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March 2022

Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine

VPI Shyla Phono / Turntable Moving Coil Cartridge Review
A beautiful namesake and family addition.
Review By Bob Grossman

 

VPI Shyla Phono / Turntable Moving Coil Cartridge Review

 

  The Shyla is a recently introduced stereo cartridge designed and branded by VPI. The company is known for their extensive lineup of turntables, arms, and record cleaning machines. VPI is having the Shyla sourced and manufactured by a leading Japanese cartridge manufacturer so it is fully compatible and complimentary to their lineup of equipment. VPI is upfront about having it made to their specs by the highly regarded manufacturer Audio Technica. It is a successful business venture and advantage for VPI to corroborate with this respected manufacturer to modify, adjust, and improve their regular ART 9 product to reflect the musical ideas of VPI designers Harry and Mat Weisfeld. Harry has been the inventive mind in designing and developing VPI turntables and other accessories for over forty years.

Mat has taken over the reins of running VPI while his dad still assists part time with developing new products and hosting musical promotion events at the renowned VPI House down the road from the factory. Being in business for forty years is quite a legacy considering the business challenges and difficulties of remaining an independent family run enterprise during the ebbs and flows of analog sales in the audio world of turntables and records. An audiophile cannot go wrong with the delightful Shyla cartridge installed with a VPI table and arm.

 

What Sets The VPI Brand Apart?
I have always regarded VPI as a value based company. They make excellent sounding products here in the USA and price them competitively to other choices and alternatives in the marketplace. They consistently are overachievers in the price to performance ratio for musical results. Once again, VPI has introduced a terrific product at an excellent and affordable price point in comparison to other cartridges I have used. A good cartridge is an essential part of our analog setup for the enjoyment of records. However, it can be a daunting and challenging decision to understand and make the right choice because of the wide range of cartridge types, prices and most importantly how they interact with the turntable and tonearm.

 

Analog Listening Over The Years
Today's choices of equipment are different then the hi-fi era I was raised on in the 1960's. My dad crafted a homemade mono Hi-Fi Console a decade earlier with a built in speaker. I grew up in a time and era when the hearing music at home was with radio, records, or tapes. As time went by, the old mono console was replaced with various stereo rigs and cheap turntables, but I was anxious back in the 1980s to move onto an easier to use format. I was raised on my dad telling me to walk easy to avoid making the records skip and having one of my dad's special records ruined by clumsy needle drops or scratched by the arm when picking it up at the end of the records. The introduction of CDs brought the marketing idea of digital sound being perfection. I was ready, willing, and anxious to adopt the digital realm while letting go of records. I did not have the benefit of hearing today's VPI turntables that bring excellent musical performance and features at various price levels.

 

VPI Shyla Phono / Turntable Moving Coil Cartridge Review

 

How Affordable Is A Good Turntable?
A decade ago, VPI introduced their entry level Traveler Turntable. That terrific entry point VPI table is currently replaced with the Cliffwood model. It was a perfect opportunity for an audiophile like me to try as a reintroduction to experiencing and hearing records after a hiatus of not playing vinyl for around twenty years. During this time, my interest in developing the stereo system was continuing to expand. I wanted to hear better and higher quality levels of music at home in my time off from working as the principal librarian at The Philadelphia Orchestra where I was hearing extraordinary live music.

The incredibly musically involving sound of that basic $1200 Traveler Table with a $200 Ortofon 2M cartridge hit me like a lightning bolt. I was smitten by playing records and began a journey of moving along the lineup and products in the VPI offerings. After a year or so of enjoying the Traveler Table, I got their newly introduced Prime Table designed by Mat Weisfeld that featured their remarkable 3D unipivot tonearm. Then eventually I got an Aries 3D table with the beautiful, layered acrylic/aluminum/acrylic sandwich plinth for improved isolation and stability, HRX center weight and outer ring along with two interchangeable unipivot tone arms.

