Clearaudio

extensive range of class leading Turntables. Phono stages, Cartridges & Accessories from Germany
"Take the best and make it better, only then is it just good enough." Peter Suchy

"Take the best and make it better, only then is it just good enough." Peter Suchy A man with a visionary character and an overwhelming desire to bring these visions into reality; a man who does not follow trends, but creates them and sets new standards; a man who realises his philosophy in the products that carry the Clearaudio name. Peter Suchy is this character and more than just the man behind the products, his committed dedication and emotion means his soul is inherently in his products. 1978, the year of real breakthrough, the year Clearaudio's moving-coil cartridges were introduced to the world with their innovative and unique symmetrical generator design. Handcrafted in Erlangen, Germany - Clearaudio products are regarded as innovative, of true quality, and of setting the highest standards by hi-fi specialists and top class engineers alike.

Based on this philosophy Clearaudio has been setting new standards in the analogue reproduction of music for more than 30 years. You will find Clearaudio in more than 70 countries worldwide with a fully comprehensive range of high-end phono cartridges, tonearms and turntables, phono preamplifiers, class-A amplifiers, plugs, cables, racks and even the audiophile production of vinyl records. Look opposite and you will see the clearaudio family of today. Loving Music: perfection in design and raising the standards.

Peter Suchy has imbued within his childrens Robert, Patrick and Veronika his love of music, his desire for perfection and his commitment to doing things right. Optimisation and refinement are key features within Clearaudio's headquarters, as is a harmony resulting from the common dreams of a family being realised for another generation. These three men share the same philosophical and technical ideals. They all have opened their hearts to music; and provide you with the keys to unlock another dimension: an emotional odyssey, the discovery of, and existence within the energy of music.

see video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MD8giZBYvHs

Featured

All Products

Reviews

Testimonials

Featured

CL 01 AC BAG
NZ$ 895.00 (incl. GST)
The ideal Vinyl shoulder bag with adjustable belt allows comfortable transport of up to ten records. The material mix of high-quality natural leather and canvas material guaranteed by tensile...
CL 07 CA ESSENCE
NZ$ 1,695.00 (incl. GST)
Introducing Clearaudio's latest addition to its entry-level family of moving-coil cartridges, the Essence MC. Clearaudio has been researching into moving-coil technology since 1978 and the design...
CL 16 TT CON MM
NZ$ 1,995.00 (incl. GST)
Clearaudio Concept Combo - A New, Gorgeous Turntable Package That's Simple to Set-Up and Use... What a Concept! New Black and Stainless Steel Finish - Classic Looks, Fantastic Sound!
Aluminum radiused, resonance-optimised, high mass plinth with compact footprint2 piece Delrin...
EXTENDED REVIEW: For me, the analog versus digital debate is similar to one in the wine world,...
CL 22 TT PER TTC
NZ$ 7,995.00 (incl. GST)
Performance DC turntable package with TT5 tangential tonearm & Essence MC cartridge The Performance DC is a complete turntable package designed to open up the high-end listening experience to...
CL 32 TT MASIN B
NZ$ 31,995.00 (incl. GST)
Clearaudio's Master Innovation Wood is the ultimate expression of the Innovation Wood platform. It features a magnetic platter drive system based upon the award winning and incomparable Statement...
Magnetic drive system from Clearaudio Statement with additional 15mm stainless steel sub-...
EXTENDED REVIEW: With this new high-end model, Clearaudio has brought even more of its Statement...
CL 35 TA SMP RC
NZ$ 1,795.00 (incl. GST)
The Smart Matrix is a Record Cleaning Machine with a high torque motor providing bi-directional rotate  of the metal platter, manual fluid application and vacuum pick up. The enclosure is a...
CL 38 RC DMPUS
NZ$ 5,995.00 (incl. GST)
NEW PRODUCT RELEASE - WORLD 1st ULTRASONIC & DOUBLE SIDED WASH & VACCUM RECORD CLEANING MACHINE  We are proud to present our new double-sided record cleaning machine, the “Double Matrix...
CL 40 PS NANO
NZ$ 525.00 (incl. GST)
Sixmoons: "The Nano is a fantastic value; offering great versatility in a tiny package for a tiny price," ns.
The Nano V2 its meticulously selected SMD components are assembled by hand in Erlangen and tested...
CL 41 PS SMART
NZ$ 825.00 (incl. GST)
The Smart V2 phono is supplied with a high quality external power supply to further enhance performance,  Beautifully machined casework with first-rate connectors and of course that lucid,...
Output:               ...
CL 57 TA WEIGHT
NZ$ 299.00 (incl. GST)
Once upon a time, there were lots of choices in the world of analog set-up devices. That's changed. Fortunately for all of us there are companies like clearaudio who are still analog fanatics and...

All Products

Cartridges

CL 01 AC BAG
NZ$ 895.00 ea (incl. GST)
The ideal Vinyl shoulder bag with adjustable belt allows comfortable transport of up to ten records. The material mix of high-quality natural leather and canvas material guaranteed by tensile...
Cartridges
CL 01 CA CONCEPT
NZ$ 295.00 ea (incl. GST)
New optimised and improved series of MM cartridges. With the V2 series of moving magnet cartridges clearaudio set new standards in the technical parameters of impedance, inductance, load capacitance...
Cartridges
CL 02 CA PERFORM
SPECIAL PRICE: NZ$ 295.00 ea (incl. GST)
Original: NZ$ 395.00 (incl. GST)
Saving: NZ$ 100.00 (incl. GST)
Again and again clearaudio set new standards in the phono cartridge parameters of impedance, inductance, load capacitance and sensitivity through tireless research and continuous measurement in our...
Cartridges
CL 03 CA ARTIST
NZ$ 750.00 ea (incl. GST)
The new Clearaudio v2 Ebony cartridges are the culmination of Clearaudio's continuous research and refinement of moving magnet phono cartridge design. Building upon the foundation of their popular...
New optimised and improved series of MM cartridges.   With the V2 series of moving magnet...
Cartridges
CL 04 CA VIRTU
NZ$ 1,150.00 ea (incl. GST)
It was back in 1978 that Clearaudio first manufactured moving coil cartridges. This vast experience has been a significant benefit to our range of moving magnet cartridges. We have made massive...
New optimised and improved series of MM cartridges.   With the V2 series of moving magnet...
OK, I admit it! Lately I have been flirting with, and have been somewhat smitten by, the "Dark Side...
Cartridges
CL 05 CA MAESTRO
NZ$ 1,450.00 ea (incl. GST)
Clearaudio Maestro V2: One of the World's Best Gets an Upgrade Stereophile Recommended ComponentTAS-The Absolute Sound Editors Choice - 2009 / 2010 / 2011  Reviewer's summary: "As...
New optimised and improved series of MM cartridges.With the V2 series of moving magnet cartridges...
What's happening? The Foo Fighters putting out their latest album on analog tape, with no pro tools...
Cartridges
CL 06 CA CHARIS
NZ$ 2,495.01 ea (incl. GST)
NEW PRODUCT RELEASE - The Charisma V2 is the new flagship of the Clearaudio MM cartridge range. As Clearaudio continue to advance standards in our range of moving coil (MC) cartridges, we felt it was...
Cartridges
CL 07 CA CONCEPT
NZ$ 1,150.00 ea (incl. GST)
The new clearaudio Concept MC cartridge is the entry level into the clearaudio MC cartridges line and is a perfect match with the Concept turntable. The cartridge body is made out of an innovative,...
Terry,Last night I fitted the Concept MC in my Linn LP12. As you know I previously ran the...
Cartridges
CL 07 CA ESSENCE
NZ$ 1,695.00 ea (incl. GST)
Introducing Clearaudio's latest addition to its entry-level family of moving-coil cartridges, the Essence MC. Clearaudio has been researching into moving-coil technology since 1978 and the design...
Cartridges
CL 08 CA TALIS
NZ$ 2,195.01 ea (incl. GST)
The TALISMANN is designed using clearaudio's "Ultimate refinement" philosophy. Painstaking care is taken to manufacture with remarkable consistency, which explains the attractive retail price.
The Talismans are three special weapons from the Sailor Moon anime series from Toei Animation...
Cartridges
CL 10 CA CONCERT
NZ$ 3,495.00 ea (incl. GST)
All the design aspects of Goldfinger, Titanium and Stradivari are found in the Concerto: the entry-level into our New-Generation-Super class of moving coil cartridges.Both the satiné wood from which...
Cartridges
CL 11 CA STRAD
NZ$ 4,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
The Stradivari is synonymous with the absolute master-class of creating musical instruments. Our moving-coil cartridge named after the maestro allows a magnificent 90dB dynamic range from vinyl...
Turntables - US$1000–$2000 Clearaudio Concept with Concept mm cartridge; $2000 with...
Cartridges
CL 12 CA DAVINCI
NZ$ 6,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Clearaudio daVinci V2 MC Phono Cartridge - Rock solid, transparent, and capable of creating a fully layered depth perspective.....Review By Dick Olshe The clearaudio "da Vinci" is mechanical,...
Since they brought out the new generation Goldfinger, Clearaudio has been going towards a more-...
Cartridges
CL 13 CA TITAN
NZ$ 9,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Another Clearaudio dream of perfect music reproduction is realised through the Titanium V2. It's massive 9-gram titanium body eliminates resonances to make a 95 dB dynamic range possible....
Cartridges
CL 14 CA GOLD
SPECIAL PRICE: NZ$ 16,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Original: NZ$ 20,250.00 (incl. GST)
Saving: NZ$ 3,255.00 (incl. GST)
NEW Goldfinger Statement State-of-the-Art MC Cartridge with twelve magnets The clearaudio cartridge range has a new flagship: the clearaudio Goldfinger Statement, heralding a new era in high-...
Cartridges
CL 15 CA HSHEL A
SPECIAL PRICE: NZ$ 295.00 ea (incl. GST)
Original: NZ$ 450.00 (incl. GST)
Saving: NZ$ 155.00 (incl. GST)
Cartridges
CL 15 CA HSHEL T
SPECIAL PRICE: NZ$ 250.00 ea (incl. GST)
Original: NZ$ 495.00 (incl. GST)
Saving: NZ$ 245.00 (incl. GST)
Cartridges

Accessories

CL 01 TA LPDRILL
NZ$ 60.00 ea (incl. GST)
Simple, Ingenious Tool Enlarges Undersized Spindle Holes on LPs Quickly, Effectively, and Cleanly Never force an LP onto your turntable's spindle again! A simple albeit ingenious tool that enlarges...
Accessories
CL 01 TA PGEC 01
NZ$ 59.95 ea (incl. GST)
High efficient record cleaning fluid for the best cleaning results. 1.0 litre bottle The Clearaudio Pure Groove Essence fluid is an extremely high quality record cleaning fluid. This is the same...
Accessories
CL 01 TA PGEC 02
NZ$ 125.01 ea (incl. GST)
High efficient record cleaning fluid for the best cleaning results. 2.5 litre bottle The Clearaudio Pure Groove Essence fluid is an extremely high quality record cleaning fluid. This is the same...
Accessories
CL 01 TA PGRB
SPECIAL PRICE: NZ$ 29.95 ea (incl. GST)
Original: NZ$ 39.95 (incl. GST)
Saving: NZ$ 10.00 (incl. GST)
The Clearaudio Pure Groove is a record cleaning brush ideally suited for wet cleaning of records, with extremely fine microfibre bristles, Featured with the Clearaudio Matrix record cleaning machines.
Accessories
CL 01 TA RBUSH
SPECIAL PRICE: NZ$ 29.95 ea (incl. GST)
Original: NZ$ 35.95 (incl. GST)
Saving: NZ$ 6.00 (incl. GST)
Clearaudio Carbon Fibre Record Cleaning Brush - the ideal complement for any vinyl care system. - carefully cleans your records with two rows of more than a million self-cleaning anti-static carbon...
Accessories
CL 01 TA STBRUSH
SPECIAL PRICE: NZ$ 26.00 ea (incl. GST)
Original: NZ$ 35.95 (incl. GST)
Saving: NZ$ 9.95 (incl. GST)
When to use Clearaudio diamond stylus bush ...every time you play a record!
Accessories
CL 01 TA STCLEAN
SPECIAL PRICE: NZ$ 29.95 ea (incl. GST)
Original: NZ$ 39.95 (incl. GST)
Saving: NZ$ 10.00 (incl. GST)
When to use Clearaudio Stylus Cleaner ...every time you play a record!
Accessories
CL 01 TA TCKPRO
NZ$ 1,595.00 ea (incl. GST)
The care-kit for the professional turntable care. Contents: record cleaning brush "Pure Groove", carbon fibre record brush, diamond stylus cleaning brush, diamond cleaner fluid "Elixir of Sound",...
Accessories
CL 35 TA SMP RC
NZ$ 1,795.00 ea (incl. GST)
The Smart Matrix is a Record Cleaning Machine with a high torque motor providing bi-directional rotate  of the metal platter, manual fluid application and vacuum pick up. The enclosure is a...
Accessories
CL 37 TA DMP DC
NZ$ 120.00 ea (incl. GST)
Clear perspex cover to protect the  record cleaning machine form room dust etc.
Accessories
CL 38 RC DMPUS
NZ$ 5,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
NEW PRODUCT RELEASE - WORLD 1st ULTRASONIC & DOUBLE SIDED WASH & VACCUM RECORD CLEANING MACHINE  We are proud to present our new double-sided record cleaning machine, the “Double Matrix...
Accessories
CL 45 TA SYNCRO
NZ$ 1,795.00 ea (incl. GST)
Designed to improve performance of any turntable using a synchronous motor.By actually re-generating a perfect mains waveform the Clearaudio Syncro provides absolute stability to the turntable motor...
Accessories
CL 50 TA TCKPW
NZ$ 275.00 ea (incl. GST)
The kit for professional turntable care: Contents: Pure Groove record cleaning brush, carbon fibre record cleaning brush, diamond stylus cleaning brush, Elixir of Sound stylus cleaning fluid,...
Accessories
CL 50 TA TWISTER
NZ$ 178.89 ea (incl. GST)
This is the Clearaudio LP clamp I have been using in combination with their “Outer Limit Turntable Ring” for the last three years. This combination has proved to be quite satisfactory. The...
Accessories
CL 51 TA CONPUCK
NZ$ 149.50 ea (incl. GST)
The new clearaudio record clamp is distinguished by its ergonomic form, it is precision machined from aluminium, black anodized and finished with a silver rim. On the under side is a Teflon insert...
Accessories
CL 51 TA STATE
NZ$ 1,125.00 ea (incl. GST)
State of the art record clamp. Three point resonance absorption technology. Bullet proof wood and stainless steel sandwich.
Accessories
CL 57 TA WEIGHT
NZ$ 299.00 ea (incl. GST)
Once upon a time, there were lots of choices in the world of analog set-up devices. That's changed. Fortunately for all of us there are companies like clearaudio who are still analog fanatics and...
Accessories
CL CAR ALIGN GAU
NZ$ 395.00 ea (incl. GST)
The alignment with only one point is more accurate and saves time. The cartridge alignment gauge can be used for tonearms for 7.9 inch (200mm) up to 15.7 inch (400mm) effective tonearm length. (1...
Accessories
CL HARMONICER
NZ$ 125.01 ea (incl. GST)
Turntable Vinyl-mat, ensures a perfect contact of LP records and improves the sound of any turntable.The Clearaudio turntable vinyl Harmo-nicer mat. A genius development to improve any turntable...
Accessories
CL LEVEL GAUGE P
NZ$ 25.00 ea (incl. GST)
Accessories
CL LEVEL GAUGE S
NZ$ 69.94 ea (incl. GST)
When all your equipment is level, vibration is reduced and performance enhanced. Housed in a precisely machined stainless steel base for ultimate accuracy.
Accessories
CL OIL
NZ$ 76.67 ea (incl. GST)
This is fully synthetic, ultra low-friction bearing oil. It's designed specifically for use with Clearaudio's CMB bearings, but it will reduce friction in most all bearing wells.
Accessories
CL OUTER LIMIT
NZ$ 1,795.00 ea (incl. GST)
Many records are warped at least slightly. The Clearaudio Outer Limit is an LP stabilising ring that clamps down at the outer edge of the disc, making it completely flat. The Outer Limit improves the...
Accessories
CL SMART GUAGE
NZ$ 24.50 ea (incl. GST)
Simply the easiest way to adjust the cartridge's tracking force.
Accessories
CL SPEED LIGHT
NZ$ 250.00 ea (incl. GST)
  Optimum sound quality can only be reached with the exact turntable rotational speed. With the Speed Light exact adjustment of the turntable speed is possible by keeping the light source...
Accessories
CL SPEEP TEST PK
NZ$ 295.00 ea (incl. GST)
Accessories
CL TAI DIRECT
NZ$ 124.99 pr (incl. GST)
Direct Wire Tonearm Interconnect cartidge to phono with earth wire. The Clearaudio Smart Wire is so called because it was designed to offer a complete musical performance for a truly entry-level...
Accessories
CL TAI SIXSTREAM
NZ$ 925.00 pr (incl. GST)
Reference  Tonearm to Preamplifier Interconnect RCA single-ended cable. Similar to the Clearaudio Sixstream that contains four twisted litz wires. In the Sixstream Plus these are twisted in two...
Accessories
CL TAI SMARTWIRE
Price on application
Smartwire  Tonearm to Preamplifire Interconnects RCA single-ended cable. The Clearaudio Smart Wire is so called because it was designed to offer a complete musical performance for a truly entry-...
Accessories

Turntables

CL 16 TT CON MM
NZ$ 1,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Clearaudio Concept Combo - A New, Gorgeous Turntable Package That's Simple to Set-Up and Use... What a Concept! New Black and Stainless Steel Finish - Classic Looks, Fantastic Sound!
Aluminum radiused, resonance-optimised, high mass plinth with compact footprint2 piece Delrin...
EXTENDED REVIEW: For me, the analog versus digital debate is similar to one in the wine world,...
Turntables
CL 16 TT CONW MM
NZ$ 2,500.00 ea (incl. GST)
“Ready to play…” The Clearaudio Concept is a new complete analog package that comes fully set-up so you can start listening to music right out of the box. This is a beautiful turntable/tonearm/...
Multi-layer wood chassisExcellent value for money Concept M/M cartridgeHighest quality music...
EXTENDED REVIEW: For me, the analog versus digital debate is similar to one in the wine world,...
Turntables
CL 17 TT CON MC
NZ$ 2,895.00 ea (incl. GST)
Highest demands and made in Germany, combined with technology and a timeless design start a New Era. It is equipped with an innovative tonearm with a friction free magnetic bearing. A high quality...
Aluminum radiused, resonance-optimised, high mass plinth with compact footprint2 piece Delrin...
Spin those records again and again -  Ah, The Return of the Record
Turntables
CL 17 TT CONW MC
NZ$ 2,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
“Ready to play…” The Clearaudio Concept is a new complete analog package that comes fully set-up so you can start listening to music right out of the box. This is a beautiful turntable/tonearm/...
Excellent value for money Concept M/C cartridgeHighest quality music playback  ‘Plug and...
Predictably, with a name like that, there's plenty of piffle in the literature about how this model...
Turntables
CL 18 TT CON DC
NZ$ 325.00 ea (incl. GST)
Turntables
CL 19 TT EMOTION
NZ$ 3,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Second Edition Like already its forerunner Emotion, the Emotion SE presents the familiar features, which should has a turntable in this quality and performance class.   Resonance optimised...
Turntables
CL 22 TT PER TTC
NZ$ 7,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Performance DC turntable package with TT5 tangential tonearm & Essence MC cartridge The Performance DC is a complete turntable package designed to open up the high-end listening experience to...
Turntables
CL 22 TT PERF CT
NZ$ 5,795.00 ea (incl. GST)
Clearaudio is once again setting new standards. With the launch of the brilliant performance of DC-drive Clearaudio opens up a new market segment. Are you looking for top-drawer high-end...
The Performance DC package consists of: - A built-in DC motor, which has already proved its...
The latest incarnation of the Clearaudio Performance is a more substantial turntable than it looks...
Turntables
CL 22 TT PERF DC
NZ$ 350.00 ea (incl. GST)
Turntables
CL 23 TT OVA W
NZ$ 9,495.00 ea (incl. GST)
The new clearaudio "Ovation" turntable includes many existing clearaudio innovations and introduces new cutting-edge technology:   The Clearaudio Ovation turntable features the newly designed...
•Panzerholz wood/aluminum sandwich plinth •Plinth mass loaded and internally damped with over 1000...
Like many audiophiles, I cohabit with someone who understands my audio obsession but has no desire...
Turntables
CL 24 TT OVA B
NZ$ 9,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
The new clearaudio "Ovation" turntable includes many existing clearaudio innovations and introduces new cutting-edge technology: The Clearaudio Ovation turntable features the newly designed Clarify...
. Unique Clarify frictionless tonearm•Panzerholz wood/aluminum sandwich plinth •Plinth mass loaded...
Like many audiophiles, I cohabit with someone who understands my audio obsession but has no desire...
Turntables
CL 25 TT OVA DC
NZ$ 395.00 ea (incl. GST)
Turntables
CL 27 TT INCB
NZ$ 8,495.00 ea (incl. GST)
Clearaudio has developed a more compact version of its Innovation turntable the - Innovation Compact.   With the turntable Innovation Compact you are entering the new technology class of...
Special Features: • All turntable feet are fine adjustable • Optical speed control (OSC) • Playback...
Turntables
CL 28 TT INCW
NZ$ 8,795.00 ea (incl. GST)
Clearaudio has developed a more compact version of its Innovation turntable the - Innovation Compact.   With the turntable Innovation Compact you are entering the new technology class of...
Special Features: • All turntable feet are fine adjustable • Optical speed control (OSC) • Playback...
Turntables
CL 28 TT INCW TA
NZ$ 12,790.00 ea (incl. GST)
Turntables
CL 29 TT INOVCDC
NZ$ 838.65 ea (incl. GST)
Turntables
CL 30 TT INOV W
NZ$ 12,495.00 ea (incl. GST)
With the "Innovation" turntable clearaudio set new standards in High-End turntable manufacturing. The "Innovation" comes with a new developed optical speed control (OSC). The "OSC" consists of an...
Construction details: Resonance optimised chassis's shape, belt driven with self adjusting...
This is the third Clearaudio turntable I have reviewed. Clearaudio is a German company that has...
Turntables
CL 30 TT INOVWTC
NZ$ 28,495.00 ea (incl. GST)
 
Construction details: Resonance optimised chassis's shape, belt driven with self adjusting...
This is the third Clearaudio turntable I have reviewed. Clearaudio is a German company that has...
Turntables
CL 31 TT INOV B
NZ$ 12,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
With the "Innovation" turntable clearaudio set new standards in High-End turntable manufacturing. The "Innovation" comes with a new developed optical speed control (OSC). The "OSC" consists of an...
Construction details:  Resonance optimised chassis's shape, belt driven with self adjusting...
Clearaudio’s Innovation Wood turntable combines some stunning new innovations along with others...
Turntables
CL 31 TT INOV DC
NZ$ 995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Turntables
CL 31 TT MASIN W
NZ$ 29,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Clearaudio's Master Innovation Wood is the ultimate expression of the Innovation Wood platform. It features a magnetic platter drive system based upon the award winning and incomparable Statement...
Magnetic drive system from Clearaudio Statement with additional 15mm stainless steel sub-...
EXTENDED REVIEW: With this new high-end model, Clearaudio has brought even more of its Statement...
Turntables
CL 32 TT MASIN B
NZ$ 31,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Clearaudio's Master Innovation Wood is the ultimate expression of the Innovation Wood platform. It features a magnetic platter drive system based upon the award winning and incomparable Statement...
Magnetic drive system from Clearaudio Statement with additional 15mm stainless steel sub-...
EXTENDED REVIEW: With this new high-end model, Clearaudio has brought even more of its Statement...
Turntables
CL 33 TT STAT
NZ$ 159,750.00 ea (incl. GST)
"For the true audiophile" BOX Magazine   "Clearaudio's Statement is, without any shadow of a doubt, the finest turntable in the world." Greg Borrowman, Australian Hi-Fi   "[...] a 770-...
The pertinently named Statement is a NZS$159,750 assembly of wood, aluminum, and other sundry bits...
One day, hopefully before I die, the British will stop acting like it's 1951 and rationing is in...
Turntables
CL 44 TA ACCU DR
NZ$ 2,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
A revolutionary turntable DC power supply Enter the Accu Drive: a revolutionary turntable DC power supply. It pairs twin lead acid batteries with a complex electronic security mechanism to protect...
Turntables
CL 63 TA SATKARB
NZ$ 1,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Turntables
CL 64 TA SATKARS
NZ$ 2,250.00 ea (incl. GST)
Turntables
CL 65 TA UNI 09
NZ$ 6,500.00 ea (incl. GST)
A mechanical masterpiece of both design and functionality, Clearaudio's Universal with VTA-Lifter convinces by performance.
FINE ADJUSTMENT of the AZIMUTH and the VTA adjustment - EVEN DURING PLAYBACK!Very high precision...
EXTENDED REVIEW: Clearaudio Universal Radial Tonearm w/ VTA adjustment on the fly:
Turntables
CL 65 TA UNI 12
NZ$ 6,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
A mechanical masterpiece of both design and functionality, Clearaudio's Universal with VTA-Lifter convinces by performance.
FINE ADJUSTMENT of the AZIMUTH FINE ADJUSTMENT of the VTA adjustment - EVEN DURING PLAYBACK!...
EXTENDED REVIEW: Clearaudio Universal Radial Tonearm w/ VTA adjustment on the fly:
Turntables
CL 67 TA TT5
NZ$ 3,795.00 ea (incl. GST)
Why go tangential?In a conventional pivoted tonearm, the arm is 'dragged' across the record's surface by the stylus following the record groove. A similar motion occurs in Clearaudio's tangential...
Turntables
CL 68 TA TT2
NZ$ 12,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Turntables
CL 70 TA TT1 MI
NZ$ 32,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Turntables

Phono Stages

CL 40 PS NANO
NZ$ 525.00 ea (incl. GST)
Sixmoons: "The Nano is a fantastic value; offering great versatility in a tiny package for a tiny price," ns.
The Nano V2 its meticulously selected SMD components are assembled by hand in Erlangen and tested...
Phono Stages
CL 41 PS SMART
NZ$ 825.00 ea (incl. GST)
The Smart V2 phono is supplied with a high quality external power supply to further enhance performance,  Beautifully machined casework with first-rate connectors and of course that lucid,...
Output:               ...
Phono Stages
CL 42 PS BASIC
NZ$ 1,250.00 ea (incl. GST)
Behind the multiple award-winning Basic +, which outclasses many much more expensive competitors, there are over 30 years of research and experience, along with in-depth knowledge of the...
Mode:   MM / MC  mplification @ 1 kHz: 60dB (MC) 40dB (MM) Input impedance...
Clearaudio Basic Plus phono stage with Accu + battery Power Supply
Phono Stages
CL 43 PS BALANCE
NZ$ 3,250.00 ea (incl. GST)
"BREATHTAKING POWER AND PASSION, WITHOUT THE NEED TO TURN THE VOLUME PARTICULARLY HIGH" ..... HIFI WORLD The Balanace Plus offers True symmetrical layout, balanced (XLR) and single ended (RCA)...
Phono Stages
CL 44 PS ACCU
NZ$ 2,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Through innovative battery technology the Clearaudio ACCU+ Power Supply elevates the Clearaudio "+" phonostages to a new level of excellence. Cutting-edge high-tech selected and formatted NiMH-High...
Clearaudio Basic Plus phono stage with Accu + battery Power Supply
Phono Stages
CL 45 PS ABSOLUT
NZ$ 16,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Clearaudio are proud to announce our new product "Absolute Phono":    The Absolute Phono is suitable for all Clearaudio tonearms and will be installed by Clearaudio in our factory in...
Phono Stages
CL 46 PS STATE
NZ$ 44,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
The Statement Phono is at home at the absolute top – where the air is thin, but the sound quality reaches its maximum density. From the deepest bass to the highest treble, from the additional bass...
Phono Stages
CL 47 PS AZIMUTH
NZ$ 5,595.00 ea (incl. GST)
Is your Vinyl Playback Optimised? Clearaudio Azimuth Optimizer.  an article by HiFi Unlimited posted by Big E The Clearaudio Azimuth Optimizer unit can also function as a phono stage and head...
Phono Stages

Reviews

The Talismann gives warm and full-bodied mids while still imparting details and nuance with being overly rich. Dynamics and resolution similar to Concerto.
Arnold - Vinyl Asylum

I had prior knowledge of a new cartridge that Clearaudio has up its sleeves. Robert Suchy revealed during his 2006 visit in the Philippines, that they're working on something "different."
When I asked him how different it is, he just smiled and said "you've got to wait for it." He admitted, that they have been through different iterations already and it does not sound the way they want it to in its current form, so the waiting game.

