Analog Corner #280: VPI Avenger Reference turntable, VPI Fatboy tonearm Page 2

I'm not sure why, but VPI still hasn't figured out how to design an arm lock that actually locks. This one, like every lock from VPI I've used, doesn't hold the arm securely in place, and especially if there's no cartridge in the headshell to weigh it down. the hinged lock opens and the arm zooms skyward.

The other thing VPI seems still unable to do is truly isolate the system from impulse-type noise. When I reviewed VPI's Classic 3 and Direct Drive models, I found that tapping on the thick, heavy aluminum plate that supposedly damps the plinth produced a loud knock through the speakers—the energy of that tap made a straight path through the plinth and into the tonearm. Whatever feet were used in those models, they, too, were mostly ineffective.

The Avenger Reference's isolation feet, too, provided little actual isolation; when I tapped the shelf there was a lively transmission of impulse energy from shelf to feet and then to cartridge, which produced a pronounced bang through the speakers—as did tapping on the Avenger's plinth itself. This was not a test of how musical energy from the speakers might take the same route, but better isolation and a less lively assembly should only help to produce a more vibrationally stable design and better sound. Performing the same tap tests on Bergmann Audio's Galder turntable with Odin tangential-tracking tonearm produced near silence (footnote 2). So it is possible to achieve. Perhaps VPI's pneumatic-footer option solves the problem, but those weren't supplied. My only other complaint: The armtubes of both supplied arms were also lively to the tap, and not as well damped as they probably could be.

One more thing. Harry Weisfeld told me that he places records on the bare aluminum surface of the Avenger Reference's platter. Is this a good idea? I'm not sure (footnote 3). Will the strong magnets found in modern moving-coil cartridges placed close to a spinning aluminum disc induce eddy currents that might have audible effects? Here's what I found out on Wikipedia about eddy currents, aka Foucault currents: "They can be induced within nearby stationary conductors by a time-varying magnetic field created by an AC electromagnet or transformer, for example, or by relative motion between a magnet and a nearby conductor. The magnitude of the current in a given loop is proportional to the strength of the magnetic field, the area of the loop, and the rate of change of flux, and inversely proportional to the resistivity of the material."

I have no idea how to measure this, and I didn't have time to experiment with it for the purposes of this review—but I'd love to hear about it from VPI owners.

I used record mats of various materials: bubble-infused plastic (Funk Firm Achromat), graphite (Boston Audio), cork with leather backing (Wooden Bull), textured paper (Stein Music), and carbon fiber (don't know who made it). Each produced very minor changes in sound. Record mats, record clamps, and record weights all produce audible differences.

VPI's Avenger Reference fulfilled the promise of rim drive's benefits minus the noise and rumble, though I'm not convinced that big, off-the-shelf O-rings, with their inevitable variations in diameter and the resulting connection mismatches, are necessarily the most accurate transmitters of rotational energy, even if the two motor pulleys are machined to an accuracy of ±0.0005" (footnote 4). Nonetheless, the excellent measurements speak for themselves.

Along with excellent speed stability and consistency, the Avenger Reference turntable and Fatboy tonearms produced "black" backgrounds, low levels of coloration, and a complete absence of mechanical artifacts. In every way, the VPI was the American muscle car of turntables, with slam, drive, power, taut and well-presented bass, excellent rhythm'n'pace, dynamic exuberance, and tight overall control. Music just jumped out and grabbed me, allowing me to forget the mechanical processes involved.

The cartridges I used in the VPI included the DS Audio Master 1 (optical), the Grado Labs Epoch, the Ikeda 9Gss, the Lyra Atlas SL, the Ortofon MC Century, and the Tedeska DST 201u, all of which I've used in my reference tonearm, the Swedish Analog Technologies CF1-09, which, at $48,000, costs more than twice the price of the Reference Avenger with one arm—just to put thing in perspective. All performed well in both VPI arms (I have the needle drop files to prove it), but I give a slight nod to the gimbal-bearing Fatboy, though that might be a personal prejudice.


After a few weeks of listening, enjoying, and hearing nothing worth even a paragraph of complaint, I performed some tests using a selection of my usual suspects and some new ones. To test dynamic slam, I used (among others) "Transmutations," a percussive track from The Unknowable, by Dave Liebman, Tatsuya Nakatani, and Adam Rudolph (2 45rpm LPs, RareNoise RNR 089). Regardless of cartridge, the Avenger produced all of this recording's full and considerable dynamic contrasts, leaving "black" backgrounds between the notes. There was nothing vague or soft about attacks, nor were the various drums and exotica rendered too hard or sharp. What's supposed to sound edgy and crisp sounded that way, and what was supposed to sound like skin did, both against very "black" backdrops.

