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VPI’s 3D "Printed" Tone Arm: Does it Sound Better, Worse, or the Same As the Standard Metal JMW Memorial Arm?

Stereophile's May issue includes my first of a two part review of VPI's Classic Direct Drive turntable. Does the new 3D printed tone arm sound different than the company’s standard metal one? Does it sound better, or not as good? I give my opinion in the review.

You make the call here. Here are two 96/24 files. Are they both the same file? Or, if you hear one sounding better, state your preference.

If the files are different, one file features the Lyra Atlas installed in the standard VPI JMW arm mounted on VPI's new Classic Direct Drive turntable.

The other file features the Lyra Atlas installed on the new 3D printed tone arm on the same turntable. All measured set-up parameters were identical.

The phono preamp is the Ypsilon VPS100. The preamp is the D'Agostino Momentum while the A/D converter is Ayre's QA-9. The interconnect between the phono pre and preamp is TARA Labs Evolution, which replaces the Zero.

Please vote and leave a comment explaining your vote.

File "A"

File "B"

VPI’s 3D "Printed" Tone Arm: Does it Sound Better, Worse, or the Same As the Standard Metal JMW Memorial Arm?

BillK's picture

I thought "A" sounded more natural; in particular the cymbals sounded the way I remember them sounding when I played percussion in band and orchestra in High School; by comparison "B" sounded a bit rolled off and missing in initial impact.

However depending on how the recording was miked, what sounds natural could be bright and the rolled-off sounding "B" could be right, but assuming proper miking, I like "A."

Jay's picture

I went for A, B sounds just a little too laid back to me.  That particular one of the picture, "The Hut on Fowls Legs" depicts a piece of poison bait (like Grimm's later gingerbread cottage) used to lure children to a cannibal witch, so it should bite!

wheatie's picture

Agree with most of the comments about B being smoother than A. However A sounds  more like the symphony orchestra I heard live recently (RSNO at Usher Hall). Especially timpani. Sounds like something being hit in A which I didn't really get in B.

Incidentally I am listening to this through same kit as I use for vinyl.

Dorian Workman's picture

I listened on MacBook Pro in QuickTime Player, Etymotic ER-4Ps with custom ear molds plugged directly into Mac (no external DAC).  I hear more air and separation on B, more "immediacy", more punch, more lively.  Just more enjoyable.

DigitalIsDead's picture

We are now comparing analog sound on digital gear.  Am i the only person not missing the irony?  No thankyou.

Packgrog's picture

That's a $3000 ADC, if memory serves. I'd be SHOCKED if that thing weren't providing a hi-res recording that's nearly indistinguishable from the analog signal with the right equipment. It's not like he's providing redbook conversions, which definitely ARE distinguishable from analog. Besides, we're trying to compare the differences between two pieces of gear, which is a lot easier when you can A/B test the signal.

SimonH's picture

Sometimes it helps to listen with an open heart and open mind

unreceivedogma's picture

Not the only one. See my comment.

Waxxy's picture

I would imagine the differing effective masses of the armwands would have a significant impact on the performance of the cartridge.  I have both a Classic III (stainless steel) and 3D armwands and I've found that different cartridges seem to sound better on each one.  The resonant frequency of the combined cart / armwand would be different.  Some carts 'prefer' heavier arms, some 'prefer' lighter.

Lifer's picture

There is just more life to it.  I prefer the more aggressive sound on this rather aggressive piece of music. 

jquiroga77's picture


I voted B , I wouldn't be able to stand A for very long.

pbowne's picture

"A" seems to be slightly more dynamic and has more energy, also seems a little brash or shrill.  "B" has more air, more focus, and seems entirely more natural.  Kind of like the effect when I added Stillpoints to my system.

JRSBat's picture

A seemed more clear, crisp.  B sounded too muted for my taste.

Jim Tavegia's picture

This track appears at track 14 and you can also make CD and SACD comparisions of the material.  For me this lp played in this VPI table with either arm is remarkable sounding and I find the SACD excellent as well and am glad I own it. May have to buy the lp now. 

I wanted to post this now as I am off to install laminate in our living room after pulling up pad, carpet, tackstrip and will not stop until finished. I hope many others vote over the weekend. 

I am more puzzeled by the number of voters who heard no differences as most of us clearly did. even my younger teaching cohort who chose A while I chose B that it was odd that so many heard no differences as to him they were clearly there.  He did understand how some could like B better. Afterall, this is a preference. 

