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Turntable tests

Clearlight Recovery + Rega RB900 + Einstein Tu3 Gyger S

[Italian version]

Product(s): ClearLight Recovery turntable, Rega RB900 arm, Einstein TU3 cartridge
Approx. price: 9,000 $/Euro
Reviewer: Geoff Husband
Reviewed: November, 2001

[Clearlight Recovery]Author's Note

In order to understand this review it is essential that you visit the methodology page that outlines how the test was done.


Well here we go - the first of the turntable tests, and thanks go to Werner for putting me onto the track of the Clearlight...
In this case we returned from a day out to find the Clearlight left balanced on the top of my front steps (right on the main road) in the rain. One day I'll do an editorial rant on the "joys" of using various delivery firms.

Luckily no damage was done so I proceeded to unwrap the beast. As you'd expect it was in 'kit' form for delivery, but with no instructions. Despite this I had the thing up and running within half an hour which says an awful lot about its user friendliness - no scrabbling under a turntable balanced between two coffee tables for the Clearlight - in fact LP12 owners will wonder what to do with their spare time...


The Clearlight came as a complete package including a rewired ("Incognito" copper) Rega RB900 arm and an Einstein MC cartridge - one of those EMT derivatives that turn so many people on... This a combination costing £6000, a little more than the Orbe/SME IV/Dynavctor DRT-1 that was my ultimate reference.

[Recovery subplatter]The table eschews a subchassis for a split plinth design. In this there are two plinths, one on top of the other, separated by "blobs" of some compliant substance such as sorbothane. To the top plinth is attached the arm, to the bottom the motor and mainbearing. This offers a considerable amount of isolation from vibrations at music frequency though less than a true suspended subchassis, especially when it comes to footfalls and the like.

The main advantages of such a split plinth, apart from the ease of set-up, is that the stylus/motor/mainbearing remain relatively static in relationship to each other. In a sub-chassis table variations in drag of the stylus with music signals can pull the chassis and therefore the arm/mainbearing towards the motor.
This can effect timing and bass performance.* These two plinths are finished in a "black lacquer" which looks more like a "formica" type finish rather than true lacquer. As this is a Clearlight no doubt the plinths are liberally sprinkled with RDC material, Clearlight's own vibration absorbing "wonderstuff", a hard matrix made of such diverse elements as rubber and lead...

The mainbearing seems well made and substantial being a conventional design rather than the "inverted" type currently in vogue. The bearing itself is a ceramic ball and it appears that the shaft that it rests on has some of the RDC material on its tip curved for the ball to sit in. As you'd expect at the price there is no play in the bearing and a low level of friction.
As the plinths are non conducting there is a strip of copper around the bearing hole giving a contact to earth for the sub-platter, it looks a bit of an afterthought but seems to do the job. The sub-platter carries the mainbearing shaft and the motor drive via a flat belt. It looks a conventional job as you'd see on any number of quality turntables, though again the motor housing is made of some "clever" polymer rather than the metal you'd usually find. The makers of the Clearlight started by offering tweeks for Thorens, a give-away being the "Thorens" printed on the drive belt :-)

The "piece de resistance" of the table is the platter. Made from a translucent acrylic it is rather like the one on the Orbe in that it is very deep, but it's diameter is over 4 cms more than the record. Inset is a ring of RDC doing damping duty. The edge is chamfered in such a way as to make lifting the record easier than in most conventional sized platters. This sort of size of cast acrylic doesn't come cheap and the finish is impeccable, running to the company logo in the centre (sadly hidden).
The centre of the platter has a ring of 'leathermix' from Garrard and is topped with another mat fitting neatly in a recess. The whole assembly just sits on the sub-platter. A heavy puck is placed on the record to hold it in place and three adjustable feet do levelling duties. The general effect is very classy, spoilt only by two triangles of a sort of light grey leatherette material glued to the plinth - they look tacky and are supplied with a new turntable for the owner to fit or not as he/she see's fit. The idea being that they give a place for the puck to be placed - personally I'd bin them :-)

The AC motor power supply is housed offboard in a large case and sports an on-off/33/45 switch - all you need.

