VPI Industries Traveler turntable

On May 21, 2008, five months after purchasing my very first turntable (a Rega Research P3-24), I decided that my obsession with LPs had grown to the extent that I could no longer function without a good record-cleaning machine. I'd done some research and found that the device best suited to my life and wallet was VPI's time-honored HW-16.5. I was certain, anxious, determined. But that morning, when I gave VPI a call, the line was busy. When I called again in the afternoon, the line was busy. When I called again in the evening, the line was busy.

When someone finally answered my call, I was surprised—partly because I'd grown so accustomed to hearing that busy signal, but mostly because the person on the other end of the line sounded so familiar. She was kind, candid, and her tone almost immediately took on the warm, concerned, slightly overbearing touch of a mom—my favorite kind of person. This was Sheila Weisfeld—cofounder, with her husband, Harry, of VPI Industries. We talked and talked. After a while, I wondered if Sheila was more interested in sharing stories about her sons than in selling me a record-cleaning machine.

Turned out that her first, Jonathan, had been killed in a car accident 13 years earlier. Jonathan and I would have been about the same age; like me, he'd wanted to be a musician. After Jonathan's death, VPI shut its doors for a month. Sheila dedicated herself to promoting safety-awareness programs and to helping her younger son, Mathew, find his way through the family's loss. Harry holed up in the basement for two years, perfecting a design that he and Jonathan had started together: a tonearm that, in honor of Jonathan, would be named the JMW Memorial. In our January 1997 issue, Michael Fremer called the tonearm "a triumph of industrial design" with a sound that was "intoxicating, almost magical."

Loss had inspired beauty.

Sheila, I figured, had taken a liking to me. (I'm great with moms.) But before we said goodbye, she expressed her displeasure with my choice of turntable. She was gentle, diplomatic, and unambiguous. "Perhaps you'd like me to loan you a turntable? Your call!"

My call? I was reminded of my own mom, always offering more of my favorite meal: I was too full to accept, but couldn't bear insulting her. I explained to Sheila, as tactfully as I could, that while I'd always been fascinated by and attracted to VPI's turntables, they were out of my price range. Plus, I had no idea how to set up a turntable. The Rega made setup relatively easy, but a 'table like VPI's entry-level Scout ($1800, with JMW-9T tonearm) was too intimidating.

"Can I take you up on the offer in a few months? By this fall, I might be able to give a VPI the attention it deserves."

"Whatever makes you happy."

Whatever makes me happy? I could almost see her smile.

When my conversation with Sheila was over, I immediately missed her. After speaking with her for just a few minutes, I felt I'd known her all my life. This was Sheila's effect on people. It's no surprise that her line was so often busy.

Days passed, spring turned to fall, one winter blurred into another, and I never again called Sheila. I figured we'd renew our discussion in person, at a Consumer Electronics Show or some other event.

In June 2011, when Sheila Weisfeld was diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer, the doctors told her she had three months to live. She responded by going on long trips to Australia and to Texas; travel made her happy. Having surpassed the doctors' expectations, Sheila next planned to attend the January 2012 CES, where she would say goodbye to friends and colleagues and accept Stereophile's award for Analog Source Component of 2011, for VPI's Classic 3 turntable. She didn't make it. On December 16, 2011, Sheila Weisfeld passed away. I never got to meet her.

At CES, I handed our award to Mathew Weisfeld, who mentioned that he'd be taking on more responsibility at VPI. In April, at the New York Audio & AV Show, Mathew handed me a business card, explained that he was leaving his teaching job to work full-time with his dad, and introduced VPI's newest turntable, the Traveler. Dedicated to Sheila Weisfeld and meant to appeal to a younger generation of music lovers, the Traveler was designed for easy setup, would be available in a range of fun colors, and would cost $1299 without phono cartridge—almost exactly the price of my Rega P3-24 without phono cartridge.

