Could the world's best turntables come from New Jersey?
The Audiophiliac dropped by the VPI turntable factory and heard a lot of great sounds.
VPI has been making turntables in New Jersey since the early 1980s when Ronald Reagan was president, and everyone thought the CD would kill the LP in a few years. Well, VPI is still there and is currently experiencing a sales boom.
Harry Weisfeld has been at the helm since Day One, but he's about to step down and let his son Matt run the company. Harry will continue to design turntables and tonearms. He makes prototypes, listens to his handiwork, and then goes back and tweaks the design. I spotted lots of failed designs all over the factory, and Harry has a story about each one. VPI currently offers 10 turntables, four tonearms, and three record-cleaning machines. The JMW-3D is the newest addition to the VPI line; it's a tonearm made on a 3D printer. It takes 23.5 hours to "print" each one.
Weisfeld is a real stickler about his turntables' speed stability, aka wow and flutter, so each production turntable is QC'ed by a technician, and it has to be rock-solid or the turntable doesn't leave the factory.
Weisfeld has made only belt-drive turntables all these years, but he's readying his first direct-drive model, the Classic Direct, which will be the most expensive turntable he's ever designed. Matt was behind the introduction of VPI's least expensive model, the Traveler. Most of the parts used in VPI turntables are sourced from suppliers in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. VPI is also working within Brooklyn on a new phono cartridge that will come pre-installed on some VPI 'tables as an extra cost option.
Phones, computers, cameras, and Bluetooth speakers have rather limited useful lives, and when they break or the company no longer offers software updates, you throw them away. VPI turntables aren't cheap, but when you consider that they last practically forever, they might be worth buying if you have a large record collection. Think about it, if you have 500 LPs, and paid $10 for each one, you've invested $5,000 in your music collection! A first class turntable will enhance the sound of every LP. The factory still stocks parts and will repair any VPI turntable, even the first-generation models.
Matt Weisfeld is 28, but he's been around the turntable business his whole life. He built turntables and turntable motors at the factory when he was still in high school, and he's committed to developing more affordable turntables for a younger group of buyers. He just has to figure out how to keep the quality high enough to call it a VPI turntable.
We listened to a number of records in Harry's listening room at the factory, and there was no doubt that the man's passion for music and sound are deeply felt. The look on his face as we listened to outtakes of a 1957 Elvis Presley recording session told the tale. We were virtually there, in the studio with Presley and his band, and the air was charged with the sound of a young man changing rock music. The microscopic grooves on a well-recorded and mastered LP can contain more musical information than a high-resolution audio file. Weisfeld wants, with each new design, to hear more of the music.
We listened to the 3D printed tonearm, the JMW-3D, and compared it with one of Weisfeld's metal arms, and there was no doubt the JMW-3D extracted more music from the groove. There was less of a sense of listening to a spinning piece of plastic; it sounded more like an analog tape recording. The best speakers, amplifiers, and turntables impose less of their own "sound" on the recordings and let more of the music come through.
It's rare to be around someone who has been on the job for more than three decades and still has Weisfeld's drive. He loves his work.
I've used a VPI Classic turntable for years, and I won't be replacing it anytime soon. Turntable prices start at $1,400 for the Traveler; the company has 90 brick-and-mortar dealers in the U.S. and exports to 57 countries.