The latest in the ever-growing Debut series of turntables, Paul Rigby reviews this new design from the Austrian company
The Pro-Ject Debut series first appeared on the scene back in 1999. Via the distributor Henley Audio, there are, right now, three Debut turntables for sale – at least in the UK my home territory: the Debut Carbon DC at £299, the Debut Carbon RecordMaster Hi-Res at £649, a lifestyle design that focuses on its built-in analogue to digital convertor and this, the Debut EVO, the latest release from the Austrian turntable makers. It’s the most intriguing build I’ve seen in the line for some time.
The Carbon Debut EVO features a one-piece carbon fibre tonearm. This is the 8.6” carbon-fibre variety with sapphire bearings.
There’s a steel platter which triggered a minor alarm when I first unpacked it because I feared the thing would ring like a bell when knocked with an available knuckle.
Not so, in fact. There’s some heavy-duty damping attached underneath the platter (which sits on a sub platter) in the form of a Thermo-Plastic Elastomer (TPE) damping ring. Knocking the platter with this in place drastically reduces any music-threatening vibration.
TPE is also applied to the three, height-adjustable feet which are connected to suspension elements from the recently released X1, turntable.
The electronic speed selection arrives in the form of a rocker switch which is hidden from view underneath the front-left portion of the plinth to keep the lines clean and aid aesthetics.
The 33.33 and 45rpm selections are supplemented by 78rpm if you change the belt (supplied).
A venerable Ortofon 2M Red cartridge (worth around £95) is included as standard.
There are nine finish options with this one, three in hand-painted high gloss covering red, white and black plus five varieties of hand-painted matte pastel colours spanning green, black, blue, yellow and white plus a walnut veneer.
A hinged dust cover is supplied too.
Unpacking and construction was straight-forward. Just take it slow, follow the illustrated, colour instructions (first time I’ve seen Pro-Ject offer that approach to its instructions and it’s a welcome inclusion) and you’ll be fine.
I was happy to see that Pro-Ject has bundled a separate set of Connect-IT E phono cables from its own range. I have reviewed these separately and like them a lot. It’s nice to see that the turntable can handle upgradable cabling too.
Spanning 415 x 113 x 320mm, the whole kit and caboodle weighs in at 6kg
I began with the 1975 album from The King Singers. Keep on Changing (EMI), mixing complex vocal harmonies, a soft rock tempo plus a host of instruments including guitars, drums, secondary percussion and a backing orchestra.
I wanted to test a lower-priced, yet top quality turntable to address those who might be looking to upgrade. So I’m talking to owners of low-cost Fluance, Lenco and Audio-Technica designs. Around the £250 or lower mark, the best sounding turntable of the bunch is the Rega RP1 so I began with that.
If you’re looking to upgrade, is the EVO a viable option? Does the EVO improve overall sound and, if so, by how much?
In short, the RP1 described all of the detail. It was all there. Nothing was left out. Imagine a country scene on a spring day. The RP1 showed you a photograph of the area. With the EVO, you were there. You could hear the rustle of the grass and the wind on your face. With the EVO, it added new sonic dimensions of realism.
So the RP1 tells you about the deep, resonant drum at the start of the track. The EVO tells you about its weight, the reverb that emanates from it and the bounce from the drum skin on the top. The RP1 tells you about a riffle of bells used as secondary percussion. The EVO introduced a shimmer to the bell effect, a lightness, a delicacy and again, that echo-based reverb that provided space.
Overall, the EVO was far more focused while the bank of strings offered weight, they were no longer just a tone they seemed to have body now. The precision allowed more detail to infuse the soundstage while the pace of the music picked up because that focus removed any tiny elements of drag.
So, the EVO looks good as an upgrade from a low-cost turntable. Let’s up the ante shall we? Let’s see how the EVO handles bass and drive from a more expensive turntable, this time with a quality elliptical-stylus of the VM95E attached to Audio-Technica’s LP5x. I prefer the LP5x’s overall performance to the competing Fluance RT83, even though there’s a lot to like from the Fluance. So Fluence owners can take note from these comments here too.
The LP5x was all about muscle on this test. It provided bass weight, there was real punch here and a sense of impact while the mids and treble were admirable and supplied a good partnership with the lower frequencies but they couldn’t compete with the EVO.
The EVO offered a good sense of bass but the EVO also offered a better balanced bass response that worked with the mids instead of slightly dominating them. As for the mids themselves? The EVO had a better take of midrange detail offering the ear an extended dynamic reach. The LP5x rolled off at a point in the upper mids while the EVO just kept on going.
The result was a tonal realism that you just don’t hear on lower cost turntables. A tonal realism that allowed you to better appreciate the art of the music instead of only an attractive musical noise.
Next up was the EVO’s greatest challenge, the Rega RP3. This turntable should, by rights, be better than the Pro-Ject EVO in all areas. It’s around £100 more expensive. So how did the EVO cope?
The RP3 offered tremendous confidence in its overall presentation while the lower frequencies, as a whole, were a thing of beauty. The percussion wasn’t just tonally correct but organic in how it described each thwack of the drum. Vocals were focused while the upper mids had a real sense of precision. The effect was also to keep the music moving. The pace was steady and unfailing here. There was never any sense of drag. The song was sprightly and moved with a real bounce.
Even so, the EVO not only held its own but managed to land a few blows against the RP3. Which was a complete surprise, I must add. That is, the soundstage from the EVO was more open and airy with a great sense of fragility and delicacy in the treble. Mids offered extended reverb tails while, despite the extra confidence and better quality lower frequencies from the RP3, I actually found that the EVO produced a better balance overall.
I then moved onto something more dynamic and selected Rootmasters (Nina Walsh and Alex Paterson of The Orb). This is a 10” release, Push Once and the track Elephant Puddle.
The track was dominated by a cavernous sub bass which the Pro-Ject EVO tracked very well indeed. It also kept control of the effect to stop it swamping the mids. The upper frequency detail remained wholly intact, offering a host of information and keeping a sense of discipline across the soundstage.
The often aggressive frequencies were noted by the EVO. Guitar was in your face, percussion was dominant and vocals were distorted and cutting yet the EVO easily kept the entire track in control and added a balance that enabled the music to retain its inherent rhythm. In short, it rocked. And rocked efficiently but also with plenty of emotion.
The Pro-Ject Carbon EVO deserves to dominate the sub-£500 market.
As for competing with more expensive and challenging designs like the Rega RP3? If you want to save yourself £100 then you will lose certain highlights yes but because of the EVO’s balanced presentation, many users won’t miss them.
If you’re on a longer-range upgrade path, the EVO provides you with options. Is your ultimate upgrading aim a turntable around £1,000-£1,500? Are you saving slowly to reach that budget? Then the EVO might provide the better link in the upgrade chain. This will save you money early on but it will also provide a relatively long-term sonic solution until you can save the cash for that upgrade buy. With the EVO, there are no obvious sonic holes. There’s nothing amiss. In fact, you can see that Pro-Ject has spent its build budget wisely, focusing on all areas of the frequency spectrum, equally.
The Pro-Ject Carbon EVO is a winner. Buy with confidence.
PRO-JECT CARBON DEBUT EVO TURNTABLE
Tel: 01235 511166
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/3jGXNrE
GOOD: balanced presentation, airy midrange, dynamic reach, detailed bass, price
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Rega RP1 turntable
Rega RP3 turntable
Spendor S3/5R speakers
Tellurium Q cabling