The convenience of the unipivot arm connected with the Leno jack allowed a quick and convenient switching of either arm to enable the use of a second dedicated mono cartridge or alternative stereo cartridge for comparison. More recently, I purchased a HW40 turntable that celebrated their 40th year in business since it also coincided with my 40th year as a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

 

 

Not My Father's Stereo System
Currently I have the Aries table with two 10" unpivot arms and the HW40 with the 12-inch gimbal FatBoy arm. I can conveniently compare three mounted cartridges. While this may seem a bit complicated and excessive, it is quite intuitive to learn and understand the character and sound of each cartridge to decide which choice to use with the wide range and era of recordings available. It is similar to understanding and deciding what wine or beer to match with different foods. As with dining, certain combinations might work better than others but it is all good if we are enjoying ourselves. While it is great and period accurate listening ability to have a dedicated mono cartridge for hearing older 1950s era Lp records on the Aries table, I found the Shyla cartridge to be versatile and a good performer with those old wider mono mastered recordings.

It is very involving and exciting to be a part of the analog community of audiophiles that share discoveries and acquisitions of old used records along with the introduction of new remastered versions of classics and releases of the latest music by today's rock and popular performers.

 

 

While I have changed phonostages and tables with the process of upgrading and expanding the reference system, I continue to use the VPI Aries belt drive motor and their direct drive HW40. The overall results continue to be thrilling, enjoyable, entertaining, and involving musical experiences including an appreciation for assorted designs, costs, and results.

 

The Story Behind The Shyla Cartridge
The Shyla came about from VPI's desire to have a high performance moving coil cartridge for under $2000 with the company's name on it. It is a cartridge that captures the sound, experience, and quality Harry and Mat enjoy hearing in music reproduction. When listening to Audio-Technica ART Series cartridges, they thought a collaboration to make a custom type VPI cartridge would be a valuable addition to the VPI line of products. After an initial conversation, the companies strove to create a product founded on AT's long history of cartridge design complemented by Mat and Harry's ear for voicing of a natural, musical sound. After meeting the AT design team at the Munich High End Show, an initial prototype was developed. Mat followed up with a second trip to AT's home base in Japan to continue the communication and design for the cartridge. During the visit, Mat toured the AT sound room and research & development facility where the cartridge would be subjected to the highest level of quality and compliance testing.

If you read my previous MusiKraft cartridge review, I explained the importance of shell designs, motors, and other design modifications to enhance and create an elevated level of performance. I approached auditioning, evaluating, and using the VPI Shyla version in the same manner. After many months of listening and comparing it to the other cartridges I own, I can say the VPI has fulfilled their ambitious goal of creating a cartridge that enhances their reputation and adds another valuable company offering with a product that exceeded my expectations of performance at this price.

 

 

More Technical Information
Inspired by Audio-Technica's flagship ART Series, VPI in a collaboration with the iconic Japanese cartridge manufacturer created the Shyla dual moving coil cartridge. It combines expert design to provide natural, musical voicing focused on the midrange while also dialed in to create strong, deep lows and detailed highs. The cartridge features a premium magnetic core, special line contact stylus, and a 0.26 mm diameter solid boron cantilever. Shyla tracks challenging passages and grooves very well on various test albums I used. The Shyla has a high separation and wide response. The cartridge reproduces music with good presence, clear imaging, engaging liveliness, and responsive dynamics.

The Shyla coils and terminal pins use utilizes PCOCC (Pure Copper Ohno Continuous Cast) to maintain exceptional purity and conductivity. The neodymium magnet and permendur yoke increases magnetic energy while having a 0.6mV rated output. The exterior construction is of importance and the stock AT shell was modified to have advanced internal dampening with a mold process that ensures stability and rigidity that limits unnecessary coil movement to reduce distortion. The use of threaded holes in the shell top allows for easy mounting without concerns for connecting matching nuts under the bolts to attach it to the arm. The machined aluminum and hard plastic hybrid body also is designed and formed to lessen resonance.

 

Thoughts From Mat And Harry
Mat described the process for developing their branded cartridge from various prototypes and demos they received from Audio Technica. There was clearly a bit of an experimentation and learning curve for both companies to realize and fulfill the special qualities of sound that Harry was seeking. This was a partnership between two well regarded and respected high end companies. I know that Harry has many cartridges that run the gamut from basic to exotic collector items. It is safe to say that over the past 40 years, Harry has seen and heard nearly all the design possibilities and brands of cartridges that are made.

