VPI TNT V-HR turntable & JMW 12.5 tonearm Page 3
I don't know if the HR/12.5's added detail and precision resulted from a slightly lower noise floor (as Harry Weisfeld suggested), from a bit more rigidity in the mechanical pathways, or both. Whatever the cause, the combo did seem to extract a bit more information from the grooves than its predecessor, which translated into more snap and life and a more involving performance. With the HR, it was a bit easier to close my eyes and imagine the sounds originating within the soundstage rather than at the stylus/record interface.
I was playing a series of LPs for a friend one evening, mostly pop and rock albums from her late-'70s/early-'80s high-school days—Meat Loaf, Loggins and Messina, Joe Jackson, Modern English, etc. Over and over she would smile, shake her head, and say things like, "Wow...I never heard that guitar before," or "I never knew there were three harmony parts there...that's really nice." Admittedly, she'd never heard high-end audio before, so it was easy to make an impression. But when I pulled out a few of my old favorites to play for her, the new TNT's performance had me hearing new things, too.
On "Unknown Legend," from Neil Young's Harvest Moon (Reprise 45057-1), for example, fading echoes around the instruments and voices are used to create an eerie artificial soundstage. With the HR, the effect was much more noticeable; the space seemed to open up and expand to an extent that surprised me.
On "Ave Maria," from Solo Pieces for Double-Bass and Piano (Musical Heritage Society MHS 3807), Thorvald Fredin's bass seemed richer and more resonant than I remembered, and sounded quicker and more alive. And on the lowest notes, the tone was so pure and solid that it seemed as if I could feel the individual vibrations of the instrument's body. (Solo Pieces is a great album: a nicely performed, eclectic set of lovely duets with pianist Lars Roos.)
On another old favorite, "You're a Big Boy Now," from John Sebastian's John B. Sebastian (Reprise 6379), I was struck again by how effortless and natural the TNT/12.5 combo sounded. The notes and vibrations were more complex as well, more tonally vivid. I felt as if I was hearing more deeply into them, and could better unravel their harmonic nuances. And for the first time, I got a slight sense of space around the guitar's body, and a sense of chest or body behind Sebastian's voice. Incredible.
All of the TNT's traditional virtues successfully made the transition to the HR version as well, chief among them the easy, effortless feel and the unstrained, natural way notes started and stopped. The soundstage was deep and wide, extending well beyond, and seeming to dissolve, the speakers and my listening-room walls. The images were vivid and three-dimensional, with tangible stability and solidity.
Present, too, was the slightly warm tonal balance. Although the mid- to upper bass was articulate and well-defined, it was also just a touch bigger than life. Ray Brown's bass on Oscar Peterson's Night Train (Verve V6-8538) was a good example: articulate, round, and bouncy, but just a bit warmer than on CDs, or with some other 'table/arm combinations I've tried. It's not a large coloration, or the least bit amusical, but more like the character imposed by a slightly warm club or hall.
The very bottom end, on the other hand, was exceptionally tight and fast, and an improvement on the TNT V's already excellent performance. This was most evident in the reproduction of massed double basses. There was a better sense of detail, speed, and solidity with the 12.5/HR combo. Orchestras seemed even more solidly grounded, and more firmly and naturally linked with the surrounding ambient environment.
The VPI TNT V-HR/JMW 12.5 combination represents another step forward in the continuing refinement of Harry Weisfeld's TNT series. As with most of his updates, these changes probably wouldn't have occurred to me, but they made perfect sense once I'd seen them. And, like most of the TNT's evolutions, the V-HR changes resulted in slight but noticeable, and musically significant, improvements on the previous version.
I heartily recommend the TNT series and the JMW Memorial tonearm—and particularly this HR/12.5 combination—to anyone in the market for a turntable. It's thoughtfully designed, beautifully built, simple and intuitive to set up and use—and, quite likely, one of the premier record-playing systems on the market today. And although it's expensive at $8000, the price is competitive within the cadre of topflight analog rigs now available.
For owners of earlier TNTs, the question of whether or not to upgrade is a vexing one. It's tough to say that the changes are large enough to merit a swap. On the other hand, they're just the sort of subtle improvements that make a performance seem a bit more captivating-and allow you to rediscover old favorite albums all over again. It's tough to put a price on that, but now that I've heard the TNT V-HR/JMW 12.5 combination in my system, I couldn't go back.
Footnote 1: The original TNT was reviewed in Stereophile July 1990 (Vol.13 No.7) by Thomas J. Norton, the Mk.3 version by Michael Fremer in November 1996 (Vol.19 No.11), and the Mk.IV by Brian Damkroger in February 1999 (Vol.22 No.2).—Ed