Review: V P I Industries TNT-3 Turntable

Category: Analog

The VPI TNT turntables seem to hold a place in the analog pantheon that either elicits assured tones of praise from those who like them or prompts jealous detractors to tout other turntables. Either way, the TNT is important.

My first experience with a TNT was in New York at the Stereo Exchange around 1993. This seemed like a period of undeniable digital ascendancy, when everyone except some die-hards was ditching analog. A TNT 2.5 fed a system comprised of conrad johnson electronics (Premier 8's and the top cj pre-amp at the time) and some large Pro Ac speakers supplemented by a Wilson Audio WAMM. It was playing an EMI 45 rpm issue of the Poulenc Organ Concerto. That system conjured up a huge sound stage and imbued it with breathtaking musical drama. It trounced the Meridian digital front end also hooked up that day.

A few years later, I bought a used VPI TNT 3 with a SME V arm. A SOTA Sapphire with a Mørch UP4 tone arm and a Benz Micro Glider had done the analog duties up to that point. After transferring the Glider to the TNT, I gave it a whirl and a big grin uncontrollably formed on my face. Everything sounded better: more solid foundation, deeper bass, faster dynamics, detail, extension, cleaner delineation of the music lines as they weaved in and out of each other, etc. Most of all, the music's ability to convey emotion was more readily apparent through the VPI. The SOTA sounded decidedly uninvolving in this regard. This was also the case with the SOTA when it had a Well Tempered Classic 'arm before the Mørch. (Does this musical-interest quotient go up when using an AC synchronous motor compared to a DC controlled one or visa versa or no correlation? The TNT uses AC synchronous; the SOTA, DC control.)

OK, not a fair comparison. The SOTA was cheaper than the VPI. True, but not always does price equate to performance. I used the same cartridge, and the Mørch UP4 'arm (silver wiring) is no slouch. Still, the improvement of the VPI over the SOTA was overwhelming--even given their price differences--to an extent I did not think possible.

Since then, a Benz H2O has replaced the Glider. VPI replaced the base/plinth and bearing to the 3.5 version. I replaced the Power Line Conditioner with a Synchronized Drive System. SDS' improvement surprised me: lower noise floor, deeper and tighter bass, more tuneful all the way around, more transparency, greater high frequency extension, bigger more fleshed out stage, etc. Only the power to the motor was improved, and it changed everything for the better. (Power was previously already regulated by the PLC!) A TNT 5 motor has wrought yet more out of the TNT 3.5. Where this left the comparison to the SOTA is impossible to tell; I'd sold it to defray the TNT's cost. I did compare the TNT to yet another TT. Sort of….

I listened to the TNT 3.5/SME V/Benz H2O rig in a side-by-side fashion with a Rega Planar 9/Benz Ruby H cartridge setup. This comparison favored the Rega because of its vastly superior cartridge, but I thought it still could be instructive especially since these two rigs were much closer to each other's price. The two setups sounded much closer to each other than the SOTA did to either. I will say that I found the Planar 9/Ruby setup more musically enjoyable. The TNT had better bass and more dynamic impact, but it just didn't have the same musical verve. My H2O cartridge most likely got out-performed by the Ruby. That makes sense; the Ruby costs about 2.5 more than an H2O. (The pre-amp for this test was a Cary SLP-98P.)

I also brought the TNT 3.5 setup to a system with an Aesthitix Io phono-dedicated pre-amp for a comparison with the same Rega P9/Benz Ruby combo. Again, the Rega won: better inner detail, more tuneful, but still less bass and not as much solidity to the whole presentation. The TNT was disadvantaged in this case by being sited on a makeshift (non-audio) stand near one of the speakers. The exercise was not meant to actually compare the sonic qualities of the two units in a controlled way; there were too many variables for that. It was meant to satisfy a curiosity as best I could without unloading my entire system and bringing the TNT's stand along for the test.

This illustrated how siting a TNT 3.5 (and probably any TT) is critical. It also brought up the issue of achieving a good balance between one's TT and cartridge. Nothing new here.

What about the more recent TNT models: 5, HR, and HR-X? What about these TNT's vs. other comparables: Clear Audio, AVID, Wilson Benesch, Eurolab, Simon York, etc? I wish I had access to them.

What I have garnered from this path with the TNT so far is that it is a sure bet for great bass, solid imaging, large sound stage, good dynamics-typical audiophile stuff, AND it does not leach the life out of the music as some TT's can. I learned that it's fairly difficult to do controlled, side-by-side comparisons of these kinds of turntables as a non-reviewer or not owning an audio store.

The TNT has been around for a while, it sets up easily, and it can be upgraded depending where on the VPI ladder you join. Most of all, it serves the music well.

