VPI Traveler Plants American Flag on Mid-Entry Level Turntable Territory

Imports crowd the $1500 turntable price-point with entries from Rega, Pro-Ject, Music Hall, Clearaudio, JA Michell, Marantz (made by Clearaudio), Acoustic Signature and some others.

Until VPI surprised the turntable world last year with the Traveler, the only American-made ‘table manufactured at this price that I can think of is the SOTA Comet, which comes with an OEM Rega tonearm.

The Traveler turntable is not only new from the ground up (though it relies upon VPI’s decades-long turntable designing and manufacturing expertise), but so is the tone arm, which took long time VPI watchers totally by surprise.

Rega OEM and Jelco budget models are the “go to” arms for most manufacturers at this price point since the costs of designing and tooling up for a new tone arm are high.

The new 10.4” Traveler moderate mass tone arm features spring loaded steel pins that fit into ultra-low friction sapphire gimbaled bearings for both vertical and horizontal movement. While this makes setting azimuth impossible, that’s true of all fixed gimbaled bearing tone arms including the SME V. The tradeoff benefit is that for vinyl newbies and more casual listeners, set-up in made that much easier.

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The counterweight system features a threaded stub and Delrin counterweight carrier. After attaching the counterweight to the carrier, VTF adjustment is via a knurled knob riding on the threaded stub. It’s a precision mechanism that’s rarely found on arms included on turntables at this price point. VPI even throws in Shure’s basic, but reasonably reliable “teeter-totter” type stylus pressure gauge that’s been in production probably since Eisenhower was president.

Everything about the arm’s design and fit’n’finish is remarkable considering it’s included in a relatively high mass made in America turntable costing but $1500.

Compared to most if not all other ‘tables at this price point, the Traveler’s plinth is massive. The entire assembled turntable weighs 24 pounds, approximately 7 pounds of which is the damped aluminum and stainless steel platter, modeled on the larger, more massive ones offered on VPI’s more expensive ‘tables.

There’s a case to be made both technologically and price-wise for ultra-low mass, energy transmitting designs such as those from Rega, which use lightweight plinths, plastic sub-chassis and glass platters, but at this price point, to make available one that includes a relatively massive aluminum and acrylic plinth and an aluminum and stainless steel full sized platter and a large diameter spindle bearing that makes most at this price point look like undernourished toys and a precision sapphire gimbaled bearing tonearm and a new 600 rpm low-noise motor, is nothing short of remarkable.

You can watch two “quick and dirty” Traveler set-up videos that cover, among other things, installing the bearing, locking down the threaded spindle, installing the belt, etc.

A Delrin tone arm mounting system includes an opening for the arm’s threaded circular mounting post and one for the integrated Delrin armrest. Once the arm and rest have been lowered into place you tighten a large Delrin grub screw to secure the arm as well as a second smaller one to secure the height adjustable armrest.

After installing the cartridge of your choice using the supplied paper overhang gauge, you can adjust VTA/SRA by loosening the grub screw and rotating a large threaded ring riding on the threaded mount. It’s a simple, yet effective system. Once you’ve set it to your satisfaction you tighten the grub screw and snug down the ring to the mount.

You’ll then want to raise or lower the armrest to level the arm in the rest, though this is more for esthetic purposes. Now is a good time to check the operation of the cueing mechanism to be sure the stylus clears the record when it’s raised and also to see that the cueing platform lowers sufficiently to clear the arm so it can track the record. It’s easy to adjust the mechanism’s height and lateral position by loosening and then tightening another grub screw.

The lack of anti-skating was somewhat troubling, because all things being equal, it means that the stylus will be riding on the left side groove wall. The arm's 10.4” effective length counters that somewhat since the longer the arm, the less the offset angle and the less the offset angle the less the arm will skate.

I used the Telarc Omnidisc anti-skating test track to check the arm’s skating, 100% sure that the distortion would appear first on the right channel, meaning the arm is “biased” towards the left hand wall because of the arm’s skating inward and sure enough that’s what occurred.

