Prime Turntable Review
High-end turntable blasts competition with 3D printed tonearm.
THE HIGH NOTES
- 3D printed tonearm
- 20lb. platter
- Heavy-duty AC motor
- Best high-performance value
Company & Product Overview
Harry and Sheila Weisfeld founded VPI Industries the same year Audio Advice opened its doors in 1978 — and we were one of the very first VPI dealers in the country. Today, VPI still makes all of their products in their northern New Jersey factory, using all local employees and sourcing all materials from local businesses. Over the years, they have become one of the most successful high-end audio brands in the United States, specializing in products that are known not only for their performance but for their great value.
The VPI Prime is a perfect example of the outstanding price/performance ratio of their products. The Weisfeld’s son, Matt, studied 3D design before joining the company and the Prime is his first turntable designed under Harry’s supervision. While its $4,000 price tag is hefty, its features are bountiful and include a 3D printed tonearm.
Packaging, Design & Build Quality
While the Prime’s packaging isn’t fancy, the cardboard box filled with custom foam cutouts does the job of containing all 54 pounds worth of parts safely and securely. You’ll find everything you need to set up the turntable, including both a stylus alignment jig and a stylus pressure gauge. As with any good turntable, this should be done by someone who has both experience and the right test equipment to get it perfect.
Upon unboxing the Prime, you’ll notice it’s not the typical rectangular shape of most VPI tables. The isolation feet are some of the most well-intended we’ve seen, with four pointed cones mounted to the bottom of the table with a pliable material. The tips of the cones sit in a round puck that has bearings on the bottom where they contact your cabinet surface. This unique design provides great acoustical isolation and adds to the Prime’s contemporary design.
Features & Technology
Now it’s time for the heavy lifting. The motor alone weighs in at over 5lbs. This massive AC motor sits to the side of the table, providing complete isolation, and has a pulley for the belt that is machined to .0005% tolerance to achieve perfect speed. If you find the motor heavy, wait until you pick up the platter. This 20lb. beast is made out of aluminum and damping materials. It’s 39” circumference is machined to a +/- .001” tolerance. Coupled to the hardened steel bearing, this system spins at a perfectly constant speed. We believe this characteristic is essential when trying to achieve the “live” feeling from music. If the speed is off, the music does not sound realistic. VPI’s method of mass is one of the best ways to accomplish this since the heavy platter will maintain consistency once it gets up to speed. The first time you flip the switch on the motor, you’ll hear it squelch as it torques up, but don’t let this worry you. While it sounds a bit odd, it’s normal.
The Prime’s 10” 3D tonearm is quite a feat. Ideally, a tonearm would be one single piece of material, yet until 3D printing, this has been almost impossible to manufacture. VPI was able to use anti-resonant materials, and the end result is an elegant one-piece tonearm.
The tonearm is a unipivot type, meaning it’s free to move around in all directions and only has one bearing. Many in the audio industry believe this is the most friction-free bearing around, allowing your phono cartridge to do its job. The unipivot bearing even has two side outriggers to fine tune its level position. VPI includes a 6” lightweight rod you rest in a groove on the top of the headshell section, allowing you to easily determine whether its level.
Another impressive tonearm feature is its fully adjustable VTA (vertical tracking angle), which allows you to move the tonearm in order to align the top of the phono cartridge parallel to the record surface in order to achieve the best possible sound. With most tonearms this is done by loosening screws in the side or base to raise or lower the arm, which makes it difficult to fine-tune the height. With the VPI arm, however, you simply loosen up two large screws, then use a large round knob to move the height up or down in small increments. Just as coffee fanatics experiment with achieving the perfect grind, VTA allows audio fanatics to experiment with achieving the perfect sound. There is even the option to make minor adjustments based on the thickness of your vinyl records, and the arm has a scale so you can record the exact setting for each record.
Finally, to couple the record better to the damped platter, VTA includes a stainless steel and delrin record clamp, which simply drops down over the center spindle to hold down the record.
At Audio Advice, we’re very particular about cables included with turntables. Since the signal coming out of your phono cartridge is extremely low in output, it’s necessary to use a higher end set of cables so nothing is lost in the transfer of the signal from your turntable to the phono preamp. The Prime does not come with cables, which we actually prefer, since it allows you to choose from any of the aftermarket cables on the market today. Your choices are unlimited and whatever model you select will fit firmly onto the high-end RCA jacks found on the back of your Prime table.
One final word of advice: you must ensure your Prime is set up by a professional. They can mount and align the cartridge perfectly, and should also preset the VTA to the right height for an average record. From there, all you need to do is put it back together and set the recommended tracking force.
To check out the Prime, we used it with the Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC cartridge. Like VPI, Soundsmith has been around for over 30 years and is actually made in the USA right down the road from VPI in Peekskill, NY. This is a $1,749 low output moving iron cartridge. The Zephyr was very easy to get setup properly with it’s square body. It also has very good channel separation.
One of our favorite test LPs is Cat Stevens Tea for the Tillerman and the Prime perfectly captures his somewhat gravelly voice. The first cut, “Where Do the Children Play,” has a variety of sounds and rhythm changes that are a noteworthy test for a high-end turntable. In the first 5 seconds, you can tell the Prime is special. we’ve never heard bass notes reach down so low while maintaining such a realistic tonal quality. This same track has some very close mic’d guitar lines throughout the song. There are actually two guitars playing which on some rigs is hard to distinguish. Not so on the Prime! They each stand out alone even when things really build up towards the end of the track.
The 3D arm really lets your phono cartridge do its job, too. Once everything was set up we were not able to detect a shred of cartridge mistracking. In terms of dynamics, the percussion sounds explode to life with the Prime. After critically listening to a few more tracks, we ended up turning off the lights and putting on an old favorite, the first Chicago Album, CTA. We were instantly immersed in the music. The 3D representation afforded by the Prime is almost spooky.
As we played more records, we found the presentation of the music on almost every recording was extending wider left to right than our speakers. We believe part of this is the outstanding audio quality of the Zephyr MIMC, but if the table and tonearm are not going a great job, you would never get that type of soundstage. The Zephyr is certainly a great match for this outstanding turntable. The combination produced deep rich bass, with a high-end extension that was never harsh — always smooth and liquid.
Listening to vinyl is a hobby full of fun and experimentation. If you want to dive deeper into this fun arena or are looking for a great table to jump in with, we think the VPI Prime is an amazing choice. To set it up right, you’ll probably be in the $5,500+ price range by the time you get an appropriate cartridge and set of phono cables, but we don’t know of another table offering more for the money. If you enjoy tinkering, you will absolutely love the adjustable vertical tracking angle.
HIGH NOTES UNPACKED
3D Printed Tonearm
This unique one-piece design finally solves the dilemma of creating a tonearm using the same material throughout. The material used in the 3D printing process is super anti-resonant, with the 3D printing solving the one piece headshell with no joint issue that plagues other arm designs.
20lb. Machined Platter
This well-damped aluminum platter is the ultimate for consistent speed. Made to a tolerance of .001″ over its 39″ circumference, once it gets started moving, it will not waver at all in its speed.
Heavy-Duty AC Motor
At five pounds with a pulley machined to 10,000 of an inch tolerances, this heavy duty AC motor couples perfectly to the heavy platter for unsurpassed pitch