This year, I was able to talk to Robert again, and while our discussion was mostly on the new Clearaudio magnetically-levitated tonearm whose pictures appear here, I found an opportunity to break from the tonearm discussion and I asked about the new cartridge. "Ah yes, the Talismann," he said. I asked him again how it sounds, and got the same reply- "It's different. You've got to give it a listen."

The Talismans are three special weapons from the Sailor Moon anime series from Toei Animation Company, Ltd.

The first Talisman is the Deep Aqua Mirror, that turns out to be a submarine. The Deep Aqua Mirror has the ability to see through lies and to find enemies' weaknesses.

The Space Sword is the second Talisman to appear in the series, and has the apparent power to cut through almost anything.

The Garnet Orb is the last Talisman to be revealed, and allows Sailor Pluto to use her Chronos Typhoon attack.

Incidentally, if you didn't know, the Sailor Moon series, and many others are made in the Philippines and by Filipinos.

So what has this got to do with a cartridge review? You see, the Talismans are sought after because these three together will cause the Holy Grail to appear.

Introduction

The Talismann is the 2nd entry-level MC cartridge (above new Concept) from Clearaudio. During our chat, Robert told me that it's a different flavor, and would not be typical Clearaudio "house sound", which by the way has evolved and continues to evolve.

The Packaging

The Talismann comes in a decent packaging, typical of the MM cartridges of Clearaudio, in a pyramid-like plastic enclosure.

It came with additional plastic and aluminum screws, one set each, for a total of 3 sets of screws. An aluminum, non-magnetic screwdriver is also included, as well as a spacer or shim.

The manual is written in German, so I had to download the English manual from Clearaudio's web site, under the Downloads section.

Specifications

The shape of the Talismann is like no other Clearaudio cartridge. The other entry-level MC cartridges- Melody and Symphony, share their shape with the MM line, while the high-end MC has their own unique flower-like shape. The body of the Talismann is made from Ebony wood, that is highly polished.

The stylus is elliptical, with aluminum cantilever.

The recommended tracking force is 2.4 grams, the cartridge weighs 11 grams and puts out 0.5mV with 45 ohms internal impedance.

The manual said best loading was achieved at 400 ohms.

Setting up

Like all Clearaudio cartridges, setting up the Talismann is easy due to the threaded body. No small nut to get lost and worry about. The Talismann connectors are color coded so matching the colored cartridge connectors is a breeze.

A couple of adjustments has to be made to my Tangent tonearm to accommodate the Talismann and a heavier counterweight is necessary. Initial VTF was set to 2.45 grams. This is the heaviest Clearaudio MC cartridge I have used so far. The Talismann sports a new sliding type cartridge cover. So far, the best cartridge cover implementation Clearaudio came up with.

After the initial mounting comes, the fine tuning. So I pulled out my HiFi News Test Record to adjust the anti-skate, verifying the bubble level method.

The lateral resonance turned out to be 11Hz, and the vertical resonance at 14Hz as the results on playing tracks 2 and 3 on side 2 of the test disc, respectively. The azimuth setting was further validated by playing track 5, on the same side.

Tracking ability of the Talismann was validated by playing tracks 1, 5, and 8 on side 2 of the test disc.

While this is not an ultimate test of the cartridge, it provides some comfort that the Talismann did not fail any of the tests.

Initial impressions

What immediately caught my attention is the bass weight offered by the Talismann. It reminded me of my Empire MM cartridge, which is bass heavy at 5mV output voltage. While it has the bass weight that is pretty much impressive, it is in no way bloated or monotonous.

I found it to sound as dynamic as my previous Clearaudio Concerto cartridge, and has a touch of the top-end extension of the same. It's no secret that the Concerto is my all-time favorite and

The most striking character of the Talismann was the full-bodied, but not bloated, midrange. The Talismann also offers a touch of sweetness without being too colored and syrupy. Now this is different!

From the Sigma to the Concerto, there was a marked change in the way the midrange is presented, but they still share some common characteristic. The Talismann is a departure from the typical Clearaudio midrange presentation.

Due to a different stylus shape, it does not offer the Concerto's capability of being immune from most surface noise. But it does allow excellent resolution of the recorded material.

Audiophile Mode

I've had a long listening session of about 3 hours in one instance using the headphone amplifier that I built, the AK-100. I ran the Symmetry output directly to this puny 0.5W WE417A headphone

On some materials, such as the Getz/Gilberto featuring Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto album, I find it a bit thick, but not in an annoying way.

My favorite female albums such as Suzanne Vega, Charlene, and Nancy Wilson were reproduced with excellent nuance and ambiance on the midrange reproduction.

The Talismann's excellent resolution and dynamics were easily conveyed when I played Opus 3 Test Record 4 - Depth of image,

Timbre, Dynamics.

I like Dave Brubeck's Time In very much, and I always play it every time I get an opportunity, and this is one great opportunity to enjoy the music even more. And enjoy, I did.

After further listening, I'm no longer being critical of the sound, and the experience was more of enjoying the music more, and having fun. Yes, having fun. With my Debbie Gibson, Martika, Tiffany, and Bangles albums. The Talismann is very good with pop music too.

I guess the section heading of Audiophile Mode is now becoming inappropriate as I'm enjoying Ten Years After, .38 Special and Foghat, as I was writing this.

Holy Grail?

With my Champion Magnum and Tangent tonearm the first two of the three Talismans, is this cartridge the last of the Talisman needed to achieve the Holy Grail? I will have to go back and ask the question again... "Is there such a thing?"

For the moment I say there is. The Clearaudio Talismann brought the best synergy I have achieved thus far on my Analog setup. While previous combinations do proved to be potent, I now enjoy a better balance in performance, at much less cost.

Product Weakness:  Not as immune to surface noise compared to Concerto. 
Product Strengths:  Gives warm and full-bodied mids while still imparting details and nuance with being overly rich. Dynamics and resolution similar to Concerto.

We find a way into Clearaudio ownership that won't break the bank – the new plug 'n' play Concept
Richard black

Score: 5 STARS

Clearaudio's impressive range of turntables is, to the best of our knowledge, just about the broadest on the planet, stretching downwards from the delightfully over-the-top 'Statement'.

The company doesn't compete with the Regas and Pro-Jects of this world in the budget arena, but the new Concept model puts Clearaudio within reach of more analogue-lovers than ever, bringing the price of entry down significantly.

Predictably, with a name like that, there's plenty of piffle in the literature about how this model is a whole new design, sorry, concept – but fair's fair, it is in fact genuinely novel in some ways.

The basic outline has a particle-board chassis, plastic platter, DC motor and pivoted arm. Differences from the norm are most obvious in the arm, which has a magnetic bearing, an ingenious arrangement that functions pretty much as a unipivot but with better stability and handling qualities than those notoriously fussy devices usually provide. It's also effectively friction-free.

It's actually very simple, relying on a pair of very strong magnets: one is fixed to the top of the arm tube, the other to the top of the bearing yoke and they hold the arm up. It is prevented from jamming itself against the top magnet by a tie wire fixed below, which also transmits the anti-skating force.

The chassis is also distinctive, though less obviously so. Particleboard (MDF etc.) components on LP players are notorious for adding their own resonance unless carefully treated.

Clearaudio has addressed that with damping measures including the aluminium trim, which apparently plays a significant part – whatever the details, it's certainly very much better damped than most of its kind, as is evident from the simplest test of tapping it in a few places.

Level-headed

Another feature that is unusual, possibly even unprecedented in a high-quality turntable, is that the Concept is ready to play discs straight out of the box. Well, all right, you have to put the platter in place and plug in the power supply, but the cartridge is fitted and aligned and even the tracking force is preset.

The arm and cartridge are Clearaudio's own, of course, the latter a moving magnet design, but if you prefer not to use them you can replace either.

You can also adjust all the usual parameters – offset and overhang, VTA, tracking force, anti-skating – but the clever part is that you don't need to. A spirit level is provided so that the user can adjust the three spiked feet to set the deck level.

Drive is from a small DC motor, the sort of thing one used to find in cassette decks (remember them?), which operates via a flat belt.

The motor is resiliently mounted: Clearaudio claims it's 'completely decoupled' which is clearly an overstatement, but the small amount of noise it produces is adequately suppressed by the decoupling.

In addition to the usual 33 and 45rpm speeds, 78 is available for those who collect shellac as well as vinyl – you'll ideally need to change the cartridge as no LP stylus ever sounds great playing the relatively cavernous grooves of shellac discs, but it's a useful option to have.

The power supply is a tiny plug-top switch-mode affair and while ultra-purists may wince at that thought, it's effectively free of hum fields and both it and its associated wiring are a good long distance from the sensitive signal wiring in and around the arm. There's also no electrical path (not even an earth link) between it and the audio.

Only one feature seems to us to be missing – a lid. It may seem a small detail, but a lid both reduces acoustic feedback from the loudspeakers to the deck, and keeps dust off, and no LP collector will need reminding what a pernicious enemy dust can be.

That apart, this is a very nicely turned-out deck, attractively finished and presented. We've never had cause to query the general standard of fit and finish from Clearaudio; just about the worst that could be said is that the surfaces show dust and fingerprints, but then so do wine glasses, fine furniture and so many other things.

Anyway, this deck has more matt and less shiny surfaces than many and is quite forgiving in that regard. We can't comment on the accuracy of settings as supplied, but attention to detail certainly reflects the manufacturer's usual high standards. We were particularly impressed with the bearing, which has an admirable combination of low friction and low play.

Lacking anything in the way of a proper suspension, this deck is never going to sound its best on a structure closely coupled to the floor, so we used our usual isolation table for most of the listening.

Thus configured, the Concept produces some very good sounds, clearly much better than the budget turntables which it (very superficially) resembles and thus vindicating Clearaudio's damping measures and arm.

What's most noticeable about it is the way it largely avoids the midrange blurring that affects so many unsuspended decks. Avoiding that is one of the biggest challenges facing designers and manufacturers, and we'd say Clearaudio's team has done very well in that regard.

Scale, openness and detail

The results are most obvious in large-scale music – symphony orchestra, big rock and so on – where there's a lovely sense of openness and scale, combined with very good detail and also excellent imaging.

By the same token, simple recordings such as solo guitar are very clear and full of the little details that make the character of an instrument or player unique. Where this player does yield a little ground to dearer models is in the bass, which is decent but not astounding.

There's some quite good extension, but control and solidity aren't really up there with the best. All the same, because the upper bass is tight and dynamic, one isn't much aware of anything being amiss in recordings where most of the low-frequency action is in the bass.

High treble is probably just as much a function of the cartridge as of the deck itself, a suspicion strengthened by a brief spell with another cartridge in place, but it's somewhere between basically likeable and very good, with a slight question mark over its sweetness when it gets very busy: the sound can thicken up a little.

But as with the midrange, getting this really spot-on is invariably a costly business and for the asking price this deck does a very good job.

Devotion to the cause

As always, what's more important than the specifics is the overall musical impression and this is really where the Concept scores. It isn't perfect, but the minor technical blemishes are very much in the background and out of one's general awareness.

If the disc is rock, the Concept rocks. If jazz, it swings. If romantic, it smooches. Watching the analogue renaissance over the last few years has been a heartening experience.

Clearaudio's combination of audio and aesthetic design has produced a winning combination here which we feel sure will both win converts and keep them devoted to the analogue cause.

For
Ease of setup/use
Lively, involving music-making
Plenty of detail

A thoroughly sorted, easy-to-own package with tremendous sound. What more do you want, jam on it?

What HiFi Turntable Product of the Year 2010

For
Easy to set up; great build; excellent all-round sonic performance
Against
Against: Nothing

With a copy of The Pharcyde's Bizarre Ride II in place, the Clearaudio is little short of thrilling. It thunders through the plentiful low-frequency action with poise and pace to spare, combining punch, extension and tonal variance in equal measure.

Whenever we've had cause to bring out our 2009 Product of the Year since its coronation, the Clearaudio  Clearaudio has been very quick to reveal that all the talent that made it such a persuasive proposition back then hasn't diminished.

Nice and simple
Its simplicity is a big part of its charm. Unlike some rival designs, which require patience, a steady hand and a passable grasp of mathematics to get working, the Concept is a ‘plug and play' product straight from the box.

The company's own Aurum Classics cartridge is fitted to the Verify tonearm, and Clearaudio sets everything, up to and including cartridge weight and bias, before the turntable leaves the factory. You can fit a platter and a drive belt, can't you? Of course you can – and then the Clearaudio's ready to play. 

Before dropping a record into place, though, it's worth taking a moment to admire the Concept's clean design and chunkily substantial finish. Speed (33.3, 45 and 78rpm) is controlled by a hefty rotary dial, and the whole thing operates with the sort of solidity more readily associated with outside water closets.

See all our turntable Best Buys

The livid, hectoring rapping is detailed and insistent, front-and-centre of the coherent, roomy soundstage but neatly integrated into the whole. At the top of the frequency range there's nicely judged attack, and the Concept maintains a stance part-way between red-toothed aggression and unflappable poise throughout.

Crisp timing, neat composure
Dynamic potency is never in doubt, and the Concept's timing is crisp enough to grant momentum and drive to the trickiest of recordings without losing composure or focus.

In fact, this Clearaudio has the speed and manoeuvrability to give the lie to those who believe vinyl reproduction can only be warm and wallowing – it's got the sort of alacrity digital formats offer without sacrificing their mastery of tempo.

If you feel the need for an outstanding turntable, don't think twice.

 

......this is a gripping turntable with impressive speed and plenty of detail'
various magazine summary reviews
'Fast, lively and engaging sound that's strong on detail...lean and pacy, this is a gripping turntable with impressive speed and plenty of detail'
..............(What Hi-Fi magazine January 2013)
 
- 'You see, the deck introduces a level of freedom to the sound of vinyl...a whole noise floor we have all become accustomed to simply falls away, leaving behind... well nothing. No inky black silences or pellucid depths, just an absence of anything not on the disc. It's sort of spooky and almost vertiginous, like walking across a tall glass bridge. Once [the noise floor] goes away, all you are left with is the recording studio'
..............(Hi-Fi+ magazine) 
 
- 'It's perhaps the most telling aspect of the Performance's, er, performance that sonic descriptions point toward the sound of the arm or the cartridge. When it comes to the turntable itself, the reviewer's job gets very hard indeed... because there's not a great deal to say! It's as fast, dynamic and precise as the record on the platter and as quiet as the phono stage it's hooked up to. And that, quite frankly, is high praise indeed'
..............(Hi-Fi Choice magazine)
 
- 'This is a light, spry sounding deck that will do nothing for those seeking a quintessentially 'warm and wooly' analogue sound. It has very large incisors, which bite right into the mix and throw out massive amounts of detail in a way that is very impressive for what's essentially a [bargain] deck'
.................(Hi-Fi World magazine)
"Up there with the best, this Performance doesn't fade with time"
Summary notes from various reviewers

"Up there with the best, this Performance doesn't fade with time"

WHAT HI-FI? SOUND AND VISION

"This level of transparency is simply stunning in a turntable system in this price range. Undoubtedly this clear window on the soundstage is related to the Performance's magnetic bearinig."

the absolute sound

"Once listened to, we'd bet few would deny this turntable is worth every penny."

WHAT HI-FI? SOUND AND VISION

"If Skynet had been an audiophile rather than a malevolent computer system [...] it would have created the clearaudio Performance - looking like the liquid metal T-1000 remade as a turntable [...]."

Stuff Magazine

"Der clearaudio liebt Sänger(-innen) - Frau Melua, Herr Cash [...] - der Erlanger Spieler nimmt sich ihrer mit einer beispielhaften Fürsorge an, stellt sie ins Rampenlicht, gibt ihnen Körper und Fülle und verleiht ihnen den Atem, den eine wirklich faszinierende vokale Darbietung ausmacht."

LP

"Mit dem Performance führt clearaudio einen kompletten Plattenspieler ins Feld, der für sein Geld sensationell gut klingt. Laufwerk, Tonarm und Tonabnehmer harmonieren perfekt - ein wirklich starker Auftritt."

AUDIO

"Clearaudio beschert uns mit der Kombination aus dem Laufwerk Performance, dem Tonarm Satisfy Carbon und dem Abtaster Maestro ein Paket, das klanglich hält, was es optisch verspricht."

STEREO

.....the Clearaudio Ovation is a serious turntable. It is resolving, musical, and beautifully built. Clearaudio's innovative use of materials and well-executed design make it a joy to use, to see, and to hear. Highly Recommended
Erick Lichte

The LP added a halo of sound around her voice. The Ovation didn't smear or obscure what was on the record, but there was clearly a warm glow of reverberation around Gibbons. Also, her voice sounded bigger on LP, while lacking distinctly defined edges. This effect served the music quite well; I think many would prefer the LP for this track. 

.....the Ovation brought me far closer to the music in each disc's grooves. 

Right from the first few notes played by the Clearaudio Ovation, I knew I was working with a machine that loved making music. Everything I played had terrific body to the tone, and a harmonic cohesiveness from bass to treble that gave music a very natural and organic feel.

Like many audiophiles, I cohabit with someone who understands my audio obsession but has no desire to share it. That someone is my wife. Since I began writing for Stereophile, Ashley has helped me carry amplifiers, tape up boxes for shipping, and found room in our house for all the extra components and their boxes—which sometimes make the place look like a scene from an episode of Hoarders. She's a peach. Every time new gear comes to the house or to my studio, my wife has calmly helped me move stuff around while I dance around like a six-year-old on Christmas morning. 
Occasionally, as a new DAC, amplifier, or speakers came through our door, my wife would ask, "When are you going to review some turntables?" So, in deference to my sweetie, I contacted Garth Leerer at Musical Surroundings, US distributor of Germany's Clearaudio Electronic GmbH, and asked him for two turntable setups: the Concept. Having read the buzz about both systems and learned about the technology that Clearaudio has packed into their price points, I thought they'd be great places to start. 
 
I loved my time with the Clearaudio Concept (see my Follow-Up in the August 2012 Stereophile); it was fun, pleasant, and simple to use, and what it lacked in resolution and truth it made up for in musicality and grace. 
 
Now to set my sights on something a bit more serious: the Ovation, Clearaudio's finest offering in a turntable with a traditional plinth). I was also excited that the Ovation system, with its Clarify tonearm, Talismann V2 Gold cartridg, and Basic+ phono preamp ($1000), costs about the same as my reference digital source, Bel Canto's Design's e.One DAC 3.5 VB with VBS1 power supply and e.One CD2 CD player. My goal for this review was to hear not only what the Ovation could do, but also how these high-quality digital and analog rigs compared to one another. In one fell swoop, I could keep the peace in my home with my wife and, once and for all, declare a decisive winner in the war of digital vs analog. By the end of the review, either the analog or the digital audio industry will be left in ruins. I'm sure that both shudder in dread as they wonder who will win and flourish, and who will lose and be condemned to a life of bankruptcy and destitution. 
 
Horses to Water
 
Like most folks I've met in the audio industry, Musical Surroundings' Garth Leerer and Joe Wessling are wonderfully helpful, insightful, and enthusiastic about the brands they distribute. Leerer was uncommonly good at articulating the salient features of the Ovation turntable when, recently, I grilled him. So, straight from the horse's mouth . . . 
 
How does the Ovation fit into Clearaudio's line and the greater world of turntables? 
 
"The Ovation fits into the Clearaudio line as their best 'traditionally shaped,' rectangular-plinth turntable. It has the same footprint as the Concept and Performance models, [which are] priced below the Ovation, and uses all the technology of the more expensive Innovation series from Clearaudio—hence the name, Ovation. At the $5000 price point there are turntables with big plinths and/or big platters, but the Ovation uses materials and technology unique at its price point." 
 
What materials and technologies are unique to the Ovation? 
 
"The chassis sandwiches Panzerholz, a high-tech wood laminate, between two sheets of machined aluminum. Panzerholz machines similarly to steel, has a high rigidity-to-mass ratio, a low Q, and a wideband resonant signature. This means it does not ring, and its sonic signature is rich and full. Because Clearaudio has to machine out space in the Panzerholz plinth for the platter bearing, motor, and armboard, they fill the rest of the cavity with a rubber damping tile filled with stainless-steel shot. This adds mass and damping. The Ovation is the least expensive Clearaudio turntable using Panzerholz." 
 
The Ovation's motor is said to have some unique features. What are they? 
 
"The motor on the Ovation features what we call an Optical Speed Control. An infrared sensor is mounted on the top of the plinth, and the metal subplatter has a fine strobe pattern inlaid on its bottom. The sensor monitors platter speed to regulate speed accuracy in the presence of stylus drag. The sensor reads the rotating platter speed via the strobe and, via a servo, tells the motor how to quickly compensate for speed accuracy. If you look at a vinyl record, soft passages are very small, fine groove modulations, while dynamic passages and crescendos are more widely spaced grooves. These large grooves can cause small speed variations, which are often perceived as soundstage collapse or glare. The speed accuracy also has benefits for piano and choral music, where pitch accuracy is paramount. 
 
"The motor in the Ovation is the same custom DC motor used in the Innovation series, and is decoupled from the plinth with elastomer isolators. It uses a flat belt for accurate coupling. The advantage of the belt being hidden under the platter is that the rubber belt is isolated from UV, which can cause it to dry out and age prematurely. The Ovation runs at 331/3, 45, and 78rpm." 
 
The Ovation employs a Ceramic Magnet Bearing. How does it work, and why do you use it? 
 
"The Ceramic Magnet Bearing (CMB) was developed by Clearaudio about nine years ago. A traditional bearing goes down below the plinth, and the platter acts like a spinning top. An inverted bearing has the bearing shaft rising above the plinth, placing the bearing contact point, sometimes referred to as the thrust pad, right under the platter spindle. The argument for an inverted bearing is that it is more rotationally stable; the argument against it is that it places a potential noise source—the contact point of the spindle, ball bearing, and thrust pad—right under the spindle and, thus, the record. The spindle is typically hardened steel, the ball bearing steel or ceramic, and the thrust pad can be bronze, or a synthetic such as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). As these parts rotate and contact each other, there is the potential for not only vibrational noise but also for wear, which results in noise increasing over time. Typically, oil is used to lubricate all the parts to reduce friction and wear. 
 
"The CMB addresses these issues. The upper bearing part is magnetically levitated above the lower, eliminating the need for a ball bearing and thrust pad. The spindle is a ceramic material with lower friction than steel, so vibration, noise, and wear are greatly reduced. Clearaudio provides a synthetic lubricant for the ceramic shaft to further lower friction." 
 
The Ovation's platter seems particularly robust. What is it made of? 
 
"The Ovation platter is 40mm-thick polyoxymethylene (POM), an engineering thermoplastic used in precision parts that require high stiffness, low friction, and excellent dimensional stability. Like many other synthetic polymers, it is produced and sold under many commercial names, including Delrin, Celcon, and Hostaform. POM platters are machined using traditional methods such as turning, milling, and drilling, and require sharp tools to maintain precise tolerances. The bottom of the platter is milled out for the metal subplatter to be inserted, and features a weighted rim for increased flywheel effect. Thus the Ovation uses both passive and active techniques for speed accuracy. POM is 'softer' than the acrylic previously used by Clearaudio, and is more similar to vinyl." 
 
The Ovation typically ships with the Clarify tonearm. Please describe it. 
"The Clarify has a machined aluminum headshell with azimuth adjustment, a carbon-fiber armtube, a magnetic bearing, and a low-center-of-gravity counterweight with integral mechanism for adjusting the vertical tracking force (VTF). The magnetic bearing has two opposing magnets, for a friction- and wear-free bearing. The armwand is suspended via a wire loop that threads through the lower section of the tonearm bearing. A knob on the bottom of the arm is used to tension this wire for antiskate adjustment. The tonearm wire is Clearaudio's proprietary Direct Wire, a five-conductor configuration of copper with Teflon insulation, implemented as a direct run from the cartridge clips to a 1.2m tonearm cable terminated with RCA plugs. Typically, the Clarify prefers cartridges weighing between 7 and 12gm and tracking at between 1.5 and 3gm, and with medium to low compliance." 
 
You fitted my sample of the Ovation with the Talismann V2 Gold moving-coil cartridge. 
 
"The Talismann V2 Gold houses Clearaudio's patented symmetrical generator in a body of ebony wood, with a boron cantilever and micro HD stylus. The V2 Gold has eight super-neodymium magnets instead of the four used in the V1. There is one coil per channel, wound with 24K gold wire with an internal impedance of 30 ohms and an output of 0.7mV at 5cm/s. This is the generator that's used in the Concerto V2, the model above the Talismann." 
 
