Introducing a turntable into your hifi system can be less straight forward than adding other separates, when you also consider this brings with it the additional need for a phono stage and cartridge, alongside the deck itself. While many among us relish the wealth of choices this invites, there are others who may balk at the myriad of options on offer, as well as the extra costs involved.
For those looking to simplify the decision and keep costs down without compromising on quality an ideal solution is to buy the whole bundle as a ‘plug and play’ package, with the option of upgrading each component over time. At the budget end of the market, the likes of Pro-Ject and Rega have had this requirement sewn up for some time. However if you are seeking a similar package at a higher price point, options are much thinner on the ground. Step forward VPI Industries, with its all-in-one Player turntable.
Chip off of the old block
VPI has been in the hi-end vinyl game for more than four decades, with models including the latest iterations of the Scout and Prime acting as ways in to its no-compromise machines. Priced at £1,500, the Player follows in the footsteps of VPI’s retired Nomad as an entry point to the brand, and comes fitted with its own internal moving-magnet phono stage, essentially acting as two components in one. And when you outgrow the latter, your dealer is there to bypass said phono stage so you can take the deck to the next level with an external one of your choosing.
The main deck features a machined aluminium platter spinning on a vertical yoke type bearing and a 9” machined stainless steel gimballed tonearm with preinstalled VPI Shirley moving-magnet cartridge, named after the late Shirley Green, who was company receptionist (and mother of VPI co-founder Sheila Weisfeld), who sadly passed away in 2021. Alongside the phono stage, the Player also features a built-in headphone amplifier, an addition seen in few (if any) direct rivals.
The platter is periphery belt driven by a 24V AC synchronous motor, with stepped pulleys for 33 and 45rpm. At each setting, running is silent aside from a brief chirp at start up as the belt takes hold and gets everything up to speed. VPI offers the player in three flavours which sound more like cocktails than finishes with white, ‘mocha walnut’ and ‘hard rock maple’ on the menu. Overall fit and finish is top drawer, as we’ve come to expect from VPI.
Thanks to its plug and play design, setting up the Player takes a matter of minutes. Simply pop it on a level surface, install the drive belt and adjust the cartridge’s tracking force (anti-skate is taken care of via the arm wand’s twisted wires).
Hooked up to a line-level input on my Copland CSA150 amplifier driving Acoustic Energy AE309 floorstanding speakers I turn to Curtis Mayfield’s classic Roots recording and cue up We Got To Have Peace to see if the Player can make a welcome introduction to my system. The answer to that question is an emphatic yes. The sense of optimism that pervades through this cut is captured admirably by the VPI, like first light on a hot summer’s day, thanks to how it portrays the track’s strings as bursting with energy through the rhythm section, while leaving plenty of room in the soundstage to frame the subtle yet beautiful licks of Mayfield’s guitar.
Fascinated to know how quality recordings are rendered by the VPI, I turn to the high priests of production values courtesy of Steely Dan and spin up Babylon Sisters from their 1980 Gaucho LP. I’m drawn in straight away by the manner in which the VPI perfectly frames the smooth cadence of reggae bass and drums, paired with the crisp trills of the Fender Rhodes piano. However these details are mere hors d’oeuvres, setting the scene for the VPI’s treatment of the horn section and vocals which burst from my speakers for the chorus. The VPI manages a canny trick in simultaneously relaying on the subtlety in the rise of instrumentation while creating real impact at its peak. If Messrs Becker and Fagan were present in my listening suite now, I’m sure they’d be smiling just as much as I am at how well the VPI does justice to their hard graft in the studio.
Packing its own headphone amp of course means the VPI can be used as a standalone player in its own right, just by adding a set of cans. Driving a pair of Meters OV-1-B cans while spinning If You See Her, Say Hello from Dylan’s incomparable masterpiece Blood On The Tracks reveals the headphone output to be no mere tickbox add-on. A key feature of this recording is its delicate jousting between multiple guitars and mandolin, which can often sound two dimensional through less capable vinyl front ends. However through the Player’s headphone amp I am delightfully dazzled by how each instrument is afforded plenty of space and separation in the soundstage.
If you are in the market for a one stop vinyl shop to upgrade an existing mid priced system the Player package is hard to beat at the price because VPI has done what it does best by getting the basics right. Add to this everything that’s on offer with an inbuilt phono stage, cartridge and headphone amp that are without compromise and the Player stands out as a great value turntable on both sonic merits and versatility.