After a decade in production, VPI updates its venerable Scout package with a wealth of improvements. Do these changes signal a new direction for the company?
When VPI launched its original Aries Scout over ten years ago, it flew in the face of turntable fashions of the times, which dictated that the majority of decks north of $1,600 should offer bouncy suspension and a low-noise DC motor to be up to vinyl’s latest standards.
VPI’s approach to its entry level Scout was decidedly different, and based on solid engineering that offered a well thought out user experience for longterm ownership. The Scout looked deceptively simple, while promising lots of easy adjustment for the deck and the supplied in-house tonearm that came as part of the package – boasting an easy to remove arm wand, to facilitate rapid cartridge swapping.
VPI Scout 1.1 overview
VPI was clearly on to something, with the original Scout going on to sell thousands of units worldwide and gaining an enviable reputation in the process. Building on this success, VPI has recently extended its entry level range with two new models sitting below the Scout.
There’s the $1,320 Nomad and the $2,750 Traveler, both using plinth-mounted motors and in-house tonearms to keep costs down, the former also managing to include an onboard phono stage, headphone amp and Ortofon 2M Red cartridge at its price.
Freestanding motor unit
The Scout 1.1 offers more refinement for your money, and is the cheapest VPI turntable to use a freestanding motor unit housed in its own steel case, which tucks into a dedicated cutout in the deck’s plinth. Compared to the original Scout, the 1.1 brings in a number of changes.
Out goes the white frosted acrylic platter, which is replaced with a more traditional looking 1.38in-thick 6061 grade alloy platter, which VPI says can be machined to tighter tolerances. Thanks to a solid steel plate bonded to its underside, the 1.1’s platter tips the scales at 5.8kg; and if you want even more metal under your mat, an extra $625 buys you the Scout 2, which is basically a re-badged 1.1 with a 2in thick platter.
The Scout 2 is basically a re-badged 1.1 with a 2in thick platter
VPI has upgraded the Scout’s main bearing to a Thompson Engineering 60 Rockwell case-hardened spindle, formed into a #2 Jacob’s taper at its tip, to ensure a firm coupling with the platter. A chrome- hardened ball-bearing is pressed into the spindle’s base which turns against a PEEK thrust disc within an oil bath, while the bearing sleeve is made from graphite impregnated brass bushings.
The Scout’s 30mm MDF plinth is carried over from the old model, sporting the same steel plate bracing its underside and it comes finished in a black-only paint job. So too are the threaded conical feet, although their new rubber tips will bring welcome relief to your precious hi-fi furniture.
The Scout’s AC synchronous motor has also been tweaked for UK-bound models, and while both US and UK versions use Hurst motors, the UK version’s 500rpm/4W unit has improved low resonance power supply components specifically selected for our 50Hz mains frequency.
Updated unipivot arm
Completing the package is the latest 9in version of VPI’s JMW Scout stainless/alloy unipivot tonearm, which is brought up to date with an anodised black and polished silver two-tone finish.
The arm essentially comes in two sections, comprising the armboard and lower ‘bearing’ assembly that’s fixed to the plinth, and the upper housing and arm wand. Being a unipivot, the bearing is actually a fiendishly sharp tungsten-carbide point which sticks up like a rocket on a launch pad from the lower section, onto which you balance the upper section via a machined cup within the chunky black bearing housing.
The JMW arm still relies on VPI’s trademark anti-skate method that uses the tension in the exposed twisted arm wires looping from the arm to the RCA junction box; and for those who find this a little too disconcerting, VPI has now added a nylon thread and rotational weight that provides added force.
Freestanding AC motor nestles within a cutout in the plinth to drive the alloy platter via a rubber belt around its periphery. Stepped pulley aids manual speed change
Adjustment wise, the tonearm is a reviewer’s dream. There’s a threaded ring at its base for setting arm height and a weighted collar that rotates around the upper bearing to ensure it’s correctly balanced while setting azimuth. Downforce is adjusted via a more conventional sliding counterweight, which has an off-centre hole to keep its centre of mass low.
Getting the deck up and running is made easy thanks to the deck’s design and VPI’s supplied tools, which help ensure all adjustments are spot on. Simply site the motor unit with its captive mains lead trailing from its rear, then position the main chassis around it and level it up via the adjustable feet.
Now add the platter and thread the rubber belt around its periphery and on to the upper section of the motor pulley for 33.3rpm or lower for 45 (each section of the motor pulley also has three steps for fine tuning speed). Using the supplied pressed-steel cartridge alignment jig between the arm pillar and the platter’s centre spindle allows for setting stylus alignment and overhang.
Finally, remember to place the supplied rubber washer under your LPs to raise their centre, which helps the Scout’s threaded clamp’s outer edge to press the record fiat to the platter. All that’s left to do is a final level check on the platter before switching the deck on via the on/off button on the motor housing.