Grooves to Bits

On a trip through Portland, Oregon, Musical Surroundings' Joe Wessling brought me my Ovation turntable and set it up on my 250-lb butcher-block audio rack. I was immediately struck by the Ovation's robust build quality. The plinth, made of Panzerholz and filled with shot, was far denser than its size and thickness might indicate. I adored the lacquered wood siding of the Ovation, and its top of black, machined aluminum; it all made for an elegant-looking 'table. In this world of wacky-looking turntables of all shapes and sizes, I truly appreciated the Ovation's classic and serious styling. 
 
I connected the Ovation to Clearaudio's Basic+ phono preamp, then ran the signal into the analog inputs of my Bel Canto e.One DAC 3.5VB Mk.II. Now, before you all cry "Foul!" for my having hooked up this analog rig to a digital front-end, read John Atkinson's measurements of the Bel Canto's analog inputs in the June 2011 issue. The DAC 3.5VB digitizes the signal at the analog inputs to 192kHz with an AKM 5386 A/D converter chip at 24 bits, then feeds it to its digital processor section. JA found that the Bel Canto's analog inputs offered true 18-bit resolution—which is really, really good. 
 
With the measurements on my side, and having listened to these inputs, I can confirm that the e.One DAC 3.5VB Mk.II makes a very nice analog/digital preamp. I also wanted to remove from my listening as many variables as possible, especially when I compared digital and analog sources. I also briefly listened to the Ovation via a Clearaudio Nano phono preamp directly feeding the Rogue M-180 monoblocks, and used the Nano's built-in gain attennator. Though the Nano did fine, I much preferred the sound of the Ovation through the Basic+ and Bel Canto DAC. 
 
Funk to Funky
 
Right from the first few notes played by the Clearaudio Ovation, I knew I was working with a machine that loved making music. Everything I played had terrific body to the tone, and a harmonic cohesiveness from bass to treble that gave music a very natural and organic feel. The Fleet Foxes' Helplessness Blues (LP, Sub Pop 888) was well served by the Ovation. Each instrument and voice sat unambiguously in the soundstage with a largeness and roundness at its edges—the opposite of an analytic and etched sound. Yet there was very good resolution. The Fleet Foxes album often moves from very intimate sounds made by a single voice and guitar to sonic explosions of reverb-drenched percussion and harmonies—it can be a lot for an audio system to sort out. The Ovation was more than up to the task, very accurately capturing the vast dynamic and spatial swings of "Sim Sala Bim," adding a bit of fullness and body to the intimate moments, and offering good delineation of the larger moments. 
 
Stephen Mejias hipped me to Amon Tobin's Isam (LP, Ninja Tune ZEN168) an album that revels in colorful, kaleidoscopic electronica. Much of this music lacks tunes or even good grooves. Instead, it communicates through timbral shifts and its sheer expanse of sound. Isam is chill-out music without the chilling out—beautiful, but at times intense and insistent. The pressing must be very good; the Ovation gave me enormous amounts of low bass, vast soundstages, great scale, and a treble that was open and extended yet sweet. It let me not only enjoy the music but the sound of the music on this album—and I think that's partially what Tobin had in mind while making it. 
 
Kraftwerk's The Man-Machine (LP, Astralwerks/Capitol/EMI STUMM 306) sounded brilliant on the Clearaudio Ovation, which lent just enough warmth and body to the sound to humanize this music while not obscuring its drive and pulse, its stops and starts. "The Model" sounded supremely funky and warm, with excellent continuity and coherence from bass through treble. The highs, in particular, were extended yet nuanced, and the midrange had a slight glow that made those old Moog synthesizers really sing. The bass was taut yet full. In fact, The Man-Machine sounded so good on the Clearaudio that I returned to it again and again. 
 
Apples to Apples
 
Compared to Clearaudio's Concept, the Ovation was clearly a much more resolving and nuanced turntable—as it should be for more than twice the price. While the overall balances of the two 'tables were quite similar, image density, weight, and realness were significantly greater via the Ovation. The Concept's images of musicians and instruments were lovely, but seemed slightly ghostly compared to their solidity through the Ovation. The Concept showed me the shadows dancing on the walls of Plato's Cave; the Ovation let me turn around and look straight at the dancers. The Concept's sound was admirable and musical; the Ovation brought me far closer to the music in each disc's grooves. 
 
Apples to Oranges
 
I'm a digital guy. I began buying CDs in ninth grade, and that was 1991, just when CDs began to sell in big numbers. CDs and digital are what I know, and how I've always listened to music and recorded my own. As an audiophile, however, I've had some amazing experiences with super-high-end analog rigs, and I've spent a decent amount of time listening to turntables costing upward of $20,000—I know how good vinyl can sound. I've also spent a good deal of time with entry-level analog rigs. I was interested to hear how a good digital system and a good analog rig, both priced in the middle of what our hobby offers, would compare playing LPs and CDs of the same recordings. 
 
First, I compared the CD edition of Portishead's magnificent Third (CD, Mercury B0011141-02) with that album's deluxe LP boxed set (LP, Island 1766390). Listening to "Machine Gun," I was shocked at how similar LP and CD sounded—not what I'd expected. Now I knew that this shoot-out, like most things in life, would be harder than I'd thought. "Machine Gun," one of the most bravely produced songs I know, relies on nothing but a single machine-gun ostinato and the voice of Beth Gibbons. The LP had a slightly fuller upper and midbass; the CD had less lower-treble hardness, more air and extension in the top treble, and better drive and articulation, especially in the low bass. The sounds of the two formats in this track were very similar; I liked both. 
 
When I played the LP and CD versions of the same album's "Deep Water," a simple little ditty featuring Gibbons and a ukulele, the differences were more pronounced. The LP added a halo of sound around her voice. The Ovation didn't smear or obscure what was on the record, but there was clearly a warm glow of reverberation around Gibbons. Also, her voice sounded bigger on LP, while lacking distinctly defined edges. This effect served the music quite well; I think many would prefer the LP for this track. But if you held a (machine) gun to my head and asked me which playback was more faithful to what I thought was on the master, I'd have to conjecture that the CD was a bit (no pun intended) more truthful. By no means did the CD, via the Bel Canto DAC 3.5VB Mk.II, ever sound thin or analytical; in fact, I was amazed at how warm it sounded in direct comparison to the vinyl. I love this album, and both the Bel Canto and the Clearaudio had me enjoying it more than I ever have. 
 
Next I turned to some classical fare. I have long loved my CD set of Artur Rubinstein playing Chopin's complete Nocturnes (2 CDs, RCA Victor Red Seal 63049-2) I few weeks ago I scored LPs of the same recordings. It was in fantastic shape—the records looked as if they'd never been played. After matching the levels of CD and LP, I cued up the first LP and simultaneously hit Play on my CD player, so that I could toggle back and forth as the two played in sync. The LP's surface noise was a problem with the music, which was delicately played and recorded. I never found it so distracting that I couldn't focus on the music, but the tiny pops and ticks kept me from enjoying true silence between notes. This factor, as well as the beautiful halo of ambience that the Ovation cast around each sound, made me feel this music very differently from when I listened to the CDs. Then, I became acutely aware of the way Rubinstein plays with the spaces and silences between notes, as well as how each note decays in the surrounding space and within the piano itself. 
 
The CD also brought out the Nocturnes' pointillistic qualities while offering rich, clear, beautiful tone. Conversely, the LP tended to emphasis the music's swellings, its overall ebb and flow. Through the Clearaudio Ovation, the music was a steady stream of sound that quickly became a river, then just a few drops. The music's overall gestalt changed drastically depending on the format. I found both interpretations compelling, and each correct in its own way. I count myself lucky to be able to choose how I want to hear Rubinstein play Chopin with the flick of a button on my remote control. 
 
Lastly, I turned my attention again to pop music. I listened to Destroyer's Kaputt (LP, Merge MRG50369; CD, Merge MRG369) and Fleet Foxes' Helplessness Blues on CD and LP. Fleet Foxes were well served by both formats, the differences sounding very negligible. In general, the LP had a more fleshed-out midbass and slightly more sparkle in the top octaves, whereas the CD excelled in giving me truly black backgrounds, and better image depth and bass extension. That last was also very apparent with the CD of Kaputt, which offered almost a full octave more bass information while also sounding far more controlled, driving, and articulate down low. I realize that this lack of bass could have been a result of the mastering and pressing of the LP, but that's what I heard. The rest of the tonal balance was quite similar on CD and LP, the CD offering a slightly more forward upper midrange. The Ovation had much sweeter, more polite highs; the CD offered more ultimate extension on top. 
 
Overall, I was shocked at how similar my digital rig and the Clearaudio Ovation system sounded. Both formats made compelling, truthful, balanced music. It was great to know that both analog and digital formats are capable of making such amazing music with gear costing around $5000. My little shoot-out didn't leave us with a clear and undisputed champion in the war of digital vs analog. I'm just glad we live in a time when this level of musical satisfaction is possible from both formats. 
 
Dollars to DoughnutsI can tell my wife that the Clearaudio Ovation is a serious turntable. It is resolving, musical, and beautifully built. Clearaudio's innovative use of materials and well-executed design make it a joy to use, to see, and to hear. Highly recommended.
At the end of the day, I found myself playing the Prodigy far too loud which is always a good sign.
TechRadar

The build and finish which Clearaudio consistently achieves is a good enough reason on its own to buy a turntable like this: if you like the look of matt acrylic, it’s a real winner.

Attention to detail is excellent wherever you look.

The Emotion SE is a very enjoyable and engaging listen which does a fine job of pulling out fine detail across the band. Phantom Limb’s percussion work is fully evident on Don’t Say A Word, and the acoustic guitar is extremely convincing: I found it easy to let myself be carried away to another time and place by this song.

The Clearaudio is also very good at revealing the sense of ‘being there’ that live recordings can deliver, the extra air that it adds to the mix sounding highly realistic especially if you don’t push the level too hard.

Judged on its own terms, the Emotion SE is a very capable turntable that’s as much at home playing Beethoven piano sonatas as it is Led Zeppelin. Indeed, I was quite surprised at how much foot-thumping it dug out on the LZ track Hangman, there’s clearly little restriction on bass depth.

In addition, its presentation also lower level listening, where the air and sparkle it finds on the disc serves to provide contrast and timbral richness.

The Emotion was Clearaudio’s first budget turntable when it appeared two years ago. This new SE version is the German acrylic meister’s grown up incarnation of that simple, but beautifully executed record player.

It comes complete with Clearaudio’s Satisfy carbon Directwire tonearm and a Beta-S MM cartridge as a fit and forget package with a good pedigree.

Clearaudio, after all, makes some of the most ambitious designs in the high end market. The original Emotion continues at the lower price of £1,140, so the question is does this SE version represent the same great value?

Ceramic magnetic

For the SE, Clearaudio has upgraded a number of key aspects of the standard Emotion. For a start, the platter is 28 millimetres thick, an increase of 10 millimetres, a change which will add mass and thus increase inertia.

The company is using CNC-machined GS-PMMA (Perspex) for the platter and a ceramic alloy for the bearing; the shaft that sticks up from the bottom half of the bearing is white and only needs lubricating once every few years. It avoids the need for a thrust pad by using opposing magnets to take the load of the platter.

The main plinth is precisely hewn from 20-millimetre acrylic and supported on rubber-tipped aluminium feet. The standard Emotion has acrylic cones which, while they look cute, do little to keep out resonance. The new feet also offer precision adjustment, a useful feature for a turntable with a dynamically balanced arm like that supplied.

The freestanding motor comes in a very solid metal case, which has a separate stainless steel base to provide some mass damping and gives the motor greater stability. The drive pulley is acrylic again and is held on to the ceramic drive shaft by three nylon grub screws that have slot heads in and are rather vulnerable to excess force.

The same is true of the grub screws in the new arm base the standard incarnation has a hole in the acrylic plinth, but here CA has added the type of base found in its dearer models.

The arm itself is a well-executed, simple design with gimbal bearings and a magnetic anti-skate system, which consists of a lockable bolt with a magnet in its tip. The arm’s appearance is deceptive in some ways, because it has sapphire and ceramic bearings and a woven carbon fibre arm tube for low mass and high rigidity.

The Directwire in the name points to the fact that the arm wiring runs unbroken all the way from the cartridge tags through to the phono plug. It’s something which is not uncommon in many arms, but represents a variation on the output sockets approach found in other CA designs.

Also included in the well-designed packaging is a Souther clever clamp, a plastic record clamp which uses friction to pin the vinyl down. Although the clamp looks a bit like a cheap plastic coaster, it does work effectively.

Clearaudio supplies a spare belt too, as well as bearing oil and a dedicated alignment gauge for ease of set up, not to mention a selection of Allen keys and jeweller’s screwdrivers to do the job with.

The supplied Aurum Beta-S cartridge. The cartridge mount is attached to the Satisfy arm tube with CA’s distinctive single bolt fixing.

Vorsprung Durch Acrylic

The build and finish which Clearaudio consistently achieves is a good enough reason on its own to buy a turntable like this: if you like the look of matt acrylic, it’s a real winner.

Attention to detail is excellent wherever you look. The adjustable feet, for instance, have three holes around their periphery where you can slip in a suitable lever (a screwdriver or allen key) and then turn to achieve the desired height. It’s a stiff turn  hence the need for leverage but that’s because the thread is damped to kill resonance.

The motor casing is also superbly cast and finished with bead blasted chrome that looks bullet proof by audio engineering standards. The ceramic magnetic bearing is also quite a luxury and not something I’ve seen on turntables in this price range before.

Sound quality

The Emotion SE is not particularly difficult to set up thanks to the supplied alignment gauge, but it does reveal any shortcomings in that department, as I found out when I set downforce at what appeared to be the recommended two grammes. This resulted in occasional groove-skipping, which I managed finally to eliminate only once I’d screwed the counterweight further onto its threaded stub in order to take the tracking weight up to a not inconsiderable 2.4 kilograms.

Properly fettled, this turntable produces a full scale and open sound which is strong on timing and imaging, but not quite so hot on absolute precision, there’s a slight halo around voices and instruments that adds a bit of life and presence to proceedings, but it’s not there in the grooves themselves.

That said, the Emotion SE is a very enjoyable and engaging listen which does a fine job of pulling out fine detail across the band. Phantom Limb’s percussion work is fully evident on Don’t Say A Word, and the acoustic guitar is extremely convincing: I found it easy to let myself be carried away to another time and place by this song.

The Clearaudio is also very good at revealing the sense of ‘being there’ that live recordings can deliver, the extra air that it adds to the mix sounding highly realistic especially if you don’t push the level too hard.

Judged on its own terms, the Emotion SE is a very capable turntable that’s as much at home playing Beethoven piano sonatas as it is Led Zeppelin. Indeed, I was quite surprised at how much foot-thumping it dug out on the LZ track Hangman, there’s clearly little restriction on bass depth.

In addition, its presentation also lower level listening, where the air and sparkle it finds on the disc serves to provide contrast and timbral richness.

Resolution revolution

While not as good as the very best , the Clearaudio Emotion SE is no slouch either, and it’s beautifully put together rather more so than the Townshend, it has to be said.

Its sound is clearly a marked upgrade on that provided by the regular Emotion, and elements like the adjustable feet and arm base make it a lot easier to install and set up. I enjoyed the life it brings to the party without adding too much of its own character as acrylic platters sometimes can.

At the end of the day, I found myself playing the Prodigy far too loud which is always a good sign.

TAS-The Absolute Sound 2012 Vinyl Buyers Guide recommendations

TAS - The Abosulte Sound includes many of Clearaudio Turntables, Cartridges & Phono stages in their 2012 Vinyl Buyers Guide recommendations

Turntables - US$1000–$2000
Clearaudio Concept with Concept mm cartridge; $2000 with Concept mc cartridge)
The Clearaudio Concept turntable package does everything but unbox itself. Preset at the factory, this spinner features a svelte belt-drive chassis, a stunning friction-free, magneticbearing Verify tonearm, and the Concept moving-magnet cartridge. The build and finish of this Germanmade ’table are superior. For sheer musical engagement and superb speed stability, it’s the one to beat in this price range. WG, 205
 
Turntables - US$2000–$5000
Clearaudio Performance SEP with Verify tonearm)
The Performance’s precision ceramic/magnetic bearing allows its platterto float on a cushion of air, contributing to this
turntable system’s startling transparency, openness, and clarity, very good native speed stability, and low noise floor. Its improved Verify arm is equally at home with high-performance moving coils or modest moving magnets. As with most massloaded designs, a rigid stand is required. JH, 180
 
Turntables - US$5000–$10,000
Clearaudio Ovation/Clarify
Continuing the trend of bundling together ever more sophisticated turntables, arms, and cartridges into fine-sounding but relatively hassle-free combinations, Clearaudio recently released what may be the most ambitious such package yet. With a magnetic-bearing arm and Talisman v2 Gold cartridge, the Ovation is a terrific-sounding combo. It is very well balanced, with excellent detail that emerges from silent backgrounds, exceptional pitch stability, and sweet extended highs—if not the
powerhouse bottom-end found in the highest-end models. WG, 216
 
Turntables - $10,000 and above
Clearaudio Innovation Wood
The dual-plinthed Innovation Wood combines some stunning innovations with Clearaudio’s ceramic/magnetic bearing (CMB) technology and lightweight yet extremely dense Panzerholz to damp resonances. It uses a massive stainlesssteel
subplatter, which, when coupled with a new DC motor with optical speed control, results in superb speed accuracy. JH has not heard any belt-driven ’table best the Innovation Wood in this critical area. Solo instruments and voices have such rock-solid pitch stability that you’ll swear you are listening to a direct-drive ’table without the motor noise. JH, 204
 
Clearaudio Statement
This over-the-top, 4’-tall, 770-pound turntable/arm costs more than an S-Class Mercedes, but delivers a level of LP playback that is unmatched in reviewer Don Saltzman’s experience. The Statement is utterly quiet, stable, and capable of
extracting the finest detail from record grooves. DS, 186 (see also HP’s Workshop in Issue 186 
 
Phono Cartridges US$500–$1000
Clearaudio Maestro Wood
Sharing the solid Boron cantilever and stylus of the esteemed Insider MC cartridge, the Maestro Wood, a moving-magnet design, gushes sweet sonics like squeezing a ripe, red plum. But it’s not a softy in the dynamics department, nor does it
smear inner details. Whether it rounds transient details and rhythms too much will be a question of taste. Rated at 3.6mV, it won’t tax most phonostages, either. NG, 186
 
Phono Cartridges $2000 and above
Clearaudio Concerto v2
This is the entry-level cartridge in Clearaudio’s “super-class” of moving coils, and super it is! The Concerto uses wood to add a touch of warmth and richness, yet retains the superb focus, resolution, transient quickness, and top-end extension that have been hallmarks of Clearaudio’s reference cartridges. JH, 167
 
Clearaudio Stradivari v2
In his recent survey of five moving-coil pickups, PS gave the Stradivari his personal “Golden Mean” award because it ideally mediates warmth and detail, control and relaxation, liveliness and listenability, at virtually no sacrifice in tonal neutrality. There is an organic rightness about this pickup that elevates it to reference-caliber. PS,
 
Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement
Simply the best—which is to say, the most sonically complete—cartridge JV has yet heard. 
Peter Suchy has here managed to combine all of the virtues of past Goldfingers (their phenomenal low-level resolution, their tremendous energy, their vast soundstaging) with a previously unattained natural richness of tone color to produce a
cartridge unlike any other. Like a cross between a Koetsu and a Clearaudio, the Statement will appeal to just about any kind of listener (provided he’s got enough do-re-mi). One of JV’s references. JV, 216
 
Phono Stages -
Clearaudio Basic Plus
The Basic Plus is everything a modestly priced phonostage should be. It’s compact yet elegantly finished. It’s switchable between mm and mc cartridges. A robust outboard power supply is included and yields superb isolation from hum and
RFI. Most significantly, the unit delivers a spacious and delightfully resolved soundstage with heartstopping bass resolution. If you want the last word in isolation, consider adding the Clearaudio Accu+, an outboard NiMH battery supply ($900). NG, 206
I applaud Clearaudio for migrating so much innovative technology from its Statement turntable down to more affordable products like the Innovation Wood.
Jim Hannon

The Clearaudio Innovation Wood is a brilliant achievement and sets new price/performance standards in several areas. Its pitch stability is stunning,

For me, this was a welcome improvement to Clearaudio’s sonic signature, helping to make instruments and voices sound more natural and lifelike without a loss of clarity.

The Innovation Wood (and Black) also offers other notable advancements over the previous Anniversary. It sports two stacked yet decoupled Panzerholz plinths, rather than the Anniversary’s one, with more damping in the sandwich construction, superb leveling locking feet, and a new platter machined from POM instead of acrylic. It accommodates two, rather than the Anniversary’s three, tonearms and provides an excellent platform for both linear tracking and pivoted tonearms.

For me, even a slight pitch waver on a sustained note caused by minute speed variations destroys the illusion of a live performance. If you are as sensitive to this as I am, the Innovation Wood will be a revelation, and it does not require an additional external speed controller. ......, the speed stability of the Innovation Wood surpasses all the ’tables I’ve had in house, even those that I’ve married with the fine VPI SDS, as well as the Sota Star with its speed controller, and the excellent SME 20/12.

Clearaudio’s Innovation Wood turntable combines some stunning new innovations along with others that have been applied to much of the Clearaudio line during the past four to five years, like ceramic magnetic bearing (CMB) technology and lightweight yet extremely dense materials to damp resonances and improve isolation. Some of these improvements have not only trickled down from Clearaudio’s breathtaking Statement turntable, but seemingly have trickled up from less ambitious models. I have always admired the engineering, machining, and German-precision of earlier generation Clearaudio ’tables, known for their clarity, accuracy, and resolution. My admiration increased dramatically after I reviewed the Clearaudio Ambient, with its lightweight but incredibly dense Panzerholz plinth. It was as if the bullet-proof wood had helped the sound become more harmonically fleshed out. For me, this was a welcome improvement to Clearaudio’s sonic signature, helping to make instruments and voices sound more natural and lifelike without a loss of clarity.
 
Next, I reviewed the modestly priced Clearaudio Performance with its ceramic magnetic bearing (CMB), which floated the platter using magnetic repulsion, resulting in increased transparency. The magnetic bearing seemingly lifted veils between the music and listener so that one could almost reach out and touch the orchestra on a fine recording like Prokofiev’s Symphonic Suite of Waltzes [Cisco Music]. Fortunately, CMB magnetic-repulsion technology was subsequently added to the Ambient and most other Clearaudio ’tables. Moving up in class, I used the Clearaudio Anniversary, developed in honor of Clearaudio’s 25th Jubilee anniversary, as my reference for quite some time. This ’table combined a CMB bearing, a synchronous motor housed in a massive stainless-steel case, and a large 70mm (2.8**) platter floating atop a Panzerholz plinth (sandwiched between two aluminum plates) in a star configuration optimized to reduce resonances and accommodate up to three tonearms. When the Anniversary was coupled with the Helius Omega Silver-Ruby tonearm and a Micro Benz Ebony H phono cartridge, the sound of the front end was very good with explosive dynamics without breakup, bass solidity and weight, see-through transparency, fast transients, an incredibly broad and deep soundstage, and stable imaging. I had not heard anything better for less, and it put several more expensive systems to shame.
 
The Innovation Wood, ostensibly a replacement for the Anniversary, raises the bar still higher on what a $10,000 ’table can do, outdistancing the fine Anniversary in several areas, most notably in pitch stability. Its speed accuracy reminds me of my dearly departed classic Technics SP-10 MkII direct-drive ’table, but without the motor noise. Using the same Helius/Benz combination, I immediately noted the absolute pitch stability on recordings of solo instruments, like Johanna Martzy’s violin on J.S. Bach’s BWV 1001, BWV 1006 [Coup d’Archet] or Arthur Rubinstein’s piano on Chopin’s Nocturnes [RCA] and on vocals ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to James Taylor. For me, even a slight pitch waver on a sustained note caused by minute speed variations destroys the illusion of a live performance. If you are as sensitive to this as I am, the Innovation Wood will be a revelation, and it does not require an additional external speed controller.,..... the speed stability of the Innovation Wood surpasses all the ’tables I’ve had in house, even those that I’ve married with the fine VPI SDS, as well as the Sota Star with its speed controller, and the excellent SME 20/12.
 
A new motor, massive sub-platter, CMB, and optional peripheral ring all contribute to the Innovation Wood’s remarkable speed accuracy. The new high-torque, decoupled DC motor with “real time” optical speed control uses an infrared sensor, a high-precision reflection scale, and a speed circuit that result in less cogging, less variation due to AC fluctuations, less vibration, and more speed stability than the Anniversary’s precision AC synchronous motor. This is one turntable that gets up to speed in a hurry and offers convenient electronic speed change (331/3, 45, 78rpm) at the push of a button. The Innovation Wood also uses a massive, dynamically balanced, stainless sub-platter, derived from the Statement, which when combined with the optional Outer Limit peripheral ring, produces a very nice flywheel effect.
 
The Innovation Wood (and Black) also offers other notable advancements over the previous Anniversary. It sports two stacked yet decoupled Panzerholz plinths, rather than the Anniversary’s one, with more damping in the sandwich construction, superb leveling locking feet, and a new platter machined from POM instead of acrylic. It accommodates two, rather than the Anniversary’s three, tonearms and provides an excellent platform for both linear tracking and pivoted tonearms.
 
As with the Anniversary, to affix the record firmly to the platter I highly recommend the combination of the Clearaudio “Outer Limit” peripheral ring along with a high-quality record clamp. ....This wonderful record-clamping system is on a par with some of the best vacuum-hold-down systems, but without the slightest risk of small dust particles being trapped in the grooves on the underside of the record, producing annoying “pops and ticks” when that side is played. Of course, if you meticulously clean both sides of the record at once and keep the platter free from dust vacuum hold-down is great, but I preferred the ease of use of Clearaudio’s disc clamping approach and quickly became adept at using the stainless-steel peripheral ring and a record clamp.
 
When coupled with the Helius (see sidebar) and Benz, these advancements in the Innovation Wood lead to a more relaxed, natural, spacious, and detailed sound, with marvelous bass solidity, articulation, and extension. You’ll hear deeper into the performance as more subtle details emerge, like the tasteful caress of Roy Haynes’ brushes across the cymbals or the air fighting to escape Clifford Brown’s muted trumpet on Sarah Vaughan [EmArcy Records/Speakers Corner]. On recordings that call for it, like Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances [Turnabout/Analogue Productions], the sound is big, dynamic, and bold, as you hear it in a concert hall, with precise imaging and a reference-quality soundstage that is completely illuminated with excellent width and depth. The leading edges of transients are preserved so percussion instruments have amazing snap, and tympani strikes are so explosive they’ll send shivers down your spine. PRAT fans will love that it’s hard to keep your toes from tapping on a wide range of recordings. Moreover, the Innovation Wood’s superb pitch stability enables voices and instruments to seem like they’re more clearly focused and transparent recordings like Sam “Mr. Soul” Cook’s Night Beat [RCA/Analogue Productions] sound more like live performances.
 
