If you’re looking for a serious contender for one of the best looking turntables available on the market today, you’d have to give serious consideration to the Clearaudio Concept Black.
The Concept turntable is nothing particularly new of note. It has been out for years in the popular Silver finish, and if you want an even more sophisticated look (and are willing to spend even more money), you can opt for the pricier Clearaudio Concept Wood (featuring a Baltic Birch plinth).
But now, we have the Clearaudio Concept Black, which one could argue is the sexiest looking of all the versions of the Concept.
Did I just call a turntable sexy? Wow. I need to get out more.
Before we take a deeper dive into the Clearaudio Concept Black in this review, feel free to view the interactive table below, where you can directly compare the Concept to other noteworthy high-end turntables.
|Clearaudio Concept Black||$$$||Black Trim|
|Marantz TT-15S1||$$$||Solid Plinth Belt-Drive Design|
|Clearaudio Concept||$$$||Silver Trim|
|Music Hall MMF 1.5||$$||Built-In Phono Preamp|
|Music Hall MMF 5.3SE||$$$||Dynamically Balanced Alloy Platter|
|Music Hall MMF 7.3||$$$||2-speed (33/45 rpm) pulley|
|Pioneer 990||$||Full-Automatic Operation|
|ProJect 1Xpression Carbon Classic||$$$||Low Noise AC Motor|
|ProJect Classic||$$$||Metal/MDF Chassis|
|Project Debut Carbon DC||$$||8.6" Carbon Tonearm|
|Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit SB||$$$||Pro-Ject Speed Box Built-in|
|U-Turn Orbit Special||$$||Solid hardwood plinth|
|Audio-Technica AT-LP120USB||$$||USB Direct Drive|
|Audio Technica AT-LP1240-USB||$$||USB Direct Drive/DJ Table|
Clearaudio Concept Black Specs
Let’s quickly get some of the specs on this turntable out of the way. Not because they are wholly unimportant, but because when it comes to technology (particularly sound and overall quality), I care much more about how operates and sounds in a real word context than what’s listed on a manufacturer’s website or paper manual.
So here we go. The Clearaudio Concept Black is the latest version of this popular, higher-end turntable. Made by the German company Clearaudio, you can expect to pay roughly $1,600-$1,800 for this turntable.
The Concept Black weighs approximately 16.5 pounds (7.5 kg). Its dimensions are the following: 16.5 inches wide, 13.78 inches deep, and 4.92 inches tall. It does not come with a dust cover nor a felt mat—records I meant to be placed directly onto the platter.
Speaking of which, the Concept features a very thick (30mm thick) POM (polyoxymethylene) platter. That’s a lot of big words a numbers, but suffice it to say that the size and heft of this platter will help ensure that proper speed and stability is maintained while you play your records.
On top of that, the Concept has a knob on the front left of the turntable that turns the motor on and off. The knob also controls the speed of the turntable, which can play at 33 1/3, 45, and 78 RPM speeds.
What’s nice about the Clearaudio Concept is that it gives the customer options. One option, for example, allows the Concept to come with a Moving Magnet cartridge, while the other comes with a Moving Coil (for a few additional Benjamin Franklin’s, of course).
To get even more specific, if you go with the Moving Magnet package, your Concept will come pre-mounted with the MM Concept V2. That cartridge has the distinction of being the lowest cart on the Clearaudio cartridge totem pole (the Performer V2, the Artist V2, the Virtuoso V2, the Maestro V2, and the Charisma V2 are better, more pricier options).
For those willing to shell out more dollars for the Moving Coil cartridge package, this Concept will come pre-mounted with the Concept MC. The lowest MC cartridge in their Moving Coil line, the Concept MC is bested by the Essence MC, Talismann V2 Gold, Concerto V2, Stradivari V2, Da Vinci V2, and the Titanium V2.
Unboxing the Concept Black
The Concept Black is packaged very, very well. Everything inside came safe and sound. The platter, power supply cord, manual, and additional tools (like the bubble level and allen wrenches) are packed carefully underneath the turntable itself. As mentioned before, the MM Concept V2 cart comes pre-mounted onto the tonearm, and there is a stylus guard attached to it.
The tonearm itself comes both taped and shimmed for shipping safety purposes.
This was done very well by the manufacturer.
