Clearaudio Performance DC Turntable Review
State of the art and built like a brick outhouse - this is analogue German style
What is the Performance DC?The AVForums turntable experiment has come a long way from the affordable brilliance of the Pro-ject Essential. As we've climbed the price ladder, the review subjects have become more and more serious pieces of engineering that use a wide variety of materials and engineering principles to carry out the notionally simple task of dragging a tiny rock through a plastic groove at a fixed speed. If we accept that the Pro-Ject makes a more than passable stab at these requirements and that the Avid Ingenium that was the last stop on the trip is capable of superb results at roughly six times the price of the Pro-Ject, what is the purpose of spending another £1,000- almost ten times as much as the Essential?
The issue of audio performance will be covered in due course but one of the reasons you might want to push the boat out is to disabuse the notion that vinyl is exclusively a collection of technical and engineering practises that have been around for decades. While the process by which you physically play a record remains essentially the same as it has always been, the technology available to help that process has improved significantly.
Few companies have been as enthusiastic about embracing this technology as Clearaudio. The German concern is a relative youngster by the standards of turntable manufacturers as it has 'only' been trading since 1978 but taking advantage of the German market never truly losing faith with analogue, they have been able to work on a wide range of turntables, tonearms, cartridges, phono stages and accessories that make use of innovative materials and techniques. The Performance DC is a complete turntable package that uses some unique ideas to push vinyl playback even further. It certainly looks smart but does it work?
DesignAfter the pared back skeleton of the Avid, the Clearaudio is a return to a more conventional design principle. The Performance DC is a plinth based design with the motor, armboard and bearing all being mated to a common chassis. This is all fairly reminiscent of the Pro-ject and Rega so why is the Clearaudio £2,450? The answer is in two parts, the first is that the materials used are rather more impressive than the affordable decks and the technology they encase is more interesting still.
In material terms, the Clearaudio makes use of Polyoxymethylene (helpfully shortened to POM) for the platter and this is a substantial 40mm thick which lends it an impressive amount of mass. The plinth is in turn made of metal and uses another Clearaudio trick of using different sections together as a sandwich. As the specific resonance of the sections is different, the overall resonance of the sandwich can be better controlled. In the past, plinth materials have included 'armoured wood' (no, really) but the Performance is a fairly conventional metal effort.
The Clarify Tonearm has a metal headshell and bearing assembly but the armtube is carbon fibre which by some devilry Clearaudio has managed to make the same colour as the metal sections. Finishing the turntable off is the Virtuoso V2 moving magnet cartridge. In keeping with the science lab of materials used elsewhere on the deck, you might assume that this would also be from the exotic end of the periodic table but the opposite is true. The body is carved from ebony wood as Clearaudio has found that the mass, resonance and general behaviour of the material takes some beating. As a moving magnet design, the Virtuoso V2 will work into most phono stages and while it is very much at the upper end of moving magnet pricing, Clearaudio does at least have some experience in this area.
The technology that Clearaudio then uses inside the Performance DC is also unusual. The motor is a direct current design (providing the DC in the title) which offers performance benefits at the cost of higher price and slightly greater complexity. Clearaudio has also fitted the motor with an electronic speed control that allows for automatic switching between 33, 45 and- rather unusually in this day and age- 78 rpm at the touch of a button. Given that lifting off the platter and sub-platter to reach the belt is fairly labour intensive, this is a welcome fitment.
Of decidedly more interest are the bearings. The Clearaudio makes use of magnetic technology to float the platter on a ceramic spindle. Magnetic platter bearings are not unheard of and have been around for a few years but the Performance has one of the most affordable and at the same time one of the best feeling examples on the market. With everything done in house, the bearing feels absolutely rock solid and the way it progressively sinks to the correct level as the sub assembly and the platter are added to the deck is rather lovely. With no physical contact between the platter and deck besides the belt, the idea is that the noise floor of the Performance should be very low indeed.
If the main bearing is a little unusual at the price, the tonearm is truly exotic. The Clarify is a magnetic bearing tonearm- a design process that is extremely uncommon and usually absurdly expensive. The idea is that with no physical points of contact, the arm is free of resonance and less affected by the outside world. The arm seems to have enjoyed a recent revision that has seen the wiring now been routed internally to stop it sticking out the top of the bearing assembly which looks rather neater than it did.
What's good about the Performance DC?The Clearaudio manages to bring this complex collection of materials and technology together in a way that feels, looks and behaves like a truly high end product. You never feel that you are the proud owner of an engineering experiment but instead a very well thought out turntable. The build is fabulous and because everything has come from the same manufacturer with a view to working together, it feels solid and very cohesive. It's handsome too. The Performance manages to walk the line between striking and flash almost perfectly and it sits on any equipment rack with serious presence but without looking like you bought it solely because it looks bit flash. Some Clearaudio designs have looked a little... German but the Performance is distinctive without being overwhelmingly Teutonic.
It is- if you can forgive the use of such a phrase for a record player that costs well over two grand- good value too. At the time of writing, a Virtuoso v2 cartridge is £650 and a Clarify tonearm £950, this means that the deck itself is priced at £850 which is hugely impressive. While realistically, the savings are made across all three bits, this is still a lot of record player for the money.
