The Concept and the Essence: two sub-£1,000 Clearaudio MC cartridges are put to the test in Hi-Fi Choice and Hi-Fi News

Clearaudio’s Concept MC and Essence MC are the most affordable entry points to the brand’s range of moving coil cartridges, priced at £650 and £960 respectively. The former was recently pitted against five higher-priced rivals in a Hi-Fi Choice group text, while the latter was reviewed by Adam Smith for Hi-Fi News. How did the pair fare?

While Clearaudio may be best-known for its exquisite turntables, the company’s cartridge pedigree extends even further back. Company founder Peter Suchy patented his first cartridge in 1976 and released it two years later, with which the Clearaudio brand was born. Since then, the company has continued to extend and enhance its pick-up range with a raft of award-winning models and innovations.

The Concept: “refined and almost unfailingly entertaining”

The Concept MC is the most affordable moving coil design that Clearaudio produces. At just £650 it’s also the lowest-priced of six models reviewed in Hi-Fi Choice’s recent (July) group test. While the highest-priced of the sextet, van den Hul’s DDT II Special, wins the group, the Clearaudio holds its own.

Clearaudio Concept MC

“The specification is very competitive with some of the more expensive models here,” notes the review panel. All the more impressive when we realise that ‘more’ is actually £300-400 more. Featuring a boron cantilever and Micro Line stylus, the Concept MC boasts channel matching to within half a decibel and 11 ohms of internal impedance.

“The overall build quality is of a very high standard and it feels very solid and well engineered.” Handy design features “such as the mark on the front to help with alignment” are a welcome addition.

“This is a cartridge that is refined and almost unfailingly entertaining to listen to” with its “punchy and energetic presentation.”

Read the full review of the Clearaudio Concept MC and the complete group test in the July 2017 issue of Hi-Fi Choice.

The Essence: “something rather special”

The MC Essence aims to build on the Concept’s strengths while still keeping the price below four digits. “As it happens, the Concept is a particular favourite pick-up of mine,” writes Adam Smith in the August issue of Hi-Fi News, “so I was keen to find out how the MC Essence would improve on its relative.”

Clearaudio Essence MC cartridge

“Once correctly aligned, the MC Essence soon announces itself as something rather special. It has an alluring sense of dynamic propulsion and makes performances really come to life.”

“Bass lines became more confident, singers more expansive and instruments better focused… it excels at detail and clarity.”

“It turned out to be something of a master at the low end. It picked up on bass lines like a bloodhound following a scent and always made sure the music’s pulse was perfectly judged. It never thrust bass lines too far forward to dominate but, equally, ensured they were not lost in the depths of a busier mix. This is a tricky balancing act and I have only previously heard much more expensive cartridges really pull the trick off.”

The Essence also proved more than happy to deliver on softer and more atmospheric musical choices. It “had a way of digging out low-level details in the music and making sure they were heard, while also maintaining the more prominent features of a recording.” Listening to Sade’s ‘Why Can’t We Live Together?’, “Every aspect of the track stood out in glorious clarity, but the MC Essence also had a knack of knitting everything together to create a truly special whole.”

Read Adam Smith’s full review of the Clearaudio MC Essence in the August 2017 issue of Hi-Fi News.

Discover the complete Clearaudio phono cartridge range.

Find your nearest Clearaudio dealer via UK distributor Sound Fowndations.