PRO-JECT DEBUT CARBON PRO Review – Proformance

OUR VERDICT
Nicely balanced budget turntable package with quality vinyl sound.
SCORES 8/10
  • three speeds
  • stable pitch
  • smooth cartridge sound
  • resonant arm tube
  • unsecured arm
  • flexy head shell
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Pro-ject’s new Debut Pro has performance worth hearing, thinks Noel Keywood. Read our PRO-JECT DEBUT CARBON PRO Review.


PRO-JECT DEBUT CARBON PRO Review

The name says a lot about :his turntable: Debut. Make an entry in other words, an entry into vinyl. That can be expensive but Project ease the pain by pricing this complete package at just £. For this you get turntable, arm and cartridge.

But why Pro? It doesn’t have obvious Pro features, such as a stroboscope with fine speed control for example. Measurement answered this question: the Pro is remarkably speed stable, especially for a simple belt drive – a topic I’ll cover in more detail later.

Belt drive it may be but the Debut Pro manages to provide three speeds: 33,45 and 78rpm. A small three-way toggle switch at front left changes speed from 33rpm to 45rpm, passing through a central Off position; motor speed is changed electronically. Choosing 78rpm means a belt change to a larger pulley diameter, which is a bit of a faff around.The platter must be lifted off and a different belt threaded into place.

But to play 78s the cartridge must be changed, which is not easy in the fixed headshell arm. Ortofon make a 2M 78rpm stylus but it is not compatible with the 2M Red; the cartridge must be removed. So the Debut Pro will do 78, but not easily compared to an arm with a removable headshell.

PRO-JECT DEBUT CARBON PRO Review
At rear a single adjustable foot, fully floating (electrically) phono socket outputs, and a 15V d.c. input. Simple friction hinges slot into a clear acrylic dust cover

Pro-Ject use their own wrapped carbon fibre arm on the Debut Pro and it is a strictly manual affair: there are no auto systems – such as auto shut-off – associated with the arm. Instead a conventional cue lever operates a damped lift/lower platform.

This arm is not a favourite of mine for many reasons, one being its flat finger-lift is barely usable. And I like to hand cue with a good finger lift; selecting LP tracks is

PRO-JECT DEBUT CARBON PRO Review
A three position toggle switch provides 33/45rpm speed selection, with central Off position.
PRO-JECT DEBUT CARBON PRO Review
Pro-Ject fit a Pick it Pro cartridge, their OEM version of Ortofon’s 2M Silver MM cartridge. The thin headshell flexes at its root and needs stiffening.

faster and easier than CD with a finger lift. But the Pro-Ject finger lift precludes this – I use it gingerly.

Another strange issue with our review sample was the arm pillar was not vertically constrained: it jumped upward when I placed the arm into its rest. Only gravity holds it down. Disconcerting. A grub screw or C-dip are needed here.

There is a simple weight-and-thread bias system and the rear counterweight applies tracking force by moving forward or backward on a form of screw thread, but it was loose.The weight is uncalibrated so a tracking force gauge is essential, a simple one supplied.The whole assembly needs improvement to match common standard and sad to say the arm is structurally more resonant than most in spite of its seemingly rigid construction (see Measured Performance).

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“A sound stage with a sense of depth, as we hope for with LP”

Pro-Ject take the plinth and platter main bearing assembly seriously though, providing a suitably solid assembly There are three feet that can be adjusted for height, plus a clear acrylic dust cover that moves on friction hinges. Width measures 415mm, and depth 330mm with cover closed. However, opening the cover produces a rear overhang (as always) that extends depth to 400m, consequential if there is a wall behind a shelf.The cover rises to 380mm when open so that’s the clearance needed between shelves. Height with cover closed is 125mm (not I 13mm as quoted, which is height without cover).These are all typical dimensions for a compact turntable. Weight was low at 6kg.

Power comes from an external wall-wart supply delivering in I5V d.c. connected by a short 1.2m (4ft) cable that barely reached the floor from the top of our rack. There is no mains earth; the earth pin is plastic. So an earth loop and hum are technically impossible, at least, at a simple level.The earth lead in the cable supplied just has to be connected to ground at the amplifier and any ground lift switch set to connect.

And finally Pro-Ject fit an Ortofon 2M Silver moving magnet (MM) cartridge. It’s an OEM (Outside Equipment Manufacture) for fitment to turntables rather

PRO-JECT DEBUT CARBON PRO Review
A simple weight and thread bias system, attached to the solid metal arm pillar.

than direct sale to the public. So expect normal fare rather than anything to rock the roof. Yet at the same time Ortofon have been tuning this cartridge to improve its sound and under measurement it was very capable. When I measured the 2M Silver in May 2015 it had treble lift across a broad band and sounded bright, contrary to expectations from vinyl and unhelpful to its sonic milieu.Worse, raising treble emphasises distortions, making for uneasy listening. Ortofon seem to have changed their view: this latest sample had gentle reduction in treble to bring back that good old warm feeling, but without too much warmth, as I’ll explain in Sound Quality.Tracking force is

PRO-JECT DEBUT CARBON PRO Review
The motor drive pulley accepts a flat-ground precision belt at top for 33/45, and an O ring for 78rpm.

1.8gms and the stylus elliptical.A replacement stylus is being quoted €89 – high for a budget MM. Alternative styli are 2M Red and 2M Blue, but not Bronze or Black so upgrade paths are limited.