Clearaudio Concept Black: First Impressions
So, it’s important to know this right off the back when it comes to the Concept Black: this is going to be one of the easiest higher-end turntables to get up and running you’ll find on the market.
Unlike the Marantz TT-15s1 (a turntable also made by Clearaudio but branded as a Marantz and sells for close to the same price as the Concept), where you would be expected to properly install the motor and cartridge, all of that is done for you on the Concept Black.
In fact, all you’re expected to really do is the following:
1) Connect your power supply cord to your wall outlet.
2) Connect your RCA cables and ground wire (which come permanently attached to the bottom of the turntable—you cannot switch these out) to your phono preamp or intergrated amplifier
3) Install the belt around both the motor pulley and sub-platter
4) Place the platter over the spindle and on top of the sub-platter
5) Break out the bubble level and adjust the three feet under the table as necessary to get the player as leveled as possible.
You’ll certainly want to use the included stylus gauge to ensure that the pre-set tracking force is correct (and turn the counterweight counter-clockwise to increase the tracking force and clockwise to decrease the tracking force if it isn’t).
On top of that, you’ll also want to break out an alignment protractor, place it onto your platter, and just double check that your cartridge is aligned accurately with no overhang.
But honestly, that’s it. I see no legitimate reason why you cannot be up and spinning records on the Concept Black within ten minutes of you taking it out of the box.
Verify vs Satisfy Tonearm
Another thing worth mentioning in regards to the Clearaudio Concept Black is the the tonearm. And just like how you have the option of choosing between a Moving Magnet and Moving Coil cartridge, some online or offline dealers will also allow you to select between the Concept Black: one version that’s rocking a Verify tonearm and another that features the Satisfy tonearm.
You can’t go wrong with either one, but here are some key things to keep in mind. First, the Concept Black that I’m reviewing features the Verify Tonearm with the Moving Magnet cartridge.
For roughly an additional $300-$500 (depending on where you buy your Concept), you can get this turntable with the Satisfy tonearm.
Now, you might be wondering…why choose one Satisfy tonearm over the Verify tonearm?
Well, the Verify tonearm features magnetic bearing technology, whereas the Satisfy features a precision mechanical bearing. Due to this, with the Verify, you’ll notice that there’s virtually no friction in the tonearm—it’ll have a bit of a floaty feel to it when you move it.
The Satisfy, by contrast, will feel a bit more solid and rigid when you move it to and from the platter.
Despite me reviewing the Verify version of the Concept, in general, I prefer a tonearm that feels more solid or rigid in the hand than one that’s a bit more airy or floaty—but that’s just me.
In the end, both of these tonearms are great, but the Satisfy is deemed to be much better at handling footfalls or foot traffic around the tonearm. This means that, if you have the Concept with the Verify tonearm on a surface that’s a bit unstable, or perhaps on hardwood floors, you might encounter a bit of a problem if there’s a lot of movement/walking/running happening around your turntable while it’s playing.
And this is because of the magnetic bearing Verify tonearm. This problem is all but eliminated if you buy the Satisfy tonearm—but of course it’s going to cost you more money.
Now, with that said, in using the Concept Black with the Verify tonearm (and having it seated on a wood cabinet that sat upon old wood floors), I didn’t notice any footfall issues (regardless of whether I walked next to the tonearm while it was playing or stomped my feet while it was playing).
I don’t say that to suggest there isn’t a legitimate problem with Verify tonearm when it comes to footfalls. But I will say that I think it really matters person to person (and home to home) based on how each individual sets up his or her turntable and how much movement you expect to have while it’s playing.
If the Concept is set up on a solid desk or cabinet, and there’s very minimal movement occurring while the record is playing, I don’t really think you’d run into too many footfall-related issues.
But your mileage may vary.
How Does the Concept Black Sound?
Having been very familiar with solid budget turntables like the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, for instance, I was very interested to see if I truly would notice a major difference in sound once I put a record on the Concept’s platter and dropped the needle.
And boy was I impressed.
Let’s first talk about the absence of sound, actually. On the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, when the motor is running and especially in quiet moments on a track (or when one track has faded out and we’re about to hear the upcoming track begin), I have always been able to hear a fairly audible hum emitting from the turntable that comes through the speakers.
Of course, as much as I like the Debut Carbon for its ability to be a pretty good affordable turntable, the words “Debut Carbon” and “audible hum” unfortunately go together like “peanut butter” and “jelly.”
