(Sorry, this is a bit long)
I received by new Signature arm last weekend and I love the sound of it so far. I haven't done any A/B tests because I only have one cartridge so all I have to go on is my memory of the previous arm.
First of all, I received the arm, junction box, arm base, mechanical anti-skate mechanism and damping oil in a nice big box from the dealer, Jay at Audio Revelation. He's a nice guy, honest and recommended and shipped this free of charge. He had merely forwarded the package from VPI to me which is fine and expected. The box came beautifully packed in bubble wrap with perfectly sized layers of foam padding. All major components were further sealed in plastic bags. The provided tools were two hex screwdrivers and an allen wrench (not needed). The box also included a Shure VTF gauge which was a nice surprise although I already have one of them.
I quickly realized I was going to have to dismantle the entire Scoutmaster; remove the arm, the junction box and the arm base to put on the new base, new junction box (which I think is identical to the standard one, at least it looks the same from the outside). After attacking the beast with various Philips screwdrivers I was left holding a completely bare Scoutmaster plinth, save the feet which I did not remove.
The instructions are clear and comprehensive but only cover assembly of a Signature arm if bought with a new Scoutmaster, which if I recall correctly comes with junction box and arm base already attached. I followed the instructions about cartridge installation which were obvious enough and then didn't really need them again, except for installation of the mechanical anti-skate mechanism.
Reassembling with the new bits was easy enough. The package doesn't come with a new arm rest or arm holder so you'll need to retain those and remember how things went together. The cool thing about VPI is that *everything* is configurable because they use tiny grub screws so components can be moved and slid and then tightened in place. You really can go to town with all that!
The new anti-skate is fun but I really don't know how much to use or when too much is hurting the music so I set it on minimum. I read somewhere that if in doubt err on the low side when it comes to anti-skate. It's a neat little device anyway. I always thought VPIs philosophy was "no mechanical anti-skate" but I guess they've changed their mind...
I reassembled the cartridge, aligned it, balanced the VTF and azimuth and the VTA and was done.
I didn't use the supplied damping oil at all because I was advised that my cartridge (a Denon 103R) is not low-enough compliance to really need it.
So what did it sound like? After a couple of hours of disassembly and reassembly I finally sat back to listen to some music. I've recently been listening to the Red Hot Ray Brown Trip 45-rpm double LP so I played that again. The impact was not subtle. Instruments had more power and depth and seemed more tuneful than before. More bass? Not really. But it certainly was tighter. And I could swear there was more high-freq "air" in the mix. There's a lot of contributing factors to making music sound more like music and I reckon this arm upgrade goes further towards that goal in a number of ways. It's not as significant an upgrade as, say, a preamp upgrade but it's a good turntable one, and well worth the $700 trade-in, in my opinion.
I believe the Nordost wire needs some break-in time so I'm hoping for incremental improvements over the next weeks. I might have a go with the damping oil in the unipivot mechanism soon, to see what difference it makes.
Let us know how you get on with your when you get it.
Nice review of installing the upgrade. I had almost the identical experience myself. I recieved my upgrade directly from VPI yesterday (12/16) and did the install today. My setup was also missing a set screw from the counterweight and there was no Shure VTF gauge included even though the directions say there is one included. Have not yet used any damping fluid yet (not sure where to put it in: the well or through the hole in the top of the tower}.
I opted to install my Shelter 501 rather than my Denon 103. Treated the pins with Walker Audio Extreme SST during the cart mounting phase.
My first impression is of a more forward sound over the stock arm, the soundstage seems a couple of feet further out into the room. The sound is still a little "raw" due I think to the need for the wire to burn in and the Walker SST to cure a bit. Lots of bass evident though right out of the box.
Instructions are vague about the fluid, saying only to "add it" after everything else is dialed in. Will probably want to start with just a little dollop of the oil if someone can tell me where to add it.
Nickakins and Slipknot,Thanks for the response.Im really looking forward to it...As things burn in ,please keep me informed...
good read guys. your findings mirror my own with the arm. give the nordost wire time to run in (i put in about 50 hours on it) and then do your final adjustments. once the nordost wire is run in the bass becomes more extended (its real lean at first) and the highs will be a little less forward.
with all the adjustments to mess with i ended up playing around for about a month before really dialing things in. no doubt the arm is a big improvement over the stock jmw 9 arm.
i still am running things without the anti-skate at this time.
