Pro-Ject Juke Box E All in One System Review
Is this the ultimate niche of a niche?
What is the Pro-Ject Juke Box E?The Pro-Ject Juke Box E is an all-in-one system available with or without speakers. Sure, it might not look like an all-in-one system; it does in fact look as far removed from that as you might be able to imagine. Nonetheless, there is a method in this apparent madness. The Juke-Box E combines two formats that are in common use with an amplifier and proceeds to let you add another via a line input. The difference is that the two supplied inputs are Bluetooth… and vinyl.
In theory, this is perfectly sensible. Both of these formats are doing good numbers in 2018 and it does play to the company’s strengths in a way that making a normal box all-in-one simply wouldn’t (although Pro-ject has been doing some increasingly interesting things with their ‘Box’ units). In a way, the Juke Box E looks to be disarmingly literal take on the idea that you don’t need any other physical media other than the oldest one of the lot. Of course, in reality, that’s quite an absolutist take on what an all-in-one is. Is this a genuinely suitable affordable starter system or a record player with ideas firmly above its station?
SpecificationThe Pro-Ject is at its heart a turntable, specifically, an unsuspended belt driven manual, operation design. Pro-Ject now has an available ‘parts bin’ of turntable components that is so vast, it is hard to plot them into any form of family tree but I’ll try. The vinyl replay part of the Juke Box E is effectively the same as the Primary record player. This, by point of reference sits below the outstanding Essential III that we looked at last year.
This means that the playing surface is a thick MDF platter with felt mat and a belt that runs around the outside playing edge. The arm is an 8.6 inch aluminium design that - at least visually - harks back to the arm fitted on the original Debut, the best part of twenty years ago (although there are a number of detail differences between the two designs). As standard, the Pro-Ject comes fitted with an Ortofon OM5e cartridge. This is quite an impressive fitment at the price because it costs £50 in its own right and gives various Pro-Ject turntables an advantage over similarly priced rivals. You can also update it to OM10 spec as found on the Essential III via stylus change too.
To make life as easy as possible, the cartridge is pre fitted and (very well) aligned. Unusually, the counterweight for the arm is already fitted and comes pre set too. This is the first time I have seen this on a Pro-Ject design and it should mean that even an absolute beginner should be able to get the Juke Box playing records. One slight oddity is that the pre-set weight on the arm is 2 grams (and it was set very accurately at this figure). This is within the operating envelope of the OM5E but Ortofon recommends 1.75g. Changing it is not difficult though.
From here, the Juke Box E adds features to turn it from turntable into all-in-one. On the back panel, you’ll find a set of left and right speaker outputs. These are connected to an amp rated at 50 watts into four ohms (so rather less into eight although this figure isn’t something I was able to find). This is mated to an internal phono stage so that the output from the turntable can be used directly into the amp.
The other supplied input is a Bluetooth receiver. This is notionally a very handy connection as it handles streaming, UPnP and indeed, pretty much anything your Bluetooth source can do. There is however a catch. In a world where we’re starting to see the rollout of AptX HD on some devices, the Pro-Ject comes equipped with 2.1 which is rather less technically accomplished. This means that the Juke Box E can’t receive a lossless signal via Bluetooth- although something like Spotify would be unaffected.
There are some other connections though. Pro-Ject has fitted a conventional line input on an RCA connection which would allow you to attach a more capable digital source if you wanted to (and, we think we have just the ticket). This is partnered with two other outputs that show some genuinely joined up thinking from Pro-Ject. The first takes the feed from the phono stage of the Juke Box E and you could connect it to an amplifier so it can work as a self-contained turntable like the Audio Technica AT LP5. You can additionally, output the Juke Box before the phono stage too which means it becomes a completely conventional turntable, albeit one with an amp in the back of it.
The Juke Box E is available in a ‘just add speakers’ configuration for £369 but you can keep it all in house and partner them with the £199 Speaker Box 5 which was also supplied for testing. This is effectively speaker design 101 with a 25mm soft dome tweeter partnering a 130mm fibreglass cone in a rear ported box. While this might be the acoustic equivalent of ham, egg and chips, this is not to say that it can’t be made pretty appetising and the Speaker Box 5 has been extremely well reviewed in its own right so it is worth considering beyond simple convenience.
Judged against the standard aesthetic of an all-in-one system, the Pro-Ject is so far removed as to be from a completely different world. If you’re looking for compact form factors, slick metalwork and gorgeous full colour displays, the Pro-Ject is not going to deliver for you - sorry. It is though, a very pleasant thing to look at and use. The finish of the more affordable members of the Pro-Ject stable has improved considerably in the last few years and the Juke Box E is well made, well finished and feels substantial. The arm is slim and somewhat lightweight but it works well and feels smooth and reasonably well damped in use. The speaker terminals are also very small but work well with terminated connections.
There are some oddities though. The control system that Pro-Ject uses is simple and pretty intuitive to work with. It comprises a push and twist potentiometer (that operates in the digital domain interestingly enough) and it’s logical to a fault. What is less logical is that the display to show you what you are doing is on the horizontal edge of the plinth. This means that from a seated position, it is completely invisible which seems a little pointless. This being said, the amount of information that the display can show is limited and it responds well to the remote so you can generally have the Juke Box E doing what you need it to do simply enough. There are also some limitations that are part of the Pro-Ject being a turntable. The power supply is outboard and is a fairly hefty thing to accommodate. The Bluetooth aerial also can’t be pointed upward without fouling the lid although it works fine simply pointing straight out the back.
