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

Turntable manufacturer VPI Industries is about to celebrate its 40th anniversary. Despite analog playback's ups and downs (pun time), VPI has managed not only to survive but to prosper and grow, thanks to a smart product mix that includes high-value, wet-wash/vacuum-dry record-cleaning machines that perhaps took up the revenue slack when, in the mid-1990s, interest in new turntables dipped—but the vinyl faithful still had millions of dirty records to keep clean.

I've been reviewing and owning VPI products since 1986. I was there, too, for the personal tragedies and the blessings—the funerals, the bar mitzvahs, the weddings. For better or worse, VPI has always been a family-owned business; thanks to the fact that current CEO Mat Weisfeld, son of founder Harry Weisfeld, turned from teaching to turntable making, it will probably continue to be one. Perhaps you're thinking that, by this point, I'm too close to the VPI-Weisfeld family to fairly review their products. If so, you haven't read all of my VPI reviews, which haven't always been positive.

VPI Avenger Reference turntable
With its Avenger series of turntables, VPI (footnote 1) has moved toward my way of thinking: minimal plinths (where possible), and massive metal platters. The Avenger's chassis comprises two layers of acrylic bonded to and sandwiching a central layer of aluminum, with damping material applied between the layers. Three chassis outriggers have massive steel corner posts that lock down the chassis and, via machined-aluminum cones resting in Delrin/ball bearing isolation bases, support the heavy (85lb) structure. This portion of the turntable has a compact footprint of 23" wide by 20" deep, though the armboards extend past both of those dimensions; the Avenger Reference's overall dimensions are 27" wide by 13" high by 23" deep.

Chunky knurled knobs just below the chassis permit convenient leveling of the plinth. The three corner posts also serve as mounting platforms for the armboards. VPI supplies for their tonearms massive clamp-on armboards of 5/8"-thick 6061 aluminum. Because both the tonearm's height and pivot-to-spindle distance can be adjusted, these platforms can accommodate most pivoted tonearms made today, and tangential trackers. Those who object to cantilevered armboards will have to shop elsewhere.

The Avenger Reference has two platters, one atop the other, both 12.42" in diameter and made of 6061 aluminum, machined to an accuracy of ±0.001". The bottom platter is driven by a precision-machined idler wheel with a rubber O-ring at its periphery; that idler is belt-driven by two 300rpm, 24-pole, AC synchronous motors, the pulleys of which are claimed to be machined to an accuracy of ±0.0005".

Pressed through the center of the bottom platter and extending in both directions is a hardened stainless-steel bearing shaft. Its bottom end is fitted with a 60 Rockwell chrome-hardened ball, which rides on a polyether ether ketone (PEEK) thrust pad set into a phosphor bronze bushing; the upper portion of that bearing shaft supports the inverted bearing of the Avenger Reference's 25lb upper platter. The lower platter drives the upper platter not through physical contact—a thin gap between the two is created mechanically—but magnetically.

For this drive system, VPI claims the sonic benefits of rim drive (a sense of "drive," solid rhythm'n'pacing, etc.), without the noise and rumble. Some designers claim that a magnetic drive system, which is not unique to VPI, results in the upper platter continually lagging behind and catching up with the lower platter. If so, any variation in speed was too small to be measured by Dr. Feickert Analogue's PlatterSpeed app, and I could hear none—at least with the Avenger powered by VPI's optional motor controller, the Analog Drive System (ADS). As every Avenger Reference is supplied with an ADS, I didn't bother listening without it. The platter's magnet array is centrally located, where VPI says it won't interfere with the cartridge's magnets.

The Reference Avenger includes the magnetic drive assembly, rim drive, ADS, Reference Isolation feet, a peripheral platter ring (I used this only with warped records), a record weight, and a VPI Fatboy 12" tonearm (your choice of gimbal or dual-pivot bearing, and/or a shorter length).


The cost of all this is $20,000. An additional Fatboy tonearm costs $6000. The Fatboy armwand alone costs $4000, if you want to upgrade from VPI's 12 3D armwand, or keep on hand a second, drop-in wand for a second cartridge. VPI can also, on request, mount a tonearm from Graham, M”rch, SME, Swedish Analog Technologies, Tri-Planar, and other brands. Or you can start with the basic Avenger ($10,000), and work up to the Avenger Plus ($15,000) and then the Avenger Reference ($20,000).

