American Made Audio
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The Cliffwood Turntable is the new “entry-level” turntable from VPI Industries. That’s not to say that you’ll see hordes of Generation Z music lovers standing in Urban Outfitters weighing a Crossley in one hand and a VPI in the other. Rather, Cliffwood appears to be the entry-level to VPI in the same way that the relatively affordable and overperforming ATS is the entry level to Cadillac. You get a real taste of the qualities each company is known for, just in a more affordable slice that’s designed for the customers most likely to buy it.
For a generation, audio manufacturers have been asking themselves how to appeal to younger music-lovers and grow the industry. Do they play newer music at audio shows? Do they sell gear in record stores? Do they go offshore for lower-end gear to provide lower prices? One answer is to provide quality gear at all price levels. Cliffwood is aimed a younger buyer than VPI currently has, but one who can grow with the company. Will they be buying a VPI Titan Mk VII 30 years from now? Only a very few (if that table is ever made.) But many will make their next table a VPI too.
Cliffwood comes with an MDF plinth available in either a “Black Truffle” wood-look vinyl wrap or a “Snow White” wrap which looks coolly modern. A machined aluminum gimballed 9-inch arm comes complete with a VPI/Grado Green cartridge. A 600 RPM motor drives a 2-speed pulley to provide 33 and 45 RPM speeds for the machined aluminum platter. Its low-slung rounded rectangular shape recalls the elegance of the original Scout. Basic feet might be an early target of an upgrade, the same way a car owner might want to upgrade wheels just for the pride of ownership, and a slight performance increase. The table is fully upgradable, which will allow customers to scratch their upgrade itch in parts as budget allows and taste dictates.
VPI says Cliffwood will be available in August 2017 with an expected retail price of approximately $900. Availability is originally limited to the US.
It’s not the first time the company has approached this part of the market, and Cliffwood shows choices made thanks to experience. The uni-pivot arm that VPI commonly sells requires a certain level of patience and delicacy, for example. VPI has been offering gimbaled arms for some time now, but the new arm is designed to be more durable than prior versions. “The Traveler was the first stab but wasn’t the right price point and wasn’t robust enough to handle the non-audiophile user. Customers were ripping out the bearings and damaging the table with improper use. Also $1,500 but with no included cartridge made it a bit too pricey and not a complete package for someone starting out,” says Mat Weisfeld, CEO of VPI.”
Unsurprisingly for VPI, who has embraced making gear right where the company is based, Cliffwood is made in Cliffwood, NJ, where the company has been based for over 30 years. I can think of audiophile companies who name products after the city where they are designed, but production happens thousands of miles away. Not so with VPI who proudly posts about their employees and partners on their social media properties.
In the case of Cliffwood, VPI isn’t just using social media to promote their gear, but for market research through the “I Love My VPI Turntable” Facebook group. Even five years ago this might have been the lede to this story: “Crowdsourced turntable Spins Heads.” It is a testament to VPI that they have a passionate following online, and more so that they listen closely to what their fans are telling them. With any luck, they’ll be hearing from the children and grandchildren of those fans in a few years.