June / July 2009
VPI Industries, based out of New Jersey, is well known for producing turntables, tonearms and record cleaning machines. Their turntable prices range from $1800, for the basic Scout model with JMW-9 tonearm to their most expense HR-X RIM DRIVE model with matching tonearm for $13000 (cartridges not included in either model). To give you a little history of my personal experience with VPI products I own a VPI 16.5 record cleaning machine purchased before I started officially doing reviews. While I do not remember the year I bought my record cleaning machine I definitely remember my initial reaction to its effects, and they were extremely positive. I have owned this product for over five years and never once had any problems with its day to day operation with my close to one thousand piece record collection. I can attest to its sturdiness and flawless performance, a trait I have heard is consistent with VPI products in general. For this review, and actually as a matter of practice for my normal listening listening pleasure, I first cleaned all the records with VPI's own 16.5 record cleaning machine. For stylus care I used the Record Research Lab stylus cleaning fluid LP #9 and also the Onzow Zerodust cleaning element to make sure my recordings and the cartridge sounded at their very best.
Today's review is about the new updated Scout 2 turntable paired with the new JMW tonearm as heard with the factory installed Dynavector DV-20X one millivolt output stereo cartridge. Turntable reviews can be a little tricky because of the many possible combination of arms and cartridges which when used together with the basic turntable produce varying results. VPI however makes it easy by selling the turntable and arm together as a combination as well as offering a cartridge that was designed in a joint venture with Dynavector, a well-respected cartridge producer, for pairing specifically with the Scout 2 turntable and JMW tonearm. For the past thirty years (I am the original owner) I have been using an Oracle Delphi MK1 turntable with Grace 707 tonearm along with a host of cartridges that have changed every three to four years. While I have heard many other turntables along the way this was the first time I would have one in my home for an extended period to do a review and I was quite excited to see how I would react to a new vinyl playback system in my house.
Ease of Setup
Please though be very careful as the manual states, "To avoid injury, do not touch the male pivot point. It is extremely sharp. In addition, skin oils can blemish and cause corrosion to the assembly." Personally I was more concerned with the part about it being extremely sharp and no I did not test to see how sharp it was but rather took the companies word for it. There is only so much I will do for a review and impaling my finger on a razor sharp object is where I draw the line. Now being that the tonearm rests on this pin you would think that it would wobble a bit and not make a good tracking device. Well your right about the wobble but as far as playing records it works superb. As you lift it off its initial resting place moving it towards the record the tonearm does this little wobbly dance but as soon as you lower the tonearm it firms up becoming stable and ready for action. As for ease of changing tonearms, it could not be simpler as there is nothing holding it in place and therefore to switch arms you just lift one off and replace it with the other. This is especially convent for those who like to play with multiply tonearm setups with different cartridges mounted on them.
Of course the headshell is also simple to remove and you may change cartridges as you desire if you wish to use just the one tonearm. Please do not get me wrong about the easy of changing tonearms, when it is in place you still must do the necessary steps in order to adjust tracking force and tonearm height as well as setting the azimuth. As for cartridge alignment that again is also always necessary. One nice thing about VPI is that they provide you with a tool to properly position the cartridge, called the alignment jig. You are on your own however when it comes to setting the stylus force as the tonearm does not have a built-in tracking force gauge. The manual recommends using a digital gauge. An Anti-Skating device is optional ($100) and was not included with my basic Scout 2 turntable but details of it can be found on the accessory page at the VPI Industries website. VPI states that the tonearms they tested sounded better without its mechanical Anti-Skating device enabled if you just slightly increased the tracking force. I found their Scout 2 minus the Anti-Skating to sound just fine but was not able to test it one way or the other with and without the device.
