VPI Classic Direct Drive Signature turntable page 2

In a follow-up call, Weisfeld explained that he'd at first thought the way to go was decoupling, presumably to prevent the platter-spinning module from exciting resonances in the plinth. However, it's hard to see how those rubber grommets—just thin wafers—could actually perform that degree of isolation, any more than a thin sleeve of stiff plastic actually decouples a tonearm's counterweight from the stub it rides on. On the other hand, it's easy to see how the grommets could prevent the tight coupling of motor and plinth.

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 price—though 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 turntables—and 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.

More listening
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 'table—with 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 quiet—and, 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 models—say, 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 off—something 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 deal—at 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.

COMPANY INFO
VPI Industries, Inc.
77 Cliffwood Ave. #3B
Cliffwood, NJ 07721
(732) 583-6895
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COMMENTS
Phil Sommers's picture

A mensch is Yiddish for a "person of honor and integrity." Few of his tens of thousands of customers would dispute the word being used to describe Harry Weisfeld.

Michael, you should have moved this statement to your final paragraph: "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 price..."

Feel free to append a qualification if you have a problem with my editing. But I bet you have no problem with my description of Harry.

Doctor Fine's picture

Well gee if Mikey liked the VPI Direct Drive turntable I wonder if he will ever admit he likes the bargain of the century Technics SL1210M5G at less than a tenth the price?

I see the Technics is still listed on B&H's site through no help from the "High End" reviewers who have given it a cold shoulder for years. I am surprised you guys haven't killed it yet. Makes so many "High End" tables look silly.

Try one with oil damping upgrade by KAB and get Art Dudley to hook you up with a Denon DL-103 moving coil cart and matching transformer. Art knows the ones I am thinking about.

Once, just once I would like to see the egg on your faces when you realize how much sound such a combo will produce for not a lot of dough.

High End indeed.

DaveThreshold's picture

I have that exact same table Doctor! Almost all KAB mods with three different cartridges: AT OC9-III, BP EVO-3, and a Grado Ref. Sonata.
(Pardon my happy-rant)
A few months ago, I bought a Threshold Fet-10e PC dedicated phono preamp, and just two weeks ago, a threshold Fet-10e High Level. There are very few companies left with GOLD PLATED circuit boards. (I also have a Spectral DMC-6 Series II with one.) I also have a Rothwell MCL Transformer, which I am working with, and with the OC9-III it does away with ALL the pesky phono noise, but I have to check a few things before I implement it.
Thank you or the review Michael! I bought one of your DVD’s, and learned a TON.

otaku's picture

Mikey,

Did you catch Harry at Stereo Exchange unloading and loading LPs on the Direct Drive while it was still spinning?

DaveThreshold's picture

Michael, have you ever used a dual head stethoscope, for a quick TT noise listen? I bought one, and it is FANTASTIC. The membrane side is about 15 times more sensitive than the normal, cone side.
From it I have experienced the following: Older, 70’s era belt drive tables with the tiny diameter pulley's and the higher speed motors, (Pioneer, etc.) Sound like the inside of a WW2 submarine. A couple of older rim drives, sound like Sherman TANKS. My Sumiko Pro-Ject RM-9 (belt) was audible.

Now for the quiet ones:
The third quietest was my Technics M5G stock. Tied for first are my modified M5G with EXTERNAL transformer, I can no longer hear ANYTHING, and the real shocker: A Vintage, Sony TTS-3000 BELT drive! The way they engineered the motor was genius: It is literally suspended by small and very compliant rubber bands. With the Sony, after a clean/lube, I disconnected the belt, spun it as fast as I could, and checked it again. Nothing! DEAD quiet.
I realize that sound is more important than specs, but I think it BEHOOVES V.P.I. to include a rumble spec. – I bet it’s a low rumble record breaker.

Doctor Fine's picture

Don't get me wrong I spend a ton of money on things that really matter like set up, acoustic treatments, wiring, prime quality components with "life" in them, etc. Speakers, amps and sources all have to have a palpable sense of real quality or all is lost later in the playback chain. You can't get back what isn't there in the first place.

But it makes me crazy to see folks spend big money on things with tiny acoustic returns on investment. Belt drive turntables in general will sound terrible using a low compliance cartridge as the belt will start wobbling as it pulls the cart through tough passages.

A direct drive table will just sail on through the mess.

So if a direct drive is well made otherwise AND it has speed stability using vintage cartridges---what's not to like?

Spending big bucks on a platter so big it is ridiculous and looks like a "wedding cake." I mean, c'mon are you kidding?

stereophilereader's picture

the new generation of direct drives are light years ahead of the sl1200, which was a pale shadow of the sp10.
i've heard the vpi and it is nothing like an sl1200.

otaku's picture

Just noticed Mikey's comments about not stopping a direct-drive turntable by hand. Seems counter-intuitive to me, but I guess that is why Harry was not stopping and starting the turntable at the show.

morricab's picture

I think Mikey you have forgotten that the great Japanese companies effectively beat the "cogging" issue by the late 70s. The Kenwood/Trio L-07, Yamaha GT2000 and others all sported their own proprietary cog free drive systems. The Kenwood and Yamaha both had coreless, slotless motors with no iron in the stators or rotors. Also, they applied much more sophisiticated control systems that effectively eliminated "hunting" of early quartz locked PLL systems. Finally, they employed high mass metal platters (7Kg for the Kenwood and 6kg for the Yamaha) and heavy solid non-suspended plinths (The Kenwood weighs 35Kg and the Yamaha 30kg). The only problem with the Kenwood was RFI leakage, which is easily solved by putting a layer of mu metal on the bottom of the platter.

So, while I admire what VPI has done, they are really retreading the same ground that was perfected by the Japanese just as the "end" of vinyl was near due to the introduction of cd. It is important to note though that the Japanese super tables of that day would be VERY expensive today as well (probably close to the $30K of the VPI).

Vinyl Love's picture

The interesting fact here is that Mr. Fremer uses the Continuum Caliburn as his yardstick judge all turntables. If it sounds close to the Caliburn, it's good. If not it isn't.

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