By Lam Seng Fatt
Since Willy kicked off 2015 with a turntable review, I shall follow in his footsteps and also post a turntable review.
Unlike his quite-high-level turntable, the one I am reviewing is an entry-level Pro-Ject meant for those who are considering entering the vinyl world but lack the necessary funds.
The Pro-Ject Essential turntable is the Austrian company’s answer to Rega’s RP1 with both offering relatively good sound quality at low cost.
The Pro-Ject Essential is a simple design with a light and stiff particle board plinth which comes in three colours – white, red and black. The platter is made from MDF (hmm, sounds familiar? The Rega P1 had a platter made of HDF – High Density Fibreboard while the RP1, its replacement, uses a phenolic platter) and a thin felt mat is included.
It has a low vibration motor with a long silicon belt that drives the platter aound its circumference.
It comes with an 8.6-inch unipivot tone arm with armtube and headshell made of a single piece of aluminium premounted with an Ortofon OM-5e moving magnet cartridge.
Its ‘cup’ is quite heavy and the tonearm does not jiggle around when cueing unlike some other unipivots that I have used.
Its three hard feet have rubbery, flexible joints where they are connected to the plinth. The Essential turntable also comes with a transparent cover.
I placed the turntable on an Ikea Lak coffe table and found out that the review turntable did not have its felt mat. I don’t think it was the mistake of some worker in Project’s factory as the box had already been opened and I think the review turntable had been used for home demos. Anyway, I simply took the felt mat from my Rega Planar 3 turntable and placed it on the Essential’s platter.
The Ortofon cartridge was already fixed to the headshell and I did not bother to check its alignment, but I did decide to check the tracking force. The Essential comes with a rudimentary plastic stylus gauge which was styled like a see-saw, but it was rather inaccurate. I used my Clearaudio digital stylus gauge and found out that the tracking force was 1.13gms and I reset it to 1.7gms which is close to the recommended 1.75gms.
Setting the tracking force required using an Allen hex key to unscrew the grub screw on the top of the counterweight, move the underslung round weight up or down the stub and then screw it tight.
Once set, there was no more issue and the cartridge could track all sorts of LPs.
The power on switch is by the left side of the plinth next to the motor and there was a “squiishhhh’ sound whenever I turned on the turntable and it reminded me of the time when Rega Planar turntables had their motors suspended on rubber bands.
Using an Oracle speed disk and the living room’s fluorescent light, I was surprised to find out that the speed was quite spot on for a budget turntable.
Since the Ortofon is a Moving Magnet cartridge, I had to use the Creek OBH-15 MM/MC phono preamp instead of the resident and reference Aime (first version) phono preamp which can handle only MC.
I could detect no rumble from the motor or the bearing, but since it is a design without suspension, knocks on the Ikea table were picked up. A good, well-isolated rack would help the performance of the Pro-Ject Essential.
After spinning several LPs, I was surprised that the imaging was quite solid and stable. I was also surprised that there was a fair amount of depth for a turntable at this price point.
On rock songs, the bass guitar was strong and together with the drums, they created a thick rhythmic foundation upon which the rest of the songs were built.
I played a Lorde LP and some parts that were sparse sounded quite good, but with an LP featuring an orchestra playing classical music, the turntable showed its limitations. But remember it is an entry-level product.
It does not create the spacious soundstage with pinpoint and fleshed-out images that the uber turntables (costing RM50k upwards) can create, but for little money and no-fuss operation, the Pro-Ject Essential makes music that is easily likeable.
It is a very forgiving turntable and the little surface noise and good tracking ensures a pleasant listening experience even though my souped-up Rega Planar 3 revealed more details and better separation.
The Pro-Ject Essential turntable now comes in a Mk II form and both are available at Tong Lee, Low Yat Plaza, Kuala Lumpur. They cost RM1,199 and RM1,399 (Mk II).