Don’t let the Clearaudio Ovation’s conventional shape fool you.
This is a cleverly designed turntable packed with intelligent solutions to engineering problems that designers have struggled with for years.
The company has attacked head-on issues to do with resonance in the plinth and the noise generated in the arm and main bearings, and has delivered a hugely capable product.
Clearaudio also makes an extensive range of cartridges, and here we’ve chosen the £1095 Talismann v2 Gold – a moving-coil design that’s a natural partner to the Ovation deck and Clarify arm when it comes to price.
There’s long been a fashion with high-end turntables to look outlandish.
You’ll find all sorts of skeletal shapes and odd-looking structures – after all, as long as there’s a platter that spins and somewhere to put the motor and the arm, it doesn’t actually matter what the rest of the deck looks like.
It can be as fancy as you like.
Aesthetic design considerations have spawned turntables of all shapes and sizes.
The traditional rectangular plinth design has become still less common as manufacturers have realised they cannot only improve performance by getting rid of the highly resonant plinth but also reduce costs.
Still, many customers like the traditional look, and the Ovation is Clearaudio’s attempt to make such a design work as well as it can.
The Ovation’s plinth has a sandwich construction made up of two plates of aluminium fitted on either side of a Panzerholz layer.
Panzerholz is a dense, heavily processed wood that’s very strong (bullet proof, apparently) and an effective damping agent.
Together these ingredients make for a well-behaved, strong, low-resonance platform for the rest of the components to work from.
We’re taken with the Ovation’s magnetic main-bearing design. There’s a ceramic shaft that keeps the bearing central, but no contact between the two parts of the bearing apart from that.
The platter part just floats in air above the plinth section. The result is very low levels of noise and friction – ideal properties for the job.
The Ovation uses a DC motor because of its smooth operation, but the downside with such motors has always been the difficulty in regulating their speed.
Clearaudio has attacked this problem with the use of a micro infrared-sensor, which regulates rotational speed.
Drive is by a flat precision-ground belt to the aluminium sub-platter. The speed change is electrical and even has the option of 78rpm.
Even the main platter isn’t conventional; it uses a material called POM, which is short for Polyoxymethylene (in case you wondered).
It’s an engineering thermoplastic used to make precision parts and has a density comparable to that of vinyl, which (it’s claimed) means any unwanted resonances in the record sink into the platter.
The Clarify arm – included as standard with the Ovation – is equally innovative. It too uses a magnetic bearing to reduce noise and friction.
If you were to open it up you’d find a single-piece wiring loom that gives direct connection between the cartridge tags and RCA plugs (in most arms the wiring is split to make construction easier).
The lack of breaks in the signal path mean there is less chance of the delicate cartridge signals being distorted on the way to the phono stage.
Clearaudio’s Talismann v2 cartridge completes the package. It uses a hand-polished ebony body reinforced with alloy to control resonance and add rigidity.
The screws fixing it to the arm are plastic rather than metal to further limit interference. Inside you’ll find 24-karat-gold coils connected to the boron cantilever.
The Talismann is a nicely made but fairly chunky device that tracks at a relatively high 2.8g.
Put it all together and you have a really nicely made and engineered turntable package. It’s easy to use and relatively easy to site as long as you use a rigid, well-damped equipment support.
As with all turntables this Clearaudio will sound best well away from the speakers, particularly as the design doesn’t have any traditional suspension system to help isolation.
How does it sound? The Ovation is beautifully balanced. It treads the line between excitement and refinement well.
Play an album such as Nirvana’s Nevermind and this package responds with enthusiasm. There’s plenty of drive, a good level of rhythmical precision and a large dose of punch.
Songs such as Come As You Are charge along with plenty of bite and attitude. We’re taken with the bass control and the agility of the record player at low frequencies.
Moving to the likes of Dukas’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice and the Clearaudio is happy to respond with a large-scale sound full of authority and a generous helping of dynamics.
There’s a huge amount of control here too without the player ever sounding like it’s damping down the excitement.
We consistently enjoyed high levels of resolution and plenty of precision throughout the frequency range.
Given a few days to run-in, the Talismann v2 cartridge complements these qualities by producing a convincingly neutral sound yet remaining informative and entertaining with it.
A spin of Nat King Cole’s Nature Boy shows off the Clearaudio’s clear and insightful midrange.
There’s a good dose of body and refinement to Cole’s smooth vocals, but enough analysis to reveal the nuances in his delivery as well.
This turntable package can relax when the music demands too.
Clearaudio has long been a strong contender at the high end of the turntable market and this Ovation package simply reinforces that tradition.
It’s beautifully made, pleasing on the eye and a pleasure to use.
Most of all it’s about as fuss-free as turntables go, yet is still able to compete with the very best at the price when it comes to sound quality.
Recommended? You bet.