The Performance manages to walk the line between striking and flash almost perfectly
What's not so good about the Performance DC?All turntables are fairly demanding of how they are setup but the Clearaudio is especially picky. The magnetic bearings in the arm must be perfectly level to deliver their best performance and this means that setting up by eye just ain't going to cut it here. You will need to measure tracking force, vertical tracking alignment and set the antiskate properly for the Clearaudio to strut its stuff. None of this is hard but it does take time and effort to do correctly.
While the spec of the Clearaudio is exceptional, this is also more of a finished article than some rivals at the price. The arm is well up to the task of mounting a great many different cartridges but the options around changing the arm itself are likely to be limited to ones from the Clearaudio stable. This is not the end of the world but some rivals are rather more flexible in this area.
Last but by no means least, the Clearaudio has no form of dust protection. This is far from unusual at the price but it does mean that the standard vulnerabilities and cleaning requirements apply. This being said, the Virtuoso V2 cartridge is possessed of an excellent stylus guard.
How was it tested?The Clearaudio was connected to my main system of Avid Pellar phonostage, Naim Supernait 2 integrated amp and Neat Momentum 4i Floorstanders for the bulk of testing but also saw some use connected to a Musical Fidelity M6SI integrated amp and a pair of Acoustic Energy AE101 speakers which passed through for review at the same time. Both the Clearaudio and the supporting equipment was connected to an IsoTek Evo 3 Sigmas mains conditioner. The test material used was vinyl.
Performance DC Sound QualityIn the last turntable review, I went on at some length to explain that the Avid is the most affordable turntable I've encountered that can produce true neutrality and really dig the required information out of a disc. With this in mind, I wasn't completely sure what the Clearaudio would bring to the performance. Add to this, the slightest bias that I have in the past found some older Clearaudio designs to be a little sterile and there was a degree of uncertainty over what the Performance was going to do.
In practise, the Clearaudio does move performance on again and the way it does so is deeply impressive. The first and perhaps most important part of this is that none of the technology in the Performance DC makes itself felt in an obvious or obtrusive way. That DC motor doesn't do anything overt, it simply provides bombproof pitch stability and a tremendous sense of propulsive force. Those trick magnetic bearings are even harder to pin down but they do bring something to the performance and that is a sense of effortlessness.
What do I mean by this? At times when reviewing digital products, amongst the highest praise I can give them is that there is no sense of processing to the way that they sound. The Clearaudio makes almost all them sound mechanical and clunky by comparison. Music just happens in a way that is maddeningly hard to describe but incredibly enjoyable. The Clearaudio makes everything seem very easy but in reality the technology in the turntable is there to make this happen. The lack of mechanical contact points on the deck serve to reduce the points where a sonic signature can creep in. This means that by and large, the character comes from the record itself and the cartridge.
The good news is that the Virtuoso V2 is a bit of a star in this regard. It is not completely neutral but it combines excellent tonal accuracy with a sense of fun and drive that means that it is a consistently entertaining partner. Returning to the congested but brilliant Royal Blood, the Clearaudio pounds through the record capturing every sledgehammer blow, every crunching guitar riff and the wonderfully rough and ready nature of the performance without breaking sweat. It takes a lot of effort to make it look this easy and the Clearaudio has it down to an art.
At the same time, some of the engineering really does put the Performance DC in a slightly different category to many rivals. The pitch stabilty, minimal coloration and impressive resistance to surface noise makes this a great turntable for anyone returning to the format after years of digital because it competes with it on an almost even footing in competence while trouncing it for joy. Once setup, it is likely to stay setup and the way that the Performance DC simply devours any genre of music you throw at it is rather addictive. If you have no time for tinkering, cajoling or tweaking- and plenty of sane people don't, the Performance DC is the one stop shop to vinyl joy.
Music just happens in a way that is maddeningly hard to describe but incredibly enjoyable
Any downsides to the Performance DC?The way that the Clearaudio goes about its business is hugely impressive but does have some bearings on your other equipment. It is accurate enough to be ruthless with poorer pressings (although in many ways, it is less stark than the Avid) and it will show up limitations in your partnering equipment in the same way that high quality digital will. The tonearm generally behaves much the same as any rival (with the benefit of excellent fine adjustment for both tracking force and anti-skate) but it did seem to take issue with imperceptible damage to two pressings that other turntables present didn't find an issue with.
- Utterly effortless and involving sound
- Built like a lorry
- Extremely easy to use
- Fiddly to setup
- Limited upgrade options
- Won't flatter poor pressings
Clearaudio Performance DC Turntable ReviewFor the sake of clarity, if you are looking at the Clearaudio as a starting point for vinyl, you are either minted, enthusiastic to the point of insanity or seriously confident that analogue is the way forward for you. This is a serious outlay and I think it makes more sense for someone returning to vinyl after a long layoff or if you are looking to move up the chain from your initial model. There are enough little challenges to the setup (although most dealers would assist you with this) to make it a momentarily daunting to get going that it probably isn't ideal for absolute beginners.
Those minor challenges are worth it though because this is a hell of a turntable. The Clearaudio isn't radically better than the Avid but it moves the game on with a sense of fluidity and effortlessness that is the perfect partner to almost any genre of music. Where it really builds on the Ingenium is that the Clearaudio isn't simply well built, it looks and feels like a luxury product. It is a joy to operate and live with long term. The Performance DC isn't cheap but it might be the last turntable you ever need.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £2,450.00
Ease of Use9
Value for Money9
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