The American built VPI Prime turntable has a novel 3D printed arm included in the £3750 asking price. Janine Elliot takes a few discs for a spin. 

One of the most exciting parts of reviewing is opening up the boxes when they arrive, though sometimes actually getting the boxes to my door with my busy life is more interesting than the review itself. The delivery company failed to knock long enough to give me a chance to put on my favourite slippers, so I had to do the often customary visit to the depot to pick it up myself. They even made me put on a visi-jacket and then fetch it myself from their stores. Then a jobsworth security OAP at the gates even made me drive around the massive site on their one way racetrack carefully missing the lorries, rather than allowing me to reverse 10ft out of the front entrance! Beats daytime TV any day, believe me, as this was all very entertaining. Whilst I had wanted to be a VIP picking up my VPI, I soon felt very felt very important once I assembled the unit. You see, I have always wanted to review a VPI deck, having heard one many years back with a Lyra cartridge and loving what I heard.

SET UP

As a reviewer, I mustn’t let previous knowledge or experience influence my writing, so my reviewing is therefore always taken as if I had never seen or assembled the products before. Setting up this extremely well packaged and very heavy unit was actually an interesting experience.  First of all, the manual tells you what to remove from the box at the start, but misses out one essential item, that being the USB stick that has a video to show you everything you need to do. So, whilst I found some of the wording in the manual confusing, particularly when talking about the alignment jig, watching the video enabled me actually to set it all up in very little longer than the length of the video itself. Whilst VPI are not frugal in supplying all you need for the job – I mean, it even comes with an electronic stylus force gauge, as well as a very able Stainless Steel/Delrin record clamp, something that some manufacturers can charge extra for – it misses out one of the most important accessory items, a spirit level. Luckily I have several at my disposal. Having experienced more expensive VPIs in the past I was quite excited to see how this product would compare. The 10 inch arm itself is revolutionary, being created by a 3D printer, and it looks significantly posher than I would have expected. The VPI Prime is therefore an interesting phenomenon. Is it VPI trying to be a good turntable with a 3D printed arm thrown (or printed) in, or is it seriously trying to compete with mid-fi all-in-onesies. Whatever, it certainly warrants its place in the heart of the medium hifi set up. The wand, in the form of the JMW 3D tonearm, is by no means an afterthought, and when set up well works well, too. I have been wondering for ages when a printed arm would hit the shelves. After all, you can even make guns from printers, and so creating an arm which is considerably heavier than I imagined (largely due to the 140g counterweight and adjustable side weights for fine azimuth adjustment), was not an impossible task. Reminded me of the plastic “ruler” arm by NAD (model 5120) many, many years ago, but this tubular plastic printout was on another level. VPI also supply an aluminium rod to place behind the mounting screws on the headshell which should appear parallel with the record surface when adjusting azimuth. To get this to be perfect one firstly needs to rotate the 140g counterweight (different weights are also available) with finer adjustment made from turning the aluminium side weights on the 3D arm.

Anti-skate is similarly DIY, from either twisting the lead-out wires from the arm into its Lemo-connection point on the base of the arm board, or by using a more traditional nylon wire and weight anti-skate mechanism by the RCA sockets and ground connector at the arm-board base. With the former method, if the wire isn’t twisted the arm won’t “spring” back to the arm-board, and with it twisted I did find it a tad too excited, especially when playing a few test discs at my disposal.  Whatever method you choose, the arm is an excellent design, and anything that is solid and therefore isn’t a ringing metal tube is good news. Similarly, creating a one-piece arm-come-headshell has been the goal for many years, done well by most arm-makers for years. I built one when I was studying metalwork at school, with the headshell formed from cutting a slit in the tube at one end and then unrolling it to form the headshell. It wasn’t very strong, but it was a first. This one-piece printout was far more resilient and made any cartridge feel both at home and protected. My Kontrapunkt b had a lot more control than connected to my Rega arm. Interesting just how an arm does make a difference to the sound.

The arm itself is a unipivot design of the simplest structure, and despite it being essentially a print out, looks considerably more professional and stronger than I could have imagined, and further, its sound far outweighed (sic) its looks. I have to say that unipivot arms are my least favoured form, often feeling fragile, and meaning that using the finger lift device to change tracks makes the arm waver from side to side. For that reason I didn’t attach it to the headshell for review purposes, rather using the cueing lever for up and down, and my finger tapping the arm for horizontal.  Similarly I didn’t use the enclosed record mats, rather sandwiching the record on the 20 pound aluminium platter above a small enclosed rubber washer all held together with the record clamp.

The motor is a separate hefty beast that sits within the indentation on the left-hand side of the plinth, and a single rubber belt pulls around the platter, like nearly every other turntable worthy of a listen. I wondered why there weren’t two or more belts, like in their HRX or Avenger. But then, all of their “production” range of turntables work well with just the one, and the Prime fits upper midway within this group of turntables, and I have to admit to it being the best looking of the crop. At £3750 it looks well worth the outlay, though VPIs start at under £1000 and end up at £27,500 in their “reference” range.

