CAF 2015: VPI has landed

All of VPI, with guest photobomber Johan Coorg of KEF

CAF2015In a surprise move, Mat Weisfeld (VPI‘s new President) brought the entire company to the Capital Audiofest this year. Yes, everyone. Well, everyone except Grammy, but everyone knows she’s the one that probably kicked them all out. You know. For some peace and quiet. Finally. Dammit.

In addition to the Entire Freakin’ Company, Mat brought examples of everything in the product lineup. Nomads, Scouts, Aries’, Horcruxes — everything was on display, laid out like party favors with most wired into Sprouts from PS Audio, headphones all a-dangle. It was impressive as all hell.

Even more impressive? Finding more VPI tables everywhere else. I mean that. Of the some 40 demo rooms, VPI had tables in about a third of them. Huzzah!

Of particular interest here were the limited-edition Capital Scout, shown with a bead-blasted finish and a steel platter, and the new Avenger.

The first appears to be a prototype run that never saw the light of day — with the massive house-cleaning and revamping of the New Jersey factory, Mat found a bunch of these, finished them up with some shiny parts and a tonearm, and their dealers got themselves a nice novelty/surprise. Aluminum and steel are the order of the day, here, with a Prime motor, HRX feet, a Classic platter (with a nifty ceramic coating) and a 9″ Signature Classic tonearam. Available in extremely limited quantities for $5k, the Capital Scount will not be back.

The latter, the Avenger, is a new move for VPI. Now that co-founder-and-Dad-In-Chief Harry Weisfeld is able to focus on the cool stuff, the Father & Son team have come up with what I think is the first VPI upgradable table. Pricing starts at $9K for the uber-machined “base model”, which comes with the standard tri-point plinth, a hefty motor and tonearm. Somewhere along the way to $30k, the Avenger can incrementally pick up a bigger motor, a magnetically suspended platter, and up to a trio of tonearms. Buy now and upgrade as you’re able …. The fully tricked out Avenger was on display in the DSA/Joseph Audio demo room across the hall. With three 12″ tonearms, that monster was called (not unaffectionately) the “Big Dick”.

The magnetic suspension is fascinating. A parallel thought to the $30k Classic Direct Drive turntable that Stereophile‘s Michael Fremer gave top marks to, the Avenger is built off a platform that looks more like the Aries/Prime than the Classic. The Direct Drive, also, is a … “direct drive”, with the computer-controlled integrated motor electromagnetically driving the platter … directly. Heh. In the Avenger, the platter assembly can be lifted out and replaced by a dual-platter assembly. The lower platter, driven by the somewhat traditional off-board motor via a set of belts, is used to drive the upper platter. Magnetically. Yeah, it sounds pretty much as cool as it is. There’s a set of magnets embedded in the two platters (which have absolutely no contact in the horizontal plane, though they share a bearing), spinning up the lower means driving the higher. Seamlessly. With vanishingly low rumble, wow or flutter.

I asked Harry what the deal was. I suggested that the Avenger seemed a little Rube Goldberg (which made him shrug), and the pricing puts it in direct competition with the top-of-the-line Direct Drive. Seems I was wrong on both counts, however. First, the Direct Drive does not actually appear in the current catalog of ‘tables. Harry said that there’s apparently a host of challenges in delivering such sensitive mechanisms/components to overseas clients and this makes the product’s viability in that market questionable. With the Avenger, no such issues arise. And getting to the second point: the Avenger, with the mag-drive, is 1/3 cheaper than the Direct Drive, while offering similar performance.

On the VPI room’s Avenger, Harry was quick to point out (with a pleased chortle) that the two arms are “somewhat interesting”. The first, or rather, the rear arm was a 12″ prototype of a gimbaled design with a fully removable arm-tube. The gimbal is actually secured with a massive yoke pin — pull it, and the arm (essentially) pops off! The problem, Harry suggested, is that the 3D printing process lets them print the arms with integrated headshells. Mounting a cartridge on a tonearm that’s affixed to the ‘table is a bit of a pain — but there was no way to do a removable head-shell. So, they didn’t. Voila! The whole arm comes off, which allows for better structural rigidity and a continuous wiring harness. Pretty slick. Harry suggested that the arm, which is very clearly a poke at Fremer’s enthusiastic embrace of the $28k SAT tonearm, will be offering much of the same principles and performance, but for a (tiny) fraction of that ‘arm’s price. We should expect to see that design finalized soon with scheduled availability around RMAF in October this year.

Also in the room! And yes, there was other stuff in the room, were a set of screamin’ red KEF Blade Two loudspeakers. Of all the KEF speakers, I have to offer that these are probably my favorite. Don’t get me wrong, I like the big Blade One, but the Two seem punchier and more coherent — and completely filled the very large listening space. They were driven by the tubed-but-not-tubey 50wpc sound of the VAS Citation Sound-2 monoblocks. A ModWright LS100 Preamp sat between the amps and the DSA Phono. Also in the rack, but not in use while I was in the room, were an Arion phono pre from Luminous Audio Technology and a Backert Labs Rhythm 1.1 Preamp.