Contacting Harry Weisfeld from VPI he told me that if you do test records it is necessary. As for where to put the turntable it is of course recommended that all turntables be placed somewhere to avoid vibrational effects so they have as little effect as possible on the music. They recommend the Scout 2 be put on a one to three inch thick maple shelf sitting on some rubber isolator feet. I could not agree more as I use a one and a half inch thick eighteen inch by eighteen inch square block of maple wood underneath my Oracle turntable. Per their recommendation I used this setup with the Scout 2 and also placed three Mod Squad rubber isolation feet under the maple wood shelf. The turntable itself rests upon four factory aluminum cone feet each with a stainless steel ball bearing on the bottom. These cones are adjustable, if the need arises, to help level the turntable. It is though suggested that you only do this as a last resort and attempt to first do the major adjustments on the stand upon which it rests. Putting the Scout 2 on the maple wood shelf actually served a second purpose in not marking the top of my audio rack with the bottom of the aluminum cones.
This entire multi-layered structure was then placed on top of my Salamander audio rack for safe keeping and further stability. As for the turntable motor assembly the manual suggests using a mouse pad underneath again to help isolate vibrational effects. Sure, why not, out came an older spare mouse pad from my son's room and I was ready to proceed. Actually I am big on anti-vibrations devices (have been for a long time) particularly with turntables and vacuum tubes feeling they are a bigger enemy to our systems then most people truly understand or care to pay attention to. The Scout 2 comes standard equipped with a record clamping device consisting of a record clamp and washer. I like that rather than having to purchase one later and I can not image not using a clamping device of some sort.
First you are to place the washer on the bare aluminum platter, then lay the record down clamping it snuggly (do not over tighten please) with the supplied record clamp. This seems to hold the record nice and tight and would probably work well with slightly warped records, none of which I own to test out. As long as we are talking platters VPI is of the belief that it is not necessary to use mats with their turntables and does not have an option for one. Remember though if you opt to use a mat you should readjust the VTA setting before playing your next record. As for the turntable belt, which is custom made for VPI, you simply place it around the platter and one of the two center groves on the motor pulley. The top groves is for a 33rpm and the lower groves for a 45rpm speed setting. To move it from one grove to the other you must do it manually and I found this quite simply and easy to do. If the speed does not seem right you may use the other groves on the lower and upper part to adjust the speed control slightly faster or slower at both 33 and 45 rpm. Do not worry about where to place the belt around the platter, except to not put it in the grove at the very top, as it will self level as the platter starts to rotate.
You will probably hear a low level noise when you first play the turntable which should be a motor and bearing noise. VPI warns that this will last for about twenty hours of break-in time and they were correct when it came to my review turntable. The noise however did not get into my system and was audible only when the recordings were not playing and even then only slightly so. In case you are wondering the on/off power button is located on the motor assembly and it never failed to perform its function while the Scout 2 was in my care. Connecting the Scout 2 to my Whest Phono Stage. 20+MsU.20 power supply was quick and easy via the RCA junction box located at the back of the turntable. This junction box has outputs for two RCA connectors (positive and negative) eliminating the need for special cables going from your turntable to your phono stage as I needed with my Oracle turntable. Connecting the tonearm to this setup is a Lemo connector that comes attached to the arm. With the Lemo all you need to do is plug it into the junction box. The Lemo connector has a red dot on it which you line up with the red dot on the junction box, nice and simple. As for interconnects I tried a variety, even including the supplied Whest interconnects which worked quite well, before finally choosing to go with cables from Acoustic Revive. Having lived with my Oracle turntable for such a long time it certainly was refreshing to have a turntable where I could so easily replace cables without having to buy ones with special connectors. This was true especially for me as my grace tonearm used the rare hard to find five-pin male connector instead of the female connector going into the base of the tonearm.
