VPI Industries Prime Turntable

VPI Industries Prime Turntable
http://www.audiophilia.com/reviews/2017/4/12/vpi-industries-prime-turntable
VPI Industries Prime Turntable
audiophilia.com
Recently, I had an unforeseen reason (disaster?) that
offered me a chance to check out a new phono
cartridge for my VPI Industries Scout turntable. Among
the cartridges I focused on for review was the Grado
Labs Statement v2 [reviewed here] but it was a much
more serious and expensive cartridge than the one I
had before (the very nice moving magnet Ortofon 2M
Black). As such, it was considered by both Grado Labs
and VPI Industries to be more suitable for a higher
level turntable, so I used a Prime in my Grado review; I
am grateful to VPI President Mat Weisfeld for allowing
me access to the Prime for that review. Here, I review
the Prime itself; after all, I have spent quite some time with it by now -- and I am deeply impressed by it. A
fine cartridge can’t show off unless it is mounted on a fine turntable, right?
The Prime, at $4000 retail, is the 3rd (from lowest to highest out of 4 total) in VPI’s Production Series,
sandwiched between the Prime Scout ($2200), and the Prime Signature ($6000). (VPI recently replaced
the regular Scout by the new ‘Prime Scout’ which is about the same smaller size as the Scout was.)
My Grado Labs Statement v2 cartridge.
The Prime is larger and heavier than the Scout, has
a longer (10” versus 9”) tonearm and the tonearm is
a 3D printed one (JMW 10 3D Arm & VTA Base).
The tonearm is a unipivot design, meaning that the
back part rests on a thin spike; this leads to a wide
range of movement. And this tonearm allows for
extensive manual calibrations including anti-skating,
azimuth, and vertical tracking angle. Moreover, the
tonearm recently allows an optional small simple
‘dual pivot’ attachment for those who might not want
so much range of movement. (More about that later in this review.)
The platter itself is an impressive 20 pounds of aluminum incorporating an inverted bearing using a
hardened stainless steel shaft and chrome, hardened ball, thus minimizing internal vibrations while
spinning smoothly. The vinyl wrapped MDF chassis comes in black or brown. As compared to the Scout,
the Prime also has a larger and heavier motor case (which helps reduce vibration of the motor from
reaching all else, for one thing), better footing/isolation feet for resonance control, a heavier record clamp,
and one simple grounding post with no additional wire (the Scout has an additional grounding wire coming
from it’s underside that needs to be grounded). In short, this is one solid, heavy-duty well-made and
thought out unit. This is not an ‘entry level’ turntable, it has the ingredients of a high-end audiophile unit -at a price that is not out of hand. Various upgrades are possible, too, without going the full monty to the
next level ‘Prime Signature’, an example being a version of the tonearm fitted with Nordost Reference wire.
The Prime is manufactured and assembled in the USA by VPI Industries in New Jersey; even the motor
and the tonearm cueing lever are now manufactured in the USA.
How
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it look?
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How does it look?
As stated on the VPI website, ‘The shape of the Prime is meant to have a curvier and sexier look compared
to the “classic” look of our tables over the past 10 years, while at the same time having the footprint to
accommodate the space needed for a 10 inch 3D arm.’ (The new Prime Scout, too, has this curvier and
sexier look, but in a smaller size/scale.) I chose the black model for review. Yes, I do think the Prime is
curvy and sexy, but I would add beautiful and modern looking. Not a visitor comes by (audiophile or not)
who does not complement me on that turntable’s looks–even if they do not even know what it is.
The VPI Prime in black.
Setting it up
My trusted brother and audiophile Nick had driven me by
car to pick up the Prime at VPI Industries (about a 1-hour
drive), and also helped me set it up when we got home. It
took us about 20 minutes before music came out of my
system. Just twist in the footers, place the platter on, snap
in the arm, connect RCA cables from table to the phono
stage, place the separate motor appropriately on the left
side, attach the belt from motor to platter, and ground the
table to the phono stage with one wire. Done.
The only minor issue we had was having to rotate my turntable audio cabinet by 90 degrees because of the
larger size of the Prime versus the Scout; the width of the Prime matched with the length of my cabinet top,
while the depth of the Prime matched the width of the cabinet top. I must confess, and in case you are
wondering: the cartridge had already been expertly mounted for me by VPI; so that highly non-trivial part of
the set up I was relieved of from duty!
