VPI Classic 4 Turntable/Tonearm (HI-Fi+)

The Cherry On the Icing On the Cake

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...

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