lightweight plastic sub-platter is
not up to the standards of Clearaudio’s costlier creations. A
pervasive low-rate wow accounts for some 0.1% of the overall
0.12% weighted total [see Graph 1, below] which is significantly
in excess of Clearaudio's specified 0.04%. This same result and
very similar-looking spectrum was obtained for Roksan's Radius
5.2 [НЕМ, Маг ' 10].
Readers are invited to view a full QC Suite report for the
Clearaudio Concept turntable package by navigating to www. and clicking on the red ‘download’ button. PM
Amplitude >>
Sa xi.
3: —
<< Frequency >>
ABOVE: Wow and flutter re. 3150Hz tone at 5cm/
sec (plotted +150Hz, 5Hz per minor division). Slight
speed decrease causes an insignificant loss in pitch
ABOVE: Cumulative resonant decay spectrogram
showing main arm bending mode at 120Hz
Turntable speed error at 33.33rpm | 33.18rpm (-0.45%)
Time to audible stabilisation 3sec
Peak Wow/Flutter 0.10% / 0.02%
Rumble (silent groove, DIN B wtd) -67.0dB
Rumble (through bearing, DIN B wtd) -68.4dB
Hum 8: Noise (unwtd, rel. to 5cm/sec) | -61.0dB
Power Consumption 1W
Dimensions (WHD) 420x140x350mm
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