Pro-ject RM-5 Turntable-Record Rennaisance in the iPod Age

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Pro-ject RM-5 turntable system

Sound Buys product review by Don Lindich

Though many may think turntables have gone the way of the dodo in this digital age of CDs and iPods, nothing could be further than the truth. Did you know that last year more turntables were sold than in 1984, when compact disc was only one year old and CD players were still very expensive? And that there are more makes and models of turntables available for sale new today than there were then? How can this be?

For one, audiophiles never abandoned the format. Almost all purist audiophiles prefer the warm, natural sound of a record on a good turntable over digital sources such as CDs or music downloads. Others are rediscovering their record collections, and new enthusiasts are discovering a treasure trove of great music on vinyl. This music spans decades of history and pop culture, and much of it which will never be available on CD. Many of these albums can be found at used bookstores and garage sales for less than a dollar apiece, making growing your music collection inexpensive and fun! And instead of a tiny plastic jewel case with an insert, with a record jacket you get a nicely-sized piece of art, often with lyrics and information about the artists on the record sleeve.

More and more new music is being issued on vinyl, as well as reissues of classic rock titles. At the Virgin Records stores in the U.K., vinyl outsells CD 80% to 20% for albums available on both formats. Surprisingly, young people are discovering vinyl and helping drive the resurgence. A study done by David Hayes at the University of Toronto found many young fans collecting vinyl records. You can read more about the study at www.musicangle.com.

Though most laypeople think the phonograph “needle”, correctly called the cartridge, is responsible for all of the sound quality, that is far from the truth. To get the most out of the cartridge the turntable must rotate the record smoothly and without vibration, and the arm must allow the cartridge to precisely track the grooves. It is far better to buy an expensive turntable with an inexpensive cartridge than vice-versa. If you have a fixed or limited budget, get a good turntable with an inexpensive cartridge and upgrade the cartridge later.

For a sample of a modern turntable I looked to Sumiko, U.S. distributor of Pro-Ject. Pro-Ject was founded in 1990 by Austrian audiophile Heinz Lichtenegger, who lamented the lack of high-quality, mid-priced turntables available at the time. Accidentally discovering a simple audiophile turntable in the corner of a factory in the Czech Republic, he knew he had found his manufacturer, and Pro-Ject was born. Pro-Ject is now the world’s largest producer of turntables and record-playing equipment, delivering a wide variety of great perfoming, reasonably priced gear..

The entry-level Pro-Ject is the Debut III, priced at $329 including an Ortofon cartridge- a good choice for those looking to experience quality record playback without breaking the bank. Top of the line is the RM-10, which sells for $2,500 without cartridge. I tested the RM-5 turntable, in the middle of the line at $649 without cartridge.

The RM-5 has a modern, minimalist design. The plinth (base) is teardrop-shaped, with the thick inert platter conforming to the round shape. The tonearm is made of carbon fiber for light weight and stiffness. Fit and finish is excellent. A record clamp and two interchangeable mats, one felt and one cork, are provided. All in all, an attractive, simple and sound design meant to maximize sound quality. Sumiko provided their $299 Blue Point No. 2 cartridge for the test, claiming excellent compatibility with the RM-5. My experience bore this out.

I used the RM-5/Blue Point No. 2 in systems (speakers and amplification) ranging in cost from $800 to $7,000, using recordings from a 1964 Disneyland choir recording and the 1971 MGM Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack, to records from Bryan Adams, Journey, and The Fifth Dimension. The RM-5 quickly demonstrated how very good recordings and record pressings over 40 years old can be. No matter the record, the RM-5 made sound that was magical- clean, warm, and natural, with powerful, defined bass and crystalline highs that were not too bright. The music emanated from a silent background, the system providing all the clarity, quietness and impact one associates with CD, but with a far more natural, engaging, and delicate sound- even from 40 year-old records. A British magazine said of the RM-5, “already becoming a legend”. I can see why. That the RM-5/Blue Point No. 2 system is available for under $1,000 total is quite an achievement and a testament to Pro-Ject’s high value equation.

My only criticism has to do with the tonearm. The counterweight is a little hard to adjust and it does not have a stop, allowing it to rotate counterclockwise far past the armrest. I find that a bit disconcerting, though it does not affect playback.

For some, $1,000 for a record player may seem like a bit much- but not if you take a long-term view. It will provide noticeably better sound quality than a CD player and a good turntable will last decades, even a lifetime. In that time it will bring great musical enjoyment while allowing you to expand your music collection at very low cost, having fun while you do it, sampling music you may never have tried before. Most people don’t think twice dropping $1,000 for a laptop computer that will be obsolete and replaced in two or three years. The RM-5 will bring you enjoyment for decades.

If the price of admission still seems steep, you can start with the RM-5 and an inexpensive cartridge to get your foot in the door and upgrade the cartridge later, or start with Pro-Ject’s excellent $329 Debut III to sample the vinyl experience. If you get bit by the bug you can look forward to a cartridge or turntable upgrade as your record collection grows.

Playing records requires a bit more investment in time and effort to keep your records clean, but the payoff is worth it. Besides the beautiful music, there is the fun of searching for records at garage sales, Half Price Books and Music (a great place for used vinyl) and specialty shops. It adds up to a rewarding, engaging experience.

For more information on Pro-Ject turntables, visit www.sumikoaudio.net.

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