By Michael Levy
As birthday presents go, the VPI Classic Turntable is my favorite of all time. My wonderful wife, Maryann, not only gave me a surprise 60th birthday party, she also gave me the one turntable I was most interested in.
VPI has been known as a manufacturer of fine turntables since before the height of the turntable in the early 80s and has continued to refine its product as it served a rabid group of vinyl lovers. They are now very much a part of the vinyl revival and the Classic Turntable is the perfect example of their philosophy. The talk among vinyl lovers has many calling it a breakthrough product. I was delighted to get one.
I recently had my venerable Kuetsu Rosewood cartridge completely overhauled by A.J. Van Den Hul, including changing the tip to one he had designed. The JMW-10.5i unipivot tone arm (included) handled it beautifully.
Setting up the turntable was remarkably simple. A solid level space was all that was needed. VPI even includes a stylus weight gauge and an easily used metal template for the proper angling and positioning of the cartridge. The arm also has an easily adjusted vertical tracking angle setting. It took but a few adjustments and I was listening.
I was immediately impressed with the dynamics, imaging and smoothness. It made it hard to wait for the cable I had ordered to match my phono pre amplifier and for the usual break in time. My Aqvox phono stage has balanced inputs for moving coil cartridges. The output block on the VPI is situated on top of the base at the rear and is connected to the arm. There are left and right RCA outputs and a ground connector. I needed a specially designed pair of balanced to RCA cables. The results were easily worth the wait.
Robert Lee of Acoustic Zen created a pair of Matrix Reference II RCA to balanced cables that really improved the noise level, reduced electromagnetic interference and opened up the imaging depth and staging. The improvement was phenomenal, although it did take almost a week of listening to break in. I chose to listen to every disc I had used in my Marantz UD 9004 review again. Originally, the turntable bested the Marantz as often as the Marantz sounded better than the turntable when comparing HD audio sources such as SACD and 96/24 DVD-Audio to the vinyl. The Acoustic Zen cable and break in time significantly altered that equation.
On every recording the sound stage had expanded and there was better definition of the wall behind the musicians. The dynamics increased while the solidity of individual instruments was far more palpable. There was an obvious sonic leap forward.
I heard a wonderful improvement on every disc I played, but the difference it made on the few direct to disc recordings I have was amazing.
On John Klemmer’s Straight From The Heart (Nautilus NR4) I could not imagine a more realistic reproduction of a saxophone. On Arabesque, I could hear right into the instrument. Dynamic pulses and little resonances inside the instrument were clear, open, solidly imaged and with a fullness of resonance that went right to the heart. I am a fanatic for first row seats at live events with natural instruments, and it had all of the feeling and presence of the live performance close up.
On The Great Jazz Trio Direct From L.A. (East Wind 10005) the entire stage appeared before me with three dimensional instruments solidly positioned on a three dimensional stage. The impact and the depth of the bass on both the electric bass and the drums were astonishing. It was moving the room and pounding on my chest the way I thought only a live performance could.
The direct to disc recordings achieved an unmatched clarity. The size, definition, impact, and musicality were of a level only surpassed by the live event itself. Recordings that went through the normal mastering process were also much improved, although not to quite the same level.
On Telarc’s Pictures at an Exhibition (Telac 10042) the stage expanded in size and the space between the instruments was clearer, as was the wall behind the performers. The orchestra overwhelmed me. Similar improvements came through every one of my recordings.
The design of this turntable is truly intriguing. It departed in several ways from what I had thought was the proper way to design a turntable. I was taught that in order to isolate the turntable from acoustic feedback the arm and platter needed a second level of isolation. Every turntable I had owned from my first AR to the Linn Sondek had worked on this premise. The platter and arm floated on damped springs over a base. The motor was in the base and its only physical connection to the playback system was the belt. The VPI Classic has the motor, arm and platter all on one assemble that is only isolated from the room by the damped rubber feet. This seemed to break the rules for noise and feedback isolation, but the background was quiet, no motor noise was evident, and I could not induce feedback even with the turntable sitting right nest to my subwoofers as they rattled the room.
The VPI Classic Turntable has sound quality that is first rate on an absolute scale, and, considering the price, it is irresistible. How was this done? I asked the master designer.
