CLEARAUDIO Master Innovation Wood turntable - less tonearm

CL 31 TT MASIN W
NZ$ 39,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Clearaudio

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

New
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 turntable.The Master Innovation Wood offers most of the performance of the Statement but at a much lower price.

The Master Innovation Wood features a dual level quad-tier plinth that is based on the design of the Innovation Wood.  Other features include a 15 mm stainless steel sub-platter, sealed Ceramic Magnetic Bearing system for the platter, the ability to mount three tonearms with arm-boards available separately, and the belt-driven Magnetically Coupled Drive Platter System that is used on the Clearaudio Statement turntable.

Its looks alone should get you salivating over this new turntable from Clearaudio, the Master Innovation. It's a significant step up from the already highly regarded, five-star, Innovation model.

It's based on some of the technology found in the firm's flagship Statement model, but at a fifth of the cost. Not cheap, then, but somewhat more affordable. Clearaudio says its aim is "to produce a performance from vinyl records that even the original recording artists could only dream of". That's quite a claim.

The Master Innovation has a floating main platter assembly that revolves without any physical contact with the drive source. It consists of a two-piece main platter, an upper magnetic drive platter and a lower two-piece magnetic drive platter.

A narrow gap separates the upper and lower magnetic drive platters so they do not touch each other. Instead, a ring of powerful magnets embedded in each transfers drive from one to the other and the entire main platter assembly floats on, and is driven by, the magnetic field.

Other technical highlights include a ceramic magnetic bearing, and an optical speed control for optimum speed stability and control. The lower magnetic drive platter is a two-piece design, the lowest part being a 1.5cm-thick stainless steel platter on the underside of which is a stroboscope ring etched with 1500 tiny bars. The stroboscope ring is read by an infrared sensor thousands of times per second and the information is fed back to the motor, which is then adjusted as necessary.

Supporting all this is a four-level chassis which is constructed from a complex sandwich of Panzerholz – a wood-based, bullet-proof armour plating material – and aluminium.

Features

Specifications

Reviews

Features

Magnetic drive system from Clearaudio Statement with additional 15mm stainless steel sub-platter
70mm thick Delrin main platter and 15mm stainless steel sub-platter
Upper platter uses 85mm Ceramic Magnetic Bearing (CMB)
Decoupled 3 speed DC motor with Optical Speed Control (OSC)
Pushbutton electronic speed selection
4 Tri-star plinths featuring solid Panzerholz and aluminium sandwich construction
3 tonearm capability
Field upgrade path from Innovation Wood
Optional piano black lacquer finish over Panzerholz, clear lacquer over Panzerholz standard
Drive platters available in black POM or clear acrylic

Specifications

Construction details: 
Resonance optimised chassis shape, belt driven magnetic platter drive system with self adjusting speed control, precision CNC machined surface solid stainless steel sub-platters, dynamically balanced

Speed change: 
Convenient electronic control (33 1/3 rpm, 45 rpm, 78 rpm)

Motor drive: 
High torque DC-motor, exclusively made for Clearaudio, Electronic optical speed control (OSC) in real time via infrared sensor

Main bearing: 
85mm Clearaudio patented CMB – bearing technology 

Platter material: 
Sub platter(s): Precision CNC machined, solid stainless steel, dynamically balanced 
Main platter: POM (aka, "Delrin," a high density anti-resonant material with excellent dimension stability), precision CNC machined, dynamically balanced
Drive platter(s): POM or acrylic, precision CNC machined, dynamically balanced, imbedded rare earth magnets
Platter height: Main platter: 70 mm 
Sub platter(s): 15mm Drive platter(s): 30 & 40 mm

All turntable feet are fine adjustable
Optical speed control (OSC)
Playback with three tonearms possible
Speed accuracy (measured): less than ±0.05 %
Weight: approx 48 kg (without tonearm and power supply)
Dimensions: 479W x 484D x 457H mm

Reviews

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