VPI Industries Traveler turntable Stephen Mejias, May 2014

Stephen Mejias returned to the VPI Traveler in May 2014 (Vol.37 No.5):

Over the last few months, I've had a great time listening primarily to digital files through headphones and powered loudspeakers, but I still prefer listening to LPs played on a good turntable. My preference has only a little to do with sound. For me, listening to vinyl isn't only fun, it's important. More than any other music format I've enjoyed, vinyl soothes my mind, strengthens my spirit, makes me feel connected to other people, places, and times.

I reviewed the original VPI Traveler turntable in November 2012, and while I quickly fell in love with its smooth, coherent, dynamic sound, I was less impressed with its overall appearance. Rather than appropriate the purposeful, considered look and feel of other VPI turntables, the Traveler looked almost cobbled together, as though it had been hurriedly fashioned from spare parts. As far as I could tell, however, the 'table's modest looks had no negative effect on its outstanding sound.

Still, not long after I'd reviewed the Traveler, VPI began implementing subtle changes in its appearance: revised logo, altered feet, different platter mat . . . Whenever I saw it at a show or dealer event, the Traveler looked somehow new. I began to wonder what was going on, but the dealers and sales reps with whom I casually chatted offered no concrete explanation. Running changes continued over the next several months, and culminated at the 2013 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, where VPI's young new president, Mathew Weisfeld, told me the revisions were meant to address the 'table's cosmetics, as well as improve its durability and ease of use. With those improvements came an increase in price—from $1299 to $1499, without phono cartridge.

I bet you know what's coming next—that great, familiar refrain: It was time to do a Follow-Up.

Current-production models of the VPI Traveler are easily more attractive than the original model I reviewed. VPI's logo—formerly a tacky plastic badge affixed to the front of the chassis—is now discreetly and expertly laser-printed on its top panel. The original model's four feet—shiny aluminum cones with rubber-compound surface contacts—gave the Traveler a solidly stable foundation, but looked as if they'd been swiped from some other, more modern-looking turntable. The new black rubber feet look specifically designed for the Traveler. According to Mat Weisfeld, they not only create an even firmer foundation, they provide greater reliability. The original Traveler, it was found, did not travel easily enough: If the user attempted to move it without first lifting it, the rubber-compound surface contacts were easily dislodged from the shiny feet.

The original Traveler came with an unusual platter mat—a rubbery thing with a web-like surface very reminiscent of mesh shelf lining—affixed to the platter with a gummy, sticky substance not at all ideal for supporting valued LPs, as users discovered who attempted to remove the mat. The Traveler now comes with an attractive and more traditional rubber mat that can be easily removed or replaced as the user sees fit.

Making the Traveler friendlier to overseas customers became a priority when its international sales surpassed VPI's expectations. The company equipped the Traveler with a power supply that supports both 110V and 240V. "It was tough having to keep changing the production line from US Travelers to overseas models," Weisfeld said. "This gave us the ability to make the Traveler universal." In addition, VPI moved the motor assembly an hour forward—from the nine o'clock position to the ten o'clock position—and made the power switch more accessible, moving it from the 'table's left side panel to its top surface. I had appreciated the inconspicuous placement of the original power switch, but I have no problem whatsoever with its new location; and while I recall that the original model started and stopped on a dime—like a sports car, in fact—my new sample always starts with a bouncy rumble, and comes to a slower, more gradual stop. However, having reviewed the original model in a completely different system within a completely different room, it's impossible for me to say whether the new motor runs more quietly. The old sample ran quietly; so does the new one.

Finally, VPI replaced the tonearm's sapphire gimbal bearings with harder, low-friction, ABEC-5 ball bearings. The original bearings were too easily knocked out of place during shipping, explained Weisfeld, and could be damaged if the user tried to adjust the vertical tracking force (VTF) by rotating the tonearm's counterweight instead of correctly using the knurled knob at the tonearm's back end. "The new bearings are impossible to break," he said. "All of the changes were inspired by customer and reviewer feedback and [reflect] our efforts to . . . supply a high-quality, American-made product."

Despite bumps along the way, the Traveler has brought VPI great success. It has won a number of awards from the press, including Stereophile's Analog Component of 2013 (tied with Spiral Groove's SG1.1 turntable; $31,000), and has introduced the New Jersey company to a wider, more varied audience that, Mat Weisfeld says, includes non-audiophiles, college students, and even women. I don't doubt him.

