This past Sunday, I attended a demonstration of the latest TNT Hotrod (at a NJAS club meeting) and we also had the new VPI Scout on hand for comparison, with the 9" arm and the SDS, which sounded very respectable as well.
I believe the 9" arm is an upgrade over the older JMW 10" arm, although the VTA adjustment is not as sophisticated. Combined with the SDS, it should outperform the older table, and you may find a SDS on the used market for a good price. VPI is currently working on an upgrade for their JMW 10.5 arm, based on improvements implemented on the 9" Scout version... They've already done this on the new 12.6 arm, which now has an internal ceramic coating and a fine trackin-force adjustment (plus an improved bearing), I believe.
We heard the Scout with and without the SDS, and though some members preferred the sound without the SDS, many, including me, thought the SDS made a substantial improvement, especially in terms of bass tightness and extension.
We got to hear the TNT Hotrod (with new periphery clamp) through the Manley Steelhead and a new Sutherland battery-powered phono stage (that takes 16 D batteries and lists for around $3k). The consensus was that the Sutherland was smoother and more focused sounding (and many preferred it), though the Manley appeared more detailed and seemed to throw a larger soundstage. It was a cool meeting, with VPI's Harry Weisfeld having fun as the guest presenter.
I guess that was more than you wanted to know, but I hope it helps. :)
I agree with Plato that you would be better off with the 9" arm and the TT improvements. The TT/motor assembly is higher on the analog hierarchy scale, and will make more difference than the longer arm will.
The only differences that the longer arm makes is an extremely slight reduction in tracking error, and slightly higher mass that may be a better match with certain cartridges.
But Plato, how did the HR-X sound?
As to the sound of the HR-X, that's a more complicated question than it appears on the surface. It was dynamic and extended, and the midrange character appeared to be correct (neutral). The soundstage was expansive, especially with the Manley Steelhead. One record we played had a great drum solo and the HR-X delivered the goods with great impact, weight, and articulation.
Since the system (as a whole) was unfamiliar to me, I really can't get into the fine nuances of performance. But my off-the-cuff impression is that it's a reference quality TT that should be compared with the other top-quality designs in and around it's price range.
I would've liked to have compared it to my Michell Orbe SE with Wilson Benesch arm in my own system. I didn't hear anything from the HR-X that would indicate it was doing anything better than my rig. But with so many different variables in equipment and room acoustics it was not really possible to make that determination. Cheers!
I personally went with your option 2. I spoke to VPI extensively before making the decision. The new Aries 2 is better than Aries 1 with SDS, but you can still benefit from SDS which should yield better pace and bass. JMW 9 is more rigidly coupled to the base than JMW10/12 because there is no on-the-fly VTA. That rigidity translates to more details and ambience. Also, the bearing and low counter weight (standard on newest JMW9) make JMW9 the best sounding arm in the JMW family. This is not my word, this is from VPI. If you tweak the arm further by some resonance control device and replacing the internal wires, you will have a world class arm at a very low price.
BTW, Aries + JMW9 is called Aries Black Knight.
thanks for all the answers so far.
SEMI, please help me understand; you mention an 'Aries 1' and an 'Aries 2.' i didn't know there was a distinction. let's assume i'd be purchasing the latest version. does VPI really think that the 9" is a better arm than their more expensive 10" arm?
I just found a dealer that has a low enough price on the aries that my options are no longer the 10" arm and NO SDS or the cheaper 9" arm with the SDS but now in both cases I can afford the SDS. so what seemed to be a no brainer before (ie that the 10" arm was clearly superior to the 9" arm) has me confused as usual.
so, with the SDS in either case, would you still prefer the 9" to the 10"?
thanks for your help.
Kubla, by all means, let me add to your confusion. The "old Aires went through, I believe, at least two different platter and bearing changes and the JMW 10, now the 10.5, also went through a few changes as well. So I guess the question should be: "Which Aries are you getting such a good deal on?"
As I said before and as Semi said, the present 9" arm is thought to outperform the 10 and 10.5 arms, at least until the 10.6 is available. I think if I had the choice, I'd take the cheap Aries deal you found and put the JMW 9" arm on it.
Then, down the road, you can always retrofit the new acrylic platter, bearing, and periphery clamp, as can all other Aries owners, (though this will not be inexpensive).
