For several years I’ve been curious what it would take to make vinyl sound better than digital. I had a lot invested in my digital collection: a great collection of FLAC albums, many of them remastered editions, a great DAC (Violectric V800), and laptop tweaks like Audirvana and Amarra HiFi. I was pretty happy. But still, I read a lot about the virtues of vinyl, and I was curious. I picked up a used Technics SL-1200mk2 turntable, and an entry-level Emotiva phono stage to go with it. I bought a stack of used discs, and a couple of good-quality new pressings of some favorite albums. With that setup, vinyl sounded different from digital, but I would not say it sounded better. So be it, I decided, vinyl was mostly about the aesthetics, the nostalgia, and the collectability. (As my friend asked me, “is it the expense or the inconvenience that you like about vinyl?”)
Then, a year ago, I paid a visit to Todd the Vinyl Junkie, and I got to hear the most amazing reproduced sound I’ve ever experienced. How can I get that into my life?? Todd insisted that vinyl was crucial, so I began researching turntables.
I had read a lot about a variety of manufacturers, and it is really hard to distinguish among the praise from just some words on paper (or on a computer screen). When I had the opportunity to see a clearaudio concept turntable in person, it was so gorgeous and so obviously well-made, I bought it.
I can happily say that this turntable is enough to make vinyl sound better than FLAC, to me. They clearly sound different, about that there is no question, but now I prefer the vinyl. Vinyl has more dynamics: sounds are nearer or further away than they are with digital. Music can rise up and hit you with an impact that I just don’t get from digital. There’s air surrounding vocals and drum brushes that digital doesn’t fully do justice to. Sure, there’s surface noise, and some rumble that’s audible between tracks, but that all melts away, and the music just plays right through it, lovely and full. I can’t even say that vinyl has a better broad-spectrum reproduction than digital does, it’s just that there’s a fullness to it which digital, with all its clarity, seems to wipe away.
But, this is supposed to be a review of a specific turntable. What’s the relevance of all this vinyl-versus-digital description? On my other turntable, I just did not prefer vinyl to digital. Kudos to clearaudio for providing a quasi-entry-level product that can enable us to experience the virtues of vinyl.
As I felt when I saw it at the shop, the build quality on this machine is fantastic. The aesthetics are gorgeous, it is a pleasure to hop up every 20 minutes to flip a side. The design is admirable, and I greatly appreciate that it comes fully set-up: I just don't need another piece of audio equipment to fiddle with and always wonder if I've got it adjusted optimally. That alone is enough to make me favor clearaudio over similarly-priced brands.
A note on associated equipment: I bought a Violectric V600 phono preamp to go with the turntable. It turns out a good phono stage is essential to get the benefits of vinyl: with the Emotiva phono preamp, the improvement of vinyl is just not as evident. And, the Technics ‘table with the V600 gives me most of the advantages that the clearaudio provides. Had I known this, I would have upgraded my phono stage long ago, but now I am quite pleased to have an absolutely gorgeous vinyl frontend.
Given my years of investment in digital files and equipment, it will be my majority of listening for a long time to come. But now, I see why a $50 pressing of an album I already own, know, and love is completely worth it - that’s how I can get closest to the music. Thanks clearaudio for making this possible! For anybody considering where to dive in to vinyl, I would recommend the clearaudio, a good phono stage, and some quality pressings of albums you love as well worth the cost of entry.