Associated gear
Turntable: VPI TNT 3.5 (w SDS), SME V, Benz-micro H20
Phono cable--Cardas PIB to 1 meter Coincident Speaker Tech. CST I
Digital: EAD T-1000 Transport feeding EAD DSP-7000 DAC
Digital cable--Music Metre, Fidelus coax
Analog cable--HT Truth Link Interconnect (RCA) DAC to pre-amp
Audible Illusions Modulus 3A pre-amp (w. NOS Tungram E88CC's)
Cable---Coincident, CST I Interconnect pre- to power amps.
power amps: Cary SLAM-100's (Sylvania VT-231's and Svetlana KT-88's)
Speaker wire---HT, Pro-9 Plus 8ft
Speakers: Coincident Speaker Technology, Super Eclipse
------Accessories -------
Target TT5T stand with granite slab for TNT
Welborne Labs, Gatekeeper power center for front ends
Bybee power cords for DAC and VPI SDS
Synergistic Research power cords for power amps
Shinyata Research power cord for pre-amp.
Two 20-amp dedicated circuits with PS Audio power-port outlets
------------ Room ----------------
12' x 17' x 7.1' with cement floor, medium pad and thin w/w carpeting.
Treated with acoustical foam on first sidewall reflection points,
behind speakers, and on wall behind my listening position.

Similar products
SOTA Sapphire w Mørch UP4 or Well Tempered Classic 'arms and Benz Glider cart.
Rega Planar 9 (RB900 'arm) and Benz Ruby H cart.
Nice review. You've got a good system there, Kalan.
When I entered my streo shop in NJ(Audio Connection), I was looking for a mid priced table that would play records and fit conviently
on top of my Target rack that was made for this purpose. I
looked at a acrylic Pink Triangle that looked stunning and would know its place.Then I saw the demo TNT MK-3 one of the first ones' made. VPI was located in Ozone park Queens,
I believe( I cannot read the little metal plate on the side of the table because of set up) It was all covered with dust, not played in a while. The price was conciderably higher than my budget. Paired with a minimal
arm & cartridge (Morth UP-4 & Benz Glider) the deal was made. When I set it up and played it I called my dealer and
asked why he sold it. His answer was that capital was needed for CD-players. What a shame I thought, that I am playing this 50 cent record I picked up somewhere and this
very large turntable that does not fit on top of my equiptment rack sounds astounding. This table will draw the emotion out of your music, the bass is rich and deep the midrange is full and lush, and the higher frequencies
are crisp and real. The TNT-3 allows true High end to emerge, where you hear that cymbal, and look around the room to see if anyone is with you actually striking the instrument. I have heard much more expensive tables and of
course they sound better, but not buy much. My only regret is that I didn't select a better arm, if only I knew.

Associated equiptment;
Sonic frontiers 80
Audible illusions 3
Proac Responce 2 with respective target stands.
Vandersteen subwoofer
Micromega T drive & T DAC
Sony DVD/SACD player 915
Pioneer 1020L open reel 1/4" tape deck
Cables, Encose,Nordost, and Homegrown audio
Echo Busters room tune setup & Tapestries
Surfgod, Thank you for your contribution. You describe much of the same music/sonic qualities that I heard with my TNT when I first got it set up. You aptly hit the crux of the VPI TNT advantage: fine sound AND great musicality. I am itching to try the new inverted bearing assembly and new platter.

I have since upgraded my cartridge from a Benz H20 to a Benz LP. My pre-amp is now the First Sound Presence Deluxe, 4.0 with the Lukaschek PP-1 phone stage, and I've changed to some Nordost SPM speaker wire and Discovery Essence interconnects. The audio stand is now the Arcici Suspense Rack (air suspension).

All of the improvements add to the performance of the TNT/SME combo which illustrates how that the combo itself is not overtaken in a system that gets better and better down stream.

Don't underestimate that Morch UP-4 tone-arm. I believe it is an over-achiever--considering its price. Mine happened to have a special (according to Mr. Morch) demagnetized nickel arm wand with silver wiring. I loved that tone-arm. I would have kept it if I had not needed the money at the time.

Happy listening.
I am glad to read praise for the tnt as I too thought it was a fine tt. I took mine to new performance level with some mods. I recommend highly the hr-x platter and ring! Also the sds I recommend. But of all the mods I think one that is easy and most rewarding is to suspend the tnt off of steel cables. It's rather straight forward, get a shelf that is wide enough for the tt then attach steel cables at all four corners. If you want to take it further leave the motor to rest on another surface. I posted some pictures on my evolving systems.
Good luck