The Concept pretty much ends all of that noise. There is of course a motor running in the turntable, so you’re going to hear something chugging along. But the motor is incredibly quiet by comparison, and I no longer hear unwanted sound coming through the speakers.
Silence never sounded so good.
Goodbye Surface Noise?
The next thing I noticed was how well the Concept handles surface noise. On a turntable like the Debut Carbon, as solid as the turntable was given its price point (and how great the Ortofon 2M series can be as you climb further up that line), surface noise was indeed always audible on older albums that had been bought used and had, well…gone through some things.
I took some of my albums that were quite old—albums that I bought second hand at record stores or through Discogs and date back to the 1960s (such as Ray Charles’ “The Genius Hits the Road” or The Supremes’ Where Did Our Love Go”) and played them on the Concept.
Albums like these, which sounded fine for their age (and namely for their condition, which ranged somewhere in the middle between “Good” and “Very Good”), were always hampered a bit in the sound department due to surface noise when played on a Debut Carbon rocking a 2M Bronze cartridge.
Pops, ticks, and crackles are inevitable in the world of vinyl—dust, dirt, groove wear and scratches are just a way of life for this delicate format. But you never want it to overtake the music. You never want it to hurt your ability to listen and enjoy the music. And playing these albums on the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon resulted in a mediocre-at-best listening experience.
Playing these same records on the Concept is an entirely different experience. Is surface noise eradicated completely? No—the Concept isn’t a magician. But does it significantly reduce surface noise so that you’re hearing more of Diana Ross’ vocals on “Baby Love,” or the band supporting Ray Charles soulful yearning on “Georgia On My Mind?”
I actually found this was the case with most of the records I tested on the Concept (I didn’t keep count, but I’d guess somewhere between 20 to 25 albums).
Out of all the records I tested, I felt only two albums were unable to sound considerably better than I had remembered them sounding on the Debut Carbon. And the failure of those two records to sound better on the Concept isn’t a fault of the Concept—it’s the fault of the previous owner(s) of the record that scratched them up so much, the clarity in sound was forever damaged.
How Does the Concept Make Music Sound?
What I really love about the Clearaudio Concept Black is that, even when using the “lower quality” Clearaudio cartridge, music sounds lush and warm.
Those are two words I keep coming back to when I recall my Concept Black listening experience.
Lush and warm.
I feel that, whether it’s playing Luther Vandross’ “Never Too Much,” or Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know” or Alicia Keys’ “Distance and Time,” vocals sounded engaging and the music and instruments heard on the track created a truly cozy listening experience that was a joy to listen to.
Unlike the Ortofon 2M Blue or Bronze—both excellent carts for the money—which are so detailed and bright that turning up the music a pinch too high sometimes feels a little abrasive or overwhelming, I felt that I could crank up Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” and not feel any discomfort or ear fatigue.
Listening to the Clearaudio Concept felt like a harsh-free experience, and even though I was using the stock MM Concept V2 cart, I found the Concept had an intoxicating sound that made me more and more excited to throw a different record onto the platter.
With that said, this cartridge isn’t perfect. Unlike the 2M Bronze, for example, which brings out detail out in the vocals and allows the listener to really hear the separation of instruments (and appreciate how the track was layered or mixed), I felt the Concept lacked that element of detail. And that’s understandable—after all, the Clearaudio MM Concept V2 retails for about $250.
Compare that to, for example, the Clearaudio Maestro V2 cartridge, (which will set you back $1,200 – $1,300), and it’s no surprise that you’re getting a limited cartridge that’s simply “good enough” with the standard Concept turntable package—but nowhere near the best that Clearaudio has to offer.
Other Notable Things I Like
Here are a few other things I enjoyed when using the Clearaudio Concept Black.
The Manual: Although the user manual for the Clearaudio Concept Black was brief, it was quite detailed and includes photos of exactly what you should be doing to set up and operate your turntable.
Good Looking Table: I mentioned the aesthetics of the turntable before but it bears repeating again: The Clearaudio Concept is a sexy looking turntable (there I go saying that word again—what’s wrong with me?)
I personally think the standard Concept with the Silver trim, as well as the more expensive Wood trim version, both look excellent. But if you want the standard Concept turntable with the most minimalist and elegant look of them all, opt for the Clearaudio Concept Black.
