My VPI Prime Signature has been in my system for six years now, ever since I reviewed it back in 2018. After I finished the review, I agonized over my next steps. I’d owned a Pro-Ject RPM-series turntable since 2004, starting with the RPM 9, which I bought after I’d finished that review. Then came the RPM 10 in 2007, followed by the RPM 10 Carbon in 2017. Those turntables had made me an honest man three times over, and I really, really enjoyed my time with them.

For a short while, I had both the VPI and the RPM 10 Carbon side by each on my equipment rack, and I had to decide which one to keep. There was no room in my life for two full-size turntables, as I need one spot open for review gear as it comes and goes.

And there the VPI has sat on the left side of my rack, as various other turntables have come and gone.

VPI and MF

It took me a while to truly get used to the VPI’s JMW 10 3D unipivot tonearm. It has a wobbly feel to it, and cueing is a bit tricky; early on, the needle never really seemed to land where I wanted. Setup is a bit on the fussy side also—you have to actively reset azimuth for each cartridge swap. And I swap a lot of cartridges in the Thorpe household.

I did become acclimatized to the JMW, though. Once you’re used to this thing, it’s quite easy to dial it in, and after you’re familiar with the wonky cueing action, you can anticipate where it’s going to drop the needle and kind of send it in on a pre-planned elliptical trajectory.

But something began to gnaw at me. I felt like I was going through cartridges faster than I should. A moving-coil cartridge should last well over 1000 hours, I reckon. And while I’ve never run a timer, I felt like I wasn’t getting that kind of life from mine. The feeling took a while to really settle in, but I began to look askance at the JMW. Each time I’d lower the arm, it’d do a little microscopic shimmy as it settled itself down in the groove. That can’t be helping, I began to think to myself.

DS Audio

There are only two points of stability with a unipivot: the spike at the pivot, and the stylus in the groove. With a perfectly flat record that has the spindle hole drilled accurately in the center, all is good. When there are warps, or the hole is eccentrically drilled, the whole shebang becomes unbalanced. Of course, the tonearm’s center of gravity is below the pivot point, but the stylus interface is still at the mercy of a whole bunch of small but likely cumulative lateral forces.

At this year’s Florida International Audio Expo, I bumped into Mat Weisfeld, president of VPI Industries. Weisfeld is a busy guy, always moving, always in action, but he’s keen to chat about all things analog. He had his daughter Goldy in tow, and on top of that he was juggling room-setup issues, so I grabbed only a minute of his time.

I was succinct. “Hey Mat, do unipivots eat up cartridges?”

Mat hemmed and hawed a bit. “Well kinda, maybe. It’s a bit of a story there. Call me when you get back to Canada.” And he was off to do the “mad professor” thing in another room filled with VPI turntables on which he had to lay hands.


Call I did, and we had a good chat—a deep dive into VPI’s unipivot and gimballed tonearms.

“I still love the JMW unipivot,” said Weisfeld on our call. “It sounds great, possibly better than a gimballed tonearm when it’s set up correctly.” Note his emphasis. “But it’s so hard to do that. The vast majority of the calls we get in the VPI support department are due to customers having issues with the unipivot nature of the JMW.

“We’re slowly switching over to gimballed arms, making them the default choice on our upper-end turntables. Since the swap over, the calls to our support department have plummeted.”


I can understand the difficulties. In the call, I related to Weisfeld how when I initially set up the Prime Signature, I couldn’t get the tonearm to sit properly on the male bearing, atop the spike. It took me an hour of fiddling before I realized that there was a protective sleeve over the spike that had to come off first.

“Oh yeah, we get that a lot. I once visited a room at an audio show where they’d been playing the turntable for the better part of a day with the sleeve still on there. It sounded okay, but looked real strange until I sorted it out for them. Another issue is where people miss the bearing cup and impale the spike off to the side into the 3D-printed material.”


“So our Gimbal tonearms are much easier to use and to set up,” Weisfeld continued. “And like you said, they’re probably easier on cartridges.

“We spent a lot of time designing the Gimbal tonearms. The bearings themselves are ABEC 9 series—the tightest tolerances available—from Bell Labs and Lucent Technologies. We bought all they had remaining when they stopped production. There aren’t any more of these available, but we’ve got enough to last us years.”

And with that, Weisfeld hit me up with a proposal. “How about we send you a VPI Prime Gimbal and a VPI Fatboy Gimbal tonearm to try so that you can see the difference for yourself?” This, I tell you, was a plan with which I was down.

Box with knife

In short order, a box arrived from VPI Industries and I tore into it. Inside, as promised, were two arms: a VPI Prime Gimbal 10-3D ($2600, all prices in USD) and a VPI Fatboy Gimbal 10-3D ($4500). As I said earlier, the VPI Prime Signature has been a constant in my system for the last six years. I love it—the way it looks, the way it sounds, the way it works. It’s held a constant 33.5 rpm since it arrived, and I use its consistent 0.07% wow figure to confirm the calibration of the RPM Speed & Wow app that I use to verify the performance of review turntables.