Harry Weisfeld is the genius in the workshop at VPI Industries whose marvelous ear for sonic differences in design and materials has helped him create several of the best turntables ever made and this breakthrough product.
Harry, What led you to the design of the VPI Classic Turntable?
The Thorens 124 idler drive and the Rek-O-Kut idler drive lead me to the rim drive for the HR-X and the SuperScoutmaster which gives the same amount of “you are there” bass as the old idler drives but without the noise level of that fast spinning idler. The rim drive I make rotates at 70 RPM. The belt drive Empires and Rek-O-Kuts have some of this but with less noise so I tried to get the best of both worlds, the quiet of the belt with the immediacy of the idler drive. The Classic is the result. A short belt for minimum flex, motor and platter and arm locked together on the same plinth for great detail and no random motion, and a powerful motor to keep the heavy platter spinning no matter what happens in the groove. All attached to a 60 pound mass that sinks the vibration. As long as they move together there is no random motion, which leads to amazing clarity and speed control.
How does the aluminum platter alter the sonic characteristics of the turntable?
The aluminum platter has more dynamics, greater focus, and a larger deeper soundstage, but most importantly, because we can machine aluminum very accurately and it stays that way (acrylic and Delrin do not) the speed accuracy is amazing.
I see you include a mat, but you recommend going directly on to the metal in the manual. Which do you prefer and why? What are the sonic differences?
I go directly to the platter or on the supplied paper mat, I do not use any rubber, or polymer material on my platter in my listening room. That does not mean that in some systems the mat may not sound better but my system has no brightness and is very smooth so the aluminum gives me the speed and detail of live music and that is what I prefer. Besides, the platter is damped with a stainless steel disc glued into the bottom for critical damping.
Please explain the concept of tying the platter/motor/arm together. How does it affect the sound? How does it alter the feedback characteristics.
By putting the platter, motor, and tonearm on the same mounting assembly there cannot be any random motion between the three items and that means perfect speed stability combined with a lack of randomly generated movements of the stylus. In a standard suspended table the motor is isolated from the platter and arm by a suspension, the suspension allows the platter and arm to move in relationship to the motor producing a frequency modulation that we hear as a time smear. The Classic has no time smear and is therefore producing sound like the monster megabuck tables for a fraction of the cost.
How does this control acoustic feedback?
Another benefit is if everything moves together then when a sound source like the speaker produces energy in the room all three items move together creating no sound - vastly lowered feedback levels. Remember, the cartridge only makes sound if the cantilever moves independently of the body and arm.
I find it truly amazing that you have achieved this level of performance from a turntable at this price.
We are doing our best to bring the magic of vinyl to as many people as possible.
Thank you, Harry.
Sound is a science and music is an art, but the two merged the day Thomas Edison made the first recording. Scientific measurements can give us numbers by which we can determine accuracy, but it is the art in audio design that lets the music come through. VPI has managed the perfect blend of engineering and art in the new Classic Turntable, an accurate product that allows the music to flow out of it and through you.
I have only a minor misgiving. It does not come with a dust cover. The available dust cover is not hinged and must be removed for play. The ground wire on the connector block is very close to the RCA connectors and a stray wire could contact them if you are not careful.
I would like to offer the reader a suggestion. If you have recently discovered the sonic quality of vinyl or you are a vinyl enthusiast who is looking to upgrade your turntable without emptying your bank account, look no further. This is as close as you will ever get to the state of the art in turntables without applying for a mortgage.
I therefore wholeheartedly nominate this product for an Audiophilia star component award.
[It is with great pleasure that we award The Audiophilia Star Component Award to the VPI Classic Turntable. Congratulations! - Ed]
Turntable: VPI Classic with Kuetsu Rosewood cartridge with Van Den Hul tip
Phono pre: Aqvox Phono 2 CI II
Universal Player: Marantz UD9004 DEQX based preamp/processor/triamplification system. (2400watts digital amplification)
Levy Acoustics speaker system with Levy Acoustics subwoofers
Acoustic Zen power chords and interconnects
The VPI Classic Turntable
Manufactured by VPI Industries, Inc.
77 Cliffwood Avenue #3B
Cliffwood, New Jersey 07721-1087
Price: US $2,750.00