A few weeks ago, Uncle Omar and I set up the new Traveler in his system while Ms. Little and Auntie Katie were in the kitchen baking oatmeal-raisin muffins. It was an idyllic Sunday afternoon. If you've ever set up a turntable, you'll have no problem whatsoever with the Traveler; and if the Traveler is the first 'table you've ever set up, you'll be entirely prepared for the task: Simply follow VPI's instructions, take your time, and be careful.

Cartridge was Ortofon 2M Red moving-magnet; phono cable was Kimber Kable's perfectly quiet TAK-Cu ($385/1.5m), but there are also some excellent affordable options out there, such as AudioQuest's Wildcat ($89/1.5m) or Pro-Ject's Connect-It ($99/1.23m). VPI provides everything else you'll need, including a small, user-friendly digital VTF gauge. (Earlier Traveler models came with the fussier Shure SFG-2 beam-balance gauge.) We used the supplied gauge to set the 2M Red's VTF at 1.8gm, and verified the results with my Audio Additives gauge ($79, footnote 1). Less than an hour later, just as the ladies were pulling the muffins from the oven, Omar and I first dropped needle into groove. Very soon after, jaws dropped to floor.

With the Ortofon-equipped Traveler in Omar's system, we heard obvious and significant improvements in the sound. Omar was most impressed by the VPI's tighter, weightier bass, while I most enjoyed its vastly wider dynamic range. Silences were quieter, and musical climaxes were produced with greater ease, clarity, and control. Cymbals sounded cleaner and clearer, with faster attacks and longer decays, and without the slightest hint of unnecessary grain or edge. After we'd devoured a couple of muffins and a side of Beach House's excellent Teen Dream (LP, Sub Pop SP845), Omar sat back and sighed. "That was completely and thoroughly enjoyable. I felt like I was right in the middle of the music." The Traveler's smooth, coherent, relaxed sound was much as I remembered, and while the Ortofon 2M Red was indeed right at home in the system, I suspected that, partnered with a more ambitious cartridge, the Traveler could provide even greater drama and scale.—Stephen Mejias


Footnote 1: For more details about setting up a VPI Traveler, read my original review or Michael Fremer's review.—Stephen Mejias

COMPANY INFO
VPI Industries, Inc.
77 Cliffwood Avenue #3B
Cliffwood, NJ 07721-1087
(732) 583-6895
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COMMENTS
Vogelhaus's picture

Now that's how you write a product review! Well done, thanks for the article! I was very interested in this table when rumors were going around about a new turntable from VPI. 

Et Quelle's picture

But, can an owner remove those hideous feet; put stillpoints or anything? A retailer at the T.H.E. Show Las vegas told me that you can. More importantly, he told me that price has little weight on electronic quality. Which most of us kinda know?

baumer's picture

Stephen, this is the best thing I've ever read of yours, and, in fact I think it's the best thing I've read from Stereophile. Well done.

philipjohnwright's picture

The Kid is the future. Thank you Stephen, lovely article; life first, hi-fi second, as it should be.

MrGneiss's picture

LPs make me happy too.. :-) Great article!!

itsratso's picture

i am going to start saving for this TT. not just because it seems like a good table, but moreso for the story you told. these are the sort of people that deserve the business.

Regadude's picture

Great review Stephen. I really enjoyed reading it!

I have a question about the setup of your Rega P3-24. Did you put a 2mm spacer between the arm and the plinth, to raise the arm? I know from experience, that the Dynavector 10X5 will sound much better with the arm raised 2mm on a P3-24. If the arm is not raised, the VTA will not be correct. 

If you can, try it. You'll probably find that your P3-24 - Dynavector combo has a lot more to offer!

Stephen Mejias's picture

Thank you, everyone.

Regadude, thank you for all your kind comments. Yes, I did use Rega's 2mm spacer with the Dynavector cartridge. I write about that experience in "The Entry Level," also in the November issue. We'll post that column to the website soon, too.

Regadude's picture

Thanks for the information Stephen. I look forward to reading November's "The entry level".

Like yourself, my turntable is a P3-24. If you wish to significantly improve its performance, you could try out a Groovetracer reference subplatter and/or a Michell Technoweight.

I have both. The GT subplatter will widen the soundstage, add detail and make the music "more there". The Technoweight will significantly improve the bass. You will get more bass, and it will be better defined. If you plan on keeping your P3-24, these 2 upgrades really elevate the performance of the table. 

