The original VPI Classic was a solid-plinth, fixed motor, heavy platter design reduced the essential elements that make up a turntable to the absolute bare essentials. Nothing particularly new in that of course, except that any such conceptual minimalism goes hand in hand with a clear set of priorities. Get those priorities right and your pared down product will fly on gilded wings. Get even one of those priorities out of step and you’ll rapidly dilute the supposed benefits of all that mechanical and philosophical distillation. What made the Classic an instant hit, was that its priorities weren’t just different to the norm, they really were spot on. In combination with VPI’s particular mix of technology and engineering solutions, the results were spectacular – especially given the modest price.
What’s in the mix? The thing that sets the Classic apart was its primary concern with speed stability, mandating a close mechanical coupling of motor and platter. Of course, many designers will tell you that the noise from the motor is the root of all evil, but Harry Weisfeld wasn’t buying that. He believed that speed stability was the forgotten parameter in record replay, particularly at the bottom end of the market. Investigation revealed just how accurate his supposition was – and the rest is history. The Classic mounts its motor securely to a massive slab of 70mm laminated MDF, topped off with a steel plate. The deep, cast aluminum platter runs on VPI’s established inverted bearing itself a crucial part in the chain. Because it uses a Teflon thrust pad, that bearing isn’t just quiet, it also helps prevent the transmission of noise from the motor into the platter itself. The end result is a motor, joined rigidly to the platter it drives but able to transmit energy only through the soft interfaces of the belt and bearing thrust pad. Listen to the Classic and you quickly realize just how right the essential proposition is. Speed stability and musical authority are unprecedented for the price, while noise floor and dynamic range are equally impressive. Not bad for a budget deck – which naturally means that things can only get better...
The Classic 2 adds the full-on, all-singing, all dancing JMW 10.5” tonearm, complete with VTA adjustment on the fly, lifting record replay by another substantial notch. But it’s the Classic 3 that gets really serious. A revised plinth uses 50mm of MDF, laminated with an 1/8th of an inch of steel and a 1⁄2” machined aluminium top-plate. The peripheral rim- clamp (which can be placed over OR under the record – if you don’t want to use it) and HRX record weight add even more flywheel effect as well as making warped records a thing of the past, while the arm is treated to a substantial mounting plate, making it adjustable on the fly but still rigid once you lock in the setting. Used with the SDS external power supply and matching HRX pulley, VPI have created a monster – one that demolishes competition at many times its price, as well as decimating VPI’s own extended family of more expensive ‘tables. My TNT 6 is gathering dust in storage since the Classics turned up. But the 3 is not the last word, and there’s one more spectacular trick in this particular tale. Roll out the Classic 4, the final proof of this particular pudding.
The Classic ‘tables are essentially relying on the massive platter and close-coupled drive system to deliver the required speed stability, while the sheer mass of their damped plinth dissipates unwanted mechanical energy from the motor and bearing. If that’s the case – and it certainly explains why the Classic 3, with its more sophisticated and effective sandwich construction sounds so much better than the 1 – then more plinth should be better again. That’s exactly what you get with the Classic 4: the same motor and platter/clamp/bearing set-up, but coupled to an extended plinth that is 3.5 inches wider and 4.5 inches deeper, capable of accepting not just a 12” tonearm in the primary position, but a second arm too. But the really interesting question is just how much difference that 33% increase in the size of the plinth makes. The answer is – a lot!
Okay, so you can’t eliminate the arm from the comparison – unless you mount the 3’s arm on the 4 – but that’s not going to impact on the two key areas that concern us here: noise floor and dynamic range. Listen to the 4 and there’s no escaping the extra sense of life, energy and immediacy it brings to recordings. Whether it’s the solid thwhack of the drums underpinning Elvis Costello’s ‘Little Triggers’ or the extra shape and motion, the pluck and release of the bass guitar notes, there’s simply more attitude and intent in the playing. It’s a better band, playing a better song and you can really hear that they’ve nailed it. The poise, the almost hesitations in the rhythm, are much more explicit, much more effective, elevating the track from the good to the truly great. The fragility and angst in the lyric are more apparent and as a result the whole thing makes much more sense, musically a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts. That’s what the 4 brings to the party and it’s no little thing...
What you are hearing here is the product of clearer separation of the instruments and clearer definition of the relationship between them. It’s all about placement, in time and space. The Classic 4 is simply letting you hear that much more clearly what the players are doing and exactly when they are doing it. The when is down to the speed stability and that’s what defines the internal chemistry within the band – but the what comes from the lower noise floor and more positive dynamic definition of the 4 and it’s that that adds the expressive power to the piece, adding the emotional flesh to the musical bones. The fact that you can hear that slight delay before the bass note, the pause before the drum pattern is what gives the track shape, accent and impact. This is what hi-fi is all about – cutting right to the core of the performance. It’s not about the detail as such, but the sense the player makes of that detail, and in this regard the Classic 4 is a whole step up from both the 3 and most other ‘tables I’ve used.
Of course, the 12” JMW also has its part to play, with its natural sense of ebb and flow, its stability and expansive soundstage, all characteristics of the reduced tracking error. But these are niceties that build on the foundation provided by the 4’s substantial plinth. Mounting the Triplanar on the second armboard proves the point, that arm’s articulation and rhythmic agility benefitting just as obviously from the super stable environment.
The fully loaded VPI Classic 4, paired with the JMW 12.7 is a versatile and incredibly communicative and engaging performer. In terms of sheer musical bang for your buck I’m not sure it need fear any competition, and certainly not at its price. Like any ‘table, it’s a mechanical device and precision set-up will reap major dividends. The beauty of the 4 is just how clearly it lets you hear those benefits – which is exactly where we’re going next time. What do you use as a support, as coupling and to optimise set-up and replay? Just how far can you take the Classic 4? With a second arm, two clamp options, a motor and power supply upgrade and more, the answer is surprisingly very far. The Classic 4 is the deck that grows with your vinyl maturity and few decks that offer this kind of versatile platform for replay have anything like the Classic’s ease of use... and even fewer offer such benefits on the right side of £10,000.
But perhaps the best bit of all for a real turntable enthusiast is that many of the lessons learned on the VPI Classic will apply equally to every other deck; let the tweaking (I mean fine tuning) begin...
Type: Belt drive, solid-plinth record player
Platter: High-mass, cast aluminium
Main Bearing: Inverted with Teflon thrust pad
Speed Adjustment: Electronic via separate SDS power supply
Tonearm: JMW 12.7
Effective Length: 308mm
Armwands: Interchangable without adjusting azimuth or VTF
VTA/SRA: Vernier scale, adjustable while playing
Prices: £7,950 Classic 4 with JMW 12.7 £9,850 Classic 4 with JMW 12.7 & 10.4 £1.340 SDS power supply/110v motor kit
Tel: +44 131 555 3922