The turntable is arguably the audiophile tweaker’s favourite toy. With the plethora of tonearms, cartridges, plinths and power supplies, not to mention platters, mats and belts available on the market, building the perfect turntable has never been easier. Vinyl enthusiasts spend hour after hour meticulously tweaking their tonearms to achieve optimum cartridge alignment, VTA, azimuth and vertical tracking force. And, when their equipment is performing at its best, it’s time to add another component and start again.
However, for the average user who simply wants to listen to music, turntable upgrades, not to mention the initial setup, can seem daunting. There are thousands of differing opinions online and in magazines, and for first-timers the vinyl hobby can quickly become frustrating.
Enter the ClearAudio concept. For those seeking a purist, plug and play turntable, the Clearaudio Concept offers the essential ingredients needed to achieve exceptional sound from your records.
The concept plinth is comprised of a later of synthetic compound, sitting atop a natural medium density wood fibre core. The plinth, complete with an aluminium surround to give it a distinctly high end look, effectively illuminates the effects caused by unwanted vibrations.
The concept features electronic speed control, its DC motor fed by an external voltage stabilised DC power supply. The motor is decoupled from the chassis to further reduce vibration.
The concept tonearm features a friction-free magnetic bearing. It comes pre-fitted with your choice of a concept V2 MM (Moving Magnet) or MC (Moving Coil) cartridge, and the tracking force, anti-skate, and VTA (vertical tracking angle) are preset from the factory. The arm features a damped cuing mechanism and a high quality tonearm cable with an integral earth lead.
The Concept V2 MM cartridge features an aluminium cartridge body and cantilever, and has a recommended tracking force of 1.8 – 2.6 grams. Tracking force is preset from the factory at 2.0 grams, though increasing the tracking force to 2.2 grams can yield better results. Opt for the MC cartridge, and you get a Boron cantilever and a micro-line stylus tip.
The concepts packaging gives a superlative impression of quality the moment you open the box. It’s packed with large, substantial foam blocks keeping everything firmly in place. In the box, you’ll find the concept itself, along with the platter, the belt, some documentation and an accessories box containing the power supply, a pot of bearing oil, and a bubble level.
Build quality is outstanding, as you would expect.. The main subplatter bearing in particular is extremely solid, with no discernible play. All key parts are fashioned from high quality metal – no cheap plastic in sight.
The concept turntable does not include a dust cover. An acrylic dust cover is available, though it’s priced rather high at around £115.
Setup couldn’t be simpler. Once the deck is situated on a level surface, the 3 small feet underneath must be adjusted to precisely level the plinth using the included bubble level. Once complete, the belt can be placed around the circumference of the subplatter and the motor pulley, before the heavy main platter is placed over the spindle.
As previously mentioned, the concept tonearm is pre-adjusted at the factory. You’re simply required to remove the tape securing the arm, and the small piece of foam protecting the magnetic bearing. There’s also a plastic stylus guard which is taped in place.
The cable is permanently attached, but is of a decent length and of high quality. The plugs slide on and off easily, and the ground lead is pre-fitted with a spade connector resulting in a tighter, neater ground connection.
The included universal power supply comes supplied with a set of adapters for use in the UK, EU, and US. These adapters snap easily into place, and, as you would expect, the power supply connects firmly to a jack on the rear of the turntable.
Setup took me less than 5 minutes from opening the box to playing my first record. This is the easiest, most frustration-free turntable setup procedure I have ever encountered.
The concept turntable is, as you would expect, extremely easy to use. Thanks to the electronic speed control, there’s no need to remove the platter to alter the speed manually – instead, turning the large knob situated in the front left corner of the turntable allows you to switch the motor on and off, as well as set the speed. Unusually, the concept turntable features not only the usual 33.3 and 45RPM speeds, but also a setting for 78RPM playback. It’s worth noting that if you intend to spin 78s on the Concept, you’ll want a dedicated 78 cartridge with the correct stylus tip.
The concept arm features a damped cuing mechanism. This took some getting used to – unlike other tonearms, this one requires that the cuing lever be slowly and smoothly lowered in order for the stylus to land on the record. On my review sample, releasing the lever too quickly would cause the cuing arm to stick, and the arm to hover over the record for a few seconds before it finally began to descend. The cuing arm is topped by a thick layer of rubber, which holds the arm firmly in place as it lowers, helping to minimise cuing error.
Lower the stylus to a record, and the Concept offers up a crisp, refined sound. It’s remarkably clean in its presentation, with very little in the way of background noise. It portrays a broad, 3-dimensional sound stage, and inner groove distortion and sibilance are kept to a minimum throughout the entirety of the disk (though things can get a little muddy towards the end of some newer, louder pressings).
Speed stability was decent, though there was some discernible wow and flutter during sustained piano notes. During Journey’s ‘Open Arms’, the flutter was particularly noticeable, though it wasn’t enough to detract from the overall performance.
My review sample was equipped with the Concept MM moving magnet cartridge. Throughout my various test, testing both on brand new, mint vinyl pressings, and older more warn exampled, the cartridge showed excellent tracking ability. Bass lines were controlled and rhythmic, while the top end offered a likeable sweet sparkle. Whether spinning an original pressing of Freddie Mercury’s ‘Barcelona’, or Jake Bugg’s 2013 ‘Shangri La’, the concepts sound was inviting, musical, and never left me wanting more.
Record after record, and the music keeps on coming. The concept is right at home spinning classic rock – it’s fast, musical sound makes it exhilarating to listen too for hour after hour. As the last bars of a track fade out, you’ll find yourself hovering over the arm lift lever – eager to drop on another disk. Isn’t that how it should be?
The concept is an affordable, simple and fantastic-sounding turntable package. The build quality betters turntable costing 2 or 3 times the price, and its plug and play simplicity means that anybody, regardless of experience, can set it up and start listening in a matter of minutes.
But most of all, it’s a joy to listen to. In fact, it’s more than that, it’s great fun. And fun is what vinyl is all about. Highly recommended.