Dear friends: For more than four years ago I was listening mainly to the MM/MI cartridge analog source alternative and mainly too to vintage ones.
In all these years I was at the " hunt " of vintage MM/MI cartridges that IMHO could be good quality performers.Till today I found out 80+ different MM/MI cartridges where only 8 are today MM/MI cartridge designs and I have to say that I don't hear it any other than the Reson and Grado ones.
For sometime some persons ask why in that MM/MI thread ( http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?eanlg&1200430667&&&/Who-needs-a-MM-cartridge-type-when-we-ha ) we almost don't " touch " current cartridge designs and as a fact there is no reason why but as I said almost never speak on today designs.
But things have to change, it can't continue in the same status when I think it is an opportunity to learn/experience today MM/MI designs that are many more than what we think.
In one of the last 10 days Griffithds ask on that thread about the Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood and I offer him that due that I own it I will try to give it a listening, thak you for ask Griffithds.
Well, my experiences with the Clearaudio Virtuso Wood was and is so great and unexpected surprise that I decide that the cartrridge deserve an in deep more seriously listening/tests that today converts it in a cartridge review. That's so good.
I think that everyone knows about Clearaudio company that started in 1978 by Peter Suchy and where his slogan/motto speaks for it self: "Take the best and make it better, only then is it just good enough.".
You can read about Clearaudio here:
My very first Clearaudio " in touch " was years before was founded when I owned the Sothern Engeenering linear traking tonearm that Peter Suchy bought the design and then he create the Clearaudio LT tonearms as we know today and after that I owned the Clearaudio Veritas cartridge.
I own two LOMC Clearaudio cartridges these are the Insider Gold and the Discovery. For " years " I was looking for the Insider Gold but its very high retail price does not permit to put my hands on it till I found out a second hand sample in mint condition that gives me a feeling of " expectation " as big as was when the Essential 3160 produce " sound " from the very first time. Good performer indeed. I heard the Stadivarius and the Accurate as the Goldfinger too.
My Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood is the Black Wood option where there are other two alternatives: the all metal one and the other Fenambuk red/orange wood. I never listened these ones so my review is for the Blak Wood option.
If I'm right, that could be I'm not, the Virtuoso had a price of 700.00 when was launched and today goes to $ 950.00.
Here you can see the threee Virtuoso cartridge body options:
Virtuoso Wood specifications:
Frequency response: 20 Hz - 20 kHz
Output voltage: (@ 1 kHz, 5 cm/s): ~ 3.6 mV
Channel separation: (@ 1 kHz): > 30 dB
Channel balance: (@ 1 kHz): < 0.2 dB
Trackability: > 90 µm
Recommended tracking force: 2.0 - 2.5 g, optimal: 2.2 g
Coil impedance: (@ 1 kHz): 0.66 kOhm
Coil inductivity: 0.42 H
Loading impedance: 47 kW
Loading capacity: 100 pF
Weight (stainless steel): 10.0 g
Weight (Wood): 6.0 g
I choose my Audio Technica AT-1503MK3 tonearm along the aluminum ( blend. ) AudioCraft AS-12K where I have a " hard time " because the headshell wires ( that I don't need it because my tonearm external wire goes directly from cartridge pin connectors to Phonolinepreamp. ) in this headshell comes soldered directly to the headshell inside pin connectors that I have to unsoldered, this is the first headshell I found out with this characteristic.
VTF is settle at the manufacturer advise at 2.20 grs., impedance loading at 100 kohms along 150 pf on load capacitance, almost no antiskating and with the Azymuth dead centered. The VTA/SRA is on positive side.
Cartridge Highlights External Design Characteristics:
The cartridge came with removable stylus guard which is a good point because we have not to be worried about cartridge stylus guard resonances/colorations/distortion that affect the cartridge signal quality performance level.
The cartridge fortunately came with non-removable stylus that is a good characteristic too due that here again the cartridge does not add didtortions/colorations because the normal plastic stylus removable assembly.
We don't need nuts to fix the cartridge in the headshell due that comes with screwed mount holes.
It came with a long/large cantilever that project it in front of the cartridge body in a way where we have to be carefully when handle this cartridge to avoid bend cantilever accident but in the other side this " free " viewed cantilever helps a lot to the protractor set-up and to choose a precise place when we want to run the cartridge in a specific LP track in manual way.
I'm not in love whith its " looking body design " but all in all it is not an important issue for me. What it is important is that the cartridge design body ( metal/wood. ) does not shows resonances/distortions I can detect.
For its price I could wait a non-aluminum cantilever but Mr. Suchy already decided about.
Something that makes me think more that I want it is that even than the cartridge is in the range of a medium compliance designs ( 15cu. ) it needs an unusual high VTF for a MM cartridge with those 2.20 grs, I think the highest VTF of any MM/MI cartridge I own ( but could be wrong due that I own so many cartridges. ). But this seems to be the rule with Clearaudio because with its LOMC models that have 15cu too the recommend VTF is even higher at 2.8 grs.
It has a welcomed healty output that makes it a dead silent performer in my system.
The stylus is a line contact type 5 X 80 µm.