However, by the time the distortion occurred the modulation level was so high, you will never encounter a record cut that hot, thereby confirming that on this 10.4” arm with its looped thick wire that produces a degree of anti-skating force, the combination is sufficient to render moot the skating issue. That’s one less set-up parameter about which to worry.

In other words, even if this is your very first turntable, there’s no reason you can’t have it up and running all by your lonesome within a very short period of time.

And Once You’ve Done That?

The one thing VPI doesn’t include is a set of tone arm interconnects. You’ll need a set of RCA/RCA cables. Don’t skimp here. Don’t use some old cables left over from your old VCR (though of course there are cultists who claim that the ones that were included with Sony’s Betamax Hi-Fi machines from the late ‘80s are "magical"). Get some dedicated low capacitance, low resistance phono cables and whatever you use keep it at 1 meter maximum!

VPI does include a mesh mat made of a material used mostly for lining dishware shelves. I’ve seen it marketed separately as a turntable mat priced ridiculously. My advice is: DON’T USE IT!. Why? It leeches some kind of sticky, oily gum that you’ll have a terrible time getting off your record if you leave it on the platter for too long. If you own a Traveler and you’re using the mat, remove it from the platter and look what it’s left on it: a sticky imprint of the mat that you’ll have a hell of a time removing from the platter surface. Perhaps you don’t see it on the record surface but don’t be so sure it’s not in the grooves unseen and gumming up your stylus. My advice to VPI: axe the mat!

I tried a few but my favorite was Boston Audio’s Mat 1 graphite mat. Yes it costs $199 but I thought it took the ‘table to another performance level of low coloration sonic smoothness. If that’s too much try a Ringmat or the Music Hall Cork Mat. While cork is an okay material for a mat I thoroughly disagree with decoupling a record from the platter, which is what the outer cork circles accomplish. As the description on musicdirect’s website claims, the mat allows the vinyl to “speak” on its own. I don’t know about you, but I want my vinyl to SHUT UP and let the music speak.

In any case, this ‘table is remarkably quiet, goes very deep, particularly for a ‘table at this price point and while it lacks the full bodied bass authority of the bigger ‘tables including VPI’s far more expensive Classic models, the bass control is ridiculously good for this kind of money. It’s tight, punchy and very fast, which means that whatever “speaking” the vinyl does with the Cork Mat, will be well controlled and won’t confuse the music’s rhythm’n’pacing.

I’m in the middle of the long-promised moderately priced cartridge survey using the Traveler and I understand why VPI recommended and packages the Grado Prestige Gold 1 cartridge. It’s got a bit of excessive bass, but the ‘table has less than full weight though it’s so well controlled that when you combine the ‘table’s personality with the cartridge’s the results on bottom are spectacular! The bottom end produced by that combination will embolden even the most reticent of two-way stand mount speakers without producing sogginess.

I checked the ‘table’s speed accuracy using the Feickert iPhone app and test record and it ran slightly fast. While the ‘table specs at .1%, the review sample was .2% fast. Thus the 3150Hz test tone was reproduced at approximately 3200Hz (when this review was first published I accidentally wrote 4000Hz). This is nothing to write home about. It’s minor.Wow and flutter based on the Feickert app were also low, though given that virtually all test records and all records are eccentric to one degree or another I take such measurements with a large pile of salt, preferring to judge by listening and judging that way, the Traveler has very low wow and flutter. It produces a sense of forward motion, ease and drive usually experienced listening to more expensive turntables.

So how did the Traveler sound? Less colored and more extended top and bottom than any $1500 turntable has a right to be and very quiet. With the right mat in place its suppression of pop and click impulses was impressive. It tracked well with moderately priced cartridges the most demanding musical tests and when just for the fun of it I installed a $6500 Lyra Titan i the results were just plain silly good. I’m not going to go through a list of recordings I like and how great they sounded on the ‘table because I’m frankly getting tired of such reviewing.

The variety of modestly priced cartridges I used in the cartridge showdown to be posted soon (finally!) demonstrated that like all good ‘tables, it was chameleon-like, allowing the transducer’s character to shine through while imparting little of its own flavor onto the proceedings.

