Turntable Reviews

Clearaudio Concept Turntable

ARTICLE INDEX

In Use

The first album I pulled out was the recent remastering of Nirvana Unplugged. Recorded shortly before Kurt Cobain's death, and released posthumously, Nirvana Unplugged is one of the finest albums to come from the once great MTV series, along with Eric Clapton's Unplugged album. The remaster of this album was expertly done, with a dead quiet background, and vocals that seemed to come to life from the speakers. Compared to the sound of my entry level Music Hall turntable, the Clearaudio was far more dynamic, with better bass, a much larger soundstage, and a more natural sound. The midrange was crisp and clear, as the voice of the weary Cobain came through. The album was magnificently remastered and the Concept brought the recording to life.

I moved on to Radiohead's prior release, In Rainbows. The CD of the album is unfortunately not the best-mastered album in the world, which is too bad since the music on it is fantastic. To really see how the Clearaudio would stand out, I queued up the first side of the 45 RPM vinyl box on the Concept, and the CD on the Sony XA5400ES SACD player so I could switch back and forth. A couple of Radiohead-loving friends came over to join me for this experience as well. While most thought they would be able to clearly tell the difference, those characteristics they were expecting to hear wound up to be quite different than what they actually heard.

Compared to the vinyl version, the CD version of the album just sounded sterile. Guitars played a note, but had no texture or air that came along with the note. The dynamic range of the instruments was crushed due to the mastering of the CD, causing everything to bleed together and sound like a mess of instruments instead of a well-defined band. Everyone that expected the CD to sound more detailed, or clearer, left highly disappointed as they all had a strong preference for the vinyl release. This also helped to reaffirm my decision to buy all my new, popular music releases on vinyl instead of the CD version.

My Dad coming by the house gave me a good reason to put on the reissue of Neil Young's After The Gold Rush. Warner Brothers did a wonderful job on these reissues, down to using the same types of paper as the original versions that my Dad probably owned. From the piano on the title track, to the brash guitar on Southern Man, to Young's far more powerful and younger voice, everything came out clear from the Concept and pulled you back into the music. I think my Dad was a bit envious at the setup, and that he couldn't sit down and listen to the whole album that morning.

After upgrading the cartridge from the Concept MM to the MC and introducing the Nano preamp to the setup (the Anthem phono stage is for MM or high gain MC only), I went to one of my all time favorite albums, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot from Wilco. I had bought the two LP set from Sundazed before I even had a turntable, so I would have a copy in the future if I ever did and I have always been happy with that purchase. However, once I started to play it back, I was totally unprepared for what I would hear. Of all the gear I have listened to, and the components auditioned, this was the closest anything had come to recreating the sound of someone actually singing in front of me. Jeff Tweedy seemed to be standing in front of me, as the nuances of the recording came to life. I could hear his breathing between lines, and perfectly picture him standing there, recording the song in front of me. I have listened to this album countless times over the years, but nothing had ever brought it to life like the Clearaudio Concept had for me.

During the rest of my time with the Concept, I must have listened to 70-80 albums on it. I kept reaching into my library to find titles that I hadn't heard, or going out shopping to pick up albums that I couldn't wait to hear on it. My previous thoughts on vinyl that it can be a bit of a pain to maintain and demanding to listen to albums on were gone with the Concept. Listening was always a pleasure, and aside from the initial setup I never needed to adjust anything on the table the whole time I had it. Listening to a 45 RPM album required me getting up to flip it over fairly often, but my effort was rewarded with magical sound coming out from my speakers.