VPI Tonearm Comparison: File Identities Revealed!

This one was really interesting! 17% of voters said the files were identical. 44% voted for "File A". 39% voted for "File B".

Firstly, the 17% are wrong. I suggest they get better computer speakers or whatever it takes to hear what are clearly two very different sounding files!

As for which was which, I found the results confounding because "File B" is the printed arm and "File A" is the metal arm.

Sonically I don't see a comparison. The printed arm sounds far more linear and truly detailed played back through a high resolution system. I played them back at the Listen Up event in Denver recently and there was no doubt which one sounded linear and which one sounded resonant and colored.

However, as with listening to loudspeakers, the ear is easily fooled into preferring the brighter one. As for level differences, I don't know how that's possible since the only variable was the tonearm: same everything else. Perhaps the lively arm produced higher SPLs? I don't know.

Obviously preferences are preferences and everyone is entitled to theirs but there was no doubt here about which sounded more linear, less tonally colored and more truly detailed. And that was "File B".

After Munich Franc Kuzma will send me 4 Point arm tubes wired through with two different wire brands and we'll have more "fun"!

Otto K's picture

Love it.  I am in the process of setting up two 3D arm tubes (was playing a Stereo 6 Eye Kind of Blue last night using one of 3D arms equiped with an Atlas cartridge).  Switching from a pair of JMW 10.5i arm tubes.  So this exercise hits me right tween the eyes (or, in this instance, the ears). 

I strongly prefered, File A, the 3D arm.  The "colorations" made the track much more involving, as it did for a lot of us it seems.

I have no intention of sending my 3D arms back to VPI.  I'm all in at this point.   But, I don't think it should be discounted that a significant number of us, who are knowledgable and have invested a great deal of time and money in this pursuit, decidedly prefered the metal JMW arm. 

A terrific exercise Mr. Fremer.  I'm (and maybe you too) are a bit uncomfortable with the results, which, at least in my case, means there's learning going on.  Lets do more of these!  And Thank You!

Michael Fremer's picture

File "B" is the 3D arm. 

Otto K's picture

File A, the 10.5i.  Was my vote.  Thanks sir! blush

rosser's picture

I voted for B, but there were things about A that I liked -- particularly the drum hits at the beginning seemed to go deeper while remaining clear. But even over my modest headphones/Mac, I could hear brittle, nearly distorted highs on A. I'm amazed that a tonearm of that quality could have such obvious coloration. Maybe there really is no such thing as over-damping, at least until it starts reacting against or otherwise preventing microscopic stylus tracking. 

soundman45's picture

Although I love these kinds of comparisons and thank you Michael for the test, I just wish there was some kind of control to compare it to. The differences are subtle but definately there.

sasham's picture

Greetings Mike,

You have to trust me I guess - I was about to vote for 'File B', but the results are in! Why? Because of the additional clarity when played back through my 'A System'. Especially on the low-end stuff. And extra interested too, as I am just breaking in a 12" '3D' arm that came with my new VPI "Aries 3D" package - and it sounds "Absolutely fantastic." And that's not my comment, that's your pal Art Dudley's - John Atkinson and Art were here listening just last night, and both were mightily impressed. Unless they were jiving me.....I look forward to reading your detailed comments on this VPI '3D' arm next month! Best Wishes, Sasha M

Michael Fremer's picture

It does sound fantastic....

Superfuzz's picture

I wouldn't place too much weight on what the majority of people preferred... this was just one snippet of music from one record. It's all about synergy... maybe if people heard the 3D printed arm on a wide variety of records, they'd prefer it. There can't be *one* piece of equipment that is going to syngergize best and sound fantastic with every record ever made. Incidentally, I preffered the B file.