[Recovery Power supply]Now to the arm... This is my first encounter with the RB900. This retails on it's own (with standard wiring) for just over £600. The RB300 sells for under £200 and to be honest I cannot see for a moment how the 900 can possibly sell for over three times the price of it's lesser sibling.
The arm casting appears to be identical, complete with mould lines and "flash", the only visible difference being the silver rather than black finish, the former not in the SME league and personally no more classy than the 300's finish. The plastic base carrying the antiskate etc is also the same.
Looking further into the spec the only claimed differences are higher tolerance bearings, better cable (still cheap though), and slightly different mount, though still no VTA adjustment, it also appears that a small bit of machining has been done to chamfer a couple of the holes in the headshell - RB300 owners could probably do the same in 5 minutes with a small drill and countersunk bit... Few would argue that the RB300 is a bargain, but in comparison the RB900 seems a shameless rip-off.

And of course Clearlight don't leave it alone. First it is rewired with "Incognito" cable. This is a continuous run of solid core copper cable, from cartridge tags to phono's. Then they fit the arm into a very special mounting, again I suspect packed with RDC, which offers a brilliantly simple VTA adjustment, fully a match for that fitted to the SME V (and my IV).
And here the rub - the Recovery is available with an SME arm base for £3400 meaning that the RB900 option (£4800) is more expensive than the Recovery fitted with an SME IV.
Prior to the listening tests I considered the SME option easily the better choice and wondered why Clearlight chose to supply their test turntable with the RB900 and gone to the length of producing a unique arm mounting for it. My question was soon to be answered....

Stage 1

The Reference - my own Michell Orbe and SME IV, both arms fitted with "Music Makers".

Lucio has already waxed lyrical about the Music Maker, in his case mounted on a Roksan Artemiz tonearm. I'd been running in both the test cartridges on my Orbe and though they were obviously doing various hi-fi stuff they weren't really my cup of tea.
In particular they were a bit quiet and laid back, sounding like £500 worth rather than the giant killer "The Cartridge Man" claimed - certainly both Dynavectors made them sound small and restrained. Still they were good enough for test purposes so I duly set-up the Recovery with the "Music Maker". Both SME and RB900 were set to 1.48 grms as Len Gregory recommends and I slapped on two identical copies of "Age of Consent" by Bronski Beat.

And instantly all that work in getting two identical set-ups together paid off! The "Music Maker" just sang on the Recovery. The differences were huge! First off was a big difference in apparent volume. So great was this that I immediately swapped over the two GramAmp2 phono stages in case they were the culprits - but no.
This ability to make a cartridge sound louder is of course a dramatic demonstration of superior dynamics, turning the level up on the Orbe enabled me to "match" the volumes in A/B switching but the Rega just sounded so much more open and lively. Not only did the SME sound "shut-in" in comparison but also "dirty". The "haze" present with the SME vanished and the result was a beautiful open and clear soundstage with bags of depth and atmosphere. "Tell me Why" is a great piece of production (and music) with lots of depth and a lovely natural (for Jimmy Somerville) vocal.
These are not the sort of differences that are marginal but easily enough to identify the turntable playing "blind" - I suspect from the next room. After a few A/B switches I just settled to listen to the whole album on the Recovery combo.

And the rest of stage one just continued in the same vein - the gap between the Orbe and the Recovery being of major proportions. Complex pop productions like "Like a Prayer" showed more layers and detail, "Take Five" grew in size and atmosphere the piano rising and falling in intensity whilst staying firmly anchored in the soundstage.

So good was the result that I had to ring up Len and tell him the good news - he'd obviously "got the vibes" that my early experience with the "Music Maker" was rather "luke warm" and he had said that he considered the IV marginal. He was surprised at how good the RB900 was as he doesn't consider the 300 suitable for the Music Maker, so those upgraded bearings must make a big difference.

So what did Stage 1 prove? That the RB900 and "Music Maker" really do make music and totally outclass the SME IV to the point where I'd actively discourage people from taking this option - I hesitate to blame the Orbe here...