I believe the 10.6 arm will have all the upgrades/refinements of the present 12.6 arm: internal ceramic coating, tungsten-carbide, no-lube bearing, VTA fine adjustment and lockdown, and VTF fine adjustment.
So, as you can see, you are clearly behind the game before you even begin. :)
The new Aries actually have "Aries 2" logo on the table. The changes include all acrylic platter, inverted bearing, and lower power motor. They were made because the lesson learned from Scout. Notice the HR-X also has all acrylic platter and inverted bearing, the motor is smaller and runs at lower current. VPI realized by reducing the platter weight with full acrylic, they reduced resonance and at the same time they could lower the motor power which translated to lower vibration. You don't get that much more with Aries Black Knight when compares to Scout, but I don't like that clear platter on Scout and Aries Black Knight comes with dark grey platter like HR-X. Notice how Clearaudio has similar setup - all acrylic platter with inverted bearing.
So don't buy an used Aries with JMW10 when you can have a brand new Aries 2 and JMW 9 for the same price and better sound. Contact "zhusain" for a price quote, I got mine from him at a great price and he is a super nice guy.
Funny plato but dead on.
Semi, please, for the love of audiophiles everywhere, offer some more clarity. I can only purchase from one store because i have a credit there for $4k. They said they would give me a new Aries TT with the 10" wand AND the SDS for $4k. Assuming this Aries is the Aries 2, should I still consider going with the cheaper 9" arm? (I don't need to save money for the SDS anymore) In other words, it seemed like you were saying that I shouldn't buy the Aries 1 with the 10" arm but the Aries 2 with the 9" arm. But in all cases I'm getting the Aries 2 as well as the SDS. So, with the SDS out of the way, the question remains...which arm? (I hope this is an easy one)
Semi, the latest HR-X comes with a clear acrylic platter, which is now apparently the favored platter, or at least Harry's favorite platter at the moment...
I don't believe that the Aries are coming with the latest clear platter and inverted bearing found on the HR-X. I know Harry said that they could be converted, so that the periphery clamp could be used.
Also, I wonder if the voltage in the SDS needs to be reset higher when using the periphery clamp, due to its greater mass.
SOME Clarity now...
I got off with a dealer (no jokes please it's before 11) and the photos i keep lookikng at for the VPI Aries are incorrect. The older version of the Aries came with a black platter that looked a bit like the tnt platter. This platter is no longer made for the Aries. Now, instead, an acrylic clear platter is made for the Aries (looking a bit like the platter on the scout.)
To complicate matters further: There is the black night aries which is the new Aries table but with the 9" arm and the SAME acrylic platter as the new Aries HOWEVER it is black. I wasn't able to get an answer yet if a new Aries with the 10" arm could be ordered with the BLACK acrylic platter from the black night. (Personally I like the black acrylic look better.)
The major confusion seems to be this: Many photos in catalogues show the OLD Aries with a black platter that looks a bit like the TNT platter. This platter has been discontinued. I like the looks of that platter better than the new acrylic one but the acrylic platter is supposed to be much improved hence the discontinuation of the old one.
anyway, i'm getting 'chatter' that the 9" arm is often prefered for rock and the longer arms for jazz. Opera and classical i don't know about but i assume it would follow the rule of jazz vs rock and therefore the longer the better but that's a guess.
MORE NEWS: If you hate the idea of the acrylic platter look you can add the TNT platter which looks more like the old Aries platter and costs an additional $800.
hope i'm right about all that and hope it helps other lost souls.
please correct me if i'm wrong somewhere up there.
Semi, the HR-X uses two 24 pole motors, which are 7 degrees offset from each other. It takes a lot of torque to spin the flywheel as well as the platter with the perimeter clamp. To use a smaller motor doesn't make sense with all that mass.
The Aries 2 and the Black Knight share the same chassis, motor and main bearing, the difference is in the platter. the BK uses a standard 11.56" diameter platter of black acrylic, 1.75" thick. The Aries 2 uses a 12.25" diameter platter of clear acrylic 1.75" thick and can use the HR-X periphery ring clamp. If you buy a BK you can switch to the larger clear platter at a later date, the bearings are the same.
The BK has special pricing and incorporates the JMW-9 arm as a package. It is considered the logical step up from the Scout and we refer to it as a Scout with a testosterone shot. If you enjoy the sound of the Scout the BK sounds the same but is smoother, more powerful, and is quieter.
