Inexpensive Audiophile Turntables: The Rega P1 and Pro-ject Debut III

Inexpensive Audiophile Turntables: The Rega P1 and Pro-ject Debut III

Sound Buys product review By Don Lindich

 

sandv1.jpg

Not long ago few would have predicted the cover of the July/August 2007 edition of   Sound & Vision magazine would proclaim, “Vinyl Lives! Welcome to the Turntable Revival.” Audio buffs are gratified that people are rediscovering their record collections and today more turntables are being sold than back in the 1980s when the Compact Disc was new. Despite the occasional pops and clicks, analog sound from vinyl records often has a natural sound that digital lacks and combined with the vast amount of music on vinyl that can often be had very cheaply on the used market, a new turntable is a compelling addition to anyone’s sound system.

Though it seems simple enough to rotate a record and hold a cartridge so it can trace the grooves, the fact is that precision is required to extract the microscopic information from the grooves of a record. A quality turntable rotates the record at a smooth, steady speed, introduces little vibration of its own and isolates itself from the room around it. The tonearm holds the cartridge perfectly rigid and tracks the grooves with a minimum of friction and error. Only when the turntable, tonearm and cartridge are working in harmony as a team can the magic of analog be experienced. Good turntable design is equal parts art and science and sadly, good results can’t be had with the plastic cheapies you find in big-box stores for under $200. Fortunately, for only a bit more you can get a fine turntable that will immerse and captivate you with beautiful, natural-sounding music.

p1web.jpg

Rega P1 Turntable- $350 with Ortofon OM-5E cartridge preinstalled.

For this comparison test I chose two well-regarded entry level turntables that are available for $350 or less. The P1 is the newest turntable from storied British turntable manufacturer Rega. Since its inception over 25 years ago Rega has been known to be the turntable of choice for serious audiophiles on a budget. The P1, at $350, is the least expensive deck ever offered by the company and brings the Rega experience to a whole new range of buyers. It features a quality tonearm with an Ortofon OM-5e cartridge pre-installed and an MDF (particle) platter with a felt mat.

debut3web.jpg

Pro-Ject Debut III Turntable- $299 with Ortofon OM-5E cartridge preinstalled ($329 in red, as shown.)

For several years the Pro-ject Debut series has been the industry standard for high quality, entry-level turntables. The latest iteration, the Debut III, is made in the Czech Republic and marketed in the USA by Sumiko of Berkeley, California. It also comes with an Ortofon OM-5e cartridge preinstalled on its tonearm and features a metal platter with a felt mat. The Debut III is available in black for $299 or in one of eight designer colors for $329. For this test Sumiko supplied a Ferrari red sample, red being the most popular of the designer colors.

 

debutom5e.jpg

p10m5e.jpg

The Pro-ject Debut III and the Rega P1 use the same cartridge, making comparisons between the turntables easy.

Given its pedigree I expected the more expensive Rega P1 to come out the winner, but surprisingly, this was not the case. The Pro-ject Debut III exhibited far better fit and finish, the glossy red base and substantial tonearm giving an impression of quality the Rega P-1 simply could not match. In use the Debut III continued to impress with its fine sound quality. Both turntables sounded similar and the Rega seemed to be a bit quieter in terms of surface noise, but the Debut III did a better job of creating an engaging musical performance that swept one away with the music. Given its lower price even when choosing a designer finish, the Debut III rates an easy recommendation and is the clear winner in my book. Perhaps it is Pro-ject’s experience in making entry-level turntables that carried the day.

I dare say that anyone uninitiated to quality analog reproduction is likely to be blown away by the sound quality of either of these turntables, and I have no problem recommending either of them. If you are considering a turntable, please note if your receiver does not have a phono input, you must use a phono preamplifier to amplify the cartridge’s signal. Phono preamps are available for $50 or less, but it is better to invest more to get a good one.  The Pro-ject Phono Box II and Parasound zPhono are good budget choices which make fine matches to either turntable.

You can see the Pro-ject turntable line at www.sumikoaudio.net and Rega turntables at www.rega.co.uk. They are available from audio specialists and online from www.needledoctor.com.


Comments are closed.