October 10, 2010

Clearaudio Stradivari MC Cartridge.

The Clearaudio Stradivari MC cartridge. Made from sustain able grade ebony wood, according to Robert Suchy.

The Clearaudio Stradivari MC cartridge was launched in year 2005 with much fanfare, winning numerous industry awards and garnering glowing reviews. My experience with this Clearaudio cartridge started sometime in year 2007. Many of my high end vinyl kakis have this cartridge mounted on their turn tables.

The impression that I always get when listening to a turn table set up mounted with this cartridge is of powerful dynamics and transient response, neutral tonal balance plus a totally quiet back ground.

So when a buddy of mine decided to upgrade to the Clearaudio Goldfinger V2 earlier this year, I took over this cartridge from him. This is an early model Stradivari, we are talking about, not the current V2 designated version. It's a very light cartridge, weighting just 4.4 grams. Clearaudio provides an additional weight attachment if one requires a heavier cartridge. I mounted the cartridge on to my Linn Ittok tone arm with the weight attachment. I had the tracking force set to 2.8 grams as recommended in the manual(this was before I had a chat with Robert Suchy!). It's a medium output MC cartridge rated at 0.6 mv(Millivolt) and recommended loading setting is 300 ohms. I used the 62db gain setting on my Pass X-Ono phono stage, but felt it sounded best balanced when I loaded the cartridge at 249 ohms.

The Clearaudio Stradivari is an excellent tracker. During it's time with me, no LP has managed to upset it, even the most warped, but still play able in my collection. As with my experience earlier, the sound of the Stradivari is strictly neutral in tonal balance. The high frequencies are extended, with good attack on high hats, and very realistic sounding, if only shows up some what dry in my set up(this was not the case with others I've heard). The mids are open and vocals rendered with absolute clarity, but my preference is to have a bit more density here. The bass is highly extended and articulated, but possibly needs to have more tracking force to show more weight. Dynamics and transient response is hugely bold and fast. It is also capable of generating a 3D like sound stage, if the recording captures it in it's vinyl groove. I must also mention the Stradivari's extra ordinary ability to dig up all, even the tiniest musical information from the LP's groove, which results in it's excellent transparency that is most true to source. In the context of my system, I've found this cartridge to have exciting and explosive thrill ride qualities, yet ultimately, I also found my mind wondering away from the music after playing a few tracks.
My Stradivari, mounted on the Linn Ittok with the extra weight attachment. The latest V2 versions have the extra weight plates built in to the resonance star crown, on top of the cartridge body.

Another buddy had offered me a set of Oyaide HSR-AG cartridge leads for a small, tidy sum. It seemed that this 5N pure silver cable is just the antidote I needed for the Clearaudio Stradivari. The Oyaide leads offered a certain sweet warmness and organics in the sound which offset the naturally analytical, if accurate behavior of the Clearaudio cartridge. The main sonic difference is in the high frequency reproduction. The highs reproduced with the Oyaide in the line of signal, is slightly sweet, attractively airy, yet trading nothing away from the realistic attack of high hats. The high mids are also smoothed out some what and some recordings with sibilance which the Stradivari will certainly let you know is now less piercing to these ears.

Is the any down side to the Oyaide cartridge leads? Yes! I found them rather stiff and hard to dress from head shell to cartridge. The leads are also quite brittle in feel, that they may snap if one twist too hard, or agresive an angle.They are also much heavier than the normal grade cartridge leads, so cartridge tracking force will have to be re-calibrated to suit.
Oyaide HSR-AG, mate this to the Clearaudio Stradivari for even more excellent sound.

In comparison with today's V2 designated Stradivari, the latest version offers a slightly warmer tonal balance, but one can never call it rich or lush just yet. The sibilance on the high mids are naturally lessened with the latest model too. As a very experience Clearaudio cartridge user tells me, the V2 version is easier to set up, but the earlier version loses little in terms of performance, if one's experience and set up skills is good enough. With many previous Stradivari users trading up to the newer V2 versions of the Clearaudio super class cartridge, there are quite a few to choose from now days. I see prices varying from RM$4000.00-$4800.00, depending on age and condition of use, the Clearaudio Stradivari is clearly very good value when bought used, compared to the latest price of RM$9800.00 for the brand new latest V2 version.

I must dispense with this caveat when shopping for used cartridges, and this applies to all used ones. Buying a used cartridge can be an excellent value up grade proposition or the most horribly wrong hifi purchase experience known. Cartridges are very delicate instruments, which demand a certain level of care and respect when in use. They are easily damaged and abused, or in the case of an old, highly used cartridge, just simply worn out. When buying used cartridges, do make sure you know the owner habits or history. If possible, request for a test play if it's still mounted. Otherwise, if buying from a trusty retailer, make sure to negotiate for a limited warranty of some sort, just in case if the worst should happen. You'll never know, after all.

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