First we would like to extend a thanks to AV Showroom for letting us re-post their forum thread from their site. If anyone hasn’t seen it yet, when you’re not hanging out on our forums you should check theirs out! A comfortable, and easygoing place to talk about audio!
We had an open house event to the public featuring equipment from Luminous Audio and Fern and Roby, as well as equipment from Soundsmith, Joseph Audio and many others.
VPI Open House Party or Whoever Said that Manhattanites Don’t Cross Water? – by Myles Astor
Well we [Manhattanites] certainly do cross water especially when we get an invite to a VPI open house. Who knows what new goodies will be on display from Harry and Mat Weisfeld! Plus VPI has partnered with a number of other leading high-end audio brands including Luminous Audio Technology, Joseph Audio speakers, Fern and Roby, VAS, Soundsmith, Revel, KEF to create four audio analog centric rooms (another in the works) that show off the equipment to their best advantage in a carefully set-up home environment. No one there–and the open house was jam packed with industry members, audiophiles, and friends of VPI– was disappointed with the sound and music being played. One had to stand in line and take a ticket for the primo, center seats and everyone there had a smile on their face!
Mat Weisfeld, President of VPI Industries, gave me a tour of the different audio rooms upon my arrival. Basically Mat said, we have four different rooms with no names in particular. We call one the Pearl room, one the Everest room, one the Soundsmith room and the last one the don’t tell your wife room.
The first stop on the tour was the Joseph Audio Pearl 3 room. As they did at RMAF, the Pearl 3s continue to impress me. Here the Pearls driven by the tiny Fern and Roby integrated amplifier were just amazingly transparent and resolving. Most of all, these speakers always seem to disappear and all that appears is the music and room.
A VPI Scout 2 upgraded to Prime level rotated those black vinyl discs in the Pearl room.
Next up was the Everest room featuring the JBL/Harman Everest speakers. Now I’m not, not do I ever see myself being, a horn speaker person but I must give these $60-70,000 (depending upon finish) speaker their due. The Everests didn’t have that fingernails on a chalkboard type sound oh so typical of many other horn drivers that drive me out a room faster than you can say digital. The Everests were simply effortless, extremely quick, dynamic and punchy.
Now for the first surprise of the tour and visit! A brand new and soon to be released tonearm from Harry Weisfeld! The biggest surprise is, however, that the new arm is not a unipivot bu a more traditional ball/race design made for as Harry shared, “those older audiophiles who don’t want to fiddle anymore with those finicky, unipivot arms.
What’s new and unique about Harry’s new design? Well besides being a more traditional arm: 1) VTF and azimuth can now be set independently. Unlike VPI’s unipivot arms where VTF and azimuth are both set by adjusting the counterweight (and hard to set one feature without disturbing the setting of the other and why the Soundsmith VPI accessory is essential, not optional), Harry has in his new arm, chosen to separate the two setup elements. Harry has inserted at the pivot end of printed arm, a metal tube that locks into a collar holding the bearing assembly. (Interestingly Harry shared, that metal tube has no effect on the sound of the arm; what he’s found is that it’s what’s going on at the cartridge end of the arm that is most important!) Two screws lock the tube in place and one can independently azimuth simply by loosening these screws; 2) Harry considers the ability to swap arm wands in and out an essential feature for any arm he builds and has come up with an ingenious way of accomplishing this task with a bearing based arm (other than changing headshells for instance). One simply unlocks a screw holding the arm down, pulls a rod out of the arm and the whole arm lifts out. Amazingly, the unlocking process slightly moves the bearing to allow for this changing of arm tubes; 3) The counterweight on the new arm moves via a threaded assembly, not sliding back and forth, making fine VTF adjustments far easier. This feature, according to Mat, will be incorporated into all future VPI arms; 4) The arm will come in 10- and 12-inch versions.
Harry’s new VPI arm sans wand assembly!
What can I say?
The arm through the LAT Arion phono stage (what do they say when you hear four rooms and they all have a component in common as with the Arion?), possessed an amazing low end. Harry put on a record familiar to and a favorite of the both of us (the Crystal Clear Charlie Byrd direct-to-disc recording) and the drum solo really sounded real. Sensational dynamics and aliveness. Drum thwacks sounded oh-so-real!
I’ll have more to say when Harry’s new arm when it hopefully arrives in a month or so. Best of all, the new arm is a drop in replacement for my current 12-inch arm. Stay tuned on this arm!
Also spinning LPs in the Everest room was the wildly successful and Mat Weisfeld’s first design, Prime turntable. According to Mat, they can’t keep up with Prime orders and it’s no wonder considering what one gets for their money!
Sitting forlornly on the side in the Everest room was a Revox PR99 along with its accompanying roller cart.
The third stop on the tour was Peter Ledermann’s room. Here, the master himself, was demonstrating his diminutive in size but not sound, speakers along with the Hyperion 2 cactus needle cartridge and strain gauge cartridge. Everyone who has heard Peter’s speakers at audio shows always walks away muttering how does he get such great sound out of those speakers and today was no different? The speakers captivated all the listeners!
