How Pro-Ject Audio Continues to Make Turntable History
Pro-Ject Audio Systems was founded in 1991, during the onslaught of the compact disc and CD players, with the mission to offer the best analogue experience for reasonable prices. In a time where the digital audio media had been on the rise, and vinyl was declared as outdated and dead, Heinz Lichtenegger kept his belief in the simple but best way to enjoy music – turntables.
Utilising the extant manufacturing and design skills of the old Czechoslovakia, Pro-Ject utilised the low, cost base and knowledge of the old Eastern Block to their advantage. The Cold-War era Tesla factory in the Czech Republic was known for producing a range of high-quality electronics behind the iron curtain. Separated from the west, development of vacuum-tube electronics and traditional Hi-Fi had continued.
Pro-Ject’s very first turntable, the original ‘Project’ was a ‘hot-rodded’ Tesla design. To this day, Pro-Ject turntables are manufactured in the old Tesla Turntable manufacturing facility – a legacy which stretches back almost 70 years. All turntables are produced from scratch, by hand and in house. From the tiniest screw to the chassis, everything is done by technicians. A strict four step quality control ensures that everything works as intended.
Pro-Ject released its first home-grown design, the Pro-Ject 1 in the early 1990s. The Pro-Ject 1 displayed all the key values of a Pro-Ject turntable: affordability, value and performance through good, solid, simple design and quality engineering.
It’s the late 1990s. CD is king, MP3s the reserve of PC nerds, and vinyl was assumed dead. Into this climate, launched the original Pro-Ject Debut Turntable. It was a strange time to be a vinyl enthusiast; new vinyl pressings were almost entirely the reserve of dance music, one area in which vinyl was still king. With the exception of a few ‘statement’ releases from independent artists and the occasional limited edition run, vinyl was feeling like something of an orphan. Nonetheless, a huge enthusiast network of vinyl lovers and enthusiasts still existed. Keen ‘crate hunters’ determined to dig out that rare pressing, or (in the case of your author) using the affordable price of used vinyl to build up a huge collection of back catalogue music.
This left an unpredictable situation, however; a lack of an affordably priced, high-quality Hi-Fi turntable. In the late 1990s, there were pretty much three options: The Technics SL1210 (still in production thanks to DJ’s), a high-end audiophile deck such as a Linn LP-12, or a refurbished vintage deck
It was to be a UK distributor, which was to sew the seeds for the Pro-Ject Debut range. The request was sent out to create an introductory deck (hence ‘debut’) at an unprecedented low price. Pro-Ject’s answer was to take their successful Pro-Ject 1 turntable and ‘trim the fat to the bone’. The Debut appeared in 1999 with a pressed steel platter, and MDF plinth. The motor was a simplified version of the Pro-Ject 1 motor which was isolated by a single spring. The tonearm was a straightforward, aluminium tonearm. Nothing fancy, but wholly fit for purpose. An Ortofon OM5E cartridge was included – a proper, audiophile-quality cartridge with elliptical diamond stylus. It was, and still is, a simple recipe but one which has consistently attracted praise for over 25 years.
Upon its launch in 1999, the Debut was an instant hit. Retailing at just £109, it was within reach of any Hi-Fi enthusiast. It’s attainability no doubt inspired people to dust off some of their old records, and has been accredited with playing a part in the current vinyl revival. The Pro-Ject Debut received unprecedented praise from the Audio press. Tellingly, many Hi-Fi magazines had, by this point, abandoned an award category for ‘best turntable’ altogether. This didn’t stop the Pro-Ject Debut gaining numerous awards, however. In 1999, ‘What Hi-Fi’ awarded the Pro-Ject Debut ‘Product of The Year‘, an incredible accolade for any new product, let alone an analogue music player in a deeply digital world. Through the years, and various revisions, The Pro-ject Debut has continued to pick up a dizzying array of awards from the press:
ProJect currently has 12 turntable product ranges internationally which would certainly be the largest range in the world. ProJect Australia offers a range of 25 turntables from entry-level to Reference Level Signature models - something for everyone. ProJect Audio still has the new vinyl listener at heart with a strong product line that encourages an investment in the the atmospheric sound that is listening to vinyl. Their legendary Debut Carbon models are still a magnetic attraction to a special experience and exonify the value in a light and agile tonearm being the essence of the vinyl revival.