Okay, some exotic ’tables get even closer to the sound of a live performance or the mastertape in a couple of specific areas, but at a significant price premium. Music does not emerge from quite the same inky dark black background with the Innovation Wood  nor does it achieve the spooky silence of the reference Clearaudio Statement with its magnetic drive. But make no mistake: The Innovation Wood isn’t far behind in each of these areas. For those of you who like tests, the Innovation Wood/Helius/Benz combo sailed through the Telarc Omnidisc torture tests with excellent-to-outstanding results, only tripping up on the highest level of reproducing canon shots (as have all the other turntable systems I’ve tried).
 
The Clearaudio Innovation Wood is a brilliant achievement and sets new price/performance standards in several areas. Its pitch stability is stunning,.......  its soundstaging approaches reference quality. I applaud Clearaudio for migrating so much innovative technology from its Statement turntable down to more affordable products like the Innovation Wood. 
This turntable’s simplicity belies some refined engineering technology and a performance to match

One thing is clear about the Performance SE, it’s very articulate and detailed and this helps voices to project well; two listeners commented on the clarity of vocal on the Alan Taylor song. Live performances manage to deliver the atmosphere of the event thanks to spacious, open soundstaging and the aforementioned pace factor helps, too. There is a realism to instruments which is quite astonishing with some albums and the strength of imaging is, likewise, remarkable.

The latest incarnation of the Clearaudio Performance is a more substantial turntable than it looks, thanks to a plinth that’s made from a sandwich of aluminium and HDF. You can’t see the highdensity fi breboard because it is framed by the natural coloured aluminium in the sandwich, but it performs the critical task of damping any resonance that manages to get through the three adjustable feet beneath it.

The platter is a 40mm slab of acrylic that sits on a ceramic magnetic bearing, the shaft of which has been polished to an even higher degree than on the original Performance. The magnetic suspension means that the ceramic shaft doesn’t need a ball bearing or thrust pad to take the weight of the platter, which should reduce noise from this critical component quite considerably. The drive force comes from a completely separate motor in a solid housing with three silicone feet. It has an acrylic pulley with the larger 45rpm drive above the one for most of your records and you can adjust the height of the pulley with three nylon screws – a fixing that Clearaudio is rather keen on.

This turntable and arm is sold as a package with the Maestro Wood cartridge and uses nylon bolts to hold it in place. They’re a good thing for energy damping, but easy to damage. The so-called ‘silent’ drive belt is one piece of siliconbased rubber.

he Satisfy Carbon Directwire tonearm has a carbon-fi bre main beam that sits on sapphire and ceramic gimbal bearings and supports the cartridge with a fully adjustable headshell. The Directwire suffi x indicates a continuous cable run from cartridge tags to phono plugs.

Sound quality

The Performance SE proved to be very popular with most of the blind panellists; they all agreed that it has an excellent sense of pace, thanks to good leading-edge defi nition and strong timing. This is partly because it doesn’t have the bass extension encountered with many of the alternatives, but it has enough for most purposes. Keith Jarrett’s piano sounds a little more clanky as a result, but the instrument on the Köln Concert is not the richest from a tonal point of view. One listener thought it made the instrument more realistic, while another felt that the album wouldn’t have been a big seller if this is what most people heard.

"One thing is clear about the Performance SE, (since upgraded to new enganced DC model ) it’s very articulate and detailed and this helps voices to project well; two listeners commented on the clarity of vocal on the Alan Taylor song. Live performances manage to deliver the atmosphere of the event thanks to spacious, open soundstaging and the aforementioned pace factor helps, too. There is a realism to instruments which is quite astonishing with some albums and the strength of imaging is, likewise, remarkable. This is a lean sounding turntable, and with the right support system and cartridge, anything is possible. Either way it’s top-quality analogue entertainment in a very slick package."

Every detail of Knopfler’s diction was laid bare, his voice truly characterful and not merely gruff, and his guitar wizardry soaring and effortless.
Steve Harris & Paul Miller

Massively engineered and exquisitely finished, this Innovation/Universal/da Vinci turntable/arm/cartridge combination embodies a host of Clearaudio technologies

Turning to classical music, I found myself swept away again by a favourite from 1967, Barenboim with the English Chamber Orchestra in that most familiar Mozart piano concerto, No.21 [EMI ASD 2465]. For some reason this seemed to come alive in a quite special way on this turntable. 

Next came Jennifer Warnes’ ‘Ballad Of The Runaway Horse’ from the Rob Wasserman Duets album [GRP 97-121]. Here Warnes’ voice was full of subtleties, sinuous, controlled, yet still expressive. More than ever, perhaps,

Unruffled by the conflicting diversity of the turntable world, Clearaudio has carefully evolved its own design precepts with little regard for peer pressure or pseudo-technical fashion trends. The result is a model line-up that offers a convincing hierarchy of performance and price.
   So if you start at the bottom of the Clearaudio Solution range, you can upgrade with a thicker platter, a doubled-up chassis, and so on. You might never reach the top of the line, which is the three-motored, parallel-tracking-armed Master Reference. It’s a bit like the way that as a boy you could upgrade your too-small Meccano outfit, adding a few gears and maybe a clockwork motor, while really dreaming of owning the Set 10.
   But now there’s a new encouragement to go straight to somewhere near the top, if you can. Clearaudio’s Innovation turntable is founded on the proven building-blocks of existing designs, yet launches a fresh concept of what a high-end turntable should be.
   It’s founded on a doubled-up version of Clearaudio’s sandwich construction chassis; the elegant curves are emphasised by the contrast of the polished metal edges and glossy black acrylic. Other surfaces are matt rather than gloss black, giving a pleasing effect. Compared with the Solution models, the Innovation gains a kind of classic simplicity from the fact that the motor is housed in one of the three towers, rather than standing free between two of the chassis lobes.
   Providing a compatible ‘dead’ surface for the disc is the 70mm-thick black Delrin (POM) plastic main platter. This rests on the lower part, a 15mm-thick disc of stainless steel. Hidden beneath that is the Innovation’s special new feature, the Optical Speed Control or OSC, said to give better speed stability than ever before. There’s nothing new about the basic idea, as feedback or servo-based speed control was common on direct-drive decks around 30 years ago, and was also applied to
belt-drives. But I think Clearaudio is the first to make it work in an audiophile context.
   In the centre of the platter is what could be called Clearaudio’s previous big innovation, the patented Ceramic Magnetic Bearing. The platter’s weight is supported, frictionlessly, by the mutual repulsion of two rings of opposing magnets, mounted on the chassis and on the lower platter. The magnetic elements are designed to give a field that is well contained, and the non-magnetic ceramic shaft means no magnetic effects can reach the surface of the platter.
 
PRECISION TONEARM

Clearaudio is an advocate of parallel- or radial-tracking arms, but here we were provided with its top pivoted arm, the Universal. This lives up to its name, coming with no fewer than four different counterweights; so by choosing the right one you can comfortably balance out cartridges weighing as little as three or as much as 22 grams. With its beautiful pearl/matt chrome finish, thumbwheel control and engraved scale, the back end of the arm has the engineering aura of a classic Moore & Wright micrometer.
   While Clearaudio’s other pivoted arms have jewel bearings, the Universal uses miniature ballraces. Fitted below the main bearing housing is Clearaudio’s VTA Lifter, a lever device which allows fine adjustment of arm pivot height while playing. The arm tube is of carbon fibre.
   Completing our package was the da Vinci cartridge, which comes in below the Titanium and Goldfinger models but uses the same Micro HD stylus. For this model, that distinctive amoeba-shaped body is anodised aluminium (rather than titanium or gold). The long boron cantilever looks alarmingly unprotected as it projects from the nose of the generator assembly, but Clearaudio comforts the nervous with a well-designed stylus guard. You can even set the alignment and check the azimuth with the guard on.
   You might think that the cartridge was made that shape just to make it difficult to align with a setup protractor, but in fact, as with so many other design aspects, the aim was control of resonances. I think it must have been successful. Cartridges usually produce some ‘needle talk’, playing faint but recognisable music by mechanical vibration, but with the da Vinci in this arm there was practically none. The arm should take some credit too, because when fitted in another make of arm, the da Vinci was not quite as silent, though still very much quieter than normal.
 
CONTROLLED BASS

If you are inured to the common species of hi-fi bass, as opposed to the natural kind, you will immediately appreciate the controlled and extended bass of the Innovation. I started with Eric Clapton’s 1977 Slowhand [RSO 2479 201] where that lower-end clarity was a real benefit, in fact a necessity. There was a big, fat bass sound when it was needed but the overall effect was never just dragged down to a muddy bottom, as it so easily can be with this album. So the urgent shuffle beat of ‘Lay Down Sally’, with such great drumming by Jamie Oldaker, came over fairly well. With the Harry James band and The King James Version [Sheffield Lab
LAB-3], once again, the bass was both tight-sounding and absolutely free of boom, so that you could always hear the way that bass lines underpinned the music harmonically, as well as keeping time. In the mid and treble, brass sounds were clean and well defined while the saxes were full of character, creating an inviting and engaging effect. There was a great sense of space in terms of both width and depth, so you got an exceptionally good feeling of the layout of the brass and sax sections, the band now realistically spread within the acoustic.
   On the mid-tempo blues, ‘More Splutie Please’ Harry James’ terse and spitty trumpet solo came barking out just as if he was standing in front of you. On this justly-celebrated direct cut, the Clearaudio really did convey a sense of occasion.
   Next came Jennifer Warnes’ ‘Ballad Of The Runaway Horse’ from the Rob Wasserman Duets album [GRP 97-121]. Here Warnes’ voice was full of subtleties, sinuous, controlled, yet still expressive. More than ever, perhaps, I found myself trying to analyse the artful production tricks which went into making this seemingly quite straightforward track – for example, the way Warnes’ voice is placed quite forward at first, then seems to fall back slightly, and the way Wasserman’s bass also gets a little quieter, to fall back a little at key moments.
   Continuing with female vocals, but of a very different kind, Tracy Chapman [Elektra 960 774-1] provided another example of the ability to produce a big, wide image spread with a strong, tangible central vocal image. Here the singer’s unaccompanied ‘Behind The Wall’ was truly gripping, and she was warm and timelessly moving on ‘Baby Can I Hold You’.
   I think the turntable excelled itself with Dire Straits from 1978. On ‘Sultans of Swing’, you could come perhaps almost as close as it’s possible get to unravelling the rhythm guitars, which filled out a wide and solid stereo image, with vocal and lead guitar firmly centred and presented with delightful clarity. Every detail of Knopfler’s diction was laid bare, his voice truly characterful and not merely gruff, and his guitar wizardry soaring and effortless.
   Turning to classical music, I found myself swept away again by a favourite from 1967, Barenboim with the English Chamber Orchestra in that most familiar Mozart piano concerto, No.21 [EMI ASD 2465]. For some reason this seemed to come alive in a quite special way on this turntable. At the bottom end, the foundations seemed solid and firm, with double-basses that could be heard properly. In the lower mid, the bassoon sounded truly fruity, while in the upper mid and treble the strings were bright but presented with tangible detail, and so never sounded unpleasantly coarsened or really harsh. The piano was believable from bottom to top, with a sprightly, intimately tactile quality, keeping its sonic integrity against the orchestra, which surrounded it quite realistically without swamping it or sounding congested.  
   Ultimately, I’m not sure this is really the ultimate turntable for rockers, but on music where the inner space is more important than the edge, it shines every time.
 
VERDICT

This package gave a very stable, controlled sound, perhaps balancing the dynamic punch of the da Vinci cartridge against the well-damped, low-resonance character of the turntable. It also proves that Clearaudio’s turntables look just as good in black as, er, in the clear
But here's the punchline: In 2009 Clearaudio had already sold over 30, without a review, without the USA or the UK markets and there's already a waiting list. If the world is going to Hell in a handcart, at least let's get there with a fine soundtrack?
Home Theater Review
When you get to this level of vinyl playback, you enter a realm not unlike that of 'Super Tuscan' wines, bespoke clothing, hand-made shoes, cars of the Ferrari/Porsche/Lamborghini ilk, a shave at Trumper. Normal rules and standards no longer apply. Mere mortals lose their sense of bearing, because their values, their points of reference have been thrown out the window. It's probably the reason why the finer things seem unappreciated by chavs, footballers and WAGs, who go from Watney's to Mouton-Rothschild overnight.
 
If that sounds patronising or condescending, my apologies. But I want to say here and now that any e-mails from any of you, kvetching about the Statement on any level - unless you've actually heard it - will be greeted with a click of the 'delete' button. This isn't merely a great turntable: it's a turntable that says 'up yours' to the peasantry, to the small-minded miseries who have kept high-end audio from finding its rightful home amongst names like Solaia and Corneliani and Speake-Marin and Loiminchay.
One day, hopefully before I die, the British will stop acting like it's 1951 and rationing is in full flower. In the league tables of whingeing, penny-pinching, bargain-hunting hustlers, only the Yanks (especially the newly-rich ones with dot-com wealth) are actually worse for bitching about price and looking for ridiculous 'deals'.
 
Why this offensive opener? Simple: I want to drive away all of you who recognise that trait in yourselves; I want you to move onto the next article. And for a very simple reason: I am about to laud a turntable that costs $100,000, and I absolutely refuse to say 'sorry!' for its completely off-the-radar price tag. Put it another way: I will apologise for the cost of the Clearaudio Statement when Car apologises for the price of the Ferrari FXX and Jancis Robinson apologises for the price of a good Petrus.
 
Actually, it gets much worse than that, for I'm assessing its major rival next month, which means that turntables with six-figure stickers may be multiplying. At least, a US six figures, which in today's money is 'only' £55,000. (There are rumours, too, of one new turntable where the deposit is $100,000, followed by a second payment of the same amount! Idiots, mugs and assholes: the queue forms in Narnia.) Even so, I'd expect the Statement to come in closer to £80,000, given that we live in 'Treasure Island', where everything costs more than anywhere else, and which goes some way to justifying why the British always moan about price. Like the cost of iTunes downloads here vs everywhere else. 
But to reinforce my notion that the British, despite being the third-largest market for Ferrari, often act so low-rent that it's offensive, organising this review had nothing whatsoever to do with the UK importer, who doesn't have one in stock. Instead, I went straight to the manufacturer. Literally. I flew to the Clearaudio works in Erlangen, Germany, to spend two days listening to the Statement. Through my system ... in their room.
 
There are reasons why it was easier for me to fly to Germany than to have one installed chez Kessler. For one thing, it won't fit in my room without removing a ludicrous amount of kit. For another, this has been a hellishly hot summer and I don't want to tear apart the listening room to accommodate it. Moreover, there was the lack of desire in involving the importer, the thought of having a squadron of strangers assembling a deck in my room for a day, the urgency of meeting the deadline for this issue. It was crucial that we make this issue, because Clearaudio will be exhibiting at the Hi-Fi News show at Heathrow, and I didn't want any of you - that is, those who don't have an issue with the price - to miss the opportunity to talk to Clearaudio personnel about the Statement.
 
While at Clearaudio, I learned that the company long ago transcended freaky, fringe audiophile status. It's a real manufacturer, with over 40 employees and a need to expand beyond the ex-Siemens factory that's bursting at the seams. In addition to their not inconsiderable cartridge, arm, cable and accessory sales, Clearaudio sold over 10,000 turntables last year, and not just their budget offerings. Emphatically, they're heavy hitters. The Statement is the Suchy Family's testimonial to nearly 30 years in business.
 
Indeed, Robert Suchy likes to think of the Statement as '... the result of more than 28 years in research and development, with several patented technical and mechanical features, never seen or realised in turntable designs before.' And he's not kidding. Instead of one watershed feature, the Statement offers the following elements:
- Its massive acrylic platter is driven by a patented magnetic driven sub-platter, with absolutely no contact to the main platter. One of the Suchys' fave party tricks is slipping a sheet of paper between the two while the platters are spinning;
- It also uses a magnetic vertical platter bearing;
- All platters are dynamic balanced with state-of-the-art testing equipment as critical as those used to balance wheels on racing cars;
- A seriously butch pendulum weighing 80kg provides the self-levelling of the top platform, so you can say, with a straight faces, that this table 'rocks'; its automatic horizontal levelling device also includes the tonearm platforms, and there are no air pumps or compressors;
- A high-speed processor-controlled motor-drive unit drives the sub-platter;
- The turntable's main chassis is oil-damped;
- Operation includes a real-time speed control with an active blue LCD display, and fine speed adjustment (33-1/3, 45, 78 rpm) is provided;
- The Statement can support up to four different tonearms;
- Its dedicated and integral stand is completely damped against resonance, using special construction techniques consisting of a damped sandwich made of bulletproof wood, stainless steel and acrylic. Yes: bulletproof wood, a special ply that seemed too dense to be organic in origin.
 
Crowning this is the new Clearaudio Statement TQI linear-tracking tonearm, engineered and designed specifically for the Statement Turntable. (It may or may not be offered to non-Statement owners, just as the SME 312S is only currently available to SME 20/12 owners.) The TQI employs a new type of ultra-low-friction, high-precision sapphire bearing design, it's said to be easy to set up, and it very much looks like an extension of the Statement in that its frame also uses the sandwich construction of the turntable plinth. 
 
All of this combines to form a system that stands an impressive 1250mm tall, with a footprint of 690x570mm. And another thing: your floor will need to support 350kg, or 770lb in real money. Let's put it another way: you notice a Statement the way you'd 'notice' a Hummer, a St. Bernard, or a member of the Harlem Globetrotters. Aside from a slightly unfinished look to parts of the arm, the Statement has the kind of surfaces and fine details you expect of genuine luxury products, like the heater controls in a Rolls-Royce, or the buckle on Girard-Perregaux. This is a showpiece deck, the antithesis of the hideaway Technics SL10 in size and presence. In other words, it looks like a turntable with attitude. 
 
And it sounds that way. Whatever your beliefs about linear trackers, acrylic platters, huge stands, ad infinitum, there's no doubting that the Statement exhibits three sonic qualities that announce their presence with all the restraint of John Prescott proclaiming his innocence: rock-solid imaging, sledge-hammer bass that plumbs truly Stygian depths and dynamic contrasts that will have you jumping out of your seat every time the music hits a crescendo. I didn't cite the Hummer above by accident: this turntable is all about command, about immunity to upset, about retrieval of detail. It's a deck that says, My name is Arnold. I will be back. Hasta la vista, baby, etc etc.
 
I should mention here that the system was equipped with the Clearaudio Goldfinger, the company's flagship moving coil. Suffice it to say that a review will be forthcoming, and that everyone who hears it wants one. 18 grams of solid gold! A naked cantilever! Eight magnets matched to a tenth of a gauss! The reason we used it is simple: the Statement was made for it. So I lived with a Goldfinger for a few months before my Statement sessions. And I fell in love with it, too. But that will have to wait...
 
Then we get to the puck, an area I really didn't want to touch upon, given my ever-increasing dismay with audio accessories. But here's what happened, a few hours into the session, while listening to Linda Ronstadt's take of 'Girls' Talk': 
 
Those who recall the West Coast releases of the late 1970s and 1980s will remember an awful-sounding processing gimmick called the Aphex Aural Exciter. In its earlier incarnations, at least, it was responsible for crapping up the sound of more music by more major artists than anything this side of the transistor. Whether or not it's in use on Mad Love isn't the point: the LP exhibits the same nasal dullness that characterises the era. But the album was so enjoyable that I learned to listen through it.
 
So, when Peter Suchy asked if I minded him tweaking the sound a bit mid-track, I said, 'Go ahead.' He stood between me and the Statement. For all I know, he could have changed cartridges. What he didn't do was go near the pre-amp. When he lowered the stylus onto the LP, what I heard was a change greater than any cable swap, a change on a par with a speaker swap. I kid you not.
 
I asked, what was it? VTA? Tracking force? Tell me! He motioned me over to the turntable and pointed to the puck. He had changed the conical metal weight for a label-sized disc of sandwich construction: a disc of metal (aluminium?) between two discs of wood, the entire affair no thicker than eight CDs and weighing but a few ounces. No clamping, just a pressure fit over the spindle. The gains were earth-shattering, especially in the context of the ostensibly horrible-sounding mix of Asylum Records circa 1980: better treble extension, sweeter vocals, less sibilance, rounder bass, more air.
 
You read it here: the puck will go on the market this year, possibly selling for as little as �?�99. (Which probably means £99 in the UK ...)
 
How much of this was the Statement serving as an ideal platform for the puck, or for any accessory for that matter, is open to speculation; the Statement is that revealing. Regardless, I can't wait to try it on something like the Funk. 
 
The Suchys left me alone with the Statement, and I ploughed through a stack of albums - mine and theirs. Discovery after discovery: new resonance and weight to the percussion in ZZ Top's epic, 'Tush'. Unmistakeable flow to the bass in 'Papa Was A Rolling Stone' and an increase air to the acoustic guitar in Mr. Big's 'To Be With You'. Meshed harmonies from Hall & Oates. Reduced sibilance and surface noise, black silences, negligible tracing whoosh.
 
Subtle, it ain't. There's a sense of scale about the whole affair that exploited the WATT Puppies to the maximum, that filled every nook and cranny of the Clearaudio's 9.3x7.4x3.3m(DWH) room, a real extravaganza that says, 'Size matters. Put your little weiner away and get to grips with big boys' toys.' With few exceptions - namely, the SMEs, the top Kuzma, Clearaudio's own Reference, and the like - the Statement makes the case for cost-no-object turntables, disarming any naysayers in an instant.
 
Which can only be a good thing. For me, it prepared the stage for the Continuum, which I heard the following week. [See next month's issue.] Conversely, it let me know, upon returning to the UK, that the SME 30 is still the 'gold standard' of turntables and, in light of the escalation of prices, something of a bargain. But above all else, it demonstrated beyond any doubt, beyond political influence, beyond prejudice, that vinyl is still the supreme recorded music format.
 
When you get to this level of vinyl playback, you enter a realm not unlike that of 'Super Tuscan' wines, bespoke clothing, hand-made shoes, cars of the Ferrari/Porsche/Lamborghini ilk, a shave at Trumper. Normal rules and standards no longer apply. Mere mortals lose their sense of bearing, because their values, their points of reference have been thrown out the window. It's probably the reason why the finer things seem unappreciated by chavs, footballers and WAGs, who go from Watney's to Mouton-Rothschild overnight.
 
If that sounds patronising or condescending, my apologies. But I want to say here and now that any e-mails from any of you, kvetching about the Statement on any level - unless you've actually heard it - will be greeted with a click of the 'delete' button. This isn't merely a great turntable: it's a turntable that says 'up yours' to the peasantry, to the small-minded miseries who have kept high-end audio from finding its rightful home amongst names like Solaia and Corneliani and Speake-Marin and Loiminchay.
 
But here's the punchline: Clearaudio has already sold over 30. Without a review. Without the USA or the UK. And there's already a waiting list. If the world is going to Hell in a handcart, at least let's get there with a fine soundtrack?
If you’ve been craving the perfect fusion of dynamics and fine detail, the Clearaudio DaVinci is the cartridge for you.
Jeff Dorgay

I was immediately attracted to the punchy, fast presentation.....

If pace and timing push your hot button, you will be amazed by the speed of the DaVinci. Unlike some so-called “audiophile” products that only shine with your best records, the DaVinci extracts every bit of information from the grooves on whatever records you are playing.  Of course, the flawless first-stamper pressings are going to wow you more, but you will be pleasantly surprised at how much more music you hear on some of your old favorites that you might have thought unworthy of a mega analog setup.  This alone makes the DaVinci worth its price tag.

Since they brought out the new generation Goldfinger, Clearaudio has been going towards a more-balanced sound.   These days, their newfound expertise has trickled down to the $7,500 Titanium and the $5,500 DaVinci.  And like their top two cartridges, the DaVinci also has coils wound from 24kt. gold wire.
 
After living with the Advance for a few months, I purchased the review sample to round out my own arsenal of cartridges, which includes the Lyra Scale and Dynavector XV-1s. The DaVinci is a special cartridge, offering a high level of detail retrieval without crossing the line and sounding harsh, always a tough proposition.
 
This review started along with the Clearaudio Innovation turntable, mated with Clearaudio’s TT-2 linear track tone arm.  If you haven’t yet made a turntable choice, I’d highly suggest the whole system; the synergy is fantastic.  The DaVinci worked well on my Raga, SME and Triplanar arms, too, but it was tough to beat the all-Clearaudio system.
 
The DaVinci is part of Clearaudio’s new V2 series of MC cartridges, with improved magnet and generator assemblies as well as a new stylus profile that Clearaudio claims has one-fifth less mass than their previous design.  In the real world, the DaVinci is an excellent tracker.  One particular torture track that comes to mind is Joni Mitchell’s “Jericho” on the album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter.  The last track on the side, we’re already headed for trouble; about half of the cartridges I’ve reviewed won’t get through Joni’s voice without distortion.  But the DaVinci handled it perfectly.
 
The price of admission
 
Let’s face it, there are a fair amount of people in the audience who haven’t spent US$5,500 bucks on their whole system, so a cartridge at this price level is built for an exclusive clientele.  My main requirement for a cartridge in the US$5,000 – US$10,000 range is that it has to not only have a unique personality, but it needs to take you somewhere you can’t go with the lesser-priced cartridges.  For five BIG ones, you shouldn’t have to make any excuses, and the DaVinci doesn’t ask you to.
 
If you have an equally high-achieving turntable and phono stage, you will be rewarded with some of the most exciting analog playback money can buy.  When Musical Surroundings’ Garth Leerer dropped the TT-2 Clearaudio tonearm down on that first record, I was very impressed.  About a hundred hours later after some serious break in, I was blown away.
 
Opposing views on setup
 
When used on Clearaudios’ TT-2 linear track arm, you only need to dial in VTA and tracking force beacuse there are no other adjustments. With a linear track arm, there is NO tracking error, so you don’t need to argue with your buddies on the Internet about which set of  null points to use.  Set it and forget it.  As my review of the Innovation said, “The sound is super smooth, like analog tape.”
 
I also had excellent luck on my other table/tonearm combinations, with the virtues of the DaVinci always coming through.  At 2.8 grams, the DaVinci tracks a bit heavier than you may be accustomed to on some other cartridges.  Using Clearaudios own digital stylus force gauge, I ended up right at 2.8 grams for the best overall balance.
I also made it a point to try the DaVinci with a number of excellent phono preamplifiers,  all with great results.  The Naim Superline/Supercap was on hand, as well as the $20k Montana phono stage, the Manley Steelhead RC and my reference, the Nagra VPS with VFS base.  Final loading ended up between 400 and 500 ohms with all phono stages, and the DaVinci was so revealing, it made it easy to hear the differences between each of the four phono preamplifiers.
 