From here, the Juke Box E adds features to turn it from turntable into all-in-one
How was the Juke Box E tested?The Pro-Ject was placed on a Quadrapsire QAVX rack and used with and without a Quadraspire Soundbase isolation platform. Power came via an IsoTek Evo3 Sigmas mains conditioner. The Bluetooth input was tested with Motorola G4 Android phone and an iPad Air while the line input was tested with a Yamaha WX-AD10. The Jukebox was also tested into a Naim Uniti Star, with and without a Cyrus Phono signature phono stage. As well as the Speaker Box 5, some testing was undertaken with the Spendor A1 as a fixed point of reference in the room. Material used included vinyl, lossless and high res FLAC, Spotify and Tidal.
Sound QualityAfter completing the hassle free setup, the Pro-Ject demonstrates that there are some considerable advantages to building the amp and the phono stage into a single unit. Unless you wind the volume up to near maximum, there is little in the way of noise or hum audible through the speakers and there is enough gain to ensure that vinyl always has the headroom it needs to work. And at times, the Juke Box E does a great deal more than ‘work.’ Listening to Ray LaMontagne’s Ouroboros, the Pro-ject has a genuinely impressive sense of drive and flow to it that really lets this wonderful album come into its own. Instruments are weighty and natural and it delivers a performance that shows the virtues of the format off at a very accessible price.
It also doesn’t show off too many of the intrinsic issues of the format either. The levels of surface noise are perfectly acceptable for an affordable turntable and it is also impressively pitch stable with little sense of instability even with standard torture tests like sustained strings are handled well. There is a sense that Pro-Ject has set the Juke Box E up to obviate some issues that affordable turntables suffer from. The most noticeable aspect of this is that the bass response of the Juke Box E seems to have been ramped up slightly. It’s not an enormous lift - the turntable section has more than respectable low end for an affordable design- but it means that the most neutral balance comes from the turntable section rather than something connected to the inputs. As you can adjust bass and treble on the fly, this is not the end of the world.
Adjusting the bass and treble will not really solve the most fundamental issue that the Juke Box E has though. The Bluetooth input is really not up to the task of being the other main connection. It sounds OK in isolation but compared to more sophisticated options available for similar money, it can sound flat and lacking in dynamics. The natural bass emphasis tends to emphasise this further and my natural listening preference has been to dial the bass setting back to -4 when not listening to vinyl. I would struggle to use the Bluetooth input as my only digital source however.
On the face of it, this doesn’t sound good for the Juke Box E but there is a silver lining. The analogue input also benefits from having the tone settings trimmed slightly to get it to deliver its best but once you do so, it benefits from the same punchy and engaging presentation as the analogue section. Under test, it has formed a supremely happy partnership with the Yamaha WX-AD10 MusicCast adapter. This little box imbues the Juke Box E with stable UPnP streaming, access to a large swathe of streaming services, internet radio, AirPlay and an up to date Bluetooth implementation. Connecting the two devices together results in a very well specified system indeed. If you view the onboard Bluetooth as a stopgap, the Pro-Ject starts to make a great deal more sense.
Also firmly in the good sense category is considering the Speaker Box 5 to go with it. It might be the only speaker that Pro-ject makes but it is a charming device to listen to and live with. It combines refinement with enough general enthusiasm to make music something that works on an emotional level too. Listening to the truly lovely People Give In by the Manic Street Preachers and the Speaker Box 5 is a fine performer that sounds a great deal bigger than you might expect. Switching over to the Spendor A1 improves the balance and fine detail- not terribly surprising given it is five times the price but it does at least suggest that the Juke Box E has a bit of stretch to it.
This also applies to turning off all the other electronics and using it as a dedicated turntable. The hardware in the plinth doesn’t seem to be much of an issue and via the line level output, it puts in a strong performance. Used into a phono stage things can be improved further. It might seem counterintuitive but the Pro-Ject is an all-in-one with rather more stretch in it than pretty much any rival at the price. It can be the first thing you buy, cede it’s other roles and become a source before being the last thing you chop out when you buy a new turntable.
It might seem counterintuitive but the Pro-Ject is an all-in-one with rather more stretch in it than pretty much any rival at the price
- Capable vinyl replay
- Surprisingly upgradeable
- Very easy to use
- Bluetooth is poor
- Will require additional equipment to stream
- Large external PSU
Pro-Ject Juke Box E All in One System ReviewThe Pro-Ject Juke Box E is not a normal product. It is hard to compare to any other all-in-one and being built around a format that isn’t perhaps the starting point for use convenience, it has to be seen as a little niche. It also really needs a newer version of Bluetooth to deliver on the promise of out of the box convenience.
If you have the budget to pick up a more flexible source at the same time - and at the time of writing (June 2018), the Yamaha WXAD-10 it is hovering around the £120 point - the Juke Box starts to come into its own. The fundamentally sound performance coupled with the unexpectedly flexible upgrade possibilities means that this might be an odd all-in-one system but it is one that certainly earns our recommendation.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £369.00
Ease of Use9
Value for Money9
Our Review Ethos
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