Whether because of the material properties of vinyl or the tone quality, records have a different sound to digital music. Records acquire a subtle crackling and popping noise as they age, while digital music like CDs or MP3 files played from a hard disk, even under the best acoustic conditions, is made up of just zeros and ones. Is there a truer, more authentic way to experience music? Audiophiles favor analog turntables. There, the celebration of true listening pleasure starts with putting on the record. The listener takes their time removing the distinctive jazz groove of Louis Armstrong from its sleeve, or leaves the online world behind and leans back in an armchair as the sound of a top orchestra fills their space. There, Tom Wait’s raspy voice causes goosebumps when the tonearm in the groove reads the throaty timbre as frequencies and plays the vibrations of his unmistakable voice.
Simply listening to the music – in the age of digital distraction and round-the-clock availability, the vinyl of the golden years has become a new trend, and artists of all genres are embracing it again. One driver of this is the advances in the high-end technology, with the interaction of precise components and innovative materials delivering the best ever analog reproduction technology and thus sound quality.
The long-established Franconian company Clearaudio is practically synonymous with high-end quality made in Germany. With innovations like the moving coil pickup, it is among the pioneers in the market, and those in the know consistently praise its devices. That is also the case with the Performance DC, a deck featuring the patented Ceramic Magnet Bearing (CMB) which uses a ceramic shaft from maxon for extremely precise tracking.
In general, the design of a record player’s deck is a major prerequisite for interference-free reading of the record groove. If, for example, the playback speed fluctuates by even just a few hertz, the tracking fluctuation results in what is known as wow and flutter – no matter how good the recording in the sound studio or the live recording was, or whether it is being played as a single or LP at 45 or 33 1/3 rpm on the turntable. Deviations in speed change the pitch, and it doesn’t take a music enthusiast with a trained ear to pick up even minimal tracking fluctuations.
The bearing design for the turntable is therefore more than just a design detail. In the Performance DC, high-end manufacturer Clearaudio uses magnetic bearings to protect against disruptive vibrations from the turntable and also the tonearm. In detail, the CMB (Ceramic Magnetic Bearing) developed after many years of research consists of two homopolar magnets arranged one above the other that repel each other and in this way ensure that the 40 mm thick turntable sits on the bearing without touching it, i.e. effectively hovers.
The main component of the bearing design is a precision-ground and polished ceramic shaft from maxon, which can be lubricated with just a single drop of oil. maxon specializes in precision technologies, and develops and manufactures extremely complex ceramic components (ceramic injection molding, or CIM for short) at its Sexau site. It has specific expertise in designing for applications involving challenges like magnetic fields and high concentricity. Ceramic as a technical material offers an almost perfect surface finish for this: it is extremely resistant to wear, has good sliding characteristics, and is not magnetic. The effects of the CMB in the Performance DC with the ceramic shaft from maxon are extremely low bearing friction and much better tracking than was previously the case.
The turntable itself, which stabilizes the ceramic bearing shaft laterally, is made of 40 mm thick, vibration-resistant POM plastic (polyoxymethylene). To optimize the resonance, the deck of the Performance DC is also contains a decoupled and extremely smooth-running direct current (DC) motor, as well as a drive with a ground flat belt. The deck in turn is embedded in a high-density chassis made of wood sandwiched between two aluminum plates. The Performance DC can be combined with various pickup and tonearm variants to form a complete package, for example the prize-winning TT5 tangential tonearm from Clearaudio.
And for anyone who still yearns for the nostalgic crackles and pops despite so much sound quality: put on an old record and enjoy the oldie offline and authentically.
More on maxon ceramics here.
The Erlangen-based high-end manufacturer Clearaudio has been developing and manufacturing analog playback devices for more than 40 years. It is a past winner of the Plus X award, the world’s most prestigious innovation prize for technology, sport and lifestyle. The founder Peter Suchy and his team came to global attention back in 1978 when they developed the first moving coil pickup with a boron needle carrier. This was the first of its kind, and is still a quality benchmark in sound technology. More patent applications and innovations followed, among them the outstanding Ceramic Magnetic Bearing (CMB) in 2008. The family-owned business has dedicated itself to analog music reproduction, including in the form of its own audiophile records and with lovingly curated reissues of legendary classical music records from the German label Deutsche Grammophon.