VPI Aries Scout turntable & JMW-9 tonearm Page 4
Well, don't sweat it, Harry Weisfeld: Your record player made music as interesting as it really is, but no more. The members of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra, under the otherwise beloved (by me at least) Hermann Scherchen, still played the first movement of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade as if they'd never met (Westminster), and listening to Uncle Tupelo's "Graveyard Shift" (from Uncle Tupelo 89/93: An Anthology, Sundazed 5153) on the VPI didn't make it any easier for me to imagine country musicians who have less feel for country music than Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar. What a couple of posers.
Final Comparisons & Conclusions
I wrote about the more expensive VPI Aries turntable/JMW-10 tonearm a little over two years ago in Listener. I liked the combination, with only minor reservations, and thought it offered good value for the money. Today, I think the less expensive Aries Scout and JMW-9 actually play music better, and I felt that way within a minute of first hearing them. At the very least, this is the best value among VPI's record players, and to some listeners it may be their best, period.
I can only guess why this should be. One guess revolves around the fact that this is simply Harry Weisfeld's latest creation, and Harry keeps getting better at what he does, kind of like Tom Petty.
Maybe it's part luck. I believe that one of the keys to good record-player performance is to make sure that the major parts of it—the tonearm, the platter, and whatever structure connects them—all behave the same way: Rather than trying to keep everything from resonating, the good designer makes sure that everything resonates to more or less the same extent, so there's no relative movement of those parts. (That's one reason a damped tonearm like an SME doesn't sound good on a Linn, an undamped arm like a Linn Ittok doesn't sound good on a SOTA, the application of damping substances to the underside of a Linn LP12's subchassis makes it sound much worse, and so forth.) So perhaps, with the Aries Scout and JMW-9, Harry has found a combination of parts that work especially well together.
Perhaps it's just me—or, more to the point, my system. Maybe the cartridges I used—the aforementioned Miyabi 47, plus Supex 900 Super, Lyra Helikon Mono, and no fewer than two Rega Exacts—just happened to lock in. Or maybe the VPI just really, really loved the Mana Reference Table I sat it on. I don't know.
I own two turntables these days: a Linn LP12 and an older-style Rega Planar 3, which I've upgraded with the motor from the new P3. The Linn and the Rega sound more like one another than they do the VPI, but all three get the essentials of music right, and at one time or another I have cried in response to music with each. Bingo. Stop there if you want to.
The $750 Rega P3, with its clever economies and fine, singing voice, sounds tentative and small by comparison with the more substantial VPI combination. Adding a Naim Armageddon power supply to the Rega's AC motor restores its comparative edge in this regard (don't laugh—I've actually done this), but that alone is a $1350 option, and is also a pain in the ass to do. The Rega remains a superb bargain—you can't take that away from it—but it's no longer the only great bargain in the house.
The Linn/Naim/Naim combo retails for something like $5770. Although I've had the financial luxury of starting out with the LP12 Basik/Rega RB-300 combination and of upgrading it to its present level over time, and while I paid retail for the turntable and the arm, I did so at times when they cost a lot less. (I recall the Aro costing closer to $1000 than $2000.) I had the further luxury of buying the power supply at cost, as a reviewer's "accommodation." The Linn/Naim/Naim's musical prowess is second to none, and its textured and downright organic sound is very much to my liking. I also just plain like it as a "thing," if you know what I mean.
But if you're just starting out in analog or upgrading an existing front-end, and if you can spend $1500 on a turntable and tonearm, here's some advice: Go hear VPI's new player right away. This is not a cautious, conditional, "for special tastes only" recommendation. (No offense to those things that are: Hey, I love my Lowthers, but God knows they're not for everyone.) Rather, this is a flat-out, unconditional, "Holy Mother of Crap, I can't believe how good this thing is" recommendation. It's hard to imagine another way of spending $1500 that will add this much to your system.