Review: VPI Industries HW-19 mkII PLC Turntable

Category: Analog

Recently acquired this VPI HW 19 MK II with the PLC and came with a very nice Technics EPA 100 Tone Arm. This replaced my venerable Oracle Alexandria with the Sumiko Premier FT 3 Tone Arm. The Oracle remained in my system for many years and is one of the very best vintage tables you can find. However it was sold recently to a friend of mine.

Enter the VPI HW 19 MKII turntable. This is one of the venerable designed turntables and has had many updates with the latest being the MKIV edition from VPI. This review will deal with the one I found which is the VPI HW 19 MKII with the PLC. Was upgraded to MK III status not long ago.

While the 19 series of tables from VPI were their entry lineup of tables, nothing was spared in their constuction, which is very robust indeed. The common thread in the VPI tables is superior execution of the most basic principles of turntable physics,geometry, and construction. Using way above average motor,bearings and spindles. It seems to me that far to many turntables of today,have forgotton the basic premise in turntable design. The VPI HW 19 is totally built with all those parameters in mind and does not stray from that philosophy. Lets be totally candid here physics and geometry are a pure science of which there is zero variation, therefore it is basic law. Once a turntable manufacturer understands this, then the design of the turntable can be set. But here is where things for some begin to fall apart. Some sacrifice basic law for cosmetic beauty or sound principles or marketing becomes its own mandate for the sale of product.

The VPI 19 series of tables will never win a cosmetic beauty contest with other product. But that was not the design goal of VPI for the 19 series. Thankfully this line from VPI concentrated on the fundamentals and has remained true through the entire 19 line up up to the MKIV edition. Only making improvements as time and materials dictated a change for improved sonics. It was never changed, just for the sake of change or marketing.

The VPI HW 19 will accomodate just about any tone arm, in fact I don't know of any tone arm that cannot be mated to this line up.

With the excellent support from VPI for not only their current line up, but for past product as well, will keep the venerable HW 19 current for years to come. The staff at VPI is excellent and are more than ready to help with any concerns. This is not often found today and is most refreshing to say the least. If it is a VPI product, they are ready, willing and able to help. Great folks to do business with.

The VPI PLC that came with the unit is a Micro Processor that controls fluctations in line frequency. Most likely no one has a true 60Hz from the wall outlet. It can vary and with the PLC you can dial in the correct wall outlet frequency. Over all the PLC makes a great difference on the overall sonics of the VPI HW 19. Lately there has been a lot of press on turntable micro processor or now known as speed box from some manufacturers. I can attest to the fact that these items do make a positive sonic improvement by getting platter rotation spot on. VPI now has an improved unit known as the SDS and is an improvement over the PLC. If the new SDS is anything like the PLC it is more than a worthwhile investment and is highly recommended.

Last but not least is the tone arm that came with this table. It is The Technics EPA 100 tone arm. Has titanium nitride arm,variable dynamic damping,ruby ball bearings. This arm dates from 1981 or so. Was one of three high end Technics arms the other being the EPA 250 and EPA 500. In the late 70s and early 80s Technics was trying to establish itself in the high end arena and this was one of those products. To my surprise it is still highly regarded tone arm. I knew about these in the day, but the Grace and Sumiko and SME arms were the ones getting all the press and rave reviews at the time.

This arm is in very good condition and the bearing play is spot on, even after 25 years since it was new. Apparently this arm was installed several years later as the VPI table dates much later than the Technics arm. So in all likely hood the arm certainly does not have 25 years worth of wear.

One of the nice features of this tone arm is the variable damping. Which means you can dial in the precise amount of tone arm damping to the complaince of the phono cartridge being used. Thus with this arm you can use any phono cartridge with any compliance and with weight from 5 to 10 grams nominal,depending on weight of headshell.

This is one of the most precise tone arms I have ever seen or had the pleasure to use. Its build quality is a tour de force in proper execution of all the basic fundamentals and beyond plus was built to a very high standard not often seen today at any price. Many manufacturers today could certainly take a page out of the book on the Technics EPA 100 arm and learn from it.

The tone arm itself is truly unique. Technics used the titanium nitride process for this arm. Part of the technology that came out of the space race in the 70s. And is the only tone arm I know of past or present that uses this process. The arm has a wall thickness of 0.5 mm and is 85 percent lighter than any aluminium arm tube! This process gives the arm extreme torsional strength,plus gives it additional self damping properties. Will reduce external vibrations and acoustic feed back to vanishly low levels. The hardness of the tone arm clearly exceeds tone arms made out of aluminum or carbon fiber by well over 1500 kg.

