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Review: Clearaudio Talismann

December 21, 2007

The Three Talismans...

The Talismans are three special weapons from the Sailor Moon anime series from Toei Animation Company, Ltd.

The first Talisman is the Deep Aqua Mirror, that turns out to be a submarine. The Deep Aqua Mirror has the ability to see through lies and to find enemies' weaknesses.

The Space Sword is the second Talisman to appear in the series, and has the apparent power to cut through almost anything.

The Garnet Orb is the last Talisman to be revealed, and allows Sailor Pluto to use her Chronos Typhoon attack.

Incidentally, if you didn't know, the Sailor Moon series, and many others are made in the Philippines and by Filipinos.

So what has this got to do with a cartridge review? You see, the Talismans are sought after because these three together will cause the Holy Grail to appear.

Introduction

I had prior knowledge of a new cartridge that Clearaudio has up its sleeves. Robert Suchy revealed during his 2006 visit in the Philippines, that they're working on something "different." When I asked him how different it is, he just smiled and said "you've got to wait for it." He admitted, that they have been through different iterations already and it does not sound the way they want it to in its current form, so the waiting game.

This year, I was able to talk to Robert again, and while our discussion was mostly on the new Clearaudio magnetically-levitated tonearm whose pictures appear here, I found an opportunity to break from the tonearm discussion and I asked about the new cartridge. "Ah yes, the Talismann," he said. I asked him again how it sounds, and got the same reply- "It's different. You've got to give it a listen."

The Talismann is now the new entry-level MC cartridge from Clearaudio. During our chat, Robert told me that it's a different flavor, and would not be typical Clearaudio "house sound", which by the way has evolved and continues to evolve.

The Packaging

The Talismann comes in a decent packaging, typical of the MM cartridges of Clearaudio, in a pyramid-like plastic enclosure.

It came with additional plastic and aluminum screws, one set each, for a total of 3 sets of screws. An aluminum, non-magnetic screwdriver is also included, as well as a spacer or shim.

The manual is written in German, so I had to download the English manual from Clearaudio's web site, under the Downloads section.

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Specifications

The shape of the Talismann is like no other Clearaudio cartridge. The other entry-level MC cartridges- Melody and Symphony, share their shape with the MM line, while the high-end MC has their own unique flower-like shape. The body of the Talismann is made from Ebony wood, that is highly polished.

The stylus is elliptical, with aluminum cantilever.

The recommended tracking force is 2.4 grams, the cartridge weighs 11 grams and puts out 0.5mV with 45 ohms internal impedance.

The manual said best loading was achieved at 400 ohms.

Setting up

Like all Clearaudio cartridges, setting up the Talismann is easy due to the threaded body. No small nut to get lost and worry about. The Talismann connectors are color coded so matching the colored cartridge connectors is a breeze.

A couple of adjustments has to be made to my Tangent tonearm to accommodate the Talismann and a heavier counterweight is necessary. Initial VTF was set to 2.45 grams. This is the heaviest Clearaudio MC cartridge I have used so far.

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The Talismann sports a new sliding type cartridge cover. So far, the best cartridge cover implementation Clearaudio came up with.

After the initial mounting comes, the fine tuning. So I pulled out my HiFi News Test Record to adjust the anti-skate, verifying the bubble level method.

The lateral resonance turned out to be 11Hz, and the vertical resonance at 14Hz as the results on playing tracks 2 and 3 on side 2 of the test disc, respectively.  The azimuth setting was further validated by playing track 5, on the same side.

Tracking ability of the Talismann was validated by playing tracks 1, 5, and 8 on side 2 of the test disc.

While this is not an ultimate test of the cartridge, it provides some comfort that the Talismann did not fail any of the tests.

Initial impressions

What immediately caught my attention is the bass weight offered by the Talismann. It reminded me of my Empire MM cartridge, which is bass heavy at 5mV output voltage. While it has the bass weight that is pretty much impressive, it is in no way bloated or monotonous.

I found it to sound as dynamic as my previous Clearaudio Concerto cartridge, and has a touch of the top-end extension of the same.  It's no secret that the Concerto is my all-time favorite and reference, so finding qualities similar is a very much welcome indeed.

The most striking character of the Talismann was the full-bodied, but not bloated, midrange. The Talismann also offers a touch of sweetness without being too colored and syrupy. Now this is different!

From the Sigma to the Concerto, there was a marked change in the way the midrange is presented, but they still share some common characteristic. The Talismann is a departure from the typical Clearaudio midrange presentation.

Due to a different stylus shape, it does not offer the Concerto's capability of being immune from most surface noise. But it does allow excellent resolution of the recorded material.

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Audiophile Mode

I've had a long listening session of about 3 hours in one instance using the headphone amplifier that I built, the AK-100. I ran the Symmetry output directly to this puny 0.5W WE417A headphone amplifier with an AKG K240S headphone as the output. I tried various recordings of both known good and treble-heavy materials. The results were gratifying, as those light-sounding, treble heavy recordings did not annoy me a bit, and the Talismann still conveys the music with body and fullness, but low end extension is obviously lacking.

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On some materials, such as the Getz/Gilberto featuring Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto album, I find it a bit thick, but not in an annoying way.

My favorite female albums such as Suzanne Vega, Charlene, and Nancy Wilson were reproduced with excellent nuance and ambiance on the midrange reproduction.

The Talismann's excellent resolution and dynamics were easily conveyed when I played Opus 3 Test Record 4 - Depth of image, Timbre, Dynamics.

I like Dave Brubeck's Time In very much, and I always play it every time I get an opportunity, and this is one great opportunity to enjoy the music even more. And enjoy, I did.

After further listening, I'm no longer being critical of the sound, and the experience was more of enjoying the music more, and having fun.

Yes, having fun. With my Debbie Gibson, Martika, Tiffany, and Bangles albums. The Talismann is very good with pop music too.

I guess the section heading of Audiophile Mode is now becoming inappropriate as I'm enjoying Ten Years After, .38 Special and Foghat, as I was writing this.

Holy Grail?

With my Champion Magnum and Tangent tonearm the first two of the three Talismans, is this cartridge the last of the Talisman needed to achieve the Holy Grail? I will have to go back and ask the question again... "Is there such a thing?"

For the moment I say there is. The Clearaudio Talismann brought the best synergy I have achieved thus far on my Analog setup. While previous combinations do proved to be potent, I now enjoy a better balance in performance, at much less cost.

Associated Equipment for this Review:

  • Turntable: Clearaudio Magnum turntable with Tangent tonearm.
  • Phono pre:Clearaudio Basic Symmetry phono pre. DIY phono cable using Audience hookup wire with Eichmann Bullet plugs. Clearaudio SmartWire interconnect to pre amplifier.
  • Amplifier: DIY 300B transformer-coupled power amplifier with WE396A drivers, generic China 300B, Sylvania 5AR4 and 0D3.
  • Pre-amplifier: DIY 26 DHT pre-amplifier with Arcturus type 26 tubes. DIY 5 meter interconnect using Quantum cables and Eichmann Bullet plugs.
  • Headphone amplifier: AK-100 with Western Electric 417A tubes
  • Speakers: DIY 3-way speakers w/ Altec 406-8Y, Oxford mid-horns, Fostex FT17H super tweeters on Altec 604 cabinet
  • Headphones: AKG K240S
  • Room Size (LxWxH): 4m x 4m x 3.5m
  • Other (Power Conditioner, etc.): Yaden 1KVA servo AVR, Eichmann Power Strip