VPI Industries, Inc. started out some thirty-five years ago (1978) with the production of record weights made for other manufacturers turntables. Co-founders, Harry and Sheila Weisfeld first introduced a turntable isolation base in December of that same year but it was not until 1984 before they marketed their very own table, the HW-19. Since then VPI has manufactured a variety of turntables for audiophiles the world over. A look into their web site today reveals a variety of products such as a dedicated turntable stand, record cleaning machines, an assortment of tables with matching tonearms, center weights a periphery ring and an optional motor drive. According to Harry Weisfeld they are now even working on a VPI stereo cartridge, hopefully with a release date soon. Reviewing VPI's Scout II turntable in the 2009 June/July Superior Audio section of Enjoy the Music.com left me amazed with what they could bring to market at a relatively inexpensive price point. That and having seen the Classic 1 version of this turntable at audio shows and high-end stores led me to today's review of their Classic 3 series. Classic models start at 1 going all the way up to 4 one step at a time (See their website for further details). I actually asked to buy the Classic 3 before hearing or seeing it in person, quite unusual for me. Rather than starting out as a review and ending up in a purchase this review evolving after having lived with it for long enough to know it would be something I wanted to share with others. Sometimes you need to take a leap of faith going with your gut feeling; it makes life so much more interesting that way. For me this purchase turned out to be a good move, one which should reward me with quality sound from my ever growing vinyl collection for many years to come.
The main purpose of my writing reviews has always been to bring happiness to others through a shared love of the joy of great music. Turntables and vinyl recreates musical events overtaking me with emotion to awaken my inner spirit. Great turntables reproducing great music are the pinnacle of the audio experience and the Classic 3 is one such great table. Evaluating a turntables ability to convey the essence of music is not an easy task, perhaps far more so than any other component in your system. For you see first you have the table itself, along with the tonearm, cartridge, phono cables, phonostage or step up transformer (perhaps even both) as well as the platform the table is resting upon. These individual influences separately and especially together can greatly affects a turntables performance, making an unbiased opinion of that product so much more difficult. Of course then, as always, you have the other components of your audio system and the room it is placed within (always a big factor) also having an influence on the sound. Still onward I go in a quest to accurately portray my experience with the Classic 3, outside influences and all.
Basic Information And Setup
The following items are standard on the 3 but not the 1.
VPI was asked to supply the 3 with a pre-mounted Lyra Delos Moving Coil cartridge as Harry and his son Matt both said it is an available requested option (even though it is not listed on their website). The fact that the 3 comes with some excellent adjustable feet (upgraded from the Classic 1 model) also negated the necessity to buy aftermarket ones (another possible outside factor we can put aside through the magic and foresight of the team at VPI).
As for the initial setup of table, arm and cartridge, well that was made simple for most everyone, even me. If you opt to install your own cartridge the above mentioned jig, wand and gauge allows for an easy time of it and should take only about an hour. Having the cartridge pre-mounted at the factory meant all that was really needed was to drop in the arm on the tonearm base. You may then set the Anti-Skating if you wish (I did ever so slightly) and adjust the turntables feet making sure the Classic‘s platter is as level as possible. Placing their heavy platter on the table along with installing the turntable belt was a snap, plug in the cord and associated cables and you are ready to go. Thank you VPI for making things so easy for us. The factory supplied record weight and outer periphery ring clamp were always in use by me and greatly appreciated. Yes it took a little more time but was worth it in the end. Being a uni-pivot design the arm will rock back and forth upon initial engagement. For me that never posed a big problem or an accidental landing on the ring clamp, but I had to be careful. Startup always involved lining the arm up over the beginning of a record, when the wobbling stopped (always rather quickly), dropping that arm onto the record making sure it cleared the periphery ring clamp and only then would I start the platter spinning. This was all really quite quick and easy to do. As for the ability to adjust VTA on the fly, it is hard to imagine it being any easier and certainly came in handy with my thicker 180 and 200 gram records. One note of interest before starting was that a Musical Surroundings Nova Phonomena Phono Stage was used in conjunction with the turntable setup. The Nova having a wide range of adjustments (a reviewers dream) made dialing in the cartridge that much more precise.
And Now... The Music!
Now you might be wondering why this review is so playful. To me that is exactly what vinyl playback should be, a whole lot of fun and good times. No just dropping in that CD hitting the play button then walking away to not directly interact with the medium. No way, turntables need care, nurturing and involvement from the audiophile. You must keep that record clean, the stylus too. Periodically check adjustments of tonearm/cartridge setup, replacing belts when necessary. Use your hand to lovingly place the tonearm and cartridge gently down upon that delicate vinyl recording. We need to get you out of your comfort zone and into the game. That is one reason why I tout the merits of having a turntable in one's system, alongside a streamer or CD player of course if you like, nothing wrong at all with that. But vinyl playback is pure fun and sometimes it seems audiophiles get so involved with the technical stuff they seem to forget it is all about enjoying the music. My wife and I can order out but there is nothing more enjoyable than both of us cooking in the kitchen together, lovingly making food for our family and friends.
