Clearaudio and How I Spent (or will) my Summer
Holy crap is it hot. After 20+ years in the desert you’d think I’d get over it. But, each winter my body conveniently forgets just how intense the summer can be. It’s a good thing I have plenty of vinyl in-house to make those long days more musical.
Also, two things I’ve learned…again:
- Probably a bad idea to buy vinyl online during the summer months. Warping is bad.
- Some professional delivery personnel may not be music lovers.
Now, where was I?
Right. I had switched my two channel system to vinyl only.
In the previous post, I covered why I switched to a strictly analog chain for my two channel system. Currently, I have the time to dedicate to maintaining vinyl, gas and glass, and the sound it delivers is uniquely mesmerizing.
My humble tube amps provide just enough power, and all the resolution, nuance, tone and texture I want. They do have their limits, and, I will eventually move on (back?) to more powerful tube amps (the BH amp is a headphone amp, after all) but if you’ve not experienced well designed low watt tube amps paired with sensitive loudspeakers, you may be surprised by the beautiful noise they make. Or not.
Before I return to the Concept ‘table, a disclaimer for the random few who stumble (my sincere thanks for stopping by) across me and my thing for music…and tubes.
It should be clear that I am not a professional writer, reviewer, or blogger. My limited skills lie elsewhere, but I spend time with music and playback gear. A lot of time, in fact, so, I started documenting my adventures here. I’ve no affiliation with the audio industry, and make my connection solely through my love for music, the gear that makes it, and admiration for the folks who design and build it.
Ok, so all the bits you’ll find within this thing are mine – purchased by me, unless otherwise stated. One exception so far, is the Airist Audio Heron 5 impressions post I did as part of a Head-Fi tour. That was fun, and I will do it again, if the opportunity arises.
On that note, let’s get back to the recently purchased Clearaudio Concept turntable. The Concept is the company’s entry-level table, though if you’re anything like me, you may find its performance surprising.
I’ve no ‘tables to provide a useful comparison, so I will attempt to illustrate how this analog chain sounds alongside my digital chain. I want to do this, as I assume there are a lot of enthusiasts out there who started with digital and/or ignored/avoided/discarded vinyl for their own reasons.
Ok, first thing: I enjoy collecting vinyl for several reasons:
- I own the media for as long as I like. I’m not beholden to a streaming service or reliant on another entity for access.
- It’s not cheap, but I am supporting the industry and artists. I know how flawed the industry is, and will buy direct from the artist where I can.
- The physical media, maintenance, storage and required focus to play it deepens the listening experience.
- When done right, it sounds incredible.
With properly cleaned and demagnetized vinyl, my current analog chain provides a ton of detail, and (more importantly) nuance, dynamics and frequency extension.
While at this level, you won’t get the black backgrounds and resolve of the Schiit Gungnir multibit (Gmb), you may get in trade a tonal density and weight that no digital I’ve heard (again, at audio’s highest peaks I’m sure the analog/digital gap is closing, but that is not my world) can deliver. This is where my recent vinyl experience tipped the scales. While I’ve not yet reached the ‘spooky real’ listening experience that I have with the Gmb, I know with future upgrades I’ll get there.
Meanwhile, that tonal density translates to more convincingly solid images – especially with acoustic instruments and voices – that start from the floor up, and combined with those more realistic colors and textures, delivers a more tactile experience. My digital chain sounds excellent, but in comparison is a bit bleached, clinical, and is less grounded. Ok, so imagine a well recorded drum kit…the kick drum is mixed center stage, and with the vinyl the heft is incredible…and, combined with the air, I can imagine the drum itself in front of me. It’s less about very deep, slamming bass and more about a convincingly real image. Cool.
The Concepts noise floor is quite low, and with a quiet record, I only hear a light rumble through my Nighthawks. So with sensitive (25ohm) headphones you get both the table generated noise and surface noise of the record, but even then it’s not intrusive enough to affect my enjoying it. And through my Tekton Lore (98db) it’s even better.
Actually, I’ve had more ecstatic listening experiences with vinyl in the past couple weeks than I had in the last year or more with my digital chain. To define ‘ecstatic’ – I’m totally engaged in the music and not hearing gear…a challenge for any of us, I think. I understand this is anecdotal and so potentially of little use to you, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I’ll admit, there are likely many things contributing to that experience, but the Concept is at the core of it. And, if you spend a lot of time thinking about and pursuing your ideal sound like I do, then you understand that the deeper you get into the gear, the harder it may be to simply enjoy the music.
That last bit there, that sums it up. I am loving music again, and more than ever.
So, is the Clearaudio Concept MM turntable “game changing”, “end game” or “the best thing I’ve ever heard”. Nope. Is it the best turntable in its class? No idea. It is the most well-built, and best sounding turntable I’ve owned. It is proving for me what many have argued for years.
Digital isn’t analog. And, it doesn’t need to be – we have both.