The ‘table will also take the VPI peripheral clamp and can be used with the SDS external power supply, but the star of the show is undoubtedly the Classic tonearm. One benefit of such a straightforward plinth is that it frees up more money for the tonearm, and here you are getting what amounts to a refined and simplified version of the VPI JMW 10.5, complete with detachable armwand assembly and the option of ‘on the fly’ VTA adjustment if you are prepared to pay $700 for it (and I would be). This versatile uni-pivot design allows precise alignment of the cartridge in all three planes, alignment that’s preserved if the armtube is swapped. Stability and azimuth come from a low-slung, weighted collar around the bearing housing and the under-hung counterweight, while a simple falling weight bias system is provided, although I prefer the sound without it. Bear in mind that this might lead to uneven cartridge wear, although as a long time JMW user I’ve yet to experience this problem. Add in the VTA option and you’ve basically got a full-blown 10.5 arm in its own right, which on a deck that lists in standard form for less than £2,500 is little short of astonishing.
The deck that arrived for review was the standard model but with the VTA option on the arm and a second armtube to allow quick cartridge swaps. Of course, I’ve also got the SDS and Peripheral clamp from my TNT, allowing me to ring the changes as far as options are concerned, but I started without any extras, simply using the deck as supplied with the centre record weight and a Lyra Skala mounted in one tonearm and the Dynavector DV-20X in the other.
The first thing that strikes you about the classic is the absolute, rooted stability on which it builds the sound. If you are thinking staid or sluggish as a result you couldn’t be more wrong. The firm footing under the music is a perfect launching pad for whatever dynamic fireworks the disc wants to throw at you. Take a listen to ‘Paper In Fire’ from the John Cougar Melllencamp album Lonesome Jubilee. This was never a great recording but it’s most definitely brilliant music. The Classic picks it up by the scruff of the neck and drives this high-tempo track right into the room, giving it a sense of both physical presence and musical purpose that belie the thin and glarey recording. The energy and sheer life are infectious, but not bought at the expense of poor definition or separation. Just listen to the clean, crisp leading edges on the wood blocks, or the natural tonality and separation of the vocals. Sure, the deck can’t disguise the glaze that coats the crescendos, but it can dig through it to stop the instruments congealing into a single whole, keeping the band stable in space and the track on course. If this record on this ‘table doesn’t get you up and dancing then you are probably dead from the neck down.
But it’s not just about get up and go. ‘Real Life’ is also a high tempo number, but its feel is quite different, the urgency tinged with an empty need and desperation. It’s a shift that’s well within the Classic’s expressive compass and the deck makes no bones about what motivates this track, leaving the listener achingly aware of the underlying poignancy that fuels the lyric. In part, that emotive range is down to the sure-footed rhythmic agility of the Classic, a quality that allows it to deliver the drum accents that conclude each chorus and the bridge with real impact and precision. Grin factor? Off the scale and climbing fast!
Switching to something acoustic and arguably a little more delicate leaves the deck completely unfazed. The famous Romero’s recording of the Concierto De Aranjuez (Alessandro and the San Antonio S.O.) may lack the astonishing immediacy and spectacular space and transparency of the Argenta/Yepes reading, but it is nevertheless a majestic performance with a wonderfully coherent acoustic spread, orchestral perspective and a solo performance that seamlessly blends fiery passion, poise and delicacy. The rock solid rendition delivered by the Classic helps bring the performance to life, enclosing the listener in the same acoustic space with a sense of real, living, breathing musicians. The sense of focus, of an instrument locked in space and a person playing it is noticeably enhanced by the use of the record weight, or even better the peripheral clamp. Transparency improves as does depth, while the stage boundaries become more apparent and the images more dimensional and solid. Listen to the carefully structured opening of Rodrigo’s Second Movement and you quickly realize that the Classic got a full quota of the VPI spatial DNA, the various instruments beautifully located and stepped across the orchestral plane.