Of special importance is his investment in modified microscopes for stylus viewing to not only be evaluating these cartridges by what he hears but to also be looking at them with great visual detail. He has a Leitz-Wetzlar made in Germany along with a Bausch and Lomb American 1960's binocular microscope. Harry explained that despite varying costs of cartridges from low to high, many manufacturers do not manage to align their needle into the cantilever with absolute precision with a result that tracking in the groove is not dead center accurate even when setting the azimuth to be level.

Harry shared that AT has a mechanized machine that manages to position the stylus tip accurately and precisely into the cantilever. This is one of the reasons why the Shyla has such excellent and accurate channel separation and balance. Mat added that he was especially pleased at the quality control, consistency, and reliability of the cartridges that AT can deliver.

 

 

The Sound Of The Shyla
During the past six months, I have played a wide range of records and music styles with the Shyla cartridge. The cartridge has been very lively and engaging. I have enjoyed this long term use without ever feeling rushed to get back to my other reference cartridges. The Shyla has not been fatiguing or distracting to the music in any way regardless of the length of listening sessions and variety of records being heard. It has truly been a pleasure to hear Shyla play music with all the attributes and features that I will mention in this review.

I often start my day with a variety of piano records. Piano is one of the most revealing and difficult instruments to have sound great. It is quite an accomplishment to capture the powerful dynamics and range of a concert piano on a vinyl LP record. One musical item I listen for is a steady speed to avoid hearing any wow and flutter on held chords. A clear attack and natural decay should be felt and heard as the keys strike the strings of the piano. I heard piano soloists warming up before rehearsals and concerts along with being friends with several piano tuners. I had a piano tech visit to assist in the review demo. He provided an insider commentary and evaluation to the textures, sounds and proper delivery that the cartridge revealed from playing different solo piano records.

The Shyla can strike the right balance of sounds and piano tone to bring to musical life the numerous London records I have of Alicia deLaroccha performing Spanish repertoire. The DG engineering approach was clearly heard in Mozart Sonatas played by Maestro Eschenbach, Chopin Preludes and Etudes played by Pollini, Grieg Lyric Suite with Emil Gilels, Chopin Sonata and Scherzo by Argerich, and Debussy Images with Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. The Beethoven Sonatas recorded on Philips with Alfred Brendel were wonderful. The Shyla brought out the individual attributes and allowed each of these great pianist playing styles to be heard along with the correct characteristic sound of a piano according to my friend the technician.

When it came to jazz records, my favorite performers sound was enhanced by the Shyla cartridge. Count Basie had a great heft and swinging stride in the Kansas City series of KC 3, KC 6, KC 7, KC Shout with Joe Turner and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson. The distinctive voices of Joe or Eddie Cleanhead could easily be heard and appreciated for their blues styles. The Shyla was able to highlight the different sounds of the various pressings I have of these favorite records. Ellington was fully staged in Jazz Party, Newport, and Road Show. The dueling battle of both bands recorded by Columbia on the record The Count Meets the Duke is a massive musical challenge and test for any system to be able to unravel and present the complex sounds of two big bands performing side by side.

The Shyla cart did an excellent job of keeping the two bands separated when being featured individually and then combined to be a great ensemble when going at it together. The Shyla sounded good as I compared the different 1950's era mono and later stereo version pressings I have of Ellington. The great Gil Evans corroborations with Miles Davis in Sketches of Spain and Porgy & Bess were colorful with layers of beautiful orchestrations using the musicians in an impressionistic way. Gil Evan's amazing recording of Out of The Cool was brilliant and clear. Hearing Jimmy Knepper's trombone solo in "Where Flamingos Fly" was outstanding in the brassiness, warmth, and realistic timbre.

The duo record of Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster is another favorite performance of mine. Hearing these two great sax players trading solos and improvs is simply mesmerizing and a revelation of great artistry. The clear delineation and balanced musical presentation of the Shyla cartridge enhanced and brought this special record to life in a wonderful way. A great cartridge like the Shyla will reveal the colorful nuances, timbre and performing characteristics of both players and display their duet of musical dialogue with good separation of space yet without a Ping-Pong effect between their two sax locations.

