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VPI’s 3D "Printed" Tone Arm: Does it Sound Better, Worse, or the Same As the Standard Metal JMW Memorial Arm?

VPI’s 3D "Printed" Tone Arm: Does it Sound Better, Worse, or the Same As the Standard Metal JMW Memorial Arm?
Stereophile's May issue includes my first of a two part review of VPI's Classic Direct Drive turntable. Does the new 3D printed tone arm sound different than the company’s standard metal one? Does it sound better, or not as good? I give my opinion in the review.

You make the call here. Here are two 96/24 files. Are they both the same file? Or, if you hear one sounding better, state your preference.

If the files are different, one file features the Lyra Atlas installed in the standard VPI JMW arm mounted on VPI's new Classic Direct Drive turntable.

The other file features the Lyra Atlas installed on the new 3D printed tone arm on the same turntable. All measured set-up parameters were identical.

The phono preamp is the Ypsilon VPS100. The preamp is the D'Agostino Momentum while the A/D converter is Ayre's QA-9. The interconnect between the phono pre and preamp is TARA Labs Evolution, which replaces the Zero.

Please vote and leave a comment explaining your vote.

File "A"

File "B"

JohnnyCanuck's picture

The link for file A is corrupted...

Michael Fremer's picture

Should be working now...

missouricatman's picture

Look forward to checking the files out, Michael. Meanwhile though, hopefully VPI and other mfgs. know that they're no longer limted to 3D printing using Epoxy resins.  Printing with carbon fiber is now quite possible and overall the cost for the equipment seems pretty reasonable

Michael Fremer's picture

Is not a miracle substance for audio. It has its uses but undamped it rings like hell. Epoxy seems to be self damping..

StonedBeatles1's picture


Must have been a rough Easter Sunday!?

Michael Fremer's picture

Not "rigged"!

SimonH's picture

Personally I preferred B - it sounded more natural with better depth of sound/timbre - listened on my Mac.

rosser's picture

I voted for "B" but there were some things I preferred about "A." I chose B because overall it sounded more relaxed and unstrained, but A had better drum hits at the beginning, with deeper bass and more resonance. "A" also seemed to have more string texture, but in the end it seemed less controlled and bordered on screechy, while B remained smoother. Both sounded really excellent though, and I would be happy with either. 

isaacrivera's picture

Ok, I'm at work listening on my Macbook Pro's Safari browser with better-than-average-but-not-out-of-this-world MEE noise-cancelling ear buds. The files are very close, but File A seems to have a bit more "weight", specially in the lower frequencies. For a large and dramatic orchestral piece like this, this extra mass makes it sound more real to me. A better playback system may change my opinion, and I would not even notice the difference if I could not quickly switch files to compare on specific passages.

Stringreen's picture

that both arms are wired with Discovery rather than the Nordost.  I have both arms and truely, the Discovery is better.  I voted for A...sounds better on my MacPro, however, I could compare both arms on my VPI Superscout/rim drive, and listening in my big sysem, the 3D does sound better to me.

Jim Tavegia's picture

I thought that B had slightly more low freq impact. After I picked it I went back and looked at the FFT analysis on my WavPad sound Editor and it appeard that the LF shelf extended out past 3K a little higher for B. Clearly neither one was a slouch at reproduction. And I could be totally wrong. 

I also noticed that I found the levels between A and B not matched and I'm not sure if that is a function of the differing tonearm designs.  After my initial listen I normalized both files to 99% to take that difference out of the equation. 

I love these little tests you throw at us.  It is fun to see how much of a discerning listener I am even with my hearing loss. 

ohnofiasco's picture

"A"'s sample was a little bit more brittle sounding than "B" and had a bit of distortion in the higher resgister. "A" could probably be made to sound a bit closer to B with a bit of a VTA reduction. 

On a track with vocals, especially one with lots of harmonies, I believe that "B" would stand out as a clear winner. 

mikerr's picture

it seemed as-if the bass had a bit more energy and life.

(using Sennheiser 650's)

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

As noted by others, "B" does sound a bit smoother and more natural, at least to my ears.  "A" appears to have a more brittle high end and thus a more typical "hi-fi" sound.  Perhaps this is the metal resonating in overtones?  Either way, both sound very good and help in my search for a new table.

Keep up the good work Mikey.  Are there any other journalists with the honesty and objectivity to post such blind tests for public feedback?  You know that's why so many of us are loyal readers.  

singhcr's picture

File A has a nice low bass content to it and I like the power of the brass section, but overall file B is much more balanced and realistic with a greater soundstage and finer detail overall. I also agree with others that A is a bit brittle sounding.

Thanks for the test! It is always a fun learning experience for me to try these exercises.

lesdoanj's picture

Using iTunes on my Intel Xeon Mac Pro, and my well-worn Bose Quiet Comfort 2 headphones, File A seems to have more dimensionality and air. File B is more easy on the ears, and a little more flatly presented. Almost like the listener is lower than the stage and farther away.

Yes, the highs are less prevalent in File B, but the trumpet at the end is more realistic in File A. More like being close to a trumpet and hearing all the squeaky details. I also like the drum hits in File A.

