Our 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' Warehouse Finds

VPI's most fashionable table,
and a pair of Manley Labs' finest analog products

3 of 10 VPI Designer Prime

Nearly forgotten stash of VPI Designer Prime and Manley Steelhead unearthed!

Upscale Audio has two large warehouses and every so often we don brown fedoras, grab the nearest bullwhip and forge far down the aisles, climbing to the highest shelves, hunting for long-lost treasures. We've been chased by Boulders (the amp from Colorado), fallen into pits of SNAICs (Naim Audio Interconnect), and on one of these recent adventures, discovered a small stash of the leather-covered VPI Designer Prime turntables and the original Manley Steelhead phonostage. After removing them from their pallets (not before replacing them with the exact weight in sandbags), we brought them down to sell to a lucky few of you.

VPI Designer Prime

Okay, a leather-wrapped turntable is not for everyone, but this is definitely a situation best described by the statement: when you know you want one, you really know you want one. Though VPI made these in a brown and a black finish, we have only a couple of the black in stock. Whether you ride a Harley and want to continue the theme, or have a study that's finished in oak and leather, the VPI Designer Prime will not only fit in, it will exceed your expectations and show itself to be a truly world-class turntable in the process.

Both the plinth and the tonearm have been wrapped and handstitched in Italian leather by VPI's craftsperson. Additionally, the centerweight, armbase, and motor all sport special finishes. 

VPI Leather Prime Limited Edition
VPI Designer Prim JMW-10 Tonearm - Limited Edition Black Leather

 

Manley Steelhead

Manley Steelhead

With three inputs, this is the phonostage to buy if you're inspired by that tricked-out VPI Avenger below.

Michael Fremer raves in his Stereophile review that "The Steelhead delivered the best vinyl playback I've heard from my system . . . it combined speed, frequency extension, resolution, harmonic structure, focus, air, stage depth, image specificity, and, most important, overall musical coherence in a way that made the music seem to fly from the speakers unrestrained by mechanical or electrical bounds."

Wayne Garcia of The Absolute Sound writes, "This is one of the quietest, most detailed, and highly musical preamps out there. The Steelhead has a stunningly crafted RIAA stage, accepts three phono cartridges, and gives you so much control that you can fine-tune it to get the best out of any cartridge."

"I'm prepared to say that the Steelhead is the best-sounding phonostage I've ever experienced," says Ken Kessler of Hi-Fi News in England.

Contact our Analog Lab and ask about our warehouse finds!

 

The Secrets of American Analog

Some of the world's leading analog brands are designed and manufactured right here in the US. VPI Industries is based in Cliffwood, New Jersey. Grado is camped in Brooklyn, New York. Soundsmith resides in Peekskill, New York. And (West Coast, West Coast!) Manley Labs sits just down the road from us in Chino, California. While all of these brands are rightly celebrated for their great sound, here are some of the standout characteristics that make these audio products truly covetable.

 

VPI Turntables: Eminently Hot-Roddable

The modular nature of VPI turntables means they can be configured in many different ways. One common hack that's highly recommended by Kat and the Analog Lab is to put Isoacoustics Gaia feet on a VPI. Yes, these footers are designed for speakers, but because of the weight of VPI turntables, and a very similar requirement for channeling away vibration, these bring a whole new level of isolation to your analog sound. You get a cleaner background, more bass, and better attack.

This upgrade is easily effected on tables with onboard motors, but matching the height of an outboard motor can get tricky. This is where we come in, call us!

There are many other ways to trick out a VPI turntable, and we can help you through them. Shown here is perhaps the very pinnacle of VPI hot-rodding with an Upscale customer's VPI Avenger set up with a Fatboy 12 " arm and Lyra Etna cart, a Reed 3P with a Grado Aeon3, and a Kuzma 4Point 11-inch VTA arm with a Koetsu Blue Lace Onyx.

VPI Avenger Setup

Manley Labs: Dead Silent Tube Design

When you think of a vacuum tube phonostage cranking out 65 dB of amplification, you probably expect to hear a lot of hiss with the occasional quiet crackle and pop from the tubes. Not with Manley Labs. Even at massive gains, these all-tube, balanced, hand-built beauties are dead quiet. Their phonostages are completely customizable, offering as many as 35 load settings. See the story below for more on the Chinook SE.

 

Soundsmith Cartridges: Rebuildable Moving Iron

Soundsmith patented its moving iron, or as they call it, fixed coil, technology, which offers a way for a cartridge to generate a signal using a far lower moving mass than other designs. Moving magnets have the heaviest moving mass, and moving coils are much lighter, but moving iron designs have by far the lightest generator. This means excellent tracking as well as great detail and dynamic performance. With Soundsmith's use of aluminum and other light alloys, the sound is svelte, fast, and exceptionally detailed. 

Even better, Soundsmith cartridges are completely rebuildable, allowing you to keep your favorite sound going for years at a fraction of the price of replacing entire cartridges.

Grado Cartridge

 

The "Magical, Giant Killer" Chinook SE MkII Lands on AnalogPlanet

Chinook SE MkII

"A very coherent, wide-open, and frequency-neutral phonostage."

That's Ken Micallef of AnalogPlanet, who just wrote a detailed and carefully comparative review (click here for the full review on Analog Planet) of the Chinook SE MkII.

He found that though the Chinook uses tubes, "its neutrality is first rate." But the magic of tubes shone through immediately. "Straight out of the box, the Chinook exhibited a grand sense of orderliness and spaciousness."

As he continued with his listening, Ken was able to confirm that "the Chinook presented a large, deep soundstage with excellent ambient cues and precisely focused images."

We were proud to have supplied Ken with his review unit, a phonostage that offers 45, 50, 60, and 65 dB of gain, and upgraded Gold Lion 6922 tubes. The latter have been specially selected through testing as well as by ear and cryogenically treated.

Ken felt that the Chinook "deserves all the praise it’s received by the audiophile press cognoscenti", summing up that its excellent coherency, neutrality, and resolution are balanced by excellent overall tone, spaciousness, and "ability to sound very good, no matter the genre of music. The giant killer lives!"

 Manley Labs Chinook Special Edition MK II

What We're Listening To

By Alex Brinkman, Marketing Manager

Kill the Moonlight by Spoon

Spoon - Kill the Moonlight

In terms of what I've been listening to lately, I was reading the other day in Stereogum that Spoon’s album Kill the Moonlight is now 20 years old. Apart from making me feel old, it also made me feel like listening to that album again. Spoon is an indie band whose sound is best characterized as tight, minimalist post-punk rock. To this day, Kill the Moonlight is one of my favorite rock albums of all time. I always love that sense of building urgency that never pays off in the track 'Small Stakes.' I have never listened to the poppy bounciness in 'The Way We Get By' and not wanted to tap my foot and bob my head along with the song. The tight, simple structure of 'Jonathan Fisk' always gets me feeling energized, and the melancholy piano mixed with the upbeat drive of 'Don’t Let it Get You Down' always evokes emotions. On Qobuz it can only be streamed in 16-bit/44 kHz, but I don’t mind at all that it’s not available in high-res.

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