It’s another release in its Debut range of turntables but Pro-Ject are promising something special for this one. Let’s see if Paul Rigby agrees, eh?
Released amongst the waiting hordes to celebrate Pro-Ject’s 30th anniversary, the company has used the opportunity to enter the Debut turntable fray once more. As much as I liked Pro-Ject’s recently released EVO – another Debut design, check out my review of that one HERE – this time, it looks like the company has spent extra time and energy on this one.
Take the tonearm for example which takes the usual 8.6in tube and gives the EVO-like carbon tube tonearm a tweak by providing a carbon wrapping over an aluminium core.
The rear of the tonearm shows an enhanced aluminium collar (wrapped in Nickel), an improved base, bearing assembly and tracking weight.
Inside, the tonearm’s electrical shielding has been enhanced too.
Hanging off the end of the tonearm, which can be tweaked for both VTA and azimuth, you’ll find a Pick-IT Pro cartridge, made for Pro-Ject by Ortofon to Pro-Ject’s specs.
This cartridge is basically a variant of the Ortofon 2M Red. That is, the 2M Red has been reworked and is priced at the same level. The sound is different though. It offers a more Ortofon SPU-like sound output. What does that mean in performance terms? It promises smooth mids and elevated insight from the same. We’ll see.
The plinth and sub-platter is the same as the EVO, as is the motor, power supply and pulley but there’s a new toggle switch, 3-speed control (78rpm is included) on the near left corner of the plinth, instead of the EVO’s under-plinth rocker switch.
You get a basic felt mat (Which is fine, I much prefer a felt mat over a rubber mat, for example. Felt does a good job so no worries there.) The platter looks new though and is – it offers a denser aluminium alloy. It’s thicker and better damped than the EVO.
Finally, you get the same height-adjustable feet but with a rather nice Nickel-plated finish.
SPEAKING OF CARTRIDGES
Before I dive into the sound tests, a word or seven on the cartridge on this turntable and what it means for the tests as a whole.
During this test, I will be reviewing the turntable as a package, only as a package and nothing but a package. When you pay out the asking price for this turntable, part of the price is for the cartridge. So that will play a full and integrated part in the sound tests.
Now some of you will remember the traditional hifi magazine method of removing the cartridge as a variable. That is, some of you will expect me to use the same cartridge on two or more of the turntables I’m going to look at here so that the turntable itself can be evaluated, removing the cartridge as an undue influence.
Well, no. Not here. That’s not a valid move, I’m afraid. Doing that will not make any sense at all. That type of testing is fine if the turntable under review arrives without a cartridge. That’s the time you utilise a single cartridge type to maximise the turntable results but again, this is a package.
Times have also moved on. There was a time when most turntables under £1,000 arrived without a built-in cartridge. Nowadays, most turntables sold over the counter at and under £1,000 come bundled with a pre-fitted cartridge. It’s an inherent part of the package. As is the tonearm, the platter and so on. It’s all part of the single unit.
STICK WITH IT
More, the majority of people who buy such a package will not – I repeat, will not – change the cartridge at all during its working life. Most people will stick with what they’ve bought. And they’ll stick with the default until they buy a brand new turntable. A few dedicated users will maximise the turntable’s potential sound quality and upgrade various parts of the turntable including the cartridge, sure. I realise that. They are a minority in the grand scheme of things, though.
More than that, as far as I’m concerned, as a reviewer, changing a cartridge on a package like this then constitutes what it is – an upgrade. It also takes the turntable upwards into a new category of price which means comparing it to higher-priced turntables which would only cause confusion in this review. Writing all of that up would also double the review’s size.
Hence, changing the cartridge here changes the tone of the feature from a basic review to an upgrade feature. Something I’ve already done with the recently released Pro-Ject Debut EVO upgrade review, for example, where I also looked at eight different upgrade parts, including an upgraded cartridge, in a separate article.
The only other reason I would change a cartridge during a basic review when faced with a package-type turntable is when the bundled cartridge is really not fit for purpose ‘as is’. For example, the Lenco L-3808 review saw the cartridge obviously struggling during sound tests. Another example was the Audio-Technica 140, which arrived with a DJ cartridge, not a cartridge aimed at home hi-fi listening.
Hence, this review compares turntable ‘packages’. If you’d like a second, upgrade-type feature then sure, I’ll look at upgrading the cartridge then. Give me a shout if you’d like to see that. If I get enough people asking for such a thing then I’ll certainly create such a feature.
