September 20, 2010

A Solution For My Vinyl Blues? It's a Clearaudio Solution.

The impressive looking Clearaudio Solution turn table package placed on my FE Spider clone rack.

Now that you've read about my adventures of putting together an LP play back system, a.k.a. a turn table, tone arm and cartridge, let's see what this Clearaudio package has to offer?

And before we go further, I must stress that I am totally awed and marvelled at the level of mechanical engineering, and meticulous finishing. The review sample of the Solution turn table is the AMG wood variety. According to Clearaudio specs, the Panzerholtz wood is laminated from 72 layers of wood of varying density. The said result is that the wood becomes so though it can with stand a speeding bullet! a.k.a. "bullet proof wood". By the way, there's a small premium in price for the wood version over the standard acrylic version.

It took me a few hours to assemble the package and it now ready for it's final set up procedure, the cartridge alignment and set up. I used the Clearaudio provided protractor as seen below to align the cartridge then followed by the tracking force, VTA and anti skate settings. I used an Ortofon DS-1 digital cartridge scale to set the tracking force at 3.0gsm as per recommended by Clearaudio, VTA is set up by sight, straight balanced on both ends and anti skate is set to minimal.
I used the Clearaudio provided protractor to align the Concerto V2 cartridge. The protractor is very well marked and made the alignment job easier than usual.

Now, I turn my attention to the Pass Labs X-ono phono stage set up. I used the usual 56db gain setting and loaded the Concerto V2 MC cartridge at 249 ohm. That was easy.

This setting proved to be a little bass light, and then I remembered during my chat with Robert Suchy that 3.2gsm was his preferred tracking force setting for the super class range of Clearaudio MC cartridges, which the Concerto V2 is clearly a member. I used this setting for the rest of my sound description.

I thought the Clearaudio Solution, Unify and Concerto V2 package to have a flat neutral balance, never put emphasis in to any particular frequency range. The high frequencies are exact, realistic with great attack qualities. The mids are a bit lean but otherwise have good clarity and detail retrieval. Bass is a bit lite, but have enough articulation to form the musical foundation. In other words, this package is free from colouration that many have mistakenly interpreted as "warm" sounding.

I found this Clearaudio package to be amongst the most transparent, true to source turn table I've played in my system to date. It is also the most quiet, mainly free from back ground noise like hiss or hum, especially LP surface noise. The low noise floor allows the low level resolution to be exposed in all it's full glory. Take for example, Illinios Jacquet's recently reissued, Birthday Party album(a blues/jazz musical genre), I could hear every breath, moisted mouth piece, finger work, that burnish and golden brass tone of the horn and the hamonic and timbre differentiation of the all the various horn instruments used, like the flugel, baritone sax and trumpet, plus flute and tenor, each floating solidly in their own acoustic space of the sound stage. At this point stage width and depth perception is no longer an issue, because it's almost like you're there! This kind of sonic experience is priceless.

Equipped with an over sized out board motor, speed stability is first rate. Solo piano tracks that upset the Concept and all other budget turn tables sailed through beatifully this time. There were no rude awakening that one was listening to a less then perfect musical presentation.

I must however, add that all that transparency is a double edge sword too, only because the Clearaudio package is so very true to source. Put on a poorly recorded pop or rock LP, and the Clearaudio turn table will surely reveal it's inadequacies. It does not suffer for fools. Only the very best recordings guarantees a truly satisfying experience. It's no fault of the Clearaudio package as it's only the messenger, not the source. One of my analog sifus who owns a very high end Clearaudio turn table always tell me, "Don't shoot the messenger if you don't like what you hear".
Illnois Jacquet plays Birthday Party Blues, along with another out standing track called The Shadow Of Your Smile, makes up this excellent 5 track blues/jazz album on LP, recently remastered by Bernie Grundman and re-issued by Groove Note label. The recording still has high levels of tapes hiss but when played at an appropriate level, the feeling of being intoxicated with blues will certainly overwhelm.

With a little familiarisation, this turn table package is fairly easy to set up, tune and will reward with it's honesty. In the scheme of things, it is at this point of the Clearaudio turn table range where things start to get serious. The Solution turn table can be up graded later to the higher range Master Solution spec, if required. One can even go all the way and add a Synchro power supply to that out board motor. It has the family DNA of the all conquering Clearaudio Master Reference, only built to a lower price level. Some compromises are therefore, un avoidable. When compared to it's bigger brothers higher up in the range, I thought the Solution gives up some what in the area of bass weight extension and out right extreme dynamics. It is however, a clearly superior audiophile pleasing turn table, when compared to the entry level Concept I reviewed earlier.
The Unify uni-pivot tone arm is very well made, and comes with carbon arm tube. This arm is very easy to set up but the signal wires are very fragile, and one has to be very careful not to break/or bend them during installation. Shaky hands and fingers need not apply here!

As I mentioned earlier, the level of engineering and manufacturing quality borders on level of fanaticism. I can assure that if taken cared for, this turn table can serve it's owner for a long, long, time to come. There's even a pre planned up grade route in the form of the Master Solution with a price top up, when one aspires more. One can even add the Clearaudio Synchro power supply for better bass response and dynamics, according to a buddy of mine who has gone thru the Clearaudio Master Solution up grading path. I find this Solution path makes a lot of practical sense.
Another look at the Solution AMG Wood turn table. Note the little black wire below is used to ground the turn table to the phono stage.

Here's the break down of the package price for each item:

1) Clearaudio Solution AMG Wood turn table - RM$19,500.00(standard acrylic finish unit available for RM$16,500.00)

2) Clearaudio Unify tone arm - RM$10,875.00

3) Clearaudio Concerto V2 cartridge - RM$11,985.00

Do you want a Solution for your vinyl blues?

If your answer is "YES" then head on to your nearest CMY Audio & Visual showroom right away.

Clearaudio is sold by CMY Audio & Visual, contact John, tel: 03-21439406.

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