I can't confirm it but I read somewhere that this Clearaudio MM designs were build by Audio technica which IMHO is a good " choice ".
Listening the Virtuoso:
First thing that you be aware when the Virtuoso stylus run on the very first LP grooves is that clicks and pops almost disappear its SPL goes really down as other LP surface noises.
The music came from the blakness stage I ever experienced and this Virtuoso sole characteristic is stunning.
Second characteristic is how easy flows the grooves after grooves of pure music with a developed harmonics that are just so vivid that makes that the perceived sound possess forceful and resounding " voice "/tone. Here it is a cartridge with the nearest dynamics/power quality performance level that only through live music can be achieved.
This characteristic could change what you already learned on the subject.
The third Virtuoso characteristic is its natural/accurate tone color free of colorations/distortions usually an issue in other lesser cartridges.
This along that " forceful and resounding voice " makes the Virtuoso a unique performer, at least I never found out this level of overall quality performance.
One factor that helps to this kind of LP reproduction is the Virtuoso very good tracking ability. I runned my different traking tests ( music LPs. ) where the cartridge shows its applomb on the subject. Example, on the Telarc 1812 it pass al 16 cannon shots but the 1,2,6 and 16 what is very good for any cartridge. No, it does not has the exemplary traking ability of the B&O MMC2 or the one from the AT 20SS that pass all those cannon shots but all in all a very good tracker and certainly better that's big big brother the LOMC Goldfinger ( that I have on hand for a few hours. ) that just can not pass that test.
Both frequency extremes are outstanding: at the highs you can have the feeling that never ends where at any SPL ( even at 100+ db at seat position. ) the Virtuoso refuse to be agressive or overbright or roughness or edgy, it never lose " figure ".
At the other extreme the bass low bass has the richness ( not the usual colored richness. ) with very precise pitch that goes deep and deep as any other cartridge I heard and this was doing with no-overhang fat/bold bass performance where the bass is almost only one note for every " event ": not with the Virtuoso that leave you to hear " inside " the bass reproduction.
This overall bass characteristic is repeated in the mid-bass and low mid-bass where the more shiny factor is that the mid-bass has not that pronounced " organic/fat " tone ( colored. ), instead of this the Virtuoso shows a neutral weight speaking with that forceful and resounding unique " voice "/tone. Could you feel that you are missing something here?, no way because in this frequency range as in the whole frequency range to LP reproduction you don't only don't miss any " hair " but you win with a performance that you never heard before.
I think that almost all these happen because other Virtuoso characteristics that are it " light-speed " handled of recorded transients and the right decay time on the music notes/harmonics. Nothing is at random here, the Virtuoso always gives the righ perspective to fully music enjoyment.
With all these Virtuoso characteristics we have to wait for a great soundstage " picture " an indeed the Virtuoso has a great soundstage frame side to side top to bottom and front to back with a very good layering in between.
This is the very first time that talk about " rhythm ": the cartridge has a natural ability to transmit rhythm in what you heard/hear, a cartridge self rhythm that makes you " dance " even with classical Lps. This kind of rhythm ( I can't find other word. ) makes too that the reproduced music came with a heavy weight of emotion/real soul that always " touch " your senses. Good, very good!.
All these happen after " hard " time/hours playing with VTA/SRA cartridge set up. The Virtuoso is very sensitive to small VTA/SRA changes but not in the usual way because in almost any VTA/SRA set up the Virtuoso sound good, I never achieved a bad performance during the VTA/SRA set-up changes.
This Virtuoso characteristic makes very difficult to find out the nearest or the right cartridge VTA/SRA set-up, always sounds good!! and this is an example that when you have an overall method/proccess for cartridge set-up really shows its convenience as a tool that helps to this very especial and unique VTA/SRA Virtuoso set up that with out that proccesss/method is almost imposible to be right on target with the penalty that represent to be near but not right where we don't have any chance to hear the Virtuoso on its real quality performance.
It take me more time to bring Virtuoso frequency extremes in its real " stage " than in any other cartridge I remember. Times were where I can swear it can't be done better to found out latter a better performance level.
We have to be very very carefully with this VTA/SRA Virtuoso set up because if not chances are that we are not hearing the greatness of the Virtuoso but only a " deficient/degrade copy ".
Comparisons with other cartrridges:
I decide not to go more in deep in the writing review because I think could be almost useless. Suffice is to say that the Virtuoso Wood overall outperform any other cartridge I heard in my system and in other audio systems.
Yes there are some cartrridges that overall approach this top quality level performance but can't fully touch it, as: the P100CMK4, the TK10ML SeriesII, The AKG P100LE, the AT 1800 ML-OCC, the Goldfinger, The Colibri ( VLOMC and plastic lightly cartridge body. ), the A90, the B&O MMC1 and the Goldbug Ms.Brier ( not the Mr. ). After these other " venerable names " that want to touch the Virtuoso Wood performance are: the 20SS, the ADC 25 and the Maestro.
It is hard to believe that the Goldfinger can survive when share the same " bed " with the Virtuoso Wood.