Stephen Mejias's picture

I look forward to reading November's "The entry level".

That column has now been archived here. I hope you enjoy it.

mrplankton2u's picture

The specifications give a rumble figure of  at least - 80db and wow/flutter rating of .2%.

Yes, it was quite touching to find out that you've formed a special relationship with the manufacturer:

"Sheila, I figured, had taken a liking to me. (I'm great with moms.)"

 

-but is it too much to ask that you actually test the product that is being "reviewed" to verify that what the manufacturer is saying about it is actually true in the case of the test sample?

 

Note:

You folks have been drinking your own Kool Aid for so long, you have completely lost touch with what you're supposed to be doing. Just say'in...

 

: )

JohnnyR's picture

"Michael Fremer called the tonearm "a triumph of industrial design" with a sound that was "intoxicating, almost magical.""

Were there any tests done to show us the "sound" of that tonearm? I mean  if a tonearm is going to resonate and add it's own signal to the recording being played then isn't that NOT what we want as a listener? I'm so glad I gave up on turntables and vinyl years ago in favor of an accurate digital playback medium. A lot less costly PLUS it plays back how it was meant to sound. Dinosaur Sterophile strikes again.

 

mrplankton2u's picture

I guess there were no tests conducted in the "review" of this turntable. But at least we have this gem of an observation to make up for it -

 

"While the LP's normal surface noise was as audible as ever, that noise was noticeably distinct from the music, as if the Traveler were somehow brushing it aside to the edges of my listening room,"

 

And in conclusion, this turntable "brushes aside" normal LP surface noise to the edges of listening rooms better than most other turntables...(eyeroll) 

Perhaps Steven can get to work on a glossary of hi fi snob terms/phrases to assist new readers and those who are just not "in the know" with expressions like "brushing aside normal noise to the edges of the listening room" - that is if Stereophile truly wishes to clue its readers in on what the hell its reviewers are talking about... But then, that may just be the point - they really don't want the reader to know what the hell they're talking about or perhaps most likely - they don't know what the hell they are talking about.

Vogelhaus's picture

@mrplankton2u How about you go listen to one, form an opinion not based off a written article, and tell us all about it. It's a magazine man, they're doing their best to describe their experience with music, components and venues that you can't HEAR. [Edit of flame by JA]

mrplankton2u's picture

The whole point of a proper equipment review is not simply to present pure subjective opinion but to put forth some data or facts that support the purely subjective opinion. Your suggestion that I need to go listen to a component to verfiy the claims for myself defeats the entire purpose of a magazine that's supposed to present a "convincing" argument one way or another about the component's quality, value, and degree to which it has achieved its objectives. The above "review" contains absolutely no data or physically reproducible evidence that would back up or tend to back up the claims of the "reviewer". 

Moreover,  a good portion of the "review" write up was devoted to describing the "reviewer's" personal relationship and/or impression of the individuals that produce the product being "reviewed". That clearly calls into question the "reviewer's" ability to objectively and impartially  "review" the product in question. The dividing line between "reviewer" and manufacturer has been completely obliterated.

Additionally, the hostility with which you responded to me does nothing to bolster your opinion or perspective. If anything, it detracts from it as your response contains more animosity than useful, actionable information or credible argument.

smittyman's picture

Well, Stereophile is based on subjective reviews; the reviewer listens and describes what he or she hears.  The 'objectivist' magazines died out quite a few years ago; they didn't do much more than test the equipment to make sure it met or exceeded the manufacturers' claims.  Since the equipment pretty well always matched its specs, the results of their 'reviews' were pretty much a foregone conclusion.  Hard to see any added value there which may explain why they aren't around anymore.

 

Which makes me wonder, if you don't like subjective reviews, why read Stereophile?  And if you're looking for test results, why not just read the spec sheet?

mrplankton2u's picture

Questioning my motives for reading the magazine or electronic version is again, attacking the person - not focusing on the questions raised. So in that context, some of your response is of no use to the discussion. 

