pl | en
Turntable + cartridge
Pro-Ject ART-1 (+ Denon DL-A100)

Price (in Poland): 4590 PLN (+1999 PLN)

Manufacturer: Pro-Ject Audio Systems

Margaretenstrasse 98 | A-1050 Wien | Austria
tel.: 0043 664 22 011 31 | fax: 0043 2536 23844

Polish Distributor (Pro-Ject): Voice
Polish Distributor (Denon): Horn Distribution S.A.

Country of origin: Austria/Czechy

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Pictures: Wojciech Pacuła | Pro-Ject
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski

Pro-Ject has its 20th anniversary this year. This Austrian-Czech company grew out of a dream of one man, Heinz Lichtenegger, the Austrian who found a place he could make the dream come true in Litovel, near Prague.
As I wrote in my “Audio” review of the Thorens TD-170-1 turntable, this world leader in turntable manufacturing nearly started to cooperate with a Polish company. Do you remember that? Not all of you do? – Just in case let me shortly repeat what I meant.
Today’s Pro-Ject is built on the foundation of an older Czech company ETA, located in Litovel, near Prague. After communism collapsed the company was privatized. At first ETA was getting by on its own, but eventually it drew attention of Heinz Lichtenegger who bought it and kept the machines, engineers, workers and utilized their previous, most interesting, experience.
In 1992 (after Czechoslovakia fell apart), already in times of Pro-Ject, Thorens signed a contract with ETA to manufacture its budget turntable TD-290 and TP-40 tonearm in Litovel. The last turntables left the factory in 2000. This very turntable and the tonearm are very close relatives of the Pro-Ject Debut and Music Hall mmf-2.2LF.
But it was meant to be about Poland: digging deeper we get to more interesting facts. I’ll just touch the topic… As I said, Thorens moved production of some of its models to Czech in 1992. But it moved it not from Germany, where it had its factory, but from… Poland. It was in the Fonica factory, in Lodz, where the components were manufactured and later assembled in Germany to be sold as the TD-180 turntable. The German factory was closed shortly afterwards and its production, or rather the Thorens part of it, was moved to Poland. The TD-180 turntables and later a completely new model, the TD-280 Mk IV were manufactured by Fonica. It was in Lodz where the prototype of the TD-290 was created, the same that was later manufactured in the Czech ETA. The history of “Polish” analog would probably be different if Fonika wasn’t closed and all Thorens manufacturing didn’t go to Czech. And so – Pro-Ject was founded in Litovel and not Lodz…

Heinz used the assets of the company he’d bought but also invested lots of money in its expansion and in fairly short time (the history of the company is counted from the year 1991) he created a true empire, with a spin-off in the form of the EAT company, lead by his wife, Josephine Lichtenegger. Different to Pro-Ject, EAT is a fully Czech company. It is truly amazing what this pair made with the world market of turntables: they “freed” prices, introducing incredibly cheap constructions. And when! In the time when digital sources, especially the CD, seemed to be the dream come true and the end of the road. So I take a deep bow before Mr. and Mrs. Lichtenegger, wishing them the continuation of their beautiful adventure!!!

Pro-Ject decided to celebrate its anniversary. And which better way to celebrate than to release “anniversary” turntables. There were three of them: the cheapest 1-Anniversary, the more expensive ART-1 and the most expensive Signature. At first I wanted to test the smallest, but when I saw the ART, I could not resist. Especially that I had a few tricks up my sleeve ready for it. ART-1 is not a completely new product. It is based on the Debut III Esprit (although the company claims the Debut III). Its looks were improved by a few components, some things were completely changed, but most of all it received a special treatment: its design was supervised by one of the best known Austrian artists, Barbara Mungenast, known from her “circular” paintings. When you see them it will be extremely difficult to understand why nobody ever associated her art with turntables – only Heinz did. The turntable will have an extremely limited production run – only 100 pieces will be manufactured, each one with a hand signature of the artist and a number. The one under review has the number 36.

