By Lam Seng Fatt
The Pro-Ject Xtension 9 Evolution turntable is one of those designs that uses mass loading to suppress resonances and vibrations, which is the opposite of Rega’s light-is-more philosophy.
Therefore the turntable is rather heavy. Pro-Ject states that the Xtension 9 plinth is made from MDF filled with metal granulate, that gives high mass and is non-resonant and the entire package weighs 16kg.
As for the platter, Pro-Ject does not use pure metal but an alloy which is damped with a ring of thermo plastic elastomers on the underside.
Plus Pro-Ject uses recycled vinyl records which are baked into one piece as a mat which is incorporated into the top surface of the platter.
The bearing is an inverted ceramic ball bearing and the spindle is already oiled for shipping.
Of interest are the three feet. Initially I did not know they were magnetic until they moved to stick to each other when I placed them on a table. Each is labelled indicating its position and when I pressed the feet, I discovered that they had different levels of compression spring rates. So they were tuned feet, taking into account the different effective mass at each position.
The turntable is a belt-driven design and it also comes with a 9-inch carbon-fibre tonearm caled Evolution which reminds me of the Pro-Ject-made 9cc carbon-fibre tonearm which came with the entry-level Linn Majik turntable previously.
The Evolution tonearm has a small magnet to attach it to the tonearm rest and a loud thump can be heard whenever it is locked in place by the magnet. But when in use, there was no hint that the tonearm suffered from resonance issues.
Packaged with the Pro-Ject Xtension 9 Evolution turntable is the Ortofon Quintet Black S MC cartridge. The cartridge was already fixed in the right position, so it was just a matter of adjusting the counterweight using my Clearaudio digital stylus scale. I set it at the recommended 2.3 gm tracking force.
As for anti-skating, the Evo tonearm uses a nylon string with small weight. I must say the string must be the thinnest I have ever seen and when I took it out of the small plastic bag, the string had slipped out of the weight and it took me quite some time to get the string back into the hole at the centre of the weight.
I used three LPs to test the turntable – The Unbelievable Miss Cleo Laine (Fontana), Dave Grusin: Mountain Dance (JVC) and Jennifer Warnes: Famous Blue Raincoat (20th Anniversary Edition, 45 rpm).
As soon as the stylus hit the LP, I realised that the Pro-Ject was one of the quietest turntables I have encountered. There was no surface noise at all, not even on the lead-in grooves of the commercial-quality Cleo Laine album. That was impressive.
I also noted that the sound quality was very smooth and slightly warm. The phono preamp was the resident Aime and a quick comparison with my tweaked Rega Planar 3 with RB250 tonearm and Benz Glider cartridge revealed that the Pro-Ject sounded much smoother and calmer with rounded-off leading edges of music while the Rega sounded livelier, brighter and faster with sharper leading edges.
The Pro-Ject turntable had magnetic feet to isolate from vibrations and I knocked the Ikea Lak table that the turntable was on a few times and the stylus did not skip. Even though the magnetic isolators were effective, the sound quality improved when I placed the turntable on a black granite slab sitting on EVA foam pads.
So if you own the Pro-Ject turntable, you will have to place it on a good isolation platform to improve performance. Another thing you must do to improve sound quality is to use the record weight which comes with the turntable. It is quite heavy – it weighs 793 gms – and the sound becomes much cleaner with it on. The bass gets deeper and tighter, the separation improves a lot and the noise floor goes down.
Later I decided to use the Pro-Ject Tube Box DS2 phono preamp (For review, see http://av2day.com/2019/05/impressive-sound-from-pro-jects-tube-phono-preamp/. Since the Ortofon Quintet Black S has a recommended load impedance of >20 Ohms, I set it to 100 Ohms, which tightened up the bass and improved the tonal balance. Since it had a low output voltage of 0.3mV, I set the gain to 60dB.
With the Tube Box DS2 phono preamp, the turntable sang like a bird and I just sat back, relaxed and simply enjoyed the music.
Since CMY Audo & Visual became the Pro-Ject distributor in Malaysia recently, you can expect to see a comprehensive range of Pro-Ject turntables and phono preamps at the Kuala Lumpur International AV Show next month at Vistana Hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
The Pro-Ject Xtension 9 Evolution turntable with tonearm and cartridge retails at RM13,000.