Clearaudio Concept record player

Enticing more music lovers to try vinyl requires a foolproof, plug'n'play solution. Asking a member of the digital generation to install a cartridge in a tonearm and then set up the VTA, SRA, VTF, etc. is asking too much. It's easier to make such a request of someone already bitten by the analog bug, but with turntables, wishing someone beginner's luck will not guarantee success.

With that in mind, companies from Pro-Ject to Rega to Clearaudio have produced such products. A few years ago, Marantz commissioned Clearaudio to build one for them. The Marantz TT-15S1 ($1700) was essentially an upgraded Clearaudio Emotion packaged with a Clearaudio Virtuoso Ebony Wood cartridge in an ingenious configuration that proved popular, and for good reason: It looked good, was easy to unbox and set up, and sounded really fine, not only for its price but for well beyond it.

Now Clearaudio counters with the Concept turntable with Verify tonearm, which can be bought solo for $1400; all you need do is install in it the cartridge of your choice. Or it can be had in one of two money-saving plug'n'play editions: with the Concept MC moving-coil cartridge (normally $800), for $2000; or with the Concept MM cartridge (normally $200), for $1500.

A cartridge-equipped Concept is so plug'n'play that even the stylus force is preset. That's right: Clearaudio ships it with the counterweight in place. So unless you don't know what a stylus guard is or how to remove it, there's no reason you can't be playing records within a few minutes of opening the box.

The Concept Concept
More than likely, Clearaudio was thinking "lifestyle product" when designing the Concept, but their manufacturing prowess got in the way, so it ended up having convenience features and high performance.

The Concept was originally equipped with spiked feet, but some buyers complained. So in the middle of my listening to it, Garth Leerer, of Clearaudio importer Musical Surroundings, sent replacement feet equipped with rounded inserts of furniture-friendly elastomer. That's the "lifestyle" world for you.

While the Concept doesn't have auto shutoff or auto start, it plays all three speeds: 33.33, 45, and 78rpm, selectable via a chunky, arthritic-friendly knob at the left front of the plinth. The motor is built into the plinth, resulting in an attractive, small-footprint design that doesn't require the buyer to find a place for an outboard motor—or even a motor placed in a hole in the plinth!

In the past few years Clearaudio has shifted from a heavy reliance on acrylic for its plinths and platters to other materials, often used with constrained-layer damping. The Concept's "resonance-optimized" plinth, set in a frame of machined aluminum, is a composite of medium-density fiberboard (MDF) topped by what appears to be the same material used for the platter, which is machined from black polyoxymethylene (POM), an easily machinable copolymer that's strong, rigid, and has many industrial uses.

The 5.5-lb platter sits on a plastic subplatter assembly fitted to a polished shaft of tempered steel that rotates in a sintered bronze bushing while riding on a Teflon thrust pad. The platter is driven by a decoupled DC motor with low-noise bearings, its speed governed by an electronic controller.

The Clearaudio Concept turntable does offer precise adjustment of platter speed, though that's not mentioned in the manual. For detailed instructions, contact Clearaudio's US distributor, Musical Surroundings, through www.musicalsurroundings.com.

Verify
Clearaudio's Verify tonearm weighs 280gm and has an effective length of 239.31mm (9.42"), which makes it almost identical in that regard to a Rega arm. It features a "friction-free," magnetic-attraction bearing that floats within what looks like a captured-bearing housing. Magnets on housing and arm are attracted to each other but are kept apart by a tension wire that exerts a downforce. A similar design was described in a Japanese patent issued in the early 1980s, and variations have been used on a few relatively expensive tonearms, such as those from Frank Schroeder. This appears to be the first implementation of this bearing design in a tonearm that's part of a complete and relatively inexpensive record player. The tonearm armtube material isn't specified.

The business end of the Verify arm terminates in a fixture with a long slot for adjusting cartridge overhang. The cartridge is attached to an offset subplate that's secured with a screw inserted through the slot—a system that I believe was originally by Schroeder and has been used by Clearaudio for some time. The Verify is hardwired with what appear to be high-quality cables and tight-fitting RCA plugs.

Although a plug'n'play design, the Verify is capable of a full range of adjustments, including vertical tracking angle (VTA) and azimuth (the headshell rotates). The arm is preset for "medium antiskating," and while the method by which the antiskating force is applied isn't specified, it was appropriately set for cartridges that track at around 2gm, and measured so. In most cases, the antiskating force is probably best left as set at the factory. The knob for adjusting the antiskating is under the turntable, at the base of the arm. Clearaudio recommends that this adjustment be done very gradually and may be best done by the dealer.

Everything about the Verify—how it looks, its smooth cuing mechanism, its high-quality wiring and cartridge clips—speaks of Clearaudio's attention to detail, and of a genuine attempt to give the buyer of this moderately priced turntable a substantial tonearm that's pleasing to look at and smooth in operation.

