The Clearaudio DC Performance Wood with the Tracer tonearm and Stradivari V2 cartridge package took the listening experience of so many of my records, both old faves and newer finds, to another level—more fully maximizing their playback potential across key criteria, and in many cases extracting and revealing information or details that I’d hadn’t previously heard.
The setup just nailed percussion. Transient attacks hit squarely, cleanly, on the head. On Mobile Fidelity’s marvelous One-Step Process pressing of the classic Bill Evans Trio Sunday at the Village Vanguard, Paul Motian’s snare snaps and rapid-fire cymbal taps on “Solar” were fired off with an exhilarating energy beyond what I’d experienced from that 45rpm LP on other setups. Piano can be a notoriously tricky instrument to record and reproduce well, but here Evans’ playing was rendered true to life in form and scale—with a virtuoso’s smooth ease and gusto.
Another key difference in a “one-step-up” turntable like this one is its silky-smooth and quiet operation. Here this lowering of noise carried over through the rest of the system, where I’d already experienced quite a low noise floor. This allowed the proper dark backdrop for full sonic landscapes to unfold. Take the desert-noir soundtrack Calexico creates on The Black Light (20th Anniversary Edition reissue on Quarterstick). The ominous minor-key twang of electric guitar chords on “Gypsy’s Curse” gave way to rich accordion swells and mandolin strumming, whose long sustains and decays also lingered on forebodingly in a multi-layered sonic landscape so dimensional and convincing that I half-expected tumbleweeds to roll by. Highly resolved sharp clave strikes and crisp shaker attacks on “Fake Fur”—as well as Joey Burns’ vocals on other cuts—also captured my attention with their remarkable body and realism.
Later in the review period I switched in a Boulder 508 phono preamp to try pairing a different phonostage with the Performance DC Wood turntable (so the only system change was bypassing the Soulution 330 integrated amp’s phono section). Generally speaking, having the Boulder in place seemed to heighten and intensify certain aspects of playback. Lower octaves of instruments felt a bit more pronounced; bass lines beckoned my ears to follow—for instance Scott LaFaro’s upright bass articulation on “Solar” from the Bill Evans Trio LP, where during his solo I also could swear I heard a guy in the audience let a “Wow!” slip out. Additionally, the drum kit shifted forward within a slightly deeper soundstage. A high degree of the musical event’s performance energy was conveyed, although a hint more tonal richness and gravitas might have been traded for a tiny bit of crystalline resolution. I dug the effect but out of curiosity I did shift the tonearm’s counterweight to slightly reduce VTF, which seemed to balance the bass just a hair. The playback delivered the impression of pushing even more air, bloom, and even greater dispersion from the MBLs’ omnidirectional tweeter and midrange drivers (which is saying something). Nonetheless, those attacks blew me away. The piece is familiar to me, yet I was literally startled by an explosive kickdrum downbeat. The insistent cymbal taps hit clean and mean every time—perhaps the turntable’s steady “hand” lent a hand in rendering them so dynamically.
Another example of the DC Wood’s evenhandedness (of drive system and unimpeded playback ease) serving repetitive percussive beats well and heightening their impact would be the tambourine strikes and funky bass lines on “Turn the Light” and “Woman” from Danger Mouse and Karen O’s Lux Prima. The variations of her idiosyncratic vocal style, by turns sweetly soothing and primally near-screechy, were also convincingly presented with requisite raw emotion. Ditto the prominent shakers and claves on “Fake Fur” from Calexico. On other tracks the album’s atmosphere was further enriched with rich and robust textures, combined with greater expansion and dispersion (due also in part to the MBL magic) into a wide-open desert space. I also noticed significant low-end presence and enhanced imaging, particularly in the beautifully natural sound and dimensional body of a multitude of instruments: mandolin, guitar, accordion, cymbals, etc. Each emerged from the three-dimensional sonic picture then returned to the ensemble without losing its individual outline and qualities.
Regardless which phonostage was used, the Performance DC Wood turntable’s evenhandedness and consistency (of speed, etc.) could capably convey complex layering of instruments and/or vocals, helping preserve their true characteristic tonality for a more realistic and compelling presentation. Better still, this presentation benefitted any type of music, making this Performance DC Wood/Tracer tonearm/Stradivari V2 cartridge package an excellent choice for multi-genre vinyl lovers, who (like me) have all-over-the-map musical tastes.
Quality at this performance level doesn’t come cheap, especially when the components are handmade in Germany and CNC-machined in-house to exacting specifications—but this proved to be one hell of an outstanding, even addictive, analog setup. If you have the means for a turntable a cut above most of its competition, this should be on your short list. Highly recommended.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Belt-driven turntable with aluminum subplatter and DC motor
Bearing: Ceramic magnetic bearing (CMB) with sinter-bronze bushing
Speeds: 33, 45, 78rpm
Speed accuracy: .05%
Warranty: 5 years
Weight: 24.25 lbs. (11kg)
Dimensions: 16.54" x 4.92" x 12.99" (without tonearm)
Price: $3600 without tonearm; Tracer tonearm is $2900, package price is $5800. Stradivari V2 mc cartridge is $4000; $3600 with turntable package (10% off Clearaudio cartridges when purchased as part of a package)
MUSICAL SURROUNDINGS (U.S. Distributor)
5662 Shattuck Ave.
Oakland, CA 94609
CLEARAUDIO ELECTRONIC GMBH
Spardorfer Strasse 150