With my stalwart Benz Micro ACE high output MC cartridge [HFN Sept ’11] fitted to the VPI’s tonearm and the deck’s RCAs connected to my Primare R32 phono stage [HFN Jan ’12] via a pair of Crystal Cable interconnects, I’m up and running. But using The Beatles’ track ‘For No One’ from their Revolver LP [Parlophone PCS 7009] to check all connections are wired correctly, I’m surprised to hear Paul McCartney’s clavichord coming through the left channel, instead of the right channel where it should be found. After checking that all the connections I’ve made are correct and that the colour-coded arm wires correctly match their adjoining cartridge pins, I continue to the next set of connections in the replay chain.
Swapping my Crystal interconnects around at the deck’s RCA outputs shifts the clavichord to its rightful place in the right channel, so somewhere along the way within the tonearm, connections between the cartridge tags and RCA outputs the channels had been switched!
Threaded conical alloy feet make levelling easy and have furniture-friendly rubber tips in place of the old model’s ball bearings. Unipivot tonearm has lots of adjustment
With that sorted out, listening could begin in earnest. The VPI is actually a very warm-hearted musical performer. Stephen Fretwell’s ‘Bumper Cars’ track from his Man On The Roof LP [Fiction Records 1743212] has plenty of romance and warmth in the midrange, which sounds rich without being overly pronounced – although it’s a tad more forward than the most neutral vinyl spinners in this price range.
Because of this, the Scout manages to present Fretwell’s restrained and melancholic vocals with real clarity, while ensuring his voice stays suitably subdued, which brings degrees of convincing honesty to his performance. This sonic trait is equally so with the strings in the track, which gently emanate from the back of the soundstage to envelop the music, without sounding forced in any way.
Instead, the Scout is much more subtle in its approach to extracting the music from an LP’s grooves, and the resulting sounds it serves up are more than just a box-ticking exercise in striving for accuracy, so the music conveys genuine feeling. And while the VPI package’s treble is not ultimately as revealing or focused as with some at and beyond this price point, what you do hear is very organically presented, which shifts your attention away from analysing the music to simply enjoying it.
VPI Scout 1.1 in room
The higher notes of Fretwell’s plucked acoustic guitar strings, for example, capture my attention every time, as they escape the tweeters with a natural twang before disappearing back into the mix.
The way the VPI blends the treble with the upper midrange certainly plays to my Dynaudio Focus 260 loudspeaker’s strengths, by sounding bold and substantial across the soundstage – which brings lots of dynamism to the track.
Having recently lived with a few German behemoth type decks blessed with the ability to extract exceptionally low frequencies from even the most flimsy of LPs, it’s fascinating to compare and contrast how deep the VPI can dig in the bass regions. While the Scout ultimately might not go as low as some of these more costly heavyweights, the bass it does present is still ample and, arguably, even more controlled.
The bass guitar in Morrissey’s ‘I’m Not Sorry’ [Attack Records ATKLP 001] can catch even the most authoritative vinyl-spinner out, resulting in muddied bass that degenerates into boom, which quickly blurs the soundstage and compromises instrument separation further up the frequency band.
Loop of twisted arm wires helps set anti-skate, and unplugs from the junction box so the arm wand can be removed in seconds. RCA sockets are top quality
Thankfully the Scout casts aside the presumed shortcomings typically associated with unipivot tonearm designs and their lack of bass authority, by confronting the track’s bottom-end head-on and determinedly keeping everything in check. The resulting bass notes go convincingly low while sounding taut and free of unnatural overhang, which adds to the track’s sense of power and pace.
With Devon Sproule’s ‘The Unmarked Animals’ from her I Love You, Go Easy [Tin Angel Records TAR024LP], the Scout shows no hesitation in strutting its funky stuff. Timing sounds well governed – on the side of sprightly rather than lethargic. This seems to complement the track by giving its rhythms a sense of joy and buoyancy.
The soundstage set out by the Scout is expansive and open, allowing it to be highly accessible. And while the VPI’s imaging isn’t as pinpoint sharp as the more analytical decks I’ve heard, when fitted with my Benz pick-up, the VPI ensures instruments sound convincingly full-bodied and presents them in a manner that shows the Scout package certainly isn’t lacking in confidence.
The VPI’s combined strengths reveal this machine to be a well balanced all-rounder that approaches everything that’s placed on its platter with equal passion.
· Turntable speed error at 33.33rpm: 33.54rpm (+0.63%)
· Time to audible stabilisation: 5sec
· Peak Wow/Flutter: 0.06% / 0.04%
· Rumble (silent groove, DIN B wtd): -69.6dB
· Rumble (through bearing, DIN B wtd): -73.9dB
· Hum & Noise (unwtd, rel. to 5cm/sec): -57.1dB
· Power Consumption: 5W
· Dimensions (WHD): 483×1 02x330mm