They call it “Pro” and the reason is, I suspect, to bring speed accuracy and stability into contention with Direct Drives from Japan, typically from Audio Technica and Technics. How to give belt drive the speed stability of Direct Drive is determined by the motor, the belt (flat ground in this case), platter concentricity and bearing precession (or lack of). Pro-Ject have conquered all the variability in these elements it would seem from our sample: it held speed perfectly. What this brings is a solidly pitch stable sound, free from wavering or wateriness of tone. It removes a gentle haze, shall I say, introducing

PRO-JECT DEBUT CARBON PRO Review
The one-piece wrapped carbon fibre arm is light and its tube rigid, but undamped and resonant. The rear counterweight is uncalibrated so a stylus force gauge is essential.

almost sterile rigidity – but that is correct. Some are upset (or have been in the past) by the sense of grip and the tonal cleanliness that appear, just to warn that not everyone is appreciative. But I am, that’s for sure. More below.

There are no fancy output options, like digital, balanced or Line.The phono outputs are balanced in that each of the gold phono sockets is fully floating, unconnected to earth (they will be earthed at the amplifier). This means the outputs could be combined into an XLR for balanced connection. I noticed the pillar was earthed and the arm too, one cartridge screw making continuity to rear ground terminal.

SOUND QUALITY

The Pro-Ject Debut Pro was connected directly into the MM input of our Creek Voyage iA20 amplifier. Loudspeakers were Martin Logan ESL-X hybrid electrostatics connected through Chord Company Signature Reference screened cables.

Going straight into the “Pro” bit and my speculation that this refers to pitch stability, I placed Alison Goldfrap’s Supernature album on the platter. Being synth based it has pitch stability built in as it were – none of this wobbly stuff from humans (!) – and the Pro was truly Pro.The long, stabbing synth sustains in Let It Take You held rock steady, whilst underlying bass chords moved firmly out to

PRO-JECT DEBUT CARBON PRO Review
A flat finger lift makes hand-cueing difficult. Too close to the LP for a finger – and too slippery too!
PRO-JECT DEBUT CARBON PRO Review
The parts supplied: two belts, one flat ground for 33/45rpm. The alternative O ring is for 78s. Three hex keys for arm adjustment, a 45rpm adaptor and a quality phono lead with essential earth wire. There is a simple stylus force gauge (top right) with protractor, plus another protractor at top left.

take over the room. I liked this. Not only was the Pro rock-stable in pitch terms, it had that lovely solid, almost ethereal bass that LP can deliver.

Goldfrap’s Ride A White Horse similarly came over as firm but forceful from the LP and even more grippingly dynamic from the I2in 45rpm single.Yet this track had imprecise imaging; the stage was wide but placement on it a tad vague. Not a major sonic issue perhaps but the arm I feel could usefully have been more stable and concise in this area.All the same, what I heard was convincingly analogue in its sense of depth and easy, natural flow, yet not unduly warm.

Staying with 45rpm I put Mobile Fidelity’s re-master of Brothers in Arms on the platter and again got a nice slice of good analogue Rock, with a firm, steady ‘thump… thump…’ from kick drum, clear vocals and obvious but not forward cymbals; the 2M Silver strikes a nice balance here: clear yet amenable in balance.This is not a warm sounding cartridge, just easy and natural in tonal balance.

Spinning the recent re-master of Abbey Road was a relaxing business, yet there was lively pace in tracks like Polythene Pam and the Fabs were always set on a sound stage with a sense of depth, as we hope for with LP (and Abbey Road, the studio).

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CONCLUSION

The new Project Debut Pro delivers vinyl sound with good sophistication. It has a very steady sound, pure of tone – its forte.The 2M Silver cartridge is also a great performer, with carefully honed tonal balance that gives the traditional easy going milieu of vinyl without being obviously warm.Very good on inner grooves too I found. Project’s arm remains in need of improvement but it does a satisfactory job. Certainly a package worth hearing.

MEASURED PERFORMANCE
The 3150Hz test tone of a DIN 45-545 test disc was reproduced as a steady 3156Hz on our Wow&Flutter meter – close to perfect. Wander around nominal was small at 3Hz, making basic speed both correct and very stable. As a result variation values were very low for belt drive, wow measuring 0.06% and flutter 0.05%. Total W&F (European DIN weighted) came in at just 0.05%, falling to 0.03% with Japanese JIS weighting (for purposes of comparison). This is a very speed stable turntable, close to Direct Drive. Our analysis shows low variance at 33rpm (0.55Hz), with low harmonics and flutter to right – a fine result.

The arm had a strong first bending mode at 250Hz, with accompanying second and third-order related harmonic peaks, showing the wrapped carbon fibre tube to be stiff but undamped. A peak at 2000Hz may be caused by flexure where the headshell joins the arm tube. This is a lively arm with strong resonant modes and as such unimpressive.

The turntable measured very well but the arm was resonant and needs damping. The headshell flexes and should not do so; it needs stiffening.
PRO-JECT DEBUT CARBON PRO Review
8 Total Score
PRO-JECT DEBUT CARBON PRO Review

Nicely balanced budget turntable package with quality vinyl sound.

PROS
  • three speeds
  • stable pitch
  • smooth cartridge sound
CONS
  • resonant arm tube
  • unsecured arm
  • flexy head shell
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