Turntable + phonostage
Manufacturer: PRO-JECT AUDIO SYSTEMS
en Kessler, asking in a Canadian web magazine „Soundstage” questions such as: „How cheap is cheap? When is cheap too cheap? Is such a thing even possible?”, reversed a direction reviewers usually follow. Usually we look up, towards higher quality. We ask how expensive a products can get, why is it so expensive and so on. Questions like Ken's are asked in audio magazines rarely.
And it is OK. Let's not pretend: we are professionals interested in the best products, best sound quality. It's an amazing job and I wouldn't trade it for any other. I'm not going to. But I also do realize that we live in a sort of „matrix”, and out there is a “real world”. It's a world where young people buy vinyl looking for some new, interesting music without carrying that much about sound quality. They are a necessary, even fundamental part of 'music consumers' and also future audiophiles. So we have to take care of them too.
The Elemental turntable presented by Austrian manufacturer Pro-Ject in 2013 was a proposal for this type of customer. It was supposed to be an alternative for many different cheap, plastic, poor quality turntables flooding the market. Despite its low price it was a well thought through minimalist design – one didn't need any particular knowledge about turntable setup – one just bought a product that was (almost) plug&play. 'Almost' as one had to fix driving belt on. Price was really customer-friendly especially considering the fact that it included also cartridge. And yet something went wrong.
As one can read in Return of the deck – how turntables are taking over, published by „The Vinyl Factory” magazine, during weeks before Christmas Amazon sold more turntables than any other audio components. At the same time HMV sold 1 turntable per minute! The point is these were the cheapest decks on the market, or should I say integrated systems, such as Cruiser CR8005A by Crosley, and this design is totally unlike Elemental.
Primary The Rolling Stones Edition
Why not Elemental? I think it's pretty clear – it did not attract attention, it was too 'average', too simple and 'regular folks thought it being too pricey. Plus probably distributors were not very happy about it either as they preferred to sell Debut and RPM lines. SO the idea of the product under review seem really good. Manufacturer used basic elements of Elemental (tonearm, platter with main bearing and motor), added a classic plinth and wowed customers with its looks. That's how the Primary The Rolling Stones Edition turntable was created. Band's logo and this characteristic tongue make this deck look really great.
Customer receives this turntable ready to use – or as young people would say today – it's a „plug'n'play” device. It features a cartridge that also had been already set up including VTF – in this particular case of 1,86 g. One has to take it out from a box, place it on even, firm surface, mount driving belt and cover and it's ready to play. It takes no more than 5 minutes between taking the box out of the car and dripping a stylus into a groove of a first record.
It is possible also due to a simple, although solid looking “gimballed arm”. It is bit shorter than classic 9'' arm, as it is 8,6” long. Arm wand is made of aluminum; head-shell is made of some plastic. Tonearm features a magnetic anti-skating but it is already properly adjusted so one doesn't even have to worry about it. The 300mm in diameter, made of MDF platter is driven by a synchronous 15 V DC motor. Belt is placed over platters rim. Main platter bearing made from stainless steel runs in bronze bushing with Teflon bottom. Felt mats in different colors are available.
Turntable is delivered together with Ortofon OM 5E MM-type cartridge. It's a nice cart despite the fact that is quite cheap. It can be used with any phono input of an integrated amplifier or to an input of dedicated phonostage.
One of the advantages of turntable coming from larger manufacturers is an upgrade path they usually offer (apart from a good quality sound). The deck under review can be fitted with a light-weight clamp. One could also consider replacing this felt mat with some other, preferably cork one. One can buy such mat from Pro-Ject, but one could source it also somewhere else, at Pathe Wings for example. The best option would be a cork mat with some rubber added to the mix. And – that's important – it should be as thin as possible! as there is no VTA adjustment available for this deck..
One should also considering purchasing a nice phonostage. For this test I picked Phono Box E. It's a small, cool looking box, available in white.
Records used for the test (a selection)
I already mentioned that but repeating won't hurt: we, audiophiles, hidden behind our high quality re-issues released by: Mobile Fidelity, Analogue Productions, ORG and others, forget about the 'real world' out there. In a real world price of the record matters most and many analogue fans prefer to buy two or even records of maybe lesser quality rather than one super-duper issue. It is absolutely understandable and I even envy these guys their focus on music rather than release quality. I try to keep a reasonable balance between the two but it happens that I let some good music go because of poor quality of the release.
This type of product is intended for young people, or for those just entering the world of black records for whom this might be the first and the last turntable they'll ever buy. So this test can not be the same as a test of some 100.000 PLN deck – that would make no sense at all. The goal here is to write a few observations about how it behaves with records it will most likely play in the 'real world'.
Most likely its job will be to play latest re-issues of some classic albums but also of completely new releases. Which means with those using digital master tapes as a source material. So let me start with an important message – this deck offers a rich, dense sound. A dryness of at least some of above described records, upper midrange domination and lack of deep, rich bass won't be much of an issue here. Pro-Ject should deliver rather warm performance with emphasis on the midband – voices and guitars.
Second group of records, that most likely land on the platter of such turntable will be used original pressings, maybe re-issues but most likely also used copies. Such records surely will have some issues but many of them will also have something special to offer – a particularly natural, organic sound. Which our turntable will be able to even emphasize. I haven't mentioned it yet, but the treble is slightly rolled-off and rather delicate. Percussion cymbals sound pretty nice with no audible distortion, but they will always play in the background, behind other instruments.
