Introduction - what is the Debut Carbon Evo?
The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Evo is an unsuspended, belt driven turntable and latest scion of the Debut line. This, should you happen to have spent the 21st century in a cave, is one of the pillars on which the vinyl revival is based. We can state with the sort of hindsight fueled assurance that we all fall into if we’re not careful, that it was inevitable that a device like the original Pro-Ject Debut would have been released by somebody. I will go on record as saying I’m not as sure. The success of the original Debut looks inevitable from 2020 but it really wasn’t at the time.
Since those early days, the role of the Debut in Pro-Ject’s range has changed. It is no longer the first rung, the plucky upstart you choose as your first turntable; there are now three complete ranges below the Carbon Evo you see here. Instead, this is the turntable you might upgrade to after your first, that offers a bit of stretch to the design and that can respond to you making some specification changes rather than simply chopping it in and moving further up the pecking order.
That’s the idea anyway. Being a key part of the origins of the vinyl boom is great but it does mean that all the other companies helping to fuel it want a piece of the action too. Has the Pro-Ject’s journey from disruptive force to member of the establishment come at the expense of the magic that fuelled it in the first place? Time to cue it up and find out.
Specification and Design
The nature of turntable specifications is that in reading a check sheet of the original 1998 Debut and the 2020 Debut Carbon Evo side by side, you might reasonably ask what the price hike is for (although, I’ll come to that price in a bit). This new Debut doesn’t do (much) more than the original but the manner in which it it does it has changed considerably.
Key to this is the arm, which is the reason why the Carbon Evo has ‘carbon’ in the name. Pro-Ject has been making use of carbon fibre in arms for well over a decade now and what began as a fairly expensive option for the premium models has expanded to the point where you can find it on a turntable that costs less than £500. The arm is similar in basic construction to the one attached to the Classic Evo we looked at recently in that it takes a thin wall metal tube and uses a carbon fibre weave to add considerable stiffness without significant increases in mass. The head shell is integrated with the rest of the tube and this helps to ensure that the assembly is stiff at all points and has consistent resonant behaviour. This is not the first time that a Debut has been sold with a carbon arm but this is the latest iteration of the breed with further tweaks to the basic design in the pursuit of higher performance.
As well as notional performance advantages, the key attribute that this arm offers over simpler models we’ve looked at from Pro-Ject is that both tracking force and antiskate can be adjusted within a usefully wide range. This is something that Pro-Ject restricts or eliminates on their simpler arms because it adds cost, increases the complexity of setting it up and - in all honesty - won’t see much use. In keeping it on the Debut, there is the suggestion that this is a turntable with a bit of stretch to it.
As standard though, the Pro-Ject is fitted with an Ortofon 2M Red which is no slouch in its own right. The 2M Red can be found adorning turntables that cost rather more than this (although, for the sake of balance, my position is that this is proportionally about the ‘correct’ price to encounter it at), the Red can easily be upgraded to a 2M Blue via a stylus change and give yourself an instant performance boost without any cartridge changing taking place.
The turntable to which this arm is attached is also recognisably a Debut but one that a fine tooth comb has been applied to. The platter is made from steel, as it has been on many previous iterations but there is now additional dampening. This takes the form of a ring of TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer) around the inner lip of the platter and it results in a pleasingly inert sound when you tap it.
The platter sits on a sub platter assembly that the belt acts on and ensures that the playing surface has a greater level of isolation as well as making the process of rigging the belt much simpler than running it around the outside of the platter. This isolation is the first part of a whole string of features that really sets the Pro-Ject apart from rivals at the price. The motor driving the belt is also fitted with its own isolation from the plinth in the form of another TPE strip. The plinth itself is then sat on three feet that have their own adjustment and isolation.
Now, I fully appreciate that many people reading this will be thinking ‘yeah, so?’ This is not window dressing. Turntables are peculiarly sensitive to the environment in which they’re placed. It is one of the reasons why many of the more expensive models are equipped with elaborate suspension systems. The work that has gone into the Carbon Evo makes it one of the most straightforward turntables to place I have tested. When you consider that this is a price point where wall shelves and decoupled racks are going to be rather less common, it gives the Pro-Ject a considerable advantage.
There’s convenience on its side too. The Carbon Evo has electronic speed control as standard meaning that the belt doesn’t need to be fiddled with for 45rpm operation. If you can be bothered to fiddle with the belt though, you can also secure 78rpm operation (and, given there is a 2M stylus for 78rpm use, this is one of the most cost effective ways of setting up a dedicated 78rpm deck if you wanted such a thing). There’s a good quality grounded interconnect in the box and putting the Pro-Ject together is wholly straightforward. This follows a pattern I’ve been seeing lately in the company’s output where refinements to the packaging and design have greatly simplified the process of getting it out of the box.
The price of all this has increased to £450 and, based on some conversations I’ve had since it has been here, it seems that this is a psychologically difficult price for some people to pay for a Debut. This has to be taken in context. Using an inflation calculator suggests that the original Debut from ’98 would now cost £211. When you consider the vastly superior arm and cartridge, electronic speed control, better isolation and rather smarter finish, the manner in which the Carbon Evo has moved upmarket is one supported by numbers.