The current ProJect Audio product range covers a large arena of music listeners with a plethora of options to not only enjoy the beauty of listening to vinyl but also experiencing audio in a compact format previously unavailable that may suit today's living constraints without limiting the music. Heinz's passion for all to enjoy is truly brought to fruition in the current ProJect Audio range.
And now we discover the ProJect Audio turntable range.
The Primary E
With a smart tonearm design ProJect were able to combine pure sound quality with an easy setup on the Primary E turntable. Their plug & play design with pre-adjusted tracking force and anti-skating is uncomplicated but effective. With no compromise in sound. On contraire, the lightweight and low friction aluminium tonearm is optimized for the Ortofon OM series with elliptical stylus for excellent tracking and will bring out its maximum potential. It also includes an elegant dust cover. Another bonus is this product being hand-made in Europe.
The Primary E confidently nails the basics, from an even tonal balance to a delivery that’s clear and clean and spacious enough to keep things coherent. Decent body and substance cling reliably to every frequency, and that’s made all the more enjoyable by a spirited sense of drive and momentum.
The Essential III
The ProJect Essential III offers a variety of enhancements compared to its successful predecessor, such as a diamond-cut aluminium drive pulley, a resonance-optimised MDF main platter and an MDF chassis. The refined, high-precision platter bearing has significantly lower tolerances than Essential II. Essential III is the high performance entry turntable! The setup is very simple, the included Phono RCA cable, Connect-It E, performs way above its price range. Equipped with the high-quality Ortofon OM10, the Essential III delivers a lively, balanced and highly engrossing sound that will delight every vinyl lover. ProJect also make the Essential Phono model with an inbuilt phono preamplifier that accommodates connection to many audio devices.
The Debut Carbon Evo
The ProJect Debut Carbon Evo turntable has been a ground breaking go-to deck for those vinyl lovers at a very affordable price. With it's Carbon Fibre light and rigid tonearm and fine tolerance 2-bearing tonearm tracking the nuances of the record groove, it does a stellar job. The current model available with the Ortofon 2M Red cartridge, with its elliptical stylus providing extra detail and less record wear due to its greater contact in the record groove, is an excellent choice. You'll hear quieter backgrounds, a cleaner midrange, and more detail, treble, and bass.
The Debut Carbon Evo Acryl is an upgraded version of this turntable. The Acryl-It platter is made from acrylic with a satinised surface, delivering a more fluid sound that leaves no space for platter resonances. Unlike metal platters, where you will need to place a felt met between the record and the platter to damp metal resonance, you can put your record directly on the acrylic surface, with nothing in between. ProJect Acryl-It platter truly dampens resonance and leaves you with just the music - a very special space.
The ProJect Signature 12 is a non-compromise high end turntable that celebrates “20-years of Pro-Ject Audio Systems”. A highly sophisticated concept combines the mass-loaded principle with subchassis. Magnetic feet decouple the chassis from surface, “Sorbothanepillows” and a magnetic-floating platter guarantees an absolute quiet running turntable. A “flywheel” belt drive system ensures vibration-free running. The new single-pivot tonearm is a genuine Pro-Ject design. With its wide range of adjustment possibilities and the choice of adequate counterweights, nearly all cartridges can be mounted. As in the photo above we were priveleged to have Heinz, the founder of ProJect Audio visit us and explain the precision with which ProJect Audio turntables are made.
ProJect Audio High Performance Components
ProJect is not only famous for its turntable range but for its cleverly designed high performance audio components. We will cover the high performance components and Phono preamplifiers in a future article.
These are just a few select choices from what the Project Audio line-up consists of. Please click on the highlighted links or to experience the whole ProJect Audio product range CLICK HERE