Clearaudio Solution Turntable
There’s no doubt that vinyl playback has seen resurgence in recent years. Local hi shops have been advertising and stocking more tables as a way to generate interest again. They are supported by the music industry’s constant supply of both classic and new releases on vinyl, spanning all genres or music. For a few reasons important to me, I didn’t want to be left behind in the quest for higher delity in physical media. I took the needed time listen to a variety of tables and Clearaudio was one of the companies that offered something unique. The emotional delivery of music is tangible from its product line. Unlike the brand new products we normally evaluate in these pages, this review looks at the Clearaudio Solution turntable which I recently added to my system. The Solution isn’t a brand new product but nevertheless, there is a great deal to be learned from this review if you’re thinking about picking up a high quality turntable. I purchased the Clearaudio Solution, priced at $3,200, equipped with Clearaudio’s Satisfy Carbon Direct-Wire tonearm ($1,400) and tted with a Benz-Micro Glider S medium output cartridge ($1,050). For a total bill of $5,650, I felt that this combination offered a lasting impression of great design and performance.
The Clearaudio name has delivered high-quality analogue products for over thirty years. Mainly a family operation, it is based on the vision and philosophy of those in the company. Its mission is to continue setting new high delity standards in the analogue reproduction of music. Clearaudio wants to maintain its business model as company set apart from the rest regarding quality products, manufacturing, and products that are built to last. All Clearaudio products are handcrafted in Erlangen, Germany and nearly every outsourced part is manufactured there too. Clearaudio staffs its own engineers and has its own production and testing methods. This enables the company to perform its own documentation on acoustic and
technical tests and measure each item rigorously before moving onto to mass production. Another great bene t is that the company stores original high quality spare parts for 25 years, if a repair or replacement is needed. Thus, if you’re looking for new analogue gear, this is certainly a company that you should consider. Clearaudio manufactures turntables and tonearms, cartridges, phono preampli ers, class-A ampli ers, and a variety of audiophile accessories such as racks, cables, and plugs.
design | features
What rst caught my eye about the Solution was its appearance. The transparent, tri-shaped resonance reducing acrylic chassis offers three points of contact to an audio rack. It looks a bit like the capital letter Y with each end being capable of accommodating a tonearm base – yes this turntable is capable of housing three tonearms at the same time. The high-precision turntable platter is made out of solid silicon acrylic and is spun by an inverted bearing with a polished ball bearing. This unit has the upgraded CMB-Bearing, a Clearaudio patent where a high precision ceramic vertical axle ts perfectly in a bronze bearing. After lubrication, the platter oats by itself on an air cushion rather than on a ball bearing, allowing for smoother turns and less drag. Supplied gloves prevent oils from the skin staining the plain translucent platter during assembly. To make this table turn, the supplied drive belt is af xed on the outer edge of the platter and spun by an acrylic pulley from a standalone synchronous motor. The pulley is capable of spinning vinyl at either 33.3 or 45 RPM with a speed variation of +/-0.2%. A 78RPM pulley is available as an option.
While some of the intricate items were already pre-assembled, I found it an art setting this table up when using the supplied levels and pads. For additional vibration elimination, I opted to put the supplied pads under the motor and placed carbon bre Black Diamond Racing LM Discs under the turntable’s conical feet to reduce micro vibrations. In fact I decided to place the turntable on three large marble slab tiles that sit on the top of my audio rack. Not only did it make the setup look even better through the transparent acrylic, but it improved vibration isolation as well. The table was shipped with all accessories, a manual, and 5-year warranty card in a fairly large box with all pieces separate from each other for safe transport.
The Satisfy tonearm is available in aluminum, carbon bre, and the much denser ebony and satiné wood versions. Each offers its own distinct sound. I thought that the very lightweight carbon bre version would be a good match for the BenzMicro Glider SM cartridge. The Satisfy tonearm has high quality Swiss vertical and lateral bearings.
Connecting and tweaking the headshell to the tonearm is easy, with an Allen screw that simply slides through a mounting bar. The tonearm has adjustments for weight, azimuth, and antiskating. The vertical tracking angle (VTA) can also be set but not during playback like with the newly introduced Clarify tonearm. The Satisfy can be optionally tted with high-quality RCA connectors, although I chose to use what I thought would be the best option and that was to have it directly wired. It is what the name implies: the wiring from the headshell continues within the tonearm directly to the male RCA connectors in a length that totals about a meter. The arm lift is extremely smooth and allows a gentle, controlled needle drop anywhere on the vinyl with very good accuracy. The Satisfy reviewed here was listened to using the Benz-Micro Glider S medium output cartridge. My phono preampli er is Ayre’s excellent phono stage built within the K-1xe preampli er. The turntable was professionally and meticulously set up so that I could ensure it delivered the best it could. With my patience wearing thing and wanting to dive right into my music collection, I was nally ready to spin some vinyl.
