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 motoror 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.
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 slota 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 Verifyhow it looks, its smooth cuing mechanism, its high-quality wiring and cartridge clipsspeaks 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.