The VPI Traveler
On the flight home from the 2012 CES, 27-year-old Mathew Weisfeld reached into the pocket on the seat back in front of him, pulled out a paper bag, and sketched a design for an attractive, user-friendly turntable that even his friends could afford. The 'table's size and shape would be very important. It would have to be sleek, small enough to fit on a standard equipment rack, and at least somewhat portable.

With a footprint of about 16.5" wide by 12" deep, the Traveler easily fit on the top shelf of my Polycrystal equipment rack, and left room for my VPI Crosscheck turntable level and Hunt EDA record-cleaning brush. Mathew Weisfeld boasts that he carried an early-production sample of the Traveler to the recent Newport Beach Show in his luggage. But at a hefty 24 lbs and standing about 5" tall, the Traveler is significantly heavier and bulkier than my Rega. While I wouldn't think twice about schlepping the Rega over to Uncle Omar's house for a listening session, I doubt I'd be able to tuck the Traveler under one arm and go.

The Traveler's chassis is made of 3/16"-thick aluminum and ½"-thick Delrin, the latter a commercial name for polyoxymethylene (POM), a thermoplastic attractive for its high rigidity, low friction, and outstanding dimensional stability. Harry Weisfeld explained that, in the Traveler, this combination of aluminum and Delrin creates a very quiet, self-damping structure while allowing all parts of the turntable to be perfectly aligned for smooth, controlled operation. The 'table's aluminum top plate extends just beyond the Delrin foundation, and comes standard in a range of colors that includes red, white, blue, and silver. (Other options may be available in the future; photos on VPI's website show Travelers in pink and gold.) My sample came in VPI's standard black finish and exhibited some cosmetic imperfections on the chassis' underside—due perhaps to being hauled around in luggage, or to the usual strains of shipping. The instruction manual recommends using the Panel Magic or Stainless Steel Magic cleaning products to eliminate any odd markings from the Traveler's surface.

The Traveler's machined aluminum platter is damped with a stainless-steel disc and has an integral cloth mat. As in the VPI Classic, the Traveler's motor is built into the chassis. While it might seem counterintuitive to place a vibration-inducing motor in direct contact with a vibration-sensitive chassis, VPI believes that a properly integrated motor provides steadier and more efficient speed control. Unlike my Rega and many low-cost turntables driven by DC motors, the Traveler's AC synchronous motor runs on the stable 60Hz line frequency, and is said to be immune to voltage variances. I asked Harry Weisfeld to explain.

"An AC motor knows where it is. A DC motor knows where it was."

I asked Harry Weisfeld to explain.

"An AC synchronous motor reads the line frequency coming from the wall, which, in the US, will always be 60Hz. The motor's rotational speed (600rpm, in the case of the Traveler) is set by the line frequency. You can vary the voltage from 70 to 140V, and the speed will still be 600rpm. If you slow the platter down with your finger, the motor will fight you to get back to the correct speed of 600rpm—it's a known, fixed item."

Using a record brush on a spinning LP, I noticed that the Traveler paid little attention to the downward pressure exerted on its platter, but continued to run smoothly, unperturbed. This is not at all the case with my Rega, which can be slowed to a near stop with the slightest touch. According to Weisfeld, AC motors are more sensitive to music's timing and, therefore, sound more dynamic and compelling.

And DC motors?

"A DC motor is very quiet, very easy to integrate into a turntable, passes CE and UL regulations with no problem, and is cost-effective. But what speed does it run at? [A DC motor] needs a feedback loop to maintain speed accuracy, and that causes a time delay when the [rotational] speed is changed by groove velocity."

The Traveler's main platter bearing comprises a high-tolerance Thomson shaft, a chrome-hardened steel ball, and a thrust plate of polyetheretherketone (PEEK), an extremely durable thermoplastic with outstanding creep resistance—perfect for high-stress applications. Hinting at a potential upgrade, Weisfeld claims that the Traveler's motor and bearing assembly can easily handle the Classic 3's substantial 20-lb platter.