I connected the Clearaudio Solution to my reference system comprised of the Ayre K-1xe preamp (with Ayre’s built-in phono preamp) and three Theta Enterprise monoblock ampli ers powering a pair of Dunlavy SC-IV/a loudspeakers and one Dunlavy TSW-VI tower subwoofer.
As I watched the turntable spin and listened to the sound, I immediately wanted to revisit all of my albums all over again.
For the rst time in a long time, I had achieved complete system synergy. I felt wonderfully connected to the music as the instruments and voices drew me completely away from this busy world, for extended moments of time. I listened to many recordings, spanning a few genres, but since I’m a part of generation X, I gravitated toward new rock and electronica albums. I rst started with the M83 double-album “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.” Anthony Gonzalaz’s eclectic dreamlike atmospheric sound, fused with ambience and dark lyrics, lled my room from wall to wall. I immediately knew I was been taken by the music and couldn’t miss the chance to turn out the lights and close my eyes with this late-night listen. Compared to the loud and compressed CD version of this album, the Solution delivered this vinyl’s wide dynamics, creative use of depth, and punctuated bass.
Amazed by the bass delivery of this turntable rig, I was interested in exploring it further. I next listened to a recent bandproject “How To Destroy Angels” created by Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor and long time collaborator Atticus Ross. The EP “An Omen” has some interesting tracks, but the one that really tested the bass capability of my audio system was “Keep It Together”. Sporting a heavy and deep bass line, the Solution proved to be no slouch by any means. In fact, I was surprised about how good the bass was from my Dunlavy TSW-VI subwoofer tower, which blends seamlessly with the Dunlavy SC-IV/a speakers. The subwoofer is designed to have no overhang or thick, lumpy bass. It was great to hear that the Solution had none as well. I could hear and feel everything, from a slight ripple and change in bass tone to a pant-shaking effect. The Solution/Satisfy combination is quick and rm. If it can do this with well produced electronic music, it can do the same for rock.
The remainder of my listening happened over a period of weeks and consisted of changing many albums. If I had one wish, it would be to make the centre pin in the middle of the platter just a bit thinner. Sometimes I found it dif cult to pull albums off without bending them a bit. It was even trickier when swapping out 10 inch albums as I was afraid to twist and scratch the vinyl on the platter. But this also seemed to be an issue with the vinyl. Some have larger holes and the album lifted with ease.
I listened to Florence + The Machine, Foster the People, The Black Keys, Bjork, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Tori Amos and Radiohead. A bit of classic rock mixed with the new, the Solution was not biased one way or another. I feel like this turntable was almost a passive device; it just played what was on the record regardless of how good or bad the recording was. In that sense it was very revealing which some people see as both a blessing and a curse. It made my good recordings from Radiohead and Bjork sound great.
Thom Yorke’s voice in the song “Nude” from the 45 rpm edition of In Rainbows never sounded so eerily close to me. I felt the distance between him and I, and the rest of the band convincingly laid out in the room. The 45 also clearly had a lower noise oor when compared to the rest of the records I played, therefore it was always an album I returned to over and over. The Solution was quiet as ever and at no time did I detect the mechanisms of the motor or the table in the audio playback.
The sibilance often found in Bjork’s voice on the CDs was virtually gone (but that’s also a CD mastering issue which makes vinyl the better choice for some recordings). The song Isobel from Bjork’s Post album has always been one of my favourite tracks. Bjork’s voice nally had the silky vocal quality I’ve been wanting every time I listened to the CD. The strings in the orchestra took on a separation I’ve never heard before in this song. I could hear individual players on their string instruments.
The Solution also showed me that not all new rock albums can be saved from bad recordings. Florence + The Machine’s excellent album Ceremonials is loaded with great songs, but sadly the compression in the recording is just too great to sound live, despite this vinyl sounding better than the CD. While I appreciated the Solution being honest with the recording, I was left wishing more care was put into the consistency and quality of mainstream recordings. The same can be said with Foster the People’s Torches album. Songs such as Helena Beat were full of atmosphere and dynamics. I felt like I was ready to dance to the music at a live concert event. It got my foot tapping! But then the second song Pumped Up Kicks sounded over produced, congested, at and restrained. I commend the Solution to deliver such differences in recordings and being faithful to the source.
The Clearaudio Solution has spent more than six months in my 2-channel system now. It continues to perform to my highest expectations and delivers my favourite recordings with precision and pride. The Solution turntable and the Satisfy Carbon tonearm are an amazing combination, and they will gladly work with a wide range of cartridges. If you’d like to challenge your music system with even greater resolution, Clearaudio has numerous higher performance models, each incrementally improving on every design aspect. If the Solution and Satisfy Carbon duo is outside of your budget, I highly recommend looking at Clearaudio’s more affordable models as I nd the company’s entire range of turntables to deliver great value at the various price points. I have no doubt that this turntable rig will keep me satis ed for many years to come. Highly recommended! Mike Osadciw is a THX/ISF Professional Video Calibrator/Instructor with The Highest Fidelity (905) 730-5996 info@thehighest delity.com www.thehighest delity.com