I don’t believe in trickle down economics. Ronald Reagan and the 80s saw to that. Robert Suchy of German company Clearaudio obviously does. And his form of the free market works.
I have been listening intently to Clearaudio products for many years. I reviewed a few for Audiophilia. They have always made outstanding analogue products, from fairly inexpensive to technological, pricey marvels. My review of the upgradeable Clearaudio Champion is a case in point. The upgrade path made for audiophile fun and a glimpse into the upper echelon of their line. It sounded wonderful from what I can remember, but at its upgrade end, it was quite expensive. I tricked it out with shelving, suspension platforms, liquids and potions and a Glider cartridge. At the time, it was heavenly.
We arrive in 2010 with Clearaudio offering a ‘plug and play’ solution. You read it correctly. No setup, no physics lessons, no azimuth adjustment, no VTA, no bias, cartridge alignment, no Shure gauges, no sweat, no toil, no nervousness. Out of the box, the Concept comes out kicking and screaming, ready to rock and roll. Supposedly, all that separates you from the sound is a quick level balance (included) and some electricity. I was skeptical.
The system uses the company’s Aurum Classics cartridge and the Verify tonearm (friction-free and magnetic bearing). The DC motor is decoupled with extreme low noise bush bearings. Speeds are 33 1/3, 45 und 78 RPM. The bearing is polished and tempered steel shaft in a sintered bronze bushing and runs on a mirror of Teflon. The platter is 30 mm and speed variation is ±0,04 %. The complete package weighs in at 7.5 kg. As mentioned, everything is setup for you at the factory; all the purchaser does is fit the platter and belt. After a quick level, you’re up and running.
Very quickly into the first LP side, I knew Clearaudio had produced something very special. Not sure if it was the synergy between table, cart and arm, a crackerjack, accurate setup, or the aforementioned trickle down technology (the top Clearaudio turntable is $150,000!), but the sound was extremely refined, very dynamic, balanced with very good bass definition. To be completely honest (analogue snob, Mr. Preconception puts his hat on), I would not normally look twice at the parts of the Concept, especially the Aurum cartridge. But, I was very happily surprised by the superb sounds coming from the speakers. Shocked, actually.
What really shines on the Concept is the definition and separation of instruments. A problematic London pressing (oh, for the Decca) of Kertesz/LSO Dvorak Scherzo Capriccioso highlighted this outstanding quality. The recording is a little tubby in the midriff, and this bloat buggers up the balance, especially the very important mid bass cellos (a virtuosic part on many auditions). The Concept cleared up this balance and the cellos were very clear. It was a real eye (ear) opener. The same recording/piece is a little hot in the triangle, upper notes of the fiddles and picc. The sound was in balance, but some of the heat remained.
After quite a few months with the Concept, I was still in the blush of youthful love. Yet, some little blemishes were peeking through, no matter how liberally applied the makeup. Most of the blemishes probably lie at the feet of the Aurum, I think. I have heard (much) more refinement from the Clearaudio’s Concerto and the fabulous Titanium moving coil cartridge. But the Concerto is more than the complete Concept system and the Titanium is huge dough. Long time Audiophilia readers will know that I like to max out the arm and the ‘table with the best cartridge. Also, cartridge swapping can be fun. As this is a ‘closed’ system, I decided to review that turntable as envisaged by Clearaudio.
I would suggest that many audiophiles could live very happily with the Concept as designed and setup by Clearaudio. I’ve heard my fair share of problematic turntable setups (some at my own bumbling hands) that cost many thousands more than the very reasonably priced Concept.
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.
The Clearaudio Concept Turntable
clearaudio electronic GmbH
Spardorferstraße 150, D-91054 Erlangen, Germany
Tel: 01805 059595; Fax: +49 (0)9131 51683
Price: $1500 (with Aurum mm cartridge. Price will vary with choice of cartridge. Clearaudio will ship with several cart choices. Check with your dealer).
2 year warranty
Source: Distributor loan