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Disappointed with VPI Prime Signature

PostPosted: Wed Mar 17, 2021 12:11 am
by Corucia
Hi all. I’m new to the group and recently picked up a lightly used Prime Signature as the analog front-end for second tube-based system in my home office give all of the time I’m spending working from home. For reference I’m using a VDH Frog stylus which I understood mated well with this VPI setup and their turntables in general.

Despite having the turntable and cartridge professionally set up by a local/certified VPI dealer (who felt the VPI sounded great with the Frog as set-up) I must say I’ve been underwhelmed by the turntable in general and particularly in comparison with my existing (main) system’s SME model 10 (for reference set up with a Series V tonearm and Sumiko Palo Santos Presentation stylus).

To my ear, the VPI has a noticeably higher noise floor, less precise and shallower imaging, and a looser / less articulate bass presentation in comparison to the SME and is less musical in general. From what I can tell, despite the reported virtues of the VPi printed tonearm, it sounds significantly less dampened vs. the Series V and its fluid dampening system, which might be a key element of what I’m hearing.

The VPI’s performance was surprising to the point that I was compelled to swap it and SME between my systems to see if the performance varied across each and make sure I didn’t have downstream system mating issues (I’m using a Herron phono preamp in my main system and a Manley Chinook in my second system). Disappointingly, across both systems the VPI didn’t stack up favorably in any category vs. the SME. I even went as far as to redo the entire VPI / cartridge setup from scratch myself in case the dealer managed to get something wrong. No luck. The VPI still underwhelmed.

In any case, I may swap cartridges between the two and see if that makes a difference but at this point I’m regretting my investment in the VPI and may move it on to pick up another SME. Not sure if others have a similar experience but curious to hear any thoughts before I throw in the towel.

Re: Disappointed with VPI Prime Signature

PostPosted: Thu Mar 18, 2021 10:09 pm
by Golear
I'll just respond to the "any thoughts before I throw in the towel".

It might be problematic to compare one component to another. Each will have a distinct sound. So your experience is not unexpected. It does also indicates that the rest of your system is neutral - it is able to clearly show the difference in turntables. So if you're satisfied that you've made a proper attempt at hearing the VPI, and don't like it, and don't want to continue experimenting, then it's time to move on.

There is a related question: which turntable is closer to "the truth". I think that's a bit of an intellectual exercise, something that many reviewers will do, as they try to find "the best" component. But a lot of that is just creative writing and marketing. I think the only way to answer that is to compare a VPI to a master tape machine that is playing a ref tape of the LP. And then to compare the SME to the master tape. But as HW pointed out, that's out of reach for most (all?) reviewers.

Also, what if the VPI was closer to the master tape than the SME? Should you pick the VPI? Perhaps not - you like the sound of the SME more, and if there's one Golden Rule in hifi, I think it is "Go with what you like".

Re: Disappointed with VPI Prime Signature

PostPosted: Thu Mar 18, 2021 11:17 pm
by theeng
Before drawing too many conclusions; some thoughts:

Is the VDH Frog new? If its new it will take time to break-in (the suspension needs to loosen up).

What are the exact specs for the VDH Frog - VDH lists none - but this review https://soundbyvinyl.com/wp-content/upl ... y_1997.pdf indicates that it could be a very high compliance which 'may' not be the best match for that arm. But, VDH mostly customizes the compliance to match the arm.

What resistive setting you are using with the Manley Chinook? Is it correct for the VDH Frog that you have.

Have you checked the cartridge setup? Is the VTF correct, how is the anti-skate set, what does the VTA look like? People make mistakes - its always good to 2nd check. EDIT - re-read showed you rechecked the setup.

As a used table, is the drive belt (O-ring) in good condition and clean? What about the platter bearing - when was the last time it was cleaned and grease and when was the last time the motor was lubed.

I think you owe it your self to backup a bit, and take an objective look at the setup you have and verify its correct/good before drawing too many conclusions.

Just some thoughts.

Re: Disappointed with VPI Prime Signature

PostPosted: Thu Mar 18, 2021 11:24 pm
by Peer Gynt

Re: Disappointed with VPI Prime Signature

PostPosted: Fri Mar 19, 2021 8:21 am
by Dizastical
On the Herron phono stage, I would first try running the cartridge unloaded. Remove any loading plugs you may have installed to match the cartridge. This will really open up the cartridge and let it breath. I would also try flipping the AC polarity switch on the Herron to see if you get better results. Other than that, I would swap the two cartridges to see if that fixes your problem before throwing in the towel.

Dave

Re: Disappointed with VPI Prime Signature

PostPosted: Fri Mar 19, 2021 11:01 pm
by tom collins
sme's are incredible tables and arms. also, i think the model 10 and sme 5 arm cost roughly double the cost of the prime sig and arm. i had sme's model 4 arm on my tnt when i got it and that arm was very tight and precise, but ultimately, i have enjoyed the 12 inch printed arm more. i think i just prefer the virtues of unipivots, but that's me. i am pretty sure that the sme arm would give me a tighter rendering of the images and especially the bass. good luck with your decision.

Re: Disappointed with VPI Prime Signature

PostPosted: Mon Mar 22, 2021 10:31 pm
by bhjazz
The 'noticeably higher noise floor' may be coming from the AC motor for the Prim sig. Your SME 10 has a DC motor suspended on the TT chassis with urethane mounts. You may be able to tamp down the AC motor noise a bit with aftermarket isolation. Additionally, there are some folks here who have found that the aftermarket Sota BLDC motor kits can be quieter than their AC counterparts. YMMV. The 'tables are different enough in design that their usage and tweaks will vary quite a bit.

Re: Disappointed with VPI Prime Signature

PostPosted: Tue Mar 23, 2021 8:21 am
by Peer Gynt
The DC vs AC motor issue is certainly in play. I did not realize that SME had used a DC motor in the 10.

In the Linn hierarchy, the DC motor with speed controller is included in the top of their line, but it is an upgrade that most people would agree is worthwhile for their midrange and older models too. Both of my LP12s are so equipped. The midrange model has an aftermarket DC motor and controller. The high spec model has the factory kit. Both are stunningly quiet, and both have speed stability at a level where the 300 Hz Clearaudio strobe tach makes the Speedchecker Disk look like the table’s turned off.

Back to the arms though, the SME 5 is a very serious piece of elite kit, and was not standard on the 10. That’s a really nice upgrade. Perhaps it was done by a prior owner?

If the same cash and effort at sorting out the SME were focused on the Prime Signature, I expect they would be more similar in their sound, unless you stick with the uni-pivot on one and the SME 5 on the other. And then you will never get them to sound very close to each other.

I know folks say they like the uni-pivot sound. My experience is that it can give an incredibly stunning presentation on some records with some cartridges. In my experience, the SME 5 will be less difficult and more forgiving on a wider range of programs.

Of course YMMV. Mine really does.