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Stepping up to the Platter - Two Hit Analog Accessories
HiFi-Tuning Ultimate3 VRO (vinyl resonance optimizer) Record Weight
For the last couple of months, a VPI Reference Super Scoutmaster turntable outfitted with either the multi-layered acrylic/stainless steel/acrylic "Super Platter" and more recently, the newest "Classic" Al platter, spun my albums. Entrusted with the job of securing these records to both platters was the standard VPI stainless steel ring clamp and in place of the standard VPI center clamp, the new and very unique HiFi-Tuning Ultimate3 VRO wooden record weight. Tipping the scales at 380 grams, HiFi-Tuning's Ultimate3 VRO record weight isn't exactly the prototypical heavyweight record weight (or nearly as heavy as the VPI Clamp) built to "crush" the record onto the platter. Instead, the Ultimate3 VRO is more a marriage of a record weight and vibration sink. Or as Bernd Ahne of HiFi-Tuning shared, "Both the weight and material are important!"
The HiFi-Tuning's Ultimate3 VRO record weight is fashioned from several woods; the inside of the weight is made out of African ebony while the outside of the VRO consists of a layered mixed wood! Compared to the VPI Clamp that sits on the entire record label, the Ultimate3 VRO's only contact with the record label are two, very tiny, African Ebony and one platinum tiptoe. The platinum tiptoe functions as an integral part of the circuit path responsible for draining the energy from the record/platter interface into a Quartz and mixed damping material mixture located inside the clamp. And the results obtained using HiFi-Tuning Ultimate3 VRO with these two quite disparate platters are still the same. The HiFi-Tuning Ultimate3 VRO offers a significant sonic upgrade over VPI's standard stainless steel center clamp.
As mentioned in my recent Omega G cartridge review (see Issue 52), the addition of the Ultimate3 VRO record weight significantly improved both the sound of the VPI Reference Superscoutmaster and the ZYX cartridge. To begin with, instruments have a far more palpable, wrap your arms around quality with the Ultimate3 VRO than the stock VPI clamp. With the stock VPI clamp, Michael Schaffer's lute on The Baroque Lute (MHS/Seon 4199) has a good sense of focus and body; listening to this LP using the HiFi Tuning Ultimate3 VRO is, however, a completely different experience. There's a far greater sense of the instrument's radiating body; it's as if a doctor performed an angioplasty on the instrument, inflating it with a balloon catheter and greatly expanding the lute's depth perspective.
Next, substituting the HiFi-Tuning record weight for the stock VPI clamp also really expanded the table's midrange dynamics. Furthermore, this effect is so striking that it's readily apparent even when standing behind the speaker swapping out the record weights. With the VPI center clamp, this slight dynamic constriction was more than offset by the clamping system's other virtues, yet its signature was always apparent. It seems after replacing the stock VPI center clamp with the HiFi-Tuning VRO record weight that the stock weight, not the ring clamp, was the culprit. Saxes and trumpets on the best original or reissued jazz albums such as the Music Matters, Analogue Productions or ORG 45 rpm Blue Note or Impulse releases, now project more into the room and have more midrange bloom, energy, smoothness and sense of ease.
Finally, there's a reduction in an ever so slight metallic quality—and perhaps maybe a touch moreso with the new Classic platter—using the Ultimate3 VRO. Ever since my review of the VPI ring clamping systems, there was always a slight twinge to its sound; the addition of the Ultimate3 VRO removes that quality. That slight edge is supplanted with the Ultimate3 VRO by a more relaxed, harmonically complete quality.
HiFi Tuning's Ultimate3 VRO really brings out the best qualities of the VPI turntable, namely musicality, soundstaging and dimensionality, and low level resolution, from our cherished LPs. Highly recommended!
HiFi Tuning Ultimate3 Vinyl Resonance Optimizer
Soundsmith Counter "Intuitive" VPI Tracking Azimuth Adjustment
Talk about manna from heaven! Thanks to Peter Ledermann's ingenuous Soundsmith Counter "Intuitive," VPI owners can now dial in—and more precisely than ever—their cartridge's azimuth without disturbing their tonearm's vertical tracking force (VTF) or vice versa! Soundsmith's upgrade kit is compatible with a wide range of VPI tonearms including the JMW 9t, 9 Signature, 10.5i, 10.5 Special Edition, and 12.7 arm wands.
Each Counter "Intuitive" kit includes a specially designed counterweight ring, two long, plastic rectangular adhesive backed grids and written instructions that make installation a breeze. After unpacking the kit, the first order of business is applying the stick-on grids that allow for reproducible azimuth and VTF settings to the VPI arm wand's counterweight. First, however, it's necessary to trim the grid before affixing to the 10.5i's counterweight; this process isn't necessary for the 12.7 arm with its larger counterweight. While the instructions recommend removing the counterweight prior to installing the adhesive grid, one can if very careful (and with stylus guard in place and arm locked down), easily apply the grid without removing the counterweight assembly. The second "extra" grid included in the kit allows an owner to use one Counter "Intuitive" counterweight ring with two VPI arms. (All one needs to do is mark the azimuth [A-Z] and VTF [1-5] setting before interchanging.) On the other hand, if you can afford two or more cartridges mounted in their own wand, then several $49.95 Counter "Intuitives" aren't going to break the bank and thus avoid any need to switch counterweights, save time when switching and comparing cartridges and most of all, possible mistakes.
Next, the Soundsmith counterweight ring allowing for extremely fine azimuth and tracking force adjustments (~0.3 gms) is slipped over the VPI tonearm's counterweight/adhesive grid. This counterweight ring is according to Soundsmith, "manufactured from a special thermally stable, damped polymer material with two inset brass weights." Then, the Counter "Intuitive" ring is positioned in the middle of the grid (1 to 4 in the case of the 10.5i arm) and with zero degrees azimuth offset. In practice, it might actually be preferable to start with the counterweight ring closer to the 10.5i arm's pivot point since in general VTF usually needs to be increased for optimal sound. Finally, the already extremely tight fit between the Counter "Intuitive" ring and VPI counterweight can be further enhanced as described in the instructions, by using the paper backing from the adhesive grid.
Then one simply set VTF and azimuth with the VPI counterweight as usual; once these "gross" parameters are set, one then dials in the final settings with the Counter "Intuitive" by either moving the ring front-to-back (or vice versa) for VTF and side-to-side for azimuth. (Make sure, however, that the screw locking down the VPI counterweight is snug; otherwise, the VPI counterweight may also move when rotating the Counter "Intuitive" ring to set azimuth.)
The Counter "Intuitive's" brilliance really shines through when dialing in the cartridge's azimuth and VTF. VTF and azimuth can be set and if desired, adjusted by ear for optimal results. For instance, the Counter "Intuitive" allows for miniscule VTF adjustments within a range of approximately of 0.3 grams, allowing one to optimally align the coils in the magnetic flux field, as well optimize cartridge tracking. For the first time with the VPI arms, it's incredibly easy to adjust the cartridge's VTF, if your scale allows for it, in 1/100ths of a gram eg. 1.70, 1.71, 1.72, etc. Or on the other hand, it was now possible to perfectly lock in and match the crosstalk numbers for both channels using my Audio Technica cartridge analyzer (I also assume that the Counter "Intuitive" also makes setting up cartridges using the Feickert computer software easier too).
Put the Counter "Intuitive" atop your Christmas or Chanukah wish list this year!
Ring weight: ~11 grams. Kit includes 2 adhesive scales, attachment weight. Price: $49.95.