Clearau­dio So­lu­tion Turntable

NOVO - - PRODUCT REVIEW - Michael Osad­ciw

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.

per­for­mance

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

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