Upgrading from a VPI Aries 1- is it worth it?

Hello all,
I have a VPI Aries 1 with "bear paws" feet and a separate flywheel.  I recently took it to VPI for tune-up and upgraded the cable junction box to a current one.  Overall, the table sounds much better now.  I was using a Lyra Delos but I got the opportunity to buy an Etna Lamda at an extremely favorable price and have since be using that.  I am very pleased to say that the Aries was up to the task of showing what an uprgrade the Etna is over the Delos (which is nonetheless a wonderful cart).  That said, I have been wondering if upgrading from the Aries would be worth it to get the most out of the Etna (or similar).   I am by no means sold on upgrading the turntable also because I wonder how much I would have to spend to get a meaningful improvement- in part because I have not owned other decks so my experience is limited. Hence, I thought I would ask for some thoughts from those that have much more experience than I do.  As a phono preamp I am using the PS audio Stellar.

I should also add that unfortunately I have suspended wooden floors so the set-up is not ideal though not terrible if one is careful not to stomp around while playing music- which I do not.  I cannot get a wall bracket so I have toyed with the idea that with a lighter table I could suspend a platform from the ceiling- but this would almost immediately be accompanied by being served with divorce papers so this remains a remote possibility.


You could adapt a "better" non VPI arm or get the VPI gimbal which is pretty much a drop in mod to optimize that Lyra. Also, upgrade to a "better" phono stage.

Or if it was me, I'd just sit back and enjoy the setup.

"Better" in audiophool land is really just continuously emptying your wallet.

VPI user here.

I am an owner of a VPI Aries Series 1 table and have made numerous "mods"/"upgrades" to it over the years. New belt, VPI reference 40 feet, VPI SS clamp, SME arm with SME internal wiring and tonearm cable. Was going to sell it but talked to the VPI folks (Harry and son Matt) and they said it was one of the best tables they ever made and if they had to make it today it would be priced in the $10K to $12K range just due to all the materials they used in its construction and assembly. So needless to say I kept it and did the upgrades, well worth it.

The Aries is still a lovely table (I have an Aries 3). Get a Fatboy unipivot or gimbal with the VTA tower and it’s a high-end deck IMO. I have both and like both, though probably prefer the unipivot w/ dual pivot a bit more. They’re a bit pricey, but maybe a used one pops up.

Your Aries will perform very well, even in that floor, if you can simply brace your rack against the wall. I used a foam Auralex tile wedged tight in there. Simple, cheap, reversible - and extremely effective! No more worries about the stylus popping out of the groove, flapping my woofers around, or pushing the amp into clipping. Add some HW-40 feet to tame the ~ 100Hz "drum" resonance these tables are susceptible to. BOOM - super awesome table :)

Thank you for your thoughts.

When I brought the table to VPI they also hinted at "they don't make them like they used to" kind of thing.  They were also impressed with the condition of the table considering the age.  So we did discuss potentially upgrading the tonearm but I was caught a little off guard by the cost of the upgrade- a new 3D is $2k and the tower is another $1.5k- and then there's labor.  So call it a $4k+ proposition; and the Fabboy alone is $4.5k.  So that is when I started wondering if newer table (used) att some point down the line would make more sense.

But from the sounds of it it does seem that upgrading Ares 1 parts might be a better proposition.
Was it complicated to get the SME installed- did VPI do it?  You sound very pleased with this new combination.

Do any of you have any thoughts on other tonearms  that would work well with the Aries outside the VPI line-up?

Thanks for the suggestions- Unfortunately I cant brace the rack to the wall because of some artwork that extends right behind it - but I will look into upgrading the feet.

Getting a gimballed VPI arm is a big upgrade to the weakest link in VPI tables. It’s an easy upgrade. The original unipivot design arms just don’t match up. The Delos will just explode with music.

I own an original Aries Extended (12" unipivot arm). I upgraded to a Jelco TK-850L. It was a successful upgrade and brought real life to my Skala.  Too bad that Jelco arm is no longer available.  

That ls one of the best cart, there is 2 option, get fatboy arm and upgrade phono stage. Me personally like tube in phono section. Either one will improve the sound .



So we did discuss potentially upgrading the tonearm but I was caught a little off guard by the cost of the upgrade- a new 3D is $2k and the tower is another $1.5k- and then there’s labor. So call it a $4k+ proposition; and the Fabboy alone is $4.5k. So that is when I started wondering if newer table (used) att some point down the line would make more sense.

Yeah that’s sort of the "problem" - endless upgrade options for VPI tables, and they’re good tables, but the retail cost of most upgrades is not conducive to good overall ROI. You can either wait (potentially a long time) for the specific upgrade you want to show up on used markets, OR (more likely) just buy a used table that already has the upgrades you want, at significant discount. Maybe even buy another table and rearrange between the 2, selling whichever you want less. Also, the dual-pivot is an inexpensive little bit that has good ROI even at retail.

I bought my Avenger from a guy who got it before any of the "Reference" upgrades were out, and upgraded as they were released. He complained about the cost of this route "they really get you on the upgrades" - yeah, it’s true lol. Let someone else pay for that stuff. I was used to Clearaudio charging a mint for every little thing you want to add on, and it's not much easier with VPI. 