Discs used during the test:
  • Ashkenazy in Concert, Chopin, Aspekte Decca/Teldec, 6.41715 AH, LP.
  • AC/DC, If You Want Blood, Atlantic/WEA Musik, ATL 50 532, LP.
  • Alan Taylor, In The Groove, Stockfisch, SFR 357.8007.1, DMM Series, 180 g LP.
  • Boney M., Take The Heat Of Me, Hansa International, 65 201, LP.
  • Breakout, Blues, Polskie Nagrania, SXL 0721/2007, LP.
  • Brian Eno, Craft On A Milk Sea, Warp Records, WARPCDD207, 2 x 180 g LP + 2 x CD + 24/44,1 WAV;
  • Clifford Brown and Max Roach, Study In Brown, EmArcy/Universal Music Japan, UCJU-9072, 200 g LP.
  • Dead Can Dance, Into The Labyrinth, 4AD/Mobile Fidelity, 140 g LP;
  • Dead Can Dance, Spiritchaser, 4AD/Mobile Fidelity, 140 g LP;
  • Depeche Mode, Violator, Mute, STUMM64, Limited Edition, 180 g LP;
  • Electric Light Orchestra, Time, Jet Records, JET LP 236, LP.
  • Matt Bianco, Whose Side Are You On, WEA Records, 240 472-1, LP.
  • Sara K., Water Falls, Stockfisch, SFR357.8025.1-1/2, 2 x 180 g LP;
  • The Alan Parsons Project, The Complete Audio Guide To The Alan Parsons Project, Arista, SP 140, 8 x LP Box.

In the beginning of the review it is worth thinking about our expectations regarding the ART-1. When we listen to it as to other constructions in the 4000 – 5000 zl price range it will not be a good listening session. This turntable does not sound as good as, say, other more expensive constructions of Pro-Ject itself. I think that we need to approach it in such a way as was probably the intention of Heinz Lichtenegger. And although I cannot read his mind, I think he was after something else than a race with other turntables: the ART-1 is what it is – a Debut III Esprit with upgrades to make it a piece of utilitarian art. And that’s it. When we listen to it like that, combined with the perception of its shape, its details and our knowledge that this is a unique edition, we will be more than happy.

ART-1 + Ortofon 2M Blue

The turntable sounds in a nice, even way. Its sound is concentrated on the lower midrange, which makes the vocals nasal from time to time but it doesn’t cross the border of good taste, at least for me. Even with stylistically similar Stockfisch Records CDs, like Sara K. Water Falls and Allan Taylor In The Groove I did not have the impression of exaggeration. Warm by default, big, fleshy and protruding from the loudspeakers, the voices of Sara and Allan, boosted in this aspect by the label (Günter Pauler and Hendrik Pauler) did not hurt, were not over the top. Their lower midrange was a bit to the front, stronger than above and below frequencies but I think that in most inexpensive, “cabinet” systems this can be an asset. Resulting sound will be – paradoxically – truer, more natural in the sense of being exactly as you expect it from vinyl. Treble is surprisingly good, clean and resolved. We cannot overcome some limitations here, this is still a quite cheap construction and a cheap cartridge, but together they give that something extra, they have some advantage over playing separately.
Maybe the designers of this turntable tried to combine warm midrange and dynamic treble, which helps the sound not be flaccid or overheated. And it is not. I already said about the lower midrange, this is part of the puzzle, but the quite strong and expressive treble is also important.
And it is not sharp or shrill. I always fear that plugging an inexpensive component into my system. In the Pro-Ject the treble is quite strong, not withdrawn or foggy. But it is not irritating; it results nicely from the rest of the frequency spectrum, being its completion. Yet because it is a bit stronger than the midrange, it seems that the sound is vivid and dynamic which is not wholly true. This particular setting of the timbre makes records sound more explicit, more thorough than it would seem from the resolution of this system.
The midrange is a bit withdrawn. Not too much, but we can hear a compression of dynamics and lowering of resolution in this range – unavoidable in this price range. Interestingly this is not always audible in the same way – it depends much on the record itself. And this points to a fairly good differentiation of recordings. If vocal is strong, as on the above mentioned Stockfisch records, then it will be strong and big. It will not be especially clean and three-dimensional but we will have at least a foretaste of what we can expect from them. But when vocals and instruments are further away, like on the Depeche Mode records, or with the piano of Vladimir Ashkenazy playing Chopin, then those elements will be shown further away and not fully dynamic. The instruments from the lower and upper end of the sound spectrum – Depeche Mode – or left hand and high registers of right hand – piano – sounded in an even, good way. Between these two extremes were the records of Dead Can Dance, maybe due to varied instrumentation.

