Select a VPI Prime Turntable And Make A Great Choice

The Prime is the first turntable designed by Mat Weisfeld. What that means in this case is more a series of smart executive decisions rather than a “from scratch” effort (for you vegetarians, the headline incorporates all three USDA grades of meat).

The young Weisfeld mostly chose from among existing VPI parts and ideas used in other of the company’s turntables, while being mindful of hitting the intended $3995 price point, including 3D printed arm.

Spend a few months with the Prime and you’ll understand why the company’s next gen turntables will more resemble the Prime than the older Classic series.

For starters, the Prime’s sculpted, curvaceous look is far more attractive than squaresville, good as the Classic series is in terms of its sonic performance.

The Classic series proved that you can build a motor into the chassis and still get quiet in the grooves but by sculpting the sides of the Prime’s chassis, an outboard motor can be accommodated in a not much bigger footprint and less heroic efforts are involved in isolating the motor from the platter and tone arm.

The Classic Signature with built-in motor weighs sixty-five pounds and is 19.25”x14.25”. You can read my review of the roughly similar Classic 3, which back in 2011 cost $6000. It was heavier (81 pounds) and was 22” wide and 10” deep.

That $6000 turntable features a massive plinth structure in which a ½"-thick plate of machined aluminum is bonded to a 1/8"-thick steel subplate that itself is bonded to 2" of MDF. The aluminum platform sat in a lustrous piano-black lacquer plinth.

Yet despite all of this heroic mass damping and newly designed feet, I found that “tapping either the aluminum top plate or the lacquered periphery produced a fairly loud knocking sound from the speakers”. As I wrote in that review “, how a turntable responds to such an impulse doesn't necessarily indicate how it deals with sustained musical signals”, but clearly effective isolation from impulse-type noise is better.

So here’s the thing: the Prime is a sculpted slab of MDF over which is a black textured vinyl layer and under which is bonded an eleven gauge, (relatively thin) steel plate designed to control resonances and provide feedback rejection, sitting on four new “Prime” Delrin cones attached to the plinth via solid Delrin corner assemblies. VPI also supplies four Delrin discs into which the cones fit, where they are cradled by energy diffusing ball bearings.

This is a far less costly, less complex assemblage than that of the Classic 3 I reviewed, yet I found it better (or perhaps equally) rejected impulse noise when I tapped on the stand, or the plinth with the stylus sitting in the groove of a stationary record and the volume at normal playback level.

So today, with the $4000 Prime, you can get comparable (if not better) impulse rejection than with the $6000 Classic 3 of five years ago.

What’s more you get an outboard 300 rpm 24 pole AC synchronous motor capable of high torque and quiet operation topped with a stepped Delrin pulley installed in a separate massive aluminum and steel machined assembly. The entire assemblage including the outboard motor has a footprint of approximately 23" x 13 3/4", which is not that much bigger than the Classic 3.

Prime Particulars

The Prime spins records on an inverted bearing featuring a hardened stainless steel shaft atop of which is a 60 Rockwell chrome hardened ball. The ball rides on a “PEEK” (Polyether ether—a colorless organic thermoplastic polymer in the polyaryletherketone (PAEK) family) thrust pad located at the top of the phosphor bronze bushing, machined into the center of the twenty pound damped platter’s underside. The platter, damped on its underside, is of 6061 aluminum machined to ± .001 in 39” circumference.

The inverted bearing naysayers will tell you that inverting the bearing puts closer to the record surface the noise generated by the ball/thrust pad but in my experience, particularly at this price point, if done correctly it’s a quiet and cost-effective design choice that’s used on other VPI turntables. That is a great deal of engineering, machining and metal for a $4000 turntable including a tone arm, which is a 10 inch version of VPI’s well-received 3D “printed” design featuring “on’-the fly” VTA/SRA adjustability. You also get a screw on Stainless Steel/Delrin record clamp. VPI saves a few bucks by supplying a slip cue type mat. That’s fine. Most people want to roll their own anyway.

Easy Set Up

The ‘table is so easy to set up it’s not worth recounting other than to point out that the multI-grooved pulley offers you various diameters so you can get precise speed accuracy without adding an outboard motor controller so be sure to find the groove for each speed that produces the greatest accuracy (and remember it for when you switch to 45rpm and back!).