Very good Dlwask,Looking forward to everyones input,many thanks...
Nickatkins and Dlwask,
Any thoughts on where to add the damping fluid? The hole at the top of the tower, or remove the arm wand and add directly to the well? I can't really tell from the directions...
Remove the arm. Looking in there, I don't see how it could drain to the trough. It needs to be at least 2/3 full to make any difference. I fill it till it touches the base, and adjust from there. You have to look for oil slick at the bottom of the arm to know if you're effectively dampening.
My level at this point is one drop above where it barely touches. I started out really high and seemed to dull the sound a bit too much. I'm still playing with it. My cartridge is a Shelter 501.
The damping fluid is added to the well that surrounds the pivot point.
I haven't tried the damping fluid either. I'm not sure my Denon cartridge would benefit from it as it's not super-low compliant but I might give it a try soon anyway to see what happens. I think the Shelters are lower compliance so you will notice changes more. I'll post my own findings soon.
I think Im going to hunt down a used cartridge to bank hours on the arm when I get it.Ill let it spin on an L.P.that I dont care for while Im doing other things around the house...Too bad there is no repeat mode on the VPI.I would think it would take 150 plus hours of break in time to really notice the sonic benefits.Anyway ,good listening and have a great Christmas!
Are all you guys using the anti-skate mechanism? I have not installed mine yet but was considering trying it out over the holidays now that I have some time.
How do I know when its set right?
I am pretty happy with things as they are without it, just a bit leary to mess with a good thing is all.
I'm using the antiskate. I find it to be a slight improvement worth the effort. Seems to clean up very slight distortion and maybe a bit better dynamics. I've gone back and forth, changed settings, on/off.
Trust your ears is my advice. And if you hear no difference, don't use it because general thought is better to have less than too much.
At the end of the day, though, this is a fantastic upgrade taken as a whole. My analog has never sounded this good and I can't stand seedees anymore.
I have read that the only reason HW added a anti-skate device is because so many people thought they needed one. Harry says twisting of the signal wire does the same thing as a $200 anti-skate device.
Don't believe everything you hear. While I respect HW's informed opinion on antiskate, the very statement you quote makes no sense. Why would he advise people to twist the wire in the first place if no antiskate was better? Maybe antiskate is less critical on a unipivot arm? But then why, if he didn't find any advantage to it, did VPI develop an antiskate for the arm? I don't believe he would state that twisting the wires does the same thing his antiskate device that he's now selling. I also don't think he'd sell something just because people thought they needed it. It would really cast a negative light on VPI, a company that fosters a healthy upgrade path for it's customers.
Simple fact is there was no reliable way of setting antiskate by twisting wires, needed or not. While you can get really satisfactory sound twisting or not, 1 twist or 3, there was no set method and everyone did what they thought was best. Lots of posts on that. The new method is much more reliable and consistant.
Maybe they did do it to sell more tonearms. Antiskate has to my knowledge always been an issue long before HW came around. It only helps to at least have the capability to adjust it. I have heard of statements from another person in VPI who said the antiskate was effective.
It does make a very subtle improvement to my ears, and it is a much more accurate method of controlling the antiskate. I assume more people will eventually reach their own conclusions after they compare themselves. Most of the post I've read are of people not using it simply because of what they read. That's really the reason for my long rant.
I think the quote, which is out of context anyway, was misunderstood. HW never said that antiskating control wasn't needed. His comments were pertaining to MECHANICAL antiskating solutions. His view is that the wire-twist technique is preferable to a mechanical antiskating device. The mechanical antiskating option was added because so many people wanted it. Even though HW might not like it, he might as well provide it since people want it. After all, he is a businessman, too.
Twisting the wires is also a mechanical solution to antiskating, isn't it?
I'd be more interested in hearing from HW himself. I'm not aware of any comments from him since coming out with the device. We can only postulate what he's thinking now. I would respect him even more whatever his reponse was. If he really did just do it just to meet demand and admitted as much, then I applaud his honesty. But if he's since found a better way than twisting wires or if he's found it to be an improvement to any degree, then I'd applaud his humility to admit his previous stance has changed. Either way, it's a good debate.
I don't think you can thread the needle by calling the twisted wires non mechanical though. It's almost starting to sound like a political debate to save face.
