Clearaudio Concept Turntable, Classic Cartridge and Verify Tonearm

      Date posted: March 19, 2010

Concept, 2
Clearaudio Concept Turntable

Sugg. Retail: $1495CAD (see below)

CDN Distributor: Tri-Cell Enterprises, 905-265-7870

Any audiophile who has fussed with turntables and phono cartridges will be quite amazed at this recent turntable from Clearaudio of Germany. Pretty much all you have to do is unpack it, put the belt on the motor and sub-platter, mount the platter on top, and, finally, remove the protective tape on the arm and the plastic cartridge stylus protector. The attached signal cord plugs into your phono preamp, and the AC cord into the wall. Stylus pressure is factory preset to the optimal 2.4 grams, anti-skating is also optimized, and overhang properly adjusted. That’s it, about 15 minutes of minimal fuss.
Verify Tonearm
The Concept  is a solid chassis design, with spiked feet, an attractive brushed aluminum band surrounding the black chassis. The tonearm is called the Verify, and is a unipivot with a magnetic bearing for very low friction, while the Classic cartridge is a quite high-output moving magnet type with a very naked, seemingly non-replaceable stylus. The platter is quite substantial and made of “POM” (I couldn’t find what this stands for, but was assured the platter material was DuPont Delrin, which is inert and of high mass). A mat is not supplied, so I assume it is not intended to be used with one, since that would affect cartridge height and rake angle. One nice accessory provided is cute blue spirit level that I left on the right front corner of the plinth. The turntable is leveled using its adjustable locking feet until the air bubble is in the middle of the circle on the level.

Speed control is all in one small knob on the left front corner, with settings for Off, 33, 45, and, surprisingly, 78. With a non-replaceable stylus and headshell, you can’t really play 78s, which might damage the delicate LP stylus tip. And there is no reference in the owner’s manual to 78 play. The drive unit is, according to the manual, a “decoupled DC motor with low noise bearings”, which are “polished and tempered steel in a sintered bronze bushing”, running on “a mirror of Teflon”. The weight of the whole turntable is 7.5 kilograms, or about 15 pounds, which belies its substantial look and feel. I think it’s a very nice design visually, though I am a bit concerned about the lack of dustcover. And I wouldn’t want to be using a dust rag around that naked stylus.
Concept Power/Speed Control
I performed tracking tests using our trusty Shure ERA IV and Telarc Omnidisc LPs. The Concept showed some high frequency limits on the former, but did very well with the more real-world tests of the Omnidisc’s musical excerpts. At the 2.4 gram factory setting it seems well suited to playing LPs cleanly, with especially good handling of heavy bass grooves. I never heard mistracking on any of the many records I played on the Concept, so that’s not something to worry about with this table.

One small problem was with my slightly dished copy of Joni Mitchell’s Blue, which slipped and wowed on the bare platter on the side which was not fully supported by the platter at the edges; there are two solutions: either use a non-slip mat, or a spindle weight, which is what I did. Mat or not, the Concept exhibits a virtual absence of any motor noise or other sounds usually characterized as rumble. Hum was also very low when the turntable was properly grounded, this accomplished by taping the ground pin to the negative shield of one of the RCA output cables in my case. The phono preamp was my professional Bryston BP-1.

I found the overall sound of the Concept  LP system a little forward, but still disconcertingly close in quality to my longtime $5000+ Heybrook/SAEC/Ortofon phono setup. The Concept proves that you can get a lot out of LP playback for well under two grand, in a system that currently costs $200 less than my Ortofon Kontrapunkt B cartridge alone (however, I’m told that it will be going up to $1795 quite soon, at which it’s still a bargain). And if you’re seeking a turntable at reasonable cost to play all your treasured LPs that may be somewhat noisy, this is a good choice because it’s so quiet in the grooves. I listened to my original circa-1960 copy of Miles Davis’s Kind Of Blue and it was quite listenable, despite being played hundreds, even thousands of times over the last 50 years. Of course, these days I listen to it on multichannel SACD to hear the original 3-channel master tape sound. Another venerable favourite, Ellington Indigos, sounded lovely and seductive (if just a little blowsy), right from Johnny Hodges’ first solo on Prelude To A Kiss that starts side 2. A particular strength is its bass reproduction on this disc, faithfully bringing out the sound of the upright acoustic bass from the big band.

Clearaudio Concept, front

I pulled out lots more LPs, old and new, from my wall of records, and was never disappointed in the sound quality I heard. Maybe it was not quite all there in terms of what I’m used to, but I kept thinking of the law of diminishing returns in increased cost with respect to turntables, as I listened to my LPs through the Clearaudio Concept. This turntable is a brilliant Concept  that will, I’m sure, help to bring many people (some iPod refugees who discover true high fidelity through it) back into the analog fold. And that’s a good thing!

Andrew Marshall

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