Chris F's picture

I really appreciate the ability to listen to both.  Please continue to do more tests with sound samples, IMO they are of great service to the audio buyer.

With regards to the samples, I like B a bit better: smoother, very easy to listen to and not fatiguing on the ears at all.  There are elements of A that are better however; as another poster mentioned the solo trumpet near the end is clearly better in sample A.

I will hazard a guess that B is the 3D arm.

kenkirk's picture

I thought the bass was tighter with better focus on track B. I could hear the decay of the timpani and bass had better dfiinition on track B. But both sound great. The top end sounded excellent on both tracks. I thought I could hear farther into the recording on track B. I sure hope they are not the same track! :)



jimel84's picture

I like both  of the tracks. However, I prefer track A by a small margin. The opening thwacks of the bass drum have a little more oomph to them. When the trumpets come in they sound a little more realistic to me. I used to play trumpet and to me they sound better in track A. However I could easily live with both systems.


Oldsport's picture

First, I'm operating under the assumption that the two files have been normalized with respect to each some one matches levels when responses differ is a question of its own. 

If you feel the files sound exactly the same, you probably are in the wrong hobby.  Not even close.

Which file you prefer, though, is getting into the connoisseurship that is the lifeblood of this hobby.  You have a right to either preference.  There's no perfect equipment, nor perfect reproduction. There's just what connects you best to the music.

I went with B because it is what I'd rather listen to if locked in a room with it for a long time. I know many in the high end who would instantly go with A.  I feel that there's no denying that A sounds more explosively dynamic.  Transients are being handled quicker, perhaps more cleanly.  Pictures even seems to sound subjectively faster in file A. Very lively.

Yet, file B is more the tonal balance I hear in real life.  "A" sounds brighter and faster.  B sounds warmer and "balanced" subjectively lower on the sonic scale.  This matters in my value system a lot.  Does the B arm damp as well or settle as fast as the A arm?  (Or does it do so more?)  Maybe not, but I don't want to constantly be aware of a sense of brightness.  Can the B arm deliver the detail that the A arm might?  Maybe not, but again, tonal balance matters. For me, it is fundamental to an emotional connection to the music.  'Twould be nice to have it all, but until that becomes possible, you pays your money and you takes your choice.

jdmcderm's picture

File A seems subjectively louder to me listening through Safari on a 2013 Macbook Pro, Dragonfly 1.0 and Cardas Ear Speakers.  Even so, I found the dynamics of File A more exciting.  To my ears, the horns are blatty, the snare has bite and the tympani is more bombastic. This may not be the way we actually hear some of these things live in a real hall, but it sounded engaging, but not overwrought to me in this setup.

File B in comparison sounded a bit polite and homegenized as if there were fewer mics used to highlight horns, percussion, etc.  It was pleasant enough, but dynamically it was comparitively flat compared to File A.  If it turns out that File A is the 3-D arm, I'm going to have to start saving - that's how much difference I heard.

Thank you for taking the time to set this up Mikey!  Excellent choice of music and very enlightening on many levels.


Jim Tavegia's picture

Evidently not!    And the tie goes to......

suteetat's picture

B seems to be a bit too well damped and a bit too smooth/restraint or muted. Brass should have a bit more bite, a bit more glare even, B seems too polite. Living with regular VPI 10.5/Classic 3 for awhile, I think A sounds more like the VPI sound that I am used to and that I like, dynamic, exciting, a lot of fun all around.

It is a bit hard to tell using my home computer and computer speakers though.  If A turn out to be 3D and B, the old arm, VPI certainly has made a big leap in its house sound in a very good way but if B is the 3D arm, hmmm, I am not so sure if the change in its sound is the right direction. Oh well.... keep my fingers cross! I would need more auditioning in a more familiar system to convince me otherwise. In a more transparent and full range system, may be B might shine and A too aggressive and glaring perhaps.

Zardoz's picture

I am not being critical of anyone's system, but it seems strange to me to be trying to make comparisons of this type on desk top systems and computers with head phones. That's not really the system you would be using to listen to a turntable with, is it? Although, I guess someone could have a setup like that.

I would like to hear someone's impressions who is using a "big rig" that they would normally be using for vinyl listening.

Keep up the good work Mikey. These tests are informative for us all.



Jim Tavegia's picture

I listened out of my computer through my Grados and my AKG 701s.  I also have it patched into my HT reciever in my mancave and listened on both my old Large Advents and my newer Triangle Cometes.  My choice remained the same...B. 

zen2000's picture

I chose A because it had more clarity and excitement. However, I felt the cymbal (?)crashes were raspy, and brittle sounding.

Version B was more rolled off in the highs and fuzzy sounding, but was less brittle with  the cymbal(?) crashes.

Bcreeve's picture

I'm listening on my computer so not great speakers but I like B a little better.  There is a little more detail in the timpani.  There is a little more overall detail and the highs are a little smoother.  Dynamics are a little greater.  But it's pretty close overall!

rosser's picture

Anyone know what album this is, when/where it was pressed?

ysaxena's picture

It is Moussorgsky PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION (Orchestrated by Maurice Ravel) Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Fritz Reiner, Conductor Side 2.

Jim Tavegia's picture

I am now going to have to listen to my DSD of this same piece and make some comparisons.