HW still feels that to add a mechanical anti skating device, add add'l noise, and has always found, when doing an A/B comparison, that the particular table sounds better, when using the wire twist method, as opposed to adding a mechanical device, it is true, that so many people opposed the idea of the wire twist, that he started offering the new mecanical anti skate device, but as stated above, only to appease the people who wanted it, from what i understand, his stance has not changed.
Harry posted this on the Vinyl Asylum March 15, 2004....................."Customers are demanding a mechanical anti-skate adjustment even though it already has a non-mechanical one and it works perfectly. So, like everything else in this country today, you will pay for a device that most of you don't need. Sorry. Should be out around the time of the Stereophile show and will retrofit all the older arms without it."
I have to admit I can't hear a difference with or without anti-skate so I'm not going to spend much much time, effort or the tips of my fingers discussing it. Much better to spend time tuning the system properly, swapping tubes and buying vinyl. Oh, and listening to records!
The difference I hear is very subtle. Without antiskate, the left channel sounds more dynamic, a little more alive, than the right. With the antiskate at the highest setting, the left channel is a little less dynamic, and balance seems to shift slightly to the right. There's more of a silkiness overall and less graininess, but also less lively too. I now have it set around the middle, and that seems to bring back the liveliness and clean it up some. I haven't settled on anything yet, but I do think it's worth messing with. Either way, it's a great table. We're splitting hairs here.
I've had the Scout and now Scoutmaster for a couple years now. I tried twisting wires before this and ended up leaving them untwisted. I think if you can hear the difference twisting, then you should hear a difference with this too.
Didn't want or mean to hijack the thread. I know the antiskate controversy has been discussed extensively before and don't want to go there.
Jamnperry, I just posted HW's comments to clear up my half-a$$ effort to quote him in my first post.
I myself am in no way trying to say no one with this table needs an anti-skate, if you can hear a difference and it pleases you, that's great. I have not found the need for one yet, but who knows. It would be fun to throw that new arm on tommorrow and give it a listen.
Now getting back to that wire upgrade. What does one gain there? And is it worth the jack?
That's the upgrade to get in my opinion. If your cartridge isn't low compliance, get the wire upgrade. If it is, maybe consider just the wand. The damping helps too but my cartridge is low compliance so it did make some impact as expected.
No controversy on the wire upgrade though. I got my arm in stages because VPI was delayed in shipping. I had the arm wand for over a month before the antiskate mechanism came. I had the antiskate around 3 weeks before the base with the damping came in. I have a pretty well developed opinion of the value of the parts of this upgrade. While the wand may have affected it more than I realize, there's no question the wire was the biggest factor. Resolution, soundstage all immediately better. The $200 for the rewire to me is the one to do if nothing else.
Hi Gregory Earl and Jamnperry, No dought in my mind about the Valhalla wire.I just found out about the new arm and wire upgrades afew weeks ago and jumped right on the new arm.Even having your stock arm and junction box rewired for 200 bucks...to me,sounds like a stupid good upgrade...Good Listening
Jamnperry, thanks for the insightful comments about the effects of anti-skate. When I get home from the holidays I'm going to tweak a bit, listen more closely and see if I can hear the changes you described.
i had a long and detailed discussion with vpi about the upgrades. it was put to me that the vahlhalla wire was only a benefit if a) you like the nordost presentation, b) that the full benefits came only with a full loom and that the nordost stuff didn't always like being mixed and matched.
the anti skate, i was also told was a marketing thing, because people had asked for it, and it's good business practice to give customers what they want (different from what they need!)
the individual did however go on to say that the strucutral changes to the arm did give real benefits. the individual told me he actually prefered the original wire and no anti skate, and it that it is possible to order the arm in this configuration. one imagines that this would also be at reduced cost minus the nordost branding premium. this is certainly what i am intending to do, then again having tried nordost, i have found that i'm not keen on their house sound and so have no wish to have their full wiring loom.
Interesting discussion here. I'm leaning towards getting a Scoutmaster w/ the Sig arm right now, and the price difference buying new seems much more of a no brainer, but still, the money can go towards a better cart or SDS which may be even more beneficial. I do not mind the Nordost house sound. My cables don't really match well with Nordost cables or any cables for that matter though. I have no doubts that the Nordost wire will have more resolution than the original wire. But of course it might also bring upon a more analytical sound. It'll be interesting to hear of comparisons.
