When the late, great Edgar Villchur designed the three-point suspended sub-chassis turntable, first seen in the compact shape of the AR-XA, he could have little dreamt of the dominant effect his design would create across the Atlantic. It’s not that there was a shortage of competing products and technologies, but the hegemony established by Linn and its cohorts simply shouted down the likes of the Trio LO-7D, Technics SP10 and Goldmund Studio, not to mention uni-pivot and parallel tracking tonearms, moving iron cartridges, DC motors and a host of other approaches which have since resurfaced and more than proved their worth.
Across the pond, things were rather different. The LP12 was sufficiently expensive in the US market, which allowed breathing room for ‘tables that conflicted markedly with its design strictures. For example, with each iteration of Harry Weisfeld’s VPI designs, suspension became less and less laterally compliant until, in the Aries, it was gone altogether. Meanwhile, motors became free-standing, suspended mass increased and fly-wheel assemblies became the order of the day – all in the name of increased speed stability.
Little surprise then, that in seeking greater performance at lower prices, Harry has taken the final, almost taboo step of bolting the motor directly to the same plinth as the main-bearing. Doesn’t that send vibrational energy straight through the structure and into the stylus, where it’s added to and thus horribly distorts the signal?
Well, turntable power supplies are significantly better than they used to be, which allows synchronous motors to run far more quietly. Phono-stages have improved too, meaning that we can now hear the underlying costs of the floating sub-chassis as well as its benefits. CD has given us a greater appreciation of speed stability, while the increasing understanding of the crucial role of phase coherence in audio performance has further underlined that need. So, did we all imagine that the LP12 was good? No – it remains a genuinely great deck, but as is so often the case, its greatness is ascribed to the most obvious facet of its design, rather than the complex underlying strengths that really mattered (main bearing, heavy platter, the MC/medium mass tonearm match). Just look at what has pretty much remained unchanged, against all the things that have changed in the design if you want the proof of that particular pudding.
Nevertheless, the sub-chassis suspension is so deeply ingrained in the audio community that the Classic’s direct coupled path is an eyebrow-raising one. All of which makes VPI’s decision to develop and launch the Classic either very brave or very foolish; but given that Mr Weisfeld has been making turntables for longer than most of the competition (this is a 30th Anniversary product), we should be prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt…
The Classic is a large and actually rather handsome beast, in a foursquare, uncluttered sort of way. Its deep, wooden plinth and massive, one-piece aluminium platter create a seriously retro feel, and I’m certain that DNA testing would show up some deep-seated throwback to the Pioneer PL12D. The solid plinth is constructed from three layers of MDF, comes in black or Walnut finishes and is supported on four adjustable feet. These are derived from the TNT in terms of shape, and compliant mounting of their threaded posts provides a measure of isolation from the outside world, while three tiny balls sunk into the underside of each one ensure a stable footing. The platter revolves on a large diameter inverted bearing, bolted securely through the plinth and employing the VPI trademark thrust-pad, although in this case made from PEEK, chosen to support the heavier platter mass.
The motor occupies the front left hand corner of the plinth, rigidly clamped between a thrust plate and the triangular top-plate, topped by a stepped pulley to allow adjustment between 33 and 45RPM. The pulley itself runs very close to the platter periphery, which it drives via a round section, stiff rubber belt. A spare is provided with the deck. There is no platter mat, just a label recess in the centre of the aluminium top surface, while the spindle is threaded to accept the supplied VPI clamp (or optional record weight). Flip the platter over – no mean feat given its 18lb mass – and you’ll see a stainless steel damping plate firmly bonded to the underside, there to add mass and stop the whole thing ringing.