Review: Clearaudio Concept Turntable
Analyzing the build and sound of this clinically precise, visually striking record player available at Jerry Raskin’s Needle Doctor.
Analog is addicting. Through superior sound, the vinyl revival has proven its longevity, and many record collectors are outgrowing their current turntables. From entry-level, to high-end, the amount of choices can be staggering. It takes a curator to cut through the noise, and select the best options at any given price point.
Thankfully, Musical Surroundings brings us the Clearaudio Concept, a turntable which cannot be beat by any other starting below $2000. Featuring an ultra-functional design and immaculate sound, the Concept delivers in every way a turntable should.
Easy to setup, the Concept is available with a selection of tonearms and cartridges factory-installed and aligned. This takes the guesswork out of things. Jerry Raskin’s Needle Doctor provided a model with the Satisfy tonearm and standard mount Concept V2 MM cartridge factory installed.
Upon opening the Clearaudio Concept box, the remaining setup was installing the counterweight. The Concept’s counterweight is a blank, black cylinder without measurements etched on it, but a digital scale is included to measure tracking force. After that, it was a matter of plugging the turntable into the preamplifier and power strip. Plug and play ease like this is essential for beginners and audiophiles looking for no-nonsense solutions.
An example of precision German engineering, the body of the Clearaudio Concept wows out of the box. Workmanship and attention to detail is apparent. The available silver trim is clean, modern and sleek. Hefty and gorgeously rendered, the two-piece platter impresses. The strong, sturdy turntable feet are low profile and easy to work with. A screw-like anti-skate control lends a raw, mechanical feel.
The Satisfy tonearm is steady, and sublimely accurate. It effortlessly glides, allowing for the paired Concept V2 MM stylus to track with the exact intended amount of force at every moment of play. Even flawed pressings are no issue for the Satisfy; it has no trouble with records other turntables are unable to play without skipping.
The Satisfy is perfectly aligned with the Concept V2 MM stylus in a way that allows for individual songs in the middle of any given record to be precisely selected. The V2 MM is strong, and faithfully occupies the grooves of any record it encounters. No records skipped during playback across a wide variety of genres and pressing time periods. Even deep bass passages were handled brilliantly.
The tonearm lift control lever is precise, clicking into place with tight control. This allows for precision drop down on your records, and no accidental abuse of the needle from the stylus bouncing. One slight downward push on the lever activates it, and it slowly descends on its own to the record. It’s not only functional, but a beautiful sight to behold.
Its slick electronic speed control switches from 33 1/3 RPM to 45 and 78. This allows for old 78 RPM records from the late 1950s and earlier to be played with an appropriate wider groove needle installed. Lower price point turntables like the Audio-Technica LP7 skip this functionality, but it is nice to have if you’ve inherited vintage records or have a penchant for early twentieth century works.
The unit lacks a built in internal preamplifier. This means you will need to have an external preamp to get audible sound out of the Clearaudio Concept. Any will work, but one at the quality level of the Concept is preferred, as a preamp can make or break the sound. For this review, the Concept was paired with the solid state Vincent PHO-8 preamplifier to excellent results. Both are clinically accurate and finely manufacturer devices, and minimalistic.
Lacking a dust cover and stylus cover, the unit does need to be dusted often to maintain its striking looks. This is a drawback, but the trouble is ultimately worth it for the level of quality the unit exemplifies. If this is an issue, Needle Doctor sells a matching dust cover, and third party solutions exist.
Speakers vanish when connected to the Clearaudio Concept. The sound that pours through them is enveloping. It fills the room. True to the source, the Concept highlights the strengths of great pressings, and reveals the weaknesses of others. Accurate reproduction is a must-have to audiophiles, and this turntable delivers.
Due to being so accurate, the Clearaudio Concept tends to bring out flaws in poorer vinyl pressings. A pressing of No Doubt’s Rock Steady lacked any real punch, likely due to flat mastering by the engineer. Cheaper turntables tend to lay their own audio signatures over records like this, making them sound dynamic where they actually shouldn’t. The audiophile goal of clinical accuracy over customized EQ is achieved by the Concept.
At the same volume level, other rock music like Disturbed had the speakers popping. Loud, heavy rock passages sound dynamic on the Concept, with instrumental separation. Individual elements of the music are distinct and discernible. This is more evidence of the Concept ultimately staying true to the vinyl mastering engineer’s vision.
Playback of the Mariah Carey picture disc Caution unveiled smooth vocals, clean low-end thump and clear treble. Rap records like Quavo’s Huncho features immense bass boom and sharp reproduction of auto-tuned vocals. Pop records highlighted the stylus’ immense stereo separation, with stereo effects on the Gwen Stefani song “Luxurious” panning from left to right very noticeably.
Electronic dance music like Mistress Recordings’ pressing of Anthony Rother has a power behind it, and a pure energy that transports you to the dance floor. Bass gets ultra-low when necessary, highlighting the Concept’s distinguished and ultra-clean range of bass response.
The club-ready bass passages of Christina Aguilera’s 2010 dance pop album Bionic sounded menacing, strong and buoyant; this matched the declared intention of the artist herself, and outperformed a digital version in comparison.
Vocals exist in their intended space within the music, and are not emphasized unless the mixing and mastering of the actual album calls for it. Vocals have been said to be a weak point of the Clearaudio Concept. Vocals may not be as pronounced in certain rock songs as they would be on lower-end tables, but voices shine in arrangements where they are the intended focus. Easy listening vocal albums like Emma Bunton’s My Happy Place sparkle with warm harmonies and sharp detail.
Without vocals and the heavy instrumental layering of modern music, the Concept is able to show off its power in subtle and exciting ways. Acoustic instrumental records shine brilliantly, and are the Concept’s biggest strong suit, sound wise. Orchestral arrangements sound fresh, almost as if you are witnessing them in person.
The no frills, award-winning design and accurate sound of the Clearaudio Concept turntable allows for pure playback. This makes it the rare prestige turntable that supports a remarkable range of user experience levels, from beginner to seasoned audiophile. If a beginner wants to skip the starter to midrange turntable journey, and begin with the best, the Concept is a great choice. It also makes for a killer upgrade.
Low and precise bass
No dust cover included
When purchased from Jerry Raskin’s Needle Doctor, turntables like the Clearaudio Concept come with the added benefit of in-house expertise and advice. That’s what Needle Doctor does. Their showroom is filled with example turntable setups, and they carry the world’s largest selection of turntables.
6006 Excelsior Blvd.
St. Louis Park MN 55416
Call: 1-800-229-0644 (10 AM to 6 PM CST daily)
For reference, the audio equipment used for this review included the Cambridge Audio Azur 651A Integrated Amplifier, Vincent PHO-8 preamplifier and Dali Zensor 3 speakers with AudioQuest Type 4 speaker wires.
Are you happy with your current vinyl setup? Show me, or ask for advice! @DerekPlease on Twitter