01 August, 2010

Talk Vinyl: Clearaudio Concept Part I (Review)

Talk Vinyl: Clearaudio Concept Part I (Review)

Toys admittedly
Audiophiles search for all kinds of excuses to rationalize their purchases. In truth, most of the purchases are "unnecessary". Why do we buy new clothes when the old ones are not even worn in? Why do people change cars? All that is understood. Adults, like kids who we admonish, scold, even threaten, actually buy MORE toys than their children, though the toys are now termed "luxury goods", "food for the soul" etc. But it takes double, even triple justification to buy something that you or others suspect may be a lesser product than what you already have. Such is the case here.

Living with the "Best" Forever?
As you may well know from my previous "Vinyl Talk" articles, I personally regard the idler-wheel Garrad 401 as the Non Plus Ultra of turntables (sorry, Statement owners). In HK, I have two and used to run one, but I don't right now (for what I use now, click here). Why, because sometimes one may not want the best around, since that would prevent one from having fun with alternatives. It is enough to know what is the best; one does not necessarily have to live with it everyday. It's more important to have fun. Enough rationalization?

If Looks can Kill, but is it a "Must-Buy"?
After I read the rave reviews (What HiFi, more), in particular in a recent issue of HiFi News (not available on the net), of the Clearaudio Concept (the pdf manual has a ton of technical specifications, worth a look) I became smitten by its looks. Generally speaking, I am quite allergic to the looks of modern high-end turntables, massive acrylic in particular. Nor am I quite enamored of the sound of much modern material (too much acrylic again). As I believe a truly competent design needs not be too big, my turntable cannot have too large a footprint, period.

Two visits to the authorized dealer Hi-Fi 德 (Ernest Audio) followed. The Concept is even better looking than in the pictures. I must also praise the dealer for the fabulous price they offer for the package. For $8xxx, the package comes with the originally designated Concept MM cartridge (basically a no-frills Aurum, not to be confused with the older and more expensive Concept MC) , and is easily cheaper than in the USA and Europe. The magnetic bearing "unipivot" arm is impressive to look at, and is almost certainly a poor man's Schroeder, except the suspension is from below rather than above. Concerning the last point, this is why Daiwok said "Clearaudio Concept is a "must-buy"...because you may not be able to buy it later...". Why? Because there is a copyright lawsuit pending! :-) Last, the captured tonearm cable looks to be of good quality and is wired all the way to the cartridge.

The last straw that triggered my decision to buy was the armboard. This model uses a metal round plate that looks identical in size to the Clearaudio Champion acrylic armboard. I happen to have a Champion which I bought from HiFi Duck when it first came out (its price has tripled since then; I have to say HiFi Duck again sold it for a very good price then). Although the two boards look to be of the same diameter, I was not sure, and I asked the salesperson 阿明. He was not sure either. Then he did something which I HIGHLY appreciate. He without thinking took off the Concept board and tried it on the Champion, a perfect fit. Thank you 阿明, for some of the best service I have ever come across for an inexpensive product. I wish all salesmen would be so knowledgeable and helpful.

First Impressions
The turntable is basically plug-and-play. Unpack, a few drops of oil down the shaft, place the platter and play. Right off the bat, without any run-in, I can tell you this is a superb turntable. Most importantly, it has a lively rhythm and pace, something unusual for this company. In this aspect, without A/B comparison, I instantly know it is superior to my Champion, and many of this company's expensive offerings. The cartridge is superb sounding too. Once again, this confirms Clearaudio's value in the low-end of their offerings, where they remain competitive.

According to my Shure stylus force gauge, which I trust, the factory-set tracking weight was slightly off and I re-calibrated. It was rather disconcerting to twist the tight counterweight on this magnetic bearing arm, which rocked and swayed during the adjustment. The alignment seemed to be quite good according my humble Rek-O-Kut 2-point protractor.

I see all kinds of CAS people (many have vested interest) promoting expensive "high-resolution" files and DACs. Very few of these people have experience with vinyl. I'd reckon an LP played on this reasonably priced turntable will slaughter a $100k CAS system. So what many of these CAS people should do is to buy a turntable (doesn't have to be this one) before they make all kinds of fantastic pronouncements about perfect sound.

There's a lot more to come in Part II.


  1. And CAS stands for?

    1. Computer as Server, using computer to play digital files.