What makes an expensive turntable worth it? Pro-Ject's X Series shows us.
An Interview With Mat Weisfeld of VPI Industries
➳ Turntable Lab has recently added VPI turntables, record cleaners, and accessories to our selection. We interviewed VPI President (and son of the founder) Mat Weisfeld for some company history and product insight.
🇺🇸 While the vast majority of audiophile manufacturing happens overseas, how did VPI establish Cliffwood NJ-based manufacturing?
VPI was originally based out of my dad Harry’s basement with a lot of passion! He had no intention of becoming a turntable company, he just wanted a record cleaning machine. After listening to music before and after cleaning, it broke his music experience. He couldn’t afford to buy one so he made his own! The HW 16 (now 16.5) kicked off the whole company. Together with my mom Sheila they initially ran VPI out of their home and felt it was important to be directly part of the product. They didn’t want to outsource/turnkey my dad’s ideas. They found strong American manufacturer partners to work with, some of whom are still with us today.
⚓ Is continuing to manufacture in the U.S. a key part of VPI’s company identity?
Yes, a lot of companies have cut corners or lost their initial identity to save on their bottom line. We have developed very strong relationships and partnerships in America that is part of that hear that brings a VPI to life. I also couldn’t imagine not having all my guys out there on the floor pushing through to bring their best to every table.
📐 The Player and Cliffwood are relatively new models. Can you tell us a bit about the development and engineering process?
It was a concept I was struggling with since I took a more active role in 2011. I came on board shortly after my mom passed and both her and I were teachers before being part of VPI. We had the same inclusive attitudes about our classrooms and wanted to bring more of that into the audio industry. Developing a product that was easy to use out of the box, robust enough to take a beating, and still bringing a higher level of quality at an affordable price was the main goal. It was tough! The first attempt was the Traveler which in its time was a big hit and also too technical and open for user error. No one was reading the directions and were literally ripping bearings out of the arm! It also didn’t include a cartridge which also turned off new users. From there led to a 4-year evolution of finding the right balance of high-end and what a customer needs ready for them in the box to get right to listening. We developed a tonearm that is “bullet proof” and you could actually hammer a nail into the wall with (we have done it and it was way too much fun!)
"From there led to a 4-year evolution of finding the right balance of high-end and what a customer needs ready for them in the box to get right to listening."
📊 I heard the VPI user community gave valuable feedback on these models. What ideas did they contribute?
The VPI community is fantastic! The customer base made their own group on facebook, called the “I love my VPI turntable” group, which I’m also an active member in. The evolution of the Player was very much guided by the customer feedback and suggestion from the group. Once the Player was finished and successfully making it out the door at the $1,500 all in one price, the VPI group challenged me to hit a $1,000 price point with no included electronics. That encouragement pushed my dad and I to take a serious look and we realized that we were not going to hit a $1,000 price point… we were going for $900 with the Cliffwood turntable. The main feedback provided by the community was to have less adjustability, no included electronics, no wire loop (tonearm wire on the Cliffwood is through the bottom), and an easy upgrade path. We made it happen with their help!
🔎 I see that the Player has an upgraded tonearm from the Cliffwood. Can you explain the differences?
The main difference is the adjustable VTA and the ability to remove the arm wand (hence the wire loop). The base on the Player also makes it one step easier to upgrade to our Uni-pivot arms, though still easily doable on the Cliffwood. The customer feedback was those adjustments were unnecessary and potentially more confusing for someone just getting started and has now idea what VTA even means. Besides those features the Cliffwood and Player are the same design with a modified execution.
editor's note: VTA stands for 'Vertical Tracking Angle.' It measure the angle of the cartridge's cantilever relative to the surface of record.
❓ There’s a lot of choice these days in the sub-$1500 turntable market. Why should buyers consider the VPI Player and Cliffwood?
The first and main reason is because we aren’t going anywhere! A lot of companies are making turntables because they can make some money and are jumping on the bandwagon. When the going gets tough those companies will disappear again leaving thousands of turntables unserviceable. We have been around for 40 years and still have customers with their original HW 19 (our first turntable) that we can still service and upgrade without a problem. Also, you get a lot of beef with the Cliffwood and Player turntables. You get precision-machined aluminum parts that you would usually see on tables well above this price point with a substantial feel/weight that reminds you that you own a product that will stand the test of time.
"We have been around for 40 years and still have customers with their original HW 19 (our first turntable) that we can still service and upgrade without a problem."
🦅 In my opinion, the VPI Vinyl Cleaning Machines (VCM) are classic American design. Why do you think they are so popular?
I think because they have been lasting, cleaning, reliable, and nearly unchanged for the past 40 years. We have seen cleaning machines of ours that have gone through earthquakes and they still can clean or can easily be repaired. The HW 16.5 is our rock that you can always count on to get the job done for your records.
😉 Any tips on getting the best clean with the VCMs?
Follow the directions, use our fluid or fluid like it, and don’t get caught up in these wacky cleaning methods that lead to your cleaning one side for 20 minutes. Not to say your record won’t be clean… but life is short and there are a lot of records to listen to! Seriously though, clean each side for 30 seconds and then make sure to put your clean records into clean record jackets.
"... life is short and there are a lot of records to listen to!"
🔧 Any maintenance tips for the VCM?
1. Always make sure to turn off your turntable motor and vacuum when you’re done cleaning
2. You don’t need He-man strength when pressing your brush to your record. Not the best thing for your turntable motor or the record.
3. Make sure you wipe off any access gunk/direct off of your brush or vacuum tube. If you let it build up it could possibly shorten the shelf life of the felt.
🏡 Which VPI do you have at home?
When I was single and living in an apartment I had a Player. When my girlfriend (and current VPI office manager) Jane moved in I had a Scout. When I married her I had a Prime, and upgraded to a Prime Signature when we moved into a house. We just had our first baby, Shyla, named after my mom and she likes the Avenger!
✅ Last question... your favorite cartridge to pair with a VPI?
That is a tough one because there are a lot of fantastic cartridges and they all match differently depending upon the table. Overall, we find Ortofon to be the easy go-to for fast set-up, build consistency and being able to take a beating.
↳ Check out VPI Turntables, Vinyl Cleaning Machines, and Accessories at TurntableLab.com/VPI
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