I remember reviewing favorable a few years ago the very good and similarly priced Clearaudio Concept turntable, which has a platter of POM, a Delrin like material and a magnetic bearing tone arm. I am of the “old school” who believe that mechanical energy transfer is very important. The stylus/groove interface produces an enormous amount of energy. Some of it remains in the record, which is why you want a good vinyl/platter interface to drain it, and most of it travels up into the arm tube, which is why you want both a well damped arm tube and a solid mechanical path for the dissipation of the energy. A magnetic bearing does not produce a solid mechanical path and that’s the reason I gave for why I thought the Concept sounded very warm as if the energy remained in the tube and made its way back to the cartridge.

Now I have no way of being certain that was the cause of the noticeable warmth, pleasing as it was, but I have no doubt that the Traveler is a more neutral sounding turntable.

Conclusion

You can draw that yourself but if you insist: for $399 I’m all for the Pro-Ject Carbon but if you can enter the analog world at $1500, the Traveler is at the top of the heap in my analog experience.

It’s beautifully and solidly built, has more mass than any $1500 has a right to have—and in all the right places as my fellow Stereophile writer Stephen Mejias said in his excellent review there—is built in America (am I being overly chauvinistic?), and to add icing to the analog cake, a portion of the profit goes to fight Pancreatic cancer (designer Harry Weisfeld’s late wife Sheila died from it) and to the Girls Scouts of America.

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COMMENTS
CarterB's picture

Appreciate your thoughts. This table, the Clearaudio, and the Rega RP6 are all current contenders for our next TT after our entry level Pro-ject. Really looking to hear more about your mid-range carts.

Also, hear hear about droning on about music you listened too. It is a useless cliche for most reviews I read.

Spinnin's picture

Could not help but take notice of the plumbing in the background. That is a wealth of copper. I did enjoy the video too. Thanks for promoting our favorite media. Spin on!

Findog3103's picture

Michael, is there anything special about taking off the original VPI mat as it is glued on at two points and what would you recommend to clean the platter with before putting a new mat?

Michael Fremer's picture

Interesting because the mat that came with my review sample was not glued on. I'd say lift it carefully off and if there are two dabs of some sort of adhesive, try lifting it off and if need be follow up with some Goo-Gone and then a cleaner like Windex...

anomaly7's picture

Yes, I had one of those mats. It came with a turntable I bought. It messed up a record, at least until I cleaned the record, which took a lot of work even though I have a VPI 16.5. A lot of work!

I couldn't believe it when I saw these mats on the VPi. They must be crazy to put them on their tables. You'd be crazier to leave them on!!!

moon unit's picture

4000Hz using a 3150Hz test tone is only slightly fast?

That's over 42 rpm!

Michael Fremer's picture

OOPS. I made a mathlexic error. The correct # is 3200Hz not 4000Hz!

Devil Doc's picture

... my VPI HW-19jr and AQ PT-5 tone arm purchased in 1991 would cost aproxamatley the same as the Traveler does today. I wonder how they compare?

Doc

Michael Fremer's picture

would be interesting!

AnalogJ's picture

Harry was into a different sound back then. I had essentially an HW19 mk iii with a Moerch tonearm. I think the sound of the tables tended toward warm and pleasing, without being bloated.  With the Scout onward,  the sound has been more about pace and rhythm.

Michael Fremer's picture

I agree 100% with your observations!

Paul Boudreau's picture

Would someone please explain what "pace and rhythm" means in the context of listening to recorded music?  Seriously - I have no idea what that phrase means.

nexer's picture

It basically means a table's ability to 1) keep a steady beat by being dead accurate with its speed, 2) not fudge or smear the attack (transients) and 3) not release any residual energy into the system.

Consider the opening of Beethoven's 5th.  Compare Von Karajan with Gustavo Dudamel.  Dudamel is accurate, Von Karajan likes his string sounds luscious.  Dudamel's control over the downbeat makes it almost toe tapping.  Von Karajan's interpretati not so much, although I'm sure many will find other facets of VK's personality charming.