Well, who cares? In this case it might be even a blessing. I enjoyed playing even really worn off records I bought in 1980ties as a kid that I played, back then, on machines young people don;t even know existed. With Pro-Ject these sounded damn good! It offered rich, full, highly enjoyable sound. And there were only few pops&cracks. Nobody likes those and with worn-off records these could drive some crazy. PTSE pushes through pretending these do not even exist.
Even those this is not particularly resolving turntable it still does clearly differentiate recordings by the quality of pressing, mastering and so on. I discovered some real gems among 45 rpm 12” maxi-singles I never thought any good of. Like on the 1987 Gdynia record that includes tracks by different rock bands from that city. The mixing and pressing of these recordings done in Radio Gdańsk Studio were really good. Sound is dense and incredibly analogue – it's not done this way anymore! And surprise surprise – this inexpensive Pro-Ject was able to communicate all that in a very convincing way.
It's a really good, budget turntable, and a cool piece of audio equipment too. But to be clear I have to write a bit about its performance in objective terms. Dynamics is not particularly high. Presentation is rather about one general image not precise individual ones, It is clear that there is some emphasis in upper bass and a roll-off in treble area. There is no lowest bass like at all.
Few words about phonostage. This turntable is a great idea for somebody who's just entering a wonderful world of music and doesn't want to spend much money. But this phonostage has more to offer. It costs a ridiculous 299 PLN but it offers a performance of a 1000 PLN device. It might not be as resolving as competitors at this level and its bass is not as focused, but these sonic features are not so important here. It delivers a rich, dense sound. With rich midrange. It's a great partner for Pro-Ject turntable but it will do its job equally well with some Rega but also with some cheap, 'plastic' no-name that will sound with it like never before.
I had to do it, I'm sorry but choosing not to would be cheating. Praising a product without mentioning of its shortcomings would be nothing but a lie. If you happen to read a text on this product with nothing but praises please know that someone is trying to take advantage of you. The point is to be aware of these shortcomings and make an informed decision. In this particular case of a system with turntable and Phono Box E there can be but one 'correct' decision – buy it.
A unique design, cool sound, easy setup, possible minor upgrades – these are strong upsides of these products. Many other cheap 'plastic' turntables can not compare to this one in any way. A well deserved RED Fingerprint for both products. Phonostage should even get a double (if it existed) :)
Specifications (according to manufacturer):
Primary The Rolling Stones Edition
- Turntable: AVID HIFI Acutus SP [Custom Version]
- Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory ZERO (mono) | Denon DL-103SA, review HERE
- Phono stage: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE
- Compact Disc Player: Ancient Audio AIR V-edition, review HERE
- Multiformat Player: Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD
- Line Preamplifier: Polaris III [Custom Version] + AC Regenerator, regular version review (in Polish) HERE
- Power amplifier: Soulution 710
- Integrated Amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Stand mount Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
- Stands for Harbeths: Acoustic Revive Custom Series Loudspeaker Stands
- Real-Sound Processor: SPEC RSP-101/GL
- Integrated Amplifier/Headphone amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Headphones: HIFIMAN HE-6, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-300, review HERE | Sennheiser HD800 | AKG K701, review (in Polish) HERE | Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, version 600 - reviews (in Polish): HERE, HERE, HERE
- Headphone Stands: Klutz Design CanCans (x 3), review (in Polish) HERE
- Headphone Cables: Entreq Konstantin 2010/Sennheiser HD800/HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE
- Portable Player: HIFIMAN HM-801
- USB Cables: Acoustic Revive USB-1.0SP (1 m) | Acoustic Revive USB-5.0PL (5 m), review HERE
- LAN Cables: Acoustic Revive LAN-1.0 PA (kable ) | RLI-1 (filtry), review HERE
- Router: Liksys WAG320N
- NAS: Synology DS410j/8 TB
- Interconnects: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, review HERE | preamplifier-power amplifier: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
- Loudspeaker Cables: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review (in Polish) HERE
- Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA | XLR-1.0PA II
- Loudspeaker Cables: Acoustic Revive SPC-PA
- Power Cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, all system, review HERE
- Power Distributor: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate, review HERE
- Power Line: fuse – power cable Oyaide Tunami Nigo (6m) – wall sockets 3 x Furutech FT-SWS (R)
- Power Cables: Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version, review (in Polish) HERE | Oyaide GPX-R (x 4 ), review HERE
- Power Distributor: Oyaide MTS-4e, review HERE
- Stolik: SolidBase IV Custom, read HERE/all system
- Anti-vibration Platforms: Acoustic Revive RAF-48H, review HERE/digital sources | Pro Audio Bono [Custom Version]/headphone amplifier/integrated amplifier, review HERE | Acoustic Revive RST-38H/loudspeakers under review/stands for loudspeakers under review
- Anti-vibration Feets: Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc/ CD Player/Ayon Polaris II Power Supply /products under review, review HERE | Finite Elemente CeraPuc/ products under review, review HERE | Audio Replas OPT-30HG-SC/PL HR Quartz, review HERE
- Anti-vibration accsories: Audio Replas CNS-7000SZ/power cable, review HERE
- Quartz Isolators: Acoustic Revive RIQ-5010/CP-4
- FM Radio: Tivoli Audio Model One