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Clearaudio Master Innovation turntable system Review

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Clearaudio Master Innovation (pictured with Clearaudio Universal tonearm).

After reviewing three high-end turntable systems by boutique shops, one from Europe and two from the U.S., I wanted to find out how the big boys such as Clearaudio are doing it.

Clearaudio GmbH was founded by Peter Suchy in 1978 and is known for its pioneering, original designs. The company’s first product in 1978 was a moving coil cartridge with boron cantilever, an industry first. Today, Clearaudio employs 61 workers with trained specialists in both product design and production, manufacturing turntables, cartridges, tonearms and associated phono electronics.

Clearaudio Concept

The company offers ten turntables, beginning with the $1,600 Concept and the $2,500 Concept Wood, both with a tonearm and a cartridge installed, the former a Concept arm and a $250 Concept MM or $1,000 Concept MC cartridge, the latter a Satisfy Kardan Aluminum tonearm and the Concept MM, Concept MC, or Maestro v2 Ebony MM cartridge. The remaining turntables feature open armboard architecture for use with various Clearaudio tonearms or other brand tonearms. They include the $2,600 Performance DC, the $3,600 Performance DC Wood, the $6,200 Ovation, the $6,400 Innovation Basic, the $7,900 Innovation Compact, the $11,000 Innovation Wood, and the $28,000 Master Innovation, subject of this review, and finally, the $200,000 Statement V2 system including the TT-1 tangential tonearm and Goldfinger Statement cartridge. Remarkably, even the company’s entry-level Concept turntable is lavishly equipped with a POM (Polyoxymethylene) platter, aluminum sub-platter, low-friction bearing and a scaled-down version of the Satisfy Carbon tonearm.

Among the six phono preamplifiers produced by the company are multiple variants designed for headphone listening of the vinyl disk no less. Among the 16 cartridges the company manufactures is the critically acclaimed $15,999 Goldfinger Statement flagship, a medium compliance moving coil that uses 12 magnets, 24-Karat gold coil, 14-Karat gold body and reaches a 100dB dynamic range. It is hailed by many as the ultimate cartridge design. Of course, Clearaudio would not be an analog playback system industry leader without record cleaning machines of its own, and it offers three models indeed.

Clearaudio Goldfinger

Manufacturing of the company’s top products such as the Goldfinger Statement, TT2 linear tracking arm and the Statement turntable system is done by a core team led by a master builder who oversees the process. The Master Innovation turntable system, subject of this review, is also built by this elite team.

Clearaudio turntables are known for their 3-pillar “tri-star” design. Per Garth Leerer of Musical Surroundings, Clearaudio’s U.S. Importer, the company first introduced the “tri-star” design in its $15,000 turntable system named Master Reference in the mid-1990s. The Oracle turntable from Canada adopted a 3-tower turntable design earlier on in the eighties and utilized active suspension in the pillars.

The original MR was the result of Clearaudio pushing the performance envelope with an eye on aesthetics, taking a systematic approach back then in its research for the creation of a turntable of high quality in materials, strength in rigidity, freedom from vibration, compact in footprint and one that screams value. The turntable bore the “Master” designation because it was designed to such specifications as to be fit for use as reference in mastering studios. More than twenty years have passed since then and the new Master is now part of the Innovation series. The Master Innovation features the following evolved design highlights:

  • Materials – Panzerholz, aluminum skins and pods, diamond coated polished ceramic shaft for platter and driven platter bearing.
  • Drive system – magnetic drive, optical speed control, high precision bearing.
  • Finishes – Panzerholz comes in 4 finishes (natural, black, white and red lacquer) aluminum in 2 (black and silver) , and platters in 2 (POM black and translucent acrylic)
  • Upgradeability (an Innovation can be field upgraded to a Master)
  • Tonearms supported (both Clearaudio and other brands)
  • Product consistency – no unit to unit discrepancy or variation.

 

According to Garth, a preceding model, the Master Reference AMG Wood of 2006 was adorned with some of the above advancements, costing $20,500 then and $28,000 in 2011. It was the last version to feature aluminum magnesium skins, Panzerholz wood plinths, and Ceramic Magnetic Bearing (CMB). The Master Innovation is its successor, introduced at the end of 2011. Price was $25,000 then and currently is $28,000 and includes the diamond coated bearing.

The Master Innovation first entered into development in the summer of 2011. It is a double-stack design conceptualized to accommodate the company’s exclusive five-platter structure. In its official launch in December 2011, the turntable was revealed to utilize two different magnetic levitation systems, one for the drive system and another for the CMB for the main platter bearing.

