VPI Classic 3 Turntable
ELECTRONICALLY reprinted from OCTOBER 2011 ISSUE 216
Equipment Report
VPI Classic 3 Turntable
Three’s A Charm
Neil Gader
I
know I’m going to be chided for what I’m about to say but
I love a turntable that looks like a turntable in the classic
sense. By that I mean, a single chassis design (with a pianoblack base while I’m at it) and parts enclosed and internalized,
rather than externals popping up on outboard pods, pillars,
and modules. Many turntables today resemble an icy edifice
reminiscent of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude; still others have
a gimmicky comic-book sense of the surreal, as if some designer
had channeled his inner Salvador Dali. To each his own. By my
admittedly curmudgeonly standards, the $6000 VPI Classic 3
is well named—classic all the way. An old school, Lucite-free
spinner.
Fittingly, the VPI Classic 3 takes the proven platform of Harry
Weisfeld’s original Classic and Classic 2 efforts and essentially
upgrades and hot rods the living hell out of them. The fixed
(unsuspended) plinth is 1/2"-thick machined aluminum bonded
to a 1/8" steel subplate. The subplate is in turn bonded to two
inches of MDF. The result is not merely damping via mass but a
sandwich of dissimilar materials, helping to eliminate resonances.
SPECS & PRICING
Wow and flutter: Less than
0.02%
Rumble: Greater than 80dB
down
Speed accuracy: Within .1%
Dimensions: 20.5" x 15.5" x 10"
Weight: 65 lbs.
Price: $6000
VPI Industries, Inc
77 Cliffwood Avenue #3B
Cliffwood, NJ 07721
(732) 583-6895
vpiindustries.com
Soundsmith
8 John Walsh Blvd., Suite 417
Peekskill, NY 10566
(914) 739-2885
Price: Counter Intuitive, $50;
EZ-Mount screws, $30
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EQUIPMENT REPORT - VPI Classic 3 Turntable
The hefty footers have been redesigned for better balance
and isolation. The platter is 18 pounds of machined 6061-T
aluminum on an inverted bearing and stainless-steel damping
plate. The base is a scrumptious piano-black.
The tonearm is the Classic 3—a unipivot design that’s been
rigorously updated with a new stainless-steel arm tube, bearing
assembly, mounting base, and Nordost Valhalla wiring straight
through from the headshell to the Swiss-made LEMOs that
plug into the terminal block. The arm offers turn-knob VTA
adjustment. Overhang and rake are manually set by shifting the
cartridge in the headshell. While there is no built-in trackingforce gauge, any number of aftermarket devices can do this trick.
(VPI includes the Shure gauge for good measure.) The floating
unipivot design also makes the tonearm a dream for users who
are inclined to make cartridge-swapping a way
of life. Just pull the cable plug from the socket,
slip off the anti-skating thread, and the entire
tonearm/counterweight lifts off. The only
thing faster would be a removable armwand,
which VPI makes optionally available for all of
its tonearms.
The Classic 3 isn’t just a ’table/arm combo
but arrives as a bundle complete with VPI’s
Periphery Ring Clamp (PRC) and HR-X Center
Weight. The former is, as the name implies, a
beautifully machined halo of non-magnetic
stainless steel whose only contact point with the
record is the outer lip that just kisses the vinyl’s
edge before the lead-in groove. When it is used
in conjunction with the HR-X Center Weight,
edges and warps are effectively flattened,
resonances dampened, and overall coupling
of the vinyl to the turntable surface improved.
Operationally, it’s a bit awkward to use, but
its benefits are undeniable. And this tandem
makes life easier for cartridges, all of which rely
on seeing the flattest possible surface within
the groove—all the more so for a unipivot
As if intuiting my problems with setting azimuth, Harry Weisfeld
tonearm, which, unlike it’s fixed-bearing
referred me to Peter Ledermann, president of Soundsmith, a
pivoted cousins, can tend to roll laterally with a
cooperative of designers, mod-experts, and other resident electronics
record’s undulations. Short of a full-on vacuum
wizards. They’ve created the Counter Intuitive (CI)—a polymer damping
system, the PRC is the way to go.
ring that fits around the VPI’s existing counterweight and allows fine
VPI maintains that thanks to the length
independent adjustments for both tracking force and azimuth settings.
and resultant geometry of the 10.5" tonearm
It comes with a self-adhesive scale that can be marked with a Sharpie
little if any anti-skating is ever required. And,
to note settings for specific cartridges or armwands. Merely press
cleverly, the specific twist of the tonearm
the scale onto the counterweight, slip the Counter Intuitive around
cable and its insertion angle into the adjacent
the scale, and you’re good to go. Ledermann recommends performing
five-pin plug actually compensates adequately
both tracking force and azimuth adjustments in the normal manner
for skating under most circumstances, says
with the VPI counterweight. Only when those adjustments are as close
Weisfeld. However if more anti-skate is needed
to ideal as possible, should you begin moving the Counter Intuitive.
a mechanical system is also included. Finally,
Like I said it’s a fine-tuner. For azimuth, lightly rotate the ring to the
the Classic 3 arrives complete with set-up
right or left around the counterweght.