VPI Industries, Inc.
77 Cliffwood Avenue #3B
Cliffwood, NJ 07721-1087
(732) 583-6895

Audio Asylum Bruce from DC's picture

Let me add to the plaudits for this review.  For most of us, audio is about what comes out of the speakers, not about sets of numbers.

A comment for Stephen from a guy who was vinyl when there wasn't anything else (well, I had R2R tape, too.) and who has owned a VPI HW-19 Mk III and the JMW Memorial tonearm for quite a while, regarding hum, buzz, RFI and so on.  The JMW arm (and I assume this one) is electrially insulated from all of the signal leads.  The ground terminal is connected to the metal parts of the arm, and should be connected to the metal case of your preamp.  There can be a problem if there's any metal in the body of the cartridge you're using and the cartridge manufacturer internally connects one of the signal leads to that metal body or metal parts, if they make metal-to-metal contact with the headshell.  There will be two electrical paths to ground: one through the signal lead and one through the ground wire.  Usually, the differing electrical potental that results will produce a 60 Hz hum or buzz, or, possibly RFI, if you're living near an AM radio transmitter.  The giveawy is when the buzz gets quieter when you disconnect the ground wire.   The long term solution is to insulate the cartridge body from the headshell, using plastic tape on the underside of the headshell and nylon hardware (nuts and bolts) to attach the cartridge to the headshell.  If the body of the cartridge you're using is all plastic, just ignore everything I've said!  

ra7's picture

I'm a member of both diyaudio and pe, and not all of the measurements posted there are repeatable. And what's more, I haven't seen any measurements of turntables, tonearms, cartridges and definitely never anything on cables.

Show of hands... how many of you have measured speakers and posted the measurements online for others to critique? Nobody is stopping you guys from doing your own measurements. Let's see'em.

I guess the criticism of cable, turntable, tonearm, and cartridge reviews is fair. Certainly, some of the other staff are more than capable.

FlyhiG's picture

Very much enjoyed reading this article. A turntable built inspired by such a great heart. I find myself as time goes on I want my stereo system to not just sound good, and be made well, but have an X factor. That factor in part has come to be the inspiration and the people connected with it. Silly perhaps, however it serves to connect me to my music all the more. And adds to a pride of owership.

Phil Sommers's picture

Great job doing your first big-time review.  It reminds of the Cheapskate in his prime.  Keep it up, please.

I too am devoted the Weisfeld familty, who have always treated me as more than a customer.

YsoMcH's picture

I am new to the online Stereophile,But I was a subscriber for many years, In fact teh only reason I stopped is..Well I ran out of room. Sooo I located all the reccomended component issues and a few other's with gear I have owned..aww.. and gave away the rest to my local Library.