In fact, the Master Innovation is the 2nd turntable to use the Magnetic Drive, first introduced in the Clearaudio Statement around 2005. Per Garth, “The system consists of a drive or lower platter that is connected to a sophisticated 24-volt motor via a flat belt. This drive platter uses the Optical Speed Control (OSC) with an optical sensor mounted under the stainless steel flywheel which has a stroboscope engraved into it. The OSC creates a feedback system between the drive platter and motor, assuring stable speed regardless of stylus drag. This OSC system was used in the Innovation model in 2007 and now we have a combination of a passive rotational stability with the stainless steel flywheel together with the active OSC.”
The Drive platter magnetically couples to the Driven platter using a ring of magnets, one in the top of the Drive platter and the second ring at the bottom of the Driven platter. There is no actual contact between these two platters, creating enhanced isolation between the turntable motor and the stylus in the record groove. The Driven platter is connected to the actual platter via a sophisticated bearing assembly. The Drive/Driven platter can either be acrylic or POM as its material is not critical to the sound. The platter is also shielded due to the strength of the magnets needed to levitate the 70mm POM platter and 15mm stainless steel sub-platter.

The ON/OFF, 33-, 45- and 78-rpm push-buttons were built into one of the Master Innovation’s three pillars, and the platform can be rotated to where the control is on the left column and the primary tonearm setup is on the right column. Having the tonearm upfront and closer was a major convenience in setups. In this orientation, the three neatly camouflaged speed adjustment pin tabs would be facing forward on the bridge under the lower platters.

The review sample is accompanied by the optional $3,000 Smart Power 24V DC power supply, an otherwise ritzy-glitzy all-aluminum chassis compact device consisting of a pair of rechargeable nickel-metal hydride batteries in a complex electronic security mechanism for isolating the proprietary, sensitive optical speed control (OSC) found in Clearaudio’s top turntables from short circuits, overloads, noise and voltage fluctuations in the mains power supply. The goal is to attain pitch stability and thus sonic purity from the turntable. The Smart Power is designed for use in turntables in the Ovation, Innovation and Statement series.

Clearaudio Smart Power 24V

Importer Musical Surroundings also distributes the AMG turntables and tonearms from Germany, and the Master Innovation is fitted with a $4,500 AMG 12J2 12-inch tonearm. Cartridge used for this review was the $10,995 Koetsu Jade Platinum moving coil the review of which was published earlier this month, and a $10,400 Stealth Audio Cables Helios phono cable completed the turntable system.

The Master Innovation took the left most top spot of a 6 feet wide, 15.5 inches deep and 16.5 inches tall 2-level home entertainment shelf. The Pass Laboratories duo of the Xs Phono and Xs Preamp, each boasting a twin, 6.25 inches high, 19 inches wide and 14 inches deep large chassis design, one for the control chassis and the other for the power supply, took the most spots on the shelf. The control chassis of the Xs Preamp needed to connect to monoblock power amplifiers to the far left and right, so it earned itself the central spot on the top shelf to the right of the Clearaudio, with the Xs Phono’s control chassis occupying the top right spot. The two Pass units’ power supply chassis were relegated to the bottom shelf under the Clearaudio, stacked atop each other.

The Bricasti Design M21 flagship DSD DAC was placed atop the Xs Preamp on a trio of Combak Harmonix TU-66ZX footers to allow easy access to the DAC’s rear panel SPDIF, Toslink, USB, and LAN connections. An Oppo UDP-205 Blu-ray SACD player sat atop the Xs Phono, also on a trio of the Combak Harmonix footers.

One Response to Clearaudio Master Innovation turntable system Review


  1. Jack Pot says:

    Glad that some reviewers still remark on the intrinsic superior audio quality of vinyl.

    I personally own a MI on its Olympic rack. Give it a try and be amazed. Also, I always use the Statement Clamp when playing records. Absurd, what a “simple” clamp can achieve. And for serious listening, the locator + outer limit. One turntable comes very near: the diminutive Grand Prix Monaco 2.

    But the MI outperforms by a clear margin everything on the market when equipped with the proprietary TT1-parallel arm: the sound stage attains “life” performance size (location, width, depth) and “colour”. I suspect the MI was designed with the TT1 in mind.

    Finally, good ground decoupling is essential: I gravitated toward the Olympic rack for aesthetic and space as well as audio considerations. But putting the MI on an ACapella base is already a huge leap forward. (I
    experimented with many bases, ACapella is a sure choice)

    Enjoy your listening.

    Cartridge: Ortofon Century, Phono cable: Nordost Odin2.

    Krgds

    PS: I have the Abbado/LFO/Bruckner 9 on both cd and vinyl. I listen to digital using a dCS Vivladi 2 3-piece suite. The sense of space and flow of the MI is unsurpassed.

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