Personally, I liked the two tube phono stages the best, as the high resolution of the DaVinci mixed with a touch of tube warmth was a match made in heaven for my system.  While I was never put off by matching the DaVinci with the solid-state phono preamplifiers, there were times where there was so much resolution it was tough to process, but a few of my audiophile buddies were addicted to the extra resolution on tap.
 
In all but the most forward sounding systems, the DaVinci should be a winner.
 
Spacious and resolute
 
Clearaudio claims that their V2 cartridges have a 100db dynamic range that is “better than CD.”  While I don’t have any LP’s with a 100db range with which to verify this, I was immediately attracted to the punchy, fast presentation.  If pace and timing push your hot button, you will be amazed by the speed of the DaVinci. Unlike some so-called “audiophile” products that only shine with your best records, the DaVinci extracts every bit of information from the grooves on whatever records you are playing.  Of course, the flawless first-stamper pressings are going to wow you more, but you will be pleasantly surprised at how much more music you hear on some of your old favorites that you might have thought unworthy of a mega analog setup.  This alone makes the DaVinci worth its price tag.
 
The only drawback to having extra resolution on tap is that it will reveal the records in your collection that have not been thoroughly cleaned, but the benefit of good vinyl hygiene when using the DaVinci will be an analog presentation that is CD quiet.  It takes a little while to get used to that kind of silence, but once you do, it’s very exciting.  And it’s always fun to listen to your anti-vinyl friends claim “that can’t be a record!”  If you don’t have a good record-cleaning machine, I highly suggest one of the Clearaudio Matrix models that clean in both directions.  Combining clean surfaces with the incredible detail retrieval capabilities of the DaVinci, it just feels like you can hear into the record forever.  Listening to “Between My Head and the Sky” on Yoko Ono’s new Plastic Ono Band album, the cymbals hung in the air, while guitars popped in from all over the mix, with Yoko’s signature trippy, squeaky vocals front and center, and the overdubs of her voice way beyond my speaker boundaries.  When I switched to a few budget cartridges, everything lined up on the same plane.
 
The DaVinci really excels at front-to-back separation; it always has you wondering if you really do have a secret pair of surround speakers in your listening room.  This record led me to some of my wacky favorites from Kraftwerk, Jean Michel Jarre and Mickey Hart, just to bask in the giant fishbowl of sound I was experiencing.
 
I always felt like I was watching a Hitchcock movie while listening with the DaVinci.  Hitchcock was a master of having quite a few layers of interest in his shots, with the main action center frame, but equally important things going on way off in the distance or in the lower corners of the frame.  This is the perspective my system takes on with this cartridge; there is something going on all over the soundfield.  It is very engaging  indeed.
 
Switching back to some straightforward rock, MoFi’s Santana was another incredible experience.  I’ve been listening to this record for about 35 years and it’s never sounded better. On the last track, “Soul Sacrifice,” when the bongos fade up over the drums, they sound somewhat blurry. But now they had their own distinct soundstage in the mix.  I didn’t even hear that while I listened to the master tap at the MoFi studio last year!
 
Perhaps a bit larger than life
 
Because the Clearaudio DaVinci reveals so much information, some may perceive it as having a “slightly larger than life” kind of sound, but I found it to be very exciting and I haven’t tired of it in the least.  If you’ve been craving the perfect fusion of dynamics and fine detail, the Clearaudio DaVinci is the cartridge for you.  Just be sure to get those records spotless if you want everything it can deliver.
 
-Jeff Dorgay
 
In all but the most forward sounding systems, the DaVinci should be a winner......If you’ve been craving the perfect fusion of dynamics and fine detail, the Clearaudio DaVinci is the cartridge for you.
Jeff Dorgay

Personally, I liked the two tube phono stages the best, as the high resolution of the DaVinci mixed with a touch of tube warmth was a match made in heaven for my system. 

If you have an equally high-achieving turntable and phono stage, you will be rewarded with some of the most exciting analog playback money can buy.  When Garth dropped the TT-2 Clearaudio tonearm down on that first record, I was very impressed. 

Forget what you know about Clearaudio cartridges of old.
 
Since they brought out the new generation Goldfinger, Clearaudio has been going towards a more-balanced sound.   These days, their newfound expertise has trickled down to the US$7,500 Titanium and the US$5,500 DaVinci.  And like their top two cartridges, the DaVinci also has coils wound from 24kt. gold wire.
 
After living with the Advance for a few months, I purchased the review sample to round out my own arsenal of cartridges, which includes the Lyra Scale and Dynavector XV-1s. The DaVinci is a special cartridge, offering a high level of detail retrieval without crossing the line and sounding harsh, always a tough proposition.
 
This review started along with the Clearaudio Innovation turntable, mated with Clearaudio’s TT-2 linear track tone arm.  If you haven’t yet made a turntable choice, I’d highly suggest the whole system; the synergy is fantastic.  The DaVinci worked well on my Raga, SME and Triplanar arms, too, but it was tough to beat the all-Clearaudio system.
 
The DaVinci is part of Clearaudio’s new V2 series of MC cartridges, with improved magnet and generator assemblies as well as a new stylus profile that Clearaudio claims has one-fifth less mass than their previous design.  In the real world, the DaVinci is an excellent tracker.  One particular torture track that comes to mind is Joni Mitchell’s “Jericho” on the album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter.  The last track on the side, we’re already headed for trouble; about half of the cartridges I’ve reviewed won’t get through Joni’s voice without distortion.  But the DaVinci handled it perfectly.
 
The price of admission
 
Let’s face it, there are a fair amount of people in the audience who haven’t spent US$5,500 bucks on their whole system, so a cartridge at this price level is built for an exclusive clientele.  My main requirement for a cartridge in the US$5,000 – US$10,000 range is that it has to not only have a unique personality, but it needs to take you somewhere you can’t go with the lesser-priced cartridges.  For five BIG ones, you shouldn’t have to make any excuses, and the DaVinci doesn’t ask you to.
 
If you have an equally high-achieving turntable and phono stage, you will be rewarded with some of the most exciting analog playback money can buy.  When Garth dropped the TT-2 Clearaudio tonearm down on that first record, I was very impressed.  About a hundred hours later after some serious break in, I was blown away.
 
Opposing views on setup
 
When used on Clearaudios’ TT-2 linear track arm, you only need to dial in VTA and tracking force beacuse there are no other adjustments. With a linear track arm, there is NO tracking error, so you don’t need to argue with your buddies on the Internet about which set of  null points to use.  Set it and forget it.  As my review of the Innovation said, “The sound is super smooth, like analog tape.”
 
I also had excellent luck on my other table/tonearm combinations, with the virtues of the DaVinci always coming through.  At 2.8 grams, the DaVinci tracks a bit heavier than you may be accustomed to on some other cartridges.  Using Clearaudios own digital stylus force gauge, I ended up right at 2.8 grams for the best overall balance.
I also made it a point to try the DaVinci with a number of excellent phono preamplifiers,  all with great results.  The Naim Superline/Supercap was on hand, as well as the $20k Montana phono stage, the Manley Steelhead RC and my reference, the Nagra VPS with VFS base.  Final loading ended up between 400 and 500 ohms with all phono stages, and the DaVinci was so revealing, it made it easy to hear the differences between each of the four phono preamplifiers.
 
Personally, I liked the two tube phono stages the best, as the high resolution of the DaVinci mixed with a touch of tube warmth was a match made in heaven for my system.  While I was never put off by matching the DaVinci with the solid-state phono preamplifiers, there were times where there was so much resolution it was tough to process, but a few of my audiophile buddies were addicted to the extra resolution on tap.
 
In all but the most forward sounding systems, the DaVinci should be a winner.
 
Spacious and resolute
 
Clearaudio claims that their V2 cartridges have a 100db dynamic range that is “better than CD.”  While I don’t have any LP’s with a 100db range with which to verify this, I was immediately attracted to the punchy, fast presentation.  If pace and timing push your hot button, you will be amazed by the speed of the DaVinci. Unlike some so-called “audiophile” products that only shine with your best records, the DaVinci extracts every bit of information from the grooves on whatever records you are playing.  Of course, the flawless first-stamper pressings are going to wow you more, but you will be pleasantly surprised at how much more music you hear on some of your old favorites that you might have thought unworthy of a mega analog setup.  This alone makes the DaVinci worth its price tag.
 
The only drawback to having extra resolution on tap is that it will reveal the records in your collection that have not been thoroughly cleaned, but the benefit of good vinyl hygiene when using the DaVinci will be an analog presentation that is CD quiet.  It takes a little while to get used to that kind of silence, but once you do, it’s very exciting.  And it’s always fun to listen to your anti-vinyl friends claim “that can’t be a record!”  If you don’t have a good record-cleaning machine, I highly suggest one of the Clearaudio Matrix models that clean in both directions.  Combining clean surfaces with the incredible detail retrieval capabilities of the DaVinci, it just feels like you can hear into the record forever.  Listening to “Between My Head and the Sky” on Yoko Ono’s new Plastic Ono Band album, the cymbals hung in the air, while guitars popped in from all over the mix, with Yoko’s signature trippy, squeaky vocals front and center, and the overdubs of her voice way beyond my speaker boundaries.  When I switched to a few budget cartridges, everything lined up on the same plane.
 
The DaVinci really excels at front-to-back separation; it always has you wondering if you really do have a secret pair of surround speakers in your listening room.  This record led me to some of my wacky favorites from Kraftwerk, Jean Michel Jarre and Mickey Hart, just to bask in the giant fishbowl of sound I was experiencing.
 
I always felt like I was watching a Hitchcock movie while listening with the DaVinci.  Hitchcock was a master of having quite a few layers of interest in his shots, with the main action center frame, but equally important things going on way off in the distance or in the lower corners of the frame.  This is the perspective my system takes on with this cartridge; there is something going on all over the soundfield.  It is very engaging  indeed.
 
Switching back to some straightforward rock, MoFi’s Santana was another incredible experience.  I’ve been listening to this record for about 35 years and it’s never sounded better. On the last track, “Soul Sacrifice,” when the bongos fade up over the drums, they sound somewhat blurry. But now they had their own distinct soundstage in the mix.  I didn’t even hear that while I listened to the master tap at the MoFi studio last year!
 
Perhaps a bit larger than life
 
Because the Clearaudio DaVinci reveals so much information, some may perceive it as having a “slightly larger than life” kind of sound, but I found it to be very exciting and I haven’t tired of it in the least.  If you’ve been craving the perfect fusion of dynamics and fine detail, the Clearaudio DaVinci is the cartridge for you.  Just be sure to get those records spotless if you want everything it can deliver.
 
-Jeff Dorgay
......this table is the new benchmark in its price class.

IExValue Award09It’s re that a table at this price point has enough low-level detail to really define the hall characteristics of the recording, but again the Concept passed with flying colors. 

 If you are a real vinyl fanatic, I don’t think this table would be out of it’s league with your favorite cartridge in the  US$1,000 – US$2,000 range if you care to take it that far, so this is definitely a component you won’t easily outgrow.

If you pose the question, “What turntable should I buy for $1,500?” on an internet forum, have your hazmat suit on and be prepared to be bombarded with insults and advice.
 
You’ll get suggestions from all over the audio spectrum; new, used, and modded this or that. Of course, everyone knows what’s best for you and God forbid that you question any of the self-proclaimed experts should you choose not to take their advice.
 
All spirited debate aside, two of the top choices seem to be the Rega P5 and the VPI Scout. While I must admit my bias goes more towards the Rega than the Scout , I’ve even tried the highly modded Technics SL-1200 with good results and currently have a vintage Denon direct-drive table sitting on top of one of my equipment racks that’s spinning records rather nicely, so I’d like to think I’m not too closed minded.
 
However, the $1,500 price point is probably the hottest part of the turntable spectrum, because it represents a healthy jump up from a strictly budget turntable; by the time you add a decent phono cartridge in the $500 – $1,500 range and a similarly priced phono preamplifier, you’ve invested a substantial amount of change to support your vinyl habit. But you will get a huge jump in performance from the budget LP spinners as well. For many, this is the sweet spot where many will stay and for good reason.
 
I submit a new guest to the party – the Clearaudio Concept. Priced at $1,400 without cartridge, the Concept brings a lot of Clearaudio’s engineering excellence to the table at a price that most audiophiles can afford. To sweeten the pot, Clearaudio dealers are offering a package price when you purchase the table with the Concept MM cartridge for an additional $100, or step up to the Concept MC for $2,000. These are the only two cartridges that ship from the factory preinstalled, however your friendly neighborhood Clearaudio dealer is offering a 20% discount on any Clearaudio cartridge purchased with the table.
 
As the Clearaudio Maestro Wood MM cartridge was already in my reference fleet of cartridges, it made perfect sense to investigate here rather than with the bottom of Clearaudio’s cartridge range. For those unfamiliar, the Maestro Wood is Clearaudio’s top moving magnet cartridge that has an MSRP of $1,000. Definitely at the top of the price range for an MM cartridge, but remember, you won’t need to have a Moving Coil preamplifier or other step-up device, so the Maestro is indeed a bargain.
 
Speed is easily switched between 33, 45 and 78 r.p.m. with the selector switch on the left side of the table. While you will probably want a different cartridge to accommodate your 78 collection, the Concept could easily be pressed into service as a “78 only” table at minimal cost, if you have a large collection. Definitely another plus.
 
Top shelf construction
 
The Concept is a belt drive table, featuring a DC motor that is powered by a wall wart power supply. The platter is made of the same “POM” material that is used on their Innovation tables, albeit not as thick as the Innovation platter. The tonearm looks stunningly familiar to the Schroeder arms that also use a magnetic bearing in the place of a traditional bearing. This is the debut for a new series of magnetic bearing tonearms that will begin to be featured on some of their other turntables in 2011. If this is the entry level model, I can’t wait to listen to the models further up the range.
 
If you buy the Concept with one of the cartridge options, it will arrive with the cartridge installed and optimized at the factory, so all you will need to do is install the counterweight and set the tracking force. Be sure to hold the tonearm with one hand while installing the threaded counterweight, as it fits very snugly and could damage the arm otherwise.
 
The factory VTA and anti-skate settings worked perfectly for the Maestro, and setting tracking force was a snap with the Clearaudio Weight Watcher scale. A quick check of the speed with Clearaudio’s Speed Light confirmed that everything was perfect. This is another table, like the Rega’s that will have you spinning records in about 10 minutes.
 
The sound
 
The Concept has a very neutral overall sound, with a weight and openness that I’ve yet to experience at this price point. I’ve used the Maestro Wood on a number of different tables at various price points and it is one of my favorite MM carts, offering a high level of detail and punch, without being harsh.
 
Listening to Madeleine Peyroux’ latest release, Bare Bones on MoFi, you’ll notice that this record, like her others have somewhat of a loose, natural, whumpy, almost underdamped sound in the lower registers. Where the Scout tends to overdamp the bass and the P3 doesn’t have quite as much bass there, the Concept comes through with enough weight to reproduce this accurately. I was as impressed with the quantity as well as the quality and definition of bass that this table was able to extract from the grooves.
 
It’s rare that a table at this price point has enough low-level detail to really define the hall characteristics of the recording, but again the Concept passed with flying colors. Extended listening to Neil Young’s Live at Massey Hall on Classic Records, or Cream’s 2005 Royal Albert Hall performance opened up a level of three-dimensional sound that I didn’t expect.
 
During a moment of temporary madness, the Maestro was swapped out for Clearaudio’s $5,500 DaVinci MC cartridge, a master of detail retrieval. Granted, the small but mighty Concept did not offer as big a presentation as it did when mounted to the Clearaudio Innovation we reviewed a while back, but it wasn’t bad. If you are a real vinyl fanatic, I don’t think this table would be out of it’s league with your favorite cartridge in the $1,000 – $2,000 range if you care to take it that far, so this is definitely a component you won’t easily outgrow.
 
Extra credit
 
For those of you in the audience that can’t resist the urge to tweak your gear, here’s an easy upgrade for the Concept, take it off the grid! After the first peek at that inexpensive wall wart, I suspected that there was room for improvement with this table. A quick trip to Radio Shack confirmed my findings; making a custom cable for my Red Wine Audio Black Lightning power supply and running the Concept on pure DC made a marked upgrade to the sound.
 
Not quite convinced to drop another $700? Grab a pair of MN-918 6V lantern batteries from Batteries Plus (http://tinyurl.com/2a6tncx) and wire them in series for 12VDC. The middle post of the plug going to the table should be positive, which you can easily verify with a voltmeter. If you don’t have a voltmeter, you’ll know it’s wrong if the table spins backwards, so don’t put a stylus down on the record until you confirm the direction.
 
The first track played for comparison was “Day Dream” from Allen Toussaint’s The Bright Mississippi. Immediately after switching from AC to battery, the music comes alive with more texture and low-level resolution. Toussaint’s’ piano went from being constrained inside the space of the speakers to being about two feet beyond the speaker boundaries, with the other instruments having a better delineated space. I had similar luck with solo vocals and any other recordings having a lot of low level, airy passages. If you find yourself wanting to take the Concept to 11, this is an easy, no fuss upgrade. While you’re at it, pick up Clearaudio’s Concept clamp; this too wrings a bit more performance out of the table, especially with slightly warped records and is only an additional US$100.
 
Conclusion
 
Whether you power the Clearaudio Concept with the standard issue power supply or take it a step forward with pure DC power, I feel this table is the new benchmark in its price class. It combines simple setup with stunning good looks and performance to match. We are happy to award the Clearaudio Concept one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2010.
The proof of my recommendation is in the fact that this Clearaudio Maestro cartridge is mine.
Francisco Duran

I heard the sharp piercing flutes floating above the clarinets that transitioned to the bass violins with a seamless ease. The solid placement of images was only interrupted by the explosive dynamics on side one of this album. The high level of dynamic contrasts between orchestra sections held together with the high volume I gave it and did not break up a bit. I ran this LP through three different speaker systems, with and without a subwoofer. This was just the first side of the LP. I was in for a treat on side two! I was just relaxing and enjoying the music till the bass drums kicked in. Wow, talk about explosive dynamics! Here the Maestro reproduced excellent pace and very quick dynamics. This cartridge does not lack for speed. It held the music together well.

What's happening? The Foo Fighters putting out their latest album on analog tape, with no pro tools used in the recording? I just got through watching the documentary, It Might Get Loud, and there was Jimmy Page playing records. Jack White was playing too with an analog tape deck off in the distance! Personally I would love to hear a little tape hiss on a new recording, just to bring back old memories. To most audiophiles, the dribble of trendy hipsters and their surprise that people still use turntables is pure nonsense. We never stopped using our turntables. No matter what digital trend pops up every minute. In fact as we all know analog has been alive and well and doing quite well for itself these past few years.
 
The subject of this review, the Clearaudio Maestro moving magnet cartridge, is from Clearaudio dealer Musical Surrounding of Oakland, California. Over the years I have dealt with Mr. Garth Leerer and Mr. Mike Fajen of Musical Surroundings. Kudos has to be given to this organization for their excellent customer service. The credentials of Clearaudio hardly need mentioning on this website. Their range of turntables, arms, and cartridges is mind blowing. The Maestro is the top of the line moving magnet from Clearaudio, stacking up just above another well-known cartridge of theirs, the Virtuso Wood. The Maestro's output voltage is 3.6 Ohms, loading range is 47 Kohms. It weighs 7.0 grams, with a compliance of 15, and a tracking range of 2.0 to 2.5 grams. It has a Boron cantilever, and the recommended replacement for the stylus time is 2000 hours, or sooner if you are rough with your styluses. Please don't attempt to do it yourself. A trained professional is needed to do that job. The Maestro retails for $1200.
 
Who likes the break in process? Especially when you know that with every spin of a disk, you are shaving off the life expectancy of a cartridge and also the record. Fortunately out of the box, as they say, the performance of this cartridge is very easy on the ears. Improving and blossoming past the 50-100 hour mark. In the past, some very good friends helped me set up my cartridges, that is until another good friend of mine urged me to take the bull by the horns and learn how to properly mount a cartridge all by my lonesome. My Bluepoint No. 2 MC cartridge was really intended for this purpose. It was only meant to be used as an interim cartridge, but its use went past my installation learning curve. So when it came time to mount the Maestro on my Kuzma Stabi S/Stogi S table and arm combo, out came my Hi Fi News and Kuzma alignment tools, along with my trusty Expressimo Audio X-treme digital tracking force gauge. I set about the task of aligning this cartridge. My also very trusty Cardas and Clearaudio strobe disks were used to create a very near perfect set up. You can never have too many tools. The Maestro comes with two mounting plates that fit between the cartridge and arm. The aluminum one is meant to be used with the Satine wood bodied cartridge (the subject of this review) and the plastic one for the aluminum bodied cartridge. The wood body is threaded (thank you) and it comes with a clear plastic stylus guard which I use on a regular basis due the stylus sticking out a bit on the front, more so than on other cartridges. Confession time, when it came time to adjust the azimuth, I used my handy dandy homemade cardboard guides and a set of eye balls. I don't own a Fosgometer. Remember I said " very near perfect." Besides the fantastic Kuzma Stogi S tonearm makes this adjustment a lot easier than on other arms. It has a grub screw adjustment on one of its two counter weights. Nice!
 
I won't go into how analog slams digital for sound quality. Most of you reading this already know that. You are probably reading this because you are interested in a high quality, affordable, good performing moving magnet cartridge. The Maestro meets those requirements with ease. I will say this; I have a very high quality clean sounding CD player in my Marantz SA 15S2 Reference SACD player, modified by The Upgrade Company to a Signature Edition. Believe me as good as it is it can't out-perform the Kuzma/Maestro combo in regards to ease of listening. I can play albums literally for many hours at a stretch. Although I do play my CDP often, I just can't do that with digital. Sorry my attention wanders. I feel it is just inherent in the digital technology. Another thing is, I won't compare my old BP2 with the Maestro. It is a different cartridge in a different price bracket. It is good for what it is. I listened to the Maestro through the phono section of my Marantz Reference PM-15S1 integrated amplifier, also modified by The Upgrade Company to a Signature Edition. There are times that I feel this phono section doesn't have enough gain. Compared to my old separate phono stage, the Monolithic Sound PS-2, its gain could be set to ones heart's desire. Still the Upgrade Company's modification to the Marantz phono section is very good and the quality of its reproduction is quite high. Overall the Marantz combo is a pretty neutral platform for the Maestro to perform its duties.
 
With that in mind for this review I played so many albums over quite some time that I almost don't know where I start. To get started I cherry picked a few of my favorites. I have a used copy of The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Men from Earth. This has been one of my favorites for quite a long time. On track 4 side 2 "Arroyo", the number of instruments that are shaken, struck, stroked, and otherwise played is quite interesting. Two in particular the Guiro and the Claves have a clear, distinct, yet natural place on the soundstage. There is dimension (air if you will), and realistic tone to those two simple instruments that seems to raise the performance of this cartridge way above its retail price!
 
I picked The Drive by Truckers because I just love this band. I played their double LP, A Collection of Oddities and Rarities. These guys are all about drum kits, cymbal crashes, electric guitar crunching, and gritty vocals. I love it! The sound was clean and detailed without sounding etched, thin, or bright. The vocals sounded expressive, and I could hear the dynamic variations and vocal inflections with ease. These qualities were especially noticeable on side four; track one, "Mrs. Claus's Kimono." On the track "Play it All Night Long," the drums sounded tight, and rhythm was spot on in a spacious and dimensional soundstage. When both lead guitars start in, it gets loud but never goes into excess in regards to distortion. One hears just the right amount of midrange to upper treble harmonics as these electric guitars are getting their hearts strummed out of them. I couldn't get enough. Work came early the next day, but that didn't stop me from playing the whole double album before bed time.
 
For the next session I started with Neil Young's, This Note's for You. This is a classic album if there ever was one. Young's slam on corporate sell-outs is filled with catchy tunes, played by a veteran rock group, backed by a killer horn section. Those horns sounded smooth, polished, and dimensional yet with a natural brassy bite that a good recording can display. Through the Maestro, these qualities were easily heard. Again, there was a very spacious soundstage with very good depth, width, and height creating an organic sound field. There was a consistence of performance regarding the soundstage with well recorded material. And this slab of vinyl played on the Maestro certainly displayed very good qualities in this area. Pace and rhythm were not hampered a bit. Strangely enough, this was especially noticeable on the chorus of "This Note's for You." Neil's vocals were very natural sounding on this album. Transients and dynamics were not thin, and it wasn't hard, if you closed your eyes, to be transported to a little bar up north somewhere listening to the Blue Notes' smoky burn.   
 
Now let's move on to something a bit different. One of my classical favorites has always been The Pines of Rome by Loren Mazzel and the Cleveland Orchestra. It is on a half speed master pressed by the Victor Company of Japan. This is a Mobil Fidelity Original Master Recording originally on London. On this LP, I really don't know where to start. My notes start off with slightly warm, great dynamics, smooth treble. I slipped into the music and was listening without thinking of the system. The bass section was full and taut. There was a bloom in the lower octaves, yet it had a weighty presentation that flowed with ease. Bass transients were full and deep, well controlled, and articulate. On the first section, "Pines of the Villa Borghese," the music builds to a dynamic swell that is not unlike a large ocean wave sweeping you up, only to be caressed by the next movement, "The Pines near a Catacomb." The Maestro tracked these dynamic orchestral changes with solid assurance.
 
Next up was Muti, Philadelphia, and The Rite of Spring again on MoFi. Call me a sucker for Stravinsky, but this music really gets my blood flowing. The Maestro showed very good tracking ability, and fine detail retrieval. I heard the sharp piercing flutes floating above the clarinets that transitioned to the bass violins with a seamless ease. The solid placement of images was only interrupted by the explosive dynamics on side one of this album. The high level of dynamic contrasts between orchestra sections held together with the high volume I gave it and did not break up a bit. I ran this LP through three different speaker systems, with and without a subwoofer. This was just the first side of the LP. I was in for a treat on side two! I was just relaxing and enjoying the music till the bass drums kicked in. Wow, talk about explosive dynamics! Here the Maestro reproduced excellent pace and very quick dynamics. This cartridge does not lack for speed. It held the music together well.  
 
One more example of the many albums I played, and continue to play almost on a daily basis. Two LPs of Eric Satie both on Angel; the recording of his "Monotones and Parade," "Relache Ballets," and "Gymnopedies" were played in their entirety. The piano parts on these albums sounded fluid and full bodied, and had just enough spaciousness and detail to keep me on the couch squarely in front of my system for four sides. Ever listen to a piano played live? It doesn't sound bright.
 
