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But let’s not forget the record clamp. It’s not a heavy metal but light plastic job which needs to be screwed down as its own mass wouldn’t suffice. One first places down a ca. 2 Euro-sized hole-punched rubber disc on the axle to have the record float about 1mm above the platter before the concave clamp torques down good on even bowed or wavy vinyl. It’s not a new invention but effective. At this juncture, I strapped on the familiar Ortofon Rondo MC, slapped on Paul Simon’s Graceland, clamped the sucker down, cued up the eponymous track and…

Sonics: If you imagine a review like a job interview, this candidate would have been handed the contract after the first handshake. Why bother with a half hour of small talk? The first impression stuck – self confident, relaxed and friendly, with good manners rather than mannerisms. Eccentricities, be they tonal, dynamic or relative to soundstaging, were absent. The VPI was a winning charmer but I was initially somewhat at a loss to explain what caused the charm. My comparator was the broad-shouldered, long-armed Acoustic Solid MPX with 1-foot SME M2 (and for alternative sport, the MPX also saw the Jelko 9-incher as well as the VPI arm).

Pick-me-ups were the Denon DL-103, the Zu Audio version thereof, the already mentioned Ortofon MC Rondo and for MM fun, the Shure 201 and Music Maker II from The Cartridge Man. Phono preamplification was handled by the Octave HP300 tube preamp’s built-in phono pre and a dedicated Aqvox model. In general, the VPI Scout proved even-handed and balanced also tonally. Granted, it sported a minor upper bass lift which rendered the tunes a bit juicer than 100% neutral. "Well done" will quip those who prefer some sexiness and I’d agree. Compared to the Schwabian deck, the VPI betrayed its only tonal weakness—though that term is too strong already—-a few octaves lower. Though not lean, the low bass is shy of final heft and mass. Abysmal reach wouldn’t be my first attribute on the Scout’s ledger either. But this is clearly relative and overall booked itself as merely a small tendency rather than deal breaker. The VPI really is well balanced and differentiates sounds and their colors well. Very good so far.

In matters of soundstaging, the VPI left my reference in the dust and did so on all parameters, be it stage dimensionality, image focus or body. While these aspects aren’t usually highest on my totem pole, the VPI addressed them. Depth and width became positively voluptuous but not by artificially blowing up instrument for perhaps curious but unnatural endowments. Rather, the space/air around the instruments increased and thus scaled up the music.

The result was a virtual stage set truly free. The VPI was the polar opposite of a stage compactor. With very high image focus but more importantly a great tactile factor for plasticity and embodied sounds, staging freaks should be in heaven. For its sticker, I can’t imagine what more anyone could want. Truly top of its class.

Scoutish charms: Without downplaying its tonal and spatial merits, they don’t fully explain the winning charm with which the Scout is clearly pregnant.

I found myself more emotionally drawn in than with my considerable 'thicker' Acoustic Solid which seemed comparatively sober, abstracted and drier – not outright wrong but somehow… I usually have the same suspicion when specific components turn me on emotionally (and duty-bound, I cross examine such suspicion with endless comparisons and analysis until the last remnants of involvement have been successfully murdered) but I always gravitate toward the relative balance between timing/flow vs. resolution/microdynamics. When that one fits, one gets hooked – well, at least I do.

Again the VPI played it balanced if one subscribed to the mental game of parceling out musical flow over here, resolution over yonder. The Scout neither swung so hard as to have fun swallow up certain details; nor did it peel out tertiary stuff to strut pertly on the silver platter. Both seemingly opposing needs were served equally. But if you insisted on any tendency, I’d say flow came first in a pinch.

Attacks and decays were finely tracked even when very subdued or—as is often the case in music—staggered and overlaid. The Scout revealed the whole tone regardless of what occurred around it. There was great stability through the whole sustain/decay phase and the fade-out of sounds didn’t fray at the edges as routinely happnes when these effects scatter and diffuse into the room. Nor did good rhythm get confused with transient emphasis. That would blot out the smaller-amplitude ring-outs to clip off the last third of each note. In short, a very well balanced timing finesse was one of the Scout’s great strengths. This was demonstrated by involving piano music. Simply pay attention to the clarity of the hammer falls and the decay trails following them. The little Scout really walks the middle path to perfection.

While bestowing praise can get tiring, I still must mention the Scout’s microdynamic chops. If pictures make up 1000 words, perhaps this will help. The four white/black transitions lose gradation values from left to right, starting with 256 and ending with 128.

If we reference dynamics as being analogous to these gradations, the point is quickly made. The vital area is the gray zone. All images contain black and white but the transition from one polarity to the other is significantly longer (and hence more highly differentiated) in the left-most image. And the Scout never paints just black or white. It’s got too many intermediary values in its pocket and handles the microdynamic range with far too many nuances. This results in highly articulate and realistic dynamics. That was the quality I got stuck on – even the finest of shimmies and fades were extracted from the groove and playback remained very much alive during the quietest of passages.

Conclusion: The VPI Scout has no real weaknesses. Infrasonic freaks might resist but in by book, that’s a very minor matter and more than made up for by other virtues. Besides high sonics, the Scout adds good workmanship and high user-friendliness – pickup tweaks are easily dialed and precise. The price/performance ratio is much in favor of the consumer and an upgrade path is intrinsic to VPI’s company policies. Just don’t pull the brake with an inferior cartridge…

• The VPI Scout is tonally very even and while not shy in the bass, also not the last word in infrasonic mass. The midrange leans a tad toward the foundation rather than treble light.
• The Scout is master of the soundstage which comes across exceptionally broad and deep. Voices and instruments remain properly sized but space between the stage actors increases.
• Image focus is high and tones grow bodies to leave the 2nd dimension.
• The general character is both fluid and rhythmically accentuated.
• Macrodynamically stable, it’s particularly the unbelievably nuanced microdynamics which impress the most.

Category: Turntable with 9-inch arm
Trim: Black plinth, silver anodized arm
Concept: MDF/steel plinth with loosely decoupled cone footers; inverted bearing; AC synchro motor with round belt; unipivot tone arm
Speeds: 33 1/3 and 45 RPM
Footprint: 48 x 36cm (WxD)
Weight: 13 kg
Other: €100 optional cover / comprehensive upgrade options

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