Review: VPI Industries VPI Aries 2 Extended Turntable
VPI ARIES 2 EXTENTED TURNTABLE w/JMW 12.5 TONEARM
First of all, let me say that the VPI Aries 2 EXTented is a beautiful table. It is very elegant looking with the piano black plinth. This table is larger than the regular Aries 2 table, so it will require more space on your equipment rack. The size is 24”x16”. The table sets on 4 cone point feet. The JMW 12.5 arm looks like a stealth fighter. I can’t believe how long this arm looks! The arm mounts directly to the turntable plinth (no need for an armboard).
The VPI table is very easy to set up. Just be sure the table is on a level surface, place the platter on the bearing, set the motor in place and connect the motor to the platter with the belt. As for the arm, I had a friend set up the cartridge for me. I don’t trust my fat fingers to this task. All adjustments on the arm are easy (VTF, VTA, azimuth, etc).
Before I get into how the table sounds I must tell you that my table is set up a little different than most. I have VPI stock wire in the tonearm and Valhalla wire in the junction box. As I understand it, the VPI stock wire is made for VPI by a New England wire and cable company and is the same wire used in the VPI phono interconnects. This turned out to be a killer combination.
The table sits on a rock maple stand that looks a lot like the Mapleshade stands. The stand sets on a concrete slab floor covered with wall to wall carpet. This is a perfect setup for this table. I get no feedback to the table. The Aries is an unsuspended table, so if you have a suspended floor you will want to take care when choosing a rack with good isolation to set it on.
The VPI EXTended is very quiet and has a very black background. Much of this probably comes from the motor being detached from the table. I am sure the new inverted bearing also aids in the low level detail that is achieved. I love the way the table was designed with a cutout for the motor so that even though it is detached it looks as though it is integrated into the turntable. Upon first listen, I was amazed at how dynamic this table is. I have read slams against VPI that their tables sound too soft and slow. Not this baby. Bass is deep and solid, but what I really like is the great definition and tone. You really can hear the size and resonance of the wood in an acoustic bass. The top end is clear as a bell, and yet never harsh. I can’t believe the extreme clarity of the vibes on the Gary Burton “Like Minds” LP on Pure Audiophile Records. Midrange has great immediacy and speed to it. Brass has that beautiful burnished sound with plenty of body. The other thing that amazed me was the huge soundstage that this table creates. I am not just talking about soundstage width, but also depth. The back wall of my room seems to disappear.
The JMW 12.5 arm is a work of art. I am using a ZYX Yatra cartridge with .24mv output. This cartridge mates very well with the 12.5 arm. I can’t find any record that this arm won’t track. The Ray Brown “Solar Energy” LP on Pure Audiophile has some very deep bass. It has a printed warning that your arm may have trouble tracking due to the high energy on the LP. The piano is very closely miked and can be a problem for some tonearms. The 12.5 sailed through the LP with no problems. The piano has a very energetic and immediate sound, but it never sounds bright or harsh on the 12.5. I know that some people may feel that the long length of the arm may make it unstable, but I have not found this to be the case at all. I highly recommend combining the Valhalla and VPI stock wire if you have a VPI arm. I spoke to Harry Weisfeld at VPI about this. He felt my description of the arm having tons of detail and yet sounding very relaxed was “on the money”. The Valhalla wire has a more detailed sound, but some people feel it is too “cool or lean” sounding. On the other hand the stock wire has a “warm”sound, but can sound too relaxed in some systems. This combination of wire has really worked for me. I love being able to adjust VTA while a record is playing. I am not the type of person that adjusts VTA for every record, but I find it very helpful to listen for changes in the sound without having to stop and start the record over and over again.
