Clearaudio Concept Active Wood
Stereophile|June 2021
TURNTABLE
KEN MICALLEF

My friend Courtney Grant Winston has led a storied life. A photographer by trade, Courtney has a gift for revealing his subjects’ spirited personalities. He has photographed actor Morgan Freeman, Le Bernardin coowner Maguy Le Coze, and celebrity chefs Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Alain Ducasse, and Anthony Bourdain. Courtney took the iconic cover photo for his 2000 breakout biography, Kitchen Confidential.

Courtney’s father was a Tuskegee Airman during World War II and a childhood friend of Billie Holiday. The voice of Courtney’s mother, Dorothy, can be heard in Billie, the recent documentary, speaking about the celebrated jazz singer’s final days.

SPECIFICATIONS

Description Nonsuspended, belt-drive turntable. Available with Concept MM V2 or Concept MC cartridges, Satisfy Black (aluminum armwand) or Satisfy CF (carbon fiber armwand) tonearms. Highly compressed chassis of Baltic Birch ply with finished edge, with an upper layer of Makrolon polycarbonate. Speeds: 33.3, 45, 78rpm. Motor: Decoupled, resonance-damped DC, plug-in power supply unit designed for worldwide use with all networks and power frequencies. Tonearms: Satisfy Black (aluminum) or Satisfy Carbon (carbon fiber) with three-point mechanical bearing with polished, tungsten points against ruby thrust pads, with magnetic anti-skating control. Mounting style: Linn/Clearaudio. Satisfy Black: Weight: 350gm (including counterweight); Length: 302mm; effective mass: 8gm. Satisfy Carbon: Weight: 335gm (including counterweight); Length: 302mm; effective mass: 7gm. Cartridges: Concept MM V2 or Concept MC. Maestro MM V2: Frequency range: 20Hz–20kHz; output voltage: 3.3.mV; tracking force: 2.2gm; load resistance: 47k ohm; load capacitance: 100pF; cantilever: aluminum; stylus: elliptical; body: aluminum; weight: 8.4gm. Concept MC: Frequency range: 20Hz–40kHz; output voltage: 0.4mV; tracking force: 2.0gm; load resistance: >100 ohms; cantilever: boron; stylus: microline; body: aluminum magnesium alloy with ceramic surface layer; weight: 8gm. Turntable: Connections: Gold-plated RCA with passive, variable volume, and fully active options. Platter: 2.25lb CNC-machined polyoxymethylene, 30mm thick; 1.18 (30mm) aluminum subplatter. Speed accuracy (measured): ±0.05%. Phono preamp: Fully discrete class-A circuit for MM or MC cartridges; switchable subsonic filter. Input loading: 47k ohms (MM), 110 ohms (MC). Gain: low, 40dB, mid, 45dB; high, 56dB. THD: –74dB (MM), –64dB (MC).

Finishes Black with light or dark wood.

Dimensions 16.54 (420mm) W × 13.78 (350mm) D × 5.51 (125mm) H. Weight: Approx. 17lb (8.0kg) including tonearm and cartridge.

Price with Satisfy Black tonearm and Concept MM cartridge: $3700. With Satisfy Carbon Fiber tonearm and Concept MC cartridge: $4600. Number of US dealers: 75 Warranty: Two years if registered with Musical Surroundings.

Serial number of unit reviewed 67111800379.

Manufacturer Clearaudio Electronic Gmbh, Spardorfer Strasse 150, 91054 Erlangen, Germany. Tel: +49 9131 40300100. US Distributor: Musical Surroundings, 5662 Shattuck Ave., Oakland, CA, 94609. Tel: (510) 547-5006. Web: musicalsurroundings.com.

“Lady Day,” as tenor saxophonist Lester Young dubbed her, was a frequent guest at Courtney’s family home on Harman Street in Berkeley, California; Billie was godmother to Courtney and his siblings. Mid-’50s home photos taken with Holiday show the then–40-year-old singer relaxed and smiling with Courtney’s sisters and parents. In another photo, Holiday holds her chihuahuas, Chiquita and Pepe, with Dorothy prepped for what looks likely to be a night on the town.

Here in New York City, Courtney’s Upper West Side apartment is packed with cameras, photographs, a Sony PS-LX510 linear tracking turntable, and hundreds of records—many from his parents’ collection of 1950s-era vinyl. Courtney asked me to appraise the collection, which includes rare 10 sides by Lou Mecca, Jimmy Raney, Helen Carr, and—of course—Billie Holiday, and original 12 pressings of records by Cal Tjader, Lucky Thompson, Helen Merrill, and Duke Ellington. The fingerprints smudging these discs’ surfaces could be those of Holiday herself. I was gobsmacked.

To me, there’s something very special about the sound of these late ’50s/early ’60s pressings. Perhaps it’s the vinyl composition, the stamper construction, the groove width and spacing. Whatever the reason is, these 60-year-old records have profound tone, depth, and presence that’s not equaled, in my opinion, by even today’s fanciest vinyl reissues. (I believe this holds true for original Blue Note 1500 and 4000 series LPs as well and explains part of their astronomical value.) Even marred by fingerprints and hairline abrasions, these vintage discs retain the power to hold the listener spellbound.

I took Courtney’s records back to my Greenwich Village bachelor’s shanty and removed decades of dirt, grime, and cigarette funk—including some fingerprints that may have belonged to Lady Day—using my Pro-Ject VC-S2 ALU and Audiodesksysteme Vinyl Cleaner PRO machines. I placed one of the 10 black discs on the Clearaudio Concept Active Wood’s platter and turned the top-mounted aluminum control knob to “33.” That’s when the fun (and work) began.

The Clearaudio Concept Active Wood

The original Clearaudio Concept turntable was introduced in 2009, followed in 2015 by the Concept Wood, which replaced the original Concept’s medium-density fiberboard (MDF) plinth with a plinth made from constrained-layer multi-ply Baltic Birch. “Birch is denser and heavier, lowering the resonant signature and noise floor, creating increased dynamic range and clarity,” Garth Leerer, of Clearaudio’s US distributor, Musical Surroundings, told me in an email. Introduced last year, the Active version adds an onboard headphone amp and class-A MM/MC phono preamplifier. The Active Wood also has a subsonic filter.

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