What these examples showed was a consistent performance across the board with the Clearaudio Maestro cartridge. The bass is deep, full, taut and well controlled. Dynamic swings hold firm no matter where the volume is set. This cartridge tracks very well. It displays lifelike images that are precisely placed on a well-proportioned stage, make that a huge soundstage. It has tone that is rich, round, and full, yet with a high degree of detail and realistic musical texture. Its treble is extended yet smooth and well balanced with the rest of the frequency range. With all of these qualities you would think that one would never need to investigate Clearaudio's more expensive MC cartridges. Well not exactly. Stepping up to the pricier MCs gets you better inner detail and more exact spatial dimensions. Greater speed, delicacy, and dynamics would also accompany the dearer MC cartridges. But I feel that two great strengths of the Clearaudio Maestro cartridge are its ability to come close to the musical qualities of its bigger MC Brother's without over doing it, and its sheer ability to draw you into the music and make it fun to listen to all kinds of music. This is all done in a solidly built unit at an affordable price. As a friend of mine used to say, "What more do you want?" The proof of my recommendation is in the fact that this Clearaudio Maestro cartridge is mine. And when it needs a new stylus, it is going back to Oakland California for a re-tip!
 
As far as artists going back to their analog roots, I can only say keep up the good work! Analog bumper stickers should be issued! 
……Francisco Duran
...which will even hold its own against any comparably priced MC.
Signature Sound

The new Maestro Ebony v2 is the top of the line in Clearuadio’s Ebony v2 MM series of phono cartridges. It uses a boron cantilever (as opposed to aluminum in the cheaper Ebony series cartridges), Micro HD stylus plus very (and more precisely matched than on the Artist) strong magnets with the cantilever-stylus assembly to reduce the moving mass of the cartridge motor in order to optimize phase coherence and transient characteristics.

The Maestro Ebony v2 is built to tighter tolerances than the Performer, Artist & Virtuoso.  This is truly an impressive MM cartridge which will even hold its own against any comparably priced MC.

The Maestro Ebony v2 is a bit heavier (and tracks a bit heavier) than the other Ebony series cartridges and works best with the heavy Tungsten counterweight when used on Rega tonearms/tables, but it pays off with even better soundstage, clarity, and dynamics than the Virtuoso, but it still has great MM tonal characteristics.

With the V2 series of MM cartridges, Clearaudio set new standards in the technical parameters of impedance, inductance, load capacitance and sensitivity. Ongoing research and development have enabled us to attain near perfect balance of the stereo channels, reduce distortion to vanishing levels and increase output level with a flat frequency response to provide a vivid and enthralling musical performance.

All of Clearuadio’s Ebony MM V2 cartridges deliver the following enhancements over earlier models:

  • A resonance-optimized ebony housing for less coloration and more natural sound
  • More powerful magnets producing greater dynamic range
  • Higher output voltage for lower noise levels.
the ClearAudio Virtuoso Mk II is one of the finest sounding cartridges I’ve had the pleasure to hear, regardless of design or price. Highly recommended.
Greg Weaver

The ClearAudio Virtuoso Mk II is very neutral and extremely musical. It offers a degree of inner detail and micro dynamic shading I’ve only found previously from moving coil designs. It is both engaging and truthful, not necessarily a forgone conclusion with a pricey cartridge. It is articulate and resolute without being clinical or etched. It offers remarkable extension at both frequency extremes and superb control over them both. It is neither particularly forward nor recessed in its presentation. Most importantly, it offers a mastery of tonal balance unlike anything I’ve ever before experienced under the $2,500 mark. 

OK, I admit it! Lately I have been flirting with, and have been somewhat smitten by, the "Dark Side" of our hobby -- the compact disc. Coincident with the arrival of my ModWright Perpetual Technology P-3A, I no longer find in necessary to shut down the digital playback system after only an hour or so and replenish my spent musical spirit with a fix of vinyl playback. However, as a self-respecting, die-hard vinyl advocate, it is my duty to remind you that a good analog front-end still kicks stuffing out of the best digital rigs out there. I’m not trying to pick a fight here, but there really is no debate. When done properly, the LP is musically superior to the CD.
 
To that end, last fall I sold my Linn LP12 Valhalla only to replace it with an Oracle Delphi Mk III, complete with numerous upgrades. The newer Mk V spring set improves considerably upon the original suspension. The stock, felt-padded feet have given way to the heightened clarity and resolve offered by a troika of McCormack aluminum cones. The hard Goldmund Relief Mat, quite similar to the new Oracle Mk V hard mat, provides a more effective transfer of stylus-induced resonances to the platter. Let me tell you analog fans, this new platform, when mounted with the same cart and arm, was quite an improvement over the venerate Linn. I decided it was time for a new cartridge.
 
Entering New Territory
 
For some time now I have lusted after a number of mega buck carts out there like the van den Hul Frog or the ClearAudio Insider. Not having deep enough pockets, I thought it might be appropriate to try a more affordable unit from one of those manufacturers. As chance would have it, a brief but informative meeting with Robert Suchy of ClearAudio at CES 2001 put an end to my quest. "Why not try our new Virtuoso Mk II?" he asked. "It’s the best moving magnet cartridge we make!" With that kind of endorsement, why not indeed?
 
The family of Moving Magnet cartridges from ClearAudio includes the Alpha, the Beta, the Beta-S and culminates with the Virtuoso Mk II. It is an unusual specimen to my way of thinking as, like all of its lessor and greater siblings, it has a stylus profile of 4 by 40 micrometers. I’m used to the better known and more pronounced elliptical shapes like the Shibata, line-contact, fine-line, van den Hul and hyper-elliptical designs. Most of those styli shapes have profiles of something like 3 or 4 by 65 to 80 micrometers. A little searching revealed that that this shape dates back to a late 1960’s Japanese design purchased by Peter Suchy, Robert’s father, and it is still championed to this day.
 
The Virtuoso Mk II offers a fairly high output of 3.6 mV, boasts a channel separation of greater than 30 dB and a channel-to-channel balance of less than .3 dB! Since this is a medium compliance cartridge with both a vertical and horizontal compliance of 15 cu, it was a perfect match for my low mass Magnepan Unitrac I, carbon fiber, uni-pivot arm. Since the cartridge’s compliance and the tone arm’s effective mass integrate to form their own resonant system, it is very important to match the cartridge to its host arm quite closely. In this case, the combined mass of my arm (7 grams) and the Virtuoso Mk II (10 grams) yielded a system resonance just below 10 Hz, putting it nearly dead center in the target range of 8-12 Hz.
 
A couple of other items struck me as fairly unique about the Virtuoso Mk II. For one, its cantilever was fashioned from aluminum. At this price point I would have expected the use of boron, which most cartridge manufacturers accept as a more sonically neutral material for this application. In addition, the recommended tracking force is fairly heavy, suggested as from 2.0 to 2.5 grams. Heavy tracking alone doesn’t bother me, especially since I have the use of a Wally Tractor Alignment Gauge. The Wally Tractor is made specifically for the model of tone arm it is to be used with and is quite simply the most accurate and easy to use overhang gauge ever put on the market. Tracking at too light a weight, especially with a mis-aligned cartridge, can do considerable harm to your precious vinyl.
 
Setting the Vertical Tracking Angle, or VTA, with the Virtuoso was a bit maddening at first. Most cartridges offer their best performance when adjusted so the cartridge body is more or less parallel to the record surface. This alignment left me thinking I was still missing some of the Virtuoso Mk II’s performance. Only after remembering that ClearAudio importer Joseph DePhillips had mentioned that the best angle for this stylus profile is a few degrees above parallel was I able to dial it in for the best balance of tonality, space and dynamics. The Virtuoso seemed even more particular to VTA adjustment than any of the other carts I had on hand. A quick email to Michael Fremer verified that he too had found ClearAudio carts to be a tad more VTA sensitive than many other brands.
 
Moving Magnet Magic
 
Once mounted and aligned properly, the Virtuoso Mk II was off and running. What a thoroughbred! Right out of the starting gate it was fast, clean, detailed, smooth and superbly balanced. I have yet to hear another cart in my system with the octave-to-octave balance of the Virtuoso. There is a "seamlessness" of timbre that is completely unlike anything I’ve heard from any of the moving coils in my experience. This complete tonal cohesiveness had a magically seductive effect similar to the understanding one has upon first hearing a pair of speakers in which the drivers have been truly seamlessly integrated. There is a pronounced liquidity to the sound. There are no "edges" or boundaries to the different audio bands, no defined bass, midbass, midrange or treble. They ebb and flow effortlessly into each other. There was no excessive bloat in the bass or mid bass, no over emphasis in the midrange, and no stridency in the upper reaches. There were no recesses in the lower treble to emphasize presence and no roll-off in the upper treble to camouflage glare and stridency.
 
When compared head to head with the four Moving Coil designs I had on hand, the Virtuoso Mk II outshone them all in categories where the MC designs normally have a distinct performance edge; low level detail, micro-dynamics and resolution. Sounds buried way down low in the noise floor were retrieved and served up clean, crisp and clear. The muted timekeeping foot tapping of drummer Chris Layton on the superb Absolute Analog reissue of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Couldn't Stand The Weather (Epic 25940) has never been better resolved. In this track there are several musical pauses where the band repeatedly stops and restarts before cutting loose into the body of the tune. During these pauses, Layton’s ever-so-low-key foot tapping is so readily apparent and clearly outlined in space that you can almost tell what brand of shoe he is wearing.
 
Micro-dynamic shadings, like those perceived when the explosive breath created when forming words beginning with "P" assault the microphone, literally explode into and briefly pressurize the entire listening room. Listen to the lyrics found just under a minute into "Black & White" from Sarah McLachlin’s Surfacing (Arista/Classic Records RTH-18970) to get a feel for this aptness. Its ability to resolve and articulate the subtlest of queues and nuances is simply the best I’ve heard in my system – by far. In these respects, this cart’s performance reminded me of the sense of ease and effortlessness that had so clearly been recreated by a Delphi/Graham/Frog combination in the Joseph Audio room at the Chicago Stereophile show.
 
Low bass was a special treat. From the lowest harmonics of the piano through bass guitar runs to bass drum strikes, the Virtuoso Mk II holds on and goes deep. Pitch definition is exceptional, even as it shows its ability to plumb the deepest of depths and offer some serious weight. An excellent example can be heard following John Entwhistle’s bass work on the MCA Heavy Vinyl reissue of Who’s Next (MCA 11164). With the cuts "White Lightning and Wine" and "Sing Child" from the Nautilus release of Heart (NR3), I was treated to the "flavor" of individual drum skin tones. If you’ve ever had the chance to sit in close to a live drum kit when it was being worked over by someone who both knows what they are doing and tunes their kit before doing so, you know just what I mean. Whether playing organ symphonies or classic rock anthems, blues classics or jazz masterpieces, bass definition was accurate, clear and clean.
 
The Virtuoso Mk II never lets you forget the piano is a percussion instrument. The gentle musings of Ivan Morevec, the idiosyncratic thundering of Glenn Gould, or the virtuosity of Vladimir Horowitz were all accomplished on a heightened emotive level, rendering all the bloom and power of this enormously versatile instrument. The piano nearly comes to life on tracks like the Byron Janis reading of the Liszt Todtentanz on the Classics reissue (RCA LSC 2541). Piano keys, whether vigorously struck with explosive attack or ever so lightly brushed into a whisper, were presented with all the emotion and sensuality with which they were conceived.
 
The demand exacted by female vocals and piano works tend to expose the most strategically concealed weaknesses in any cartridge. In this endeavor the Virtuoso Mk II continued its A-plus performance. Patricia Barber or Julie London, Sarah McLachlin or Ricki Lee Jones, Tori Amos or Ann Wilson, the Virtuoso Mk II captured and regenerated each artists unique voice in all her individuality. It has an uncanny ability to render the detail behind the nuance. It almost permits you to "see" the subtle breaths taken, moistening of lips, or tongue pressed against teeth for enunciation: seemingly every inflection was unearthed.
 
The male voice is presented wonderfully as well. Listen to cuts like "Daylight Again" from the 1977 release Crosby, Stills & Nash (Atlantic SD 19104). The three distinct voices of David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash were reproduced with chilling body and power adding that much more to the valuation of their superb harmonies. The robust, charismatic voice of Stevie Ray Vaughan, all too often overlooked in favor of his obvious guitar mastery, is astonishingly emotive on cuts like "Tin Pan Alley" and "The Things (That) I Used To Do," again from the Absolute Analog Couldn't Stand The Weather.
 
That delicious bronzy flavor of well-recorded cymbals was recreated without getting spitty or "white." Delicate cymbal brushings, triangle strikes and upper register harmonics from strings and brass were detailed, clear and solid without getting aggressive, unless that was an attribute of the recording. This ability to delicately unravel inner detail in the upper frequency limits is easily appreciated on the 1977 Steely Dan masterwork Aja (MFSL 1-033). This attribute also contributed significantly to the cart’s ability to accurately render images in both their proper size and specific location as well as to portray a realistic feel of the space of the soundstage.
 
Returning to the 1977 release Crosby, Stills & Nash, the foreground of the soundstage in the cut "Fair Game" is sprinkled with a myriad of percussion instruments like maracas. These instruments each take on a definite "place" throughout the soundstage and then never budge from the location they initially occupy. With the 1972 Solti/Chicago Symphony Orchestra Beethoven Symphony No. 9 (MFSL 2-516), the Virtuoso Mk II offered the most articulate and deepest sense of layering I’ve ever experienced from this record. It has an uncanny ability to present a realistic sense of the liveness of the room as vocals and instruments decay.
 
In the opening of Rush's "Witch Hunt" from Moving Pictures (Mercury/PolyGram SMR 1-4013), numerous varieties of subtle sounds populate the soundstage. Nothing here was misplaced, nothing wandered and nothing was slighted. The opening tom roll was breathtaking, revealing not only left to right positioning but front to back queues as well. In this respect, the Virtuoso Mk II is second to none in my experience.
 
Whether tracing torturously complex passages like the opening from Prokofiev's Sythian Suite (Mercury SR 90006), or resolving delicacies like massed strings, it was wonderfully competent at unraveling the dense and often overwhelming layers of material. It had little trouble placing those layers in near vise-like precision throughout the soundstage and was hard pressed to offer even the slightest hint of congestion or indistinctness. Only occasionally, under extreme dynamic taxation, did the upper registers suggest just the slightest hint of hardness and loss of image location lock. This is a common stumbling block for many fine cartridges. This, along with a slight but perceptible reduction of large-scale (macro) dynamics, were the only shortcomings I was able to unearth in my time with the Virtuoso Mk II.
 
The ClearAudio Virtuoso Mk II is very neutral and extremely musical. It offers a degree of inner detail and micro dynamic shading I’ve only found previously from moving coil designs. It is both engaging and truthful, not necessarily a forgone conclusion with a pricey cartridge. It is articulate and resolute without being clinical or etched. It offers remarkable extension at both frequency extremes and superb control over them both. It is neither particularly forward nor recessed in its presentation. Most importantly, it offers a mastery of tonal balance unlike anything I’ve ever before experienced under the $2,500 mark. In short, the ClearAudio Virtuoso Mk II is one of the finest sounding cartridges I’ve had the pleasure to hear, regardless of design or price. Highly recommended.
There is not denying that it is a substantial statement product that represents a significant achievement....you are not likely to find a better analog front end.
Jules Coleman - 6 Moons
The Sound of Clearaudio
The sound of the Clearaudio full analog setup is, unsurprisingly and above all else, clear - and more. The terms that leap to mind include quick, incisive and transparent.    

The motor setup of the table itself was dead quiet and worked flawlessly as advertised, which contributed to the overall darkness of the background.   

The Clearaudio presented musical details against an eerily black background. This contributed to the table's ability to sort out and locate details with a precision that was unmatched in my experience. This was especially evident in musical passages involving larger groups singing harmonies ........ the Clearaudio sorted and located the voices better than any table I recall having in house, including my personal reference.  

Though these may not be the golden years for new analog pressings or LP sales, they may nevertheless be the golden years for analog playback. There are more high quality, well-engineered, easy-to-use and good-sounding turntables available today than at any time I can recall. Moreover, the entry cost of analog playback is, at least in relative terms, lower than it has ever been. For anyone who believes that the point of audio playback is to make music (which hopefully is everybody), there is simply no living without a turntable and, given the relatively low cost of entry, no reason to do so.
 
Nor are the advancements in turntables restricted to the entry or mid-price markets. If anything, what marks this as a golden age of vinyl playback is the extraordinary number of truly high-end tables, arms and cartridges that are self-conscious attacks on the state of the art. Thirty years ago -- well before the advent of the silver disk -- there were a handful of high-end tables: Linn, SME and Thorens (to name a few) were some of the more familiar brands. The cognoscenti especially in Europe and Japan had their hearts set a'pounding by the likes of the EMT 927 and Garrard 301 and 401, though the Garrards did not achieve status as true high-end tables during that period largely because their performance was compromised by inappropriate plinths and console housing; and the EMTs were too large for most home applications.
 
And though it is fashionable (especially on the forums) to downplay the achievements of 'name brands' especially when their offerings are costly, the fact remains that the standard of reliability and excellence in both design and performance continues to be set by the likes of SME and Clearaudio. Given their locations in Britain and Germany, it is not misleading to think of the top-of- the-line SME and Clearaudio as the Bentley and Mercedes of turntables, respectively.
 
While several manufacturers from Basis to Rega and from Brinkmann to Walker offer both turntables and arms, fewer manufacturers offer their own cartridges. Some who do clearly outsource cartridge manufacturing to the likes of van den Hul and Benz while others modify -- modestly or substantially -- cartridges produced elsewhere.
 
Rega and Clearaudio are among the very few companies that manufacturer their own tables, arms and cartridges. And unlike Rega who restricts its offerings from entry level to mid price -- which represents their comparative advantage -- Clearaudio is perhaps unique among manufacturers in offering a full range of turntables. From the entry level X to the world-renowned Master Reference, which has served as the reference vinyl playback machine for Harry Pearson of TAS and Roy Gregory of HiFi+ among other well-known audio reviewers, there's also a full range of arms from the Satisfy to the TQ1 and an even broader range of cartridges, including both moving magnets and moving coils at all manner of price points. Clearaudio has something for everybody interested in vinyl playback. They are also among the most respected, reliable and easy-to-deal-with companies in the business.
 
With accurate and satisfying vinyl playback dependent on the proper balancing of so many variables, I prefer to review turntables that are sold as a system. This was true to some degree of the Well Tempered Reference and the Redpoint Testa Rossa which I've had in house in the past couple of years and is completely true of the Brinkmann Balance and my reference Shindo Laboratory 301. Give me a table/arm/ cartridge combination that the designer believes speaks clearly and consistently with one voice and I have some chance of figuring out what the designer is trying to express; what he takes to be most important in music reproduction; what he is listening to and what he is listening for.
 
So I was particularly pleased when at Clearaudio offered me their Maximum Solution table/TQ1 tonearm/Stradivari cartridge and Everest stand for a full analog system review. The table wasn't available until late Spring. 
 
The System
The Clearaudio analog front end was connected via a captured phono cable and run directly into the low output moving coil section of the dual-mono Shindo Catherine preamp. The other sources were the Shindo front end and Audio Note transport feeding the new Reimyo DAC through the Harmonix digital interconnect or Stealth's Varidig. Amplification was provided by the Shindo WE 300B Ltd. monoblocks. All components were housed in two HRS MI-R equipment racks, with power conditioning by Shindo's Mr. T. All non-captured interconnects were Stealth Indra, speaker cables the Auditorium 23. I listened to this system through four very different pairs of speakers: my reference DeVore Silverback; a pair of Tannoy 10" reds in a rather undistinguished cabinet with no bracing and little internal absorption material; a pair of Tannoy 15" Golds in a custom quasi-transmission-line/back-loaded horn cabinet designed by Shindo and executed by Anthony Abbate; and a pair of Vivaldi hornspeakers employing two Lowther EX3 drivers housed in a cabinet derived from the original Lowther Academy.
 
The Technicalia
At the foundation of the Clearaudio analog front end under review is the Everest stand, which weighs in at roughly 200lbs (an optional extra). It is constructed of solid stainless steel pillars and multiple triangular acrylic "3 point stars" with aluminium-magnesium "skins". Built at a factory in Erlangen/Germany out of house, the Everest provides high-mass mechanical grounding to any 3-point-star-design Clearaudio turntable including the Master Reference, Maximum Solution, Anniversary or Master Solution. It cannot be used with other Clearaudio designs or with those from other manufacturers.
 
The Maximum Solution falls just below the Master Reference in the Clearaudio line-up and while it incorporates many of the features found in the Master Reference, it is designed as an end point within the Solution Series. That is, the Maximum Solution can be built via an upgrade path from the Solution to the Master Solution to the Maximum.
 
There are several important engineering features the Maximum Solution shares with the flagship Master Reference. One of these is the three point star system on which the plinth sits. This was designed to increase stability and reduce overall stored energy in the plinth. Both tables use a tri-motor belt-drive system. This allows Clearaudio to employ particularly low torque motors. The platter material is high mass and a single low torque motor might have difficulty in getting the platter moving and more importantly, keeping it moving at a constant velocity especially during dynamic musical passages (which require deeper and wider grooves in the vinyl).
 
Both the Max and the Master come with an Accurate Power Generator (APG) that conditions & regenerates AC plus runs the motors at 120º phase to each other to cancel additive vibrational energy. Both employ an inverted bearing that is graphite-coated stainless steel for lowest friction with ceramic ball bearing. Machining is to very exacting tolerances. (since updated to CMB - Ceramic Magnetic Bearing)
 
The main differences between the Master and the Max are platter thickness (80mm vs. 70mm, respectively) and one less plinth on the Maximum. Clearaudio's claims that when placed on the Everest stand, the Maximum Solution will outperform the Master when the latter is placed on any other stand or base. I was unable to test this claim at home (since, among other things, I had no Master Reference to compare with the Maximum Solution.)
 
The Master TQI is a linear tracking, non air-bearing tonearm derived from the famous Souther TriQuartz. The Souther was notoriously difficult to set up well or reliably. The TQ1 is significantly more rigid and adjustable. There is a conflict of views as to just how easy it is to set up and keep it working properly. During the several months I had the Clearaudio in house, I was forced to make very few adjustments, though original setup was time-consuming and demanding. The Quartz arm wand rides on quartz tracks with tiny wheels via ruby bearings. It is both groove driven and gravity fed. This means that there are no mechanical linkages as in some other linear trackers.
 
The arm will not work well with low-compliance cartridges. On the other hand the arm, which has been around for a while now, works well with most mid to high compliance cartridges including the usual suspects from Clearaudio, Benz and van denHul.
 
The table itself can support up to three arms. The review sample was set up with two: the TQ1 and the new Graham Phantom. Soon after initial setup, I realized that the Graham arm was not optimally set up due to not having an arm pod of sufficient height to allow for a full range of VTA adjustments. This is a very common problem of not matching the height of the arm in relationship to the platter and is especially common with plinths designed for the Garrard 301 platter.
 
The cartridge on hand was one of Clearaudio's new generation of cartridges - the Stradivari. If the Stradivari is indicative of this new breed of Clearaudio cartridges, then the company has taken a giant step in the right direction (from my point of view, of course). For earlier Clearaudio cartridges, including the oft-praised Insider, were far too much 'from the bone' for my taste, with far too much emphasis on the leading edge at the expense of the body of the music. The Stradivari to my ears is significantly meatier than previous generations of Clearaudio cartridges have been. A much welcomed change.
 
The Sound of Clearaudio
The sound of the Clearaudio full analog setup is, unsurprisingly and above all else, clear - and more. The terms that leap to mind include quick, incisive and transparent. Needless to say, it is hard to determine exactly which of the various components contributed to the overall sound of the Clearaudio front end. Still, some attributions seem well supported by the evidence. Let's begin with the Everest stand. The entire analog setup was seemingly immune to external vibrations. I couldn't get the arm to skip or the table to miss a beat by jumping on the floor adjacent to the stand. The wood floor of my room is suspended and has a bit of bounce in it. But nothing disturbed the tracking. In general, the Clearaudio exhibited the lowest apparent noise floor of any analog system I've had in house.
 
Mind you, none of this establishes that the Everest stand provides broadband resonance control with respect to all forms of mechanically induced resonance - but it did seem to perform in this regard as well as my reference Harmonic Resolution Systems rack. It should. It costs nearly as much for the Everest stand as it does for the entire HRS rack.
 
The motor setup of the table itself was dead quiet and worked flawlessly as advertised, which contributed to the overall darkness of the background. The arm tracked without interruption or misstep and was not nearly as difficult for me to keep appropriately set up as I had been led to believe it would be.
 
The biggest difference between this and other Clearaudio analog front ends that I have heard previously was the cartridge. Though the Stradivari is nowhere near the most expensive cartridge among the new generation of Clearaudio moving coils, it shares a family resemblance to them all and one that sets it far apart from previous generations of Clearaudios. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the Stradivari will remind one of a Koetsu Rosewood, but it might remind one of the Benz family of cartridges (but for the new LP, which in the short time I listened to it struck me as moving more in the direction of the Lyra Titan - less warmth and color than other Benz cartridges but more articulate).
 
No matter the speakers, I experienced music played through the full Clearaudio analog front end as decisive, detailed, transparent, agile, open, highly informative, confident, firmly controlled and dynamic. There was no mush, no fat, no soft underbelly to the music, no artificial sweetness or sugar coating on top. Tonally, the sound was very honest …..
 
The Clearaudio presented musical details against an eerily black background. This contributed to the table's ability to sort out and locate details with a precision that was unmatched in my experience. This was especially evident in musical passages involving larger groups singing harmonies as in the concluding segments and fade of Paul Simon "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" from his Negotiations and Love Songs collection [Warner Brothers 9257891]. Here the Clearaudio sorted and located the voices better than any table I recall having in house, including my personal reference.
 
The combination of focused, readily distinguishable details emerging from and located against a dark if somewhat less dense background... . The space between instruments and performers is seemingly infinite and empty, which is part of the reason imaging is so pinpoint and focused in space. On the other hand, it is a bit harder to get a sense of depth. As a result, lateral imaging is spectacular but a bit less so front to back.
 
While informative and detailed, there was no etch or hardness in the upper registers. Massed strings were well rendered but not sweet. Horns had real bite and energy. John Coltrane's saxophone on Johnny Griffin's A Blowing Session Vol. 2 [Blue Note 1559] came across as fueled by high octane whereas his playing on John Coltrane [Prestige 24003], while equally alive, exhibited a bit less body.
 
The midrange was lovely and the detail and resolution of the table made listening to jazz vocalists such as June Christy's Something Cool [Capitol T516] a real treat. Recordings that are a bit too chesty sounding for my tastes -- the Ray Charles and Betty Carter album of the same name [DCC LPZ 22] for example -- came across as cleaner and leaner and hence more enjoyable.
 
