VPI introduced the Classic Turntable to mark the occasion of their 30th anniversary. Since this turntable was auditioned earlier this past summer, a Classic 2 and Classic 3 have been announced. At $2,750, the Classic Turntable includes a JMW 10.5i Special Edition tonearm, a “machined aluminum 18 pound high inertia platter with precision inverted bearing and stainless steel damping plate”, an effective screw-down record clamp made of Delrin, and a fixed (non-suspended) plinth. The 65 pound total weight implies solid construction. Fit and finish, and reliability, are excellent.
The consumer has a choice of black or walnut finished base and can use the phono cartridge and interconnecting cables of his or her choice. The tonearm has VTA adjustment, but “VTA on the fly” is an extra cost option, one that I feel is largely unnecessary. The turntable arrives well packed and complete with all the tools and instructions required to be up and running in short order; returning it to the box took just 25 minutes. The review sample was brand new so I conditioned the tonearm wiring with a sweep tone (5 Hz to 50 kHz @ 7V) for 150 hours before installing a Miyajima Shilabe moving coil phono cartridge. This pre-conditioning or break-in of the tonearm wiring simulates playing music nonstop 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for about 40 years. The turntable platter was spinning during this time to allow the bearing to run in and seat to its final tolerance. To confirm the listening results, a Denon DL-103R phono cartridge was substituted for the Shilabe towards the end of the audition. The optional speed controller and outer ring clamp were not included in the audition.
Other components on hand during the review included a SOTA Cosmos Vacuum turntable with Triplanar VII u2 tonearm; Mark Levinson No. 326S with built-in phono stage, Krell KCT, ARC LS26, Bel Canto Pre3 and McIntosh C220 preamplifiers; Bob’s Devices CineMag Moving Coil Step Up Transformer and a DIY Sowter step up transformer; Bryston 4B SST2 and 7B SST2, and Parasound JC-1 power amplifiers; Weiss DAC2 and Prism Orpheus Digital Interface Firewire digital processors, both used with a custom Windows 7 music server. Loudspeakers included YG Acoustics Kipod Main Modules, Gallo Nucleus® Reference Strada, and Dali Mentor 5, helped in the bass with Velodyne Optimum-12 and Gallo TR3 subwoofers. Power conditioning includes an Audience aR2p-TO and PS Audio AV-5000; with cabling by Audience, PS Audio and Mogami.
The VPI Classic Turntable makes a positive first impression. The bass is very articulate making it easy to follow the finger work of a bass player. From double bass to viola there is exceptional consistency of tone and quality from the lowest bass and higher. The virtual performance sound stage has excellent depth and width. There is a clear differentiation of individual performers, like we see in a 3D movie, which makes the individual instruments stand out in sharp relief from adjacent performers. The sounds of nature in the opening and closing few seconds of “Par Avion” from Mike & The Mechanics, Atlantic LP A1-81287, have a nice sense of the big outdoors on a starry night.
Another clear strength is in the upper treble, which has a very natural clarity and openness. The very real sounding harmonics of cymbals, bells, and brass instruments is hard to fault. And – hold on to your seat – this table delivers all the slam and pop included in recordings with near state-of-the-art large scale dynamics. This is not a mellow sounding turntable, but one that communicates the life and energy of live music, especially in the mid-bass through the upper midrange. It is a safe bet that the 18 pound aluminum platter and effective clamping system contribute to this character.
There are a few negative character traits, too, which I will share with you and then largely discredit. While the sound stage is very finely delineated, a convincing sense of a complete 3-dimensional space, filled with the woven tapestry of music, is largely absent. The Classic presents all music as if it had been recorded in an outdoor venue with the natural ambience we hear in a concert hall MIA. While each performer occupies a clearly definable and stable location on the large virtual sound stage, each performer is a flat image with little depth or body; the definition of “cardboard cutout”. The upper midrange and lower treble is a bit forward sounding, and while not actually bright, the listener’s attention is often drawn to this range. The mid-treble, containing much of the lower order harmonics, has a fine mist or grain that is in contrast to the very clean upper treble.
Compared to the SOTA Cosmos turntable with Triplanar tonearm, the Classic’s bass is leaner and less powerful, although the VPI table makes it a little easier to hear individual bass strings vibrating. The SOTA table has a noticeably richer midrange with far greater harmonic depth, which enables it to be much more interesting and involving to listen to. The audible differences between the two turntables are greater than the differences between CD and LP sound. The Cosmos has none of the specific issues noted in the preceding paragraph. This should be expected at about four times the cost of the Classic.
The strengths of the VPI Classic are at the opposite ends of the audio spectrum: excellent bass and upper treble are offered. However, this review – and potentially any turntable review – is largely worthless depending on the phono cartridge used. (The same rule holds true for phono cartridge reviews: change the tonearm or turntable and the results could change significantly.) You could expect that using the Classic with different cartridges will yield different results, more or less. From the listening notes: “I would love to hear a Koetsu Urushi on this table.”
If you favor classical or acoustic music, the VPI may disappoint due to the lack of an appropriate physical environment. The Classic can be recommended for studio recordings and electronic music. The VPI Classic turntable’s presentation of drive and power, and fine resolution, provides good service for this type of music.
Overall Rating: 8 LPs
Link to Manufacturer’s Web site: VPI