VPI Nomad LP player Page 2

The Nomad's impressive low-level dynamic capabilities made it easy to analyze individual phrasing techniques in jazz-piano solos, such as McCoy Tyner's on his The Real McCoy (LP, Blue Note BLP 4264) and Herbie Hancock's on his Empyrean Isles (LP, Blue Note BN 84175). But there was a loss of detail in high-level, highly modulated dynamic passages on the Tyner LP and in Chick Corea's piano solo in "Humpty Dumpty," from his The Mad Hatter (LP, Polydor PD-3-6130).

The Nomad's transient articulation was superb. In Charles Wuorinen's Speculum Speculi, with Fred Sherry conducting Speculum Musicae (LP, Nonesuch H 71300), the percussion instruments popped out of thin air, each within its own dynamic envelope. The hall sound was quite clear, and it was still easy to follow each woodwind instrument beneath the percussion. The Nomad also was able to clearly delineate pianist Cecil Taylor's rapid-fire interplay with vibraharpist Earl Griffith on Taylor's Looking Ahead (LP, Contemporary S7562). Similarly, I could hear the air between the notes of Earl Hines's speedy piano solos in Louis Armstrong and His All Stars' Jazz Concert Vol.2 (10" LP, Decca DL 5280).

I loved the coherent sense of pacing the Nomad reproduced from well-recorded rock LPs, particularly the way it let the bass guitar and drums lock in to the rhythm. I wasn't able to stop tapping my feet throughout Carly Simon's entire No Secrets (LP, Elektra 75049) or Steely Dan's Aja (LP, ABC AB1006). The one recording on which all of the Nomad's strengths converged was of 26-year-old pianist Van Cliburn performing Brahms's Piano Concerto 2, with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony (LP, RCA Living Stereo LSC-2581). Cliburn's piano phrasing was detailed and clear, with no trace of smearing, and the dynamic envelope and drama of the orchestra was reproduced without compression. The massed violins were quite natural, with full extension of the instruments' upper harmonics, but without unnatural bite or harshness.

One weekend at the end of last summer, when I had guests at my vacation house on the North Fork of Long Island, I found an opportunity to test the Nomad in a "portable" context. We were creating a diner environment for breakfast with omelets, bagels, and coffee, and I decided to hook up a Nomad jukebox. I connected the Nomad to a pair of Emotiva Airmotiv 4S powered speakers (review in the works) and spun some 7" 45rpm discs from the 1960s. All that was missing was a Seeburg remote jukebox interface at the table with those big pushbuttons.

Even with the limited fidelity of 7" 45s, the Nomad's strengths shone through. We heard a rich midrange with vocal recordings: The Four Seasons, "Sherry" (45, Vee-Jay 62-2565); Etta James, "I Can't Hold It Any More" (45, Argo 5437); Chad and Jeremy, "Before and After" (45, Columbia 4-43277). The Nomad's high-frequency purity came through in the massed violins of a rare ballad from James Brown, "Again" (45, King 45-4876), and the top-end sparkle of Elmore James's slide guitar in "It Hurts Me Too" (45, Enjoy ZTSP 98719) was extended and pristine. At the opposite end of timbral spectrum, every note in the walking string bass line in Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" (45, Reprise 0432) was well defined, uniform, and natural. But it was the coherent pacing of up-tempo R&B songs—Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools" (45, Atlantic 45-2464) and "Since You've Been Gone" (45, Atlantic 45-2486), Otis Redding's "I Want to Thank You" (45, Volt 45-117)—that kept me jumping. If it hadn't interfered with breakfast, I'd have cleared some room for a dance floor.

I tested the Nomad's headphone output using my two sets of reference headphones: Grado's model SR125, which I use for monitoring and mixing my own recordings, and Shure's SE 535, which I use with my iPod. The Nomad's headphone amp did an excellent job of resolving detail neutrally enough to let me analyze recordings in a discriminating fashion with both sets of headphones while letting me still enjoy the music, regardless of the recording's sound quality. Through the Grados, the sound was detailed and airy, with great transients, excellent pacing, and clear, clean, extended bass. The Shures had the same tight bass, but also resolved more inner detail, and had airier, more delicate highs with the VPI's headphone amp.

A caveat about the Nomad's headphone amp: It had much more gain than most pairs of headphones need. I found it all too easy to overdrive my 'phones, which resulted in a tense upper midrange, smeared high frequencies, and compressed dynamics. I never felt the need to go beyond 10 o'clock on the Nomad's headphone output control.

I'd originally planned to compare the VPI Nomad with two other record players: Music Hall's Ikura, which I reviewed in the December 2014 issue, and which retails for $1200, including an Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge; and my reference Rega Research Planar 3 turntable with Syrinx PU-3 tonearm and Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood cartridge ($2000 when last available). However, the Nomad is supplied with a $100 Ortofon cartridge; the Ikura's Ortofon 2M Blue costs $236 when bought separately. I wouldn't have been able to tell if any differences I heard were the results of the 'tables or of the cartridges or both.