Moving over to musical instruments, while playing musical scale passages an even touch will sound a lot smoother than one where there is an odd accent in a weird place.  A good turntable with a solid platter and rock solid rpms will minimize minimize those anomalies. (unless it is present in the recording)

Bmcpherson's picture

Funny story: Buddy of mine looking to get into a TT in this range.  I suggested he audition the Traveler.  He went to the closest VPI dealer and they told him it was junk and that they didn't have one in stock and tried to sell him a Rega.  Weird, right?  I love the Regas but this table obviously isn't junk.  I wonder how this compares to an RP6?

Michael Fremer's picture

That is not how a good dealer should operate, in my opinion, particularly if he carries both lines. He should explain the differences and let the buyer decide. Selling by denigrating another line that you carry is just plain stupid, particularly calling the Traveler "junk". 

DLKG's picture

I tried Kimber PBJ  interconnects on my VPI Scoutmaster with the Memorial arm and and the Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood cartridge but the cable was unusable. The PBJ sounded like a noise storm in hell.  The PBJ's sound great with all things digital though. I think it's because they don't have enough shielding?  Believe it or not I'm actually using Monster Cable and it sounds great.

Stephen Mejias's picture

Excellent review, Mikey!

The PBJ sounded like a noise storm in hell. 

They weren't that bad for me, but I did have some RFI trouble with Kimber's PBJ. I tried several other models and found success with AudioQuest's Sidewinders, as well as cheap stuff from RadioShack.

Michael Fremer's picture

I hereby unrecommend PBJ for turntable use! I was trying to find something reasonably priced to use with a $1500 turntable. Clearly that's not it! Perhaps Sony Betamax interconnects after all!

Devil Doc's picture

Blue Jeans LC-1. Well shielded, 12.2pf per foot, reasonably priced and made by Belden in the USA.

Doc

Time_Stand_Still's picture

Just an FYI, if you take the supplied mat and wash it with  lukewarm to warm water and some liquid dish soap the oils from the manufacture of the mat material will come off leaving a clean,  residue free mat. Once washed a  good blotting to dry on a  clean towel will help and then let it air dry  for a day or so and ta da you should have no more oil residue issues.

Michael Fremer's picture

Thanks for that! Very helpful...

Kris Deering's picture

I bought my traveler about a year ago now and it looks completely different than the one in your pictures Michael! Did VPI do a change to the table?

Stephen Mejias's picture

From what I can tell, there've been some running changes to the Traveler since my review. These changes include different feet, different platter mat, and different logo.

Michael Fremer's picture

Really? Can you email a picture to fremer@analogplanet.com..?

Kris Deering's picture

Mine looks just like the one pictured in Stephen's review at Stereophile here:

Michael Fremer's picture

Yes I see. The biggest change is the motor mount. The latest version does not have that motor mount platform on the left side. The motor has been moved to the "10 o'clock" position and it's mounted below the surface so the pulley sits above the plinth level. It is a neater look but I'm not sure it has an effect on performance. Also the on/off button is located atop the plinth. The feet are rubberized. But if you can screw them off, you might try StillPoints. In fact I am going to try to do that before I pack up the 'table and return it. I have a few more cartridges to try on it and record. 

The plan is to post the recordings so you can hear how each cartridge reproduced the same record.

howardk's picture

Mike, have you had a chance to evaluate the Rega RP6?  I think a formal comparative review of the Traveler and  RP6  (and maybe even the Clearaudio Concept) would be very useful to anyone contemplating a turntable in the $1400-$1500 range.  In fact, I'm a bit surprised that Stereophile has not yet reviewed the RP6.

abhimawa's picture

Mike, 

What do you say about the acrylic platter of VPI versus the current aluminum one? Especially that you put the mat on top of the it?

I thought aluminum would ring given the metal property, but it seems to be machined easier.

Thanks

dailyville's picture

I've been going back & forth re: the $1,500 ClearAudio Concept turntable & the new VPI Traveller. After Mikey's review I'm tending towards the Traveller - BUT - at the same time, I am just NOT a techie who could execute the putting-together & adjustments Mikey mentions. I just never got the "techie" or "handyman" gene & whether it seems simple to you, NO I'm sorry - I'm just NOT good at this type of thing; I know my limitations. 

