Review: Clearaudio Stradavari Cartridge
Clearaudio Stradivari Cartridge
The Clearaudio Stradivari cartridge has become a heavy hitting darling among the high end audio press. It is a cartridge that just fits into the class A category of cartridges priced under 4000 dollars. Featuring an ebony wood body this cartridge is very light and needs to track at 2.8 grams. I have no problem with this as the cartridge seems to be an excellent tracker in every way.
The cartridge comes housed in a large presentation box deeply stained in a cherry finish. My sample is a little higher output than specified at .8MV but it seems quieter likely due to its low noise floor. My guess is that its primary competition is that of Benz Micro. My primary complaint is that the cantilever extends beyond the body just waiting to get caught on a shirt cuff and be snapped off.
My cartridge has an almost ruler flat frequency response. The supplied graph shows its response curve. Not being much for test data I can tell you that the sound verifies the measurement. The graph shows the response to be virtually flat to 5K and then gently rises by about 5 db to about 15K and then falling rapidly. The cartridge has a very neutral sound to it. It flatters not any frequency range over another. So in essence it adds very little character of its own. Whether this is a good thing or not is a matter of system matching and preference. The character is on the lean side of neutral.
My initial listening after break-in of 200 hours was with EMI ASD 2935 of the Britten / Prokofiev LP of the “Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra” with narration by the conductor and “Peter and the Wolf” narrated by Mia Farrow. Mia’s voice is always a standout for testing and now appears in a much larger space and I notice the walls of the hall more as the echo of her voice bounces -- with more air. With the bassoon I can hear more of the body of the horn (the duck) with the string section chugging behind her with even more acoustic of the hall.
Suddenly the cat appears and the Hitchcock like theme follows him. The string bass lightly dynamic as the cat walks delicately and sounds it. The stage is deeper and less bounded and the acoustic bass is warm but not swamped. The luxurious sound of the snare drum and the sound of more bottom skin the snare’s strainer sounding more apparent. It is no wonder that this is one of Sid Marks favorite LP’s and was a former TAS list LP.
The surface noise is slightly less compared to the Benz M2 I have been using but the sound is smoother overall not as robust as the Benz. The highs - a cymbal appears in the recording and the highs are much different as there is more inter-transient silence. The instruments appear more from the black out of nowhere delicate and open. The sound is reminiscent of many cartridges best qualities combined. The sound is relaxed and laid back. The bass rumbles with no roughness as the hunters come out of the woods following the wolf from which he came. The impacts of the drums dynamics are intense.
Britten’s “Young Persons Guide” narrated by Previn is heard with more acoustic height. This one of my favorite LP’s. The LP is tops with nuance that is outstanding. String basses rumble when bowed and chug when bowed and go low. The harp sounds like the piano of an angel. Surface noise, pops and tics sound more recessed.
Bobby Timmons “In Person” (Riverside Japan RLP931) has Ron Carter's bass sliding and groaning with new found stealth and the cymbals never sounding so nice and smooth. The brushes are so clear on “Autumn Leaves” it swings in new glory. Timmon’s touch is more noticeably dynamic the highs are always clear and always there not bright. Out of nowhere it startles with the claimed dynamic range of 100 db which is unheard of. But it certainly seems to be more than what can be heard on the compact disk.
Stravinsky’s "Symphony in C" (Decca SXL 2237 reissue) with its startling opening section has more acoustic fundamentally and the drums are filled with more air. The horns blare and honk. We again hear deeper into the stage and there is more wood body of the soundboard of the piano and at this point I stopped taking notes and just listened.
Jimmy Smith “Organ Grinder Swing” (Japan Verve UMV2074) has become one of my current favorites playing it for anyone and everyone who should enter the room. And it does swing hard with Grady Tate on drums and Kenny Burrell on guitar. Smith grinds his powerhouse machine into one hot smoking thing only he can do. This trio just grooves on all burners. Dynamic contrasts are heavy and the sound wide and big.
Smith articulates his organ notes by mouthing them which adds to the sense of just how live in the studio this recording is. The bass pedal of the organ burps deeper and Burrell’s jazz box solos sound boxier and clear off to the left side of the stage hanging out there with Grady far right. His brushed hi-hat sounding cleaner with more air than I have heard before on this LP. His snare snaps and with authority and goes up a notch higher in sound quality.