One more group of records sounded great; actually it had the best sound: pop and rock music. I do not know, I just presume that maybe Heinz listens to that kind of music – was it Boney M., Electric Light Orchestra or Matt Bianco – all those records sounded with kick, zest and very, very even. Probably due to much less demanding instrumentation the PJ turntable sounded optimal – without lower bass (forget it) but with dynamics, nice timbre differentiation and nice soundstage, although soundstage surely is not one of its assets.
And, as I said in the beginning, after evaluating in my mind what the ART-1 is, we can properly assess it. I think it is beautiful and this one reason is enough to justify its price. But it would not be fair – this turntable sounds very nice and gives lots of joy. It does not go beyond turntables cheaper than it is but I would not really complain about that. You know what you get. Surprising, refreshing and inspiring combination of art and technology – something we often search for.

ART-1 + Denon DL-A100

It’s only that things can always be done better; we can always change something which brings an even better sound. And although the ART-1 is an “anniversary product”, kind of an art object, so in a way closed, it turns out that inside this idiom we can do something usually impossible. This is a lucky coincidence, but the 20th anniversary of Pro-Ject (1991-2011) is accompanied by (it is the other way round, but I stay with the logic of the review) the 100th anniversary of Denon (1910-2010), which prepared their anniversary versions of some products, among other the DL-103 cartridge, now called DL-A100 (price: 1999zl).
I reviewed this Denon cartridge before, both its basic version DL-103 as well as versions DL-103R and DL-103SA. This is one of the cartridges that has longest remained in continuous production, initially manufactured for professionals in radio stations, and since 1970 available for all. Its initial version was presented in 1961 so this year is its 50th anniversary. Is this not a beautiful reason to celebrate?

At first sight the combination of the ART-1 and the DL-103 may not seem very well matched. The turntable has a quite light and rather short (8.6”) tonearm while the cartridge is quite heavy and has low compliance. It was designed for heavy and long (12”) tonearms. But in the world of audio it just so happens that theory, although important, is one thing, and life is another – at least sometimes. It is the DL-103 which I have been using with every turntable that I have reviewed for the last 10 years in order to keep some common divider. Naturally, this has always been on first listens, then I would use more expensive cartridges but the start has always been the same. And I must say that it happened only twice or trice that the system did not sound as good as I imagined. Those were really rare cases. Either with long or short tonearm, heavy or light – the DL-103 confirmed each time that the people who designed it had a “golden ear”, a sixth sense. But we are talking about the Japanese here and from what I noticed this is not uncommon with them.
But this is not the end of the celebration. It turns out that in my collection I have something equally exciting: a version of the Pro-Ject Phono Box Limited Edition preamplifier manufactured on the occasion of selling 100,000 Phono Box preamplifiers (November 1st 2003). The unit came with a certificate of authenticity signed by Heinz Lichtenegger in an upholstered box and with gold plated chassis. And it was really limited – there were only 500 units made (mine has number 162). And what if I tell you that I have one more preamplifier from Pro-Ject limited edition? And that it is a gold plated Phono Box SE LE? And that it never went into sales? And that I really own it? Well – that is the truth. But because I treat is as a real curiosity I only decided to include in my review the reference preamplifier and the above mentioned Phono Box Limited Edition.