The midbass packed an incredible wallop and the bass will plumb the depths effortlessly. While weighty and more than adequately authoritative, the lowest registers were not quite as resolute as was everything from the midbass on up. I don't know which part of the analog chain to attribute this to and the difference in relative resolution was very small. I had the table in house for quite some time and after a while, I started listening for the purposes of making the most fine-grained distinctions I could in the context of the systems on hand. These are not differences one would notice in anything but the most highly resolving systems - and you have to be listening for differences to do so.
 
As you can tell I was very impressed by the Clearaudio front end. There was much to praise and little to fault. Still, I found myself admiring the table in every respect ..
 
The high-end Clearaudio sound is (to my ears) more precise than flattering...The Clearaudio walks a very fine line given its extraordinary capacity to reveal information and to focus the information it reveals.
 
In my experience, the lower-priced Clearaudio tables are a bit looser in their presentation. They have a somewhat different character and aspiration. If they walk the same line, they are more likely to fall to the side of fun than fact. These tables are a great way for the novice and music lover to find her way into analog. As one scales the price list, the engineering and precision increase and a little of the love is lost. The Maximum solution setup was very much more a reviewer's tool - and a damn good one at that.
 
A number of my guitarist friends attended the Berklee School of Music in Boston. Those who left invariably did so because they preferred being sloppy every once in a while in order to take a risk or be creative. They didn't want to be measured all the time by whether they had made mistakes. The Clearaudio strives to make no mistakes and largely succeeds in its ambition.
 
The Clearaudio in context
The four speakers I used were very different from one another and the Clearaudio rig made those differences crystal clear - differences that were smoothed over a bit by my digital front end, which was itself very revealing and resolute. To my mind, digital recordings are sonically more similar than different. Most are processed to the point of bordering on artificial. Too many cross the borderline and cannot be rescued by even the most loving digital front end.
 
This has not been my experience with LPs which can and do sound very different from one another, all more natural than digital even if some of them sound much worse and are much less enjoyable to listen to. The Clearaudio will not paper over these differences. The Clearaudio delivers the facts, warts and all. The Stradivari cartridge, however, makes hearing the truth a somewhat more comfortable if not necessarily soothing experience than did previous generations of the Clearaudio cartridges.
 
My favorite partnership was between the Clearaudio and the big Tannoy 15" Golds. Tannoy aficionados love the 15s for their weight, authority and dynamics down low, which usually comes at the expense of the speaker being saddled by a tire around its midsection. Not so the 15s, at least not in this cabinet. While the speaker wasn't fat or ambiguous in the lower mids and upper bass, the overall tonal balance was shifted down a bit. In general, the 15 is a bit less articulate than the 10. With this speaker at the end of the chain and the Clearaudio at its beginning, the sound was terrific. The Clearaudio's incisiveness cut right through the less than fully articulate midbass and lower midrange of the Tannoys.
 
Think of the Tannoy sound like a big R&B rhythm section of horns, keyboards, bas and drums. If you were the guitarist, you wouldn't be inclined to play a modern Les Paul and you certainly wouldn't play partial chords or fills with the lower strings. You would do what Steve Cropper does. You'd get yourself a Fender Esquire and you'd play partial chords and thirds from off the higher strings. It's what you'd have to do to have your part heard and cut through the full big rhythm section. That's just the way the Clearaudio cuts through the rich, full Tannoy sound.
 
Again, the Clearaudio's dynamism in conjunction with the Tannoys' similar strengths led to explosive dynamics with what sounded like the right resolution of detail. At the same time, the Clearaudio's informative and detailed nature in the presence region balanced the Tannoy's slight reticence. But the synergy was greater still as the somewhat less than fully developed harmonics of the Clearaudio in this same region and above were aided by the Tannoy's richness. Partnering a fun speaker with a lot of soul and warmth with an incredibly precise and resolute turntable (with the right electronics) is a match that is about as good as one could hope for.
 
The Clearaudio Maximum Solution/TQ1 arm/Stradivari cartridge combination (all nestled comfortably on the extraordinarily effective Everest stand) is a truly outstanding analog source system. It plays music with precision, energy and insight.  There is not denying that it is a substantial statement product that represents a significant achievement. If its voicing and approach is what you crave -- and it is easy to see why it would -- then you are not likely to find a better analog front end.
 
Jules Coleman Six Moons
It seemed that the turntable could keep a sense of proportion, with music of any scale. It could be both impressive and inviting in orchestral works.
Steve Harris

REVIEW SUMMARY: The Clearaudio/Ortofon combination showed it could do acoustic instruments too. When I put on a 1974 recording of Beethoven’s Septet played y the Ensemble of St James [Classics for Pleasure CFP 40059], it was striking to hear the instruments fi rmly placed in a believable space. A fairly weighty balance suited this music, with its foundations laid by the double-bass with horn and bassoon above in a warm lower-mid balance, while the treble seemed just incisive enough to give immediacy and pace.

That impressive bass quality came to the fore again on Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat[Classic Records/Rock The House RTH5052-1]. On the title track the instruments worked their magic around Warnes’ beautiful vocal, while the sax obbligato was perfectly placed and even sweet. The classic ‘Bird On A Wire’ provided a great example of the Clearaudio’s ability to produce a huge soundstage with instruments placed wide and deep, while at the same time giving you all the force and vigour of Vinnie Colaiuta’s hot drumming. The beat goes on.

EXTENDED REVIEW: With this new high-end model, Clearaudio has brought even more of its Statement turntable technology into its Innovation range. So does it really master the music?

A turntable can become a shrine, in front of which the audiophile devotee performs arcane rituals, hoping to be rewarded with heavenly music. And turntables have become ever larger and more elaborate, until, when it comes to Clearaudio’s top model, the Statement, we are looking at the audio equivalent of a high altar. 

While the massive Statement continues as Clearaudio’s very top model, below it in the hierarchy comes a new flagship for the main Innovation Series. A spectacular and impressive turntable, especially when mounted on the matching Olymp stand, the Master Innovation visibly justifies its rather grand title. 

SANDWICH LAYERS

Clearaudio’s fi rst turntable, back in the late 1980s, was the original Reference, with a boomerang-shaped acrylic chassis and a deep acrylic platter similar to those still used today. After many further variations came the supremely rational Solution Series, which allowed buyers who’d started with one of the simpler models the option of upgrading later. The same principle applies to the current Innovation Series.

So the Master Innovation is built up on Clearaudio’s familiar, elegant, three lobed chassis members. There are just rather more of them here than in the other Innovation models – even before you include the Olymp stand. Each member is constructed as a sandwich, with a core of Panzerholz between two sheets of aluminium. Panzerholz translates as ‘armour wood’ and is an extremely hard type of multi-laminated plywood, manufactured from beech veneers and synthetic resins under pressure and heat.

Looking like two turntables in one, the Master Innovation is in fact built as two separate units. Its multi-platter arrangement provides for Clearaudio’s magnetic contactless drive system, which was introduced in the Statement. The upper section is the turntable proper, with a 70mm thick acrylic platter sitting on a 15mm stainless steel base platter. This runs on a Clearaudio Ceramic Magnetic Bearing, in which the platter’s weight is supported by the repelling effect of opposing magnets. The platter effectively fl oats on a cushion of air, while the journal bearing is in the form of a ceramic shaft, designed to be a perfect fi t in a bronze bearing sleeve, this fi t being achieved by hand polishing. The magnetic fields are completely shielded inside the bearing assembly and cannot affect the cartridge.The CMB bearing shaft is also extended downwards to carry the additional 30mm thick under-platter. 

Set into the lower face of this is a circle of 20 neodymium button magnets, and it forms the driven member in Clearaudio’s contactless magnetic drive system. Immediately below, and fi tted with an exactly complementary array of 20 magnets in its upper surface, is the 40mm-thick platter belonging to the lower turntable section, forming the driving member of the system. There is a clear air gap of a few millimetres between the two platters, but they are locked together by the attraction between their sets of magnets. So the lower section is in essence a complete turntable, but its function is purely to provide contactless drive to the player system above. Its left hand front chassis pillar carries the DC motor in a special isolating housing, with four blue-LED-lit control buttons for Off (illuminated as long as power is connected), 33.3, 45 and 78rpm. 

CONSTANT MONITORING

Speed accuracy is maintained by Clearaudio’s Optical Speed Control system. The underside of the platter carries a stroboscope ring, microscopically etched with more than 1500 bars. This is constantly scanned by an infrared sensor mounted on the chassis, which enables the OSC unit to correct the speed on a virtually continuous basis. A set of three small screw trimmers, set into the wood of the chassis under the platter edge, provides independent fi ne adjustment for each of the three speeds. 

While two of the upper turntable’s feet have points to locate on the lower unit’s pillar tops, the third foot is cloven in a clever bridge design, to clear the motor pulley and belt. The lower unit’s three pointed feet mate in turn with the pillars of the Olymp stand, if this is used. 

Clearaudio’s most expensive arms are tangential or parallel-tracking types but our Master Innovation came with the top pivoted tonearm, the Universal; this beautifully-engineered arm uses miniature ballraces. Ours was the standard 9in arm but there is now also a 12in version. Both can also be supplied with the optional VTA-Lifter, which allows arm height/VTA adjustment during play. Four different counterweights are provided, to accommodate cartridges of any weight up to 20g and more.

PRECISION AND WARMTH

Setting-up was very easy and straightforward, although you need to take care in handling because the components are very heavy. For listening I used the excellent Ortofon Cadenza Black cartridge, but I started with the Benz Glider SL, and immediately felt that the Clearaudio turntable really allowed this always enjoyable pick-up to blossom, combining a sense of accuracy and precision with real musical warmth. A great example of this was the way it put over Joan Armatrading’s fi rst album, Whatever’s For Us [Cube Records HIFLY 12]. Here a full bodied presence brought out the singer’s emotion and the nuances of vulnerability too, seemingly balanced perfectly against the lush instrumental backdrops added by Gus Dudgeon, so that what can seem like bloated over-production became harmonious and thoughtful support.

Possibly the best compliment to this Clearaudio turntable is that it encouraged me to revisit and enjoy a lot of records that hadn’t been played recently. I’ve always felt that Paco de Lucia’s 1987 album Siroco [Mercury 830 913-1] might somehow have lost something in the translation from the actual Madrid recording to the digital mixing at Wisseloord Studios in Holland. But while the Clearaudio laid bare a somehow rather brittle, tensed-up quality in the recorded sound, at the same time it helped you hear through to the passion and power of the artist and his intentions.

Going back again to the 1970s, with Joni Mitchell’s Ladies Of The Canyon[Reprise K44085], I felt once again that the Clearaudio turntable and Benz cartridge delivered warmth and richness as well as alluring detail. You had to be captivated by the pretty imagery of ‘Morning Morgantown’ before being drawn into the emotional depths of some of the other songs. The big acoustic guitar sounds were just right and the piano didn’t become too clattery. The Clearaudio player had a stability and strongly-grounded quality that let the music speak across the decades.

MAGICAL TEXTURES

It seemed that the turntable could keep a sense of proportion, with music of any scale. It could be both impressive and inviting in orchestral works. 

On a 1971 recording of Schubert’s 4th and 5th Symphonies [VPO/Kertesz; Decca SXL 6843] the orchestral sound was a delight, spacious and airy, while the music had its proper drive and momentum. It always seemed ready to give you the rich, magically tangible textures of the Decca sound, and even the LXT mono albums had a great sense of depth perspective.

With Eric Clapton’s Backless [RSO Deluxe RSD 5001] ‘Walk Out In The Rain’ displayed a fi rm and impulsive quality to the electric bass, although the track as a whole did not sound so bass-heavy as it can. Here, the treble was well detailed, revealing the subtleties of cymbal splashes, organ chords and background slide guitar which have been fed into the mix, so that it never descended into a grungy mess, but remained almost polite. On ‘Watch Out For Lucy’ the bass was quite agile yet somehow sounded a little elusive and perhaps not substantial enough. But again the backing details, in this case Marcy Levy’s rather de-emphasised background vocals and the twitching little harmonica licks, were clear enough to catch the ear.

PRESENCE AND INTENSITY

With the superb Ortofon Cadenza Black, the rocking sounds of Eric Clapton were tougher and more upfront, with the cartridge displaying the kind of impressively deep, controlled bass that seems to be a strong feature of the whole Cadenza range. Yet there was a tremendous level of detail too, with the fastest guitar chops far back in a complex mix being clearly heard.

On Backless, the bass-lines were powerful and the drums quick, while Clapton’s vocals had presence and a gritty intensity. This combination really shone on ‘Roll It’, seeming to revel in Clapton’s exuberant display of guitar sonics and particularly his stirring slide guitar sound, driven onwards by a thunderous rhythm.

The Clearaudio/Ortofon combination showed it could do acoustic instruments too. When I put on a 1974 recording of Beethoven’s Septet played y the Ensemble of St James [Classics for Pleasure CFP 40059], it was striking to hear the instruments fi rmly placed in a believable space. A fairly weighty balance suited this music, with its foundations laid by the double-bass with horn and bassoon above in a warm lower-mid balance, while the treble seemed just incisive enough to give immediacy and pace.

That impressive bass quality came to the fore again on Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat[Classic Records/Rock The House RTH5052-1]. On the title track the instruments worked their magic around Warnes’ beautiful vocal, while the sax obbligato was perfectly placed and even sweet. The classic ‘Bird On A Wire’ provided a great example of the Clearaudio’s ability to produce a huge soundstage with instruments placed wide and deep, while at the same time giving you all the force and vigour of Vinnie Colaiuta’s hot drumming. The beat goes on.
.........Steve Harris

NEW DRIVE CONCEPT

First of Clearaudio founder Peter Suchy’s children to enter the business was Robert, joining in ’91. In charge of exports and marketing, he probably deserves quite a lot of the credit for the company’s continuing growth. His brother Patrick has also been with the company for some 15 years, while sister Veronika joined more recently. 

Since the late 2000s the Innovation Series has replaced the previous Solution Series with many advances, starting with Clearaudio’s patented Ceramic Magnetic Bearing [CMB]. As Robert Suchy explains, ‘Right now it is reserved in Europe, but we are working on worldwide protection. The Optical Speed Control does not need patent rights protection, because it is exclusively designed and produced only for us. We introduced this with the Innovation Series.’ In fact, the OSC forms part of a new drive concept, with a DC motor built into the main chassis, replacing both the old freestanding single motor and the three-motor system of the Maximum Solution and Master Reference. 

As Robert Suchy explains, ‘One aspect design-wise was to implant the motor. The second one was the integration of a better drive system, with the DC motor. The decoupling and isolation gave us a lot of headaches, but finally we designed a double isolation cylinder, which has the same ability as a free standing motor unit. The change to the CMB and the changes of platter weights and optimisation provided a solution that achieved the same effect as three motors.’

MAGNETIC ATTRACTION

Probably the fi rst hi-fi use of opposing magnets for isolation was in Sony’s 1981 SW-90 Floating Magnet Sound Base, an accessory for the high-end Esprit series, which embraced those memorable square-coned APM speaker models. Years later, the idea was unwittingly copied by John Jeffries for his Stratosphere turntable. However, Clearaudio’s CMB turntable bearing and contactless drive system are among many startling innovations made possible by the high power of today’s magnets. In the mid-1970s, disruption of mining in Zaire led to the ‘cobalt crisis’, making both alnico magnets and the newly developed samarium cobalt type vastly more expensive to produce. This spurred on research that led to the first neodymium-iron-boron alloy magnet in 1982. Neodymium magnets are now used in countless applications from computer drives to flying toys.

HI-FI NEWS LAB REPORT

Comparisons with Clearaudio’s ‘directly belt-driven’ Innovation deck [HFN Sep ’09] are instructive, for this Master Innovation shares the same inverted bearing with a polished sintered bronze insert and ceramic ball for the drive platter while the playback platter is supported and coupled via powerful magnets. The in-groove rumble is almost identical at –70.1dB but the through-bearing rumble (measured at the magnetic bearing) is some 3dB lower at –73.5dB and on a par with the 

very best turntables we have featured in HFN, including those from SME and TechDAS [see p16]. The sharpness of the main peak in the W&F spectrum [see Graph 1, below] is indicative of the Master Innovation’s minimal low-rate drift while both peak wow and peak fl utter are <0.02%. This is an excellent result. Power consumption varies from 7W at startup to 4W once stabilised and the 9sec period in between reflects the extra inertia of the double platter arrangement featured here.

Clearaudio’s partnering Universal tonearm also passed through our lab tests with flying colours. Bearing friction is <10mg in both planes while the cumulative spectral decay plot [Graph 2, below] reveals some housing modes up to 200Hz, one main beam mode at ~350Hz and several lower amplitude harmonics up to around 2kHz. Importantly these modes decay by at least 30dB over the 40m sec time window available to the test – this is far from a ‘lively’ arm and an ideal partner for 

energetic MCs
...........Paul Millar
Truth is, the system sounded better with the Clearaudio Universal than with any other tonearm I have used.
Jack Roberts

REVIEW SUMMARY: Truth is, the system sounded better with the Clearaudio Universal than with any other tonearm I have used. including the US$11,000 (excl sales tax) DaVinciAudio Grand Reference Grandezza tonearm.  It was more detailed and more precise while at the same time having just as much or maybe even more of that powerful and relaxed sound that made my system so special with the Grandezza in it.

With the Universal Tonearm, Clearaudio has brought us a radial-tracking tonearm that is as good as their reputation for linear-tracking arms. It is beautifully crafted and engineered. It is also the first tonearm I have used on the Anniversary or Innovation turntables that is significantly better than the already highly underrated Clearaudio Carbon Fiber Satisfy tonearm. After trying several tonearms in the price range of the Universal, I found it to be clearly the best on both the Anniversary and the Innovation.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Clearaudio Universal Radial Tonearm w/ VTA adjustment on the fly:
Clearaudio is a German company known for superbly engineered products. In regard to tonearms, they have been better known for their refinement of the linear tracking tonearm. Yes, they have made several radial tracking tonearms including the Carbon Fiber Satisfy tonearms that I have used for the last three years, but they never made a radial tracking tonearm at the level of their linear tracking ones. Now they have, it’s called the Universal and it is a beautifully engineered carbon fiber tonearm that sells for US$5,000 (excl sales tax) and it’s worth every penny of it.

I have no idea why there hasn’t been more press and buzz about this tonearm. If you haven’t noticed, a little over three years ago Clearaudio started making major changes with some of their turntables. It started with making the plinth of the turntables out of many layers of “Panzerholz”, a solid bulletproof wood that is used in Germany for limousines and some special armored trucks. They flank the top and bottom of this very special wood with solid aluminum sheets. The result was to produce the first turntables I had heard with real warmth and transparency at the same time.

Then they came out with the ceramic magnetic bearings that completely elevated the level of transparency. Their new turntables also use a high torque DC-motor, a newly developed optical speed control that consists of an infrared sensor, a high precision reflection scale, and a corresponding speed circuit. They also added a stainless steel sub-platter and change the platter from acrylic to a much deader, synthetic material. I mention all this because in my opinion, the house sound has significantly changed at Clearaudio. The new Universal tonearm falls right in the middle of this new, improved, and more musical sound. So let’s take a look and listen.

Description

The Universal tonearm’s packaging does a perfectly good job of protecting the tonearm for shipping, but they didn’t spend mega-bucks on fancy wooding boxes and fancy looking tools. Instead, you get everything you need in a simple, safe package. I personally like Clearaudio’s decision to spend the money on the arm and not to drive the cost up with extravagant packaging.

The Universal tonearm is handcrafted with the highest possible accuracy. It is designed to be flexible enough to use almost any cartridge. The counterweight system is really nicely designed. It has four counterweights to choose from, and once you choose the right one to match your cartridge, there is a very precise fine-tuning mechanism. Clearaudio has also made adjusting of the azimuth very easy and precise.

The tonearm uses very high precision vertical and horizontal ball bearings. It uses the light-weight, but extremely stiff carbon fiber material for the tonearm tube. Unlike the Satisfy Carbon Fiber, tonearm tube on the Universal has three different sections with three different diameters. This tube construction seems to reduce resonance considerably compared to the Satisfy Carbon Fiber or any of the wood tubed arms I have used. This results in a very quiet and solid background. The Universal’s build quality is beautiful, and looks and sounds well-designed.

Setup

Tonearms come in different shapes and different lengths. They are made from different materials, with different bearings, and different degrees of sophistication. There are some that look so simple, and others that look like they were designed by Rube Goldberg. Thus, some tonearms are so complicated to setup that they literally take hours to get right and only seconds to get them out of whack.

It only takes a few minutes to open the Universal’s box, choose the right counter balance, mount the tonearm on the turntable, mount the cartridge, and do the alignment. The Universal tonearm I used did not have the VTA on the fly option. It is available, although I found it very easy to adjust the VTA without it. Truth is, the Universal took me about thirty minutes to set up and a hour or two of listening to finish dialing it in. It is very simple and intuitive to set up and use.

I used the Universal with both the Miyabi Standard, the Benz Micro Ebony TR, and the Allnic Verito “Z” moving coil cartridge (review to come). It was also fitted onto my Clearaudio Wood Anniversary turntable and the Clearaudio Innovation Wood turntable (review to come). The rest of the system consisted of a Shindo Masseto preamp, Audio Note AN-S8 SUT, Wavac EC-300B amp, Teresonic Ingenium Silvers with Lowther DX4 Silver drivers. Everything was plugged into an Audience aR6-T. I used the new Audience Au24 powerChords throughout the system, speaker cables were the Teresonic Clarison and I used their Clarison 24-carat gold interconnects.

Listening

I usually find it very hard to talk about the sound of a tonearm, because they should allow a cartridge to track the LP so it can get the music out of the grove without the tonearm imparting any sound of its own. So the real question is, how did my system sound when I put the Clearaudio Universal into it?

The short answer to that question is beautiful, powerful, and relaxed. It is simply amazing how a tonearm with the exact same geometry, and made out of the same material as my Clearaudio Satisfy tonearm, can allow my system to sound more like it did with the twelve-inch, US$11,000 (excl sales tax) DaVinciAudio Grand Reference Grandezza tonearm. Truth is, the system sounded better with the Clearaudio Universal than with any other tonearm I have used. It was more detailed and more precise while at the same time having just as much or maybe even more of that powerful and relaxed sound that made my system so special with the Grandezza in it.

I think the reason the sound was so good with the Universal tonearm in the system is because of the way it eliminates resonance and its ability to be set up to match well with different cartridges. Regardless of the actual reason for its improving my system, the amount of air and space was much better recreated significantly. The weight to individual instrument and voices was another significant improvement.

With the Universal tonearm, my system sounded very dynamic. These dynamics produced a powerful sound which provided a very solid foundation to the music. With the Universal in my system, the sense of PRaT and the wonderful flow of the music was simply beyond anything I have ever heard. The micro-dynamics were also simply the best I have ever heard. The Universal tonearm also allowed my system to handle space, imaging, and soundstaging better than I have ever heard it before.

I’ve saved the best for last: the bass. I have to admit I was shocked. My system reproduced drums, acoustical and electric basses with incredible impact that provided a foundational solidity that I had not heard in my system.  It had this wonderful air and space around and within bass instruments. There was this beautiful, natural, realistic warmth to the bass while still being the most precise and taught bass I have heard in my listening room. This fundamental rightness of the bass was carried all the way up into the upper mid-bass. I heard quick fast attacks followed by beautiful full decay that lets you hear different layers of the timbre of the instruments.

Conclusion

With the Universal Tonearm, Clearaudio has brought us a radial-tracking tonearm that is as good as their reputation for linear-tracking arms. It is beautifully crafted and engineered. It is also the first tonearm I have used on the Anniversary or Innovation turntables that is significantly better than the already highly underrated Clearaudio Carbon Fiber Satisfy tonearm. After trying several tonearms in the price range of the Universal, I found it to be clearly the best on both the Anniversary and the Innovation.

a player of very satisfying musical performance...... It also has great punch when needed, .....
Chris Beeching

REVIEW SUMMARY: So, overall, how did it sound? In reality, my one overriding impression was that of neutrality. The combination seems to be very balanced. Backgrounds are commendably quiet for a turntable, arm and cartridge combination at this price point....
Setting up, to get the very best out of it can take some time and care, but then this investment will be more than amply repaid in musical enjoyment. Dynamics and recorded-acoustic representation are of a very high order, as is what is called ‘presence’, you can get a real feel for the performer doing their stuff. While having punch when needed, it also exhibits subtlety and deftness with small inner-detail stuff. 
Overall the Performance DC is highly recommended as good value for money, it’s a highly creditable performer which should do well at its price point, and which seems to have few, if any vices.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Turntables have come in many shapes and sizes since the transition occurred from cylinder to disk replay. Technology has changed too, with the advent, firstly of clockwork platter mechanisms and acoustic recording, followed by electrically-powered and amplified audio systems, and later with contactless direct-drive platters and pick-up arms with non-contact main bearings. The player footprint has also varied from the ‘barely large enough for a 7inch’ to large enough to cope with an arm rather longer than 15 inches. As for standardisation, the record itself, in the post-mono era, is perhaps the only real constant. Against this backdrop, and despite the relentless march of digital audio development vinyl replay continues to fascinate, and in a well-set-up system offers a level of performance and engagement that is hard to match.

Enter Clearaudio’s Performance DC. This is a turntable with a relatively small overall footprint, simple but modern technology, and carefully thought-through details, making it a very inviting package. First thing to note is the inverted bearing, with the inner platter sitting atop a ceramic shaft. Here, though, convention is pushed aside as the inner platter on its own will not sit right down on the shaft, this because a magnet reduces the down-thrust of the whole inner and outer platter assembly. There is no thrust plate or ball bearing at the base of the main bearing which means there’s no friction at this point as is the case with most other turntables. This results in one of the quietest turntables I have ever had the opportunity to review or audition.

The DC motor and belt are hidden underneath the main platter assembly, with speed change being effected through push-button selection atop the plinth. Three speeds can be selected; 33.3, 45 and 78rpm. In listening these proved to be particularly wow-free, but more of that later. The main plinth is a housed in a brushed aluminium case, the whole ensemble supported by three adjustable, compliant and shock-absorbing feet. These make levelling the turntable a real doddle, and reduce set-up time.

The Clarify arm is another matter. I have long thought magnetic bearings should be a good thing, but as my experience with this one has shown, they can be tricky to set up. The arm bearing comprises two opposing magnets for vertical, and ‘rotational’ movement. In theory this should provide a friction- and wear-free bearing that will outlast any of us. However, when it comes to setting up the arm, getting the tracking downforce correct is a challenge.

