VPI Shyla Phono / Turntable Moving Coil Cartridge
The Shyla is a recently introduced stereo cartridge designed and branded by VPI. The company is known for their extensive lineup of turntables, arms, and record cleaning machines. VPI is having the Shyla sourced and manufactured by a leading Japanese cartridge manufacturer so it is fully compatible and complimentary to their lineup of equipment. VPI is upfront about having it made to their specs by the highly regarded manufacturer Audio Technica. It is a successful business venture and advantage for VPI to corroborate with this respected manufacturer to modify, adjust, and improve their regular ART 9 product to reflect the musical ideas of VPI designers Harry and Mat Weisfeld. Harry has been the inventive mind in designing and developing VPI turntables and other accessories for over forty years.
Mat has taken over the reins of running VPI while his dad still assists part time with developing new products and hosting musical promotion events at the renowned VPI House down the road from the factory. Being in business for forty years is quite a legacy considering the business challenges and difficulties of remaining an independent family run enterprise during the ebbs and flows of analog sales in the audio world of turntables and records. An audiophile cannot go wrong with the delightful Shyla cartridge installed with a VPI table and arm.
What Sets The VPI Brand Apart?
Analog Listening Over The Years
How Affordable Is A Good Turntable?
The incredibly musically involving sound of that basic $1200 Traveler Table with a $200 Ortofon 2M cartridge hit me like a lightning bolt. I was smitten by playing records and began a journey of moving along the lineup and products in the VPI offerings. After a year or so of enjoying the Traveler Table, I got their newly introduced Prime Table designed by Mat Weisfeld that featured their remarkable 3D unipivot tonearm. Then eventually I got an Aries 3D table with the beautiful, layered acrylic/aluminum/acrylic sandwich plinth for improved isolation and stability, HRX center weight and outer ring along with two interchangeable unipivot tone arms.
The convenience of the unipivot arm connected with the Leno jack allowed a quick and convenient switching of either arm to enable the use of a second dedicated mono cartridge or alternative stereo cartridge for comparison. More recently, I purchased a HW40 turntable that celebrated their 40th year in business since it also coincided with my 40th year as a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Not My Father's Stereo System
It is very involving and exciting to be a part of the analog community of audiophiles that share discoveries and acquisitions of old used records along with the introduction of new remastered versions of classics and releases of the latest music by today's rock and popular performers.
While I have changed phonostages and tables with the process of upgrading and expanding the reference system, I continue to use the VPI Aries belt drive motor and their direct drive HW40. The overall results continue to be thrilling, enjoyable, entertaining, and involving musical experiences including an appreciation for assorted designs, costs, and results.
The Story Behind The Shyla Cartridge
If you read my previous MusiKraft cartridge review, I explained the importance of shell designs, motors, and other design modifications to enhance and create an elevated level of performance. I approached auditioning, evaluating, and using the VPI Shyla version in the same manner. After many months of listening and comparing it to the other cartridges I own, I can say the VPI has fulfilled their ambitious goal of creating a cartridge that enhances their reputation and adds another valuable company offering with a product that exceeded my expectations of performance at this price.
More Technical Information
The Shyla coils and terminal pins use utilizes PCOCC (Pure Copper Ohno Continuous Cast) to maintain exceptional purity and conductivity. The neodymium magnet and permendur yoke increases magnetic energy while having a 0.6mV rated output. The exterior construction is of importance and the stock AT shell was modified to have advanced internal dampening with a mold process that ensures stability and rigidity that limits unnecessary coil movement to reduce distortion. The use of threaded holes in the shell top allows for easy mounting without concerns for connecting matching nuts under the bolts to attach it to the arm. The machined aluminum and hard plastic hybrid body also is designed and formed to lessen resonance.
Thoughts From Mat And Harry
Of special importance is his investment in modified microscopes for stylus viewing to not only be evaluating these cartridges by what he hears but to also be looking at them with great visual detail. He has a Leitz-Wetzlar made in Germany along with a Bausch and Lomb American 1960's binocular microscope. Harry explained that despite varying costs of cartridges from low to high, many manufacturers do not manage to align their needle into the cantilever with absolute precision with a result that tracking in the groove is not dead center accurate even when setting the azimuth to be level.
Harry shared that AT has a mechanized machine that manages to position the stylus tip accurately and precisely into the cantilever. This is one of the reasons why the Shyla has such excellent and accurate channel separation and balance. Mat added that he was especially pleased at the quality control, consistency, and reliability of the cartridges that AT can deliver.
The Sound Of The Shyla
I often start my day with a variety of piano records. Piano is one of the most revealing and difficult instruments to have sound great. It is quite an accomplishment to capture the powerful dynamics and range of a concert piano on a vinyl LP record. One musical item I listen for is a steady speed to avoid hearing any wow and flutter on held chords. A clear attack and natural decay should be felt and heard as the keys strike the strings of the piano. I heard piano soloists warming up before rehearsals and concerts along with being friends with several piano tuners. I had a piano tech visit to assist in the review demo. He provided an insider commentary and evaluation to the textures, sounds and proper delivery that the cartridge revealed from playing different solo piano records.