On “Blues for J” his press rolls come out of the blacker noise floor. The clicks of Jimmy’s key strikes are more there. The sound of key contacts clicking the dirt from the smoky bars the organ has lived in. The rush of electrons moving thru the amplifiers of his Leslies rotating speaker. His groans heard as he smokes the notes home like a pitcher on a mound every pitch a strike, wow!
Jeff Beck “Blow by Blow” (Japan SONY-Epic ECPO – 39) sounds like a better mastering than the US pressing which sounds as if it was mixed down to a cassette tape. The SONY Japan pressing has greater clarity with a wide electronic stage. It possesses decent bass which the US pressing sorely lacks. Although the drums are recessed and damped to a point the sound is tiny.
“She’s a Woman” the Stradivari brings out the voice box and smooth fuzz guitar of Beck to a startling depth of image tight and center with keyboard antics panned left and right bouncing back and forth in counterpoint startling well. So this cartridge can rock to a point or play a variety of music exceedingly well.
Although electronic music is not the Stradavai's forte it does very well with it. “Air Blower” proves this nicely with electronic keyboard panned left and right hard the sound seems to be coming out of the side walls next to the speakers.
On Edgar Varese “Arcana” (London Stereo Laboratory Japan GXP 9003) the sound is almost wall to wall and the stage depth is almost endless. The sound was the warmest the fastest, most dynamic and musical that I have ever heard it. (The Speakers Corner reissue of this title is well done but no match sonically to the Stereo Laboratory).
The alive sound quality of the recording is unmatched. The bass drum roars and the horns soar. Snare drums sizzle and snap. On side 2 the bombast continues with some of the most realistic sound that I have ever heard. The concussions of the bass drums, the richness of the horns and just the overall depth of everything is marvelous plus! And it’s not over yet the sirens and cymbals and percussion impact leaves nothing to be desired.
The dynamic contrasts on Frank Martin’s “Concerto for Wind Instruments” with Ansermet conducting (London Japan GT 9250) were heard in a new light. I thought the Japan pressing sounded weaker than my US Stereo Treasury (STS 15270) pressing which uses the same metal stamper but different vinyl pressed in two different locations. But due to quieter surfaces the Japan pressing the romanticism is lifted from the sound and now the Japan LP appears in a new light. Thank you Clearaudio for letting me know by seeing and hearing this in the sound.
On the 1954 recording of Offenbach's “Gaite Parisienne” (Chesky RC 10) an early RCA stereo recording with Feidler the air in Boston's Symphony Hall becomes so apparent. The volume and the size of the air in the hall. The tempos of the music and its impact. This is a ballet tour de force brought forth.
The cymbals and snare drum sizzle and crack and the percussion battery pulses. So wide and graceful are the dynamic contrasts from loud to soft. The myriad of parts for the orchestra become fantastically apparent in detail. This piece of music showing how graceful and unfazed the Stradivari really is in the groove but can it rock you say?
Beck “Mutations” (Bong Load BL39) has sonics that are in some ways comparable to a Pink Floyd LP in essence. A wide stage, great sound and a great mix. The music here electronically softened by the Clearaudio. “Bad Brains” has a wide and floating 3D soundstage.
On “Nobody’s Fault” the acoustic guitar and drums sound soft but just right. The rest of the cuts lack the edge but the ability to listen deeply and see thru the mix is there this not being a rock cartridge. “Static” came across the best overall almost like it was designed sort of dreamy for cartridge sweetening or is it just flat? Ultimately you decide.
Pearl Jam’s LP “Ten” is a good rock recording and it shows many different types of examples of the sound of the Stradivari playing rock recordings. The extra transparency of the Stradivari brings out new nuances and inflection to the guitar and especially the mix of the echo in the voices. This is an impressive sonic picture but likely was not Pearl Jam’s intention.
So is the Clearaudio Stradivari the cartridge choice for you. I cannot answer that but I can tell you that with close system matching it may be just the cartridge you are looking for if you like its tonal balance. If you get a chance to hear a sample do not pass it up.
PURIST AUDIO VENUSTA