Prime Scout Turntable Review
Regular Price $2,500.00 $2,500.00
THE HIGH NOTES
- Prime Heritage
- Incredibly Well-Made
- Fully Upgradeable
Company & Product Overview
The year was 1980 and a couple of companies were just getting started, VPI Industries and Audio Advice. Audio Advice was one of the very first dealers in the entire country to carry VPI’s original table, the HW-19. The first table from Harry Weisfeld started a big following for VPI. Four decades later we are still a VPI dealer, and with the vinyl revival in full swing, business at VPI is booming. Harry’s son, Mat, now runs VPI and he still holds to the philosophy established by his dad: use all American made parts and when you can, source them from suppliers in the local area.
Both Harry and Mat have the inventor gene and love to tinker with new designs. This has led them to create over 40 different turntable models since the first HW-19. Today we are looking at their latest model, the VPI Prime Scout. It is actually the 8th turntable from VPI to have “Scout” in the name, the first being the Aries Scout back in 2001.
The VPI Prime is one of our all-time favorite turntables and to say we were thrilled to see a lower-priced version appear as a Prime Scout would be a huge understatement; we just love it!
As we discuss the Prime Scout, we'll also look at some of the similarities and differences between it and the original VPI Prime.
Design & Build Quality
VPI products are known for their build quality and this is not something they wanted to waiver on with the Prime Scout. The team wanted to create a product that fits in with their heritage and offered the VPI, all American experience at a great value. VPI already had an incredible table in the Prime to draw inspiration from, so it was just a matter of figuring out how to strategically trim it down to almost half the price of the Prime.
From the shape of the plinth to the outboard motor, the structure of the platter/clamp combination, and even the tonearm, the Prime Scout shares many of the same design characteristics with the Prime. While it’s not as heavy as the Prime, the Prime Scout still weighs in at a massive 32lbs! This is one serious turntable.
Both the Prime and Prime Scout are fully manual, belt drive turntables. Both have an external motor which drives a very heavy platter. VPI has several different versions of their JMW unipivot tonearms and the Prime Scout gets the 9” model. The JMW 9 will support a wide variety of cartridges with its fully adjustable vertical height. VPI even gives you a list of recommended phono cartridges for the Prime Scout on their website. We are pleased to note that Audio Advice is a certified dealer for all of these recommended cartridges from Grado, Ortofon, Soundsmith, and Sumiko.
It is highly advisable to have your turntable set up by someone who knows that they are doing. Mounting the phono cartridge is a job for a person who has done more than just a few in their day. Audio Advice is a fully certified and trained VPI dealer, so you can rest assured that if you purchase your Prime Scout from us, we will get it setup properly for you.
To turn on the Prime Scout you flip the switch on the side of the motor and in a few seconds, it will be up to speed. VPI makes changing from 33 to 45 on the Prime Scout a simple matter of moving the belt to the lower groove on the motor pulley. The Prime Scout does not come with a dust cover, but there are aftermarket options available in the $300 or so price range from a couple of companies. The VPI turntables all come with a very solid RCA connection block. You’ll need a set of good cables to get from the back to your phono section.
Features & Technology
With the original Prime, Mat came up with a concept for the plinth designed to minimize the pickup of external vibrations. The Prime Scout has almost the exact same shape but is slightly less thick than the Prime. You also get a massive outboard motor on the Scout -- totally separated from the table itself. The only connection point is the rubber belt. This is the exact same motor used in the more expensive Prime, just with a more basic housing. The Prime does have a slightly more precision-tuned motor pulley, however.
All VPI tables use a very heavy platter for a great flywheel effect. Once a heavy platter gets up to speed, the mass prevents some of the small speed variations you see in other, less expensive turntables. We can hear this as super true pitch. The Prime Scout is no exception to this rule with its massive 12lb. platter!
Another very important factor in maintaining that pure speed VPI tables are famous for is the bearing that supports the platter. Designing a great bearing system can be a bit of a challenge. You do not want any chance that the lower shaft of the turntable platter will wobble. It has to be held firmly, but with almost zero friction. On top of all that, it has to be dead quiet as any noises will make their way up to the platter and into your phono cartridge. This is why in cheap turntables you can hear a rumbling sound in the background.
In the case of the Prime Scout, the bearing system is almost identical to the Prime. VPI’s oil bath system uses a Thompson Engineering 60 Rockwell case hardened shaft that sits on top of PEEK thrust disc surrounded by machined graphite impregnated brass bushings. That’s a mouthful, but suffice it to say that with this type of design there is zero wobble. It should be able to spin for about 100 years without any wear on the bearing. It’s also practically dead silent!
Continuing down the path of keeping any noise from getting into the table, VPI developed some pretty special isolation feet for the Prime Scout. They are constructed from Delrin, a super hard plastic material. This is one area where the original Prime has more going for it, but heck, the Prime Scout is almost half its price! The Prime Scout also comes with a screw-down record clamp that is very handy for minimizing the effect of any warps in your records.
The JMW 9 tonearm is a full unipivot design. This means it is virtually friction-free in all planes. Unipivot type arms are trickier to get calibrated, but properly set up with a good cartridge it will extract a ton of information out of your record grooves. Everything on it is fully adjustable which will allow you to perfectly match it to your phono cartridge. We’ve already said this, but unless you really know all about cartridge overhang alignment, VTA set up, tracking force, anti-skating, and azimuth adjustments, please trust this set up to a trained professional. When done right, it can be magical. Done incorrectly, however, and not only is it bad news for your records, but you will not get all of that great sound from your record grooves.
One reason VPI tables have been so popular over the years is that they just disappear. By this, we mean they do not seem to impart any sonic signature of their own on your records. While phono cartridges are very much like speakers (they all sound quite different), a great turntable should just do its job without adding or subtracting anything from your sound.
We ran through a few of our favorite classic test records and can say the Prime Scout is just an amazing table for the money. Just for grins, we paired it up with the same cartridge we used on our Prime testing, the Soundsmith Zephyr MK III. It lets your cartridge retrieve far more bass than you would expect for this price range, speed stability is excellent for the money, and you will have great 3-dimensional imaging if your speakers or headphones can reveal that part of the sound field.
So, you probably want to know how it compares to the Prime? Well, the Prime goes deeper, tracks better for even more resolution, and to us, has an even purer pitch (speed stability).
Which brings us to the great news. You can start out with a Prime Scout and later as your budget allows buy many of the parts from the Prime to upgrade it! If you want to, you can upgrade to the 20lb. Prime platter, get the stainless steel weight and even upgrade to the JMW 10 3D printed tonearm.
If you are reading over this, you are probably in the market for a great turntable. We think the Prime Scout is going to go down in history as one of the best turntables VPI ever made for the money. If $2,200 for the table alone is anywhere near your budget, you should seriously consider the Prime Scout. Just please be aware that to get the best from it, it will need to be set up by a pro. There are other tables in this price range that are easier to set up, but the sound you will get from the VPI Prime Scout will amaze you!
HIGH NOTES UNPACKED
When you first see the Prime Scout, you will notice it looks strikingly close to its famous big brother, the Prime. Everything VPI learned in their Prime table seems to have been passed down into the Prime Scout. What a value!
Like all VPI products, the Prime Scout is 100% American-made. Every single part of it is put together with great precision and pride. It is a true pleasure to use and should last for many many years.
Not only is the Prime Scout a great table, but if you get the hankering to make it even closer to the Prime, many of the Prime parts can be added to it later, so you have a wonderful upgrade path.