Setting up the 10 inch 3D arm can be done in one of two ways: the basic way, wherein to set VTA/SRA you set the arm parallel to the record surface and either leave it, or adjust by listening. And, to set azimuth use the supplied rod and adjust the unipivot arm until the rod is parallel to the record surface.

Or you can use a digital microscope to set VTA/SRA to 92 degrees and with a test record use either a Fozgometer, the Feickert Adjust + software, a digital oscilloscope or a digital voltmeter following the directions on “Michael Fremer’s Practical Guide to Turntable Set Up DVD”.

The better you dial in the arm the better will be the final sonics. Of course I did it with measurements using the microscope and an oscilloscope. No guess work, no futzing around.

VPI supplies a useful VTF (vertical tracking force) gauge for setting tracking weight but when it comes to using the anti-skating device, you are on your own, knowing that VPI “doesn’t believe” in anti-skating. I know skating is real (and so does VPI). We just differ as to whether compensating for it improves or worsens the sound.

You can try it both ways and decide for yourself but if you are tracking at between 1.75 and 2.2 grams use three O-rings placed at the end of the anti-skating lever. I base that on measurements using the “Wallyskater” device and backing it up with Telarc’s Omnidisc test record that has the best anti-skating track ever.

Since I won’t use either a felt or whatever the supplied slipcue mat is made of, because these are dust magnets, I used the thinnest available Funk Firm Achromat, which I think is among the best, most effective mats out there.

I set up a number of cartridges I felt were appropriate for a $4000 arm/’table combo and settled on an older Lyra Helikon SL, which new sold for about $2500.

It’s funny when the standard output Helikon was introduced to replace the Clavis d.c.T, Lyra didn’t raise the price though the Helikon was a completely new and far superior design. Later when readers asked “I have a Helikon and want to upgrade to a $3000 cartridge, what do you recommend? I responded: “You already have a $3000 cartridge that Lyra sold your for $2000 so just keep and enjoy it.”

Prime Speed Accuracy

Using the Platterspeed application, I was able to find the pulley groove that produced close to perfect speed with a 3150Hz test tone averaging 3151.1Hz. A $19,000 turntable I recently reviewed for Stereophile showed less relative and absolute deviation from exact speed, but these raw and low-pass filtered measurements were very good.

Prime Sound

The Lyra Helikon is from a time when Lyra cartridges tended to be very well-detailed but somewhat threadbare in the midrange—more on the analytical side than the lush. This was easily solvable by running it into a phono preamp that was ever so slightly midrange lush but only if you didn’t like how it sounded into a more neutral phono preamp, which is how I liked it. To each his own.

The Helikon through the remarkably neutral and ultra-quiet soon to be reviewed Audio-Alchemy PPA-1 phono preamp ($1795) was on the perfect side of “lush”, which told me that in the midrange, the Prime was just the right side of “lush”.

I also tried the circa $20,000 TruLife Argo tube-based phono preamp from Greece. Why do that? Because I could! The Prime communicated what I knew to the be Argo’s seamless sound as I got to know it on my big ‘table, which I describe in an upcoming review as “... silky smooth and extended on top, with an enticing sense of musical flow and richly drawn instrumental timbres.”

When I fitted the ‘table with the midband-rich $8995 Lyra Etna, which I doubt any Prime buyer will do, the superbly dynamic and extended cartridge demonstrated the ‘table’s overall tonal neutrality and particularly its remarkably well-controlled and extended bottom end. It’s not the last word in terms of taut bass control but neither is it at all soft and mushy. It dared to go deep while maintaining good grip.

I played American Tunes (Nonesuch 554656-1 2 LPs) the late Allen Toussaint’s final album produced by Joe Henry. Piano is as good a test of a turntable’s abilities as I can think of and this well-recorded record demonstrated that the ‘table and arm could produce a large, well organized picture, with an appropriately wide and deep soundstage upon which was a well-focused, timbrally and dynamically convincing piano. Moreover, on the many solo piano tracks, where you’re treated to an intimate Allen Toussaint recital, the background blackness was startling because it’s usually experienced with far more expensive turntables. Though piano recordings tend to be difficult to track, the 3D arm sailed through this and other recordings without ever producing mis-tracking "crackles".