Getting down to the basics, this new Scout 2 starts out with the same design as the original Scout but uses a new platter and tonearm. Like the original it comes with a 600- RPM AC synchronous drive motor. The platter, while new, is still of the inverted bearing design. This new higher inertia platter is twelve inches in diameter while being two inches thick and is made of cast aluminum. Trust me, this is one heavy platter. If you do not believe me you can ask my wife who had to lift the box that was left on our front steps while I was away at work. The platter has bronze bushings and sits on a 60 Rockwell-hardened shaft and chrome-hardened ball bearing which should amount to many years of faithful service. Their new JMW-9HM tonearm is based on VPI's own 12.7-inch arm, found on the more expensive HR-X model but of course it has been reduced in length to fit the Scout 2. The arm has a higher mass and greater damping ability than the original Scout JMW-9 tonearm, now allowing it to be used with a larger number of moving coil cartridges. Because of the newly redesigned tonearm VPI suggests that MC cartridges from Shelter, Denon and Grado will now be better suited for use with the Scout 2 than the previous Scout model. This new tonearm is fully machined tapered and comes with the internal Delrin damping. This tapering helps to reduce resonance and standing waves while the fluid inside reduces vibration. All of the above sits on a 1.125-inch thick MDF black semi-gloss chassis that is reinforced underneath by a twelve gauge plate of steel. The Scout 2 comes with a generous three year warranty, details of which can be found on their website. I could go on and on but I think its time to get into the essence of this turntable which needs to be found in the listening.
For a slightly different change of paste I dug out the Paul Simon in concert Live Rhymin' (Columbia PC 32855) record. Here we have Paul Simon performing with Urubamba and the Jessy Dixon Singers. I began with a more intimate part of the concert with the songs "Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard" and "Homeward Bound". For these two songs Paul Simon is on stage singing and playing guitar alone and unaccompanied. The Scout captured his performance to a fault as you could hear him sitting center stage with guitar in hand and his voice singing perfectly placed just above it. The guitar had a live sound to it as if you were hearing him at the recording studio while out of the silent background his voice emerged with clarity and depth. At the end of "Homeward Bound" I was very moved as the Scout helped connect me with the emotional content of this piece and its melancholy manor.
I would be remit if I did not mention the songs "Mother And Child Reunion" and "The Boxer" where he is accompanied by some very noteworthy performers. With "Mother And Child Reunion" the Scout 2 exhibits its ability to reproduce a very wide soundstage and a deep soundscape. The three Jessy Dixon Singers are clearly and correctly placed behind Paul Simon while to his right and behind are drums, piano and a guitar player. There voices were clear and could be differentiated even though they sang in unison. Again the silence between notes and performers took me aback as the Scout 2 seemed to produce beautiful music with apparent ease. Before leaving Paul Simon and friends a visit with the song, "The Boxer", written by Paul Simon, was in order. This song was special enough that it was left on a 45 record until an album deemed worthy to accompany it. First released in 1968 it was not until January 26, 1970 that Simon and Garfunkel released the song on their album A Bridge Over Troubled Waters (Columbia B000VAHBJM). On this particular album he performed this version of "The Boxer" with Urubamba a musical group made up of various musicians from South-American countries. Here we find the band playing ancient style drums and wood wind instruments that further enhanced the songs charm. Near the end of the set we have the entire soundstage before me filled with all the musicians playing simultaneously and the Scout 2 had no problems at all in reproducing them with great clarity as they performed together. It did all this yet kept the ensemble sounding quite intimate as I believe it was meant to be with this folk rock ballad.
I do not listen a great deal to the group Talking Heads but I do like their album Stop Making Sense (Sire Records Company 25186-1). On this album is the very popular song "Burning Down The House" which opened with some excellent guitar work coming from my left and right speakers. Both guitarists sound clear and very quick while the Scout 2 gave a spacious sound to the group both left to right and front to back. The turntable had no problem with the strong bass drum beat without which the song would definitely be found lacking as it is an integral part of the musical presentation. I must of course mention the exotic sounds from the synthesizer which I suppose the Scout 2 did a good job with although I do not have much to compare it to as the sounds were quite unusual. All said though the song moved me and when played at fairly loud levels I would imagine it would be hard not to get up and dance to. Turning to a slightly more mellow sound I next placed Elton John's Tumbleweed Connection album (MCA 2014) on the platter. Elton John always had that type of voice that made you stop and listen because you could feel the emotional content of each song. The Scout 2 gave you an inside glimpse into this experience firsthand. On the song "My Father's Gun" the music and his voice felt soft, delicate and compassionate. This was enhanced because of the ability of the Scout 2 to present us with a quiet background coupled with silence between musicians. The Scout 2 brought the performance wall to wall yet keep the layering of singers, guitar, drums and piano clearly separate. If I wanted to I could pick out any particular performer I wanted and listen to them play while hearing all the small details. This made the music much more enjoyable as it never seemed congested as larger groups performing together can sometimes sound.
