There are several good reasons why the Clearaudio Concept record player is still so popular 11 years after its launch. Beautifully crafted, and with sound quality to match, it remains one of the world's most impressive mid-priced turntables. Even the best things can be improved, though, and in 2019 the German manufacturer did exactly that, introducing the Clearaudio Concept Active (from $2600/£2000). With a built-in phono preamp, plus a headphone amp to enable private listening sessions, this revamped version added plug-and-play convenience to what was already an excellent spec sheet.
In this Clearaudio Concept Active review, we'll focus on those specifications in detail, explain the customisation options that are available to customers, and run a sound check to determine whether this next-gen deck is worthy of its price tag.
Clearaudio Concept Active review: Design
If you're a fan of German minimalism (we're looking at you, Kraftwerk fans), then the Clearaudio Concept Active will be right up your autobahn. Elegantly scant, it urges you to look at it, even though there isn't really much to see. The matte black plinth and curved edging (available in either black, silver, light wood or dark wood) give off an air of urbanity that'll leave your house guests in no doubt about how much you've spent.
Underneath the plinth is a highly compressed wood chassis that's been optimised to reduce resonance. Robust it may be, but it doesn't add a huge amount of heft to the overall package, and at 7.6kg the Concept Active can be considered a lightweight turntable.
Though this is a manual record player, there's a large dial on the front left of the plinth for changing the speed electronically between 33 1/3, 45 and 78rpm. This, of course, means that you won't have to physically adjust the belt when you want to go from playing singles to LPs. You will, however, need to attach the belt when you first take the deck out of its packaging, as well as dropping the precision-milled synthetic platter onto the spindle. It's a super-simple process, and, with the moving-magnet cartridge pre-attached and the anti-skating factory-adjusted, you should be ready to play your music in a matter of minutes.
A couple of things we did notice: firstly, a volume control has been added on the right side of the plinth. It's one of those dials where you have to roll your index finger forwards or backwards, which means it doesn't match the style of the aforementioned speed control on the opposite side. (We won't lose sleep over it, though.) Secondly, the Concept Active doesn't come with a dust cover. Considering you'll probably want one, you might as well add $200/£150 to the overall price.
Clearaudio Concept Active review: Features
The major talking point with the Concept Active is that it's a plug-and-play turntable – so we'll start with that. With a class-A MM/MC phono stage and a headphone amp built in, you can either connect the record player directly to a power amplifier and play it through your speakers, without the need for an external preamp, or you can plug a pair of cans into the 6.3mm output for a more personal listening experience.
Needless to say that if you're going to spend two grand or more on a turntable, you might as well treat yourself to the best headphones for music as well.
As you might expect from a company of Clearaudio's reputation, the Concept Active is precision-engineered to deliver the best-possible sound quality. The belt is driven by a resonance-damped DC motor that's been decoupled to reduce mechanical interference, while the German manufacturer's frictionless magnetic-bearing tonearm is fitted as standard. Note that you can opt for the award-winning Satisfy Kardan aluminium tonearm, and also a moving-coil cartridge, if you so wish – though these will cost extra.
If you're really anal about minimising background noise, you could choose to buy the optional Clearaudio Smart Power Supply. This 12V pack enables you to run the record player on battery power rather than the mains, thus cutting out the (admittedly faint) hum that comes with wall-supplied electricity. Is it worth shelling out $1000/£700 for? Probably not. But hey, if you've got the money, go for it!
Clearaudio Concept Active review: Sound
What better way to sound-check the Clearaudio Concept Active than with a record by one of the best rock bands from Germany – the Scorpions. Lining up the band's 1990 ballad Wind Of Change – the best-selling single by a German artist, no less – we waited to hear what this deck can do.
As previously mentioned, Clearaudio has taken great care to keep outside interference to a minimum, and we were impressed with the lack of hum from the phono stage. Also impressive was the turntable's pitch stability, which remained steady as a rock throughout the song's five-minute running time. Those two things together enabled us to focus on the sonic performance – and it was generally excellent. Packed with detail, and offering just the right amount of punch, it made both the vocals and the instruments sound breathtakingly life-like.
Where the Clearaudio Concept Active faltered slightly was at the bottom end – don't get us wrong, the bass didn't lack power; it just could have done with being a little clearer. We were also slightly disappointed by how the turntable sounded through a pair of headphones, the delivery of the song sounding somewhat more muddy than it did when booming from our speakers.
Clearaudio Concept Active review: The alternatives
An enticing turntable it may be, but the Clearaudio Concept Active's price tag will be out of some people's reach. If you're among them, how does $649/£649 sound? That's the cost of the Rega Planar 3 – number one in our guide to the best record players. It's not plug-and-play, since there's no phono stage, but for a marriage of sound quality and value, you won't find better.
For even less money, you can get your hands on the very decent Pro-Ject Juke Box E ($429/£429), a brilliant budget turntable with both plug-and-play functionality and Bluetooth built in. It's one of the best-sounding turntables in its price range, too.