Stage 2

So having wasted the Orbe/SME when using the Music Makers, time to begin the complex task of swapping cartridges to optimise the two turntables. The SME was always designed specifically for high end MC (moving coil) so perhaps it's relative failure was understandable compared with the much cheaper RB900.
So out with the big guns and I bolted the DRT-1 and hooked it through it's matching head amp, a combination costing more than the Orbe/SME IV! This then went through the GramAmp2 as before.
Now the Orbe/SME showed it's true colours, huge and organic and powerful. Again thanks to the two GramAmp2's I could switch back and forth with the Recovery, making allowances for level. And yes now it was obvious that two class acts were slugging it out. The sound was very different - the open, detailed Music Maker on the Recovery being matched by the massive and full sound of the Orbe/SME/Dynavector. Both produced that wonderful soundstage and sense of "being there", the Recovery majoring on the acoustic and delicacy of a piece the Orbe on the the scale. Different music pushed me towards different combinations but I couldn't help thinking that the Orbe was more vague and wooly.

So now to the combination supplied for test - the Recovery/RB900/Einstein.

The people at Clearlight know their stuff... This was, as with the "Music Maker", a match made in heaven. It traded some of the atmospherics and air of the Music Maker for a weightier more rounded presentation - here matching the Orbe in this respect. Where the Orbe still held a slight lead was in the big Dynavectors uncanny ability to produce the shape and substance of a voice, a plucked string or a tight drum skin.
This is one of the areas where LP's trample CD's, the former being able somehow to retain the complex relationships of harmonics in a way that lets you know that a singer has a cold, or that a sax player's reed is dry.

But that's it folks. In every other area the Recovery was either the equal or superior of the Orbe. The Recovery emphasised the slight bloom that the Orbe possesses, a warm glow that colours the lower mid and makes things just too cozy. Putting the DRT-1 combination on the Recovery gave it the shaping ability but retained the clarity - here clearly the Orbe was manipulating the signal.
Please don't get the idea that the Recovery was in any way more pushy and forward than the Orbe, in fact it's tonal balance was remarkably similar. With the reduction in 'bloom' the soundstage opened up further and here I heard a new reference in my system and room. The bass was as deep as the Orbe, but tighter, more tuneful and with less overhang. Checking speed stability with a 3 Khz tone showed the Recovery to be near perfect whilst the Orbe audibly "wowed" causing the soundstage to "twist" in your head. With a music signal this sort of thing isn't audible but may well be another reason for the Recovery's superior soundstage.
Likewise the Recovery timed Los Lobos' 'Be Still' noticeably better. However though personally I'd give the DRT-1 a lead over the Einstein it'd be small, the latter (much cheaper) managing to be just a bit lighter and more open as a tradeoff for it's relative lack of the "soul" of a piece. A different system might push the result the other way though I suspect that when my new Polaris horns arrive (next week...) the big Dynavectors lead will increase.

I continued playing swaps, the (cheaper) XX-2 being beaten by a nose by the Einstein, but the brutal truth was that everything sounded good on the Recovery and which cartridge one might prefer would be down to personal preference and of course the depth of the buyers pocket. That said the Music Maker, at just over £500 costs a fraction of the others and in many ways was the pick of the bunch. So good is the combo that I'd strongly advise Clearlight to offer it as an alternative to the much more expensive Einstein, especially as it doesn't need a step-up for valve pre-amps.

So if push comes to shove I'd rank the results of Stage 2 as - Recovery/DRT-1, Recovery/Einstein and Music Maker equal, Recovery/XX-2, Orbe/DRT-1, Orbe/XX-2, Orbe/Music Maker.
It doesn't take a genius to work out that this is a drubbing for the Orbe/SME and yet my overriding impression is that in the Recovery we have a "Super Orbe" it's strengths are much the same as the Orbe as is it's tonal balance. It's so good that it makes the areas where the Orbe/SME is in need of work clearly discernable.
The bass bloom and overhang, though in isolation seeingly minor, can be seen to be a real achilles heel that muddies bass performance, soundstaging and even midrange performance. There's no doubt in my mind that the weak link as far as the Music Maker is concerned is the SME IV - with the moving coils things aren't so clear cut and I'm loath to say whether it is the arm or the turntable that gives the Recovery/RB900 the edge. That said the slightly dodgy speed stability of the Orbe does it no favours and I begin to wonder whether the fine, bouncy drive belt causes an oscillation that could be the root of this problem.

