I have to confess that it was a surprising contest between the Sussurro II and the Ortofon A95, for someone whose taste runs to the smoothness of moving-iron designs. Moving coils have come a long way from the upper-octave problems they had in the past, and both the Sussurro II and the Ortofon A95 were great cartridges. Moreover, they have price tags that only mildly stress the limits of today’s market—rather than increase them to not so glorious excess. I will definitely be using the Sussurro II as my new reference, however, and it really helped to have a great tonearm and turntable that allowed me to hear it at its best.
At the same time, analog is analog. No cartridge is ever as accurate in the frequency domain or has as much channel separation and lack of mechanical and electronic distortion as digital. Many audiophiles, however, consciously or unconsciously choose a cartridge that gives them what they feel is a greater musical experience and develops a unique degree of synergy with the rest of their system and listening room.
Most records are cut in ways that compress the sound to some extent and limit the demands on the cartridge. But if you do as much as possible to reduce the background noise and dynamic limits of a really good LP, the resulting music can sound more natural in a home system than a digital recording whose quietest passages may actually be too quiet for listening in many homes and/or too loud in the loudest passages.
Put a record with complex acoustic instruments, silent passages mixed with truly loud demanding ones, and really deep bass on a combination as good as the Avenger Reference, and the sound is not only more musical, it is more involving. A great tonearm and turntable combination also allows you to hear an improvement in the subtler aspects of the soundstage, and more audience detail in recordings of live performances.
This is particularly true with good record surfaces and cartridges that do not have a rise or peak in the upper midrange. I find that such analog combinations also produce more musical results in comparison with the many classical digital recordings that have too much upper-midrange energy. Going for soundstage and imaging detail are fine, but not at the cost of depth, warmth, and natural listening distance from the performance.
I’m not much for loud musical spectaculars, or actually enjoying sonic extremes as music. Once again, the cartridge is the most serious limiting factor in playing such records, not the tonearm and turntable; nevertheless, I was still impressed with the Avenger Reference’s ability to handle really demanding symphonic peaks, choral music, and the inevitable organ spectaculars and bass drum whacks.
My normal tests are recordings of Saint-Saëns Third Symphony and Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand, some demanding Bach organ music LPs, demanding percussion records, and some of my daughter’s old rock LPs. Once again, the cartridge I choose is a limiting factor, but the Avenger gave the cartridge as much opportunity as possible. (A brief experiment with the Shure V5MR and its Dynamic Stabilizer made it clear that there was something to be said for high-compliance cartridges with a damping brush, but it also showed how good the Avenger could be in handling such records when the cartridge could more or less cope.)
As for comparisons with other turntables, I was not about to try to arrange a turntable shootout—ask my friends with truly costly competing turntables to somehow move them to my home, or try to move the Avenger Reference to theirs. I could, however, compare it to the Classic Direct, and its overall level of detail and “silence” were competitive and sometimes slightly superior. I would give the Classic Direct a possible—but faint—superiority in tonal consistency, but the difference was problematic. The comparison did again make it clear that the new VPI tonearm in the Avenger Reference was distinctly better than my older one.
Yes, you can get really good analog sound out of VPI’s much less expensive alternatives, as well as out of many of its competitors. To go back to a point I made earlier, however, no real audiophile can resist exploring the limits of a turntable like the Avenger Reference if he has the resources to buy one. It really is a great unit, and if you are going to buy a top cartridge and phono preamp, you are going to need a turntable-tonearm combination of this quality to match them.
I also have to say in defense of the Avenger’s price that it is a practical exercise in technology and physics. There are some “extreme” turntable designs which seem to be more exercises in high tech than practical units. Don’t get me wrong, some much higher ne plus ultra competitors are superb, but some aren’t. I’d wanted to be sure I could hear real differences—if any—before I paid more and not simply judge by the price tag. I’d also wanted to ensure what I bought was built to last. You can always pay more, but getting more over time can be a different thing.
Specs & Pricing
Wow and flutter: 0.03%
Speed accuracy: 0.04%
Rumble: 82dB down
Dimensions: 27" x 13" x 23"
Weight: 110 lbs.
Price: $17,000 ($20,000 with MW 12-3D Reference ’arm)
VPI INDUSTRIES, INC.
77 Cliffwood Ave. #5D
Cliffwood, NJ 07721