Thanks guys for your input...Yes ,mixing cable brands in a system can turn into real problems for you. Once my new sig. arm arrives and I log acouple of hundred hours on,I will see if that is enough burn in time or I may find out along the way that its only halfway...Once all is settled in I will check out Nordost new interconnects and speaker wire line. The Baldur, Heimdall ,Frey and Tyr...I will borrow the cables from a dealer to scrutinize in my system. Ether way I looking forward to it. It could very well turn into, time well wasted...But then again...
Hi all. My new arm arrived safe and sound to my dealer. Picked it up yesterday. I had the dealer install it for me. I thought that was best as I have ham roast size hands with thick fingers. Thursday was a busy day at the store so finally getting the arm installed took awhile. Once done we put it in one of their systems. My very first impression mirrors Slipknots first impressions...Alittle bright/forward and alittle cool, thats a trait that is consistant through out Nordost line of wires.Any comments that I have heard in the past about Nordost wires have been just that...They need further cooking. However, before the first side of the first L.P. was over,it was apparent to me there is a distinct difference between the standard V.P.I. 9 and the new Signature arm.I can easily hear the potential of this arm and wire.For damn sure,over time it will reveal what it can really do...Your going to have to be PATIENCE. This tiny signal running through this wire is going to take along,long time to burn it in. The 11th hour was just logged on my arm. Another thing I noticed is this arm seams to be much more transparent right out of the box compared to the standard 9...The dealer had a floor model ScoutMaster with the standard arm along with the same cartridge that I have mounted on it. The cartridge on the floor model only had afew hours logged on it,I did not do a direct comparison with my table .It took alittle longer to fit my new arm ,the store was busy along with phone calls coming in.Anyway it was getting late and I had along drive ahead of me to get home... I am impressed with the new arm,there is no dought in my mind it is going to be areal performer once the wire starts to burn in.I have not hooked up the anti skate or used the fluid damping,Ill logged acouple of hundred hours on first,then check them out. Anyway there you go.
Glad to hear you got your new toy Stiltskin. Yes you will need to be patient to get things just right (cable burn in plus all the new adjustments) but its worth it. With my limited hours of listening each week it took me just about 2 months before I stopped fussing with things.
Hi Dlwask,Thanks for your response. Today and through the weekend my turntable will be spinning constantly until I have to sleep to bank hours on the arm. Its going to be interesting as it evolves.
Have any of you ordered the "signature" arm without the Nordost
My entire system is wired with Purist Audio Design .........
Do you think the Nordost wire could be a problem?
Hi Jdolgin, My suggestion would be to phone or send off an e-mail to V.P.I. and Nordost. Please let me know what they say about it...
Now that I have had the new Signature arm for a few weeks ,heres a few brief comments... The arm and cartridge was carfully installed and set up by my dealer ,then hooked up to a system in the store for a couple of L.P.s. Cold out of the box,the new arm and wire is alittle aggressive and forward,no surprise. Back home in my system the first week,no change.However what I did notice right from the start,is the new Sig. is more transparent then my original 9.This is easily heard on material I am most familiar with... Now,with such a tiny signal flowing through the arm wire,its going to take ALONG,LONG time to burn in. Right now I have logged just under 70 hours on the Sig. arm. I have not hooked up the anti skate,adjusted v.t.a. or have used the fluid damping. At 60 plus hours the Sig. is just starting to open up abit and relax. I logged most of these hours by letting the table spin from morning til night afew days in a row.I choose an L.P. I dont care much for and let her play repeatedly with the rest of the system off.Only stopping for brief breaks for a quick wipe of the L.P. and cartridge...When lisnening I am enjoying! every bit of this new arm. 70 hours is nothing on this wire,it will take acouple hundred more and then some.I can see,er hear this coming,at that point it will be reveil itself what a Shocking Good up grade it really is...
My apology for that last sentence.Was being called for dinner,several times,she was really starting to get pissed...Tonight we are going to check out Classics new 45 R.P.M. box set of Belafonte Live At Carnegie Hall. This has been one of my all time favorite concerts.I have an original and Classics 33 r.p.m.reissue of a few years back.However, from what I hear on the street, Classic really out did them selves on this one. I have had this box set for afew weeks sitting in my rack.I was holding off listening to it until I had more hours logged on the V.P.I. Sig...I cant resist any longer