The solo piano tracks were recorded at Toussaint’s New Orleans studio; the others at United (formerly Ocean Way) and the sound throughout is superb. Chris Bellman cut from Bob Ludwig-supplied high resolution files and this is one record where the storage medium takes a backseat to the room, the microphones and the skill of the engineer Ryan Freeland (he also did Ray Lamontagne’s God Willin’ And the Creek Don’t Rise. I can’t recommend an album more highly. It will make you feel good and the sound is superb!

Conclusion

So let’s not drag this out: the VPI Prime turntable combines elements from more expensive VPI turntables but uses a smart, new and very attractive plinth, the combination of which produces tonally neutral, well-extended performance, with a pleasing accent on smooth.

Speed stability and accuracy were very good, particularly at this price point. The ‘table does “rhythm’n’pacing very well. Some others may be “faster” but they are also thinner, more analytical and far less enticing.

That for $4000 you get the ‘table, with it’s high mass aluminum alloy platter and a ten inch 3D printed arm that combines rigidity and relatively low mass (but high enough to mate well with medium to low compliance moving coil cartridges as well as higher compliance moving magnet designs like Shure’s M97xe) makes the VPI Prime a difficult to beat turntable/arm at the $4000 price point.

I’ll put it to you this way: I have a $50,000 ‘table/arm here for a Stereophile review as well as my reference Continuum ‘table fitted with the $30,000 Swedish Analog Technologies tone arm and while those extend everything further in every direction, not once while exploring the Prime’s capabilities did I long to move to the more expensive ‘tables whatever record I was playing.

Why? Because the Prime does everything well, is overall so well-balanced and its minor “sins” are all of omission. And don’t forget I’m using it with large, expensive full-range speakers that most buyers will not have.

That said, if someone is “all-digital” and has a system like mine, I’d not hesitate recommending the Prime to that person as a “first encounter” turntable. It’s that good.

News flash: A new VPI tone arm innovation arrived yesterday that’s going on the Prime tonight. Review ASAP!

COMMENTS
tube dog's picture

The only quibble I have is with the feet. I'm using mine with an Eagle PSU and Tach. Great sound! Cart is a Kiseki Purpleheart.

Dorian Workman's picture

Whats the issue with the feet?

vinyl listener's picture

this really is the golden age of analog

jblackhall's picture

Did they send you one of those new Lineage arms?!

Lazer's picture

I'd love to compare this table with the Thorens TD-125 long arm from....both are in my top 2 for next turntable.

sdecker's picture

I can offer a hint. I've played a bazillion records since I bought my TD115 (125's little brother) in 1979 and it's remained my only TT. A few mods, careful setup and nearly no maintenance. Always sounded much better than newer $1-2K TTs. Earlier this year I brought it to a high-end shop and spent the whole day going head-to-head with the Prime with fine gear, cabling and room acoustics. After 8 hours we all agreed there wasn't anything significant between them, nearly identical, and that was no knock against the Prime. So I got another 115 with <1% the hours on it as mine and transplanted all the parts that could wear, and everything improved. This sounds so ludicrous on the surface that this is the first I've ever posted this on any site... But a refurbished 125 with the right arm and cart should give many good modern TTs a run for their money.

gbougard's picture

Of course! Up until the 125, Thorens are one of the finest turntables ever built.

I have 2 124 MK2's and one 125MK2, all of them revised by Juerg Schopper in Switzerland and they are a joy

I still would love to try VPI machines

kimi imacman's picture

I have on loan the new Well Tempered Royle 400 turntable. When mounted atop it's dedicated table I can literally thump the plinth with my fist and the £6K XV-1t doesn't flinch! One can even tap the record when playing and hear next to not coming from the speaker a feat that all WTs are capable of. Now that's what I cal impulse-type noise rejection...just saying :-))

Another solid review Michael, I'll keep an ear out for one.

RCZero's picture

Thanks for this review. I currently have a VPI Scout, but my goal is to upgrade to Prime. I was going to stop at Scout II, but then they came out with the 3D arm, and VTA on the fly, the nice look of the 300RPM motor, etc etc...