And then there’s the looks. In their own way, what Pro-Ject has done with the Carbon Evo is as clever as some of the isolation thinking. Without (I think) sharing a single part in common with the original (even the badge has changed in the ensuing 22 years), this is still recognisable at first glance as a Pro-Ject Debut. At the same time, it’s cleaner and more modern than many Pro-Ject models of old. The walnut finish of the review sample looks good but some of the sheen finishes really do look very contemporary indeed (although, this comes with the standard caveat that what looks achingly of the moment one year can look tragic the next, so some of the more trad options might work better long term). You get a lid and the overall level of fit and finish, while not a quantum leap over the more affordable T1 is well within the standards of what you would expect for the price.
The work that has gone into the Carbon Evo makes it one of the most straightforward turntables to place I have tested
How was the Debut Carbon Evo Tested?
The Pro-Ject has been placed on a Quadraspire QAVX rack, with and without an additional Quadrapsire Soundbase platform and powered via an IsoTek Evo 3 Aquarius mains conditioner. Absolute testing has occurred via a Cyrus Phono Signature phono stage connected to a Chord Electronics CPA 2800MkII integrated amp and Kudos Titan 505 speakers. Additional testing has occurred via the Audiolab 6000A Play and JBL HDI1600 speakers and Rega Io integrated amp and Mission LX2 MkII speakers. The test material in all cases was vinyl.
The Carbon Evo is an exactingly specific £210 more than the T1 which I reviewed recently and was hugely impressed by. Listening to them in a similar situation reveals similarities between the two that point to the basic uniformity of the design approach that Pro-Ject is now taking. First up, this is a seriously quiet turntable. All that tinkering with feet and isolation might seem somewhat obsessive but it really does pay dividends. The T1 is impressively immune to footfall and interference but the Carbon Evo is in a different league. Provided that the surface it is placed on is level and not actively vibrating, even the most vigourous of activities don’t seem to have any effect on the Carbon Evo.
From there, the Carbon Evo builds on the qualities of its more affordable brethren. The biggest gains are to be had in the soundstage and bass. Put succinctly, the Carbon Evo finds more space in the record and then proceeds to fill it more effectively. Without the low end ever sounding overcooked or dominating the performance, the Pro-Ject hits harder and goes deeper. Analogue bass is a function of engineering; it can’t be easily created any other way. The Carbon Evo is able to give much more of a hint as to what the high end of analogue is capable of at a fairly terrestrial price point.
One key area of the Carbon Evo is more in keeping with the T1 rather than the more expensive Classic Evo. Without ever sounding slow or languid, this is a turntable that tends to flow through music rather than delivering the sort of rhythmic immediacy that Rega, or even the Elipson Chroma 200 RIAA BT looked at recently can do. This is a composed and assured turntable rather than a ballistic one. Listening to the magnificent 3 disc pressing of Gregory Porter’s All Rise, on the Debut Carbon is to revel in the scale and beauty of the musical arrangements supporting Porter’s incredible voice. It’s more about an assured head nod than a frantically tapping foot.
This reference level pressing does show that the tonality of the Carbon Evo is very good indeed. Instruments sound convincing and it finds the details in Porter’s voice to turn it from a portrayal into a performance. That additional space helps to take these believable individual snippets and stitch them into something that involves and envelopes the listener. Even with the decidedly less audiophile musings of Circa Waves What’s it Like Over There, the Pro-Ject is still a big, confident sounding turntable.
There’s also a ready made upgrade for it too. Removing the 2M Red stylus and going for a 2M Blue (which at September 2020 prices is £130) takes everything that the Pro-Ject is already doing extremely well and finds a little more detail and top end sweetness at the same time. This is not a ‘you must do this at all costs’ change; the performance of the 2M Red in this context is pretty good, but it’s simple to do and extracts more performance from the turntable as a whole.
Something that is also apparent with the Carbon Evo is that it feels like it has more stretch to the basic performance. Connected to the Rega Io and Mission LX2 MkII at £570 in total, it’s very, very good but the Audiolab and JBL combination (£2,800) finds more from it but without seeing the Pro-Ject feeling like the weak link in the chain. Connected to the reference system, obviously, some limitations make themselves felt but the Debut Carbon never sounds ‘cheap’ even used in this fashion. In the current market for turntables, this is one of the most affordable that feels like it has this stretch built in from the start.
In the current market for turntables, this is one of the most affordable that feels like it has this stretch built in from the start
- Well balanced, tonally believable and three dimensional sound
- Well made and attractive
- Scope for upgrade
- Does its best work with a stylus upgrade
- Setup is (necessarily) more involved than simpler Pro-Jects
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Evo Turntable Review
The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Evo is something where the nature of what Pro-Ject has achieved with it makes itself clearer over time. It is a world away from the original Debut in so many areas but it keeps the ethos intact. The original was an affordable audiophile turntable. This descendant is still an affordable audiophile turntable but one that makes more sense in the market that its ancestor helped to create. All the simplicity of design and setup is still here but it’s balanced against a level of performance and adaptability that befits its role in Pro-Ject’s range as a more ‘serious’ turntable. This is the best turntable available for less than £500 I’ve yet to test and the result is that the Debut Carbon Evo has to be seen as a Best Buy.
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