Analog Corner #293: VPI HW-40 40th Anniversary Edition turntable & FatBoy tonearm Page 2

One other major and unique change: Instead of the exposed tonearm wire with LIMO connector termination used exclusively for decades on VPI arms, whether unipivot or gimbaled, the wire on this Fatboy exits more traditionally at the base of the arm, routes into the plinth, and terminates with RCA jacks. The arm retains the previously used smooth-dialing–counterweight VTF-adjustment system. And yes, there's an antiskating mechanism that you are free to use (as I do) or ignore (as HW does).

One more thing: This arm is the first in my experience with VPI where the armrest lock actually locks and stays locked in place. That is major.

In other words, this Fatboy is VPI's most normal arm ever. In every parameter, this new tonearm is a high-precision piece that's a pleasure to set up and especially to use.

Setup and use
Placed atop an oversized HRS isolation base fitted with six isolation foot-ers appropriate for the 70lb turntable's weight, the HW-40 was up and running within minutes of its arrival. This is a large, heavy 'table that demands a great deal of real estate and an appropriately sturdy stand.

Setting up a cartridge proved more difficult. What's the effective length of the arm? What's the cartridge weight range the arm can accommodate? What's the arm's effective mass? The instructions don't provide any of this basic information. This has been a 40-year VPI problem! I had the same complaint about the Classic Direct's instructions and specifications. The company makes various length arms, but none are identified on the arm, nor are their supplied single-point alignment gauges identified, and each is different.

VPI provides a single-point alignment gauge. Is the alignment Löfgren? Baerwald? Stevenson? Something else? The instructions don't say. Without knowing the arm's effective length, using another gauge is driving blind.

I have quick and easy access to Mat and Harry, so it was easy for me to ascertain that the effective length is 292mm. Still, after 40 years, this should have been addressed long ago!

VPI is not the only tonearm manufacturer that supplies simplified and less-than-ideal setup instructions, such as "set the arm height so it looks parallel with the record surface," etc., so I'm not going to criticize that. But really, at least tell the customer the instructions are for easy, not precise, setup (and let them know about the azimuth feature, because the instructions don't!).

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Armed with the correct effective length, I set up the Lyra Atlas SL using the Acoustical Systems Smartractor to set Löfgren A overhang and zenith angle, then a USB microscope to set 92 degree SRA, and finally a digital oscilloscope to set azimuth. I wanted to get the most from this arm and turntable. Later, I tried setting up the Ortofon Anna D but found it was too heavy for the supplied counterweight, so I returned to the Ortofon A90. (Later, eager to try the Anna D, I added some Blu-tack to the end of the counterweight and got it to balance perfectly.) I also used a Stein Music The Perfect Interface Carbon Signature mat. It's paper thin but produces noticeably better results.

Using the HW-40 was easy and a complete pleasure. Even using the outer platter ring this time was easy and stress-free compared to VPI turntables past. Has it been further refined, or am I just more coordinated? Not sure.

Though the spindle is threaded, VPI supplied a heavy "drop on" weight that I also used, along with a heavy one from E.A.T. I used both Analysis Plus Silver Oval and Stealth Audio Helios MM interconnects.

Rock-solid sonic performance
Here's what I wrote about the VPI Classic Direct: "The VPI combo of Classic Direct Drive turntable and 12" tonearm consistently produced mesmerizing sound that combined the rock-solid musical drive craved by fans of idler-wheel drive with the quiet and nonmechanical tonal richness demanded by devotees of belt drive. Add to that exceptional transparency and retrieval of low-level detail; taut, deep, powerful bass; and a total lack of obvious colorations, and you have $30,000 worth of sound. And then some."

The jazz subscription label Newvelle released in its 2018 series More Than Enough (NV021), a gorgeous duet album featuring saxophonist Greg Tardy and guitarist Bill Frisell. It's a very quiet, contemplative set, intimately miked, and opens with a cover of Duke Ellington's "The Single Petal of a Rose."

Newvelle's 2018 records were pressed at QRP, and all feature black backgrounds—and, fortunately, all are pressed as concentrically as possible. There are long sustains and decays into black that the HW-40 delivered unerringly, which wasn't surprising because when I did the speed test the 3150Hz tone was almost unwavering. (Test records aren't perfectly concentric either.)

Mobile Fidelity's double 45rpm One Step edition of the Thelonious Monk Quartet's Monk's Dream (UD1S2-011) arrived during the review period. It was Monk's Columbia debut, recorded during a week in early November 1962, and while the quartet of Monk, Charlie Rouse, Frankie Dunlop, and John Ore rocked and are always fun to listen to, this wasn't what I'd call "prime Monk." The 30th Street Studios recording is tightly miked with Dunlop hard right, Rouse and Ore center, and Monk hard left.