The magnetic field within the arm-bearing yoke area is very strong, but it’s not constant. As a result, as the cartridge rises, the ‘magnetic resistance’ of the arm increases. As the arm falls, the downforce decreases. Thus, with a warped record the stylus will have to cope with varying downforce. The reality of this is that you have to set arm-height so that the arm is absolutely parallel to the record surface. This then gives a ‘constant’ against which to set the tracking downforce, with the variations in record height or thickness (or record warp) making a very minimal difference to the tracking weight. The actual tracking downforce is then set using the counterweight on the opposite end of the arm – no surprises there, and this works very well in practice.

The manual recommends setting downforce without a record on the platter, and after initially setting it slightly too high, it took a few judicious tweaks of the counterweight to get near the optimum for the cartridge, in this case Clearaudio’s Virtuoso v2. Azimuth is surprisingly stable given the magnetic main arm bearing, and I have to say I was impressed with its stability once in the ‘play’ position. 

As for the cartridge, with, perhaps, price being a determining factor Clearaudio fitted their moving magnet Virtuoso v2. In the past I’ve been a fan of MCs, despite their sometimes more finicky setting up, and loading requirements. However, Clearaudio’s offering was a real surprise, offering a very transparent window on the groove contents, to the degree that I never felt there was anything missing. It has very low colour, good dynamic capabilities, and is surprisingly open and ‘easy’ at the top end, while providing a very solid and yet deft bottom end. The midrange is also nicely open without being overly lean or rich; overall it seems a very well-balanced cartridge and suits the turntable and arm combination very well.

Balance

So, overall, how did it sound? In reality, my one overriding impression was that of neutrality. The combination seems to be very balanced. Backgrounds are commendably quiet for a turntable, arm and cartridge combination at this price point, if I had to be picky I’d say that it could be more revealing in the manner of higher priced players. But the sum of the parts would have you believe (with ease) that this little lot should cost a whole lot more. The benefit of the quiet background (evident even when the stylus hits the lead-in groove at the start of a record) is that the music is presented on its own without the intrusion of something unwanted, something to distract and blur. This was also true of records where there is normally high background noise. Maybe this is due to the stylus shape, though that doesn’t seem to be particularly ‘special’, it probably has more to do with the integrity of the platter bearing, and possibly the lack of actual mechanical connection through the magnetic arm bearing. Sadly I didn’t have an opportunity to try a different arm, but it might have been an interesting exercise.

I know that ‘neutral’ has been used to damn something with faint praise in the past, but here it really is a virtue. It did take some while to make the combo really ‘sing’, with small changes in tracking weight and arm height making noticeable differences, but the end result is a player of very satisfying musical performance. Although neutral it lacks the dryness that might be inferred. It also has great punch when needed, and Gordon Giltrap’s title trackFear of the Dark is a testament not only to the dynamics achievable from the ‘humble’ LP, but also a credit to Clearaudio that this modest player is able to retrieve so much of the inner detail with the drums and bass having such percussive impact. Sound-staging is always something which fascinates people; the Vespers from Tewkesbury Abbey presents a fantastic aural picture of the acoustic space giving the listener a very good representation of the size of the abbey, with depth, width and height all seeming to extend far beyond the ‘limits’ of the speaker size. Absence of any discernible ‘wow’ here made the acoustic image all-the-more stable and credible. Conversely, close-miked stuff draws you much closer to the performer, with at least some indication of whether the singer was smiling or grimacing as they sang. Simple jazz, the much-loved piano, bass and drums variety, with the odd singer thrown in also failed to upset the system, with a very marked difference between large-stage performances, and the smaller-stage club renditions.

So, after a couple of months in my system, does this Clearaudio combo have any failings? Well, setting up, to get the very best out of it can take some time and care, but then this investment will be more than amply repaid in musical enjoyment. Dynamics and recorded-acoustic representation are of a very high order, as is what is called ‘presence’, you can get a real feel for the performer doing their stuff. While having punch when needed, it also exhibits subtlety and deftness with small inner-detail stuff. My only criticism, and it’s being really picky is that it lacks the ultimate resolving power of an ultra-fi set-up, but if the rest of your system’s not up to that level you’d never miss it. Overall the Performance DC is highly recommended as good value for money, it’s a highly creditable performer which should do well at its price point, and which seems to have few, if any vices.
......... Chris Beeching

A listening experience that leaves us floating on air
Tech Radar - 5 STARS REVIEW

REVIEW SUMMARY:  perhaps the most telling aspect of the Performance's, er, performance that sonic descriptions point toward the sound of the arm or the cartridge. When it comes to the turntable itself, the reviewer's job gets very hard indeed... because there's not a great deal to say!

It's as fast, dynamic and precise as the record on the platter and as quiet as the phono stage it's hooked to. And that, quite frankly, is high praise indeed.

EXTENDED REVIEW: You might have been mistaken for thinking that all the innovations in turntables had been long done with. Now well into its dotage, the senior format not only refuses to die off, but also continues to break new ground.

Clearaudio is unquestionably leading the charge in modern turntable development, and - from here at least - it doesn't seem like vinyl's last hurrah.

The Performance is a fine example of how Clearaudio continues to push the audio envelope and very much in line with the Champion decks that came before, the new Performance has an ace or two up its bearing.

The Performance features a ceramic alloy bearing material for the main shaft, to dramatically reduce friction. That alone would be dandy in its own right, but the base of the deck and of the bearing housing feature donuts of magnetic material that repel one another - without the main acrylic platter to mass load the bearing, the housing floats toward the top of the bearing shaft.

This means that the platter effectively floats on air. The chaps at Clearaudio are jolly good eggs, so this bearing is offered as an upgrade to all existing decks, except for the entry-level Emotion.

The motor is physically removed from the deck itself (it sits in a cutaway top left of the plinth) and is essentially a drive-damped motor in a housing with a speed changing spindle and a round-profile belt. The motor has enough torque to move the 40mm-thick acrylic platter, but does quiver a bit for the first few seconds and many will want to give the platter a little push on start-up.

The Performance comes supplied with an arm and cartridge. - the Satisfy Carbon Fibre (since updated with new Clarify carbon tonearm )- while the cartridge is the extremely fine, wooden-bodied Maestro v2 MM moving magnet design. There's even a little clear plastic clamp to hold the disc down.

Hardly noticeable

The deck, when set-up properly, has one of the least obvious sonic signatures you can get from a turntable. The plinth's influence on the sound seems minimal and all that's left is you and the vinyl. Well, almost.

There's an arm and cartridge there, too. The Satisfy is easy to set up, but also easy to fiddle with. If you're the sort who can never 'fit and forget', you're in for a lot of tweak-time (secretly, I think that's more of a plus than a minus for those who enjoy a nice tweak).

Fortunately, that means the arm has a degree of freedom that almost matches the turntable itself, and it's a low-signature product, too. Which just leaves the cartridge... and that sounds open, fast and very natural, in the manner of the very best MM cartridges.

In fact, the Maestro is one of those MM cartridges that challenges the received wisdom that moving coil cartridges are intrinsically better (you can improve on the sweetness of the cartridge without sacrificing the speed with a good MC, but that would more than double the price of the turntable).

Its only real limitation is that it sounds dry with some 1970s recordings, but this isn't really a stumbling block, as many 1970s recordings do sound arid on modern equipment.

It's perhaps the most telling aspect of the Performance's, er, performance that sonic descriptions point toward the sound of the arm or the cartridge. When it comes to the turntable itself, the reviewer's job gets very hard indeed... because there's not a great deal to say!

It's as fast, dynamic and precise as the record on the platter and as quiet as the phono stage it's hooked to. And that, quite frankly, is high praise indeed it's already so good, it's hard to pinpoint where improvements could be made.

If you want to liberate your vinyl, the solution seems to be to float the platter on air. You'll be surprised at how good it can be.

But to repeat: The Performance DC as an affordable work of art is quite simply untouchable. We will experience a pang when we have to part company with it.
Andreas Gunther - Vinyl Turntable - Rotation Artists

REVIEW SUMMARY: At none of these critical points did the Clearaudio lose its way – this alone is worthy of an accolade. This stability as well as the extra kick make it stand out among the competition. The charm is in the right combination of arm and pick-up.

Clearaudio was the clear winner. Because it transferred clearly fewer groove sounds in the pianissimo sections to the speakers and still did not misleadingly obscure the recording space, that is cut the high range with tactical cleverness. 

For years Clearaudio has been filling its treasure chests: with its own magnetic bearing, carbon tone-arm, pick-up, precision engineering know how ... In the Performance DC all of this has now been brought together. In thoroughly attractive form, but at a price that is much too low.

We have it easy. We can become enthusiastic over a product, learn how to use it, exploit it – without having to pay for it. On the other hand, it is painful to part company with a test candidate. Of course, we do not always feel this pain. Only sometimes. Taking leave of this turntable will not be easy. 

Because here so much practicality is combined with so much elegance. Not to put too fi ne a point on it, there are turntables that one likes to use only late at night, because they are optically displeasing. And there are turntables that one wishes to put in a glass case, but not actually listen to. The new Performance DC, in this respect, is a total work of art, complete, attractive, sophisticated. 

Because the manufacturer quite simply has arrived at a point in the company‘s history where he is able to make use of a fund of expert knowledge in terms of form and technology. This is a feast of precision engineering. One experiences a certain devotional wonder at this uncompromising attitude. A turntable for 2,850 Euro is not really an inexpensive Hi-Fi product, but on the scale of the current world market still good value. And of course we are talking about Made in Germany. To reach a final customer price like this Clearaudio must surely have been cutting corners? Here or there a consciously calculated weakness? No. This complete package could have another and higher price tag, and it would not be misleading in the slightest. 

Those likely to buy will include some beginners, but more likely those returning to the world of vinyl. With aesthetic awareness but no prior knowledge. Which is why Clearaudio is very cleverly attracting this target group with perfect presentation and packaging. The Clarify carbon tone-arm is pre-mounted, similarly the Virtuoso V2 pick-up. Between the arrival of the parcel delivery service and the first sound not even ten minutes have to elapse. If it were not so patronising – all classmates in this industry can cut off a slice from the operating guidelines and packaging concept, to say nothing of the variety of extras. Clearaudio includes with the Performance a tone-arm scale, a settings template, bearing oil and an additional counterweight for extra-heavy pick-ups. 

The complete fascination of precision technology micrometer work is experienced when one puts the turntable on the ceramic axis - the table does not sink or flop, but needs a few minutes for the oil to balance out the pressure conditions in the precision construction. The table itself is powerful but not pretentious, four cm high and made from black POM, a thermoplastic synthetic whose full name is Polyoxymethylene. Looks classy, gobbles up nasty oscillations and can be CNC machined to high precision. Clearaudio makes it rotate over a sandwich construction from highly compressed wood that is surrounded by two black or natural-looking (optional) aluminium plates. Everything slightly rounded, a pleasure to the eyes. You sense an appeal to the aesthete – and so as reviewer you add a slightly larger dose of blindfold testing. So that the listening is not preconditioned by the visual beauty. 

The impetus comes from a newly developed DC motor. Of which Clearaudio thinks highly. But is not prepared to divulge the details. An old acquaintance, on the other hand, is the Ceramic Magnetic Bearing: Two homopolar magnetic fields create repulsion that carries the platter’s weight like a floating carpet, centred by an axle of polished ceramic. The minimal friction is revolutionary and Clearaudio justifiably proud. This mechanism, however, gobbles up man-hours and material costs – which is why it is used primarily in the top line of its products. The price cutter so far, the Concept, has not had and does not have the CMB. The Performance SE is a step higher and has CMB but ‚only‘ the sapphire bearing Satisfy carbon-fibre tonearm. The new Performance DC is resplendent with a Clarify carbon arm with friction-free magnetic bearing. And a new Virtuoso V2 system at the front end. For the second generation Clearaudio has upgraded the MM cartridge with new magnets and a hand-polished ebony housing that completely surrounds it. The V1 version, by comparison, looks like a poor relation. 

As we said, the only serious way to test such a gem is blindfold. And the impression is all the more forceful when one re-discovers also in the sound all the attractions described, external and mechanical.The Performance DC is a mixture of good looks and good engineering. It is very smart, elegant but uncompromising in the hard values. It’s sound is not particularly groovy, but clearly presents dynamic values. All very unforced, positively, provocatively effortless. 

Always a horror for every record player: David Sylvian‘s „Secrets of the Beehive“ – a highly, if not over-complex studio album of the later 80s. Sylvian doubles bass lines, puts the needle under pressure with floating horn phrases. Not exactly hyper-loud, but heavy going in the combination. If the turntable drive is too inconsistent, the dynamic breaks in. If the arm is too light, signs of nervousness creep in. If the pick-up is too showy, it gets woozy in the middle. At none of these critical points did the Clearaudio lose its way – this alone is worthy of an accolade. This stability as well as the extra kick make it stand out among the competition. The charm is in the right combination of arm and pick-up. A sideby-side test with our reference MC system pushed the Performance DC to more resolution of the spatial information, but at the same took away the velvety presence of upper bass and middle – the inner harmoniousness of the acoustic instruments and voices. On the other hand, another strong argument in favour of MM systems such as the superb Virtuoso V2 – moving magnets are not the younger siblings of the moving coil aristocracy but independent High End products. 

Stop. Handbrake – this text is beginning to sound like worship. The Performance DC also has weaknesses of course. For example ... Honestly ? We would have to be less than honest if we now wanted to address the subject of imperfections. Except for the unnecessarily modest price tag there are no attempts to mislead. An astonishingly closed total impression. If you want to navigate your way through the limits, you might try chamber music. This is always a major challenge for any record player and it is not always obvious. Mighty low bass impulses are possible for many players. But to be sedate and orderly in a small chamber music salon is a lot more difficult. For the turntable manufacturer as well as the record manufacturer. Everybody rushes for heavy EMI pressings, English Decca issues and Deutsche Grammophon tulips - and criminally ignores the skill of the Philips engineers. The Dutch label in the 60s had one of the best string quartets, the Quartetto Italiano, under contract. The common Beethoven and Mozart were certainly pressed millions of times. The quartet (three men and a lady second violinist) reach a class higher with the Ravel quartet. We brought the Performance DC to its limits with this light but harmonically and rhythmically tricky music and compared it with equipment that is relatively price-intensive and customerfriendly. Clearaudio was the clear winner. Because it transferred clearly fewer groove sounds in the pianissimo sections to the speakers and still did not misleadingly obscure the recording space, that is cut the high range with tactical cleverness. If you want to achieve everything, driver and arm are not limiting factors – we have experimented with proportionally almost insanely expensive MC pickups and pre-amps. Dynamic precision and calm are clearly the product of fundamental mechanics. If the drive to achieve more is compelling, it is always possible to make cosmetic changes. Not entirely stupid, but in fact superfluous. But to repeat: The Performance DC as an affordable work of art is quite simply untouchable. We will experience a pang when we have to part company with it.
.........Andreas Gunther

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Exemplary. Almost nerdy. The Clearaudio Performance DC is delivered in fully assembled condition – a tricky venture, considering global transport routes. Packing and free adjusting tools are excellent, however. 

Suspicion is not amiss if a record player is offered as a ready-to-use and perfectly adjusted item. An impossible thing. Because only at the place of operation can the pickup/tonearm combination really be fine-tuned to their duties. Without intending to sound mystical: This rite of passage serves to strengthen the relationship between man, machine and, not to forget, music. While respect is important here, fear is counterproductive: Even a complete novice need not fear. Provided, he has a good half hour and a few small tools at his disposal. More specific, in the case of the DC‘s performance: You only have to take the time; the tools are provided: Clearaudio include them in their delivery. Exemplary. 

Everything revolves around the seemingly simple but difficult-to-achieve ideal line, by which the stylus follows its path along the groove. There are several parameters that can go wrong: wrong angle in the horizontal plane, the vertical plane, the distance to the axis of the tone arm, and of course the wrong stylus force. The last issue is the easiest to deal with: Using the counter weight, balance the tone arm and mounted pick-up (without stylus guard) – it should „float“. Then, depending on the design of the scale on the arm, determine the stylus force. The preferred value is specified by the manufacturer of the pick-up, mostly as a range; when in doubt make it rather a bit more than too little. If the stylus is so minimalist that it doesn‘t offer any fine scale, a simple, external tipping bucket might help: Lower the stylus onto the disk; if the lever sinks, the displayed weight is reached. If you wish to do this more often and more accurately: There are high-end balances with digital displays on the market. 

The next step: The height of the tone arm. If the stylus is lowered into the groove, the alignment of the arm should be perfectly horizontal above the vinyl. Good vision is sufficient, possibly supported by a protractor from school days – stop the turntable and just place the protractor on the vinyl as a measuring tool. In jargon this is called the „vertical tracking angle“. Or in short: „VTA“. If the arm really has to be raised or lowered, the individual design of the manufacturer is the decisive factor; beginners and new owners should ask their dealers to discharge their service duties. All others will achieve their objective with washers, a hex wrench or a screw and locknut. 

Usually done by a single visual check: „Azimuth“. The stylus has to sit vertically in the groove, while the pickup has to run absolutely parallel to the record surface without any jamming. If anything does not fi t here, you‘ll hear distortion and significantly a shifted stereo imaging. However: The chances of misalignment are minimal and mainly occur with screwable or rotating pickups or one-point mounted tone arms. 

Now, for the most difficult issue: Offset angle and overhang. Two terms that, even in the choice of words, will sound scary to most beginners. The use of a specialist tool is indispensable here. A tool, however, which should not be missing in the scope of delivery of any record player and/or tone arm: an adjusting gauge. The „horizontal tracking angle“ can be eased, but not remedied. Background: A record is cut tangentially. The market is dominated, however, by pivoted tone arms, which have only two points at which they are aligned at an ideal angle to the record groove (meaning: zero tracking error). Officially, the IEC standard suggests that said „zero crossings“ be positioned at 66mm and 121mm from the centre of the turntable. So, disconnect the record player from the mains (to avoid the turntable from suddenly starting), and bring the adjusting gauge in position. There are hundreds of providers for such tools, some of them web downloads that need to be printed to scale onto paper. There are two basic versions on the market: Adjustment of offset and overhang at a single point or separate alignment at two points. In the latter case, lower the stylus to the inner of the two zero crossing points. The enclosure of the system should now be parallel to the printed line grid (look from above, then from the front, then repeat ...). If it does not fit, slightly loosen the screws holding the pickup and move it forwards or backwards. Repeat the procedure at point two. This double test makes sure that the stylus is at the correct angle and in the ideal position in respect to the geometry of the tone arm. 

Finally, check the stylus force once more and set the anti-skating. It is not obligatory to use the same value here; 75 percent of the stylus force are often an ideal anti-skating value. 

Learned enough? Wonderful; now you can begin to forget. In the grand finale it‘s not the diagrams, scales and lines alone which are decisive – it‘s the ear. So, after hard facts we return to a soft value. Tip: Once you have finished adjusting your pickup/tone arm combo according to the above details, you should treat yourself to an experimental phase. In the range of about 15 percent readjustment, the reproduction performance rises once more, especially given the right combination of anti-skating and force. But this is pure freestyle and playing with minuscule values.

…..Andreas Gunther

all the ways that count—resolution, dynamics, low-noise, and that hard-to-pin-down thing I’ll call musical involvement—that I enjoyed the hell out of my time with it, with its terrific German build and finish, and the Concept is a hands-down bargain
Wayne Garcia

REVIEW SUMMARY:  The midrange—Dylan’s voice, the acoustic rhythm guitars—was naturally balanced and musically involving. The brushed cymbal and snare and the kick-drum added dynamic momentum and punctuation, aided by good clarity, transparency, and a solid overall balance. With Jascha Heifetz’s recording of Bach’s Unaccompanied Sonatas and Partitas [RCA], the Concept brought a convincing sense of the instrument’s presence, and the great fiddler’s legendarily masterful technique—a tribute to the design’s dynamic nuance and rhythmic precision. 

Pizzicato strings, cymbal crashes, thumped bass drums, and fluttering winds were effortless sounding and engaging, with a very fine sense of depth and detail, as, say, when the solo trumpet reverberates off the rear wall of the hall during the “Ballerina’s Dance.”
 

EXTENDED REVIEW: For me, the analog versus digital debate is similar to one in the wine world, where “Old” versus “New” World advocates often engage in passionate arguments in defence of not only their preferred regions, but styles, winemaking techniques, and flavour profiles. And though I enjoy many New World wines, I’m a strong advocate of the Old World. Because to me, if you really want to understand what pinot noir or chardonnay are all about, then you need to know Burgundy; or for the cabernet lover, Bordeaux; or for Sangiovese, Tuscany. After all, these regions have been making wine and cultivating these same varietals in the same vineyards since the Middle Ages, and are where these grapes have consistently achieved the greatest possible expression. 

When it comes to music reproduction, as advanced technologically and sonically as digital currently is—and one assumes that progress will only continue—there remains, to these ears, a degree of expressiveness, call it heart or soul, to analog that continues to elude even the best digital. I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy listening to digital recordings, but that over time, I, like other audiophiles I know, have drifted back to playing mostly vinyl LPs.

But since this issue is all about analog, we thought a look at one of today's more sophisticated yet still reasonably affordable turntables would be of interest not only to potential first time buyers, but also to those who have loved analog in the past and are now looking to re-engage with the vinyl medium.

Clearaudio Concept with MC Concept Cartridge Let’s get this out of the way right now— Clearaudio’s new Concept turntable and cartridge combo offers a hugely rewarding analog experience at a very attractive price. The ’table alone sells for a reasonable $1400, and the cartridge goes for $800. Bundle them together, as many other manufacturers are also doing, and you save a few hundred bucks: Importer Musical Surroundings sells the preset-up package for an even US$2000. 

Made in Germany, the Concept is a sleekly handsome, low-profile design that, as with designs from companies like Rega, relies on a low-mass, non-resonant plinth and carefully designed working parts to make its musical magic. Moreover, for those who want an audiophile-grade playback system without having to futz with the sometimes nerve wracking job of setting the thing up, the Concept is about as “plug-and-play” as you can get. The cartridge is pre-mounted at the factory, and critical issues such as overhang and offset angle, tracking force, VTA, and azimuth are all pre-adjusted. All you need to do is level the unit via the three tiny spiked feet, mount the belt and platter, and you’re ready to go. Note, however, that the factory settings are worth double-checking. For instance, although the basics were just fine, in transit the tracking force had shifted upward from 2.0 to 2.5 grams, and the azimuth was off a few degrees. For something meant to track groove walls measuring mere hundredths of an inch, these are not insignificant differences, as I would hear (and easily correct). 

The 30mm (approximately 1.18") thick Delrin platter rests on a lightweight sub-platter that is belt-driven by a decoupled DC motor. A handy control knob allows you dial-in speeds of 33.3, 45, or 78rpm. The latter may not be something many of us will use, but for vinyl lovers whose record collections span the decades it is an unusually welcome touch. 

The new Verify tonearm features a “friction-free” magnetic bearing. It too, is a handsome thing that exudes the same quality of construction found throughout this design. The arm, like unipivots, takes a little getting used to because, unlike fixed-bearing arms, it feels as if it might float away once it’s left the armrest. 

Excited to hear what the Concept sounded like, I did what most consumers are likely to: After getting the ’table levelled and the motor spinning, I started to play a favourite record. But the arm felt a bit off. That was verified—oops, no pun intended—by the first few seconds of Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue,” from 1974’s Blood On The Tracks [Columbia], which sounded tonally unbalanced and lacking in rhythmic drive. This was when I discovered the shifts in the arm setup noted above. So while the Concept is close to ready to go out of the box, be sure to check any factory settings to ensure that they haven’t been affected by transport. 

Once tweaked, “Tangled Up In Blue” came back to life. The midrange—Dylan’s voice, the acoustic rhythm guitars—was naturally balanced and musically involving. The brushed cymbal and snare and the kick-drum added dynamic momentum and punctuation, aided by good clarity, transparency, and a solid overall balance. With Jascha Heifetz’s recording of Bach’s Unaccompanied Sonatas and Partitas [RCA], the Concept brought a convincing sense of the instrument’s presence, and the great fiddler’s legendarily masterful technique—a tribute to the design’s dynamic nuance and rhythmic precision. And as I heard with the Third Tableau from Petrushka [Athena/Decca], the same Ansermet-led performance I used in my cartridge survey elsewhere in this issue, the Clearaudio setup did an impressive job reproducing the air and space from which the orchestra emerges. While other, more costly designs, may better it by comparison, this US$2000 rig will not leave you wanting for much. The same goes for the loudest dynamic peaks, which come close, if not all the way, to being as explosive as those I hear from my reference TW Acustic turntable, Tri-Planar arm, and Transfiguration Phoenix cartridge. Pizzicato strings, cymbal crashes, thumped bass drums, and fluttering winds were effortless sounding and engaging, with a very fine sense of depth and detail, as, say, when the solo trumpet reverberates off the rear wall of the hall during the “Ballerina’s Dance.” 

To put this in perspective, the cartridge in my reference vinyl playback system sells for $500 more than this entire package—and my entire setup costs six times as much. Although I’m not going to tell you that the Clearaudio Concept equals that performance, what I will tell you is that it is good enough in all the ways that count—resolution, dynamics, low-noise, and that hard-to-pin-down thing I’ll call musical involvement—that I enjoyed the hell out of my time with it. Couple that with its terrific German build and finish, and the Concept strikes me as a hands-down bargain.

Testimonials

how absolutely thrilled I am with the Clearaudio Titanium v2 cartridge

Hi Terry,
I am just emailing to tell you how absolutely thrilled I am with the Clearaudio Titanium v2 cartridge. I was listening to some great jazz last night - Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown and other great musicians. The level of musical insight that this cartridge offers is truly amazing. You can hear everything- subtle details like the musicians' phrasing, coupled with vivid dynamic contrasts brings the music to life and makes it so much more engaging. I really felt like I was in the presence of these great artists.

Thanks for your part, and to David for a great set up, in helping me put together my dream analogue front end. I wish you all the best for the festive season and the new year ahead.

Regards,
Tim Whitlock

......it sounds great.

Hi Terry,
The lovely little Clearaudio Nano -2 phonostage arrive last week and this weekend I got my TT set up and had a proper listen to it. Very pleased to have a vinyl source back up and running and it sounds great.

Cheers,
Rob

Thank you for pointing me in the right direction.
Hi Terry,
All set up and going. Your advice is much appreciated. I am amazed at what it sounds like.
The new Ayon Scorpio tube amp in Triode mode is best and it's like sitting in front of the band with a sound scape all around you. I can hear sounds on the new Clearaudio Concept turntable with my old LP's I have never heard before.

I used to have a Bose 5 speaker system and this new system blows it away  - just on the warmth, depth and feel of the music. 

 
Thank you for pointing me in the right direction.
 
Peter