VPI Classic Direct Drive Signature turntable page 2
In any case, as good as I'd thought the VPI Classic Direct sounded as delivered, this slight modification greatly improved the sound. If you own one, lose the grommets!
Weisfeld also wrote that, with the Classic Direct's grommets removed, "the Continuum Caliburn was probably sweating." I'd say the Classic Direct with its JMW Memorial 3D-printed 12" tonearm comes as close to the Caliburn's sound as has any turntable, and for less than one-fifth the pricethough when I switched back to it, the Continuum instantly asserted its sonic gravitas.
Having now spent more time with the Classic Direct, I'm convinced that, its mundane appearance aside, it's competitive with, if not sonically better than, some other far more expensive turntablesand it runs away from many competing models costing $5000 or so less. If you're considering spending $25,000 on a turntable, listen to the Classic Direct. You might just find the additional $5000.
Despite the ½"-thick top plate of anodized aluminum bonded to its massive plinth of 2"-thick laminated MDF, the Classic Direct is a lively turntable. I placed the stylus in an LP groove and tapped the surface on which I'd placed the 'tablewith the platter spinning or stationary, I heard through the speakers a lively, pronounced thump with a prominent low-frequency component. This was true even before I'd removed the grommets. Tapping on the plinth produced an equally loud, relatively undamped thump, as did tapping on the tonearm-mounting surface.
Granted, this sort of "impulse test" is not the same as the vibrations of actual music reproduced by loudspeakers, but it informally indicates susceptibility to airborne vibrations, even if the plinth is placed on an effective isolation stand. Still, the Classic Direct's four feet are clearly more afterthoughts than effectively engineered isolation devices.
No matter how you damp and clamp, the Classic Direct's plinth and, especially, the hole excavated to accommodate the platter-motor assembly, will act as resonators of some sort. I think the Continuum Caliburn's computer-designed chassis of cast magnesium alloy, as well as the magnesium-alloy armboard(s) suspended within that chassis (I'll explain how in a subsequent column), greatly contribute to its additional levels of quietand, of course, to its price, which, not including the dedicated stand, is almost five times that of the Classic Direct.
While acknowledging the superiority of the Classic Direct's drive-system engineering, and its performance and sound, many will look at it and see little more than one of VPI's less expensive Classic modelssay, a Classic 4 ($10,000). The Classic Direct offers nothing visually distinctive, which will be a bigger problem for some than for others.
Because the Classic Direct's plinth must be big enough to accommodate its 12" arm, it includes an enormous amount of real estate. Even the three illuminated buttons could be placed somewhere other than the plinth, to reduce the Classic Direct's large footprint (23.5" W by 17.5" D). Rethinking the design could produce a more distinctive, less boxy look, and possibly improve the sound, though probably at a higher price.
Operation: further thoughts
As I described in May, using the Classic Direct was simple, though its peripheral platter damping ring could be a pain. Centering it is more easily said than done, and you've got to exercise greater caution with a direct-driven than with a belt-driven turntable. If the ring is improperly positioned and wobbles from side to side, or up and down, you don't want to try to stop a direct-drive platter's rotation with your hand after you've shut it offsomething easily done with belt drive. Instead, you must wait for a direct-driven platter to stop spinning before you reposition the ring. When you really want to play a record, the delay can feel like a lifetime. After a while, you'll probably find yourself using the ring only with warped discs.
VPI's soft rubber platter mat also seems an afterthought for so costly a turntable. Harry Weisfeld says it's a special design using a material sourced from 3M that inhibits the buildup of static electricity. Not a big dealat this price, most buyers will probably use their own mats.
I used the VPI mat for much of my listening, then switched to Boston Audio's Graphite 2 mat, which produced snappier transients, greater transparency, and better resolution of low-level detail, if at the expense of some lushness compared with the VPI mat.
A minor complaint
The Classic Direct's "instruction manual" does not befit a $30,000 product. The customer deserves a classier experience, not something cranked out of a copying machine. And while I appreciate Harry Weisfeld's don't-go-crazy attitude toward setup, if you're spending $30,000 on a turntable, you darn well should go crazy in properly setting up the expensive cartridge you will inevitably buy.
No mysteries here
The sonic greatness of VPI's Classic Direct turntable results from a combination of the direct-drive implementation of its Thin Gap motor; its well-machined, high-mass platter; and the remarkable 3D-printed, 12" version of the JMW Memorial Arm.
Could it be even better? It could look snazzier, and better differentiated from its less expensive stablemates. And if Harry Weisfeld were to produce a higher-tech plinth to match the rest of the Classic Direct's greatness, I'm confident it could sound even better, if at a higher price.
But even as it is, and at $30,000, the VPI Classic Direct is a high-tech combination of turntable and tonearm that you should experience before you buy any similarly priced record player. It's a game changer.