Looking for a lifestyle turntable that might actually be worth listening to? Paul Rigby wonders if he’s found a like candidate with Pro-Ject’s VT-E
So what on earth am I doing reviewing a lifestyle turntable such as this? What, you might ask, is actually the point? Hardly audiophile, is it? Well, no…no it isn’t. But there are reasons. The first is that lifestyle turntables are a popular sector of the market for people who have no real audiophile pretensions. Other non-audiophiles potential might be searching for a blend of looks, sound and price. There may actually be those audiophiles amongst you who like the idea of having a vertical turntable but really don’t want the eBay hassle and the fact that olde-worlde variants may need servicing and repairing. Some audiophiles might even be looking for a second turntable at a low price or, and this point addresses the practical side of the vertical nature of this design, they might want a turntable but really don’t have the space to fit a standard model. For all of these people, a VT-E will be a prime target.
Unlike other, classic [cough] vertical turntables, the great thing about the VT-E, is that it has an audiophile pedigree because it’s essentially an entry level Pro-Ject Elemental turntable that even uses the same 8.6” aluminium tonearm with a very respectable Ortofon OM5E cartridge. The tonearm has been tweaked with a specialist spring that allows the arm to track the record vertically while keeping the tracking force and anti-skating realistic.
The good quality cable runs off the back of the arm with gold-plated phono plugs and a separate ground connection.
The turntable needs to be assembled but this process is minimal. Apart from placing the platter on the plinth, adding the belt plus simple power supply and building the stand, IKEA-like, with a couple of simple bolts, there’s not much to it. Everything else is set up for quick play.
When you put a record on the taller than normal spindle, the record is fixed to the platter with a screw-on clamp. Care must be taken lifting the arm to the record because you’ve got that spring resistance that wants to remove the arm from your grip but, apart from that and the fact that the manual arm cueing is at an odd angle, record play is simple and pretty straightforward.
I’ve been in a mood for The Fall of late so placed the debut album from the great unwashed head of Mark E Smith with an original pressing of The Fall’s Live At The Witch Trials and the track, Frightened.
Initially and in a slight weird way, what I was trying to do here was not really see how good the VT-E was but how bad it was. I walked into this review not really expecting much, prepared to dislike and being slightly nervous that I might be approaching this review with a bias, being ‘height-ist’, as it where.
The reality was very different and much nicer. The first thing that hit me with this deck was the bass and how punchy it was. Actually, the impact it provided was almost digital in its force and snap. Not hard or edgy, you understand, the presentation is still decidedly analogue but the movement for the lower frequencies is definitely one of tremendous focus with no room for ‘play’ in how the bass moves through the air. The downside is a lowering of any organic feel to the drums but the approach the Pro-Ject has taken is the right one. If you take a organic route for bass then you need to fill it with information and this deck is just not high enough in terms of quality to give you that. Hence, the focused and snappy route is eminently sensible. Bass thus has a power and a kick that definitely impacts at high volumes with the right sort of speakers.
This emphasis in the lower frequencies also lifts the very shy bass guitar of the review LP. Even in a top flight system, the bass on this track does its best to evade all notice but the VT-E gives the bass guitar a sense of presence because of this precision, lifting the bass guitar from the floor to a more ‘visible’ area for the ear.
The focus extends to the treble because the introductory cymbal taps are sharp and fast in transient terms. Again, the VT-E uses the focus to provide important details. It’s not subtle but its not unpleasant or offensive either. The same can be said for the electric piano in which the growl of the instrument when running at full pelt can be heard during crescendos.
Pleasantly surprised, I turned to jazz vocal and Sandra King with more optimism and listened to her sing the Henry Mancini song, In The Art of Love with a jazz orchestral backing. Because this recording was slightly compressed, the extra VT-E focus did shine a spotlight upon the upper mids which gave the King crescendos a sense of stridency, although nothing too harsh. Brass was tonally fascinating, offering heaps of detail – although rather artificially lifted from the floor of the mix by that now familiar focus ‘trick’. This also meant that the percussion, piano and even the shy acoustic guitar was now visible to the ear while the soundstage adopted a very busy air, giving the effect of extra layering to the presentation. The effect was admirable and pleasant on such a turntable and at this price point.
Considering what this turntable is: a lifestyle design that, in its category, sits among – let’s be frank about this – a heap of dross, the VT-E shines like a star of utmost purity. Derived from a turntable of class and distinction, the VT-E’s pedigree enables it to walk all over similar vertical turntable ideas and implementations. Would I recommend it as an audiophile purchase? No…but you could do a lot worse, let me tell you. But damning the VT-E in this way would be a silly thing to do because it has not been designed to compete with audiophile turntables. It’s a lifestyle design. Fun too. The Project VT-E not only works, it works well and would be ideal for the music fan with no audiophile pretensions or even as a second turntable in a cramped room. In short, its a brilliant little design and, at the price, what’s not to like?
PRO-JECT VT-E TURNTABLE
Tel: 01235 511166
GOOD: a vertical design that works, midrange focus, bass impact, detail, easy to set-up
BAD: don’t expect a cultured audiophile sound output
Rega RP1 turntable
Trichord Dino phono amplifier
Rega Brio-R amplifier
Spendor S3/5R2 speakers
Tellurium Q cables
All vinyl was cleaned using an Audio Desk’s Ultrasonic Pro Vinyl Cleaner