And now back to the heart of the matter. I've been consistently raising questions as to why Stereophile employs a signficant number of measurements with some equipment reviews but a complete lack measurements with others. In my view, there is absolutely no legitimate basis for going completely subjective or completely objective. The value of Stereophile's contribution comes when it combines the two. That happens with loudspeakers and to a lesser extent with electronics. But the other products that have  exclusively subjective reviews noting "vast" differences from one product to the next - that have no associated measurements - stand as a clear challenge to the credibility of Stereophile's otherwise "balanced" approach of combining subjective with objective information. If cables, suspenders/footers, power conditioners, DACs, and other similar products are determined to have significant audible differences - those differences should be measurable in some way. There should be some effort expended to explain how the audible difference is produced. When there's a complete absence of effort to explain the origins of these purely subjective differences, that's when credibility breaks down. With speaker reviews, there has been a consistent trend to at least attempt to explain a correlation between what is heard and what is measured. That brings value. And when an attempt is made to explain how construction details/design impacts measured and sensed performance - more value is added  

If anything, I've been consistent in the pages of comments regarding how important some of us feel the balance between subjective and objective is in terms of establishing and maintaining credibility. It's not simply a matter of re enforcing specifications. If a turntable has very low levels of rumble or background noise with a given cartridge combination - what is so difficult about posting a graphical reprentation of noise with frequency when the table is rotating and the tone arm is in its rest position? That is so simple and would take virtually no effort. When a reviewer says the component is absolutely dead quiet when producing soft music passages - you have something concrete and reproducible to back that subjective impression up. This is not rocket science folks. A discrepancy clearly does exist between how Stereophile approaches reviewing different product classes. And this does more to re enforce doubts about Stereophile's credibility than anything else. It cannot be explained away by saying some products can be measured while others can't. Turntables/cartridges for example can be measured extensively but they aren't. There is simply no legitimate explanation for this unless you consider "we're lazy" a legitimate excuse.

smittyman's picture

OK, so I didn't mean my question as an attack - at least not entirely.  Of course what you choose to read is your business.  I just don't understand why someone reads a magazine or other publication whose editoral practices or policies are different than their own beliefs, then complains about those differences.  I don't go to a vegan restaurant and complain they don't serve steak.  You say you are trying to suggest how the content could be inproved and I will take you at your word.  In any case, you are correct that this part of our discussion is off topic.

Where I don't agree with you is the assertion that audbile differences should be measurable in some way.  The old school subjectivist magazines measured everything that was measurable at the time and didn't find anything significant to say; if things measured the same they must sound the same was their position.  But a lot of people thought they heard differences.  So then we get into a vicious cycle; the measurements don't so any difference so anyone who hears differences must be crazy, a snake-oil salesman, etc. on one side; I hear differences in spite of the measurements, therefore measurements mean nothing, so why measure, on the other. (I know you are suggesting that a balanced approach is better and I agree; I'm just stating the extreme positions here.)

There are a couple of other options.  It is entirely possible that there are measurable factors that could substantiate the differences people hear between similar pieces of equipment, but we don't know what they are yet; we might be measuring the wrong things.  It is also possible that the instruments that we use to measure this equipment are not an exact pardigm for how we hear - that microphones and voltmeters do not respond to sound in the same way the human ear does.  Not trying to sound philosophical here, just suggesting two reasons why measurements may not work, or not work as well, on all types of components.  And it certainly suggests that maybe we should be looking for new things and/or new ways to measure.

Having said that, your point that there is an inconsistancy in what Stereophile measures is a valid one.  If they are trying to strike a balance between the two extremes then perhaps they should expand the range of what they measure.

John Atkinson's picture

smittyman wrote:
Your point that there is an inconsistency in what Stereophile measures is a valid one.  If they are trying to strike a balance between the two extremes then perhaps they should expand the range of what they measure.

I agree that it is a valid criticism. The problem is one of resources. The scarcest resource we have as Stereophile is my time. I already work a >60 hour week and, other than a day off here and there, have not had a vacation for several years. For us to accompany our reviews of turntables, tonearms, and cartridges with full sets of measurements represents a major increase in my workload and that just isn't possible. Not an excuse but a reason.

A few years back, we tried a system whereby Michael Fremer would measure the LP playback components he was reviewing and I would do the analysis, but that didn't work out.

And my thanks to you and mrplankton2u for arguing without flaming.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

mrplankton2u's picture

Valid points but might I suggest you start training reviewers to take on some of your workload. There is obviously some talent and knowledge there. Mikey has demonstrated that he is more than capable of delving into a huge array of intracies in turntable setup. Does John Atkinson have to test/measure everything directly? Why can't he work with other reviewer/writers to establish measuring protocols - supply the needed equipment (which these days, in many cases is pretty modest) - and let them take on a more comprehensive role?

smittyman's picture

I am Canadian and we are required by law to be polite.laugh

GeorgeHolland's picture

We will await a real test of something other than speakers but won't hold our breaths.

