Clea­r­au­dio Con­cept £1000

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Turntables -

“Short of ac­tu­ally see­ing the room and smelling the air for our­selves, Clea­r­au­dio comes close to trans­port­ing us all the way to 1930s France”

FOR Nice build; great all­round sonic per­for­mance AGAINST Noth­ing par­tic­u­larly at this price So, if you’re not fa­mil­iar with the Clea­r­au­dio Con­cept turntable by now, the con­cept is es­sen­tially get­ting the most ex­cep­tional sound you can from your records at this price.

If that, com­bined with the five stars at the top of this re­view and this deck’s man­tel­piece full of What Hi-fi? Awards, doesn’t con­vince you to part with a grand, we sup­pose our work is cut out with the re­main­ing stretch of this re­view.

Still, we think any­one who trea­sures their stack of vinyl de­serves to know just what delights the Clea­r­au­dio has to of­fer.


Sim­plic­ity is a big part of this pack­age’s charm. Un­like some ri­val de­signs, which re­quire pa­tience, a steady hand and a pass­able grasp of math­e­mat­ics to get them work­ing, the Con­cept is as ‘plug and play’ a prod­uct as it is pos­si­ble to find. The com­pany’s own mov­ing-mag­net Con­cept car­tridge is fit­ted to the Ver­ify Di­rect Wire Plus ton­earm (there is also a mov­ing-coil al­ter­na­tive avail­able, though cur­rently the cheap­est we can find on­line still comes at a £350 pre­mium), and Clea­r­au­dio sets ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing the car­tridge weight and bias, be­fore the turntable leaves the fac­tory.

As with all turnta­bles, you’ll need a level, rigid and prop­erly damped sup­port for this deck to sit on if you’re se­ri­ous about get­ting the best out of it (at £1000, you re­ally should be) and Clea­r­au­dio even of­fers a lit­tle help­ing hand in that re­spect by in­clud­ing a spirit level.

With all that done in house, you can fit a plat­ter and a drive belt, can’t you? Of course you can – and then the Con­cept’s ready to play.

Be­fore drop­ping a record into place, though, it’s worth tak­ing a mo­ment to ad­mire the Con­cept’s clean de­sign and sub­stan­tial fin­ish. Speed, which can be set to 33⅓, 45 and 78rpm, is con­trolled by a hefty ro­tary dial, and the whole thing has the sort of so­lid­ity more read­ily as­so­ci­ated with out­side water clos­ets.

Be­ing largely re­dun­dant dur­ing set-up, all that’s left for us to do is dig The Pix­ies’ Doolit­tle from its sleeve, delight in draw­ing the Con­cept’s mag­net­i­cally poised ton­earm – which has a mag­netic bear­ing – over the edge of the record and let it drop gen­tly into place.

Kim Deal chugs those first four bass notes and gui­tars yell as we an­tic­i­pate be­ing hit by the open­ing track De­baser like a fist to the tho­rax.

What’s im­me­di­ately so im­pres­sive is that this en­tire rau­cous ca­coph­ony re­mains so in­cred­i­bly taut, match­ing its blis­ter­ing pace with ex­tra­or­di­nary poise and agility – the Ru­dolf Nureyev of £1000 turnta­bles, you might say.

Capri­cious cho­rus

It isn’t the weight­i­est of sounds in terms of low-end an­chor, but the bass gui­tar feels any­thing but cum­ber­some, af­forded the same light feet as its six-stringed cousins, and it’s cer­tainly far away from sub­stan­tially lack­ing in terms of depth.

As we tear through the open­ing tracks with­out pause for breath, we find it hard not to be en­am­oured of the Con­cept’s pre­ci­sion tim­ing. It’s in­cred­i­bly fast, yet re­mains in con­trol, never stum­bling or trip­ping over its laces.

Pix­ies front­man Black Fran­cis’s rhyth­mic gasp­ing in Tame, for ex­am­ple, has a com­bi­na­tion of pace and re­straint that builds an­tic­i­pa­tion to fever pitch ahead of the fi­nal capri­cious cho­rus.

Af­forded a slight re­prieve as the in­ten­sity is re­laxed just a touch for tracks such as Wave Of Mu­ti­la­tion and Here Comes Your Man, we now also have time

to ex­plore the am­ple space within the mix. There is air around the in­stru­ments; they have room enough to in­ter­act with­out ever col­lid­ing with one another, al­low­ing us ei­ther to fo­cus on a sin­gu­lar part or let our­selves be im­mersed in the whole.

Sand­ing the edges

If anal­y­sis is a chief con­cern, it is fur­ther aided by the Con­cept’s trans­parency and a level of de­tail of which JRR Tolkein would be proud. Hav­ing ex­pended both sides of Doolit­tle, we dig out some Django Rein­hardt.

Short of see­ing the room and smelling the air for our­selves, Clea­r­au­dio comes close to trans­port­ing us all the way to 1930s France. It’s like the com­pany’s proof of hon­esty be­ing the best pol­icy, re­fus­ing to sand off any edges that would al­ter or di­lute the char­ac­ter of the mu­sic, in­stead dig­ging into the tim­bre of the in­stru­ments to let them tell what­ever is their own story.

And what story do they tell here? Rein­hardt’s tale is of­ten one of com­plex dark and shade, rife with slides and trills – a spritely dance with del­i­cate dy­nam­ics. You won’t be sur­prised to read that the Con­cept tracks this dy­namic jour­ney step for step.

It is this del­i­cate sense of al­ter­nat­ing in­ten­sity that sets the very best hi-fi apart, and a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in giv­ing Clea­r­au­dio a stran­gle­hold on this por­tion of the mar­ket. The Con­cept is as adept at find­ing lead­ing notes, or ex­pos­ing the vul­ner­a­bil­ity in a war­bled vo­cal line as it is at re­joic­ing in the ram­bunc­tious crescen­dos of a full or­ches­tra.

If some of Clea­r­au­dio’s com­peti­tors have com­pro­mised on de­tail or dy­namic punch in or­der to mas­ter the other, let the same not be said of the Con­cept, whose grasp is firm on each el­e­ment. In­deed, the com­pany’s glut of What

Hi-fi? Awards should in­di­cate we find no dis­cernible short­com­ings at this price, though that isn’t to say this Clea­r­au­dio is the per­fect op­tion for ev­ery­one.

Some may pre­fer the more vig­or­ous per­for­mance of­fered by the Rega Pla­nar 6/Ania, for ex­am­ple. Pro-ject’s of­fer­ings, such as The Clas­sic or 2Xpe­ri­ence SB, are per­haps not so widely tal­ented, but have a sat­is­fy­ing warmth that makes lis­ten­ing to them a joy. Be­ing tal­ented across the board does not mean you ought be swayed by its tro­phy cabi­net alone.

But no, we can’t see any­one turn­ing down the Clea­r­au­dio Con­cept for a lack of tal­ent. It is as clean, rhyth­mic, de­tailed and spa­cious as you’ll find for the money, not to men­tion en­gag­ing and en­ter­tain­ing. A Con­cep­tual mas­ter­piece, you could say.

The Con­cept is as ‘plug and play’ as it’s pos­si­ble to be. This sim­plic­ity is part of its charm

The speed, which can be set to 33⅓, 45 and 78rpm, is con­trolled by a he y ro­tary dial

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