Highlights on LPs ( some. ):
The Power and the Majesty ( Mobile Fidelity. ).
I heard several times this very good recorded and testing system LP. In the Thunderstorm track ( side one. ) this is the first time that I be absolutely aware that along the rain that starts with small raind-drop and then with bigger and bigger drops these ones came along hail which its sound when hit the window is unique but nearest to the big drops hitting the glass in the window.
The perception of that hail is really alive as if it is happening in my window ( that is at the rear of my system. ).
In the side two the producer want to shows the Power of steam locomotives passing in front of you side to side with a before annoucements coming from its air horns and steam whistles and the railroad sound.
The Virtuoso Wood capture all that Power in a way that no other cartidge can in a way that you can feel the " air " against your body when the whole train passed at the end. I ask my granddaughther ( five years old. ) to come where I was seated and hear: I saw her face of " admiration " when the train approach our seating place and when passed, even he touched my legs with her hand with a feeeling of " caution " almost with some scare. After the experience she said: grandfather where is the train I can't see it!.
Dire Straits ( Love Over Gold ) ( Vertigo. ).
This lovely and unique M. Knopfler recording gives you a new dimension on what we are hearing.
Telegraph road ( side one, first track. ) is a camaleon ( as all Mark compositions. ) of music experiences/sounds with different instruments played at its best. Around the middle of the track and just before the electric guitars goes in " fully action " we can enjoy the notes from the piano in so tender way that surprise you this emotional piano performance in a LP like this ( of course for the people that does not knows Dire Straits. ). When the the guitars fully action starts ( last thrid part of the track. ) and when the SPL in the recording goes higher and higher we can perceive in detail the different notes/harmonics coming from each one of the guitars in this maremagnum but doing this at 84 db at seat position well almost any system can shows you the Power but when we goes to 95-96 dbs at seat position with 105 db on peaks then the cartridge self performance must be something unique or what you are hearing not only colapse but your ears could suffer some kind of brief hard times, with the Virtuoso I heard three times in a row the same track with out any single problem from my system and of course from my ears. Just outstanding.
The second track in this side is Private Investigations where we can hear the Mark skills on his acoustic guitar but it is not only the sound what makes this LP so great but the compositions it self the melody and rhytmum, especially on this track, just before start the electric guitar a tender melody is coming to our ears with marimba in the left side and with a melody feeling where you don't want it finish ever. The Virtuoso makde this passage/stage track so intimate with the sound so vivid that you can feeel how it is running through all your body ( at 84 db SPL at seat position. ).
This is one of my test recordings in my cartridge set up process and on my tests on quality perfromance level comparisons.
Satchmo Plays King Oliver ( Audio Fidelity . )
Side one track one. For this old times IMHO this is a great track recording and the Virtuoso confirm it. The trombone at the left and the clarinet at the right performs with a just perfect timing with a tone that invite to take a drink and lights down to assimilate what are trying to transmit on our brain. The Louis voice is not only gutural as you can expect but you can hear it coming from the deepest place in the Louis body where it begin but what really impressed me was the drummer at the rear center in the stage where >I never heard so clear the metal sound when the sticks hits the cymbals, you can always heard this cymbals sounds but at different quality level. In this regard the Goldfinger is nearest to the Virtuoso performance.
Montserrat Caballe ( Red Seal RCA. ).
Bellini Casta Diva area from Norma. What can I say? other than I'm sure this time is the nearest one that I'm/was face to face with the Caballe " La Superba ". Nothing I can tell you can be elocuent on my feelings and perceived voice greatness and power so vivid from this recording.
Respighi, Pines of Rome ( UHQR Mobile Fidelity. ).
Another Virtuoso Wood show, again the cartridge forceful and resounding characteristics makes this great powerful recording something to hear and something that you can believe only after you heard it. Maybe you never heard this recording in so superb quality level that IMHO today only the Virtuoso can shows you.
He Xun Tian. Paramita. ( Wind Music. ).
Any track in this LP runned with the Virtuoso Black Wood is an orgasm a fully orgasm as you never experienced when after stop to hearing it you still stay " tunned " for hours and maybe days!!. I can stop to enjoy LP after LP after LP.
Now, for those persons that their very precise target is to achieve analog source ( LP. ) EXCELLENCE level and I mean not very good or extremely good but EXCELLENCE level through their home audio systems IMHO the Virtuoso Black Wood seems to me a step/alternative that could help to " run " in the right direction in that hard and complex EXCELLENCE final target.
Do you think I like it?, this could be a misunderstood because I don't like it but I idiolize/adore it!.
I want to say to Clearaudio and P. Suchy: Congratulations! and thank you to give us this kind of analog source that IMHO is second to none.
Thank you again Griffithds because you help me to open a new door to new great audio/music superlative experiences. This tell me that I have to reset my audio-brain and I will follow testing today cartridges where I'm sure there are some surprises waiting for us.
In the meantime think and ask you: Who Needs the Virtuoso Black Wood When We Have Those Vintage MM/MIs?
Regards and enjoy the music,
Raul.Associated gear Click to view my Virtual SystemSimilar products
On the review.