Many vinyl enthusiasts start with a $500 turntable because a good number of models are available from well respected manufacturers at this attractive price point. Another reason is that virtually all turntables at this price point come ready to play out of the box, fitted with an aligned cartridge. There’s no question that for someone with a small budget just getting into vinyl this is a great place to start. But like all entry level audio components, we all know that a $500 turntable barely scratches the surface of how fantastic a good vinyl system can sound. Hence it should come as no surprise that many owners of a $500 turntable eventually look to upgrade. So where do you go from here?
Turntable and accessory manufacturer Clearaudio would like one of its turntables to be your next step up. This German manufacturer has the most diverse turntable model line-up that I’ve ever encountered, ranging from the attainable Concept ($1595) all the way to the ultra exotic Statement ($160,000 and no, this is not a misprint). So whether you wear a Fossil watch or a Rolex, Clearaudio has a turntable suitable for your budget. The topic of this review is the recently introduced Concept turntable, a reasonably priced model for those looking for their first turntable or those upgrading from an entry-level model. Like all other the Clearaudio turntables, the Concept was designed and is manufactured in Germany.
What makes the Concept appealing to potential buyers is that it is ready to play out of the box. The Concept uses a belt-drive system and comes with both a tonearm and a moving magnet cartridge installed. All adjustments are made at the Clearaudio factory, including the tracking and anti-scating force. Some of the components of the Concept are not what you would expect to find in similarly priced turntables such as a decoupled, three-speed DC motor and a precision milled 1.2-inch Delrin platter. Even more importantly the Concept has a couple of unique design features which set it miles apart from the competition. First is the direct-wired tonearm which floats on a magnetic bearing that claims to be completely friction free. The result is improved tonearm tracking and stability over standard designs. Secondly, the chassis of the turntable is made of MDF which is wrapped around in a thick brushed aluminium trim to give the chassis extra stiffness and reduce resonance. Other features that round out the Concept include a high quality cable and gold-plated RCA connectors (hardwired to the chassis) as well as three adjustable, spiked feet. The power supply is separated from the turntable and comes in the form of a wall wart. The only thing that I didn’t enjoy about the Concept is that it doesn’t come with a dust lid. However, Clearaudio recently released a matching lid for the Concept which is sold separately for approximately $140.
Visually, the Concept is as sleek and modern as they come. Its fit and finish are simply superb. Sitting atop my audio rack it did not go unnoticed to family and friends. In fact, its brushed aluminium finish and rounded corners were almost a perfect match to my Classé Audio CP-500 preamplifier and CA-2100 amplifier, which I used to evaluate the performance of this turntable with. My reference Focal Electra 1008 Be II speakers completed the system.
The setup of the Concept couldn’t be simpler. Once you place the platter on the chassis and plug in the power supply, the only thing left to do is make sure that the turntable sits level wherever you choose to place it – Clearaudio includes a little bubble level in the box precisely for this purpose.
The Concept will gladly play 33-1/3, 45 and 78 RPM records – the speed control is selected with a large knob on the left of the chassis, which also serves as the ON/OFF button. I began with the Beatles Let It Be Naked album on the platter. It was instantly apparent that I was listening to a very clean, highly detailed presentation. The sound was nearly pitch-perfect and so engaging that I often found myself singing along, which rather got in the way of what I should have been doing , namely evaluating the sound performance. But perhaps this was a good thing! So I decided to settle on a compromise: I would only sing the parts that I know and focus on evaluating the performance the rest of the time. The Concept faithfully revealed the various layers of sound on Let It Be Naked and drew me into the music so much that it renewed my appreciation for this album.
Coldplay’s Vida La Vida album sounded just as remarkable. The Concept had no trouble sorting through and making sonic sense of Chris Martin’s vocals, electric guitar riffs, piano passages and orchestral movements. Its precise timing and speed played with effortlessness through the trickiest parts of this album, never losing focus. Low frequencies had good extension and played with great attack, but always exhibited subtle variances and control. Martin’s vocals were filled with real-life passion that at times sent chills running through my body, taking me back to when I saw breathtaking performance of Coldplay in a small venue in Toronto a few years ago. The Concept played with a natural tonality and solid composure through the midrange – not once did I notice any blurring. The high frequencies sounded brilliantly crisp and never strained or overwhelmed.
Then I moved on to a classic selection, Respighi: The Birds, Brazilian Impressions (Mercury Records SR90153). Italian composer Respighi may be best known for the Roman Trilogy but The Birds and Brazilian Impressions are regarded to be just as immersive, if not more so, by many classical fans. The Concept reproduced these masterful compositions with the delicacy and all the emotional nuances which they deserve. The openness and excellent imaging of the Concept produced a grandiose, three-dimensional soundstage. The dynamics and attack were never in short supply, especially in the last movement of Brazilian Impressions.
The Clearaudio Concept is decisively one of my favourite sounding turntables in the under $2000 price point. It offers a delightful, full-bodied sound that is highly detailed and has plentiful dynamics. Without question, Clearaudio’s innovative, friction free tonearm mount and extra attention to resonance control resulted in a turntable that outshines most similarly priced competitors. The Clearaudio Concept is a clear winner in this category.
Clearaudio Concept Turntable
Price: $1595 CAD