VPI Classic Direct Drive Signature turntable The Attraction of Direct Drive

Sidebar 2: The Attraction of Direct Drive

Drive the platter directly at the correct speed and you're done. So simple—why didn't Technics think of it? They did, in 1969, with the SP-10, still considered one of the finest of the genre. Throughout the 1970s, the "golden era" of super-turntable designs, many Japanese manufacturers followed suit. Platters became coil holders (rotors), and so an actual part of the motor. Add servo circuitry that constantly fed back speed information to an "electronic brain," and you theoretically had a high-torque turntable that always ran at the perfect speed.

The problem was that many direct-drive turntables didn't sound very good. Motors cogged (ie, didn't rotate smoothly) and were noisy. In addition, servo systems overshot their marks as they constantly sought the correct speed. While the average speed looked perfectly stable at 331?3 or 45rpm, the servo's hunting and pecking produced a form of jitter that created what many heard as hard, bright sound. The more you understand and consider the opening section of this column, the more easily you can appreciate the potential sonic damage done by these microvariations in speed. Add poor shielding from motor-induced RFI/EMI, lightweight plinths and/or platters, and it's understandable why belt drive, which has its own problems, has long been the industry standard (though rim drive, too, has its adherents).

In the past few years, direct-drive turntables have appeared from Brinkmann Audio, Grand Prix Audio, Rockport Technologies, and Wave Kinetics, some better than others. As with anything else, the implementation of a technology is more important than the choice of technology itself. Listening is more important than, or as important as, measuring.—Michael Fremer

VPI Industries, Inc.
77 Cliffwood Ave. #3B
Cliffwood, NJ 07721
(732) 583-6895

Phil Sommers's picture

A mensch is Yiddish for a "person of honor and integrity." Few of his tens of thousands of customers would dispute the word being used to describe Harry Weisfeld.

Michael, you should have moved this statement to your final paragraph: "I'd say the Classic Direct with its JMW Memorial 3D-printed 12" tonearm comes as close to the Caliburn's sound as has any turntable, and for less than one-fifth the price..."

Feel free to append a qualification if you have a problem with my editing. But I bet you have no problem with my description of Harry.

Doctor Fine's picture

Well gee if Mikey liked the VPI Direct Drive turntable I wonder if he will ever admit he likes the bargain of the century Technics SL1210M5G at less than a tenth the price?

I see the Technics is still listed on B&H's site through no help from the "High End" reviewers who have given it a cold shoulder for years. I am surprised you guys haven't killed it yet. Makes so many "High End" tables look silly.

Try one with oil damping upgrade by KAB and get Art Dudley to hook you up with a Denon DL-103 moving coil cart and matching transformer. Art knows the ones I am thinking about.

Once, just once I would like to see the egg on your faces when you realize how much sound such a combo will produce for not a lot of dough.

High End indeed.

DaveThreshold's picture

I have that exact same table Doctor! Almost all KAB mods with three different cartridges: AT OC9-III, BP EVO-3, and a Grado Ref. Sonata.
(Pardon my happy-rant)
A few months ago, I bought a Threshold Fet-10e PC dedicated phono preamp, and just two weeks ago, a threshold Fet-10e High Level. There are very few companies left with GOLD PLATED circuit boards. (I also have a Spectral DMC-6 Series II with one.) I also have a Rothwell MCL Transformer, which I am working with, and with the OC9-III it does away with ALL the pesky phono noise, but I have to check a few things before I implement it.
Thank you or the review Michael! I bought one of your DVD’s, and learned a TON.

otaku's picture


Did you catch Harry at Stereo Exchange unloading and loading LPs on the Direct Drive while it was still spinning?

DaveThreshold's picture

Michael, have you ever used a dual head stethoscope, for a quick TT noise listen? I bought one, and it is FANTASTIC. The membrane side is about 15 times more sensitive than the normal, cone side.
From it I have experienced the following: Older, 70’s era belt drive tables with the tiny diameter pulley's and the higher speed motors, (Pioneer, etc.) Sound like the inside of a WW2 submarine. A couple of older rim drives, sound like Sherman TANKS. My Sumiko Pro-Ject RM-9 (belt) was audible.

Now for the quiet ones:
The third quietest was my Technics M5G stock. Tied for first are my modified M5G with EXTERNAL transformer, I can no longer hear ANYTHING, and the real shocker: A Vintage, Sony TTS-3000 BELT drive! The way they engineered the motor was genius: It is literally suspended by small and very compliant rubber bands. With the Sony, after a clean/lube, I disconnected the belt, spun it as fast as I could, and checked it again. Nothing! DEAD quiet.
I realize that sound is more important than specs, but I think it BEHOOVES V.P.I. to include a rumble spec. – I bet it’s a low rumble record breaker.

Doctor Fine's picture

Don't get me wrong I spend a ton of money on things that really matter like set up, acoustic treatments, wiring, prime quality components with "life" in them, etc. Speakers, amps and sources all have to have a palpable sense of real quality or all is lost later in the playback chain. You can't get back what isn't there in the first place.

But it makes me crazy to see folks spend big money on things with tiny acoustic returns on investment. Belt drive turntables in general will sound terrible using a low compliance cartridge as the belt will start wobbling as it pulls the cart through tough passages.

A direct drive table will just sail on through the mess.

So if a direct drive is well made otherwise AND it has speed stability using vintage cartridges---what's not to like?