Getting another brand arm (e.g. SME) plus new VPI arm board seems like a reasonable route too. The Aries is a good base.

Thanks for the suggestions- Unfortunately I cant brace the rack to the wall because of some artwork that extends right behind it - but I will look into upgrading the feet.

That’s too bad. It was the single biggest difference maker in my smaller setup, given the bouncy floor. Isolation feet can’t touch its impact. Even a Townshend Seismic platform had good effect, but not as much as the wall bracing. I bought 5m XLR cables so I could re-locate my rack against a good part of the wall, and it was well worth it.

If you decide on a new arm, may as well get speed control taken care of also.

Sota Total Eclipse

more accurate than VPI ADS-if you don't already have it.


I support the following recommendations from other members as follows:   
1:  Stick with the Aries.  It is a wonderful sounding product. 
2:  Go with a gimbal rather than knife edge bearing tone arm. 
3:  If wall bracing is not possible, try Symposium or Townshend platforms.  
My set-up and suspended floors are my systems weakest link.  Root cause of set-up issues is the WAF and small home.  Judicious attention to vibration isolation of all equipment including my TT and location of cabinet on main beam weight bearing wall has helped.  Note I have not followed my own recommendations on the tone arm and deal with the JM knife edge bearing.  I know a gimbal bearing tone arm will be better but on fixed income and focus on digital streaming it’s not a priority for me.  

I have an original Aries Extended which uses the 12" arm vs. the 10" arm of the standard Aries, which I assume is what you have.  I've changed a lot on it; aluminum platter (used) and periphery ring (came with table along with frosted acrylic platter), Unipivot Needle Assembly (new), an early 12.7 tonearm base assembly (demo from VPI), and IsoAcoustics Gaia II feet (new).  I still have the original JMW-12.5 arm and motor assembly.  I also have the single motor flywheel (used) but not using presently, mainly because I don't have (or really want) a 30" wide platform on top of my rack (I can't use a low table, I have cats ...).

I agree with most of what the others have said, you have a very nice table and it can be a very expensive journey, but from a cost standpoint there are a few things you can do relatively "cheap".  First, if you haven't already, replace the Unipivot Needle Assembly ($115 from VPI; note: it's not really a knife edge, it's a very sharp very pointy and very hard needle).  The needle point is likely dull if it is the original.  A new one will have less resistance to movement and resultant better detail to the music. 

A second, more costly upgrade, would be a used replacement arm, either a stainless steel version (pretty rare) or a 3-D printed version (more common, but stay away from the early ones with the finger lift built in, the finger lift breaks).  My only hesitation on the arm is VPI moved from a 10" to a 10.5" arm along the way and getting the 10.5" to work on a standard Aries may require moving the arm base.  Slight aside, the VPI forum used to have a LOT of information on this (and a lot more) but a lot of that data was lost a few years back.  Matt is trying to recover as much as he can but it's not going well.

A third improvement, as mentioned by others are the feet.  As I mentioned I use the Gaia II; for a standard Aries, which is lighter than my Extended, the Gaia III ($200, work with up to 70 lb. total for the four feet) would likely be a better, and cheaper fit.  There are a couple of offerings from VPI, but they are pricey.  I think the HW-40 feet are the best and most likely to provide a noticeable improvement, but they're $475.  I tried the mini-TNT feet and they were ok, but they're in storage now ...

One last thing, if you have the original platter, i.e., the composite one made of aluminum and black composite (can't think of the actual material) stick with it, that's a very good platter.  The only downside is it can't accommodate the peripheral ring, which I really like, but others not so much.

You can be very happy with what you have, the cartridge is very important and you have that part of the battle covered. Piecemeal upgrades can help but they can be a rabbit hole (I know from experience). Good luck with your (continuing) journey!

I used an Aries 1 for about ten years and in that time I changed out everything but the plinth. I can agree with all the positive comments here and I’ll also add an anecdote. I ended up creating a bit of a ’Frankentable’ that couldn’t be compared to anything else so for that reason and others, I found myself wanting to start over with a clean slate. I sprang for a Kuzma Stabi R, partly inspired by the 4 point 11 tonearm I had installed on the Aries. When the Stabi came last spring, I transferred the 4 point tonearm to the new table. That gave me a controlled comparison of the Kuzma turntable and the VPI. The big surprise was that the difference wasn’t all that great. It was something an audiophile would hear, but I doubt my ’civilian’ friends would notice it. Kind of painful to admit that, given the cost of the Stabi R. I considered the upgrade process to be an exercise in learning about turntables and audio, so I didn’t mind that the value equation sort of went out the window. 

a few points: a Teres Audio Verus II rim drive motor was a decisive upgrade. not sure if that’s available anymore but either way it’s expensive and changes the character of the turntable. (for the better IMHO).

classic platter with an upgraded (DIY) bearing was also key. I used a ceramic ball and optical lithic plate. there was a thread about this on the VPI forum but it may have been wiped. kind of gonzo but cheap and effective.

I went through the VPI tonearms from the original through the 3D to the Fatboy. I liked the latter but found the Kuzma 4 point to be another big jump up from there.

Mapleshade brass feet, powder coated black, screwed directly to the plinth, look and sound great. sitting on an HRS platform on top of a very sturdy rack.

peripheral ring, platter weight, mat, junction boxes, etc etc. all to taste.