Thee stylus tip might not be the only part of a hi-fi system that wears out, but it is definitely the most obvious and often the most expensive. After all, dragging a rock down a plastic ditch is always going to be a high-impact occupation – and given the pressures and prices involved, that impact could well be on your wallet. Factor in the risk of accelerated wear from misalignment or wandering set-up and the very real risk of a catastrophic accident if your friend, pet or cleaner gets a little bit frisky (not to mention the possibility of clumsiness on your part or sheer bad luck) and it rather suggests that you‘d have to be insanely rich or just plane insane to contemplate investing darned nearly five figures on anything as fragile and impermanent as a moving-coil cartridge. Which in turn invites the question, why ARE there so many seriously expensive cartridges to choose from?
Exotic moving-coils are one of the last bastions of hand-built micro manufacturing. Painstakingly constructed in tiny numbers by an even smaller number of skilled artisans, these craftsmen have accumulated the years of experience necessary to produce such exacting work the hard way – glued to the eyepieces of a binocular microscope. But to really understand just how precise this work needs to be, it’s necessary to translate it onto a more appreciable, real-world scale. Consider it thus: a 12” tonearm has an effective length of around 300mm and supports a cartridge whose stylus contact patch with the groove wall should be between 2 and 6 micrometers. Let’s blow that up to 1,000 times the size: now our tonearm is 300 meters long while the cartridge, rather than 25mm long is 2.5 meters in length – the size of a small car. What’s happened to the size of the contact patch between the stylus and the trench it is now running it? It’s 1000 times the size, making it anything up to 6mm long! That’s a 6mm contact patch hanging on the end of a 300meter beam. Suddenly the notion of precision manufacturing takes on a whole new meaning.
The physical results are genuinely exquisite in their delicacy and attention to detail and the musical results are, in many ways, just as magical. It seems bizarre that such nuance and subtlety, colour and power can stem from such a fundamentally crude process, but therein lies the artistry and that’s what justifies the price. There’s an old adage in audio (yes – another one) that says, don’t listen to the next cartridge up the range unless you can afford to buy it. What they don’t tell you is, that the further up the range you get, the truer that is. Once you’ve heard what a really top-flight cartridge brings to a system, it’s hard to go back; and because the cartridge is, quite literally at the very tip of the signal chain, every single component downstream gets the benefit. Flagship cartridges might seem ludicrously expensive, but by the time you’ve invested in a decent turntable and tonearm, their musical impact makes them a borderline no-brainer. It soon ceases to be a question of what’s sensible and rapidly becomes what’s possible…
Even amid the rarified atmosphere at the tip of the high-end MC pile, Clearaudio’s Goldfinger Statement comes with a pretty breath-taking £8,995 price-tag. There ARE more expensive cartridges – but not many! By the time you reach this level, exotic materials and semi-precious stone seem almost de rigeur, but the Goldfinger still manages to cut a swagger. Not content with a body that’s milled from solid gold (helping account for its substantial 17g weight), it even sports a half-carat diamond on its face plate, ostensibly as a guide to accurate cueing but let’s be honest, really just to be bling!
Does the flash Harry exterior hint at unnecessary excess? It’s hard to argue against the notion but Clearaudio struggle manfully to do so. With such rare and specific products, differentiating one model from another is essential to protecting your customers and their investment. Okay, a shard of diamond might be a little OTT, but the point needs to be made in such a way that it’s not easily duplicated – or amended after the fact. More pertinently, the gold bodywork offers its own benefits in terms of resonant behavior – even if its lack of mechanical resilience mandates the use of plastic screws to fasten it to the headshell. Don’t whatever you do, over-tighten the fixings. Even with the plastic bolts you can strip the soft threads of the star-shaped top-plate, rendering the cartridge unusable. Proceed with caution – and then back off the gas!
All of which might make the Goldfinger Statement a figure of fun – the Austin Powers of the audio world – except that it is genuinely, startlingly good! As a long time user of its predecessor, the astonishingly precise and detailed Goldfinger V2 (the cartridge from which the Statement needs to visually distance itself) I was able to compare the two cartridges side by side. That diamond is almost unnecessary! Listening to the two cartridges, they’re impossible to confuse. Sure, they share a house sound, in as much as the Statement possesses all the resolution, transparency and dynamic discrimination of the V2, but it also brings a sense of body, presence, instrumental colour and musical impact that leave the V2 sounding like an insubstantial shadow of its bigger, brighter and better younger brother. There really is little or no comparison between the two cartridges and the Statement is exactly that – a serious statement of musical intent.
But best of all, that substance and body, the drive and power that the new cartridge possesses in spades isn’t just about weight and impact. Clearaudios have always been quick and dynamic, but the Statement extends the already impressive dynamic range of the V2 – a function I’m guessing of the finer wire and more powerful magnetic field delivering lower-level signals and faster rise times – while maintaining its surefooted agility and sense of place. By adding a broader tonal palette and greater sense of physical volume to instruments, it almost focuses and directs their contribution to the music. The result is, for all the Statement’s other impressive attributes, by far its most significant advance; the latest Goldfinger brings a new sense of flow and shape to performances, a sense of purpose and direction that brings them vividly to life. It brings a holistic quality to good performances and reveals what makes the great ones great. The best conductors become a towering presence, their orchestras an extension of their purpose. Berglund’s Sibelius cycle on EMI has never sounded so dramatic and powerful, while Barbirolli’s Vaughan-Williams has the perfect mix of poise and emotional range, one minute jaunty and the next all threatening anticipation.
This range of musical expression is a key analogue attribute and the Goldfinger Statement takes it to new levels. More importantly, it’s universal in its appeal. It matters not whether you play the LSO or Elvis Costello, the sheer presence in the performance, whether it takes the form of almost abrasive guitar riffs or the most delicate of hanging notes, adds to the musical impact and the emotional response it produces. The Attractions literally drive a track like ‘Little Triggers’, the drum kit having a physicality that hits home, the bass a tactile and fluid quality that pulls you into its wake. Turn to the space and power of the Rutter Requiem or the delicate immediacy of Suzanne Vega’s ‘Tom’s Diner’ and the Statement is just as adept, bringing a quality that I can only describe as “concentration” to the music. Each instrument or voice is more solid, richer, more vibrant and more present in space, making most cartridges sound either hopelessly pale and insubstantial or clumsy, overblown and overwrought.
Is the Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement over stating its case? No, I really don’t think it is. Instead it is moving you closer to the presence and energy of live music. It doesn’t overstep the mark or exaggerate for effect. It simply gives you more of what separates the live from the recorded. By doing what Clearaudio’s have always done and then grafting on a whole new set of performance attributes, the Statement has seriously raised its game. Much as the Atlas (and Etna) have added new breadth to the established Lyra sound, the latest Goldfinger moves Clearaudio into virgin territory. The V2 was a very good cartridge indeed, but its replacement represents a step-change in performance, making it not just the best Clearaudio (by far), but one of the best cartridges ever.
- Type: Low-output moving-coil cartridge
- Cantilever: Boron rod
- Stylus Profile: Clearaudio Micro HD
- Output: 0.9mV at 5cm/s
- Weight: 17g
- Compliance: 15cu
- Coil Wire: 24kt gold
- Recommended VTF: 2.8g (±0.2g)
- Recommended Loading: >100 Ohms
- Price: £8,995
UK Distributor: Sound Fowndations
Tel: 01276 501 392
Email: [email protected]
Manufacturer: Clearaudio Electronic GmbH
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