Spending big bucks on a platter so big it is ridiculous and looks like a "wedding cake." I mean, c'mon are you kidding?

stereophilereader's picture

the new generation of direct drives are light years ahead of the sl1200, which was a pale shadow of the sp10.
i've heard the vpi and it is nothing like an sl1200.

otaku's picture

Just noticed Mikey's comments about not stopping a direct-drive turntable by hand. Seems counter-intuitive to me, but I guess that is why Harry was not stopping and starting the turntable at the show.

morricab's picture

I think Mikey you have forgotten that the great Japanese companies effectively beat the "cogging" issue by the late 70s. The Kenwood/Trio L-07, Yamaha GT2000 and others all sported their own proprietary cog free drive systems. The Kenwood and Yamaha both had coreless, slotless motors with no iron in the stators or rotors. Also, they applied much more sophisiticated control systems that effectively eliminated "hunting" of early quartz locked PLL systems. Finally, they employed high mass metal platters (7Kg for the Kenwood and 6kg for the Yamaha) and heavy solid non-suspended plinths (The Kenwood weighs 35Kg and the Yamaha 30kg). The only problem with the Kenwood was RFI leakage, which is easily solved by putting a layer of mu metal on the bottom of the platter.

So, while I admire what VPI has done, they are really retreading the same ground that was perfected by the Japanese just as the "end" of vinyl was near due to the introduction of cd. It is important to note though that the Japanese super tables of that day would be VERY expensive today as well (probably close to the $30K of the VPI).

Vinyl Love's picture

The interesting fact here is that Mr. Fremer uses the Continuum Caliburn as his yardstick judge all turntables. If it sounds close to the Caliburn, it's good. If not it isn't.

soundofvoid's picture

Direct drive was getting there at the end of the '80s.
There were BIG direct drive tables that were silent,non cogging and musical.
It's just that when CD came, the small firms that kept the analog scene alive didn't have the resources and knowledge to make a superb DD table...and when they did it was ultra expensive.
It's crucial NOT to load the motor with a flimsy platter.
You need mass and inertia acting as a smoothing agent to the power of the motor.
They -the japanese i mean- had got it at the end AND gradually got away from the flimsy wooden chassis ...but then the CD hurricane came and the rest is history...

ConcernedDJagainstFalseProductClaims's picture

I am sorry to report to our shrinking community that the claims that are made by this firm are completely without merit. To claim that spending $30,000.00 dollars on this unit as designed are in any way warranted is complete bullshit and unwarranted as proven by the reviewers own testing. Id like to know particularly WHAT market is it that this company is working to win over. Is it the Audiophile market? or is it the DJ market? As an Audiophile table it is a complete failure. Adversely speaking, as a DJ product it is ALSO a complete failure. Lets begin first in the audiophile market; This unit CANNOT be compared to an SME Turntable. It is an utter failure with wow and flutter that are so high and noisy one wonders what it is that one gains from such an expensive price tag. NO this unit can not be considered a fine SME horsehair belt driven unit with a separate power supply. DONE, FINI. and to think they market this unit with a $2500.00 dollar cartridge made by Ortofon - of all manufacturers is a joke to out right hilarious. Before an Audiophile spends his hard earned money on this unit I recommend looking into a comparable priced SME Unit with a Ruby Dynavector moving coil cartridge with both a separate outboard power supply and a seperate moving coil cartridge preamp. and then do a side by side comparison. Now as for a comparison to other DJ tables this unit is a failure hands down compared to a Technics SL-1210 M5G either purchased stock or mod enabled with a number of options. I have what I believe is the finest DJ table there is that I have purchased and then moded with a number of options. It is an SL-1100 AC with an SME 3001 tone arm with a tone arm end Mod that allows me to change cartridges from a Stanton 680-EL or 890-EL together with a Dynavector SUP-200 Step-up Transformer which is a moderately priced moving coil stepup transformer that I choice due to my choice of using 2 Ruby Dynavector MC carts. I must admit I DO NOT ue these carts for DJ use as it is a fools dream to even place yournands on a record while the Ruby D is in contact with the record on the platter. You will snap the shank right off the cartridge if you attempt such a dumb move as to use this cart in a dj setting. I use my Dynavectors as cartridges for audiophile use and/or transferring to a digital medium - understood! For DJ use I use a properly mounted 680-EL cart as my dj cartridge. Another Mod I have installed is an outboard power supply for the 1100 AC which reduces the wow & Flutter to under .010 to .07. This is far, far under .25 to.35 W&F found on both standard Technics and the Vintages own measurements. As you may be aware of the Technics SL-1100 and 1100 AC are NO Quartz tables. Quartz control is a wow and Flutter BOMB that causes all the noise in these units. These units are Servo Controlled motors that if have been properly cared for are very silent. These turntables are made for people that are MASTERS of Mixing records that are not based or created by computer locked beats but are old school classics filled with human error. It takes years to work with your music learning all the nuances of each record and mastering how each record plays. Making being a DJ the TRUE ART that it is. I can't complain further - 30 G's for a turntable is ridiculous as it can be.

rom661's picture

Leaving aside your invaluable DJ advice, I've always found SME's to sound rather overdamped. Better than underdamped but, much as I admire their incredible build quality and enjoy working on them, not my thing. I do own a Dynavector XV1-S with their SUP. Very nice indeed. You might try proofreading and being a bit less of an absolutist. Lots of room for opinions other than yours. I'm being much more polite than your comments. Best wishes.