Watching Michael Fremer’s video of the Clearaudio room at CES 2017 was interesting. I noticed a couple of things. One is that they have raised some of the prices, but they also offer more options that effect prices one way or the other.
The rep Michael spoke with did a good job of showing the pieces and explaining. For example the Clearaudio Concept used to be a $1300 table, in the video it showed $1600 with cartridge. (It shows up about 12 minutes in). While that is not bad for a good table by any means had I not known that one can now purchase without cartridge, it would have given me pause and possibly running from the room had I been there. So fear not on that one, you can purchase without cartridge and put your own on saving $250 bring it back down to $1300 or so for example.
Here is where it got interesting with the changes. Clearaudio now offers an upgraded version called the Concept Wood, which is much prettier in my opinion. It also comes with a better tonearm and a $1200 Maestro cartridge. Package price is $3000. I consider that the point for turntables where you start to feel the financial burn. However, the shallow pocket club can get into the Concept Wood fairly easily. Here’s how: The tonearm and cartridge are options. If you got the Concept wood without the Maestro cartridge then the cost drops to around $1800 and you still get the better arm. Cha-ching! One can alternatively decide to go with the aluminum tonearm found on the standard Concept table and a lower cartridge and save a bit more (I don’t know how much though). There is actually very little difference between the tonearms on the Concept and Concept Wood. The biggest difference would be that the standard arm is picky about cartridges as it prefers heavier tracking carts. The tonearm that comes with the Concept Wood is not picky.
Then there is the DC Performance tables. The standard one is $3000 without cartridge, but also has tonearm options, so one can swap arms and cartridges and adjust price that way.
The moral to this story is that where there’s a will there is a way. Of course, I think Clearaudio has the best RCM on the market in my opinion, but unfortunately it is still around $5500. Personally, I’d have to have at least 2500 records to start to justify it. The thing with RCMs though is that diminishing returns are near nil. If you have an analog front end in your system a good RCM is one of the best investments you can make.