The HW-40s produced the drive and precise transient performance that's needed to effectively deliver the title-tune opener. Ore's bass, lurking behind Rouse's aggressive sax blasts, never got lost, with each pluck well-expressed, though moving over to my reference turntable produced greater transient definition and pushed Rouse further forward in space—but to the tune of 10 times the cost? That's a value judgment I won't address.

Monk's first solo on the album, in "Body and Soul," demonstrated the 'table and arm capable of handling ferocious attacks without hardening the transients and neglecting the instrument's woody follow-through.

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While the recording is close-miked and relatively dry, especially compared to early 30th Street stereo recordings, there's subtle fast reverb, too, trailing quickly behind all of the instruments. The HW-40 captured that well, as a pleasing cushion, whether I was running the Lyra Atlas, the Ortofon Anna D, or the Ortofon A90. More importantly, each cartridge expressed its recognizable sonic character, though, as I already mentioned, the Fatboy couldn't carve the spaces or deliver the bottom that the $50,000 SAT arm manages. No great surprise! One day I'd like to hear the SAT on the HW-40. (I found a guy on Facebook who put one on the Classic Direct!) You know what? Considering the HW-40's $15,000 price, its very good arm is almost a freebie.

The 'table's torque can drive the stylus through the most complex and dynamic passages, and its delivery of rhythm'n'pacing was rock-solid—yet there was no price to pay on the most subtle musical passages. The Electric Recording Company just reissued the revered 1960 recording, by Leonid Kogan and the Paris Conservatory Orchestra, conducted by Constantin Silvestri, of the Mozart Violin Concerto No.3 in G major and the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor (UK Columbia SAX 2594/ ERC 049). I couldn't find a used original stereo copy anywhere on the internet, so I assume this record is rare and a keeper.

This is a relatively distant though spectrally gorgeous and spatially solid recording, especially Kogan's violin, which the HW-40 put in front of me, three dimensionally, in ways I'm still waiting for the digits to deliver. The ppp passages were drop-dead quiet and the fff ones—well, this recording was more about the p's than the f's. But on f-rich recordings, such as the Star Wars/Close Encounters pairing that I have as a King Records Japan reissue test pressing (KIJC 9199), pressed at RTI, the HW-40 pushed the fffs in the grooves to the max without adding edge or even a hint of brittleness.

All in all, this arm/'table combo for half the price of the Classic Direct struck me as quieter, smoother, more musically engaging, and more relaxing. The quiet was the most obvious improvement: The HW-40 is as quiet a turntable I've heard here at any price, except perhaps the unobtainable and 10-times-more-costly Onedof.

When I compared the HW-40 to a reference that includes the $50,000-plus SAT CF1-09 tonearm: Yes, there was quite a difference, especially in terms of bottom-end slam, control, and detail resolution—and, most important, in carving out instruments in three-dimensional space, where the Fatboy tended to homogenize things. a little bit.

How good is the 'table by itself? In time I'll get to know that. But for now, since I wrote in 2014 that the $30,000 Classic Direct was a "game changer," the even better $15,000 HW-40 is what? You tell me.

ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
JRT's picture

...for another interesting review.

volvic's picture

Figured I'd get in and post something positive before Tony Kaz comes in with his hoarding sermon. I love the looks of this thing and no, I have not heard it. Nice to see VPI coming out and continuing to make great products. I do miss my HW-19 and wish VPI would reissue it with the option of different armboards. The VPI SDS for the price was a thing of beauty - they should bring that back as well.

funambulistic's picture

I heard this 'table about 18 months ago and it was, by far, the best vinyl playback I have ever heard. In fact, the system the dealer assembled was the finest my ears have ever been exposed to. I would have purchased the lot but, unfortunately, I did not have the $100K or so on my person (not to even mention the $20K for the VPI plus cartridge). As such, I am saving and dreaming...

Glotz's picture

I have a HW-19 in modern regalia and to see this, let alone hear it, would be the penultimate version of that design. The direct drive system is so slick.

This is the table I would own on lottery money, outside of the new SAT turntable system.

That being said, I still believe that VPI has to do some vibration control modernization to keep the table truly inert. The SAT (among others) would appear to be 'proof' of that.

Nonetheless, the next 'table I will buy in 2021, will be the VPI Prime 21.

tonykaz's picture

33.3 collectors are not hoarders.

A 33.3 album is a capsule of Culture.

Folks like MF, the Jazz Shepherd, Joe Bussard are curators of Period Specific Cultures.

I collect Classical music dating from the entire 33.3 vinyl era.

Sermons are delivered by the Guru that says other formats sound like "shit" as Mr.MF just said on Mr.Micallef's YouTube Video, they don't.

Vinyl is maintaining a modest niche marketplace acceptance considering the immense size of the actual market. Analog vinyl 'believers' are something like the Hesidics of NY or the Amish or any of the many niche groups of passionate aficionados populating lifestyle avocations of folks with disposable incomes. I kind of admire them, especially if they don't insult.