I will be curious as to Michael's comments on which TT arm is closer to his Contimuum. 

sjlava450's picture

Mac Mini-iTunes-Audivirana-Classe CP-800-McIntosh MC2000-Proclaim DMT-100.

A had more energy, brighter tonal qualities, more forward presentation. I felt like I was seated in row 5 of the hall, not a seat I would choose to hear the Chicago Symphony live.

B had a greater sense of the concert hall from a seat about 10 rows back from A`s position. To my ears the instruments sounded significantly more natural. Different emotionally from A, much more of a balanced orchestral sound with plenty of detail and energy.


IMHO, listening to A for an extended period of time would be fatiguing.

Just my opinion

Tullman's picture

I liked B better. File A was more strident. File B had a more natural timbre to my ears. I listened from the headphone jack on my Mac to a NAD C 372 into Polk LSiM 703 speakers and a DIY subwoofer.

mikerr's picture

very mysterious

sagakatt's picture

It sure is misterious

Superfuzz's picture

I have this same record... here's roughly the same clip. The level is slightly hotter, so raise the others if comparing. This was done on a setup costing much less than what Mr. Fremer used, so I don't expect this to "win"... but I think it shows that what matters most is the actual record... the particular mastering, pressing, etc.!KMFxgQZK!DJcG3efHmJFd2jE6hZe1GamOd4pxEPRlbzMzTTXRPvw

rosser's picture

When will the answer be revealed?

BillyJ's picture

I chose A, but after the listening, I looked at both files in Audacity, and they are not matched. I did a 2 second long spectrum plot beginning at 32.908 seconds for A, which coresponded to 40.084 seconds for B. A measured -19 DB at 188 HZ, and B measured -22 DB at 188 HZ. It was obvious to me w/o measuring that B was down in volume from A, just looking at the tracks in Audacity. I can't say if this difference in volume was what gave more excitement and weight to A, or if it was the arm. W/o normalizing the files and going by just the files as is, I found A to be more lifelike, exciting, and it was easier to distinguish between instruments.

dhyman's picture

I think it's probably somewhat system dependent.  for me, on my system, b sounds overdamped. a might be higher in distortion, but it's livelier, more open (not too open), more transient snap, and more dynamic gestalt.

b's got its edges rounded off, like a slightly overloaded cartrdige. or the tonearm is overdamping.

ewarwoowar's picture

File A sounded far more clear and three-dimensional to my ears. File B was pleasant and enjoyable, too, but far more homogeneous than File A which really differentiated the instruments clearly. I was really surprised at the difference. 

Great post, looking forward to finding out which is which.

ppripper's picture

A sounds a little bit more artificial in a direct comparison. Highs are "harsher" on A.

unreceivedogma's picture

#1 — Why do an A/B comparison to test analog content on digital equipment?
#2 — Especially on a desktop, with technology so inferior that it is bound to mask the superior qualities of each tonearm, and in ways that are likely to be unpredictably asymmetrical
#3 — Therefore, I voted "The files are identical" because who the h--l knows?

Alberello's picture

If your headphones and amplification are good enough you will notice big differences, even if the output is digitalized! It's a big orchestra and is one of the most difficult things to reproduce because there is a lot of musical information inside.

RCZero's picture

Where is the answer?

Michael VPI's picture

A has more impact, drama, and coherence, but as more JMW of the past (I own JMW 12.5 in HR5) lacks the ultimate crispness in highs where B is the only area that is smoother.
In any case, are you sure that Lyra Atlas (or Etna) is appropriate for the test? Or to extent it, is the best Lyra ever made? Because I compared an Atlas vs an old Titan (from 2004, with thousants og playing hours, not the i) in a Well Tempered Ref (ARC ref 2 Phono, ARC ref 5 pre, ARC 210 amps, Magnepans 3,5, AQ cables) and found Titan more juicy and meaty than Atlas which is a bit annoyingly bare bones analytical!

Alberello's picture

I notice more dynamic in A, than the platters are a lot more realistic and bighter! I have the same sensation with trombones, they are way more alive in A.
I am listening with my Sennheiser HD-650, source my PC, optical out to Musical Fidelity X-DACv3 --> X-10v3 --> X-CANv3, all powered by X-PSUv3.

Alberello's picture

where the arm identification? Which is Which?