But the Ortofon 2M Blue and 2M Red differ only in their user-replaceable styli. I contacted Ortofon and asked them to send me a 2M Blue replacement stylus. (Many VPI dealers are also Ortofon dealers, and I've seen some of them advertising the Nomad's ability to be upgraded to any cartridge higher in the Ortofon 2M line merely by ordering a replacement stylus.)

The Ikura with 2M Blue had more airy and detailed highs and finer gradations of low-level dynamics and inner midrange detail than the Nomad with 2M Red. The Ikura resolved longer decays and its transient attacks were more defined, especially with plucked strings. The bass may have been a bit more round and punchy on the Nomad, however. The Rega had airier highs and better inner detail and low-level dynamics than the Nomad or Ikura, as well as more uniform bass. However, I still felt that the Ikura's high-level dynamic performance was the best of the three.

Swapping styli in the Nomad and comparing it with the Ikura using the same Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge was a real ear-opener. With the more expensive cartridge the Nomad now had faster transients, a more refined soundstage, and superior inner midrange detail and low-level dynamic articulation. The high frequencies were also more delicate and airy. Using the same cartridge, I was floored by how difficult it was to tell the Nomad and Ikura apart. The sounds of these turntables were closer than the sounds of any other two products I've compared since I started writing for Stereophile in the 1990s. The only difference I heard was in the Nomad's midrange, which was more reserved and polite; certain instruments, such as piano, sounded bit more natural in the lower midrange. However, the Ikura's midrange was livelier and more exciting—as if I were sitting 10 rows nearer the stage in a concert hall.

I should point out that I tested the Ikura using the deluxe phono board (a $500 option) of my Creek Destiny integrated amp. That VPI's phono stage held its own against a $500 phono stage designed by one of the industry's top electronics designers is pretty impressive, given that the VPI's stage is included as part of a turntable package costing only $995.

Although the VPI's sound significantly improved when I upgraded the cartridge from Ortofon's 2M Red to 2M Blue, I was still very impressed with the sound of the Nomad with its stock 2M Red. Over the last 30 years, I'd become convinced that the minimum one could spend on a cartridge of audiophile quality was $200 (my benchmark $200 cartridge was Grado's Signature 8 and its successors). For $100 less, Ortofon's excellent 2M Red has changed my mind.

Summing Up
In the VPI Nomad, Harry and Mat Weisfeld have designed a superb-sounding, cost-effective record player, and included an excellent headphone amplifier and a superb phono stage, to create an entire vinyl-playback system for the headphone set. And while the Nomad with its stock Ortofon 2M Red cartridge sounded excellent, a significant improvement in sound can be achieved by upgrading to Ortofon's 2M Blue. Congratulations to the entire VPI design team.

VPI Industries, Inc.
77 Cliffwood Ave. #3B
Cliffwood, NJ 07721-1087
(732) 583-6895

Allen Fant's picture

Very nice trip down memory lane- RJR.
There is always a brother whom over-whelms everyone else w/ the same album/cd played at concert levels...laughing.

Bkhuna's picture

Don't worry about your daughters headphone choice. Age and maturity are mutually exclusive when it comes to kids.

One day you'll wake up and the pop music and trendy cans will be in the rubbish bin and you'll hear strains of the Grateful Dead coming from her room.

Then, you can smile.

CBGBSteve's picture

Believe or not I still have/use my Sanyo Direct Drive TP-1020 TT from 1978, bought it via mail order from Soundwarehouse in San Luis Obispo, CA. Recently purchased a Ortofon 2M Red (did have a budget AT) along with a Grado ME+ for my Beatles in Mono box set. Looking to upgrade to a VPI Scout just hard to pull the trigger $$$

Geater Davis's picture

I can't get em' for my customers.
My shop sells restored vintage Turntable gear to clientele that fall right around the $1000 and under market. When I heard that a quality Turntable manufacturer was building a product like the Nomad, I saw half of my Vintage Sales possibly being replaced

Now, mind you, we are not a low volume shop...in the past 2+ years we have repaired and restored over 1300 Turntables and vintage audio equipment. We also strategically partner up with a high end Audio Dealer right next door to me....they also would like to carry VPI's.

Both of our Business's have received 'crickets' when trying to get setup.

Of course VPI certainly has the right to sell and not sell to anyone they like. I just don't understand why a company would make and market a product that is supposedly designed EXACTLY for my type of clientele. But not have the desire to tap that market.

I'm not complaining, we sill do very good business with other Products and Suppliers, I guess I was just a little to excited about being able to offer something like the Nomad to my customers, AND also testing one out myself ;)