Cartridges

The Clearaudio Charisma V2

Audiophiles love to argue the merits of moving magnet vs. moving coil cartridges. Come to think about it; they love to argue about nearly everything.

However, the MM/MC debate gets sketchier as the price goes up and the line blurs between top-level MM and moderate level MC cartridges. Having owned a Clearaudio Goldfinger for a few years, it is not only their top cartridge but arguably one of the finest cartridges in the world. It’s undoubtedly my favorite, though the $16k price tag always made me jumpy. One wrong move, bam!

Clearaudio’s new Charisma V2 is their statement MM cartridge, taking advantage of cantilever technology from the Goldfinger, with a new, re-designed magnet structure and a wood body. As you might expect, the wood body adds a slight bit of warmth to the overall sound, and in this case, the result is lovely.

Queuing up Jean-Michel Jarre’s trippy Zoolook, the Charisma V2 makes an incredible first impression. Adjusted to perfection with the Analog Magik software suite and Smart Tractor protractor, 2.5 grams of tracking force is where everything comes together. Taking advantage of the MM section of the Bandwidth Audio Kascode One phonostage, the presentation is full of drama – the kind of drama you’d expect out of an MC. Which brings us back to the MM/MC argument.

What’s the diff?

MM fans love the immediacy and punch of their breed. I’ve always felt that the best MM carts are the muscle cars of the cartridge world, full of push and horsepower, but not so subtle in the tight turns. MC fans love the delicacy and inner detail retrieval that their favorite offers. Their delicate coils, sometimes only a few turns of wire, dig down deep to the most minute musical bits.

The Charisma V2 at $2,000 comes the closest to offering the best of both worlds I’ve yet experienced. For all but the most obsessed analog enthusiasts, this is serious coin for a cartridge, and for many, it is a final destination purchase. Another potential advantage of the MM design is that it does not require a step-up device, or high-gain phonostage to integrate into your system. This presents another minor dilemma. The Charisma is so good; it beckons to be used with a premium phonostage. No one said this was going to be easy.

Pairing the V2 with the new Technics SL-1200G turntable proves a heavenly and synergistic match. This $6,000 combination leaves nothing out of the presentation with the Bandwidth phonostage, as well as the ARC PH9, and the Pass XP-17 that we just reviewed. With the Pass tipping the scale just over $4,000, these three make for an incredible analog front end. As I said, this cartridge delivers a serious analog presentation. Moving a bit downscale a bit, using the V2/SL-1200G combo with a few lesser phonostages, leaves me wanting to go back to the big boys. This cartridge deserves it.

Further listening…is wonderful!

After about 20 hours of listening, a quick touch up to the initial setup and the V2 settles in for the long haul. This cartridge truly bridges the gap between MM and MC sound. Subtle acoustic guitar bits are rendered with a massive soundstage, powerful attack while retaining the delicacy of Al DiMeola, Paco DeLucia and John McLaughlin in their famous San Francisco concert.

Most MM cartridges are fantastic if you are a heavy rock fan, and sometimes they do a better job at capturing the weight of a grungy group of guitars. Kiss Alive!Is pretty magical on a Shure M44, but loses its intensity on a Lyra Atlas. More isn’t always better. The V2 walks a fine line, delivering a visceral performance regardless of musical selection.

Somehow, mounting the V2 to our Technics SL-1200G kept drawing me back to music from my past like a time machine. Skipping Alive!moving right to Destroyerproves fruitful. The initial banter and automobile sound in the background of the intro of “Detroit Rock City” and the segue into the track is awesome, full of the power that Kiss deserves.

With spring on the horizon here in the Pacific Northwest, still deep in the retro/vintage thing, it was time to shake the dust off of John Klemmer’s Straight From the Heart, and turn up the volume for “Arabesque,” ushering the sun in, hopefully, to stay. Admittedly, kind of audiophile-y, this track has incredible dynamic range, clearly illustrating how versatile the V2 truly is. Klemmer’s blaring sax, captured straight to disc is complex to track, yet this MM feels just like a great MC.

Winding up the journey with the way back machine with a Japanese pressing of Dire Straits Communique, the V2 again proves its mettle at being a fantastic all-around cartridge. Whether the music selected is simple or complex, the V2 navigates the grooves flawlessly, creating a sonic landscape that is huge in all three dimensions, with an immediacy that keeps you spinning disc after disc. The big soundstage pulls you in, yet the powerful bottom end rivets you to your chair.

No weaknesses

Clearaudio’s Charisma V2 is so good at its task; if you didn’t know it, you might think it was an MC. But thanks to a 3.6mv output, and 47k loading requirement, it will mate well with nearly any phonostage you might have on hand. It’s high resolving power deserves to be mounted in an equally good turntable and paired with a top phonostage to show off all it is capable of, yet if you can’t afford the entire enchilada right now, it’s an excellent anchor to build the analog front end of your dreams around.

If you’ve been agonizing over MM or MC, the Clearaudio Charisma V2 is the top example of MM design that we’ve had the pleasure to audition, and it is highly recommended. While it proves an excellent destination cartridge in the context of a $5,000 – $15,000 analog front end, it also makes a great daily driver for those of you with stratospheric setups. If you don’t want to put too many miles on your Goldfinger with modest or unknown pressings, the Charisma V2 will pay for itself in this position, especially if you have multiple tonearms. Save the Goldfinger for your most cherished pressings and use the V2 for daily vinyl chores. You won’t be disappointed either way. We think the argument is over.

The Clearaudio Charisma V2

$2,000

www.musicalsurroundings.com

Peripherals

Turntable                    Technics SL-1200G

Phonostage                 Pass Labs XP-17

Amplifier                     Pass Labs INT-60

Speakers                     Dynaudio Anniversary 40 w/2-REL t.7i

Cable                           Cardas Clear

Power                          IsoTek Aquarius

Setup                           Analog Magik, SmartTractor, Clearaudio Weight Watcher

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