Vinyl is just another format, it's never been as good as tape and will never be as widely useful as the formats in use today.

The Gaslighting should not be tolerated.

I admire Mr.MF's encyclopaedic knowledge about his vast collection of recorded music and I understand his listening ear/brain arrangement being tightly tuned to all things 33.3 .

Tony in Venice

Glotz's picture

Let Tony say whatever he wants to say!

While I dig Volvic and all of his comments, Tony is very eloquent and wise. I need to hear Everything he wants to say!

volvic's picture

When he vanished from these pages and wasn't contributing his wisdom, for a short period I openly asked, "where is Tonykaz?"

I trust I never insulted as that is not in my nature and if I offended anyone I must apologize. However, I am a firm believer in making a point and moving on but that's just me.

Tonykaz forgive me if I am taking your quote out of context but you did once say that vinyl is a hoarding hobby;

"Today, Vinyl is a Collecting and Hoarding hobby based on it's history of being part of the Audiophile Hobby." from Steve Gutenberg on great Writing, Submitted by tonykaz on January 22, 2019 - 5:28am

Did I read this quote out of its context? Apologies if I did.

JHL's picture

And yet 'all Opinions [sic] must be tolerated' as rights or something.

tonykaz's picture

What you just wrote here is an opinion.

Of course, opinions are important.

Especially informed opinions.

I feel certain that you will be angry with anyone that gaslights you, ( when you discover it ).

When everyone agrees on everything, only one person is doing the thinking.

Think it thru, make your contributions.

Tony in Venice

ps. Stereophile 'Comments' is giving your thoughts a Global Voice, probably the first time in anyone's life that it was possible. This is like an Audiophile version of BBC World News!

JHL's picture

...I was uncertain about the difference between the all-important opinion - one de facto near unto a sacred right - and the contrary, intolerable gaslighting *then* imagine how complicated it all must be now.

I imagine some ideas are just more equal than others...

Enrique Marlborough's picture

I like the shape of the record clamp. However, for $15,000, they are enough for an OL Sovereign with an OL Enterprise, and there are a few dollars left for a good record weight.

Ortofan's picture

... for $3K you could opt for a different turntable whose isolation, according to MF, is "perfect".
This other turntable has "gracefully articulated detail and an overall smooth yet not soft sonic picture" and "most importantly the presentation is top-to-bottom coherent."
MF went on to say that this other turntable's "top to bottom performance was suave, sophisticated and made for totally pleasurable listening with every kind of music" and "its presentation of dynamic gradations was impressive."
MF summed up his review by stating that "you’ll appreciate its sonic performance, high build quality and outstanding cosmetics."
Is the VPI turntable in any way five times better?

dial's picture

Love their first offer the original VPI 19 (1978 !), looks like the one that Denon never made. The only table I could buy from them as I was ruined by covid 2019 (like Jelco, sob sob, bad year for vinyl lovers and the worst is yet to come !) is the Cliffwood. But I love their JMW-10 tonearm (except as usual I can never use it with my (two times) vintage Orsonic AV-1 headshell (actual design named AV-101b has lost his fingerlift and doubled his price !). So to finish (thanks for reading), VPI is for me one of the best turntable manufacturer.
And you can buy their beautiful clamp separately for 149 $.

shawnwes's picture

This sounds like the Lada of RCMs...

"The HW-16 record cleaning machine followed, an improved version of which is still manufactured and sold. For you youngsters out there who don't remember, the original HW-16 had its velvet-lipped suction channel built into the lid, and there was no water collection tank inside: You gently closed the lid and hoped the distance between the record and the lips produced the correct pressure. Not exactly ideal. The sucked-up fluid just drained into the chipboard box. If you were lucky, it evaporated before it saturated the chipboard and turned it into a soggy mess. No one was that lucky. "

Mike Bettinger's picture

Michael, Thank you for your clear description on my efforts to create an exceptional new Direct Drive motor design. The electronics, the power supply and the the tuning of drive followed my experience and instincts, not to forget the design of the isolation system. The HW-40 Anniversary table was a great challenge and I gave it my all!

Matthew.852's picture

Mr. Fremer, thank you for an interesting review. You mentioned that you used a digital oscilloscope to set azimuth. Can you share your procedure and methodology in setting the azimuth using an oscilloscope.

gpdavis2's picture

Very much looking forward to the HW-40 with changeable armboard at a more affordable price. As a Denon DP-80/DK-300 user it would be interesting to compare if I decide I would rather have a new TT than a new (used, but new to me) car.
As for hoarding, it is difficult to 'hoard' anything that has thousands of copies available. The new, very limited additions of LPs (a thousand pressed), perhaps. But, I do not own 'collector stuph'. I either use it (in this case listen to) or it is soon gone.
As usual, MF has written an excellent review.

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