Pro-Ject Debut Pro: 30 years of expertise in a turntable

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This week we reviewed the new Pro-Ject Debut Pro turntable. Sold for €750, this turntable marks the Austrian brand’s 30th anniversary and is based on the design of the Pro-Ject Carbon Evo turntable, with a few optimizations. As usual, Pro-Ject delivers a belt-drive turntable developed to offer optimal vibration absorption. Equipped with a Pick-It Pro cartridge designed in collaboration with the famous Ortofon brand, will the Pro-Ject Debut Pro turntable be able to reproduce all the character of Pro-Ject’s characteristic sound?

The Pro-Ject Debut Pro turntable is based on the classic design of the Debut range launched 30 years ago.

Pro-Ject was created in 1991 in Austria. Founded by Heinz Lichtenegger, the brand designs its turntables in Austria and makes a point of keeping the manufacturing in Europe by basing its factories in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The vinyl specialist’s catalog includes power amplifiers, DAC amplifiers, WiFi/Bluetooth amplifiers, headphone amplifiers, hi-fi preamplifiers, phono preamplifiers, CD players, network media players, Bluetooth receivers, turntable accessories, and of course a wide range of hi-fi turntables and Bluetooth turntables. Pro-Ject’s turntable offer includes the Pro-Ject Elemental series, Pro-Ject Primary E series and its integrated preamplifier version, the Pro-Ject Primary E Phono series, as well as the Pro-Ject Essential III, Pro-Ject Vertical and Pro-Ject T1 series. There is also the iconic Pro-Ject Debut range, launched in 1991. This range, whose latest turntable is the Pro-Ject Debut Pro that we are testing today, has been a great success since its arrival in the brand’s catalog. Its ease of use, simple design and warm sound quickly made it a reference in the vinyl world. The Pro-Ject catalog also features the Pro-Ject RPM-1 and Pro-Ject RPM-3 ranges, the Pro-Ject Juke Box E and Pro-Ject Juke Box S2 amplified turntables, the high-end Pro-Ject X1 and Pro-Ject X2 turntables as well as the very high-end Pro-Ject Xtension models.

Pro-Ject Debut Pro: packaging & accessories

The Pro-Ject Debut pro comes in a plain cardboard box and is securely held in place with blocks of packing foam. The dust cover is wedged in between two cardboard blocks and placed above the turntable to protect it during shipping. The Pick-It Pro cartridge is already mounted on the tonearm, but it is still necessary to make some very simple adjustments before you can start playing your records. As usual, Pro-Ject includes the customary accessories.

In addition to the Pro-Ject Debut Pro turntable, the box contains:

  • An aluminum platter
  • A platter mat
  • A flat belt for 33-1/3 RPM and 45 RPM records
  • A round belt for 78 RPM records
  • Counterweight
  • A 7” single adapter
  • A power cable
  • An RCA cable with ground lead and fork connector
  • An anti-skating weight
  • A tonearm adjustment tool
  • An Allen key
  • A user guide
The Pro-Ject Debut Pro turntable’s accessories include a flat belt for 33 RPM and 45 RPM records and a round belt for 78 RPM records.

Pro-Ject Debut Pro: presentation

The Pro-Ject Debut Pro is a belt-drive turntable whose hand-painted chassis is composed of 8 layers of MDF. Simple and elegant with a matte finish, it rests on three height-adjustable aluminum and rubber feet for optimal stability on all surfaces. By choosing to use three feet instead of four, Pro-Ject reduces the contact points with the surface on which the turntable is placed, and therefore limits vibrations. As a reminder, the goal of a turntable is to reduce vibrations in order to retransmit the phono signal as faithfully as possible. Because the phono cartridge acts like a highly sensitive microphone, every vibration and resonance is amplified and interferes with the signal, resulting in a loss of detail and a distortion effect. Because the most common sources of vibrations are the motor and the surface on which the turntable is placed, manufacturers use several methods to eliminate vibration. While many brands prefer to use a heavy platter and chassis to dampen vibrations, others, such as Rega, prefer to use a lighter chassis.

The most important elements in eliminating internal vibrations and reducing the level of noise are the chassis, which is designed to absorb vibrations, the motor suspension and the tonearm. For the tonearm, carbon is often preferred for its lightness and rigidity. Lastly, the feet reduce vibrations from the surface on which the turntable is placed. By using three rubber feet instead of four like the Rega Planar 3, for example, the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Evo and Pro-Ject Debut Pro reduce the transmission of vibrations by reducing the contact points.

The Pro-Ject Debut Pro’s three aluminum and rubber feet effectively dampen vibrations.

The Pro-Ject Debut Pro turntable is equipped with a synchronous motor mounted on a suspension to limit the transmission of vibrations. The rotation speed (33/45 RPM) is changed via a switch and a special 78 RPM belt is included. The switch seems to be robust and well-made, just like the turntable.

The Pro-Ject Debut Pro’s speed switch is very convenient and looks well-made.

Entirely redesigned, the tonearm and platter combine several materials to produce an optimized structure that guarantees the best possible vibration absorption for a minimum noise level. We will go over the composition of the tonearm and the platter of the Pro-Ject Debut Pro turntable in more detail later on in our review.