The same can be said of the Concept itself. With its black metallic trim, the Concept is an exceptionally attractive and smooth operator that, based on its appearance, would seem to cost more than $1400.

COMPANY INFO
Clearaudio Electronic GmbH
US distributor: Musical Surroundings
5662 Shattuck Avenue
Oakland, CA 94609
(510) 547-5006
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COMMENTS
volvic's picture

Going to stick my neck out but I have to think that the Concept would probably sound as good as a Linn LP12 Majik (the basic version) for less money than the Linn costs, which shows what great value and quality entry level turntables have become.  I know some will disagree but as someone who has owned an LP12 this has been my observation over the years.  Here come the arrows!

soulful.terrain's picture

 

...that clean Bergmann look! Love it!

WillWeber's picture

If done well, simplicity has a lot to offer, and little to go wrong. Or compromise.

This Concept design appears elegant; as yet its reliability is unknown.

The price/performance gets good marks from reviewers who mostly rave about this ‘table. I wonder though about the tone arm suspension. It is indeed a simple design with few parts and little to wear (sounds kinda naked). What is the tradeoff? Is it firm to its tangential holding assignment (now stop those thoughts)? Or does it react to the changing drag of needle-in-groove as the music density ebbs and flows (sorry)? If so, this would be the relative equivalent of micro speed changes of the record, which might account for the slight lack of dynamics and transient attack Mr. Fremer reports.

BTW: My wild guess is that anti-skating is provided by torsion of the filament, which would indeed be a touchy adjustment on the anchor end.

Simple and elegant; I am tempted at this price point. Just wondering how it compares to other giant killers near this class like the VPI Scout, Rega P5, Pro-Ject Xperience, etc. Been holding off on vinyl hardware to see how the hi-def downloads market goes, ever since my trusty old Dual 1229Q had its final flight. That old bird was the inverse of simplicity, an alternate fashion of elegance, sorely missed by my vinyls.

Stephen Scharf's picture

I have a Concept and it is a fantastic TT for the money. Most importantly, it sounds like music. The arm is fantastic, and IMO, worth $1500 alone. Hands down the best TT for $1500 or under and it punches way above it's weight class; sounds better than a P5 and a Scout if you ask me; almost as good as my Michell Gyro SE MKII/SME V deck. Fremer's review is accurate, and if he says the Concept doesn't plumb the depths of detail and weight of LPs the way the best TTs do, it's beause those TTs cost 20X to 100X as much as a Concept. Remember, his reference is a Continuum Caliburn, for goodness sake. 

Compared to your Dual, it will rip the arms and legs off your Dual, and blow the rest into the weeds. 

WillWeber's picture

Thanks Stephen for your feedback,

You do point to my problem with Mr. Fremer's review. His bar is so high that nothing without rockets can scale over. I'm sure he is accurate, but he does not compare the table to earthly models. However, I am glad he was assigned this review, that alone is an indication of the respect that the Concept must have among the staff, and if he has only minor complaints that's quite significant. And yup, I didn't expect that my 35 year old Dual would compete (now defunct, already dismembered after encountering a careless piano tuner) . You see, I was not planning on spending big to replace my analog rig until the HD digital market shakes out. But this new table may change the equation, and has me rethinking. Your comments are helpful.

What cartridge did you put on your Concept?

Cheers,

Will

Stephen Scharf's picture

Hi Will, 

My Concept is actually a dedicated mono only deck, so I am using a Grado Reference Sonata1 mono cartridge on it. I have heard it with my stereo Grado Reference Sonata (not the 1 series) and it was very good with that, dynamic, full, punchy with excellent bass and very musical but not the last word in detail. The 1-series Grados are even better, so I expect a Grado Reference Sonata1 stereo cart would also be excellent (the newest series 1 Grados have much better detail, smoothness and upper octave air, a big improvement over the original series). The Concept is also reputed to work very well with the Clearaudio Maestro Wood, and the Benz wood-bodied moving coils, so I expect any of those would be a great match. I also expect it would work well with one of the Soundsmith wood-bodied moving iron designs that have a medium compliance cantilever. 

Get it; you will not be disappointed. It's a *killer* table for the money. 

 

Cheers,

Stephen.

WillWeber's picture

Thanks Stephen,

The Maestro and the Benz Woods are actually at the top of my list. Nice to have some confirmation about this. Here we apparently have one of the "best" MM compared to a very fine MC, my amp can take either. Wish I could audition them on my system. It's very detailed and revealing, yet smooth as silk, musical transcendance. It would not be satisfied with lesser groove moves.

Interesting news about the new series Grados, I am not so keen on the traditional Grado softness. So I will check out the latest.

Tunefully,

Will

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