Oh seeing how brutal alot of people are..your right I am not exactly an english major..Now I dont know if I'm just lucky but this is only the second thread I have read thru here...The first was some Insanely irritating rant with some sort of ridicuous merit..duhhh but ridiculous....It ended in some link to a "Review The Reviewers site" where apparently this person is a budding version of what he has such a big problem with in the first place??? I liked the equipment talk tho....just like my Wife and me enjoyed Stereophile for years...still do..I think some of the most fun was the crazy $$$ gear reviews.."G hope it's good"..F*****G better B! we would laugh..and read. and Drool you know teh routine. Pretty harsh it seems to expect Stereophile and Mr Atkinson to be all you want always..Seriously these kind of threads are not what I hoped to find..and I hope to read some where people talk about audio, and their gear mega $$ (lucky you!!)  and Lower Priced $$ great gear and types of music your listening to ,Gear that works well with this or that..Becuse those are the kind of discussions that at least give you an idea of what works for someone?..It's hard to get this right.  Sure tastes are all over but well described these types of conversations do help people wade thru it all..more fun to read than what sounds like a bunch of... well..Really it's enuff to make me RiP the stylus out of my Dynavector 10X5 and slit my throat...I learned alot about high end Audio thanks to Stereophile .>and years of practice.. including that you DONT have to spend classA  money to get class A Musicality or better dare I say in some cases.Yes even if class A keeps changing..Geez what the He**  the magazine would have to be called "ClassABCDnotFairaphile" if they left all the previous members of any classs. I would think you would remember if it was so important...the one's that arnt there any more are still good... Dcryingnt Fret..heh heh..they are Still singing Class A tunes all over the place I'm sure..I learned >BUy ThiS stuFF USED!!! if possable..I learned (THe HarD waY) when you build a system that makes you happy...freaking listen to it dont just wander into every new pc.of gear that gets reccomended. I learned how to pick things that work together because a really nicely put together modest system with a great synergy is better than IMHO a Class A System that you stare at and listen for this and that about the gear and how it blah blah..you know.. talking about gear WHILE the musics playing etc..."did you hear that!?" NO!!!...But I think I just heard..ThiS!> wow nice....:) glad we got it.(THEN).>OMG look at this pre-amp/speaker/amp/TT/Cart/cables,this IS what we need!! for years at great expense and even urmm...Greater STUPIDITY...ps: tho I dont believe there's any noob's to high end around here...if there are BEWARE OF ..ya ready.....TRADEING STUFF IN!!! dont do it nooooo I could kick my own A** for things I have lost because I was not Savy enough to realize that it NEVER ENDS!!! so beware of high end dealers and there "FAIR" trades...you will LOSE 95% of the time..over the years Mayan if I had kept all the stuff i got rid of.. I would have had Class A LOnnng time ago...hmm sounds familiar..I may write a song tonight..HA! oh yes..I would have saved & saved ,becuse I never should have got rid of literally MOst oF iT!! when it's musical to YOU,and has the goods as per YOU,..Unless ya have money flowing like water..(sweet)..where was I...OH.Just.build a nice system and be happy..and be sure any ANY changes to that foot tapping system you made are really something that will enhance your system... your musical satisfaction and NEVER change out a pc of gear just becuse you read it was good,,ya really have to listen to it in your home with a return policy or dont do it...Indeed I have bumbled so many good systems."hard way to learn" I can kinda get away with a very educated guess on what I need and what works well together..Anyways,.No matter how messy this stereophile site seems to be...I thank them ,I learned alot...I also want to say Please stereophile warn new comers to this wonderfull hobby..that it's only fair to be honest with the one's who stumble into it and go a little nuts and waste alot of money they could not really.afford..it happens.....and dont get drunk and rip your needle off the face of the earth of your beloved cartridge!! as I did with my Benz Lo-4 ..nice cart that was...the little Dyna 10x5 is a treat...like amazing for what 400$ pfft I've ripped the stylus off better ..>not "THAT" much better really...I dont miss my awesum?? sounding??..0_O stare at me I'm georgeous !Take my ToP offf BeBeee yeaH!> Mark Levinson #28 pre-amp damn how can something that frikkin awesum sounding and built soo sweet.... But>..wayyyyTTT!!! I hate this thing!!!! LMFAO...got a CJ pre after that phewww finally no more preamps for awhile..it's actualy been years the lil thing rocks...I bet you know which one I'm talking about with phono stage ..looks like a PV10B...oh..well yeah...it's clobbered many way more $$$ preamps at my house...not at everything but...MUSIC...yep clobbered even more $$ tube pre's that did other things better but not ...as endearingly musical ,tappin your foot just becuse the thing started tapping on it's own..." OMG this Band Rocks!" good...the music is what you NeeD To Be praising if your going to get exited and spew something out during listening..not the gear. ps:audiophiles I kust wanna say Mark Levinson is better than the preamp I bought just becuse it was a Mark Levinson..I just got stupid and even ignored a stereophile warning that kinda said what I found out..Gawd I really waNTED that Levinson..! dangit..whYYY WhYYYYYY!!!! I very much liked my #23 amp..yep I traded it....sigh...now I am comfortable in my gear I am making a change right now first one in years...relapse? nah I got a pair of B&W CM-9 dayam Bebeee look at me..take my Grills off..oh..I got 2 for teh price of one.so $1500 for a pair..couldn't resist:) the addict awakens!! and..my little tube amp will stay on my Green Mountain Audio Speakers..You think I talk alot Call "Roy" the designer of the Wonderfull Green Mountain Audio line.(better pack a lunch as they say)anyways.