The Pro-Ject Debut Pro turntable comes with a dust cover, a platter mat and a pre-mounted Pro-Ject Pick It Pro cartridge.

Pro-Ject Debut Pro: key specifications

Design

  • Manual turntable
  • Belt-drive
  • MDF chassis (8 layers)
  • Aluminum platter with TPE ring
  • Adjustable belt

Motor

  • Electronically regulated AC synchronous motor
  • Rotation speed: 33 RPM, 45 RPM, 78 RPM
  • Speed control: mechanical (switch on the front)

Tonearm

  • Straight tonearm
  • Integrated headshell
  • Length: 8.6”
  • Overhang: 18.5mm
  • Effective mass: 10g

Connectors

  • 1 x RCA stereo
  • 1 x grounding terminal

Included accessories

  • 1 x 15V DC/0.8A mains adapter
  • 1 x acrylic dust cover
  • 1 x 7” single adapter
  • 1 x 78 RPM belt

Pro-Ject Debut Pro: aluminum anti-resonance platter

The platter of the Pro-Ject Debut Pro is one of the components of the Pro-Ject Carbon Evo that has been optimized for the occasion. The steel platter has been replaced by a cast aluminum model with an even more effective anti-resonance design. Pro-Ject has incorporated a TPE (thermoplastic elastomer) ring inside the platter with additional internal reinforcements to dampen resonance and minimize wow and flutter. The platter and its axis have also been specially designed to accommodate the Pro-Ject Record Puck PRO for even better damping.

Inside the Pro-Ject Debut Pro’s cast aluminum platter is an anti-resonance ring in thermoplastic elastomer.

Pro-Ject Debut Pro: aluminum and carbon tonearm

Another improvement made to tried-and-tested technology: the structure of the tonearm. While carbon tonearms are often favored for their lightness and rigidity, Pro-Ject has chosen to equip the Pro-Ject Debut Pro with a carbon-aluminum sandwich tonearm. The carbon layer gives the tonearm a high degree of rigidity, while the internal aluminum tube takes care of the arm’s damping.

The base of the tonearm has also been improved to allow you to adjust both the azimuth and the vertical tracking angle (VTA). This means that the height of the tonearm can be continuously adjusted by loosening two screws, allowing the use of different platter mats or other cartridges. Finally, the bearing system that enables the tonearm to move is made of precision machined and nickel-coated parts for smooth and accurate groove tracking.

The Pro-Ject Debut Pro turntable’s tonearm has a carbon-aluminum sandwich structure to combine rigidity and lightness.

Pro-Ject Debut Pro: pre-mounted Pick-It Pro cartridge

The Pro-Ject Debut Pro turntable comes with a Pick-It Pro moving magnet cartridge designed in collaboration with Ortofon. Based on the design of the 2M series from the illustrious Austrian manufacturer, the Pick-It Pro is similar to an improved Ortofon 2M Red cartridge. The stylus can be replaced by the Ortofon Stylus 2M Red, Ortofon Stylus 2M Blue or Ortofon Stylus 2M Silver. With its elliptical stylus, the Pro-Ject Pick-It Pro cartridge is compatible with all phono preamplifiers and hi-fi preamplifiers with an integrated RIAA preamp for quick and easy setup. The cartridge is pre-mounted on the tonearm and adjusted, so you only have to check that the angle hasn’t changed during transport and install the counterweight.

The Pro-Ject Pick-It Pro was designed in collaboration with Austrian brand Ortofon and is based on the design of the iconic 2M cartridges.

Pro-Ject Debut Pro: listening conditions

For our review, we connected the Pro-Ject Debut Pro turntable to the Thorens MM-008 preamplifier and the Cayin CS-55A KT 88 tube amplifier. We used the included Pro-Ject RCA cable to connect the turntable to the preamp and a NorStone Jura RCA cable to connect the latter to the amplifier. Finally, the amplifier powered Focal Chorus 726 floorstanding speakers via Viard Audio Premium HD cables. To install the counterweight, we used the Elipson digital gauge to set the tracking force to exactly 2 grams in a matter of seconds.

Connected to the Thorens MM-008 preamp and the Cayin CS-55A KT 88 tube amplifier, the Pro-Ject Debut turntable provided a rich sound and realistic spatialization.

Pro-Ject Debut Pro: listening impressions

Before starting our listening session, what struck us the most was how quiet the turntable was. Once the amplifier and preamp were switched on, the platter rotating and the stylus ready to be placed in the groove, there was no noticeable hiss or hum. A very good sign that demonstrates Pro-Ject’s commitment to guaranteeing a listening experience free of unwanted noise. We began our listening session with the album Marked for Death by Emma Ruth Rundle. The singer’s voice was reproduced naturally and the turntable honored her vocal prowess. The musical reproduction was dynamic and natural, at both low and high volume. The instruments came to support and enhance the vocals while filling the soundstage. The sound was coherent and warm, a real pleasure to listen to. This restitution is typical of the Pro-Ject sound signature associated with an Ortofon cartridge and enhanced by the vacuum tube amplifier. The Pick-It Pro cartridge offered the same solid bass as the 2M Red, but with more subtlety. The highs were similar to those delivered by the Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge, with a nice level of detail that always managed to avoid becoming sibilant. This was particularly noticeable with the second track of the album, “Protection”, where the intro with the tom drums and the bass accompanies the singer’s soaring vocals. Every frequency range was correctly positioned and the song was highly musical.

