Recommendations for a tonearm upgrade on a VPI Classic 4 turntable

Greetings Everyone,

I have a VPI Classic 4 turntable that I bought with the 12 inch JMW 3D tonearm. My cartridge is a Dynavector XV-1S. This is the first unipivot tonearm I have owned, and after a year I have decided that I really don't like it.  I am considering upgrading to the 12 inch VPI Fatboy gimbaled and would love to hear your opinions on that tonearm, or others that you think I should consider.

Dear @qchorn : Problem with the one you own is that’s a unipivot design an all unipivots are unstable to really permit any cartridge to shows it at its best, even the 2 point after market VPI up-grade has not the true stability need it and that any cartridge ask for.

I own that Dynavector cartridge and performs great with SME and other alternative can be Reed but with SME is really good match and as the other gentleman posted Kuzma is a good alternative.

Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,
You have a very good arm; I have the same and I'd be interested to know what it is that you do not like.  But can't argue with you if you have the money to spend.  IIWY though I might look at the Kuzma, a design that has proven itself over the years.

BUT, before you do that you might, if you haven't already, try the VPI dual pivot.  A bit of a contraption, but it does improve the arm in a couple of ways.  Even better with the ruby ball point.
Thank you for your responses!  I will check out the SME and the Kuzma as well.

melm: to answer your question, my biggest complaint about the JMW 3D unipivot is that the alignment is not stable, particularly azimuth.  I will carefully align the azimuth, play a couple records, and then recheck it and it will be good. But I come back three days later and it is off again and needs to be realigned.  Even when it is statically aligned, I'm not convinced that in a dynamic situation that it is not shifting back and forth ever so slightly.  I think that with a cartridge that is as sensitive to alignment as the DV XV-1S, this is not a good thing.  That being said, with a Denon 103R (a cartridge which I absolutely love) this is not as big of an issue.

Again, this is my first unipivot and maybe it is just my comfort with gimbaled tonearms that is the issue.  Perhaps if I grew up with unipivots I would love this arm.  The good news is that I can have my second armboard drilled and mount the unipivot with a different cartridge.  
Oh, I almost forgot...adjusting the counterweight on the JMW 3D unipivot is a serious PIA.  Just when I almost get it dialed in, I overshoot and have to start over.  I'm sure many of you think that I am crazy and that you have no problems, but honestly, for a tonearm that retails for over $2k, this should be trivial. I have used many other tonearms that had very simple and perfectly sonic solutions to adjusting the counterweight easily and effectively.  This was clearly an oversight on VPI's part.  

So, my plan is to remount the JMW 3D unipivot on my second armband and probably put a Denon 103R cartridge on it.  I think this will be a great combination. When properly aligned, the DV XV-1S can be brutally honest when it comes to finding imperfections in the pressing or the recording quality, where as the Denon 103R can be much more forgiving (sacrificing a bit of detail, of course). The idea of having both options available to me at any time is very appealing.
I can relate to your tonearm woes.  I switched from my Sota Sapphire vacuum table with an SAEC 407 tonearm and Dynavector 20X2 LOMC to a modified Oppo 205D CDP.  I have never second-guessed the decision.                          
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ha ha, fair enough.  I am a pensioner and my final straw was when my active cat jumped on my tone arm and destroyed the stylus on my Dynavector cartridge.

With my digital music, no pops, no clicks, no cleaning records, and no worries about what tonearm might garner a bit more resolution to my recordings.  No VTA or overhang adjustments to worry about or nor any need of step-up devices or phono preamps, I am done with all that.  For a guy with a mild case of OCD, I was very happy to step away from vinyl music reproduction and its myriad hassles.

God bless you vinyl devotees, carry on. much of a pia is it only do it once.   To make it easier if that's what you need is the Counterintuitive from Soundsmith.  Also, the 2nd VPI pivot dials in the azimuth and keeps it rock steady..  If indeed you need can get the gimbal VPI arm

I sympathize with you, I ditched my Prime for that exact reason. The arm was too fiddly! Every time I went to use it, I had to adjust the horizontal plane and screw with the side weights. I could never cue the record in the right spot. That unipivot arm is not for me. If they had the gimballed arm available for the Prime, I may have kept the table.
I have had two unipivots, and they suck! Except the Graham. Art Dudley loved the Naim.
+ Stringreen
Counterintuitive from Soundsmith makes azumith adjustments much easier on VPI 3d unipivot. it also helps with slight downforce adjustments.
look for REED 
reed 3p for example, available in  9.5″ 10.5″ 12″ with different armwands
... The arm was too fiddly! ... That unipivot arm is not for me ...
It’s just a personal thing, but I find unipivot arms to be kind of creepy. I’ve never met one that I liked. It just seems to me that a pickup arm should be rigid and not floppy and wiggly.