Orchestra performances were full and rich sounding. This cartridge can bring out the powerful sound and complexity of large symphonies or piano concertos. Shostakovich, Stravinsky, and Prokofiev all came to life with impact and drama. Performances by Christopher Hogwood of smaller classical and baroque period ensembles were excellent. The wide tonal colors and quirky sounds of Renaissance period instruments were well presented and heard when playing the diverse collection of that era recordings I own. After playing the Gregorio Paniagua La Folia and La Spana with my old French Harmonia Mundi CDs, I decided to seek out and buy original LP versions to compare with the digital form. As I had suspected, performances on vinyl with the Shyla cartridge were outstanding and even more detailed with a musically engaging and emotionally involving sound.

I had my brother Mike over to hear some of his favorite classic rock albums. Our older brother is a blues musician and Mike is a big classic rock fan. He compared an original 1968 stereo Jimmy Hendrix Axis: Bold as Love to the 2000 Bernie Grundman mastered mono reissue. The differences between five versions of The Doors L.A. Woman were enjoyed and heard as we played an original 1971 Elektra, 1980 German pressing, 1998 Steve Hoffman mastered release, 2012 Analog Productions 45 rpm version, and the latest 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition. We thought the new 50th version sounded best, and the three CDs included in the commemorative box provided great additional outtakes. After playing some Beatles and Grateful Dead, Mike brought out the recently issued thee LP set of Tedeshi Trucks Band doing Layla. It was a lot of fun sharing the revealing musical sounds of the Shyla playing his favorite style of music.

 

 

Summary And Conclusion
As I was writing this review, I thought of the old analogy that you do not need to understand electricity to turn on a light switch. The artistry and ingenious design mods that AT and VPI mutually used in their creation are evident upon listening even without dissecting and taking apart the cartridge to compare with an ART9. The Shyla cartridge provided excellent details, dynamics, timbre, and depth of image while having a good overall balance and perspective for the complete sound of the ensemble or soloist. The frequency response and balance were excellent from the bottom to the top of the spectrum of music. The colors and textures of music are properly portrayed for instrumentalists and vocalists. It has been a delight and pleasure to hear and use. The musical presentation was inspiring to hear and motivated me to buy more records to enjoy.

The sound is articulate, emotionally involving, musical and balanced. It is an obvious choice for creating a complimentary sound with VPI turntables. I can imagine dealers putting together a very enticing offer and package for their customers. Upon experiencing and hearing the Shyla, I agree with the comments of Mat and Harry stating that partnerships between revered high end companies do not come better than Audio-Technica and VPI. The sound of the Shyla cartridge is a testimony that this has been quite a successful partnership that honors the reputations for both companies.

The Shyla cartridge would be quite appealing to bundle with the purchase of a VPI Prime 21 turntable or an excellent choice as an upgrade replacement cartridge for use with another VPI table such as the Classic series. This cartridge has my endorsement and encouragement for a person to hear, enjoy and purchase.

 

 

 

Tonality

Sub–bass (10Hz – 60Hz)

Mid–bass (80Hz – 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz – 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear
Soundscape Depth

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise
Emotionally Engaging

Value For The Money

 

 

 

Specifications
Type: Moving coil stereo phono cartridge
Frequency Response: 15-50,000 Hz
Channel Separation: 30 (dB at 1 kHz)
Vertical Tracking Angle: 23°
Vertical Tracking Force: 1.6-2.0 g (1.8 g standard)
Stylus Construction: Nude square shank
Recommended Load Impedance: Min. 100 ohms
Coil Impedance: 12 ohms (1 kHz)
DC Resistance: 12 ohms
Coil Inductance: 25 µH (1 kHz)
Output: 0.6 mV (1 kHz, 5 cm/sec.)
Channel Balance: 0.5 dB (1 kHz)
Stylus Shape: Special line contact
Cantilever: 0.26 mm diameter solid boron
Dynamic Compliance: 15 x 10-6 cm/dyne (100 Hz)
Mount: Half-inch
Weight: 8.5 g (0.30 oz)
Dimensions: 0.68" x 0.67" x 1.01" (HxWxD)
Price: $1750

 

 

 

Company Information
VPI Industries
77 Cliffwood Ave
Suite 5D
Cliffwood NJ, 07721

Voice: (732) 583-6895
E-mail: info@vpiindustries.com 
Website: VPIindustries.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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