No Exposed Wire: If you take a look at promotional images of the Clearaudio Concept with the silver trim, you’ll often notice a wire loop next to tonearm.
Well, if you’re someone that doesn’t prefer that look, you can take some comfort in knowing that the Concept Black does not have that exposed loop wire next to the tonearm.
What I Don’t Like:
Feet: There are three adjustable feet on the bottom of the Concept. Using a simple “screw and unscrew” method, you can adjust how high you want the Concept to be elevated or lowered depending on whether or not your floor is completely level.
While adjusting the feet works perfectly fine, I don’t think these three feet are anything to write home about. And there’s no doubt in my mind that there are some people who will buy the Concept Black and will begin looking to upgrade the feet in an effort to achieve better stability or sound.
Lack of Bass: I’m not someone that needs a lot of bass in my music. With that said, the bass is definitely nothing to get too excited over when it comes to the Concept Black.
Upgrading your cartridge will likely help in this regard, and using a vinyl record clamp can not only help flatten your warped records a bit, but improve the lower end of your music. A clamp won’t suddenly turn your music room into a thumping house party, but it should improve bass extension.
Dustcover: I mentioned this briefly before but there is no Clearaudio Concept dust cover for the Black version (or any Concept turntable, for that matter).
In fact, it seems like the more money you spend on turntables, the less likely you are to get a dust cover.
At the same time, Clearaudio allows you the ability to buy a dust cover for the Concept separately—for the low, low price of approximately $250.
That’s absolutely ridiculous, especially when the dust cover appears to be unnecessarily large for the turntable. In fact, it sits over the turntable in the same way a sheet cake pan would sit over a cupcake—it’s just overly big, bulky, and not a great fit.
Say what you will about lower end turntables like the U-Turn Orbit Plus or the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, but they have dust covers that properly fit and protect a customer’s record player investment.
Anti-Skate: The anti-skate knob is on the bottom of the turntable. The bottom.
At first glance, it’s not too big of a deal, because it’s somewhat of a “set it and forget it” thing.
But, if you were to change your cartridge, and needed to tweak your anti-skate setting, you’d have to do the following:
a) Put a record onto your platter. Turn on your motor. Grab your tonearm, drop the needle and test the sound.
b) After listening for a few moments, lift up the cueing lift lever. Return the tonearm to its rest. Stop the motor. Remove the record from the platter.
c) Lift up the turntable. Adjust the anti-skate through trial and error. Put the turntable back down.
d) Put the record back onto your platter. And repeat the whole process over again. And again. And again. Until you finally achieve the proper anti-skate setting that sounds right to your ears.
Another option is that, depending on how your turntable is set up, you might be able to use one hand to hover part of the record player over the edge of the table, and then adjust the anti-skate with your other hand.
But either way you slice it, adjusting the anti-skate is not going to be a fun and easy process on the Concept.
Counterweight: There are no marks on the counterweight. At all. On a turntable like the Debut Carbon or the Marantz TT-15s1, there are numbers and tick marks on the counterweight. This makes it incredibly easy to set the tracking force.
Is the tracking force for your cartridge supposed be set at 2.0 grams? Then simply turn the counterweight to the 20 mN mark on the dial.
But on the Concept’s counterweight, there are no marks whatsoever. So similar to the anti-skate, we’re operating in trial and error land (although using the supplied tracking force gauge will give you an idea of how hot or cold you are when it comes to setting the tracking force correctly).
No 45 adapter: This turntable can easily begin spinning at 45 RPM at the turn of a knob. That’s why it’s a bit disappointing that the Clearaudio Concept doesn’t come with a 45 adapter inside its box, which would easily allow you to play your collection of 7” records (and the occasional 12” LP, as well).
Despite my small disappointments with the Concept Black, I really think this is an excellent turntable. For someone’s first foray into the “entry-level” high-end world of turntables, you get a relatively plug-and-play record player for about $1,600-$1,800 (depending on where you purchase it).
On top of that, you get one of the most eye-catching turntables on the market. A turntable that will significantly reduce surface noise. And a turntable the produces lush and engaging sound, as opposed to the detailed but clinical sound other cartridges might offer.
The Clearaudio Concept Black is a fine piece of machinery that will fit into almost any room’s decor. There’s no reason why, if you treat this turntable right, it cannot provide you countless years of happiness.
Black is beautiful. What a wonderful Concept.
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