Turntable VPI Scout 1.1 Review (Part 1)

8/29/2014 11:45:12 AM
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

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

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.

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