Two Fatboys
The Reference Avenger can accommodate three tonearms simultaneously. My review sample came with two Fatboy 12" arms: a unipivot with a secondary stabilizing point riding on a low-friction, mirrored swashplate and a more traditional gimbal bearing. Both arms' specifications include a pivot-to-spindle distance of 300mm, an overhang of 13mm, an effective length of 313mm, an offset angle of 17.37°, and an effective mass of 11.9gm.

VPI's Fatboy and 12 3D tonearms are single pieces of 3D-printed plastic set into high-quality aluminum barrels. These barrels run through a hole in the bearing housing and, on the other side, terminate in a stub that incorporates a finely threaded counterweight. Turning the black knob on the end of the stub moves the counterweight in or out to set the vertical tracking force (VTF)—a major improvement over the design still used on VPI's cheaper arms, in which the counterweight is simply slid along the stub, then locked in place with a knurled setscrew. On a single-point unipivot arm, the azimuth changes every time the counterweight is moved.

Adjusting the counterweight is counterintuitive: turn the knob counterclockwise to move the counterweight inward; turn it clockwise to move the counterweight outward. VPI supplied two counterweights: one of fixed weight, and one to which metal washers can be added to increase mass.

Harry Weisfeld and his son Mat delivered the Avenger Reference and did the basic installation. It's a modular design that's easy to set up; an "in-and-out knob" helps you position the idler so that its O-ring just kisses the lower, drive platter. I found that the platter's accuracy of speed and noise level weren't seriously affected by how tightly I pressed the rim drive's O-ring against the drive platter, within reason—when I really put the squeeze on, there was wow. I chose a low-force connection, to avoid deforming the O-ring over time. With the Avenger leveled, and the rim-drive module in place and connected to the ADS, setup was complete. It didn't take long.


Installing the tonearms was just as easy. VPI's one-null-point overhang gauge (supplied) isn't as desirable as the two-null-point type or, especially, the kind that provides the actual arc. However, it's configured for Löfgren B alignment, and I found it accurate enough. I wish VPI would better label its products—printed on any such gauge should be the length of tonearm it's intended to be used with. Ditto the length of the arms themselves—though the latter is probably a problem only for people foolish enough to set up VPI tonearms and turntables in public before a large audience. Know anyone like that?

VPI's online instructions offer the basic line—"arm parallel to the record surface"—about setting up VTA, stylus rake angle (SRA), and azimuth. For setting azimuth on its dual-pivot arms, VPI supplies a thin metal rod that you place in a groove machined into and across the top of the headshell. You adjust until the distance from the record surface to both ends of the rod is the same. Of course, such adjustments are at best rough, but most turntable makers provide a way to make them because they're better than nothing, and easy for even the least experienced buyer to perform. The plastic from which the Fatboy is made is relatively soft—if you want to avoid deforming the headshell slots, use washers on the cartridge screws.

Mechanical Performance
You can ignore, in the Feickert Analogue Platter Speed graphics (figs.1 & 2), that the Avenger Reference ran a bit slow: ca 3146.9Hz when playing the test record's 3150Hz tone. That's easily adjusted on the ADS's front panel. I noticed the speed discrepancy after taking the measurements and sending them in to Stereophile, after I'd already disassembled the turntable. I'd originally set the speeds to be spot on at 33 1/3 and 45rpm, so it's likely the ADS's speed-adjustment knob later got knocked. I wish the knobs on the ADS's front panel weren't so easy to move, and/or that their settings could be locked in.


Fig.1 (left) VPI Avenger Reference, speed stability data. Fig.2 (right) VPI Avenger Reference, speed stability (raw frequency yellow; low-pass filtered frequency green).

More important than the precise speed are the other numbers. While the PlatterSpeed app's readings of the Avenger Reference's wow and flutter were higher than VPI's spec of 0.03%, they're still very good, as were the low-pass–filtered maximum deviations from speed, both relative and absolute. These are solid measured performance numbers, and you'll note the filtered green line's smooth, minor deviations, in contrast to the tightly spaced, uniform half-sinewaves or sawtooth ones often produced by digital controllers designed to produce better measured numbers but not necessarily better sound.

Footnote 1: VPI Industries, 77 Cliffwood Avenue, #5D, Cliffwood, NJ 07721. Tel: (732) 583-6895. Web:

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.