Therefore, does anyone know if there is a dealer in the San Francisco / Northern California Bay Area where I could audition / purchase one that is already fully set up, with cartridge.  All I would have to do is slowly drive it home & plug it in?  Thanks - musical Mike.

arrozcomfeijao's picture

Hello, Michael and everyone else who might like to throw in a few comments,

As the owner of a VPI Traveler (plus Dynavector 20XSL), it was really useful to read your review. Since you are both knowledgeable and a non-interested party (a manufacturer or retailer), maybe you could help me with two basic issues I'm having.

1) Hum and rumble - I'm getting both a rumble from the motor and/or bearings plus a hum coming from the turntable and/or Phono Stage (a Ear Yoshino 834P). It is worth mentioning that I live in Brazil, where the voltage is not 110v, but 127v, which is still within the operational margin that manufacturers recommend. But here at home, because of several issues, the actual reading I get is 129v. I wrote to VPI who said that the higher voltage may be guilty for the hum. But they also said that the hum may be caused by unshielded interconnects and less than perfect grounding cables. I've experimented with Chord Crimson, Transparent ML, Kimber Kable Select Cu 1016 and a hand-made english interconnect I bought at Walrus Stereo in London. None of these cables are phono cables, but pairs of interconnects. For grounding I'm using a regular piece of speaker wire (QED Silver Anniversary XT, if you must know). 

What do you think? The fact that I am not using a purposely built phono cable, with a proper spade-terminated ground wire may be to blame for the hum? Or do you think the voltage issue is more likely to be the culprit? I've done an experiment taking the turntable and the phono stage to a friend's place, where voltage is stabilized at 117v, and the hum was reduced, but not disappeared. But then, the cables were the same.

2) Suppose the cables are to blame and I should invest in a pair of proper phono cables, do you think these expensive Kimber or Nordost with all these different threads and materials really make a difference? I'm a bit skeptical when it comes to spending 1k or 2k on interconnects as the difference in sound I've experimented when trying 50-dollar cables such as the Chord Crimson and 900-dollar ones such as the Kimber Selects was not that big.

3) Regarding the rumble, what if the VPI Traveler motor is to blame? I have to confess I find the DC adaptor that comes with the turntable pretty cheap-looking and am not too sure that noise is normal? Could it be that this particular motor that was installed on my turntable is not perfect? I suspect this could be an issue as the turntable setup was a bit of a nightmare, as the tonearm came from the factory with a few assembly problems that took me a while (and a few international phone calls) to solve.

Many thanks in advance for the help.

Frederico

Travis Franklin's picture

When I saw the Traveler at my dealer's, it looked as though the cueing lever protruded past the plinth.  Is that correct and is that a non-issue?

AlanG's picture

I have a brand new Traveler and I was wondering how quiet it should be when operating.  There is a bit of hesitataion and then some noise until the platter begins spinning.  Once speed has been established I can hear a bit of noise if I am close to the platter.  Is this normal or should the Traveler be 'dead' silent when spinning?  Thanks!!

 

Alan

fredbro44's picture

I have the original VPI Traveler. At first using it the motor made a noticeable noise, I was told by the seller to let it run overnight to break it in. It worked! It is dead quite for close to a year now.

Stanley1's picture

Sorry to put a damper on everyones love fest with the VPI Traveler turntable.

This has to be the worst designed tonearm I've ever seen. The tonearm should never have been released to the public in it's original form. It is simply not robust enough. The four small spikes holding it together are a joke. You can break the damn thing simply  by carefully taking it out of the foam packing.

I have read several reviews by professional reviewers who had the same problem I had. After pointing this out to the young president of the company, I was simply told that either I or UPS was too rough. I sent him the reviews of others who had the same problem. He simply refused to believe them. The dealer I purchased from was rebuked by Mat for not shutting me up.

I told the people at VPI that all you end up doing is accusing the customer of being too rough with the tonearm, when the real problem is the bad design.

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