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In search of a new turntable...

I wanted a change, a change from suspended tables like the Oracle to non-suspended ones. I decided to sell my Oracle together with the original SME arm, which was instantly plucked from the marketplace. Now, my ET 2.5 tonearm is an orphan...

My search for a partner for my Eminent Technology 2.5 linear tracking arm proved to be a difficult process. I identified basic requirements to narrow down my choices. The most important is that the 'table must be non-suspended, as the ET arm will benefit mostly from a stable platform. Second, I want a turntable with an upgrade path, not because I have money to spend, but unlike in the U.S. where it is relatively easy to trade in older equipment for a new one, it will be a challenge if not impossible to achieve the same thing locally. Lastly, I must be able to buy the 'table without an arm.

I was lusting for the VPI TNT Jr., but I am not financially endowed so I had to be a bit realistic in my options. The first strong candidate is the VPI HW19 series - highly upgradeable from the Jr. up to Mark IV status. I heard a similarly configured system (HW19 Mk II + ET arm) from a fellow pinoydiophile and it was glorious. Though I never heard it play rock, new wave, or disco, it was excellent with vocals. Furthermore, the HW19 is best to accept the ET arm. The second candidate is also from VPI - the Scout series. from the basic Scout, you can upgrade to the ScoutMaster which, one of the pinoydiophiles in this forum owns and allowed me to audition. However, these were designed for the JMW arms and will take some work to mount the ET arm without drilling a hole on the plinth. being a DIYer, I also considered making one myself using VPI parts. I planned to order the HW19 Mk III platter and bearing assembly, motor, belt and pulley and all I need to fabricate is the plinth and feet and i'm ready to roll. I also considered the BIX because it seems to offer a viable option for me as far as mounting the ET arm is concerned.

Not being able to audition any of these table with the ET arm, I had to do some research based on the personal experiences of the inmates in vinyl asylum.  There you will see a lot of subjective opinions from the users themselves. Why they hate the table, why they love the table, what made them chose what, and so on. I'm using these information as a "pulse" and see if they correspond with my own prejudice. Further readings made me realize that I missed another potential candidate - the Clearaudio line. Something caught my attention though, and it was this post of user otl89, who claims that the Clearaudio Champion sucks - and that is one of the possible candidate making it to my list. The Champion line can go from the basic Champion to Level 1 and Level 2 status. It is also not designed to accept an ET arm and the armboard was designed for the Unify or Rega arms.

I decided to dump the DIY and BIX options due to low resale value, and lack of upgrade options, respectively. And now, I'm left with a) VPI HW19, b) VPI Aries Scout, and c) Clearaudio Champion. All the prices mentioned here came from the Music Direct catalog that I received early this year.

The VPI HW19

I was planning to go for the mid-model in the family, which is the Mk III at $1,125. But, I don't want the spring suspension and only the Jr. had sorbothane suspension. so it seems to me that the upgrade to Mk III is going against my prejudice. What I can do is get the Mk III and downgrade the suspension to sorbothanes as found in the Jr. Hmmm. The Mk III will also cost twice as much as the Jr. and the Mk IV more expensive than the III. The Mk III comes with an acrylic armboard that will allow me to drill the mounting hole for the ET arm, as well as 1" thick acrylic platter, 10 gauge stainless steel plate laminated to 1/2" thick black acrylic, in oak body.

The VPI Scout

At $899 list without a tonearm, this seems to be the excellent choice. For that price, I get an acrylic platter with inverted bearing mechanism - which is subjectively better than traditional bearing designs, and I get the SAMA (stand alone motor assembly) as well. It also comes with better feet which is an upgrade option for the HW19. I thought the plinth was black acrylic but then I was informed by the owner that it is MDF. Further check with the VPI website confirmed it was so and was enough explanation for me why the HW19 Mk III is more expensive than the Scout, as the Mk III has steel subchassis laminated to 1/2" black acrylic. as I previously mentioned, this table is designed for the JMW arms and the lack of an armboard will make it more challenging, but not impossible, to fabricate one to accept the ET arm.

Both the HW19 and Aries Scout comes with 2 year warranty from VPI.

The Clearaudio Champion

In the looks department, this matches well with my own preferences. At $1,200 dollars list, this is much more expensive than the Aries Scout, but I also get a 30mm acrylic platter, inverted bearing mechanism (pioneered by Clearaudio, according to people), a high quality motor which is used in all Clearaudio models, which is unlike VPI that uses different motors in its product family though some are compatible between various models. The Champion also has an armboard design that will more easily, compared to the Scout, allow fabrication to
accept the ET arm.

the Champion turntable is covered by a 5 year warranty from Clearaudio.

I thought long and hard about my options, asked around, and took the plunge.  The next step is to fit the ET 2.5 tonearm to the Champion.

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