A High-End Preamplifier = More Potential
Being quite the movie fanatic I had to buy the 200 gram original master recording of The Fantasy Film World Of Bernard Herrmann (Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL 1-240). When my oldest son was much younger we would love to watch the original version of the movie "Journey to the Centre of the Earth". He liked it for the mysterious underworld and I for that and the beautiful musical scores of Bernard Herrmann. Leaving the NAT preamplifier in the loop I played the exert "Atlantis" which uses five organs, one large Cathedral and four electronic. Here the Scout 2 combination revealed all the mystery and awe that Bernard Herrmann intended you to feel as if you were discovering the lost city Atlantis in real life. The Scout 2 had no problem following the lower registers of the organs and you felt the majestic sense of being in a large open space. When it came for the musical passage called "The Giant Chameleon And The Fight" Bernard Herrmann resurrected the obsolete medieval instrument called the Serpent. This instrument produced a very eerie deep sound that was perfect for pairing with these ancient dinosaurs. When the two dinosaurs fought the use of the Serpent and organs gave an intended grand sense of scale to their battle. Here the Scout 2 was able to open a wide soundstage that extended to the very walls of my review room.
Now me I keep turntables for long periods of time even though other equipment in my two channel audio room comes and goes at a rather rapid rate so the small difference in price is not a consideration. If it is for you, do not fret, the original Scout is still an option highly worthy of an audition. In fact about a year ago I was considering picking up the original Scout for myself. In the world of turntable, tonearms and cartridges you could spend a lot more on a vinyl playback system without getting much more for your money. The Scout 2 with tonearm sans cartridge at $2100 gives you a turntable knocking on the door of much higher priced units at relatively down to earth pricing. It helped to bridge the gap between normal vinyl records and the180 and 200 gram records by elevating the sound to such a degree that differences between them were much less noticeable. I still love my 180 and 200 gram vinyl collection and with the VPI setup they sounded even better.
Now though even the regular LP's sound glorious, as if they too had taken a step in the right direction. The Scout 2 is not inexpensive and you can find turntables out there in the four hundred to one thousand dollar range that perform adequately. However just one look at the Scout 2 and a quick listen should be enough to convince you to spend the extra money if you can. This is assuming of course you have the record collection to warrant it. For those of you with only a few records lying around a serious rig like this does not really make sense. I would think though that if you have a good sized record collection, love to listen to vinyl (I can not image who would not) or are even just getting ready to step up and expand your record collection, the Scout 2 would be a wise choice to audition. As your audio gear upgrades, as many systems tend to do, there is little need to worry. The Scout 2 was at home with the more moderately priced preamplifier from Monarchy Audio and equally so with the higher priced NAT Audio tube preamplifier. I found it to be a definite solid performer in all my review categories with no apparent weaknesses. If money is not a problem and you need an even more serious playback system VPI has other alternatives such as the Classic, Scoutmaster, Aries and and HRX turntable series. For me I found that at $2900 with the Dynavector DV-20X cartridge the new Scout 2 is all most of us will ever need to keep spinning their vinyl discs for a very long time to come. In a world where cartridges alone can go for $5000 or more I think this VPI setup is quite a bargain.
Price: $2100 without cartridge (tonearm included)