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October 2011
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Clearaudio Concept MC Turntable
Spin those records again and again. Review By Alfred Fredel
Review By Alfred Fredel

 

Ah, The Return of the Record
Clearaudio Concept MC TurntableAccording to The Nielsen Company, vinyl sales increased 37 percent in the beginning of 2011 over the same period last year. Vinyl sales also rose 14.2 percent in 2010, a statistic that is encouraging for those of us who cherish our vinyl. I grew up with LP records and to some people; I am still living in the past. As you can see from the figures listed above, there are more of us than one would expect. I spoke to my friend John Rutan, owner of Audio Connection in Verona, NJ and posed one simple question, "Have you seen an increase in the number of turntables that you have sold in the last year?" His answer was a definite "yes", with the neophyte buyers leading the pack. Many 20somethings and even 30somethings have never experienced the joy of playing vinyl but once they begin, they are hooked on the sound and process of this medium. This review is aimed at you, neophyte buyer…do I have a turntable for you!

 

The Clearaudio Concept Arrives
It is no secret that a turntable is a precise instrument and a great deal of effort goes into the design of a good turntable. The challenge is to make a high quality turntable that is easy to use, sounds good and is sold at a fair price. Clearaudio has been producing quality analog products for over 30 years. Under the direction of founder Peter Suchy, the company has been awarded several design and audio awards throughout the years. Their most current turntable, the "Concept", targets an audience that wants a high quality product that is nicely designed, incorporates solid engineering and sounds good all at a modest price. The company has done precisely that, giving the consumer a well-rounded offering that is very simple to operate.

 

Taking A Closer Look At The Concept
After drying out from the torrential downpours that Hurricane Irene left us all on the East Coast, I finally received the review sample of the Concept turntable with the moving coil option. After having to clear out my yard from the debris, pump out my basement, and assess the damage to my home, I was not looking forward to setting up a turntable for a review. In the past, I have tweaked turntables for hours getting them ready to use in my listening room. When I opened the box, everything was neatly arranged and all parts of the turntable were cradled in the excellent packaging. I placed the compact Concept on my turntable rack and took the packaging off, put the belt on, and then the platter and I was done. I went to check that the table was level…good.  I checked the VTA... nothing to adjust. I checked the alignment...perfect. I checked for the correct cartridge weight... perfect. There was nothing for me to do; the turntable was ready to go. This in itself is amazing. The whole process took me an entire 10 minutes to complete; without question one of the easiest set-up periods I have had for any turntable.

Upon examining the Concept, I noticed that the table has a simple yet elegant design. The turntable included a nice audio cable, a wall-wart power supply for the motor, a nicely designed tonearm and a Concept moving coil cartridge. Although the table does not include a dust cover, one is available from Clearaudio at an additional cost. All the components of the turntable truly complement each other and I would like to share some of the features of the unit that makes this possible.

The Concept boasts a chassis that is constructed using MDF coated with a synthetic composite compound to help eliminate any unwanted energy. It is beautifully wrapped in aluminum trim giving it a clean and modern look. The DC motor is completely decoupled from the chassis; which helps to separate the record from any mechanical interference. The platter is made from 30mm of polyoxymethylene (POM) and is spun on a steel and Teflon bearing. My sample came with the Concept moving coil cartridge, a low output cartridge (0.42 mv) that weighs 8 grams and uses a Micro-line stylus and a boron cantilever wrapped in an aluminum-magnesium alloy body with a ceramic surface layer. The most noteworthy part of this well thought out turntable is the unique tonearm that Clearaudio developed for this project.

The Concept turntable comes with Clearaudio's new Verify tonearm that uses friction free magnetic bearing technology. The tonearm is magnetically suspended and all parameters are precisely set by factory; a design that allows for a rather hassle free experience with easy set up. To my eyes, the workmanship involved in building this tonearm is superior with the added advantage of knowing that Clearaudio carefully scrutinizes each Verify tonearm since they are built in-house. All in all, the approach for the turntable is clear: make it well, make it simple to use and make sure it sounds good.

 

At the Heart of the Concept: Good Sound
Everything had been so easy with the Concept turntable that I lost track of how many hours I was giving it for its break-in period. I usually afford 50 to 100 hours of play before I really sit down to listen. I would say it was easily within that range when I plopped myself down to really evaluate the unit. My first impression was to marvel at how everything just worked well together. The tonearm dropped onto each record "nice and slow", with contact to the vinyl that was delicate and perfectly aligned. The speed on the turntable was constant and on target both at the 33 and 45 rpm settings. The DC motor was quiet and surface noise was kept at a minimum. Mechanically, this turntable is extremely precise instrument and a work of art.

