State Of Play – Part Two

I could write this as a simple ‘source-plus’ review – where you the reader gets to choose the nature of the source component(s) you’ll be hooking up. But with all that effort and real-estate expended on the MC stage (it takes up around half of what is a pretty crowded chassis) it seems an awful shame not to give it its druthers. So in keeping with the high-value, high-performance, US theme, I hooked up the VPI Avenger turntable, complete with JMW 12-3D uni-pivot tonearm. Like all things VPI – and despite the striking first impression – the Avenger is both inherently simple and the next, linear development of the much-loved TNT turntables of yore. In fact, the core elements are essentially unchanged, from the laminated aluminium/acrylic chassis and inverted bearing to the massive platter, decoupled feet and separate motor housing. The shift to a three-legged, skeletal form opens up the possibility of mounting up to three arms of almost any length, the offset, pivoting armboards mounting directly to the bosses in each corner. Add to that the benefit of being able to add established TNT accessories such as the external power supply, rim-drive and peripheral clamp, along with VPI’s traditional modular/upgradable construction and you have a model of practicality and value. Arguably overshadowed by the direct-drive Anniversary model, the upgradable, expandable Avenger series are, nonetheless, the very essence of high-value, high-performance audio. The only thing you need to look out for is the large footprint that results from the equilaterally placed legs. Not many racks will accommodate a front to back dimension of 50cms – or even 44 if you set the deck at an angle – but then the TNTs were always big beasts.

VPI Avenger turntable, sporting the JMW 3D12 tonearm – with rare original version armtube and Lyra Etna Lambda cartridge

The JMW tonearm has been a constant companion for over 20 years, a fact that reflects its inherently musical performance and its nicely judged set of operational facilities. 12” tonearms with VTA adjustment on the fly are no longer the rarities they were when the VPI arm first arrived – but that just underlines how right Harry Weisfeld got it all those years ago. Available in three lengths (9, 10.5 and 12”) the armtubes were originally constructed from aluminium, but these days they are 3D printed. But what makes the JMW unique – and as far as I am concerned, indispensible – is the ability to swap a complete arm-top and cartridge, in a matter of moments, while preserving all the critical cartridge settings. For running more than one cartridge, or comparing different cartridges, there is simply no better tonearm, while for music lovers with 78 or micro-groove mono records to play, it is the answer to their prayers. Yet this ability to meet every audio requirement and allow every possible adjustment isn’t an exercise in engineering extravagance. It’s a natural outgrowth of the arm’s raison d’être: maximum music for the maximum number of music lovers; Harry set out to build the arm that he wanted for himself and, as a music lover, he succeeded in spades! As musically satisfying as it is versatile and practical, the JMW may not be hi-fi fashionable, but it is so musically engaging that it is literally all the arm that many of us will ever need.