Beginning with something slow and soulful, a 180 gram RTI audiophile pressing of Anne Bisson’s Blue Mind album, I dropped the needle on the third track: “Hoping Love Will Last”. Soft piano keystrokes were delivered with their delicate details and accompanied by the glow and sweet resonance of the instrument. Anne’s voice was clear, centred and lifelike, with her emotion conveyed convincingly. This ushered in the slow but sonorous bass drum thumps – amazing in their richness, depth and energy. The bloom of the piano keys was juxtaposed against the crystalline clarity of cymbal taps. No doubt, the Scout was showing itself to have mastery of both delicacy and strength. The rendering of the drum strikes was impeccable, with a tangible sound to the sticks striking the skins – their speed, so well preserved. The presentation proved to be layered front to back – bass drums lying deepest, drum strikes a little more forward and Anne in front, as well as with appreciable breadth. Elements were realistic in size, precise in location and having a natural feel. I also noticed the utter silence in which these elements resided – partly due to the quality of the pressing but no doubt preserved by the performance of the Scout with its JMW Scout tonearm. Given the low cost of the cartridge, I was surprised to hear so much and so well delivered.
On another occasion, I put on Ray Montford’s album, a fragile balance, and the song “the healing”, thanks to slow plucking of Ray’s guitar and a ghostly reverb sounded enchanting. The depth of the soundstage was cavernous and percussion reached both deep and wide, most noticeably to the right. Here I heard a sweetness and delicacy from this LP that I had not managed to extract before – it’s thrilling to discover an album anew and that’s just what the Scout was enabling me to do. Moving to the next track “arrival”, one of my favorite on this album, the guitar strings came across with impressive texture and precision – very lifelike and present in their nature. I found that the Scout handled the pace of the music well, as evidenced by the involuntary bobbing of my head, as this rhythmic composition played through. The VPI table was also able to give me a feel of the emotion of the band as they dug into the tune. Listening to the bongo play, the variations of hand and finger slaps came across clearly, allowing me to easily imagine a live setting. I wasn’t just hearing the music, but rather the Scout was letting me feel it.
One night my brother was over with his wife and kids. I mentioned that I had “a real cool looking table in for review”. Next, we were in my studio, where I quickly poked through my collection for something appropriate. What I picked out was Steve Windwood’s Higher Love LP. My brother and I bought this album together back in 1986 and I knew we hadn’t listened to it together in at least 25 years! Still in great condition, I put it on, dropped down the clamp and got it spinning. Both of us were caught like fish on hooks and before you know it, a couple songs turned into a whole album – both sides. There was so much clarity to the elements, so much separation and then the imaging and soundstaging – which too came across so vividly. Though the recording definitely has some compression, the arrangements are well done and the instrumentation offers an opportunity to take in the individual lines as well as the sum of the parts. On the opening song, “Higher Love”, the drum strikes were clear and detailed, while reaching out beyond the front wall of my room and sitting fairly high. Steve’s voice was centred, recessed behind the front plane of the speakers. I noticed how stable and anchored images were, which just helped with the realism. The next track, “Take It As It Comes” had both of us bopping our heads to the percussion given the rhythmic pace of this track. The Scout was able to nail the timing – PRAT (Pace, Rhythm, and Timing) were all there in spades. On “Freedom Overspill” the bass guitar and drums were delivered with a visceral energy. Again here, I was transfixed by the tautness, speed and depth of the bass and drums.
Another original pressing that had me enthralled when played on the Scout, was The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Gone With the Wind LP. Though not the quietest of pressings, what it misses on noise floor it much more than makes up in transparency, vibrancy and sheer realism. The Scout was able to generate an impressive three dimensional soundstage with faultless instrument placement. The playing of the snare drum relayed the swats and the slaps of sticks on the drum-skin in a surreal manner. There was both delicacy and finesse in the portrayal of the instruments and low level details were brought forth with aplomb. The upright bass plucks had fullness with a reverent echo of the space in which it was being played, and its position was clearly revealed at the back of the soundstage. Here I was sitting, within the confines of my room, with a band playing before me – what more could one ask for…a Scotch, of course.
What more can I say, exploring my record collection with the Scout has been enlightening, engaging and downright good fun! If ever I needed another reason to listen to more vinyl – the VPI Scout has given me one. Though my Goldring GR1.2 reintroduced me to the pleasure and sweetness of vinyl, the Scout has given me reason to never let it go. The Scout offers high value out of the box and an easy upgrade path when the time is right. Visit your local VPI dealer and give the Scout a listen, if this vixen doesn’t seduce you, you’ll definitely have fun in her efforts.
Sidebar – Audio Physic VCF III Double Component Feet
Audio Physic VCF III Double Component sound optimizer feet come in sets of 4, with each foot handling up to 20 kg and have a diameter of 65 mm. They are designed for use with both components and loudspeakers.
Using the Audio Physic VCF III sound optimizers with the VPI Scout provided a noticeable and considerable increase in sonic performance. Additional clarity and detail was gained with the feet in place and bass frequencies gained both depth and articulation. The overall impression of images within the soundstage also became more natural and dimensional.
VPI Scout Turntable
Price: $1,995 US