The star of the room for me though was the Soundsmith strain gauge cartridge. Peter was nice enough for the umpteenth time to demo his Hyperion vs. strain gauge on the new, standard option, Avenger turntable. Now I know the strain gauge is pricier than the Hyperion cartridge but to my ears, there’s simply no comparison between the two transducers. The strain gauge is quicker, more resolving, more focused and unlike I’ve previously experience, less illuminated and more natural than its MI colleague. Plus, the strain gauge is just eerily digital-like quiet. (so much for the analog haters who love to refer to analog playback as dragging a nail through a groove.) There’s simply none of the feeling of vinyl being traced that is in large part due according to Peter, “to the resonances being transmitted up and down the cantilever while playing a record.” To paraphrase Harry Weisfeld, the strain gauge eats the Shure tracking test for breakfast and is just effortless sounding. There is something to what Peter Ledermann calls groove jitter or in other words, the ability of and the amount of time that the stylus stays in contact with the record groove.
Now for the piece de resistance, the moment that everyone was waiting for and the room in which I spent the majority of my time in (not the least of which was listening to 15 ips tape played back through an Ampex 102). And contained here were two of the other biggest surprises of my Saturday visit.
Surprise number one: the brand new 7K Joseph Audio Profile speakers. Simply a stunning accomplishment and sounding speaker from Jeff Joseph! In many way, the listeners preferred the smaller Josephs to the larger KEFs especially when it came to delicacy. No they couldn’t quite throw the same soundfield or go quite a deep as the larger KEFs (especially when they came to soundstage width) but many were fooled into thinking they were listening to the larger speakers. But the Profile’s had very good bass and here it wasn’t just quantity but the quality of the lows that was remarkable. In addition, the Profiles despite their “small footprint,” imaged exceptionally well and the soundstage had great depth and height. In addition–and we know that if you hear one quality in many rooms that share a component and that was here the Audion phono section–the sound was exceptionally transparent.
Then the Josephs came out and listening to the KEF Blade 1s began. I’ve never been a great fan of the Blades but to be fair and honest, I’ve only heard them at shows and as we all know, if something doesn’t sound good at a show, it’s meaningless. But the impression I always walked away from shows were these were great rock and roll speakers. In other words, the KEFs really didn’t seem to have much in the way of delicacy and finesse. (of course as we know with any top flight speaker, that could be traceable to a myriad of issues beginning with the source and continuing along to the choice of electronics, etc. One thing great speakers do is show up upstream issues like a sore thumb!)
I’m not sure that my opinion has changed about the speakers delicacy but the KEFs are a far better speaker than I heard at shows. But first and foremost, and I’m not sure it’s been talked about, the Blade is definitely a ONE speaker person. As much as an electrostatic. With other speakers, say something like my Magicos, you can sit off center and still get a decent impression of the sound. Not so with the Blades. You better be damned well situated dead center or the sound is really off.
A moment for a quick aside. I was also impressed with the pair of 50 watt monoblock VAS tube amplifiers (based on Stu Hegeman’s old HK Citation II amplifier) driving either the Joseph or KEF speakers. The amps never seemed to run out of power on the KEFs (maybe a little on the Josephs) and just didn’t sound like tubes or solid-state. No just music.
Back now to the KEFs. Sitting in that one, prime real estate location really changes the sound. Now images are far better focussed and there’s a much greater appreciation of the speaker’s neutrality and transparency. There’s a huge, wall-to-wall, front to back sense of stage as well an amazing sense of the being in the room with the musicians rather than listening to a recording. No doubt that some of this was definitely helped out by the choice of software (tapes and vinyl), not to mention the new VPI magnetic drive Avenger turntable. The KEFs had a real knack of on a densely orchestrated recording like the Yazoo 45 rpm EP, of separating out all the individual lines. Not to mention, revealing the layering of sound of this EP! Perhaps the Blade 2s are the answer to my dream!
Harry’s Ampex ATR 102 reel-to-reel machine. As far as I know, the machine is still stock and was without doubt, the best sound I’ve ever heard out of a stock Ampex machine. Simply amazing dynamics, bass, soundstaging and quietness. Oh my heart yearns for one. If only I had the space!
The new VPI Avenger magnetic drive turntable. Here with two of three arm positions being utilized, one with an Ortofon A95 an one with a Lyra Atlas cartridge. My dream turntable.
The came surprise number 2. Steve Leung of VAS came in with his latest (and finished) version of his $3500 VAS 0.4 mV output MC cartridge. Out went the Ortofon A95 and in went his new made in NJ, VAS cross-coil (wound with copper) in a 12-inch VPI 3D arm. Steve hand builds these cartridges with two winding machines he recently purchased. The prototype of this cartridge had mightily impressed me at RMAF and the final version with a new stylus profile did nothing to disappoint. This VAS cartridge could be–and hopefully I’ll be soon hearing the cartridge in my system–one of the finest $3000 cartridges around. Steve can build the cartridge to match one’s phono section (eg. the output voltage) but as we all know, the lower output versions sound the best. The VAS MC cartridge is very resolving without any accompanying hardness. Imaging is rock solid as is the low end. Stay tuned.
One of a kind, rosewood VPI Classic Direct turntable. No longer made because rosewood is now on the protected wood list and near impossible to obtain. Note the prototype gimballed arm on the Classic Direct.
Harry and Mat Weisfeld demonstrating the new detachable wand assembly for the forthcoming tonearm.
Part of the VPI team! (l) to (r): Harry Weisfeld, Mat Weisfeld, Jane Cai. (note: Jane had a long day being the hostess with the mostest and looked ready to drop by the end of the day when this picture was snapped!). Thank you Jane and thank you Harry and Mat for inviting me to a fun, packed day of audio and music!
The over the hill and ready to roll gang!
(l) to (r): Harry Weisfeld (VPI), Steve Leung (VAS), me, Mike Bettinger (Arion phonosection), Jeff Joseph (Joseph Audio speakers)