Clearaudio prides itself as a manufacturer of precision vinyl replay systems, offering a wide selection of turntables, arms, cartridges, phono preamps, record‑cleaning machines, and accessories. Some of its products fetch astronomical prices, with the Statement turntable, for instance, costing a fraction under £90,000. The Performance DC is rather more affordable, especially as the package offered for review includes a tonearm and Virtuoso V2 Ebony moving magnet cartridge for just £2,495. It’s not quite beer budget, but affordable nonetheless, and very easy on the eye.
Built in Germany, the turntable employs a newly designed decoupled and resonance damped DC motor with precision bearings, driving the platter via a flat rubber belt. Power for the motor comes from a DC wall-wart, which plugs into the rear of the turntable. The platter is a 40mm thick CNC machined slab of polyoxymethylene (or POM, otherwise known by its trade name of Delrin), a dense and inert plastics material, which combines high inertia and internal damping.
Unusually, the platter rides suspended on a patented Clearaudio magnetic support bearing which features a precision, low friction, ceramic shaft in a sintered bronze bushing to keep it running noise free, true and vertical. The weight of the platter causes the height of the bearing to drop slightly under its weight on a magnetic cushion, so that the platter floats on an invisible spring.
Conventional thrust bearings in turntables create noise at the physical contact point due to supporting all the weight of the platter, whereas the Clearaudio bearing surfaces are relieved of this task. This may in part explain the very low claimed rumble figure of 92dB A (DIN IEC98, method A).
The Performance DC is built to a construction principle that Clearaudio calls ‘resonance optimised’. Its motor, platter bearing, and arm are all fixed to a solid, well-damped plinth made from a sandwich of two aluminium plates on a High Density Fibreboard compressed wood core. It feels very solid and heavy, which is no illusion, as the whole turntable weighs 11.5kg. To support and level the turntable, there are four adjustable feet.
Speed is electronically controlled, with 33 1/3, 45, and 78 RPM, all selectable by small crisply operating top mounted buttons on the left-hand side. There is no need to flip the belt up and down to change speeds, as on many turntables, making it very easy to use.
The Clarify tonearm fitted to the turntable is a beautifully jewel‑like piece of engineering, which is as good to look at as it is to operate. Like the platter, it uses magnetism, but this time to pull the arm-tube upwards, against gravity and the restraining tension of a single pivot wire. The arm bearing is therefore a unique kind of inverted‑wire suspension, or unipivot, with very low friction. The arm-tube itself is made with woven carbon fibre, which besides its high strength and low mass, provides a sharp high‑tech appearance.
Torsion is applied to the arm’s restraining pivot wire to achieve bias correction. This is set for a tracking weight of 2.4 grammes, which is typical of most modern MM and MC cartridges. If necessary, it may be altered by means of a rotary adjuster under the tonearm bearing, which applies torsion to the support wire. It’s a clever system, but to avoid mistakes, bias should only be altered with the aid of a test record, such as Clearaudio’s own.
Vertical tracking force is set by altering the position of the counterweight, as clearly described in the instruction manual. Because the magnetic bearing also applies a slight restraining force at the pivot, great care must be taken to adjust the tracking force with the stylus at the same height as the record playing surface (but with no record on the platter). The Clearaudio tracking force gauge is ideal for this job, because virtually replicates the thickness of an LP. Many other gauges are thicker and may give rise to the wrong force settings.
All of which brings us to the cartridge fitted in this package: the Virtuoso V2 Ebony moving magnet. Housed in a polished ebony body, Clearaudio claims it has ‘optimised resonance’ for low coloration, while the low‑moving‑mass generator system employs powerful magnets.
My review sample arrived with the arm not fitted and the cartridge supplied in its presentation box. However, it turned out to be extremely simple to assemble and set up, guided by Clearaudio’s easy to follow instruction booklet. It was similarly easy to install the cartridge and adjust the arm, and all the tools and parts required were included. In any case, your dealer would normally do this for you. For the review I partnered it with a two‑box Clearaudio Basic + MM/MC phono preamp, which proved ideal for the task, because not only was it low in background noise, but it was also transparent and smooth sounding.
Once the turntable was fixed up and running, I played a random selection of vinyl to get a general feel of the subjective performance. It was obvious straight away that this turntable is true to its maker’s name.
Music reproduced by this set up was clear, well-focussed, crisp, and nicely timed. This combination of benefits made it easy to follow complex rhythms and parts of the mix, and I liked the drive and energy conveyed.
The Performance DC does not have the benefit of a spring suspension system, relying instead on mass to limit vibration transfer from the environment. Despite the high mass and lack of resonance in the plinth, it does transmit some vibration to the cartridge and so shares with others of its genre a degree of sensitivity to the surface on which it is placed.
