The combination of Project Audio’s Essential III Phono and a set of Audioengine speakers means your first venture into the world of analogue audio is as affordable as possible. The inclusion of inbuilt phono turntables and powered speakers is perhaps one that came with the resurgence of vinyl’s popularity. Not everyone these days is looking for big, bulky systems of the 70s Hifi aesthetic, nor can we all afford them either. A lot of people now accustomed to the minimalism of small Wifi speakers and docking stations are looking for analogue options without all the extra bits and bobs. Enter actives and turntables with phono stages. Four components for the price of two, and a much easier, cleaner way to enjoy the beauty of vinyl records.
Tangled Up in Bluetooth's little brother, our 'Pennies on the Dollar' pack, is offering the Essential III with Audio Engine's A2+. However, if you’re wanting a little more grunt for a bigger space, a little more detail, better image capability and the convenience of Bluetooth, the HD3’s are your weapons of choice. In addition to the improved sound quality and additional features, the HD3’s also come in a beautiful walnut timber finish. It’s another feather in the cap of a truly stunning set of speakers. Either way you go, they’re perfectly married to Project Audio’s all-new Essential III turntable, available in three separate colours. It’s a killer combo, no doubt, and a truly respectable first step into the world of analogue audio.
Project Audio’s Essential III is the latest phono release from the Czech turntable manufacture, replacing the Debut Carbon as Project’s first audiophile-grade offering in the line up. What makes the new Essential range so good is that Project have moved away from particleboard in their plinth and platter constructions and instead gone with a more premium grade material, MDF. This further dampens vibration and improves the sonic quality of your deck. They’ve also upgraded the cartridge and cables, going with Ortofon’s OM10 over the OM5, replaced bearings, improved motor electronics as well as the turntable’s ground links. Project really have reworked this table from the ground up. But not only that, it now comes in three high gloss finishes, red, white and black, ensuring the Essential III looks as good as it sounds.
But perhaps what gives the Essential III the nod over competing tables of its grade are the little additions you can apply over time. Both platter and cartridge upgrades can be made on this turntable, significantly improving the sonic quality of the Essential III well into its lifespan. Switch to either Ortofon’s 2M Red or 2M Blue and welcome the richer bass, the snappier highs, the improved detail in your imaging. Cartridge quality has an enormous affect on overall sound quality, pulling more information from your records and delivering you greater audio dynamics. And if you’re looking to upgrade cartridges in the future, an equally valuable addition to your turntable is an acrylic platter. Upgrade to a Project Acrylic-it E and the soundstage instantly becomes bigger and more open, further improving both detail and presentation. These are the differences its competitors simply don’t match, making the Project Essential III with Phono a major cut above the rest.
Audioengine’s HD3’s really do pack a punch for such small active speakers. Originally designed as desktop monitors, the HD3’s are pretty subtle bookshelf speakers. However, they’re anything but that when it comes to their punch. The HD3’s really do offer room-filling sound, perfect for any bedroom or modest living space. Their beautifully finished, hand-built timber cabinets come in three different colours: Satin Black, Walnut, and Cherry. Included are three inputs (stereo RCA, 3.5mm stereo mini-jack, USB), an RCA variable output for the optional inclusion of a subwoofer, and of course a Bluetooth receiver. A point of difference to competitors within the active speaker world is that the HD3’s are powered by a dual analogue, class A/B monolithic amplifier. Most, if not all, active speakers on the market are powered by digital amplifiers. There’s a subtle yet distinct difference in the audio signature between these two makes of amplifier, with class A/B coming out on top. So not only do they pack a punch for such a small speaker, they’re incredibly detailed for such a modest price point too. And they image! They image really really well.
Often at the lower end of the price spectrum (knowing full well that 600 bones is a tidy sum for any vinyl junkie on a budget), manufactures skip the little things that really add up, things like packaging, finish, materials, etc. Presentation really! Not Audio Engine. The HD3’s and their additional components come wrapped in these beautiful little felt covers. The speaker grills are magnetic, a touch often missed by a lot of competing brands (if they’re included at all). And when you pick up each speaker you’ll immediately notice their weight. Now, it’s not exactly law, but there’s a common understanding in the audio game that the greater the component's weight, the greater the quality. And the Audioengine HD3’s are quite weighty for their size. They’re a firm, well finished speaker that sounds absolutely beautiful. Well worth the money they’re asking.