AXPONA 2017: The VIP of Turntables

It’s gotten to where you can’t swing the proverbial dead cat without hitting a VPI table at an audio show.  Mat and team’s products were everywhere.  Mat setup a majority of 22 (!) working tables and he figures with static ones, the VPI representation was pushing 30 tables.  Wow.  That made for a very busy Mat and some mighty fine sounding analog rigs at AXPONA.

This is all well and good but more importantly is a raft of five new product and accessory introductions:

  1. The Cliffwood.  This new (estimated $900) budget table has all the learning packed into it from their work on the Nomad and Traveler but at a more realistic price point.  It has a beautiful gray wood finish with a gimbaled tonearm and is expected to sell with Grado Green cartridge.  100% American roots between VPI’s New Jersey base and Grado’s Brooklyn base.
  2. The Rosewood Prime Signature.  Okay, there are already a zillion photos floating around of this American beauty.  But I have the full scoop following a call with Mat just now.  The rosewood version was a little rushed for Axpona and only had the top plinth for the top layer of the plinth-aluminum plate-plinth “sandwich”.  Mat tells me they are working on possibly doing both plinths in rosewood or at least the bottom one with rosewood edging for a complete rosewood look.  Simply gorgeous grain and it sounded amazing on the Modwright-Daedalus speakers system.  One of my favorite rooms at Axpona.  Now the rosewood will cost more but I can tell Mat is doing his best to keep the cost down as much as possible.  The wood quality appears in real life of heirloom quality so I hope my Niko photographs show that to some degree.  A truly stunning piece of functional jewelry.
  3. The Fat Boy.  No, it’s not a new hip-hop band I’m leading.  This is the internal name of a thicker tonearm tube that is printed in 3D like their current models.  The backstory is interesting.  The 3D print shop wanted to distinguish the tube from the other normal, skinnier tubes they are manufacturing from this thicker tube and “fat boy” was the name the printers came up with.  When Harry Weisfeld found out, he loved the name so it stuck.  The more proper name may be the JMW Titan as the other story involves VPI’s Asia-Pacific importer Ernest Lau who said the skinnier arm on the Titan product looks like “someone skipped a day at the gym.”  The Fat Boy is initially going to be available only in 12 inch length for the Reference line but I suppose it could eventually be an option for 10.5 inch arms.  It is currently a limited production item as it takes twice as long to print but Mat says there is a noticeable improvement in sound quality.  Mat confided that the best approach may be to keep arm tube 3D on the fat boy and use stainless steel for the mounting end to get a “best of both worlds” product in terms of precision. It may also help keep the cost more reasonable.  The final design should be out in a few months.
  4. The Grado Headshell.  Yet again, the Yankee ingenuity of the team in Jersey has created a really clever solution to the problem of mounting a Grado cartridge.  They have created effectively a metal L-shaped “headshell” to mount the Grado cartridge in so attaching to the tonearm is easier.  This has four positive impacts…(1) mounting is easier, (2) the metal eliminates the hum that some Grados exhibit, (3) it eliminates the Grado “dance” that happens with a unipivot, and (4) it sounds, according to Mat, “like you added $200 to the cartridge.”  They are thinking of offering three types of headshell in colors/weight.  The sound improvements add a bit of sweetness to the bass which couple with the liquid mids of the Grado create a more coherent presentation.
  5. The Prime Scout.  This is the latest and greatest version of the best-selling Scout table.  It now has some tonearms refinements and the “frog-like” plinth of the Prime but in a more affordable form with improved Prime feet.  My Russian friend Vadim got one of the first of these and it sounds wonderful.  He pairs his with the Manley Chinook but I suspect any good phono preamp will create magic.

Finally, I want to make an observation of performance that I heard “in the field” at AXPONA.  Every system I heard (at least a dozen I reckon) had terrific analog sound with the VPI tables.  It’s refreshing to see 100% American brands like VPI and Grado do so well.

Dammit Mat.  My trusty old Scoutmaster is looking a bit dated these days.  But that in many ways is a good thing.

AXPONA coverage generously provided by NOBLE AUDIO.

About Lee Scoggins 118 Articles
A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Lee got interested in audio listening to his Dad’s system in the late 70s and he started making cassettes from LPs. By the early 80s he got swept up in the CD wave that was launching which led to a love of discs from Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs. Later while working on Wall Street in the 90s, Lee started working on blues, jazz and classical sessions for Chesky Records and learned record engineering by apprenticeship. Lee was involved in the first high resolution recordings which eventually became the DVD-Audio format. Lee now does recordings of small orchestras and string quartets in the Atlanta area. Lee's current system consists of Audio Research Reference electronics and Wilson Audio speakers.

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