This is the third Clearaudio turntable I have reviewed. Clearaudio is a German company that has been dedicated to advancing the art of analog playback for the last 32 years. Their cartridges were well received from the start and many considered them to be the absolute state of the art. One of their early turntables, the Master Reference, was The Absolute Sound’s first five-star component in the late 1990s. Almost everyone found them beautiful to look at, too. Most of all their turntables have from the very start set new levels for transparency and speed for playing vinyl. Still, there were others who felt they had sacrificed the natural warmth and tonality of vinyl for speed and transparency. I, for one, commend them for their 32 years’ devotion to vinyl playback and not abandoning it for something more profitable.
If you haven’t noticed, about three years ago Clearaudio started making some major changes with their turntables. It started with making the plinth of some of their turntables out of layers of “Panzerholz”, a solid bulletproof wood that is used in Germany for limousines and some special armored trucks. They flank the top and bottom of this very special wood with solid aluminum sheets. The result was to produce the first turntables I had heard from Clearaudio with real warmth and transparency at the same time. Their newest turntables from the Ambient model on up have “Panzerholz” for their plinths, and all of their tables above the Emotion model have the new “Ceramic Magnetic Bearing” that literally allows the platter to float on a layer of air. In my opinion, these two things have transformed the sound of Clearaudio turntables.
The addition of “Panzerholz” to the plinths seems to breathe life, warmth, and an overall more musical sound into their tables. The magnetic bearing brings a level of transparency and quietness to vinyl that I did not know was possible. Now they have come out with their new turntables that use a high torque DC-motor, a newly developed optical speed control that consists of an infrared sensor, a high precision reflection scale, and a corresponding speed circuit. They also added a stainless steel sub-platter and change the platter from acrylic to a much deader, durlin type of material. I mention all this because in my opinion, the house sound has significantly changed at Clearaudio.
I feel compelled to say that today’s Clearaudio is a turntable maker whose products deserve to be revisited if you were one who found the early ones too analytical. If you had written off Clearaudio turntables, then I’m here to tell you they will hold their own with some of the most musical tables being made, and at the same time bring a level of transparency and quietness these other tables I’ve heard can’t match.
Description, Design Goals and Setup
First, let me tell you nothing prepared me for how powerful the magnetic bearing is on this table, or how heavy the stainless steel sub-platter is. This heavy sub-platter mounts to the magnet bearing thus creating a big and powerful magnet. The bottom of the 70mm durlin platter has a metal shield to provide protection from the magnet affecting the cartridge. All of this goes over the tall thin ceramic vertical bearing while the heavy platter and sub-platter float on air above the magnet bearing. Even though the platter and sub-platter of the Innovation is nearly 10 pounds heavier than the platter of my Clearaudio Anniversary, it still floats noticeably higher and has more of a suspension feel.
This is not the only difference between these two $10,000 turntable from Clearaudio. Both the Anniversary and the Innovation sit on a three-spoke shaped sheets made of Panserholz, sandwiched between heavy aluminum plates. The Anniversary has one thick, three-spoked sheet while the Innovation has two thinner ones like the Clearaudio Master Reference turntable.
At the end of each spoke, there are very large spikes that go down to support the turntables, but the ones on the Innovation are a new design that makes it much easier to level the turntable. Above the end of each of the three spokes are large and very heavy pods. These serve two important design plans. First, they make the table even more resistant to vibration. Second, they serve as a place to attach your tonearm mounting boards.
With the Anniversary, it is possible to mount three tonearms since the isolated motor sits on its own heavy pod and is completely separated from the turntable itself. It has a pulley that allows you to play at different speeds by moving the belt up and down the pulley, or you can purchase Clearaudio’s “Synchro Speed Controller” separately. With the Innovation, you can only use two arms because the motor/speed controller is mounted on one of the pods. This speed controller makes the external “Synchro Speed Controller” unnecessary. This in itself is a savings of $1,500. This new motor is a high torque DC-motor with a newly developed optical speed control that consists of an infrared sensor, a high precision reflection scale, and a corresponding speed circuit. The same peripheral ring system works with either turntable, but so far the stabilizer only comes in clear, but of course you can’t see it with the peripheral ring on, so you can’t tell the difference.
Clearaudio says that with the Innovation they have set their sights on new standards in high-end turntable manufacturing. It comes with a newly developed optical speed control that consists of an infrared sensor, a high precision reflection scale, and a corresponding speed circuit. This results in speed stability that I bet you notice the minute you listen to the Innovation. According to Clearaudio, Independent German laboratories say the Clearaudio Innovation turntable had the lowest measured speed variation they had ever measured.
Review System & Listening
I was in the middle of reviewing Clearaudio’s new radial tonearm, the Universal, when the Innovation turntable showed up at my house. I had listened to this arm long enough on my Clearaudio Anniversary to know how my system sounded with that combination. So, I started the review of the Innovation Wood turntable by pairing it with the Universal tonearm and the Miyabi Standard moving coil cartridge. I also used it with the Clearaudio Carbon Fiber Satisfy tonearm, as well as the Benz TR moving coil cartridge.
The rest of my reference system consist of the Shindo Masseto preamp, used with both its internal SUT and the Audio Note AN-S8 SUT, the Wavac EC300B, and the Teresonic Ingenium Silvers. The power cords were the Audience Au24 powerChords and they were all plugged into Audience’s aR-6 T, while speaker cables were the Teresonic Clarison and interconnects were their 24-carat gold cables.
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