With Emma Ruth Rundle’s album Marked for Death, the Pro-Ject Debut Pro surprised us with its natural tones and musicality.

Having impressed us with its rich tones and musicality, we were eager to put the Pro-Ject Debut Pro to the test with a track that we knew very well and where the tone of the guitar was absolutely essential. We continued our test with the track Adrift in the Ocean by the band Yob. With its intro featuring several layers of guitars using the technique known as hybrid picking, the quality of the audio recording and the final solo, this track requires a certain rigor and precision in order to not become confused or muddled. As with the previous album, the Pro-Ject Debut Pro turntable displayed great handling and managed to reproduce the guitar tones with confidence. It also managed to organize the sound layers in a way that kept the reproduction under control from beginning to end. No details of the introduction were lost, the guitar, bass and drums had space to breathe while remaining coherent, and the best was still to come. During the finale, the Pro-Ject Debut Pro surprised us again by its ability to be both ordered and generous. The guitar was clear without suffering from excessive highs, while the bass and drums remained rich and rhythmic.

The Pro-Ject Debut Pro never faltered during our listening sessions, even with recordings that are difficult to reproduce.

We finished our listening test with the original soundtrack from Vertigo, composed by Bernard Hermann. In doing so, we discovered an interesting aspect of the turntable’s sonic character, in particular when associated with the Cayin CS-55A KT88, which some will love and others will not care for. While the musicality and the rich tones provide a pleasant sound, the Pro-Ject Debut Pro does not seek to be neutral and the coloration was particularly noticeable with this record. The orchestration benefited from a warmth and substance that we had rarely heard before with this recording. This is not necessarily a drawback, but it can be surprising for those who are looking for a more neutral sound reproduction. We made the same observation with Miles Davis’ album On the Corner, which the Pro-Ject Debut Pro and Cayin CS-55A KT88 duo reproduced with substance and richness, without omitting any details. 

The coloration was particularly noticeable with older recordings with a lot of brass instruments.

Pro-Ject Debut Pro: compared to…

Rega Planar 3: The Rega Planar 3 is the Pro-Ject Debut Pro’s main rival and is sold for €819, without a cartridge. Aesthetically very similar, the Rega Planar 3 is a little more restrictive in terms of cartridge pairings because it does not benefit from tonearm height adjustment. Although the design quality of these two models is comparable, it is their sound signature that allows one to differentiate them. Indeed, the Rega P3 is more faithful and neutral where the Pro-Ject Debut Pro does not hesitate to color the sound. It is therefore a matter of taste.

Thorens TD 402 DD: The Thorens TD 402 DD turntable uses a direct-drive mechanism and comes with an Audio-Technica AT VM95E cartridge. It has a vintage look inherited from the brand’s classic models. Although the Thorens turntable has the advantage of including a phono preamp that can be switched off, the Pro-Ject Debut Pro stands out in terms of sound reproduction. With a richer and more energetic restitution, the Debut Pro offers musicality and a control of the lows that is missing in the Thorens turntable 

Pro-Ject Debut Pro: who is it for?

The Pro-Ject Debut Pro is primarily aimed at music lovers looking for a turntable for less than €1000 that is easy to set up and offers a rich and warm sound. Easy to integrate into any interior with its sleek design and beautiful matte finish, the Pro-Ject Debut Pro turntable is designed to offer the signature sound that has made Pro-Ject so successful for the past 30 years, without unwanted noise or resonance.

Pro-Ject Debut Pro: conclusion

By improving some design and technical elements of the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Evo, the brand offers a turntable with an elegant design and an appealing sound signature. The association of the new anti-resonance platter with the hybrid aluminium and carbon tonearm structure guarantees an almost non-existent noise level which allows you to enjoy a plethora of details and beautifully rich tones. The Pro-Ject Debut Pro is a musical turntable that can be easily optimized by changing the cartridge for a more high-end model or by adding the Pro-Ject Record Puck PRO. A successful production for Pro-Ject, which celebrates its 30th anniversary in style!

We liked:

  • The simple and elegant design
  • The musical sound reproduction
  • The rich tones

We would have liked:

  • Nothing more at this price

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Amateur de disques vinyle et passionné d'obscurs sous-genres musicaux, mes préférences cinématographiques s'orientent vers les films d'horreur, des classiques Universal aux slashers et films fantastiques des années 80, ainsi que vers la période américaine d'Alfred Hitchcock. Côté matériel je privilégie une installation hi-fi épurée et sobre pour l'écoute de supports physiques et l'utilisation d'un ensemble DAC / écouteurs intra-auriculaires pour les plateformes de musique dématérialisée telles que Qobuz et Bandcamp.

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