A change to one of the few stable elements in my life is both exciting and frightening. Vinyl reproduction can be frustrating in its inconsistency. One day my analog rig will be sounding great. The next day it’ll be raining out and it won’t sound right. And here I was, changing one of the three moving parts on my turntable and hoping for the best.


First things first. There’s a lot of infrastructure underneath the 3D tonearm. The armboard, which includes the VTA tower and junction block, isn’t included in the upgrade path of the Gimbal arms. The replacement arms mount on the existing armboard.

I really liked the fact that, once I’d unplugged the Lemo connector from the junction block, I could simply lift the unipivot arm right off the male bearing. I’d done this a few times in the past, most recently when I re-tiled the floor in my listening room and had to disassemble my entire system. So that’s where I started. I removed the cartridge from the JMW 10 3D arm, and then lifted the arm itself off and put it to one side.

Old tonearm

How anxious was I about this operation? Well, I was keenly aware that I was going to write up the process for this here column. As a standard order of business, I’ve learned to document every step photographically. Once I got into it, though, I was so nervous that I forgot to take it slow and snap photos. Where it got a bit nutty was when I tried to remove the male bearing, the spike on which the JMW arm rests. It wasn’t immediately clear to me how I was supposed to remove this part. My first guess was that a hex screw hidden underneath would need to be removed, but I couldn’t find a key that fit. After an hour or so of messing with it, I gave up and went for a coffee.

On my return with a clearer head, I took a photo of the underside, which was mostly out of my view due to the angle. Now I could see that there was no locking nut—the hole was threaded, and the male bearing just screwed in there. So I wrapped it with some electrical tape and unscrewed it with my trusty Channellock pliers. Following this it was all downhill.

Now I had to make a decision. The obvious choice here would have been to install the Prime Gimbal tonearm, evaluate it like a professional, and then replace that with the more expensive Fatboy. My anxiety got the better of me, though, and before I could reconsider, I reached for the Fatboy and slammed that sucker in there.

New arm

The Fatboy Gimbal arm slipped in and this time there was a locknut for the underside, which made things easy. The rest was smooth sailing. I had to replace the armrest to accommodate the larger-diameter arm tube. Next I installed the counterweight, and this was a nice surprise! There’s a knob at the back of the arm that changes the tracking force in a gradual, repeatable manner.


The unipivot JMW’s counterweight is a free-feeling slidey thing, so it takes a whole bunch of trial and error to set it up correctly. And each time you slide the under-hung weight forward and backward, hunting for the correct tracking force, you’ve got to be conscious of its left-to-right position, as that affects your azimuth in a big way. So each change in the counterweight’s position changes two parameters! Like I said, I got quite used to the JMW’s oddities, and it became second nature to fiddle with that counterweight, manipulating it forward and backward, left to right, until I got it where it needed to be.

Now, though! The VTF knob has a smooth, easy, luxurious feel to it. It’s quick, satisfying, repeatable! Azimuth remains fiddly, but that’s the same for all arms. I don’t know of a single arm out there with a useable control for azimuth. On the Fatboy, you’ve got to loosen two hex screws and then twist the arm tube. Not a big deal.

Azimuth screws

The only place I ran into real trouble with the install was when I went to hook the thin monofilament line onto the antiskating weight. Somewhere in the process, I had messed up the tiny knot that makes the loop at the end of the line. I had pulled it so it cinched into a tight knot. No amount of fiddling, even with the aid of a jeweler’s loupe, could unfuck that knot. In the end, I said “screw it” and gummed the knot itself to the antiskate lever with a tiny blob of Blu Tack putty.

So that was the process, and that was my rationale for trying out a gimballed tonearm. I actually had trouble sleeping for the several nights between the arrival of the tonearms and the start of the actual installation. Weisfeld’s mention of the fact that a properly set-up unipivot can actually sound better than a gimballed tonearm had me worried. What if I didn’t like the sound of the Gimbal tonearms? What if I messed it up? What if I put the JMW unipivot back on and I couldn’t get it to sound right?

In the end it was a fairly straightforward process and the Gimbal Fatboy is working just great. I’m about to embark on my first review using this new tonearm—up next is the Charisma Audio Signature Two cartridge.


As I write this, I’ve already got a bunch of hours on this little guy, and it’s playing well with the Fatboy. As far as how the Gimbal Fatboy compares to the JMW unipivot . . . that’s coming in the next installment of this column. Stay tuned!

. . . Jason Thorpe

VPI Prime Gimbal 10-3D tonearm
Price: $2600.
Warranty: Three years, parts and labor.

VPI Fatboy Gimbal 10-3D tonearm
Price: $4500.
Warranty: Three years, parts and labor.

VPI Industries
77 Cliffwood Avenue, #5D
Cliffwood, NJ 07721
Phone: (732) 583-6895