FOLLOWING PRO-JECT’S PRIMARY E packaged turntable (HFC 424) with cartridge comes the Primary E Phono, adding a built-in moving-magnet phono stage. As a complete starter option this will make a lot of sense to many as it can be connected to any amplifier or active speaker system with a stereo RCA line-level input without anything additional needed.
The standard Primary E takes a mains feed directly to the motor assembly, but the Phono version uses a different motor and is supplied by a low-voltage wall-wart PSU to both the motor and the built-in circuitry. The phono stage is on the underside of the chassis and provides gain for the supplied pre-mounted Ortofon OM cartridge. A switch on the side enables you to bypass the built-in preamp to allow you to connect the turntable to an external preamp stage should you wish and there’s an external grounding post too. The phono section outputs to stereo RCAs and a good-quality interconnect is supplied.
Spot the difference
The rest of the design is identical to the Primary E package, so you get an 8.6in tonearm fitted as standard. This means the anti-skate and VTA are fixed and the counterweight comes pre-mounted at the correct tracking weight so that getting the Pro-Ject running is as simple as it can be, with the only minor challenge being to fit the belt.
Connecting the Pro-Ject to a Naim Uniti Star one-box system (HFC 433) and Neat Momentum 4i floorstanding speakers – how I reviewed the Primary E – reveals that as a value option, the phono version makes a lot of sense. The performance is largely defined by the arm and cartridge pairing and the internal phono stage is good enough to ensure the Primary’s entertaining character is retained.
The urgent and slightly dark tone of the Slow Readers Club’s Build A Tower is well captured and the good pitch stability ensures that the Pro-Ject consistently engages on a rhythmic level. This is helped by respectable bass depth and detail. Compared with some more expensive designs, there isn’t quite the same hit to the chest from the percussion, but the articulation and integration is good enough to ensure that you don’t feel short changed.
The way the Pro-Ject handles high frequencies is also extremely good. Morcheeba’s The Sea has a level of refinement that isn’t always found with affordable hardware. The phono stage ensures that Skye Edwards’ vocal turn is rich and has a lovely, almost liquid quality that makes for an engaging listening experience. Even slightly edgy pressings like Bloc Party’s A Weekend In The City are presented in a way that keeps it sounding exciting without becoming hard or overly forward.
Very large-scale material can start to highlight some of the limits of Pro-Ject’s soundstage, but the manner in which these restrictions make themselves felt is fairly benign, with the sense that something like Kamasi Washington’s Harmony Of Difference happens between the speakers rather than simply extending beyond them. Most importantly, this rarely translates into actual congestion. With smaller scale material this benefits the presentation by lending it a feeling of focus and drive that gels with the decent timing to make for a genuinely exciting listen.
In many regards, the Primary E Phono seems like the stronger-value package overall. It boosts the plug-and-play aspect that Pro-Ject is gunning for and, unless you already have a phono stage in your amplification, the quality of the fitted circuit is higher than almost any similarly priced standalone equivalent. This is a confident and assured-sounding turntable at an extremely competitive price and so will make a perfect starter deck for many vinyl newcomers.