The Performance DC Wood uses Clearaudio’s patented CMB, or Ceramic Magnetic Bearing, that involves a ceramic spindle (housed inside a sinter-bronze bushing) coupled with opposing-force top and bottom magnetic rings to create an elegant “floating” bearing without a ball or point of contact. Sonic advantages such as lower noise and better constant velocity are realized through having fewer mechanical parts and much lower friction. Speaking of low friction, the main platter material is smoother-than-smooth POM (polyoxymethylene), known in some circles as Delrin, a highly stiff thermoplastic that offers superior dimensional stability.
The Performance DC Wood’s sleek and stealthy belt-drive system combines the CMB, an aluminum subplatter, and a weighted-rim platter—all of which contribute to accurate speed. The motor, integrated yet effectively decoupled from the main chassis, is resonance-damped and discreetly hidden beneath the platter, giving the turntable an even more streamlined and uncluttered look. It’s also functional, as it drives the machined aluminum subplatter. As the “DC” in its name suggests, the Performance utilizes a DC motor rather than the AC one that earlier versions of the ’table had employed.
Setup, Fine-Tuning, and Spinning Vinyl
As one might surmise, the Performance DC Wood turntable is not purely plug ’n’ play. Its setup isn’t daunting, but it’s intended to appeal to vinyl aficionados, be they beginners or old pros, who have greater interest in the hands-on experience—and especially to those LP lovers who appreciate a high-performance, handmade, well-engineered, and yes, stylish audio component. The Performance DC Wood doesn’t require constant tweaking, but it will suit those users who don’t mind getting their hands involved (though not too “dirty”) during basic setup and tonearm installation—processes which are clearly explained and illustrated in the user manual. Some of the turntable’s components arrive factory-pre-assembled (e.g., chassis and armboard come pre-mounted). Nevertheless, I was pleased to welcome Clearaudio’s U.S. distributor Musical Surroundings’ turntable expert Chad Stelly to oversee the review sample’s assembly and fine-tuning, and to dial-in the tonearm and cartridge to deliver maximum performance. I won’t go into all the steps involved, but basically you’re grounding the bearing, applying a couple drops of synthetic oil (included) onto the ceramic bearing shaft, and carefully placing the upper part of the bearing and then the subplatter onto the shaft, attaching the belt, then putting the platter on top of the assembly and leveling the feet (use a bubble level). Tonearm installation comes next (followed by cartridge installation).
Conveniently, the Performance armboard can accommodate just about any commercially available 9-inch tonearm, but most customers will likely choose one of Clearaudio’s ’arms in one of the tonearm-and/or-cartridge packages (which include discounts offered by Musical Surroundings) at different price points. As noted, my sample was fitted with the mid-tier Tracer tonearm upgrade; it features a carbon-fiber armtube and is the fifth of ten ’arms in the Clearaudio lineup. Initially it was fitted with a Hana SL cartridge, which had its merits, such as a bit more weightiness and a touch of richness as well as a hint of dryness (probably due to its pre-break-in status), but I couldn’t resist getting the amazing Clearaudio Stradivari V2 mc cartridge swapped in for an all-Clearaudio front end.
Chad brought along a full Clearaudio Professional Analog Setup Kit ($1500), as he prefers to refine tonearm and cartridge setup manually (and aurally, obviously). Once the ’arm and cart were installed and the counterweight and static balance set, it was time to apply the recommended VTF (vertical tracking force), which is 2.8g for the 0.6mV Stradivari, and to confirm neutral VTA by checking for parallel tonearm height with the platter. Adjustments for anti-skating and azimuth can be made after—with a Fozgometer and a test record, if you choose.
Also included in my review package was the optional Clearaudio twister clamp. Not only did this prove beneficial in the usual ways of better coupling LP to platter, but it also seemed to help further stabilize the platter’s assembly without overdamping, as can sometimes happen with clamps on other turntables.
Unsurprisingly, some of the sonic characteristics I perceived actually aligned with the turntable’s design. What stood out most consistently was the sense of sonic nimbleness and freedom combined with a smooth and steady effortlessness; these could well be attributed to the “play” inherent in the “floating” magnetic platter design and the lesser number of mechanical parts in the ceramic bearing. There was an underlying evenhandedness and “quietness” in playback that allowed for a huge amount of groove information to be conveyed—which naturally makes for a superior listening experience. With the Performance DC Wood, many albums were rendered with an ear-pleasing sense of naturalness.
That said, it isn’t easy to discuss particular sonic traits without considering what else is in the rest of the chain. My system for this review primarily included MBL Corona Line 126 Radialstrahler omnidirectional speakers, a Soulution 330 integrated amplifier (with built-in fixed-gain phonostage), an AudioQuest Niagara 1000 AC power conditioner, cabling from Ansuz Acoustics and Morrow Audio, Stein Music H2 harmonizer boxes (pair), and Zanden bass traps (pair) and room-treatment panels (four).