John Atkinson's picture

GeorgeHolland wrote:
We will await a real test of something other than speakers but won't hold our breaths.

I don't understand your statement. Not only do I measure speakers, but also preamplifiers, phono preamplifiers, integrated amplifier, power amplifiers, CD and other disc players, D/A processors, A/D processors, computer soundcards, music streamers, etc. I have stopped measuring headphones, leaving that to my colleague Tyll Hertsens at InnerFidelity.com, who has a Kemar mannikin.

BTW, I saw you complaining about having some of your posts deleted. I warned everyone last week that I will now delete posts that, in my opinion - not yours, please note - are nothing more than flames.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

GeorgeHolland's picture

But you don't test cables or power cords or tweeks because?  Oh yes the "no time" reason. it couldn't possibly be because you know they do nothing but would offend some one if you showed the world that.

I see that JVS stated on a post from the RMAF that you have in your possesion  a BSG Technologies QOL Signal Completion Stage and will review it. Does this mean a full fledged measurment test?  If not then please give your reasons for not doing so. The "no time" reason will not be good enough I'm afraid.

Yes I can see how you tend to stamp out any postings that bring up the topic of greed or the inability of your readrs to be interested in anything other than the staus quo.

John Atkinson's picture

GeorgeHolland wrote:
I see that JVS stated on a post from the RMAF that you have in your possesion  a BSG Technologies QOL Signal Completion Stage and will review it. Does this mean a full fledged measurment test?

Of course.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

John Atkinson's picture

The BSG Signal Completion Stage has an easily audible effect on the signal and its measured performance suggests why. It's hardly snake oil, as GeorgeHolland appears to be implying.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JohnnyR's picture

............sorry but labeling your failure or EXCUSE as a reason just doesn't cut it. So you are saying nobody but you can operate any measuring equipment or aren't smart enough to be trained? Your so called 60 hour work week includes plenty of time to browse and respond to not only Stereophile's forums but other audio forums also. No time to do anything else he says. So busy. EXCUSES. *YAWN* typical Atkinson response. Too busy, can't be helped. Can't leave out testing of a speaker instead and test a cable or magic bowl. Don't know how. Can't be done.........EXCUSES.

John Atkinson's picture

JohnnyR wrote:
sorry but labeling your failure or EXCUSE as a reason just doesn't cut it.

It is neither a failure or an excuse. It is the _reason_ we can't expand our measurement regime. I love my job but I am maxed out. And please note that measuring audio components requires a combination of skill, education, knowledge, and experience that is relatively rare. I was fortunate to have been mentored by Martin Colloms and the late John Crabbe, but I already had a technical education and had designed my own audio equipment and my own test equipment when I implemented the test regime at Stereophile.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JohnnyR's picture

I suppose all those people on DIYaudio and Parts Express and other forums must be geniuses then because they do a VERY good job of measuring. If you haven't gotten it written down in a step by step method after all this time, then you are doing it wrong. You could easily train someone in a day how measure using a computer and simple add ons. YOU designed the test equipment that Stereophile uses?  I highly doubt it's being used today. Just fess up that you don't want or don't DARE test cables or magic bowls and stop saying you don't have time. You could have tested 10 cables in the time it took to reply to just MY posts on here Mr Excuse.

John Atkinson's picture

JohnnyR wrote:
I suppose all those people on DIYaudio and Parts Express and other forums must be geniuses then because they do a VERY good job of measuring.

Both those forums are frequented by some of the best audio engineers around, who have decades of experience in designing and testing audio equipment. There are also posters to both forums who demonstrate how easy it is to mis-use test gear.

JohnnyR wrote:
You could easily train someone in a day how measure using a computer and simple add ons.

You illustrate the fact that everything appears simple to those who lack understanding of what is involved.

JohnnyR wrote:
YOU designed the test equipment that Stereophile uses?

I didn't say that. In the early 1980s, I designed some pieces of test gear that I used at that time  - for example, a spl meter of mine was published as a DIY article in a 1981 issue of HiFi News - and in doing so gained an education in measuring.

JohnnyR wrote:
I highly doubt it's being used today.

It isn't but I didn't say that it is.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

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