I know that it’s all in my head, because I’ve heard VPI unipivot arms sound absolutely fantastic, and in more than one system. But they are just not for me.
I had the same azimuth problem with a JMW arm.  It needed  adjustment every few weeks.  In the end it turned out to be the teardrop cw was the culprit.  I moved to an Espressimo Audio half moon and could go 4 - 5 months.  Still too fiddly though.   Also, weep, warp and wobble are not uncommon with the 3D.  
When I ordered my Classic 4, I had a new SME 312s sent to VPI to have it installed. The arm sounds excellent but after having lived with it for three years, I have the following minor criticisms:
1) VTA adjustment is imprecise and not doable on the fly.
2) I found azimuth adjustment very difficult to get right. When you tighten the head shell screw, it can twist a tiny amount, which is enough to have to readjust.
3) The arm rest height adjustment requires a tiny Allen wrench, supplied, but it is difficult to contact the hidden screw. I think the screw head is now stripped.

But sonically its probably hard to beat. I find the damping paddle to be very beneficial. I filled the trough up to the top, which has greatly improved imaging and smoothness.


Wow, that story about your cat makes me very depressed. I think if a cat jumped on my turntable and fragged my Dynavector that I would be having roast cat for dinner.  Probably a good thing that don't have cats.  I do have a 10 year old kid, and when he was 7, he and a friend somehow managed to knock over one of my PSB towers.  It fell towards my previous turntable, but hit the corner of the rack and was diverted.  Aside from a sizable dent in the side of the PSB, nothing was damaged. Otherwise, I think I might have had roast kid for dinner that night. Actually, the looks on those boys' faces when I came into the room was almost worth the dent in my PSB.  Eyes as big as onions!  I've never seen two kids that scared!


I think that "creepy" is a pretty good descriptor.  I would also add "stressful".  I've never gotten used to how that unipivot bounces around. I know that they can sound great, but they are not for me.

stringreen and gpgrblu:

Thank you for the suggestion of the Counter Intuitive.  I think if I had seen this a year ago I would have bought it on the spot.  The fact that there is a market for a device like this reinforces my view that unipivots like this one are really hard for some of us to get used to.

Thank you one and all for your very helpful responses.  I bit the bullet and purchased the gimbaled Fatboy yesterday, but it won't arrive until sometime next week.  Normally I would have wanted it to arrive before the weekend, but nowadays it doesn't really matter because my wife and I are working from home and home schooling our 10 year old (for those of you reading this in the future, we are in week 6 of the coronavirus crisis). Basically, everyday is a weekend day if I want it to be, and weekends can become work days if they need to be.  I can barely remember what day it is any more!

Cheers everyone!
I think you will be very happy with the Fatboy gimbaled. I replaced my uni for the gimbaled on my Prime Sig and love it. Respect, Joe
Greetings Everyone!

First and most importantly, Happy Mother's Day!  Call your mom!

Second, I mounted the Fatboy gimbaled tonearm yesterday.  I would say that I am 95% of the way to a perfect alignment of tonearm and cartridge (Dynavector XV-1s) at this point, but it's definitely good enough to provide some preliminary thoughts.

First of all, the Fatboy gimbaled was a joy to set up compared to my 3D unipivot arm.  In particular, azimuth and tracking force were a breeze.  

Sound wise, I'm really blown away.  I'm not sure if the tonearm actually sounds that much better, or if the ease in alignment is allowing me to get more out of the DV XV-1s, but either way, the improvement is readily apparent.  The first thing I noticed was the utter lack of sibilance. I've always struggled with sibilance because I am a sucker for really detailed cartridges.  Getting proper alignment of the XV-1s is critically important so this improvement might have more to do with relative ease in alignment of the Fatboy gimbaled compared to my previous arm.  But either way, it is a HUGE improvement.  

Every aspect of the sound is improved.  Even my wife noticed a difference when I played a few of her favorite tracks last night. 

All of that being said, I do have one major complaint: I cannot figure out how to set the anti-skate on this darn thing.  I'll leave that for another thread, but good grief, twisting a wire, really?  And the fishing line do-hickey thing is completely unreliable and inconsistent.  Of course, I had the exact same issues with the 12" 3D tonearm, so nothing new there.

Thanks again for all of you that helped me with this decision!  Happy listening!


The wire twist is wrong.....when the wire relaxes (every temp. change) the force will be different.   I have the a/s gizmo....I just wonder what the sound difference is between perfect a/s (no such thing) and no a/s at all.