My Aries came with the Periphery Ring and the HR-X Center Weight. I compared the sound of LP’s using the HR-X center weight and my Black Diamond 2 piece record clamp. The HR-X weight sounded better. This may have been due the extra weight that it has. However, I then compared the HR-X weight to a thicker Black Diamond clamp that D. J. Casser sent to me to try a few years ago. The thicker BDR clamp produced the best sound. Placement of instruments was more precise and soundstage depth increased with the thicker BDR clamp. I then played music with and without the periphery ring with each of the center clamps mentioned above. In all cases the sound was much better with the Periphery ring! In my opinion this is a very worthwhile upgrade. It did not matter if the record was flat to begin with. The sound still improved with the ring. Notes were more solid, and harmonics were better with the ring. Vocals seemed to stand out with more clarity also. This may be the result of the ring adding about 7 pounds of mass to the platter. I thought the ring may be a pain to use, but I have not found that to be the case. It is a precision instrument that fits perfectly to every LP I have tried it on.
The only table that I can compare the Aries to directly is my previous VPI HW-19 mk4 with JMW 10 arm. Is the Aries better? Yes, but the mk4 was no slouch. I owned it for several years, and it kept me very happy. The Aries has more energy and a more “live” sound. This is probably due to it being an unsuspended table as opposed to the mk4 being a suspended table. I don’t feel the mk4 was “soft” sounding. It just did not have the energy of the Aries. Bass is great on both tables. The Aries gets the nod on increased harmonics and attack and decay of notes. This is due to the blacker background produced by the detached motor and the inverted bearing. As for the top end and midrange, the Aries has more of a bell like clarity in the top and more texture to vocals. I have a couple of friends that have Basis Debut tables (one with a Graham 2.2 arm, the other with a Vector arm). I have not done direct comparisons with both tables in the same room, but I can say that the Aries will hold it’s own with either of these tables. I have also had the opportunity to hear a Walker Audio Proscenium Gold Turntable. Is the Aries as good? No, not in absolute terms, but factor in the huge cost difference and if you go with the Aries you will have a great sounding table with enough money left over for a library full of LP’s and a new car!
My musical taste runs from Classic rock (60’s and 70’s) to Jazz and blues. The Aries sounds great with all of these. It has the energy to reproduce rock with plenty of power and it has the detail to bring out every nuance of Jazz.
This turntable fits into my system very well. It looks fantastic setting next to my Sheoak/Black Supratek Cortese preamp. The Aries really brings out what the Cortese is famous for, the Mick Maloney designed phono section. It also works very well with my Berning ZH270 power amp. This amp is very fast and the music moves with great pace and rhythm. My Gallo Nucleus Reference speakers have never sounded so good. I am hearing lightning fast sound with earthshaking bass and vocals that have that “you are there” sound. Soundstage is both far beyond and behind the speakers (when the recording allows it). I love my Aries 2 EXTended and JMW 12.5 arm. I have not even turned on my Sony SCD-1 SACD player since I opened up my Aries Turntable. The Sony is a great sounding player, especially with the VSEI mods, but it can’t hold a candle to the beautiful analog that the Aries produces.
VPI Aries 2 EXTended Turntable
JMW 12.5 Tonearm
ZYX Yatra Cartridge
Supratek Cortese Preamp
Berning ZH270 amp
Gallo Nucleus Reference Speakers
Sony SCD-1 SACD player with Allan Wright mods
Harmonic Technology Pro-11 Speaker Cable
Transparent Audio Reference Interconnect (preamp to power amp)
Granite Audio 470 interconnect (SACD player to preamp)
VPI Tonearm Cable (Turntable to preamp)
Mac Delta 1 Power Cord (on Berning power amp)
Michael Wolfe Carbon Ribbon Gain Power Cord (on Supratek Cortese preamp)
Granite Audio 555 Power Cord (on Sony SCD-1 SACD player)
VPI HW-19 mk4 Turntable w/JMW 10 arm
Basis Debut turntable w/vector tonearm
Basis Debut Turntablew/Graham 2.2 tonearm
Walker Audio Proscenium Turntable