I began my first listening session with some of the records that I own that are 180g vinyl pressings. The first record to make it into rotation was Al Green's Let's Stay Together, originally pressed on Hi Records and reissued through Fat Possum Records on 180g vinyl. After listening to the title track, one thing was clear to me. The Concept was a very balanced instrument that allowed Mr. Green's smooth voice to fill my listening room with song. The drums sounded punchy and natural while the horns were very realistic. Next, I moved on to Combat Rock, where The Clash brought us such classics as "Should I Stay or Should I Go?", "Rock the Casbah" and "Straight to Hell". The Concept certainly did rock. Joe Strummer was in my face and the band seemed to come alive with superb impact and weight. In "Straight to Hell", the weight of the percussion was present and clear while the other instruments floated in the room exactly where they were supposed to be. Strummer's angry vocals and message were clear, with the Concept MC cartridge easily flowing through all of the demands given to it. It was time to give it a rest for the night.

A few days after the heavy vinyl audiophile pressings event, I began to dig into my collection of standard recordings. I played several hours' worth of records and enjoyed rediscovering my collection. The needle landed on one of my favorite recordings by the QuartettoItaliano. Beethoven string quartets are some of my favorites and their 1973 recording of String Quartet in A, Op.18 No. 5 on Philips is among the best that I have heard. The Concept performed with ease, where the legato line of the strings was liquid and inviting to my ears. The turntable offered a truly refined presentation and provided terrific rhythm with a very lush soundstage.

One of the things that many people dislike about LPs is the noise that can be introduced on a recording. The QuartettoItaliano album I used was in pristine condition. The true test is when you play a "not so well taken care of... oops, I scratched it again" record. I have some of those from college years. Ann Wilson from Heart was one of my favorite women in rock and I remember playing Dreamboat Annie over and over again. I loved that album! In fact, I loved it so much that it has stayed with me for the last couple of decades. Naturally, it has a lot of wear and tear. It was actually very listenable on the Concept turntable; which is more than I can say about other tables that have come through here. The Concept handled the slight warp well and stuck to the record like a good rodeo rider with no effect to the sound. I then played the record over and over and over…a middle aged man recapturing his youth.

Finally, I reached for one of my favorite well–recorded jazz albums. If you like jazz, then you most probably like John Coltrane. He recorded a great album in 1957 with pianist Tadd Dameron called Mating Call. This was one of the albums mastered by the legendary Rudy Van Gelder on Prestige Records and the recording has amazing sound. The players in this session make this recording really tight and feature Tad Dameron on piano, John Simmons on bass, Philly Joe Jones on drums and of course Coltrane on tenor sax. I placed the needle on the record and voila, the beautiful sounds of "Soultrane" filled my listening room. The imaging was right on target with each instrument perfectly presented clearly and realistically.  The freedom of the performance and the space between the notes filled the air; which was a truly delightful experience. This was a great performance, all from a turntable that will not break the bank.

 

Some Parting Thoughts
It is great to see that vinyl is making a comeback. Here is the turntable that you need to spin those records. From the neophyte to the experienced vinyl junkie, this well-engineered turntable does all you need and will keep you happy for a while. Clearaudio set out to create a product that is simple, straightforward and affordable; which they have done with the Concept. At just under $2000, I have no problem recommending this turntable as one of the best value to performance units on the market today. It was a truly satisfying experience, both musically and with its ease of use. Life is too short to keep tweaking your turntable; just enjoy the music.

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear  
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Construction details: - Resonance-optimized chassis
- Friction free tonearm with magnetic bearing technology
Speed ranges: 33 1/3, 45 and 78 RPM
Drive unit (motor): Decoupled DC motor with low noise bearings
Bearing: Polished and tempered steel shaft in a sintered bronze bushing, runs on a mirror of Teflon
Platter: Black colored POM, 30 mm thickness
Speed Variation: ± 0,04 %
Weight: 16.5 lbs including motor, tonearm and cartridge
Dimensions: 16.54 x 13.78 x 5.51 (WxDxH in inches)
Manufacturer’s Warranty: 2 Years
Price: $1999 as tested with MC / $1499 with MM

 

Company Information
Clearaudio Electronic GmbH
Spardorferstrasse 150
D-91054 Erlangen

Phone: 011-018-05-059595
Website: www.clearaudio.de

 

United States Distributor
Musical Surroundings
5662 Shattuck Ave.
Oakland, CA 94609

Voice: (510) 547-5006
Fax: (510) 547-5009
E-mail: info@musicalsurroundings.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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