I should add as a note that because of the ease with which the tonearm attaches (just snap in the cord and
place on the pivot) one can, if they so wish, keep on hand or borrow more than one 3D printed tonearm,
each equiped with its own (previously and properly mounted) cartridge, and swap out within seconds
whenever wanted. Very convenient. I am hoping to try this out soon (borrowing).
As with the Scout, the 'table powers on by pushing a button on the motor and both 33RPM and 45RPM are
options by manually positioning the belt on the high or low post of the motor itself.
The first LP I put on (Steely Dan, Aja) played without any glitch and the Prime required no tweaking for the
grounding that I had initially set up; that was unusual in my experience with turntables. In short, I would say
that the Prime is a non-finicky turntable concerning its use; simple, easy and straightforward from the start.
Protecting it
Having in my apartment such an expensive and delicate piece of equipment I knew I had to seriously
protect it from mischief due to children, animals, etc. during my review. (The Prime plus Grado cartridge
retails for $7,500.) AudioShield makes a very protective cover for the Prime, so that is what I used
throughout my review. It is a rectangular clear acrylic cover and protects the valuables very well.
Isolation
The four isolation feet on the bottom of the Prime,
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sitting in Delrin corner posts, were
inspired
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sitting in Delrin corner posts, were inspired by
Stillpoints according to Weisfeld, and I must say that
these offer remarkable stability and
resonance/mechanical noise control. The heavy-duty
20 pound platter also contributes to this firm stability.
I kept the Prime sitting on a solid walnut block
(cabinet made by Audio Vault USA) where my Scout
had recently sat. One of the first things I noticed
when using the Prime was that aside from ‘Pogo’
dancing from the late 1970s of which I am guilty of
both witnessing and attempting in those days while
living in London, dancing in front of the unit had no
effect on the LP playing–the arm did not join in the
dancing. With the Scout, dancing and other banging around on the floor had to be far more subdued. (My
kids are quite happy about this Prime; they no longer experience my wrath; instead I encourage them to
dance.)
Sound
I really lucked out. When people found out that I had a nice LP set up at home, some brought me LPs as
gifts, and some, from an older generation, donated their entire collection to me—and wished me the best of
luck. I had ample of both during my review of the Grado Labs Statement v2 cartridge; so man did I have
fun listening over the last 2 months. For example, my brother Nick (for my birthday) gave me wonderful LPs
such as a 1966 The Very Best of Roy Orbison, on Monument, with its classic cut (1964) Oh Pretty Woman
. Meanwhile, my neighbors upstairs gave me boxes of old LPs, of almost exclusively classical music, some
of which turned out to be in almost new condition. (Thanks so much to my Editor who helped guide me as
to how to quickly filter through hundreds of classical music LPs thrown in my lap at short notice! I am still
sifting through them). It never ceases to amaze me that an LP sitting alone for decades in a closet can
survive with no damage to its sound; only the cover seems to suffer.
From the above mentioned trove of donated classical, these two I took a strong liking to right away:
• Decca, Gold Label Series LP, Maestro Segovia, with Andreas Segovia solo on guitar playing a
variety of pieces by composers from as early as the 16th Century (Luis Milan, Domenico Scarlatti) up to the
20th Century (Federico Moreno Torroba) with several others in between such as Haydn, Robert de Vis ́ee,
and Mendelssohn. (1965)
• RCA Victor Red Seal LP, Mozart: Four Horn Concertos, with Alan Civil on French Horn, conducted
by Rudolf Kempe, Royal Philharmonic. (1967)
The Prime handled these brilliantly; the first with its natural live-sounding acoustic guitar, and the second
with Civil’s truly magnificent horn playing and lovely timbre of the horn. The dynamic expression of these
two great musicians (Segovia, Civil) was highly apparent through the Prime.
Interestingly, I also found two old LPs of Haydn’s Symphony No. 101 in D Major, ‘The Clock’, both of
which were in mono, and one was quite a fascinating find: a Mercury Records recording from 1957
conducted by Antal Dorati with the London Symphony Orchestra. On the back cover it described the
recording method as follows,
A single omni-directional microphone suspended
at 3the
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focal point of the hall, approximately 15 feet above the conductor’s podium
was
employed
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at the aural focal point of the hall, approximately 15 feet above the conductor’s podium was employed
throughout the session.....Control of balance and dynamics remained solely in the hands of the
conductor, the end result being a faithful reproduction of the sound of the London Symphony Orchestra
and of the acoustics of the Watford Town Hall.
That album playing on the Prime gave me a new respect for mono recording.
