VPI Aries Scout turntable & JMW-9 tonearm Page 2

That thick (1.5") acrylic platter is likewise well-machined, but otherwise unremarkable. VPI recommends putting records directly on the bare platter and flattening them with their standard screw-on Reflex clamp (supplied), although the perennially diplomatic Harry Weisfeld stops short of suggesting that this is the only, or even the best, way to do it. When I said that I preferred using the Scout with my own thin felt mat and without the clamp, he replied, "Arthur, I would never tell anyone not to do it that way." The thing is, I know from past conversations that Weisfeld's receptiveness to clamps has less to do damping vibrations in the vinyl—a fool's errand if ever there was one, I think—than it does with a simple desire to make records as flat as they can be. Among other things, flat records make life a lot easier for any cartridge mounted in a unipivot tonearm, and unipivot arms are another specialty of the house at VPI.

Introduced in 1996 as a tribute to his son, the late Jonathan Weisfeld, Harry's JMW tonearm line has grown to include three different sizes; the JMW-9, which comes standard with the Scout, is the newest and shortest of these. Like the other JMWs, the '9 uses a reverse-missionary bearing with a devilishly sharp tungsten-carbide point hardened to 92 on the Rockwell scale, and a machined and hardened-steel set-screw for a cup. The cast-aluminum arm's beaded texture matches the finish on the upper parts of the Scout's adjustable feet, and the tube is filled with a 1.7-lb-density urethane foam. The mounting base, lower bearing housing, and cueing support are also aluminum alloy, while most other bits are stainless steel—including a weighted ring that's fastened to the bottom of the upper bearing assembly. Not only does this weight stabilize the arm, but because the mass of the ring isn't consistent around its perimeter, rotating it has the effect of subtly tilting the entire upper bearing assembly in one direction or another, thus effecting a change in cartridge azimuth if needed. Clever.

Like other unipivot arms, the JMW has a quick-connect plug in its signal line for easy removal and thus easy cartridge swapping—although I know of no one else using either so fine a plug and socket (Swiss-made Lemos) or so handy and straightforward an output-jack box, the latter mounted close to the arm mount on the Scout's back edge. The lead wire is 32-strand copper made for VPI by Discovery Cable.

The JMW's armtube/upper bearing assembly feels massive, which is not at all surprising given that the above-mentioned ring weight is heavier on this arm than on VPI's larger tonearms (a decision motivated by an even greater need for a stabilizing force with the JMW-9, since it lacks its bigger brothers' fluid-damping option). In fact, because that weight is located well below the pivot point, it doesn't contribute to the mass the cartridge "sees" in the vertical plane, in which sense the effective moving mass is a perfectly reasonable 8.1gm. The counterweight supplied with the '9 is suitable for a fairly wide range of cartridge weights, but a more massive one can be had, either as an extra-cost add-on or a free swap-out for the standard jobbie, in case you think you'll need it. More typical Weisfeld i-dotting and t-crossing.

The JMW-9 is height-adjustable, and while the mechanism for doing so isn't quite as slick as the one on VPI's more expensive arms, it's nonetheless smooth, continuous, and seemingly precise. And the height-adjustment provision doesn't appear to compromise rigidity in any way.

Ready for a bit of controversy? Like VPI's other tonearms, the JMW-9 has no antiskating mechanism in the accepted sense. Weisfeld believes that, all other things being equal, schemes to counter skating force—the tendency of a pivoting arm with an offset headshell to push itself toward the spindle during record play—do more harm than good. Consequently, he recommends a two-pronged approach for owners of JMW arms: Help your stylus maintain contact with both groove walls by goosing up the tracking force a little. Then, if you're still concerned about skating, dress the tonearm-to-junction-box lead wire so that the arm gets a gentle push toward the edge of the record.

I agree with him that's there's nothing wrong with erring on the side of heft in choosing a downforce: I think that many of us Americans over a certain age have been conditioned by the junk magazines of the 1960s and '70s into thinking that phonography is little more than a quest for ever-lower tracking forces. (Since they ignored music reproduction altogether, the audio writers of the day apparently had nothing else to think about.) It's high time we got over that: Our records suffer much more from a lack of contact between stylus and groove than they do from an excess of same.

I also agree that a more or less "sufficient," if imprecise, antiskating force can be had by dressing the JMW tonearm's lead wire just so, but I add two caveats. First, watch what you're doing, because it's just as easy to dress the wire for a side force in the wrong direction as it is the right one. Second, if you want to get totally persnickety about it, you must resign yourself to the notion that you'll never get a perfect side force in this manner, since the part of the arm where the lead wire exits (and thus applies its force) is higher than the bearing's pivot point. As I said, persnickety—and quite possibly of no audible consequence.

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VPI
77 Cliffwood Avenue No.3B
Cliffwood, NJ 07721
(732) 583-6895
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