Michael Fremer's picture

When I played the files at Listen Up in Denver on a Audio Research/Sonus Faber system there was no doubt. The short snippet was sufficient to determine which was neutral and which had an edgy but attractive coloration. It's very similar when you compare loudspeakers. The ears will gravitate towards the one with the high frequency "bump". The key is to not compare the files but to listen to each individually.....but in the end to some degree it is system depended in that the coloration may line up perfectly with one in the opposite direction in your speakers....

kleinbje's picture

Wondering how much of the difference could be due to the tonearm wire change, wish it was apples to apples, but if the end result is an overall improvement that certainly works.  Given the signal levels .25mv for me, I feel the wire is playing a part here.  Wait it looks like your 10.5 had discovery wire?  Comparison to my Valhalla wire? Also your antiskate setting are very different in the pictures?

BillK's picture

I'm not sure whether they're photos of the actual arms used in the test or not.

Michael Fremer's picture

One of the photos is a "stock" photo and not of the arm I actually used. The wire was the same, the settings were identical (etc.).

Chriswilford1's picture

the arm isn't even mounted on a plinth. its just a display of the arm and base.

ravenacustic's picture

I'd like to see comparisons to what have long been industry wide reference arms like Tri Planar and Graham rather than an "in house" VPI test. 

Michael Fremer's picture

What is an "in house" VPI test compared to an "in house" Graham or Tri Planar test. I really don't understand what is your point.

ravenacustic's picture

Getting your opinion on what the table sounds like. The only way I can think of doing this would be to spend enough time to listen to it with one cartridge and a variety of arms, Tri Planar, Graham, Kuzma, and finally an aluminum VPI and the 3D VPI. Any chance of you doing that?

Michael Fremer's picture

I wish I had the time and/or the ability to mount the other arms on the VPI 'table but it doesn't offer removable armboards and the 'table is no longer here. An arm comparison would be interesting and useful and perhaps that can be done with a 'table that allows easy swaps and assuming I can get all of the arms here!

Jim Tavegia's picture

This is going to send some other tonearm manufacturers back to the darwing board I think.  The level differences is an interesting thing that needs more reaearch as the difference has meaning.

I'm wondering how most manufacturers dampen their arm tubes, as I kown every Dual I owned did nothing.  Maybe a small, extrememly thin, lightweight imylar nner sleeve would work to encase the cartridge leads. 

Looking forward to more and the Graham tests.  Great fun. 

rosser's picture

My Audiomods arm, which I built from a kit, takes several measures to prevent unwanted resonances. The arm starts with a standard Rega armtube, but it diverges from there. First, one is instructed to drill a pattern of different-sized holes in a spiral down the armtube. The holes are supposed to break up resonant waves. Then you very firmly insert 2 metal discs inside the arm, which is meant to stiffen it. In addition, the counterweight features a layer of lead within the brass weight. This "constrained layer" is supposed to prevent waves from reflecting back toward the cartridge. It's a great sounding arm, and a huge upgrade over the regular RB300 I was using before. 

Even before my Audiomods, I heard an improvement in sound when I wrapped the metal arm on my 1970s Kenwood table with teflon plumber's tape. Other people use heat-shrink tubing for that purpose, or stuff the armtube with a piece of foam. However you do it, it definitely helps, and it's an easy and cheap mod. 

Packgrog's picture

These are clearly very complex components, so there could be amny variables. Aside from the material of the wand itself, are there ANY other material differences between the two? Differences with tonearm wire? Differences with effective mass? Anything else?

It is interesting how we can sometimes be trained to view "brighter" sound as better, thanks to decades of high frequency distortion in digital audio. I still find me own system to be a tad too rolled-off, but perhaps I'm being too picky (or maybe there still are significant issues that I need to address). Definitely interesting results.

Michael Fremer's picture

Same wire, same set up. Both arms' resonant frequencies were within the desired 8-12Hz range. The only variable as best as I could insure was the arm wand material. 

BillyJ's picture


This is a bit of a late post. I really enjoyed the exercise, and I feel confident that my choice of A over B is a reflection of my system. I do not have a "high resolution" system. Consequently, I believe I perfered A because of what I took to be stronger leading edges and overall excitement. That's beside the point really, as I am trying to improve always, and I intend to keep these tracks and listen again periodically to see if changes I make reveal more in the future.