Aside from classical music, I also checked out Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon, Joan Baez' One
Day at a Time, Frank Sinatra, Strangers in the Night, and Ginger Baker, Horses and Trees.
Overall, bass extension, too, was displayed very nicely by the Prime, as witnessed by listening to organ,
timpani, bass, and bass drums.
Option Dual Pivot
As mentioned earlier, the JMW 10 3D Arm & VTA Base is a unipivot design, meaning that the back part
rests on a thin spike. It is extremely sensitive to even a minor touch. Some find this too fragile–one wrong
move while drinking wine might do you in–and they do not like the slight wobbling of the arm from side to
side when you change tracks or first start an album. But this design allows for an extraordinary freedom of
movement of the arm, not only in (say) 2 directions; this allows the arm to do its job once settled in the
groove.
Arm with dual pivot device attached. VPI offers a (new) optional ‘dual pivot’ device that
can be attached to the 3D tonearm. I was given one
of the first of these in case I wanted to use it. Not
actually a second pivot, instead it is a tiny clamp that
attaches onto the back housing of the arm; it
prevents the wobbling motion. It rests on a small,
thin metal plate that you place right below the clamp.
Some might impulsively want this attached because
they do not feel comfortable with the wobbling; but
that might not be the optimal thing to do–soundwise.
Different cartridges can yield different results, and most will probably not benefit from using this. In my
case: I did not have any issues with the freedom of motion/wobbling of the unipivot, it did not bother me;
actually I found it quite fascinating, but I was advised by both VPI and Grado Labs, that the specific
cartridge I was using, the Grado Statement v2, would benefit soundwise by using it. For example, John
Chen, Director of Sales for Grado Labs mentioned that it would ‘further define the stereo imaging.’
For this Prime review, I decided to finally take advantage of this option and attach the dual pivot; by now
the cartridge was well burned in and I had already settled into a fine mode of listening and enjoying. By
studying some photographs of an attached dual pivot that VPI provided for me, and being careful, I was
easily able to attach it. After placing the thin plate down, one only needs a jewelry-sized Allen wrench to
turn a tiny screw in the clamp to control the azimuth of the arm.
The benefit this awarded to the sound was immediate: A tightening up of the sound of instruments (and
voice) and a tighter arrangement of the placement of instruments within the imaging. It was like someone
had carefully listened to and studied the position of instruments in the soundstage, slightly modified their
positioning
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to optimize–and then nailed each down on its perch to stay put! I decided IApr
would
keep
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positioning to optimize–and then nailed each down on its perch to stay put! I decided I would keep the dual
pivot in place for the remainder of this review. What a clever little device. But again, this does not mean it
will help any cart in the same manner; check it out for yourself and decide–it’s easy to remove. I still plan to
experiment with it, by repositioning it (there is no fixed spot where you must place it).
As a final side note: Because of Grado Labs and VPI having experienced this interesting match among
other things, in a conversation by phone with Weisfeld two days ago, he told me that Grado Labs is in the
midst of manufacturing a cartridge exclusively for VPI turntables; there will be some surprises at AXPONA
in Chicago 2017 later this month.
Summary
The VPI Prime is a solidly built, audiophile quality turntable utilizing modern technology including a
remarkable 10” 3D printed tonearm that can accommodate a wide range of cartridges, offers manual
adjustments, and superb isolation/resonance/mechanical noise control. It is also curvy and sexy (Oh Pretty
Woman!) non-finicky and can be upgraded as well; what more can one ask for at $4000?
VPI Industries Prime Turntable
Manufactured by VPI Industries
77 Cliffwood Avenue, #5D
Cliffwood, NJ 07721
website: http://www.vpiindustries.com
Price: $4,000
Source: Manufacturer loan
Associated Reference Equipment
Speakers: Alta Audio Celesta
Amplifiers: 2 Merrill Audio Veritas Monoblocks Special Edition (SE).
Preamplifier: PS Audio BHK Signature
Phono stages: PS Audio NuWave PhonoConverter, Schiit Audio Mani, Ear 834P
Interconnects : Anticables Level 6.2 ABSOLUTE Signature RCA,
Anticables Level 4.1 Reference PLUS Xhadow (with cryo option) XLR and,
Waveform Fidelity GS Mk3 RCA, Antipodes Reference XLR.
Speaker cables, jumpers, power cords: Waveform Fidelity.
Power generator: PS Audio P3 Power Plant.
Turntable cabinet with solid walnut top: Audio Vault USA
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