I began my sound tests by grabbing a Rega RP3 and playing a track from Eydie Gorme’s Cuatro Vidas and the delightful Spanish language track, Vereda Tropical in which she is back by Y El Trio Los Panchos.
So you’re looking at Gorme’s lead vocal plus a harmony backing of three voices plus Spanish guitar, bass and conga drums plus secondary percussion. This organic presentation offers a host of information-extruding possibilities but demands care if the turntable isn’t to lose control of the delicate details.
vs REGA RP3
What hit me about the Pro, almost immediately – was pair of effects. First up was the low noise from this turntable. I found myself upping the gain a few notches on my pre amp to find the same volume I was using with the Rega.
When I got to that point, I found the Pro’s midrange to be super smooth, almost romantic in its approach. There was no grit or harshness in the midband at all.
So does that mean that detail was smudged and foggy? No, not at all but detail arrived at your ears in a fluid stream of information as opposed to edgy packets.
The soundstage was wider and more open, specifically around the stereo image section than the RP3 and slightly sweeter in the upper mids. Saying that, there was more insight in the midrange from the Pro than the RP3. For example, during the relatively quiet, bass area of the Spanish guitar – lower midrange I should really say – I could more easily follow the finger picks which were delicate, quiet and subtle in presentation.
Secondary percussion also had a more effective suite of reverb tails hanging from them while the lead vocal’s sultry, smoky, presentation was both musical and sexy in nature. I found secondary percussion sat in a spacious area while tonal realism from the same was impressive.
Bass from this track was solid. Bass is a notable feature on all Debut turntables, especially for a belt drive deck. Bass is always handled well by this line but especially so by the Pro in terms of its naturalistic manner, how well it fits in the mix but also how is still manages to create a firm foundation for the rest of the music.
vs ROKSAN ATTESSA
I did test the Pro with £1,000 worth of Roksan Attessa, expecting the Attessa to be vastly superior at £300 extra pounds notes and yes, it most certainly was. Mostly. The midrange and treble were just sublime from the Roksan. The sense of realism was quite breathtaking while the treble response was both fragile but also imposing.
The midrange performance from the Pro couldn’t reach those heights but, even so, the Pro was never shamed. Not at all. The Pro can hold its head up high, even with this level of competition. The Pro leaves nothing in the groove. No detail is lost. Sure, the Attessa translates that information in a superior manner but the Pro is not that far behind.
In terms of bass performance? Well, I think the Pro has the edge here in terms of mass and how it forms a solid bottom end structure for the midrange sailing overhead. Again, the difference is not great because the Roksan produces a well integrated and impressive bass response of its own that’s well integrated into the mix, better integrated than the Pro but the Pro has a little extra weight in that lower frequency region.
vs Debut EVO
What about the Pro’s direct cousin, though? The Pro-Ject Debut EVO is priced around £450 and shares many of the same parts as the Pro. How does that compare, out of the box? I looked at that in the company of The Who’s LP, Who’s Next.
Now I’ve previously described the EVO as the best turntable I’ve heard under £500 and I stick with that assertion but here, out of the box at any rate, it’s playing with the big boys and it shows. You’re paying extra for the privilege let’s not forget but, even so.
The midrange is detailed on the cheaper EVO but the Pro is much more relaxed about it. The EVO, in direct comparison, sounds like it’s trying too hard to perform. There’s a slight tension as it strains and stretches.
The rendering of the midrange retail is a joy to behold from the Pro. Detail is coaxed from the grooves like a shy cat from behind the washing machine. The EVO does a great job but again, there’s a certain lack of confidence here. The EVO tenses its shoulders when it gives you midrange detail. You’d think the EVO was looking over its shoulder, not wanting to miss the last bus home. The Pro knows it has a car waiting for it around the corner so hey, why worry?
The bass performance is there but it’s not quite as confident from the EVO. The Pro is quite effortless in how it goes about it bass business.
In short? Under £1,000, the Debut Pro is one of my Top 3 turntables currently on sale. The other two are the Funk Firm Gett! and the Roksan Attessa (The Rega Planar 3 and NAD 588 are a smidge behind those). Saying that though, both of the main competitors listed here are dearer when fully kitted out so the Pro offers the best sound quality-to-price ratio at £699.
Gazing around the Pro design, it also looks like it could take an upgrade or two so I’m sure you could enhance that performance still further in the future, if you wish.
The Pro is the best Debut turntable I’ve ever heard from Pro-Ject. It’s the pinnacle of the entire range and the best implemented turntable that Pro-Ject has released for some time.
PRO-JECT DEBUT PRO TURNTABLE
GOOD: well integrated design, smooth mids, impressive bass, installation
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