Clearaudio Concept MM turntable w/ Verify tonearm + MM cart - Black/Black

CL 16 TT CONB MM
Price on application
Clearaudio

"Take the best and make it better, only then is it just good enough." Peter Suchy

New

The Clearaudio Concept turntable has been the most successful Clearaudio turntable to date, winning three consecutive What Hi-Fi? Sound & Vision awards, perhaps the most coveted award in the consumer electronics market.  The Concept with its magnetic bearing tonearm, and cartridge pre-installed leaves the factory ready aligned and set up for a true high fidelity plug & play experience.

CONCEPT = Innovative concept at a very attractive price quality ratio.
CONCEPT = Multi award and accolade winner including:

Stereophile Recommended Component
TAS-The Absolute Sound: Editors Choice 2011 award
TAS-The Absolute Sound: Product of the Year 2010 award
What HiFi Sound & Vision: Product of the Year 2009 award

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 moving magnet cartridge is completing this set up. All adjustments are already completed at the clearaudio factory, even the tracking- and antiskating force are adjusted. This genuine, timeless and modern design guarantees a flawless musical enjoyment for decades. 

Clearaudio Concept Combo - A New, Gorgeous "Black on Black" Turntable Package That's Simple to Set-Up and Use... What a Concept!

New Black top / Black raduised edge finish - Classic Looks, Fantastic Sound!

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/cartridge combination! Finished in piano black and surrounded in stainless steel for a spectacular, modern look, the Clearaudio Concept makes playing vinyl simple and fun. Wait until you hear how good this turntable sounds with either of the two cartridges designed specifically for it, the Concept MM or the Concept MC.

“The Concept has a very neutral overall sound, with a weight and openness that I’ve yet to experience at this price point. 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 colours. 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!” …….. Jeff Dorgay, Tone Audio, August 2010

The Clearaudio Concept comes equipped with the new Verify tonearm making this a complete, great sounding package. The Concept makes it easy to get started and is such a great table, it will really give you a real taste of high-end vinyl playback. Grab some of your favourite records and get prepared to spend all night in analog bliss.

“The Concept's simplicity is a big part of its charm, a ‘plug and play’ product straight from the box. It’s worth taking a moment to admire the Concept’s clean design and substantial finish. 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. It’s not all that long until Awards time again around these parts, and given the Clearaudio Concept’s mighty showing here, it seems odds-on to make the shortlist!”

- What HiFi, UK Magazine, 5-Star Review

The new chassis is optimised for superior resistance to vibration and features a rounded high-mass plinth with a stainless steel surrounding it. The new specially-designed 1.2" Delrin platter is precision milled to provide a stable platform for your records and assists in maintaining accurate speed control. This belt-drive system uses a decoupled DC motor which helps keep noise away from the platter and stylus.

The Concept plays 33 1/3, 45 and 78 RPM, so no matter what record you choose from your collection a simple turn of the speed dial is all it takes.
• New 2piece 30mm thick Delrin platter - Black radiused high mass plinth with compact footprint
• Polished Tempered-Steel Bearing Shaft within sintered bronze bushings 
• Mirror Polished Teflon Thrust Pad
• Belt-driven by a Decoupled DC Motor  incorporating an extremely low noise bearing
• 33, 45 and 78 rpm at a Turn of a Dial
• Verify Tonearm w/ a Friction-Free Magnetic Bearing
• Factory Mounted/Aligned Concept MM (stadard) or MC (Optional) Cartridge
• Made in Germany The clearaudio CONCEPT Turntable sets a new timeline in turntable manufacturing.

Stereophile Review
Fitted with the Concept MC cartridge, Clearaudio's plug'n'play Concept turntable-tonearm-cartridge combo is exceptionally attractive, easy to set up and use, and seems better built than its price would suggest. It's a quiet, smooth performer that excels at midrange smoothness and transparency of the sort that makes speakers seem to vanish—even my $65,000/pair speakers.

What Hifi Review
The Clearaudio Concept is a great all-rounder: it's easy to set up, easy to use and sounds great. At this price point, it's king.

Audiophilia Review
Analogue has been buried, creamated, decimated many times over the past fifty years. All, premature. Yet, the iPod generation is now getting grey hair and that scares me a little. I’m not sure that the dental floss, massive platter, vacuum pump, dodgy arm brigade Renaissance will continue. But, audiophiles will always want a good system to play records, and at a solid price. Rega, Pro-Ject, and Roksan offer great gear at good prices. I’ve loved my time with Roksan and Rega, however, if I had to choose one, it’d be the Clearaudio Concept. It’s a dream for analogue fans on an austerity program. As such, buy with confidence. Very highly recommended.

tech radar Review
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.

TAS Review
It offers a hugely rewarding analog experience at a very attractive price...terrific German build and finish...a hands-down bargain.

Red Dot Design Award
Clearaudio is proud to be awarded also for the latest turntable "Concept" in the category entertainment technology and cameras with the red dot product design award 2010. With more than 11,000 submissions from 61 countries, the international "red dot design award" is the largest and most renowned design competition in the world. In the competition 2010 more than 1.800 companies from 57 countries all over the world took part with high quality products.

Plus X Award 2010
One of the most encompassing hallmarks of excellence a product can possibly acquire is the award for "High Quality", for it embodies the manufacturer's effort to deliver nothing but the utmost quality on the one hand and, on the other, the seal represents both durability and sustainability. Hence, "High Quality" products are contrasting strongly with the bulk of mass-produced goods that are made for prompt consumption and replacement. "High Quality" products are genuine investments into the future.

Pro-K Product of the Year:
Clearaudio was awarded for the new turntable "Concept" from the pro-K - association of semi-finished and consumer plastic products in the category: entertainment & telecommunication electronics with the title "product of the year 2010."

Features

Specifications

Reviews

Testimonials

Related

Features

The advantages of the clearaudio CONCEPT turntable:
+ all parameters completely adjusted at the clearaudio factory
+ absolute perfection in finishing, made in Germany
+ Innovative technology and materials
+ friction free tonearm magnetic bearing technology
+ all three speeds possible, 33 1/3, 45 und 78 RPM
+ decoupled DC motor with extreme low noise bush bearings
+ precision belt drive
+ separate made in Germany power supply

Specifications

Construction details:
Concept (MM) Moving Magnet cartridge
Resonance-optimised chassis - Black top / Black radiused edging
Friction free Verify tonearm with magnetic bearing technology
Speed ranges: 33 1/3, 45 and 78 RPM
Drive unit (motor): Decoupled DC motor with low noise bearings
Bearing:  Polished and tempered steel shaft in a sintered bronze bushing, runs on a mirror of Teflon
Platter:  Black coloured POM, 30 mm thickness
Speed variation:  ±0,04 %
Weight:  approx. 7,5 kg incl. motor, tonearm and cartridge
Dimensions (W/D/H in mm): approx. 420 x 350 x 140

Reviews

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

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
......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.
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.

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.

 

Testimonials

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

Related

CL 18 TT CON DC
NZ$ 325.00 ea (incl. GST)
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...