Stage 3

And so the frantic mayhem of Stage 2 was replaced with a fortnight of music :-) In the end I stuck with the supplied cartridge and in this case plugged the thing into the Dynavector step-up and thence to the Audion's own valve phono stage which has a (worryingly small) edge over the GramAmp2's.

I had fun :-) An upgrade like this, especially in the front end, is one of those things that unlike a simple change in balance just gets more and more satisfying. I found myself leaving the "Killers" list to trawl through record after record in the traditional orgy of vinyl that makes this job worth while. The Recovery just gave me more soundstage, more detail and more openness wherever I looked. The impeccable timing gave boogie factor in spades - Classical music needs this but rock and jazz lives or dies on it. Take that mistress of timing Chrissy Hynde. I found myself playing all my old Pretenders discs over and ever again, not for some esoteric, "hi-fi-reviewer-digs-deep" reason, but just because I think she's the best thing since Billy Holiday (and boy could she time) and the Recovery really loved her.

And just to show I'm not simply an ageing rocker Madam Butterfly is one of my favourite pieces, and the Recovery spread the players (Callas/Tito Gobbi et al) round the stage, off stage voices being particularly dramatic coming from well wide of the speakers. When the full orchestra opened up it was just so stable and controlled - and until I hear better - beyond reasonable criticism:-)


Here are the marks for the Recovery+modded RB900 (£4800) and Einstein (£1200) against the Orbe (£2000), SME IV (£1200) and DRT-1 (£2500)




Beauty tt/arm


The Orbe has the edge/the RB900 looks cheap...

Fit and Finish tt/arm


Again the Orbe has the edge the RB900 not in the same league.

Engineering tt/arm


That gorgeous platter almost makes up for a plain and simple plinth

Compatibility tt/arm


The Recovery uses the SME base or the Rega, the RB900 is happy with both high and low compliance cartridges

Speed Stability


Almost perfect



Fully in LP12 league



A really powerful turntable that retains low level information

Stage Width


A high standard - beyond the speakers

Stage Depth



Bass Depth


Very deep

Bass control/speed


Uncoloured, fast and punchy

Detail retrieval


Midrange clarity


Very clear and open helped by lack of bloom

Treble extension


High standard

Treble Quality


Again high quality

Overall colouration


Nearest to an 'open window' that I've heard (so far)




'Miss you' factor


I'd buy it if I didn't have to keep a fixed reference


When I started this series of tests I hoped and suspected that my Orbe/SME would see off a variety of more expensive turntables, leaving me feeling smug and killing that nasty "upgrade bug". I was wrong. The Recovery/RB900 costs significantly more than the Orbe/SME but is simply better whilst managing to retain all the aspects of the Orbe that I love.
This would be the end of the story but for one thing - the "Music Maker". This £500 cartridge, when fitted to the Recovery/RB900 beats the more expensive Orbe/SME/DRT-1 combination and doesn't need a £1500 pound step-up to do it.
On the other hand an Orbe/RB900/Music Maker would undercut an armless Recovery, it's a combination I'd like to try but time and armboards leave the question open - food for thought

After reading this I hope it is evident that without the following companies this series of reviews would have been impossible - thanks from me to them :-)

The Cartridge Man - www.thecartridgeman.com

Graham Slee - http://www.gspaudio.co.uk/

Clearlight - www.clearlight-audio.de

AudioNote UK - www.audionote.co.uk

Dynavector Japan - www.dynavector.co.jp

Systems used

  • Vinyl: Michell Orbe SME IV/Dynavector XV-1, XX-2, Music Maker (x2)

  • Phono stages: GramAmp2 (x2), Era Gold, Trichord Dino.

  • Preamp: Audion Premier2

  • Power amp: Audion ETPP EL34 Monoblocks. Loth-x ANT 300b SE Integrated.

  • Cables: FFRC and Sonic Link speaker cables. DIY silver interconnects. Audionote silver interconnects.

  • Speakers: IPLS3mtl's, Loth-x Polaris.

    Test records used... - Killers

* Articles on turntable design theory to follow...

© Copyright 2001 Geoff Husband - https://www.tnt-audio.com

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