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Pure Dynamite

TNT Series IV, VPI Industries

By Gary D. Markowitz

I had a dilemma. The SME V I had recently purchased was stressing the suspension of my trusty Logic DM101 turntable to the point that I was adjusting it just about weekly. Either the massive SME had to go, or my Logic. The Logic had served me well for some 17 years, the same length of time it had been out of production. So, I embarked on a search for the last turntable I would ever buy.
My budget put me squarely into the high end in turntables, but precluded the ultra-fi models from most of the manufacturers. My short list included the Basis 2500, the gorgeous Oracle Delphi V, the Michell Gyrodec and Orb, and the TNT Jr.
First off, I'm a cheapskate to a point. I want quality, but I refuse to pay a penny more than necessary to get the quality and service that I need. So what's the best place for cheapskates? The web. I started surfing, looking for dealers in my area and others. I checked the demo lists of any dealers I could find on the web, as most don’t do mail order on new stuff if your local dealers can supply tables. I also spoke with the owners of some of the local shops. Most of the high-end dealers in my area can get tables, but they don't demo them. Therefore, they're willing to discount them to some extent to make up for a lack of service in that area. This seemed to put the VPI TNT Series 3 and Basis 2500 within budget.
One weekend while frequenting, I happened upon an ad for a demo TNT IV. This one was current spec, with the new bearing, one-piece plinth, flywheel, air suspension and PLCII. Then only problem was that it came with a JMW memorial arm, which I didn't need. It was also a bit over budget, so I emailed the dealer and asked if he'd sell it without the arm, as I already had an SME V. He emailed back, and sure enough, he'd sell it to me under my budget without the arm, and he'd throw in an SME armboard with it. Sold.
The next two weeks were murder waiting for the TNT to traverse the country. It's kind of ironic, as I work about 15 miles from VPI.
A few weeks before, I had purchased a set of Apogee Duetta II's. I have been a fan of planar loudspeakers ever since I heard a pair of Maggies at a local dealer back in 1981, and had been a big fan of the Apogees. The opportunity presented itself to purchase a very nice used pair from a Stereophile reviewer who shall remain nameless, and I jumped at it. When I set up the table, I had become fairly well acquainted with the sound of the Apogees.
When I first lowered the SME V with a Supex 1100R onto vinyl for serious listening, the first thing that hit me was a much-increased sense of dynamics. Somehow, the quiet passages seem quieter, and the loud passages bloom, making my old table, the Logic DM101, sound compressed in comparison. The first few crescendos I heard nearly had me jumping out of my seat.
This table also has an amazing sense of pace and drive. Music flowed from one section to another with timing clues as good as live music. This made it rather difficult to focus on the sound instead of getting lost in the music.
Details and subtle timbres that were hinted at on the Logic came into their own on the VPI. It is very much like hearing my records for the first time, very much like the reaction I had when I first listened to the SME V on the Logic table.
The soundstaging is pinpoint, and I can get a sense not only of the positions of each section or musician (if the info is there on the recording), but the space in between. The soundstage is a bit less exaggerated than with the Logic. The soundstage was relatively wide, and realistically deep.
Another thing I notice is that there seems to be more (for lack of a better word) "power" in the bass and midbass. Let me explain. When listening to live music, there's a tremendous power (not necessarily volume either) to the lower brass, lower woodwinds, cello, string bass and other lower register instruments. Very few systems I've ever heard even hint at this power. It seems that this table/arm combination does hint at it often, and at times, comes closer than any other table I've heard (and I've by no means heard them all), at conveying that sense of power to the listening room.
I pulled out a copy of Pink Floyd The Wall. Now, this album has bass power and drive, something that was partially lost on the logic. With the Apogee speakers, the room was utterly pressurized by the bass, and sounded, compared to the Logic, as if a subwoofer had been added to the system. Another good example is on Eric Clapton Unplugged. I could literally feel the foot stomping on the opening cut resonate thru the room and my body.
As for tonal balance, I'd have to call the table rather neutral. No part of the musical range seems to stand out, and there is no sense of anything being left out. Musical instruments seem to have their proper structure of harmonics, timbres and resonant qualities when the recording properly conveyed them. My usual acid tests, female voice, saxophone, violins, and lower string instruments were all conveyed very well. Billie Holiday's voice on my 6-eye pressing of Lady In Satin is almost there in the room with me. The sylibance present on this record, which had been almost annoying on the Logic, was still there but much less pronounced and obtrusive on the TNT. My UK pressing of Jerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond Two Of A Mind showcases Desmond's Alto sax as rich and silky smooth, contrasting well with the deep reedy sounds of Mulligan's bari.
I was fortunate enough to attend two reality checks in the first few weeks of ownership of the TNT. One was my nephew's youth orchestra concert, where they played one of the Brandenburgs and Bach's Concerto For Two Violins, among other things. In the other, I was treated to a practice session in which I listened to several Bach Fugues on a pipe organ (an interesting experience being the only person in the audience J ). Running home after each, with the music still fresh in my memory, I played the same or similar pieces. I must confess being less disappointed in the sound of my system with the TNT than in the past when I've made such comparisons. Of course, the Apogees have something to do with that too!
Another interesting observation I've made has been that "audiophile pressings", namely the Mobile Fidelity reissues, are not as enjoyable as they were with the Logic table. Most of the MoFi's I've listened to are now exhibiting exaggerated bass, as well as brightness in the upper registers. In going back to some of the original releases of the MoFis that I own, I now find the originals to have a more natural balance, whereas with the Logic they were a bit bass shy. The TNT also seems to extract more information from the grooves, making what I thought were deficient recordings much more enjoyable.
Overall, I'm thrilled with the new table, and I'd recommend to anyone looking to spend some serious bucks on a table to at least have a listen to the big VPIs. To my ears, the TNT Series IV gets a whole lot right, including timing and pace, tonal balance and especially dynamics. It seems subjectively quieter than my old table, and can extract as much detail as I've ever heard from any table. And to answer the age old question "Does it boogie?", I can only answer "Yeah, man!".
Now back to listening to MUSIC. It's pretty hard to concentrate on the SOUND when the MUSIC keeps trying to sweep you away. J

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