Can you mount a 2nd arm on Prime? I'm hoping that rear left end might be capable of that?

ebuzz's picture

Yes, you can mount a second arm because that's just what I have done on my Prime.
I've been waiting for this review.
Thanks

Michael Fremer's picture
So how does that work?
ebuzz's picture

Not sure I full understand your question, it works great as a 2nd arm. As you can see, on my table there's a 2nd 10" 3D printed arm with a mono cartridge. How it was set up was fairly simple. VPI made an adapter that fits into the hole where the foot screws in. I screwed in the adapter and the RCA block goes on top of that. All the rest is the same as is on the other side. (Not sure if I'm using all the proper terminology for the associated parts, but that's basically it.)

ebuzz's picture

How can I send a bigger pix?

Michael Fremer's picture
No but you can buy a second arm tube, set it up and then swap between the two literally in seconds..
ebuzz's picture

Take a look at my avatar! Unless VPI stopped making the adapter.

RCZero's picture

Awesome, thanks. I'd be fine swapping out arms like Michael suggested, but having two arms set up at the same time is a really nice option, I'd probably go that route even just because it looks awesome :)

ebuzz's picture

Yeah, it does look awesome. Too bad I can't post a bigger photo. I did send one to Mike, however, so he can see. Swapping is an option, I guess, but this is much easier and swapping would involve adjusting tracking force unless you get 2 cartridges with the same weight. Too much of a hassle.

Andy Slusar's picture

Thanks for putting the Prime through its paces. Black backgrounds, great bass performance, great tonal balance sums up my experience as well, I am a very happy Prime owner. I'm using the VPI SDS, metal outer ring and steel clamp . I think they raise the performance even higher, particularly on the frequency extremes. My cartridge is the Clearaudio Maestro. VPI just announced the VPI Prime Signature - can't wait to here about the improvements wrought by that upgrade! Go Mat!

Dorian Workman's picture

Great review, thanks Mike. I have a Traveler. Can anyone comment on how big a performance improvement I could expect with the Prime?

mraudioguru's picture

...it's not in the same ballpark as the Prime. MAJOR upgrade.

Dorian Workman's picture

Thanks. Now just need $4K....

Snorker's picture

I wonder how the new Technics SL1200GAE/G compares. They need to send Mikey a review sample.

JohnG's picture

a 3D-printed arm?

RCZero's picture

... What I do know is that the arm is all one piece... No screws, parts, etc, which may imply some advantage? I read somewhere that it does make it different in other ways too. Maybe someone can say more. And the material is good at damping out unwanted resonance.

RCZero's picture

...the arm tube was loose from the pivot point. I had to tighten it up with an Allen wrench. The dealer said they do see them vibrate loose in shipping sometimes. These 3D arms are one piece I think. Not that we should design only for shipping, of course not... I'm sure there is more to it, but I just thought I'd share what I've seen a two-piece arm do in the mail!

Neverenough's picture

The primary benefit of a printed tone-arm is the ability to tailor the internal structure that is normally not accessible through traditional manufacturing methods. This allows them to optimize the stiffness, mass and damping properties without compromise. The limitation is that there are only a few printable materials that would qualify as long term solution (vs a prototype show and tell sample).

RCZero's picture

... Why VPI uses the inverted bearing here, instead of how the oil-bath bearing is in the plinth like in the Scout? What is the advantage? It's quieter even though it is closer to the record? Thanks.

Christian Goergen's picture

I' ve bought and listened to the Toussaint -LP. Great album, thanks for the advice. For comparing purposes I can recommend also : the eponymous " Roman Rofalski Trio" , 2014, Neuklang, NLP 4103, a classical-jazz piano trio record, AAA, mastered at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg (Germany), a live recording direct to two track Studer A820. The cover supplies detailed informations about the positions of the microphones.

darkstar's picture

I am running the Prime/SS Aida Cart/Nova Phemona preamp--

Very really hard for me to rationally want a better turntable. Probably would have to send 6k used or 10k retail to even get a meaningful increase in performance. When I think about spending that kind of cash I need to hear it more than a few times in the flesh and it better blow me away. Also with dealer networks as crappy as they are I would really have to think about service and support in the future.

Both the Classic/Prime are very nice upgrades from a Scout which I owned. I would say the Prime is a little better than the classic in terms of Background noise and resolution. More neutral sound compared to the classic.

