There are a few times in every audiophile's life where one is simply overtaken with how good something sounds. This reaction can usually be identified by an unstoppable smile and the sound of laughter. Sadly as we grow more and more into this hobby it seems that those special moments come less and less. Though our setups grows bigger and better the amount they can truly surprise us grows few and far between.
When I first listened to the VPI Nomad Turntable I had one of these special moments. I could not stop smiling at how good the sound coming out of this thing was. While I have had much experience with digital audio gear, the Nomad was the first time I really got to spend time with vinyl. As this turntable is aimed at first time turntable buyers looking to get their feet wet with vinyl, I would say that I am part of the Nomad's target audience.
The Nomad is a stylish and minimalist turntable. The black with silver accents go great together and overall the build quality is very solid. The volume knob, power button, and headphone port are all on the lower left side of the table; unobtrusive and adding to the sleek and minimal look of the unit. The only complaint on build quality I would have is that the power switch is a cheap plasticy button and takes away from the nice materials used on everything else.
Now for the good part. This turntable is unique in that it has a built in phono preamplifier and a built in headphone amplifier. This allows the first time turntable listener to simply enjoy their records without purchasing any more equipment. The table comes with a new grimbaled bearing tonearm and a Ortofon 2M Red cartridge. In addition to the headphone out there is also an RCA output in the back which allowed me to listen to powered speakers. The built in headphone amp is a very unique feature and will definitely interest many Head-Fi users. All the impressions are while listening to HiFi Man HE-400's and Sennheiser HD-595's through the Nomad's built in headphone amp.
If I could use two words to describe the Nomad's sound they would be musical and precise. I've heard that vinyl tends to sound warm and less detailed but not so with the Nomad. Instead this turntable was detailed and neutral. I was hearing parts of the music that I hadn't ever heard before, even in lossless digital recordings. The highs were perfectly clear and amazingly accurate. The cymbals sounded as if I was standing next to a drum kit being played. In music heavy with highs such as Earth Wind and Fire, the sound of the cymbals really got my toes tapping. As much as I enjoyed the highs, the mids took the cake for my favorite part of the Nomad. Even in a non mid centric headphone such as the HE-400, I was surprised at how rich and detailed the mids were. Frank Sinatra's voice was simply stunning and guitars from the Rolling Stones sounded perfect. The bass on the Nomad was great as well. While vinyl can't match the thumping bass of digital recordings, I found that there was plenty enough bass to keep me into the music.
The Nomad isn't colored towards any area of sound and is very neutral without being boring. This allows the listener to focus more on how the actual record was recorded and less on how their equipment sounds. If the vocals in a song were meant to be forward you will hear it and if they are in the background that's where they'll be. This allows the Nomad to sound great with all types of music from rock to classical.
The headphone amp itself is really the only area of complaint I would have against the Nomad. While the turntable itself is dead silent, the amp is somewhat noisy. With no music playing a hissing sound can be heard if the volume knob is turned anywhere over 50% and gets louder the higher you turn up the volume. Most of the time it is covered up by music playing but in the quieter parts of songs it can be heard in the background. I was able to get a comfortable listening volume through my HE-400's at about 80% but if I had more demanding headphones such as the HD-600 or even the LCD-2 I don't think they would be able to reach a comfortable listening volume through the built in headphone amp. This problem would be easily solved by hooking up an external headphone amp but since the Nomad is billed as being all in one it would have been nice to be able to drive a bit more power hungry headphones or include a selectable gain switch.
Despite my few nitpicks against the Nomad I would definitely add this to the short list of entry level turntables to consider for the first time buyer especially if they are also into headphone listening. The ease of use and setup will inspire confidence in beginners such as myself to explore the world of vinyl and begin a whole new audio journey. I would like to thank Todd The Vinyl Junkie and VPI for the opportunity to review their turntable, I was sad to see it go.
I will be happy to respond to any questions or comments below.