Clearaudio Ovation turntable w Clarify frictionless tonearm Wood - no cart

CL 23 TT OVA W
NZ$ 9,495.00 ea (incl. GST)
Clearaudio

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

New
The Clearaudio Ovation Unites the Technology of the Innovation with the Concept's Ease of Use 
"Clearaudio's Ovation delivers impressive clarity of definition, transparency to the source, and excellent overall tonal balance. ... It all adds up to a terrific value - and our Turntable of the Year Award winner."The Absolute Sound,
 
"and based on my many enjoyable listening sessions excellence is precisely what you should expect from the Ovation... I view the Ovation as a major success. Clearaudio has easily met its goal of bridging the gap between high-end sound and real-world convenience.This easy to set up, maintain, and operate package will bring its owners years of musical satisfaction. And that counts for us audiophiles as well as “normal” people.  All things considered, I view the Ovation as a major success. Setting up the package is a breeze that requires but a few steps, especially given that even tracking force and anti-skate are set at the factory. The simple process requires mounting the Ovation's adjustable aluminum feet; applying a few drops of the supplied synthetic machine oil to the ceramic shaft; placing the sub-platter over the bearing, followed by the belt and main platter; connecting the power-supply cord; leveling the feet... Now, these are things that a properly trained monkey can manage."Wayne Garcia, TAS - The Absolute Sound
 
Clearaudio's newest turntable is one of the most gorgeous designs ever built by the famed German analog perfectionists. The Ovation not only looks stunning, it sounds staggering. In addition, it’s simple to set up and play. When you get this table home and play your first LP, you’ll know why everyone is so excited. A 1.5-inch Delrin platter sits on a plinth made from a composite of aluminum and wood laminate that looks as great as it is effective at controlling vibration. A DC motor locks in perfect speed control, giving the Ovation an indescribable naturalness. It all just sounds “right.” The new carbon-fiber Clarify tonearm is based on a frictionless bearing, allowing the sound of your cartridge to completely define the ‘table’s sonic signature. No matter your musical tastes, the Ovation is the ideal platform for playing your LPs.

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 tonearm. The armwand is fabricated from carbon fiber, and the headshell is made of machined aluminum, making this arm lightweight and rigid. The Clarify tonearm features a magnetic bearing and low center of gravity counter-weight assembly adjusted by internal mechanism. 
 
Like its bigger brother Innovation Turntable series, the Clearaudio Ovation turntable chassis consists of a complex sandwich of materials: aluminium - Panzerholz bullet-proof wood - aluminium. Within the precision-machined bullet-proof-wood layer, clearaudio have introduced an elaborate resonance damping measure: an internal 'mat' comprising approximately 100.000 tiny stainless steel shot damping tiles.
 
The Ovation's platter is made of 40mm-thick POM (Polyoxymethylene) with a weighted rim that creates a flywheel effect. The main POM platter sits atop a machined-aluminum sub-platter that connects via a belt to the mechanically isolated DC motor. The Inverted Ceramic Magnetic Bearing (CMB) magnetically levitates the platter for reduced friction, greater speed stability and additional isolation. 
 
Another shared characteristic of the Innovation Series is a decoupled 3 speed DC motor that uses Optical Speed Control (OSC) to maximize pitch stability. The powerful and smooth-running DC motor is integrated within and is effectively decoupled by the main chassis. Clearaudio's OSC 'Optical Speed Control' technology continuously monitors a micro infrared strobe to ensure exact speed stability via a small optical sensor is embedded in the top of the plinth that reads a strobe ring located on the bottom of the belt-driven sub-platter. Electronic speed selection allows for easy-to-switch push-button 33 1/3, 45, and 78rpm Speeds. The Ovation also shares the same adjustable leveling and locking feet as the Innovation Turntable. 
 
The motor is hidden beneath the platter and drives the precision machined aluminium sub-platter via a precision machined POM main platter are supported by clearaudio's patented CMB Ceramic Magnetic Bearing'. 
 
The drive system is operated by four blue illuminated buttons, ergonomically integrated into the front left of the chassis.
Almost any commercially available 9 inch tonearm can be fitted by virtue of the easily interchangeable armboards.
 
The new "Ovation" device combines innovative clearaudio technologies with elegant design and exquisite production quality.
 
The Clearaudio Ovation is available in either silver or black with a wood base. Both finishes are also available with a premium Piano Black Lacquer.

Features

Specifications

Reviews

Features

•Panzerholz wood/aluminum sandwich plinth
•Plinth mass loaded and internally damped with over 1000 stainless steel shot damping tiles
•Adjustable leveling and locking feet from Innovation
•40mm thick Delrin platter with weighted rim
•Machined aluminum sub-platter
•Inverted Ceramic Magnetic Bearing (CMB)
•Decoupled 3 speed DC motor with Optical Speed Control (OSC)

Specifications

Construction details: Resonance-optimised chassis, recommended tonearm with magnetic bearing technology 
Speed ranges: 33 1/3, 45 and 78 RPM 
Drive unit (motor): Decoupled DC motor in chassis, resonance damping device 
Rumble: DIN IEC 98 by method A / 92 dB 
Bearing: Polished ceramic shaft in a sintered bronze bushing, magnetic bearing (CMB) 
Platter: Black coloured POM, 1,5 inch / 38 mm 
Speed variation: ± 0,03 % 
Weight: approx. 13.5 kg incl. motor 
Dimensions (W/D/H in inches): 54 x 13.78 x 4.53 
Dimensions (W/D/H in mm): 420 x 350 x 115

Reviews

.....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.