RCZero's picture

Thanks, this is useful as I have a Scout and thinking of upgrading to Scout 2 and eventually Prime.

darkstar's picture

There is no reason to go to the scout 2. I sold my scout and went straight for the prime. You can find a Used Classic/prime for an amazing price but you have to be on top of the used market and ready to pull the trigger. I bought my mint Prime a lot cheaper than new. Also SS carts are a great deal used as they can always be re-tipped by manufacturer for a very reasonable amount. There not MC so suspensions never collapse. The cherry on top is they are awesome sounding.

I always recommend going straight to the Classic/Prime. It expensive but I feel this level of performance will satisfy many people long term. If you have a scout and hear a Classic or Prime you will want to upgrade.

When I hear better TT and setups I am still happy with the prime. I also think 6-10k for that much more performance. No thanks.

RCZero's picture

I would buy used, but I'm hesitant because A) I really like the new walnut look the Prime plinth has, and, B) I am not sure if any updates have been made to the Prime that I would not otherwise get by buying an older one. My problem now is that my audio rack (salamander designs , walnut finish) is big enough for the prime, but not a prime dustcover, which is essential for flying object safety in this house. I'm trying to see if it would still look good if I put a bigger board on the top shelf to give the needed increase in space, or, if I'll have to somehow upgrade the shelving as well just because Prime+dust cover has this bigger footprint...

Formerly YB-2's picture

Will the adapter work with a 9" arm. Have a spare JMW 9" Sig arm that I would like to use with MM carts will reserving the 10" 3D arm for the MCs.

fredbro44's picture

Mr. Fremer I have one of the earliest Primes and must say it is the best for the $ table I've ever had. Totally tacks every record I have with a Ortofon 2MM Black. No acoustic feedback, solid.
thanks for the review.

DigitalIsDead's picture

I wonder how the prime compares....

Kavahead's picture

I've had my VPI Prime(w/the 3D finger-lift) for a year and 9 months now and it cured my TT upgrade-itis. I have all the extras SDS, periphery ring, HR-X centerweight, and running three belts. The sound is amazing compared to my previous Pro-ject Perspex TT. My Prime is setup with a SS Aida cart/Decware Zen Phono - I've been waiting for Michael to post a review on this table for some time - Thank you! - it's spot on.

dpb90's picture

Hi
I though this review would be completed by a full test within Stereophile, wouldn't it ?
If Michael or anyone else has the answer, many thanks in advance
Best

Garybegd's picture

Thanks Mike, for finally getting around to reviewing the Prime. Some, including VPI's Harry Weisfeld, were beginning to wonder if he had offended the major magazines.

The genius of the Prime is that Mat did not have to invest hardly any money in research and development. He used off the shelf parts that he already knew were superb in the motor, platter and tonearm. The developers of most new turntables have to spend many thousands on new, high tech bearings, researching materials, developing prototype arms and platter and the like, and those costs have to be spread out over the number of tables sold. The only thing really new on the Prime is the feet, and Mat again, made the cost sensitive choice to see how good he could make them, using Deldrin, rather than having to machine much more expensive metals.

He took all these great parts, and assembled them on the most basic plinth possible, knowing from the experience of the Scout that a slab of MDF and a metal plate could sound very good. This is what left enough in the budget to afford the 3d tonearm which, with the VTA base, is selling for $3000 by itself.

When General Motors takes a Corvette engine and puts it in a Cadillac, we call it badge engineering, and its done to benefit the corporate bottom line. With the Prime, I feel like VPI passed a lot of the savings on to us. Its hard to call a $4000 record player a bargain, but the Prime is just that. Something rare in high end today, the feeling of getting one's moneys worth.

jpvisual's picture

You can't knock the Classic line for the "Squaresville" design Michael. I think its a clean mid-century modern design. I can't say that I really prefer the tasteless piano black aesthetics of many audiophiles, but hey, who am I to judge?

I do hope VPI continues to support the discontinued Classic Line. I have a Classic signature and can't really say that I need anymore than that..unless I wish to start chasing Paper Dragons.

If I had to make a true guess as to why VPI is going the way of the Prime, I would say it has more to do with cost than Sonics.

I'm very happy that I picked up the Classic signature before they pulled it.