Next up was a slightly dusty copy of Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick [Warner Brothers 2072]. Before a critical listen of this LP a good cleansing was in order from VPI's own 16.5 record cleaning machine. This was not a recent purchase but one made by me prior to my product reviewing days began. The 16.5 is a particularly great machine to own and some sort of a record cleaning device is something vinyl lovers should not be without. Clean that record thoroughly; place it on the Classic 3, using the factory Stainless steel outer periphery ring clamp and HR-X Stainless Steel Center Weight, then sit back to let the music take you on a wondrous ride. A ride back in time to when Jethro Tull was one of the bands to see in concert. Do not let anyone tell you the Classic 3 cannot reproduce music without the weight to it, as it did just fine in my system. I was able to crank up the volume using my McIntosh MC452 power amplifier to drive a pair of Von Schweikert VR-35 loudspeakers. The 3 delivered good clear music having the ability to dig deep into the record grooves retrieving low and high frequencies plus a whole lot in-between.
Spatially, the soundstage was alive and exciting. It took the music to the furthest reaches of my rooms boundaries left to right (or right to left if you prefer) providing proper depth as well. This turntable/tonearm/cartridge combination exhibited clarity with regard to distinguishing musicians in the band, one from the other with startling realism. Willy Nelson's performing "Stardust" on his Stardust [Columbia 35305] album, is a must listen with the Classic 3. Here vocals took on a pleasant three dimensional quality closely resembling an actual person singing inside my room. Shocking good is how I would describe it. "Georgia on my Mind" from the same album nicely placed that powerfully voice front and center adding greatly to correct soundscape imaging. Add that to the band and a harmonica playing in the background and you can experience a nice holographic image from this recording. It was difficult to decide what was more enticing, vocals or images but when they both came together on a song it was to die for. Feel free to take out those old Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Johnny Mathis albums because vocals sounded better than ever played back via the Classic 3. Fluctuations in the change of pitch, vibrato, was a pleasure to hear from those great classic performers. One of my favorite Bob Dylan pieces "Blowin' in the Wind performed by Peter, Paul and Mary on 10 Years Together [BSK 3105] was another big hit. That trio of voices so precisely pinpointed on the perceived soundscape, remaining clearly differentiated one from each other making the song even more enticing then I had previously remembered. Those who have not listened to Peter Paul and Mary on a high end stereo please go buy one or more of their vinyl recordings. Be warned that when you put those albums on a Classic 3 you should be prepared for something truly special. This combination of song and equipment provided me with many hours of relaxing music ending only when sleep reluctantly overtook my senses.
George Bensons Weekend in L.A. album [Warner Brothers 2WB 3139] really rocked the house. The soundscape was "alive" with Phil Upchurch (rhythm guitar), Ronnie Foster (keyboards), Jorge Dalto (acoustic piano/keyboards), Stanley Banks (bass), Harvey Mason (drums), Ralph (percussion), and of course George Benson (lead guitar/vocals). Though there were no vocals on "Weekend in L.A." yet the guitar works of George Benson rang out loud and clear courtesy of this VPI Classic 3 combination. Every time an album was placed on this table it was as if a different and better version, of my previous memory of it was presented anew to me. Retrieval was now on a newer and higher level making me very happy indeed. Though the soundscape was crowded with musicians the distinction of each clearly performing in separate spaces was amazing. When listening to percussions, drums and bass there was certainly nothing lacking in the lower registrar of musical notes as song after song sounded rock solid. It was very difficult for me to leave this record as the rhythm and pace of each song swept me away. Vienna Holiday [Columbia CK 706] is a collection of famous pieces conducted/arranged by Michel Legrand and his Orchestra (1955). This is the only vinyl album in my collect stamped "unbreakable" on the record itself, something I decided not to test as the thought of trying to replace it made me wince. The flute on "Vilia" had an audible breathe to the highs adding an airy, graceful texture to each note. Music took on a very pleasant and endearing quality attributed by me to be the work of the Classic 3. Searching hard there really was nothing to complain about. When put into the context of its price point though it was even that much more astonishing.
The Listening Environment
Note: Review sample came equipped with an optional Lyra Delos Moving Coil Cartridge
per reviewer's request. It was factory installed at VPI Industries, Inc.