Being a high-torque design meant getting up to speed was very quickly, and the noise from the 300RPM 24 pole AC synchronous motor suspended in its large aluminium and steel tubular body was exceptionally quiet, quoted in at greater than 85dB. The curvaceous MDF plinth is substantial in size and with excellent noise absorbing feet at each corner, each adjustable by turning. The unit comes with four isolation platforms for additional stability, again largely made from Delrin, the company name for a polymer made from Polyoxymethylene, a thermoplastic designed for precision parts that require high stiffness. The MDF plinth is heavier than I expected, with the added weight coming from the reinforcement with a 3mm (11 gauge) thick steel plate which is bonded to the underside to help control resonance and improve feedback rejection, and all of which is hidden under the textured vinyl exterior.  It comes complete with castors for the feet spikes to sit in, and VPI suggest the whole is placed on a substantial wood base. Whilst noise from around the turntable is eradicated very well, the turntable does resonate a tad if I tap it. Nothing I wouldn’t expect; a larger metal plate, preferably sandwiched in the middle like in their more expensive Aries or HR-X would work well to help improve things further, but which would obviously put the price up, something VPI are keen to avoid.

So, despite looking fairly basic by comparison to most other arms out there, in operation it was by no means inferior or lacking. The sound is fast, dynamic, with a particularly good bass that covered my living room with good authority via my Wilson Benesch Torus infrasonic generator. Imagery was exceptionally precise and better than I expected for the price. All the musique concrete layers in David Gilmour ‘Castellorizon’ were easier to understand and enjoy than I had done before, with the guitar bends and vibrato’s sounding emotional rather than painful. Miles Davies Bitches Brew came across much more concise and with a clearer soundstage than most turntables at this price.

No matter the complexity of recording or instrumentation this turntable kept in full control at all times. Whilst the colourful VPI record mat supplied with my review deck softened the edges of sounds, as said earlier I actually preferred not using it, and just making sure that I didn’t scratch my records or the platter. The sound was as 3D as the arm was made.  Despite some novelty and simplicity in adjusting azimuth and bias (if you were to compare it with the over-engineered marvels such as SME 3, 4, and 5)  the VPI showed no signs of being less thought-out, nor less able for me to get a really good sound in a short space of time. Indeed, once I could understand what I needed to do on the paper manual (and much quicker on the video) I could get a great sound without needed to take a GCSE in arm forces. The immediacy of sound, excellent bass and extreme quiet were my first and last impressions. Quoted at greater than 85dB rumble, this was a quiet beast, though their top flyer Avenger does go to the dizzy heights of almost 100dB. It is a bit more expensive. The high torque means the speed is very stable, indeed better than on many external motor units at this price point or higher. Piano recordings were clear and relaxed; instruments were well placed, with great detail, but not sounding complex. Not one sound was out of place.

CONCLUSION

As an audiophile looking for an all in one (minus cartridge) setup, and with a large unit to place it on (overall Dimensions are 21 3/8″ x 15 3/4″), this is one that is hard to beat, and won’t disappoint. OK, it might not look as fancy as some of offerings out there with glistening wood veneers and ornate metalwork, but this American product is still impressive to look at, and more than that, the sound is just plain honest. And if you add a Lyra or your favourite cartridge, you should get a very satisfying player at well under £5000.

Sound Quality: 8.7/10RECOMMENDED LOGO NEW

Value for Money: 8.6/10

Build Quality: 8.5/10 (novel 3D arm, and looking very professional when assembled)

Overall: 8.6/10

Pros;

The speed and detail of sound
Excellent soundstage both left-right and front-back
Excellent motor unit
Value for money
Novelty of the arm
Supplied isolation platforms
Looks like the more expensive VPIs

Cons:

No dust cover provided
No spirit level (after all, VPI do make one)

Janine Elliot

Designer’s Notes

The VPI Prime was my first solo design project. This was exciting and important to show that VPI would still be coming out with new and innovative ideas even with the retirement of original founder and designer Harry Weisfeld.

The Prime was meant to take the best VPI has to offer from the past 40 years and combine it into a comprehensive easy to use high-end package. The chassis was inspired by the footprint of the Classic table and material of the Scout table, and shape of the HR-X table. The motor was inspired by the Aries table and was topped off by having the VTA on the fly base with new 3D JMW tonearm.

The 3D idea was from my days as a teacher. Before VPI I was a high school and college technology teacher focusing on web design, animation, and 3D modeling. I would use VPI products to provide a real world industrial connection for my students. During a research and development meeting at VPI after a day of using the original JMW arm (originally made and named in memory of my brother Jonathan Mathew Weisfeld) as a sample in my CAD class I had suggested to my dad Harry, “Dad why don’t why try printing it?” After some consideration he was impressed by the idea since it had never been done before. This led to a lot of testing, and combination of material until we found the perfect technique to make our tonearm for the JMW 3D.

The Prime marks the true passing of the torch from father to son in ownership of VPI and will be the first of many more designs and projects!

Mat Weisfeld

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You must be logged in to leave a reply.

Real Time Web Analytics