Stereophile's Products of 2014 Analog Component of the Year

Analog Component of the Year

VPI Industries Classic Direct turntable with JMW 3D 12" tonearm ($30,000; reviewed by Michael Fremer, May & June 2014, Vol.37 Nos. 5 & 6 Review and Review)

The analog source remains nearly as vital as ever: a product category that continues to attract both new design talent and the efforts of industry veterans. Our 2014 choice for Analog Source Component of the Year—the Classic Direct Turntable with JMW Memorial 3D-printed 12" tonearm—comes from the latter group: manufacturer VPI Industries has toiled in the vinyl vineyards for 36 years. (We assume they threw a hell of a party for their 331/3 anniversary.) While retaining many of VPI's calling cards—massive MDF-and-metal plinth, similarly massive aluminum platter, inverted main bearing with polymer thrust plate—the Classic Direct adds an exotic Thin Gap motor and servo loop to become the first truly high-end direct-drive turntable of recent memory. For its part, the JMW unipivot tonearm is the first such product whose (removable) armwand is manufactured via 3D printing, from a nonresonant epoxy. And the arm's 12" pivot-to-stylus distance offers the at least theoretical advantage of reduced tracing-error distortion. While $30,000 may be a stretch for most enthusiasts, Michael Fremer extolled the "ear-opening ease, sonic coherence, and fluidity" of VPI's flagship record player, adding that, "while the Classic Direct is not the only turntable that produces those qualities, it may well be for its price." The combination of Classic Direct and JMW 3D-printed arm is, in MF's words, "a game changer."

1214poty.vpi.jpg

Notes on the vote: Although not all of the finalists in this category are turntables—phono cartridges, a phono preamplifier, and even an analog FM tuner earned high marks—the ones that do appear are all turntable-tonearm combinations or, if you prefer, record players. Incidentally, I couldn't help being struck by the fact that the second-place product, the groundbreaking Rega Research RP8, sells for exactly one-tenth the price of the first-place VPI and is, in almost every technical regard, a strikingly different design.

Finalists: (in alphabetical order)

47 Laboratory Model 4730 Midnight Blue FM tuner ($1500; reviewed by Art Dudley, September 2014, Vol.37 No.9 Review)
Luxman PD-171 turntable with tonearm ($6400; reviewed by Art Dudley, November 2013, Vol.36 No.11 Review)
Lyra Etna phono cartridge ($6995; reviewed by Michael Fremer, March 2014, Vol.37 No.3 Review)
Ortofon 2M Red phono cartridge ($99; reviewed by Stephen Mejias, May 2014, Vol.37 No.5 Review)
Rega Research RP8 turntable ($2995; reviewed by Michael Fremer, November 2013, Vol.36 No.11)
Sutherland Engineering Insight phono preamplifier ($1400; reviewed by Art Dudley, October 2014, Vol.37 No.10 Review)
Well Tempered Lab Amadeus Mk.II turntable with tonearm ($2850; reviewed by Art Dudley, August 2014, Vol.37 No.8 Review)

COMMENTS
AllanMarcus's picture

What's a Yearp?

John Atkinson's picture
AllanMarcus wrote:
What's a Yearp?

A typo, now fixed. :-)

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

corrective_unconscious's picture

It was one of Oxford's new words for 2012, if you recall.

tvandewalle's picture

And what about The Brinkmann Bardo that you also reviewed?
Maybe you should do a follow up with the 12" tonearm and the EMT Ti element?

lo fi's picture

What about the 2014 Editor's Choice? Has John Atkinson actually heard this speaker? I know that he hasn't measured it. I understand that the editor's choice category has been expanded to give every Stereophile contributor the opportunity to nominate an audio component that particularly impressed, but that seems to defeat the purpose of having an editor's choice. I hasten to add that I have heard the SCM19 and regard it highly. However, it is not an efficient stand-mounted speaker and requires a powerful amplifier for optimum performance - a drawback of the sealed enclosure design presumably (Ben Lilly of ATC recommended an amplifier rated at 150W plus). That notable caveat is missing from the "Editors' Choice" blurb.

John Atkinson's picture
lo fi wrote:
What about the 2014 Editor's Choice? Has John Atkinson actually heard this speaker? I know that he hasn't measured it.

No, I haven't heard this ATC.

lo fi wrote:
I understand that the editor's choice category has been expanded to give every Stereophile contributor the opportunity to nominate an audio component that particularly impressed, but that seems to defeat the purpose of having an editor's choice.

I thought it appropriate to expand the category, to give each the reviewer the opportunity to nominate their personal favorite of the past year. I don't think that was unclear.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

lo fi's picture

I find it odd how a component that has not been auditioned by the editor of Stereophile can qualify as an editor's (or editors') choice.

I didn't find the explanation for expanding the category unclear, but I think that the title has become misleading as a consequence. Changing the title to reviewers or contributors favourites would more accurately reflect just who is making the choices don't you think?

John Atkinson's picture
lo fi wrote:
I find it odd how a component that has not been auditioned by the editor of Stereophile can qualify as an editor's (or editors') choice.

It is usual in publishing in the US to refer to regular contributors to a magazine as "editors," with the person who edits the magazine (me in the case of Stereophile) called the "editor-in-chief." Hence each product listed in this year's "Editor's Choice" is indeed the choice of an editor.

If you wish, you can think of this feature as being called "Editors' Choices." But I am okay with the existing title.

John Atkinson
Editor (In Chief), Stereophile

lo fi's picture

That's interesting. An editor and a contributor are distinctly different roles in publishing - hence the titles. I'm familiar with the structure of an editor-in-chief, editorial staff and writing staff.

So you are saying that at Stereophile there is effectively no practical distinction between an editor and a contributor and this is common practice in US publishing. Then why make the distinction at all and why formalise it by naming a category after it?

Given that Stereophile's Editors' Choices of 2014 are actually those of the contributors, I think a change of title to reflect this actuality would be appropriate and more meaningful.

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