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Clearaudio Concept Turntable with Satisfy Tonearm and Concept V2 MM Cartridge Review

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The V2 MM cartridge offered a good degree of vinyl smoothness in instrument texture, tonal resolution and dynamic contrast. Vocals from Premium Records’ Best Audiophile Oldies of 2012 as picked up by the V2 MM was already hard to surpass in textural richness and dynamic flow when compared to CD sound of the same music as produced by several sub-$4,000 DACs I have auditioned. Complex orchestral passages from Deustche Grammophon LPs revealed a limitation in detailing and spatiality to these ears, which are accustomed to the previously reviewed Top Wing Suzaku-based system. Still, there was the unmistakable dynamic flow, benefitting solo piano most particularly, albeit with diminished contrasts between pianissimos and fortissimos.

Playing dynamically less demanding music, such as the Richard Strauss Metamorphoses DG LP as performed by twenty-three Berliner Philharmoniker solo strings, and the Hilary Hahn Plays Bach Sonatas Decca LP, secured the Clearaudio cartridge in the safe zone, prompting the cartridge to only attempt temperate macrodynamics. There was sufficient textural and tonal information in these recordings as produced by the V2 MM to appease more attentive listening sessions. But readers wanting more dramatic microdynamic interplay and more realistic tonal rendition will need to upgrade, and the Satisfy Black tonearm has its own limitations. Still, as it is, the turntable system teeters on the edge of greatness.

The Satisfy Black tonearm is made of lower-cost materials and is not intended for leapfrog performance, and it is also decidedly less sophisticated looking than other higher-grade Clearaudio models. For one, the tonearm can’t accommodate cartridges with small bodies and short cantilevers. For while the vertical tracking angle is adjustable, the construct of the tonearm’s armrest obstructs the lowering of the cartridge beyond a certain point and thus restricts use of cartridges to those with taller bodies and longer cantilevers. Consequently, the $949 Zu Audio modified Zu/DL-103R MKII Grade 1 moving-coil’s short body meant its cantilever couldn’t reach the record groove when mounted onto this tonearm. Creative and low-cost solutions, such as the Funk Firm Houdini coupler, add several millimeters of height to the cartridge mounting, potentially lowering the body of cartridges such as the Zu enough to reach the groove. It may even be sonically recommendable as an adjunct accessory. Readers who have tried it are invited to leave a comment about it.

Alternately, the $4,000 Soundsmith Paua II has a suitably taller body and longer cantilever, and represented a potentially superior turntable package. While there are hordes of cartridges priced between the Soundsmith and the Zu, it was my audition of the $599 Sumiko Amethyst moving-magnet with this Clearaudio turntable that cemented the latter’s singular status as a no-brainer in its exceptional value proposition.

Additionally, the Satsify Black tonearm is equipped with a captive Clearaudio DirectWire Plus DIN cable. Audiophiles crave choices, any company offering the most upgradability in its entry-level turntable system will win the most support in business. No audiophile would ever seriously dream of hitting the jackpot, but all seriously want products that allow a degree of upgradability. Nonetheless, the quality of the DirectWire is considerable, and our trustworthy Copy Editor Dan Rubin pointed out to me that some may see a captive tonearm cable as a positive since it reduced the number of connections the tiny phono signal must pass through on its way to the phono stage.

In spite of its limitations, the Satisfy Black does have a couple of significant attributes. Its construction, though budget by Clearaudio standards, remains substantial by all counts, and its silky movement inspires confidence. And although not interchangeable, the phono cable does not stifle sonic changes in cartridges and that is a good thing.

Substituting the Clearaudio cartridge with the $599 Sumiko Amethyst moving-magnet brought about such considerable improvements to the performance of the turntable system as to be obligatory. For the Sumiko provided such superior dynamic contrast, tonal definition, instrument separation, spectral extension and three-dimensionality as to be transformational. Crescendos were rendered texturally more intact and dynamically less compressed and more open sounding. Of no less importance is how the Cardas Clear Beyond cable system and Nautilus Power Strip anchored the openness of spatiality and intrinsic resolution of the system, qualifying it as yet another crucial element to the performance of the turntable system.

A performance jump of this magnitude was unexpected but unequivocally most welcome, as it accorded the third stage in my auditioning, namely my first-ever application of a turntable in a high-end headphone-based system. Apart from the Sound Lab electrostatic technology, one of the other great speaker technologies that I crave is the Focal Beryllium driver technology, and I now experience it via the company’s Utopia headphones, as driven by the Pass Labs HPA-1 headphone amplifier. In a high-end speaker-based system with speakers such as the Sound Lab panels, a little turntable flutter can be blown out of proportion by way of powerful amplification, such as those from Pass Labs and Bricasti Design. Having to feed the Focal Utopia with only one thousandth of a watt of signal, the less stringent noise tolerances of the Concept turntable system become moot while still delivering a pure and pristine analog experience. Completing the system was the Musical Surroundings Phonomena II+ phono stage, feeding the Pass Labs HPA-1.

Experiencing analog via the Focal Utopia was magical and rewarding, which provided a taste of the sound of the large electrostatic panels of Sound Labs. The velvety background of analog doesn’t feel the same as digital silence, and the Clearaudio Concept turntable provides a highly viable avenue for exploring the many sides of analog. At $2,199.99, the Clearaudio Concept/Satisfy Kardan/V2 MM turntable package carries tremendous potential, is peerless in both performance and value, and qualifies as my biggest discovery of high-end audio value in a long time. Take  the V2 MM cartridge as a backup, and upgrade to super-achievers the likes of the Sumiko Amethyst and Cardas Clear Beyond at earliest possible moment. Configured as such, the Clearaudio Concept turntable with Satisfy Black tonearm system has easily become my standard bearer for a budget analog reference system.

Copy editor: Dan Rubin


One Response to Clearaudio Concept Turntable with Satisfy Tonearm and Concept V2 MM Cartridge Review

  1. Fred Crowder says:

    Much of what you say resonated with me. The key is not who spends the most money but he who spends what he has most wisely. Likewise, people often forget how important synergy is. I have experienced this first hand. Substituting a more expensive item does not necessarily guarantee better sound if it does not work in the context of your system. Anyway, a really good article.

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