The sound with the Denon cartridge changes in a very clear, unanimous way. Although the ART-1 can not show much of what the DL-A100 can do yet on the other hand the Pro-Ject with that cartridge sounds in a way that I imagined for that kind of product. I do not really see what else could be improved in this system.
This is a full, deep sound. The Denon improves on two, very important things: sound stage and tonal balance. This is still not very dynamic sound, this is how this turntable sounds, but now the volume is big enough for the sound to be perceived more vivid than in reality. And this is amended with a very big, deep sound stage. This was especially interesting with Dead Can Dance records, where space and relationships on stage form the basis of music.
An equally important aspect is the incredibly smooth sound of this cartridge, which translates into the sound of the whole system. Almost as if we were sliding on silk, regardless of the genre of music played. The treble is more withdrawn than with the Ortofon and we have to pay respect to the engineers responsible for the 2M Blue. The cymbals, details, etc. with the original cartridge are exceptional. On the other hand, only with the Denon can we hear that it was a bit nervous, a bit to the front, without a clear plan. The anniversary cartridge is special in this aspect; it handles plane positioning on stage especially well, and is equally good with gradation of timbres and extracting the most important aspects of a given recording.
This is why I suggest matching both products together. Even better if you manage to buy the Pro-Ject preamplifier somewhere. You will have a truly unique set that nobody else has, unless they are separated from you by hundreds or thousands of kilometers. That is called exclusivity!


Pro-Ject ART-1

The ART-1 turntable is based on the Debut III Esprit from Pro-Ject. It is a light, not decoupled construction with an acrylic platter, belt drive and aluminum, quite short (8.6”) tonearm. It comes equipped with an Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge.
The plinth of the turntable is made from a MDF plate varnished black, with a high gloss varnish. It is supported on four aluminum feet (a novelty) with rubber washers and spikes on their ends. The spikes are placed on flat supports that make a visible whole with the rest of the feet. The feet in the front are closer together than at the back. This looks very nice but is quite far from the idea of decoupling a turntable. And it is very sensitive to where it’s placed upon. As I said, I used a combination of a few components but each one of you should find your own solution. The minimum will be a thick plywood shelf.

The platter is made of milky, half-translucent acryl. It is placed on a steel shaft molded into a plastic subplatter, reinforced with ribs. The subplatter is driven by a motor using a flat rubber belt. The synchronous motor is powered by a medium sized, “wall wart” 16V AC plug power supply. The motor is not rigidly mounted to the plinth, as would be implied by the logic of fixed position of the motor versus the platter. The design has been known for a long time and its modification can be seen in the Thorens TD-309 turntable, namely the motor is hung on rubber o-rings which separates it in some degree from the plinth and at the same time from the stylus. On the motor axis there is a pulley with two diameters – the rotational speed is selected manually. Because the pulley is below the platter, access to it is not so easy. You should think about the Speed Box (SE). From the top, on the spindle, you can screw the newly designed clamp made of aluminum and artificial leather. It is really light and the clamping force is not very high. But it is easy to use – one move is enough to fasten or unfasten it.
Also from the top, onto the platter, we can apply a decorative component (I treat it as such) in the form of a plastic replica of one of Barbara Mungenast’s paintings. It looks fabulous! I saw some photographs where this ring was sometimes under the record, yet this is not the result of the VTA setting – VTA is set for placing the record directly onto the acryl platter.