That said, would you mind explaining what you mean by B sounding more linear? I'm not sure I understand.

Thank you.

Michael Fremer's picture

Linear in terms of frequency response. The printed arm doesn't sound as if it favors any frequencies over any other frequencies, or has any frequency "dips". Think of a loudspeaker's frequency response measurements.

BillyJ's picture

Thank you for your response. This is an outstanding site. I love spinning vinyl and hope to eventually own a high resolution system.

Fsonicsmith's picture

I have a VPI Classic and a Thorens TD124. The Thorens has a VPI 9T mounted to it. Both have identical cartridges (Benz Gliders LO) and both have nearly identical phono stages and both are hooked up to the same pre-amp and system. I much prefer the sound of 90% of my records on the Thorens. Music played through the Thorens sounds livelier, more vibrant, punchier. On the Classic, music sounds a bit sterile and dull. I suspect that the Thorens is not as well damped or quiet or "linear" and that the "non-linearities" or "distortion" or "resonances" are beneficial, much in the way that dithering is sometimes beneficial to digital sound. While I have nothing but respect for Mikey's ears, "linear" is not a qualitative adjective. It is not "better" except in systems in which a "linear" source does indeed sound "better" to that particular listener. I have a tubed pre-amp and amp and as soon as I hear "linear" as a qualitative term, my eyes glaze over. Last night I played the new Suzanne Vega album on the Thorens. I assure you-my preferences might make me sound like a subjectivist-to-the-extreme, but the nicely recorded Vega album sounded as though Ms. Vega were in the room singing live. There are times when a record sounds too "hot" or sibilant, and those rare records do sound better on the Classic.

Michael Fremer's picture

The two links in the audio chain most non-linear are the transducers: cartridge and speakers. Damping is a different issue. Given the choice between linearity and resonances and discontinuity in terms of frequency response, I'd choose linearity and then design a system around that to produce the final desired sound. An overdamped systems will sound dull. "Better" of course is ultimately in the ears of the listener!

D Pully's picture

Mr. Fremer,

I trust that your observations of distortion and coloration vice the printed arm are not to be interpreted as a general disparagement of the metal arm in any absolute sense … ?  The Classic Direct is out of my league … I must trudge along with my pedestrian Classic 3 with the old cow-bell-esque 10.5 arm (sporting a Te Kaitora Rua.)  Yet, oddly enough, not one person has ever listened to my rig and complained of distortion.  Perhaps they were all reticent for fear of hurting my feelings.

By the way – I sat through your turntable setup seminar at AXPONA last week … very enjoyable as well as informative, thank you!

Chriswilford1's picture

I own a 3D arm and am relieved to have picked file B which I simply found to be smoother and more musical to my ear. But now that that's settled could we please get a comparison of the 3D with the brass balance weights versus the stainless balance weights...;-)

Michael Fremer's picture
Not possible since the 'table and arms have been returned….
Rudy's picture

I don't like anything on the bright side, so that could be why, among the numerous turntables I auditioned, the VPI just didn't appeal to me. (And it wasn't just one setup--I heard it at a couple of different dealers.) Just not my cuppa joe. I couldn't quite put my finger on why, but after listening and comparing the files, and Mr. Fremer's comments, it jived with what I was hearing and it made sense. I never thought I could hear such resonances in anything, but apparently I can! I may have felt differently knowing of the arm tube options. But, it wasn't mentioned to me during auditions.

peck8969@aol.com's picture

I have been out of town and out of touch, how can I now download the two test files comparing the VPI tonearms. I am very interested in comparing both tonearms as I own a VPI 10.5 and have been considering changing to the 3D printed arm. Is there anyway I can access those files?


Michael Fremer's picture
Go to the bottom of the home page and find the "Votes" section and click on it. You'll find that story there.
Tullman's picture

Of course I voted for the more expensive tonearm, now I am pondering the idea of getting one of the 3D arms on my VPI Classic. I wish I would have preferred the stock tonearm.

peck8969@aol.com's picture

Aloha, Michael.