To check the VPI's bass performance in general, and the attack of Gene Harris's closely miked piano and the crispness of Gerryck King's drums in particular, I played the double 45 reissue of Ray Brown's Soular Energy (two 200gm 45rpm LPs, Concord Jazz/Analogue Productions AAPJ 268-45). I listened for woody sustain on double bass and piano, shimmer and "pop" on the drums, and well-articulated attacks and clean, organized decays from all three instruments. The recording's prodigious bass energy can blur attacks, prolong sustain, and confuse decays, resulting in blobby sound that mucks up the music's rhythmic thrust (after all, it's mostly a recording of a piano trio—a rhythm section), although this record will sound pleasing on even the soggiest-sounding front ends.

I recall Rega Research's RP8 and RP10 players producing among the liveliest, most nimble attacks of the three instruments on this recording—piano, double bass, and drums—that I've ever heard, resulting in exhilarating rhythm'n'pace but missing some of the weight and texture of the bass and piano. The massive Avenger Reference wasn't quite as nimble in attacks, but it produced full weight and texture, and more generous sustain and decay, with everything well balanced and fully realized. I could just sit back and let the music roll over me. I was up and down four times to flip sides, but it was worth it!

I've been playing some long-neglected records lately. I grabbed the Ataulfo Argenta Edition, a 1997 boxed set (7 LPs, Alto Analogue AA006), and I suggest you do the same, if you can find a copy. It was cut from the original Spanish Alhambra tapes by Nick Webb at Abbey Road. What a treat! I hadn't played it for decades. I first played Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, with guitarist Narciso Yepes and Argenta conducting the National Orchestra of Spain, and recorded it at 24-bit/96kHz. Later, I played and recorded it on my big rig using the same two cartridges, one mounted on each VPI arm, and then each individually mounted on the SAT CF1-09 on my Continuum Caliburn turntable.

In a blind test, the transient articulation, spatial definition, image focus, transparency, and harmonic presentation of Yepes's guitar would be a dead giveaway of which combo of turntable and arm was which—as would the string textures, the background "blackness," and the otherworldly image solidity and three-dimensionality.

If I played these files for you, you'd hear the differences, all at what might be defined as at the margins of audibility of, among other things, transparency, spatial definition, background "blackness," and low-frequency extension and resolution. At the margins, yes, but add them all together, and the cumulative difference was significant and dramatic.

I think the biggest differences were produced more by the tonearms than by the turntables. What that really tells you is how well the Avenger Reference turntable performs, and how effective the new ADS motor controller is. Between these two arms, the one costing more than twice the price of the Avenger Reference with arm is simply in a league of its own—and I know of at least one owner of a Avenger Reference with SAT LM-09 who agrees.

The fact remains, the VPI Avenger Reference with Fatboy tonearm got me much of the way there for one-tenth the price of my big rig.

When I consider the high build quality and excellence of machining in VPI's Avenger Reference, its heavy metal mass, its design ingenuity, its rugged American blinginess, and its more than reasonable price, it's not at all surprising that, judging by what I've seen traveling abroad, this model is America's goodwill ambassador to the world of turntables.

Footnote 2: Read about the Bergmann Galder and Odin in my July 2018 column.

Footnote 3: The late John Crabbe investigated this in the 1970s for Hi-Fi News magazine. The greater the difference between the densities of the LP and the platter mat, hence the velocity of sound, the greater the possibility for reflections of stylus/groove-generated vibrations within the body of the LP to be reflected back to the stylus, generated false reverberation.—John Atkinson

Footnote 4: For more about O-rings, watch Part 5 of my video: "AnalogPlanet Visits Rega Research".


tonykaz's picture

Seems like a childish comic-book name.

I was a VPI dealer that could discuss things like this with Shela ( mid 1980s ).

What concept is "reference" avenger?

Tony in Venice Florida

Ortofan's picture

... Music Direct and Acoustic Sounds, the Avenger Reference turntable with Fatboy tonearm is now priced at $24K - right in between the SME Synergy at $23,900 and the SME 20/3A at $24,700.

PeterPani's picture

with an old pivoted tonearm for € 400 and after listening without chassis and springs sold my Oracle Delphi with Graham Tone Arm and extra PSU within one week for € 11.000.
Still happy today. During the years I fixed three tonearms with mono, stereo and 78s to this old unit.