tools that include an alignment protractor for
The other gizmo I can’t speak more highly about is the EZ-Mount
overhang, a narrow rod for assisting in azimuth
cartridge screw set. Delivered in a set of four pairs (nylon, aluminum,
adjustment, plus an extra belt.
stainless, and brass, plus nylon washers and stainless nuts), they have
Usability is superb. I liked the heft and
an easy to tighten knurled knob on top eliminating the need for tiny
substance of the 3’s component parts and the
hand tools. Since they range in weight from 1.04 gram a pair for nylon
sure feel of its controls from the side-mount
to 6.24 gram a pair for brass, you can use them to add or remove
on/off toggle to the headshell lift and cue
mass to the headshell, depending on the cartridge and tonearm. All
control. Changing speeds from 33 rpm to 45
you need are your hands to install the EZ-Mounts, particularly on prerpm is a simple matter of slipping the belt down
threaded cartridge bodies, and they make cartridge alignment easy
to the wider diameter portion of the pulley. In
since they’re a breeze to untighten, move, and retighten. Genius. NG
practice, the only set-up area that made me feel
a bit ham-handed was azimuth. Setting it can
be accomplished in two ways. The first option
Soundsmith Counter Intuitive
and E-Z Mount Screws
EQUIPMENT REPORT - VPI Classic 3 Turntable
is to swivel an azimuth adjustment ring towards the side of the
cartridge that appears lower; alternatively, you can pivot the
counterweight ring slightly to the right or left. However, if you’re
not careful that can alter tracking force as well. Check out the
accompanying sidebar for a cool solution to this quandary.
The first step I take in evaluating a turntable is to listen for,
hopefully, no evidence of start-up chatter, motor rumble, or
resonance from the chassis. The Classic 3 was, in a word, excellent
in all these regards. The only rap I have is a bit of feedback I
created tapping along the side of the base. It wasn’t perceptible
during listening, but as always turntable placement is paramount
in order to limit the nefarious effects of airborne or floorborne
feedback.
Sonically the character of the Classic 3, to the extent that one
can be isolated from the stylus/phono preamp interface, is fast,
lucid, and responsive. Rhythmically the VPI has a charismatically
upbeat, forward-leaning personality that will take a heavy groove
like Yes’ “Owner of a Lonely Heart” [Atco] and lock onto it
like a vise. In combination with the superb Parasound Halo JC
3 phonostage this playback system was almost chameleon-like in
the way it discerned the finest gradations and differences between
cartridges—from the rich slightly romantic Sumiko Palo Santos
Celebration to the more sinuous, speed-addicted Ortofon 2M
Black (not to mention the three Audio Technica models I review
in this issue’s “Start Me Up”). This in and of itself demonstrated
to me how little coloration the VPI adds to the sonic picture.
During Copland’s Fanfare from Atlanta Brass Ensemble’s Sonic
Fireworks [Crystal Clear], I felt the Classic 3 revealed a special
talent for pitch clarity and timbral detail in the lower frequencies
as the tympani and bass drum began their bombing runs.
There were no traces of mistracking in these wide grooves, just
thunderously well-resolved impact. While my own SOTA/SME
rig edges out the VPI in sheer hellacious impact and extension,
the VPI played a very close second fiddle.
However, the highest praise I can give a turntable is the way
it imparts unwavering tracking stability to a recording. With the
Classic 3, music simply locks in and asks you to enjoy the ride.
Whether it’s a flotilla of orchestral and choral images from the
Bernstein conducted Carmen or a solitary arpeggio from Michael
Newman’s classical guitar on the Sheffield direct-to-disc, notes
appear cleanly struck, fully retrieved, and devoid of ambiguity. I
noted this same effect when I listened to the SME 30/12 with the
twelve-inch version of the SME V tonearm a couple years ago. It
conveys the sense that the stylus has moved beyond merely riding
the groove, transcending the mechanics and becoming an integral
part of the record itself. A great piano recording like Nojima Plays
Liszt [Reference Recordings] is an exemplary demonstration disc in
this regard. Any turntable will allow you to hear the basic sound of
the concert grand, but what the Classic 3 will do is let you hear the
piano in its full and awesome power. It will impart the weight and
breadth of the instrument on stage, the micro-dynamic delicacy
and intense power of Nojima’s touch on the keys. Or the way the
soundspace lightens or darkens as harmonics gather and disperse.
On a track like Dire Straits’ “Private Investigations,” a song that
emerges with all the twists and turns of a le Carré novel, the
VPI doesn’t flinch in the face of weird ambient cues, vertiginous
panning, and found-sound minutiae. Sonic complexities like
these leave it utterly unruffled. Every detail is there, rock-solid,
immovable, and alive within the soundstage.
The VPI Classic 3 is an exceptional effort by a company that
knows the analog landscape like few others. With each spin it
invites you to become reacquainted with every record in your
collection. A class-leading product by any yardstick, and, simply
put, a class act.
81160
Classic 2
Classic 1
Classic 3
Our Golden Ear Award Winning Turntables
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