the CM-9 >hmm  A great deal at what I paid for em..but...I would have spent more and got diamond series if I wanted B&W.. but I bought on Impulse I never had B&W..Many others tho long list...I really am liking the B&W as a second system speaker..My GMAudios are better IMO...I think I will go Conrad Johnson Pre and high current SS amp..been alot of fun scouring the web for AmpS that I'm purty dang sure will do the trick for CM9...A plinius maybe? or if I can find one that fits my budget.... A fairly powerfull Conrad Johnson tube amp$$$ even....hell If I can score a deal on the CJ and the CM-9's dont like it they can leave!! nahh I'll get a fair trade in price...(JK)..

So Be nIcE ...If you can an stopp accusing stereophole of making you an AUDIOHOLE!!! and stop looking for something to argue about cause you could do it better... so do it..but play nice. If I was new to this hobby I may have been scared off and never looked back. really you should see yourselves what r u thinking!! ok I'm done...anyone have a nice powerfull Tubey Amp fer sale? or high current class A ..solid state.. gawd...I am bad..My experience tells me that SS may be a better choice than another tube amp..but hey..I'm pretty sure it will work...lol...Wellp I am gunna get back on the used amp search..fuuuunnnnnn!!! shhh...I managed to come away with some very nice gear after all the mistakes..but hey..I regret it..oh wait...Hey..it was FUN...sorta till..Well anyway I'm goin serious amp shopping first big purchase in yeaRZ! YAY....wiser and confident after the purchase I will have picked the right amp...by the way I got some Gutwire Chime speaker cables an interconects got em dirt cheap never heard of them exept they were highly praised by seller who said bring em back if you dont like them..I will be Keeping them!! Less than half price! that means I almost got them at cost...almost ...lol I cant imagine a system that wont work with these...very good in everything I've hooked them to.  I also remeber speaking on the phone with VPI >I remember a very sweet lady..I know this is an older thread but that is really sad I have owned VPI TT loved it..traded it in..A few TT later I'm in a Sota Sapphire w SME309 & the killer bargain of a deal Dynavector...I really was surprised by how it kill's my Grado Platinum Sonata that cost a couple hundred more...Next time I have alot of $$ to play with I will upgrade my home theatre system...M&K/Denon/PS/3 anaWii I guess I could part with a guitar I have like 30.....sheesh which one? that's what I tell the wife..Which one? who get's Sold?WHO!! how do I pick?..You do it.!!.She does..>I'm like noo not that one pick again...an again an again...BYee hehh Stereophile didnt I put an M&M on my speaker..or was it my head becuse of you..LOL ThanX!!! :) freaking hillarious memory...

Stanley1's picture

Sorry to put a damper on everyones love fest with the VPI Traveler turntable.

This has to be the worst designed tonearm I've ever seen. The tonearm should never have been released to the public in it's original form. It is simply not robust enough. The four small spikes holding it together are a joke. You can break the damn thing simply  by carefully taking it out of the foam packing.

I have read several reviews by professional reviewers who had the same problem I had. After pointing this out to the young president of the company, I was simply told that either I or UPS was too rough. I sent him the reviews of others who had the same problem. He simply refused to believe them. The dealer I purchased from was rebuked by Mat for not shutting me up.

I told the people at VPI that all you end up doing is accusing the customer of being too rough with the tonearm, when the real problem is the bad design.


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