The Shyla can strike the right balance of sounds and piano tone to bring to musical life the numerous London records I have of Alicia deLaroccha performing Spanish repertoire. The DG engineering approach was clearly heard in Mozart Sonatas played by Maestro Eschenbach, Chopin Preludes and Etudes played by Pollini, Grieg Lyric Suite with Emil Gilels, Chopin Sonata and Scherzo by Argerich, and Debussy Images with Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. The Beethoven Sonatas recorded on Philips with Alfred Brendel were wonderful. The Shyla brought out the individual attributes and allowed each of these great pianist playing styles to be heard along with the correct characteristic sound of a piano according to my friend the technician.
When it came to jazz records, my favorite performers sound was enhanced by the Shyla cartridge. Count Basie had a great heft and swinging stride in the Kansas City series of KC 3, KC 6, KC 7, KC Shout with Joe Turner and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson. The distinctive voices of Joe or Eddie Cleanhead could easily be heard and appreciated for their blues styles. The Shyla was able to highlight the different sounds of the various pressings I have of these favorite records. Ellington was fully staged in Jazz Party, Newport, and Road Show. The dueling battle of both bands recorded by Columbia on the record The Count Meets the Duke is a massive musical challenge and test for any system to be able to unravel and present the complex sounds of two big bands performing side by side.
The Shyla cart did an excellent job of keeping the two bands separated when being featured individually and then combined to be a great ensemble when going at it together. The Shyla sounded good as I compared the different 1950's era mono and later stereo version pressings I have of Ellington. The great Gil Evans corroborations with Miles Davis in Sketches of Spain and Porgy & Bess were colorful with layers of beautiful orchestrations using the musicians in an impressionistic way. Gil Evan's amazing recording of Out of The Cool was brilliant and clear. Hearing Jimmy Knepper's trombone solo in "Where Flamingos Fly" was outstanding in the brassiness, warmth, and realistic timbre.
The duo record of Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster is another favorite performance of mine. Hearing these two great sax players trading solos and improvs is simply mesmerizing and a revelation of great artistry. The clear delineation and balanced musical presentation of the Shyla cartridge enhanced and brought this special record to life in a wonderful way. A great cartridge like the Shyla will reveal the colorful nuances, timbre and performing characteristics of both players and display their duet of musical dialogue with good separation of space yet without a Ping-Pong effect between their two sax locations.
Orchestra performances were full and rich sounding. This cartridge can bring out the powerful sound and complexity of large symphonies or piano concertos. Shostakovich, Stravinsky, and Prokofiev all came to life with impact and drama. Performances by Christopher Hogwood of smaller classical and baroque period ensembles were excellent. The wide tonal colors and quirky sounds of Renaissance period instruments were well presented and heard when playing the diverse collection of that era recordings I own. After playing the Gregorio Paniagua La Folia and La Spana with my old French Harmonia Mundi CDs, I decided to seek out and buy original LP versions to compare with the digital form. As I had suspected, performances on vinyl with the Shyla cartridge were outstanding and even more detailed with a musically engaging and emotionally involving sound.
I had my brother Mike over to hear some of his favorite classic rock albums. Our older brother is a blues musician and Mike is a big classic rock fan. He compared an original 1968 stereo Jimmy Hendrix Axis: Bold as Love to the 2000 Bernie Grundman mastered mono reissue. The differences between five versions of The Doors L.A. Woman were enjoyed and heard as we played an original 1971 Elektra, 1980 German pressing, 1998 Steve Hoffman mastered release, 2012 Analog Productions 45 rpm version, and the latest 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition. We thought the new 50th version sounded best, and the three CDs included in the commemorative box provided great additional outtakes. After playing some Beatles and Grateful Dead, Mike brought out the recently issued thee LP set of Tedeshi Trucks Band doing Layla. It was a lot of fun sharing the revealing musical sounds of the Shyla playing his favorite style of music.
Summary And Conclusion
The sound is articulate, emotionally involving, musical and balanced. It is an obvious choice for creating a complimentary sound with VPI turntables. I can imagine dealers putting together a very enticing offer and package for their customers. Upon experiencing and hearing the Shyla, I agree with the comments of Mat and Harry stating that partnerships between revered high end companies do not come better than Audio-Technica and VPI. The sound of the Shyla cartridge is a testimony that this has been quite a successful partnership that honors the reputations for both companies.
The Shyla cartridge would be quite appealing to bundle with the purchase of a VPI Prime 21 turntable or an excellent choice as an upgrade replacement cartridge for use with another VPI table such as the Classic series. This cartridge has my endorsement and encouragement for a person to hear, enjoy and purchase.