This was really fun. To begin with and just as a point of reference i downloaded the files onto my Mac mini, which is used strictly for my digital music, then dropped them into Audirvana, which channeled the music to an Ayre QB-9 (DSD) DAC. I spin my records on a VPI Aries II with a 10.5 tonearm which carries a Lyra Helikon and immediately on hearing file A I thought I was listening to my setup. In fact my wife commented that it sounded like our turntable. But honestly, file A sounded like a turbo-charged version of my turntable. But then file B started up and everything was more stable, a bit more relax, and simply better in all areas. Before I launch into my thoughts on what I heard, please keep in mind this is only a hobby and I am not a professional reviewer. I did listened to both files multiple times over a couple of days. But there just did not seem to be any one area of the frequency that was more pronounced than any other on file B. I do not know how to describe it but listen to their voices a the end of file A and then file B, that sense of control was pronounced to my ears. The term that came to mind was linear.

Then I read that file B was made using the 3D Printed tonearm. I do not know because audio is merely a hobby for me but I think the 3D arm eliminates more of the unwanted vibrations and allows one to hear with less colorations the signal from the cartridge.

If I had to guess I would say that these files were created from one of the new 45 rpm Peter, Paul, and Mary LP’s. If my guess is correct then the greater fidelity I hear on 45 rpm records was more evident on file B. Also, the mastering and pressing of this album was superb to my original albums I have listened to for umpteen years. But this will only be verified or not by Michael’s review.

In conclusion I think now VPI has developed a new arm that is truly an upgrade to my 10.5 and I plan on purchasing one in the near future. Of course only if Mikey likes it.

jkorten's picture

Load them both into audacity and select "effect" then "normalize" click on "normalize both channels independently" then execute. You can have two instances of Audacity opened and can select a similar starting point in each file and switch between the two easily.

Then you can hear that B is able to handle cymbal crashes more effectively during ff passages. Tonearm A has a tizzy effect. This is not through a high end system, this is through my Lenovo X230 and a pair of nice Onkyo headphones with the "audiophile" headphone cable.

Still think you need rock solid bearings like an SME-V to handle these kind of dynamics, not a Unipivot. But I am biased because this is what I use and probably won't change.

RCZero's picture

I voted for file A, because it sounded more open and natural to me. The cymbals sounded like jarring cymbals. The bass parts were less muddled. There seemed to be more air in the room.

Is it because I am deceived due to the higher output of file A? I will need to listen to file B a little louder than A and then see.

If anyone could provide normalized files to remove the loudness as a variable, that would be greatly appreciated!

John Lau's picture

I am about to get my first turntable, and it'd be helpful there're more comparison test between different tables/arms/cartridge, especially for people like me who has little access to latest products on the market as my local dealer provides very limited selections...

mcbrion's picture

It is worthwhile to note that the 3D tonearm is applicable to only turntables with a Unipivot arm, NOT ones with a gimbal arm.
The VPI website, unfortunately, does not differentiate that one cannot upgrade a Traveler to the 3D tonearm, although it states that:

"This tonearm is backwards compatible and will fit on all past and current VPI Turntables. It will be printed in 10 and 12 inch."
It should indicate that it will fit with all VPI turntables with unipivot arms. I found out, to my dismay, that I would not be able to fit the Traveler with the 3D tonearm, which rendered the (Traveler) turntable, then, useless to me, as this had been my plan all along.

AnalogJ's picture

File A was cluttered, grainy, and a bit distorted at times. File B was MUCH cleaner, more natural, and more relaxed. In a way, it's listening for sound versus listening for music. B was far superior in EVERY way. I don't get those who preferred File A other than you might need to look the system you're playing it on. It's probably not accurate.

tzh21y's picture

I picked b but when in the shop I was not completely sold on the 3d. I guess this answers my curiosity.

tzh21y's picture

I picked b but when in the shop I was not completely sold on the 3d. I guess this answers my curiosity.