A few of the other features are Helicoid tracking force and arm height adjustment(VTA on the Fly)Precision anti skating one can dial in on the fly. Arm rest with spring loaded steel ball clamp. Anti shock coils for spring pivot and of course ruby ball bearings in the vertical and horizontal plane. Five ruby bearings employed in each of the four planes for a total of 20 ruby ball bearings used in this tone arm. This is a tone arm of extreme precision,as well as fit and finish. If this arm was made today it would most likely be in the $2,000.00 or more price point. With what labor and materials are today. Unlike today this is one table one does not have to use a stylus weight gauge. Everytime I double check the tracking weight it is precisely on with what is dialed in. Not many arms today can do that. I know I set up a lot of tables and the error rate between what is actually dialed in and what is actually present at the stylus tip can be off anywhere from 10 to 40 percent and these are the new arms of today!! Great engineering from todays arms!!

My main thrust was for the VPI table. I had intended on replacing the Technics EPA 100 tonearm with something newer and supposedly better than this arm. In fact was ready to order a Bluenote or Graham arm. But as providence would have it a fellow audiophile called and we got chatting and it came around to what I had just found. All he said was try the Technics before you replace it. He knew about the arm and forwarded a owners manual as well as a brochure on the Technics arm. Gave me basic info over the phone for set up and installed a Denon DL 110 cartridge. Although I now believe this arm needs a higher end phono cartridge than The Denon DL 110. But thus far the sonics have been to die for. At this point I doubt seriously if a $1,500.00 tone arm today can out perform the Technics EPA 100. Have never been a fan of S or J shaped tone arms. But this has been the exception to my thinking of this style of tone arm.

Listed Below are some of the LPs used for evaluating this turntable combination.

Bob James - Hands Down (Columbia FC 38067)
Hiroshima - Self Titled - (Arista MFSL1-525)
John Coltrane - Blue Train - (Blue Note BST 81577)
Wes Montgomery - Bumpin' - (Verve V6-8625)
Rickie Lee Jones - Self Titled - (Warner BSK 3296)
Wynton Marsalis - Live Blues Alley - (Columbia PC2-40675)
Eric Gale - Forecast - (KUDU Records KU 11)(CTI Records)
Kenny Burrell & Grover Washington Jr - (Blue Note BT 85106)
Earl Klugh - Finger Painting - (Blue Note MFSL 1-025)
Larry Carlton - Friends - (Warner 23834-1)
Sadao Watanabe - Autumn Blow - (Inner City IC 6064
Doobie Brothers - Minute by Minute - (Warner BSK 3193)
Santana - Zebop - (Columbia FC37158)
Pat Metheny Group - American Garage - (ECM 1-1155)
Frederick Fennel - Cleveland Symphonic Winds - (Telarc 5038)

The sonics of this combination is one of the best I have heard in 47 years of being in this hobby. To say that my jaw hit the floor is a major leaque under statement to say the least. Just a fabulous synergy exist with this combination and I could not be more pleased with this turntable set up. Clearly one of the best I have ever owned and I have owned many turntables over the years. I was preparing to jump in and get my last table a VPI Scout,after all I am 62 now and figured the Scout would last until I didn't anymore. Then this VPI combination with Technics arm came along and to be candid the price for this set up was ridiculous.

Without question I can totally recommend any of the components discussed in this review, provided of course they are in fully operational condition.

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nice review.I have a VPI MK3 with a Morch UP-4 Arm with the arm silver wired internally.I bought this set up on EBAY,and was very happy with the sound of this unit.I don't have the PLC,But maybe I'll get around and eventually get an SDS.I was told by VPI I can update my table with an Aries platter,SDS,and an outer ring clamp.But all of this would cost a bundle to do,and I'm not sure if I want to go this full update route.
I really had a huge improvement in my table when I purchased a Grado Ref. phono cartridge used for $500.00 it list at $1,200.00.The sound quality jump was breathaking to say the least.
If you can get one of these cartridges used on Audiogon it would really charge up your turntable.You can read my product review I did on this cartridge on the Auddiogon if you would like under the Grado Ref. Ref. phono Cartridge.
Thanks for your review
Take Care

I have the same turntable but with a souther linear arm. I love it! See video above.