I tried the Performance DC turntable in a few places. The best, but hardly the most practical, was directly on a carpeted concrete floor, second best an Ikea Lack table. So, I recommend some experimentation with different support tables. A dedicated wall shelf would be ideal, too.
Once suitably positioned, I admired the open sounding midrange, but felt slightly uneasy about the treble. It was not coarse or harsh, but felt slightly dominant. This suspicion was confirmed by a test record and spectrum analyser, which showed a treble lift from the cartridge of about 4dB on one channel and 3dB on the other. This results in an overall balance that on the plus side can bring life to dull‑sounding speakers or systems, but bear in mind that the cartridge could also sound a bit thin and wearing, especially with brighter sounding auxiliaries.
I deliberately chose something with a firm, driving bass line, so I spun George Benson’s track ‘Off Broadway’ from his LP Give Me the Night [WB 56 823]. The Performance DC combo presented George’s vocals in a clear and open way, with lots of reverberation, which was impressive, but seemed just a bit lispy. Bass lines were crisp and well timed, but with a marginal lack of ultimate power in the deeper, fundamentals. Lee Ritenour’s contrasting guitar style was reproduced with an amazingly rich and complex tonal quality that was a delight to hear. I loved the open clarity and fast‑paced character, even though the deep bass did not quite have the grunt and warmth of some heftier (and costlier) turntables. However, the turntable, arm, and cartridge were clearly extracting substantial levels of information and detail, so that Bert Swedian’s microphone wizardry and Quincy Jones’ legendary production were laid bare for all to hear.
I moved on to Miles Davis with John Coltrane [CBS 88029]. Again, the sound was beautifully clear, but with a thinning to Miles’ horn and Jimmy Cobb’s brushed drums. Bass quality was enjoyable and easy to follow – just slightly less deep and solid than I have heard it.
Playing a few classical records reinforced my impression that a more neutrally balanced cartridge would be ideal, and so I requested an alternative. This turned out to be the Clearaudio MC Concept, with boron cantilever and micro‑line stylus. Taken separately, the MC Concept is slightly cheaper than the Virtuoso V2 Ebony, but as the latter is part of a package deal, the turntable combination with the moving coil cartridge ends up costing £100 more.
My first impression after the change over was that the MC Concept was clearer, cleaner, and smoother. For instance, Frank Sinatra’s voice on ‘Strangers in the Night’ from The most beautiful songs of Frank Sinatra [Reprise REP 64011] sat better with its reverberation; his vocals were now rich and smooth – and the music had swing.
With the Piano Concerto No 2 from Svjatoslav Richter: Rachmaninov [DGG 138 076], the orchestra was rich and sonorous, with more natural string tone, while the piano had much more power and presence. The instruments in the orchestra had a more tangible presence and simply sounded more realistic. Likewise, when playing the LP Delibes Coppelia Ballet Suite [DGG 2535 189], the orchestra was simply more tangible with the Concept MC cartridge.
Not only was the MC Concept better balanced tonally, it had greater power, body, and presence. While others might disagree, I never totally relaxed with the moving magnet cartridge, but with the the MC Concept, the Performance DC seemed totally transformed to my ears into a much more enjoyable combination. The upgrade is well worth the extra £100, in my view.
Summing up, the Performance DC turntable may not have the vibration isolation of some (often rather more expensive) suspended sub‑chassis turntables, but it offers a high standard of vinyl record reproduction, is beautifully made, looks great, and is easy to use. I really liked the clear, open sound and fast‑paced bass rhythms served up on its turntable’s platter – especially when partnered with Clearaudio’s MC Concept cartridge.
Speeds: 33 1/3, 45 and 78 RPM
Arm mounting: Clearaudio/Linn
Drive: Belt drive, via DC motor.
Speed control: Electronic, (with pre‑sets to adjust each speed)
Platter Type: CNC machined Delrin
Bearing type: Polished ceramic shaft in sintered bronze bushing with Clearaudio ceramic magnetic bearing
Plinth configuration: wood sandwich between two aluminium plates
Type: Carbon fibre with friction‑free magnetic bearing
Tonerarm length: 335mm overall Offset angle: 23 deg
Signal cable length: 1m
Cable capacitance: 136pF
Weight: 320g (410g inc. counterweight)
Virtuoso V2 Ebony
Type: Moving Magnet
Stylus/Cantilever: not given /aluminium
Tracking Force: 2.2g+/– 0.3g
Load: 47k Ohms /100pF
Compliance: Not given
Output (at [email protected]/s): 3.6mV
Price: £2,495 with V2 MM (£2,595 with Concept MC)
UK Distributor: Sound Fowndations
Tel: +44 (0)1189 814238
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