Moreover, the Classic Direct has a high-mass platter weighing 18 pounds, comprising a ½"-thick machined-aluminum plate bonded to 2" of MDF to create a massive plinth that is so well damped it sharply reduces resonance. It also uses an external universal power supply that meets international standards and removes line-noise-generating components within the turntable.
The years of effort in putting this design together—and creating a custom motor, electronics, and platter—help explain the cost of the VPI Classic Direct. What really counts, however, is sound, and the end result is truly outstanding. The resulting “system” of the new tonearm and turntable does far less to color the sound than any unit I’ve heard to date.
I have to rely on my friends and dealer and manufacturer demonstrations for comparative listening. For reasons I can’t explain, Robert Harley didn’t send me a dozen of the world’s most costly rival turntables to use as standards of comparison. I do, however, pay close attention to the sound of other turntables and tonearms, and it has been a long, long time since I heard any turntable make this large a difference in my system, and do so in ways that make me seriously question just how much coloration there really is in competing products.
If you get the chance to audition it in a truly revealing system, I also think that you will find the improvement in sound quality does not require a long period of comparative listening to detect. Put a great cartridge in the tonearm; put on any record of acoustic music with low-level passages mixed with truly loud, demanding dynamics and deep bass; and you will begin to hear the difference immediately.
I found this out almost by accident. I began my reviewing process by setting up the unit and by assuming the VPI Classic Direct would take time to settle down and break in. (It does take time to perform at its best. Give it a couple of days of use to hear it at its best.) Accordingly, I casually put a recording of Haydn string quartets on the VPI, and began to read without paying much attention to the music.
When I did begin to listen, it was because my first reaction was that the Classic Direct was revealing exceptional soundstage detail and information about the individual string instruments, but that something was subtly wrong. The Classic Direct seemed to have a very-low-level mechanical problem that I have never head on that record that was just barely audible. It was hard to characterize: Not quite like rumble, but close.
The moment I switched to another LP, however, I realized that the VPI Classic Direct had actually revealed a sonic problem in the pressing of the record that was so low in level that it had been masked by previous turntables. A different and clean LP did not have a trace of any such problem.
I’m not going to bore you with a list of the discoveries that followed as I began to seriously listen to my collection of LPs, or what the Classic Direct revealed about the problems in some of my older discount-bin and other not quite perfect records. Older audiophiles already know all too well how many bad pressings came out at analog’s peak. Younger audiophiles are fortunate in that today’s vinyl is usually far better in quality control, noise levels, and distortion—and equally fortunate that no record shops now exist that allow the buyer to preview and damage records on lousy demonstration turntables before they are sold.
What came through again and again, however, was that the Classic Direct had a lower noise floor and that its speed stability did reveal a new level of detail. Moreover, the drop in low-level noise and improvement in detail was not frequency specific, and the soundstage and ambience became more realistic. Really minute details—like a musician making slight movements in a chair or rustling a score, off-stage noise, a bowing error or tap—came through more clearly.