The tonearm has been known for years. It is a shorter than normal, 8.6” (effective length 254mm) construction with an aluminum wand flattened on one end to form a head shell. A manual lift component is not a part of the tonearm and is bolted to it together with the cartridge. The basis of the tonearm and its sleeve are quite small. It is a gimbaled arm construction with an inverted vertical bearing. Both vertical as well as horizontal bearings are made of hardened steel blades and sapphire beds. It is a fairly simple design.
However, the ART-1 tonearm is modified – the counterweight is different. Usually this is a plastic pin on which the plastic-metal ring slides. The difference here is that on the pin there is an aluminum, sliding sleeve held in place by an Allen bolt. The sleeve features a narrowing in which two spikes of the counterweight are placed. This is not mounted rigidly but rather “hung” on the sleeve. It is known that the counterweight should be somehow separated from the tonearm. However such a radical separation is – in my opinion – not the best idea: during playback the counterweight moves all the time, vibrates, changing the tracking force of the cartridge. Not by much, but still. Good to see that the gravity point of the passivated stainless steel counterweight is low, below the axis. A truly brilliant idea is the way you can adjust the counterweight to different weight cartridges: you push one of the three cylinders into the ring. There are three cylinders for three different weight ranges. With the Denon DL-A100 you need to use the biggest one, with the Ortofon 2M Blue – the medium one.
The signal cables run to a small box below the plinth where they are soldered to the signal cable. In my opinion this is the worst element of this construction – the cable is really bad and ugly. In a turntable of that kind the cable should be detachable or, better, in a mesh using the colors of the project – please look at the Platinum series of Wireworld.

Technical details (according to manufacturer):

  • type: belt drive
  • rotational speed: 33/45, manual change
  • tonearm: Pro-Ject 8.6 D (modified, 8.6”, effective length – 254mm)
  • effective tonearm mass: 9.5 g
  • tracking force: 10-30mN
  • rotational speed fluctuations: ±0.8% (max.)
  • wow and flutter: ±0.12% (max.)
  • platter weight: 1.3kg
  • power supply: 16V AC
  • dimensions: 415 x 118 x 320mm (WxHxD) (open cover) | 415 x 365 x 405mm (WxHxD) (closed cover)
  • weight: 5kg

Distribution in Poland: Voice

ul. Moniuszki 4, tel./fax: +48 033 851 26 91

gadu-gadu: 25790226



Denon DL-A100

This cartridge was first introduced to the market in 1961 and has not changed much since. It is big and heavy, with a spherical stylus. This is an MC type cartridge, requiring a load of min. 100Ω. I usually load it with 200Ω and think it is good. Tracking force is also quite high – between 2.5 to 3g.
The DL-A100 version differs from the original by a polycarbonate, semitransparent body, a more precise cut and even more precise winding of the coils. Besides a 5-year warranty, in a big packaging box we also find an authenticity certificate signed (or actually rather stamped – this is a Japanese peculiarity) by the main engineer of production, responsible for this handmade product. The set is completed by a nicely edited booklet describing the history of Denon.

Technical details (according to manufacturer):

  • type: moving coil (MC)
  • body: transparent polycarbonate mold
  • output voltage: 0.3mV
  • channel balance: max. 1dB (1kHz)
  • channel separation: min. 25dB (at 1kHz)
  • output impedance: 40Ω
  • recommended load: min. 100Ω
  • diamond: 16.5 microns, spherical cut
  • frequency response: 20Hz-45kHz
  • tracking force: 2.5g (±0.3g)

Distribution in Poland (Denon): Horn Distribution S.A.

Contact: ul. Kurantów 34 | 02-873 Warszawa
tel. +48 22 331 55 55 | fax. +48 22 331 55 00



g     a     l     l     e     r     y


  • CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Air (previous it was Prime, tested HERE)
  • Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC (tested HERE)
  • Cartridges: Air Tight Supreme, tested HERE, Miyajima Laboratory Waza, tested HERE.
  • Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III with Re-generator Power Supply; version II tested HERE)
  • Power amplifier: Tenor Audio 175S, tested HERE and Soulution 710
  • Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom version (reviewed HERE)
  • Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann (tested HERE)
  • Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, 600 Ω version (reviewed HERE, HERE, and HERE)
  • Interconnect: CD-preamp: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, article HERE), preamp-power amp: Wireworld Platinum Eclipse
  • Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, tested HERE
  • Power cables AC (all equipment): Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
  • Power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2 Filtering Power Strip (reviewed HERE)
  • Audio stand Base – under all components
  • Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD (article HERE)
  • Pro Audio Bono platform under CD