Clearaudio Concept £1,100 (inc. arm and cartridge)

Budget-priced deck with an almost plug-and-play versatility offers stiff competition to its higher-priced peers

One of the undeniable advantages of CD players over turntables is that you can take them out of the box, plug them in and use them, with no fancy setting up required. The Concept turntable, however, very nearly equalises on that score, with arm and cartridge factory-set and user set-up limited to putting the platter in place (pretty hard to get wrong, really).

One big no-no that has traditionally stood in the way of this is transporting an arm with the counterweight in place, which is usually a good way of busting the bearings, but the Concept’s arm has a unique magnetic bearing which can’t be damaged in this way. It’s effectively a unipivot, but using very powerful magnets, opposed by a tie wire which stops the arm slamming into the top of the bearing yoke. It’s clever, though it does share the usual unipivot drawback of a high pivot point and adding the possibility of arm movement fore-and-aft.

At a very competitive price (bearing in mind it includes arm and cartridge), the Concept clearly has to save money somewhere, so it’s an unsuspended design, with basically no isolation from the support surface.

The chassis is made of MDF, but treated against resonance with a polymer top-coat and an aluminium edge trim. Despite the plug-and-play aspect, it’s fully adjustable if you want to tweak or change cartridge or arm, with the arm board allowing for offset and VTA adjustment. The motor is a DC type and the electronic control provides for all three speeds, 33; 45 and 78rpm.

A flat drive belt drives a plastic subplatter, while the platter itself is also plastic, with a thickness of 30mm. There’s no lid, but that’s about our only complaint and the standard of finish is particularly high: the cheapest turntable in the group, but it really doesn’t look like it.

Sound quality

One thing we’ve learned from years of group tests is that some products can really divide opinion among listeners and this is one of them. As always, that’s because its basic presentation isn’t to everyone’s taste. But there is, indeed, a distinctive quality to the presentation here, which is strong on detail and quite dynamic too, if a little shy in the bass.

Not everyone is vastly sensitive to the deepest bass, but one of our listeners clearly missed it and, as a result, found the sound unsatisfying. Another found it overall very satisfying. He did identify a slight lack in the lowest reaches, although it clearly didn’t prevent him enjoying the dynamic and spacious sound.

One thing our listeners did all agree on, is that there’s a slightly hard edge to the sound when reproducing piano. We’d go along with that, as it seems to be the downside of what is, in general, an enjoyably lively character – it can just occasionally go a little far and make notes with a sharp attack seem almost aggressive. The piano recording we used for the tests is pretty hard-edged anyway, so any tendency toward exaggeration will be obvious. On the whole, though, this liveliness does much more good than harm.

LIKE: Lively presentation with good space and detail: dynamic too
DISLIKE: Slight lack of the lowest bass can undermine good quality
WE SAY: A plug-and-play turntable, it offers good value and will revive many a forgotten LP collection

ORIGIN: Germany
WEIGHT: 7.5kg
DIMENSIONS: (WxHxD) 420x140x350mm
• Arm and cartridge included and pre-adjusted
• External power supply
• 33, 45, 78rpm
• Replaceable arm lead
DISTRIBUTOR: Audio Reference
TELEPHONE: 01252 702705