VPI TNT V-HR turntable & JMW 12.5 tonearm Page 2
The Hot Rod replaced my TNT V in my system, and has overlapped a number of system changes and other reviews. I began my listening using a Grado Reference cartridge, but upgraded midway to the wonderful new Statement Reference, both feeding my VAC CPA1 Mk.III preamplifier or the Conrad-Johnson Premier 15/17LS combination.
The TNT-HR's integrated tonearm and deletion of the tri-pulley assembly made setting it up a snap. Similarly, adjusting and using the 'table were straightforward and intuitive. A few points bear mention, however. First, the TNT likes to be level—really level—so check it frequently. Second, I got the best result using the lowest possible air pressure that still "floated" the towers. More than that seemed to impose a very slight mist on low-level details; a bit of extra effort here is worth the trouble. Finally, I suggest paying religious attention to keeping the belts well-powdered and carefully aligned. I found that a bit of misalignment or a slightly sticky belt immediately showed up as a perceptible fluctuation in speed.
My only other comment is that while the TNT wasn't at all finicky, it did seem to be a very stable, low-noise platform. It will clearly and audibly showcase any deficiencies in the chain, from a poorly recorded LP to a slightly gritty or sticky stylus. As I spent more time with the TNT V-HR, I found myself returning to tweak the setup again and again—not to correct settings that had drifted, but to further optimize and wring even more information from the grooves.
Use and Listening
I found it difficult to make a definitive comparison between the TNT V-HR/12.5 and the TNT V/JMW 12" combo that it replaced, because they never overlapped in my system. The change-out coincided with the remodeling of my listening room, so several weeks elapsed between setups.
Another complicating factor was that the remodeling changed the character of my listening room. Before, the room was slightly warm, with a distinct peak in the 80-120Hz region, but attenuated somewhat in the low bass. Now the room is now much more neutral—perhaps even a bit cool—with much better extension at the frequency extremes, and the new, hard surfaces result in a very fast, live sound. One of the TNT's characteristics, in all its incarnations, has been a slightly bloomy bottom end, so I struggled a bit sorting that out in the context of my room changes.
Finally—and most significantly—the changes between the two versions of the TNT were very subtle. There was nothing here as dramatic as the switch from spring to air suspension in the TNT V, or replacing the old PLC to the SDS controller. Nonetheless, I think that the HR/12.5 improved on its predecessor's performance in a couple of areas.
With the HR/12.5 combo, there seemed to be a little more space and air throughout the soundstage and a little better ambience retrieval than with the previous version. At one point during the review I was listening to the lovely second movement, Allegretto scherzando, of Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra, with Reiner conducting the CSO (RCA/Classic LSC-1934). I zeroed in on a passage in which a series of soft, slow snare-drum rolls is followed by a delicate oboe line—the oboe enters just as the final echo of the drums fades out. What typically happens is that each instrument paints a vivid picture of its portion of the soundstage and the adjoining walls, but the two sounds are never quite woven together. The split second of silence between drum and oboe seems to be matched by a slight spatial seam, a thin line of nothingness between the two parts of the soundstage that I'd always chalked up to miking patterns.
With the HR TNT, the seam was gone. I could clearly hear the echoes of the drum fade away before the oboe entered, but with the HR, they were simply in different portions of the same, continuous ambient space—a space that encompassed the entire soundstage. When the rest of the orchestra dropped out from around the oboe a bit later in the movement, it didn't leave behind an electromechanical silence; the ambience seemed to flow in behind the instruments, leaving a coherent, tangible portrayal of the hall. I felt as if I could sense the musicians' presence—breaths held, bows poised above strings.