BTW, I had a really enjoyable Sunday with the NJAS folk, a great bunch of audiophiles/music lovers. Now that I know the system I would love to come back at a later date with a cartridge that was more compatible than the Tae Katora, possibly something like the XX-2 or the Black Beauty, or the new Audio Techne. Thanks again for your kindness.
Thanks for clearing up some of the confusion over the different Aries versions and the different platters and bearings.
As you can probably tell from my posts, I really enjoyed Sunday's meeting too. Possibly the Tae Katora was a little plump or romantic sounding for Vinh's Vandersteens, but it wasn't too far off the mark for my taste.
Certainly I'd be up for another meeting and would love to hear those 15 ips master tapes you spoke of - especially if you have any of the vinyl versions to compare them to.
I hope your allergies have calmed down a bit. Have a nice holiday in spite of the weather. I believe I'll be in Somerville on Memorial Day, watching the bike races in the rain. :)
Question about the Black Knight. I hope you won't be offended by my question, but when I heard the Scout recently, it seemed to have more drive/pace/rhythm than VPIs I've heard in the past. (I admit I'm basically an Anglo-phile when it comes to stereo, although I also appreciate the greater dynamics/LF response/fullness decks like the VPI can do.) Is the Black Knight similar to the Scout in regard to pace/rhythm etc., IYO? thanks,
now i hear that the black acrylic platter on the black knight is NOT the same as the platter on the Aries-2. In other words, it seems that if you don't like the look of the 'clear' acrylic platter on the aries-2 you have no choice but to downgrade to the black knight platter or upgrade to the TNT platter.
i've decided to hell with it...whatever platter shows up on the tt when i open the box i'm keeping.
now if i can only get a straight answer from someone about the validity of NOT using a shelter cart on a unipivot arm i'll be on my way to hearing music again.
You can try to use a Shelter on it, and I understand that Harry has supposedly done something to the arm that he claims will make it handle a Shelter.
If it were me, I'd use a different cartridge on that arm.
The technical reasons are that unipivots, with some exceptions, notably Graham, WB, and Nottingham which have stabilizers, are inherently unstable platforms due to the nature of the single pivot design. When using higher compliance cartridges, this is not much of a problem, if any. When using lower compliance cartridges, such as Shelter or Koetsu, there is significantly higher energy fed back into the arm by the stiff cartridge suspension. This causes the arm to move about in ways that is not good for retrieving the sound. Of course, the cartridge will work in this system, but it loses much more than a similar quality gimbal arm would. Some people don't care about this, and do it anyway, and seem to be satisfied with it. If that is the case then I'm happy for them. I am just pointing out the fine details of proper cartridge matching that goes beyond mass/resonance. Maybe Harry has come up with something that will work with the Shelter. If you want to use a Shelter in a JMW arm, then I'd recommend that you call VPI and ask them directly if the JMW-9 you are getting is an ideal match for a Shelter 501 or 901, or not. If they say it is, then it is on their heads if it doesn't work right. I'm just trying to look out for your best interest by pointing out a possible problem before it becomes a problem for you. I know that they commonly recommend, and even sometimes package Dynavector cartridges in their tonearms. It seems they think that a Dynavector is an ideal match for their arms. A Shelter and a Dynavector are worlds apart in terms of compliance. If VPI says it's ok, then go ahead. If not, stay away.
Here's the final word on the difference between the black acrylic platter found on the black knight and the clear found on the aries-2 from VPI:
"You can get an Aries 2 with either the black or clear platter. The black platter is conventional size (11.56" diameter) and works like all VPI platters. The clear platter is 3/4" larger in diameter and is made just like the HR-X platter so it can accept the periphery record clamp at a later date. If you are never going to get the periphery record clamp you can order the black platter and enjoy the aesthetics of the table. If at a future date you think you may want to use the HR-X periphery clamp you should get the clear platter with the Aries 2. Bpth sound the same when not using the clamp and both share the same inverted bearing design."
Now all i have to do is ask them what a periphery clamp is and i'm all set!
Dennis, a periphery clamp is a large ring-shaped weight that goes on the outer edge of the record, to hold the edges down during play. It helps to "iron out" some warps, and to better couple the record to the platter, as well as possibly damping out some unwanted resonances and adding additional rotational stability to the system by adding weight to the outer edge of the platter. It has some merit, but adds difficulty in changing records, because you have to take it off, and put it back on with each record you play.