Pro-Ject Debut PRO Turntable Review

It’s time to turn PRO

by Ed Selley
Hi-Fi Review

20

Best Buy
Pro-Ject Debut PRO Turntable Review
SRP: £699.00
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pro-Ject Debut PRO Turntable Review

If you can overcome the psychological resistance that the Debut PRO is fundamentally the same basic design as more affordable versions, it's hard to ignore the sheer level of performance on offer here as well as the potential upgrade stretch. This is the best Debut yet.

Pros

  • Sensational performance
  • Easy to use and set-up
  • Considerable upgrade potential

Cons

  • Plain Jane looks
  • Does its best work with the optional clamp
  • Some rivals feel more special

Introduction - What Is the Pro-Ject Debut PRO?

The Pro-Ject Debut PRO is a belt driven, unsuspended turntable; the type standard for affordable vinyl replay. From there though, things take a trip towards the more curious end of proceedings. Cast your mind back to the closing years of the 20th century and the newly arrived Debut was a compact, simple and ultra affordable turntable. In its very original form it cost £115 for the basic version and an extra tenner if you wanted a gloss plinth. I’ve gone on at length before that I think it’s one of the most influential products going in terms of where the two channel market is in 2022.

Since then, Debuts have become more ornate and more expensive. Their role in Pro-Ject’s line up has changed from the starting point of turntable ownership to the point of something that has genuinely audiophile leanings. The Debut Carbon Evo demonstrated this eloquently when we looked at it. Even with its recent price rise to £500, this is still a seriously capable turntable for the money. Furthermore, if you want to take things further, you can, thanks to the range of upgrades available that we also looked at last year.

If £500 seems a little jarring for a deck that started life at £115 (although once again, I am compelled to point out that, if Pro-Ject had done nothing to that original Debut other than adjust its price for inflation, it would still be around £230 today), the £700 PRO feels positively adventurous. Not only does this need to be the best Debut ever made, it needs to hold its own at a point where some interesting rivals are pitched. Is this the best way to spend your hard earned?

Specification and Design

Pro-Ject Debut Pro

The important thing to reiterate about modern Debuts - be they the PRO or more terrestrial models - is that the ‘Debut’ is a design concept rather than a single ever-augmented design. There is nothing in common between the original unit and the PRO in terms of parts you could move from one to the other (to be clear, I haven’t checked the provenance of the lid hinge or motor mount screw but you get the idea). A Debut is an unsuspended, belt driven turntable with an 8.6 inch tonearm mounted on three feet. What marks the PRO out is that every part of those statements sees an update.

To this end the PRO remains an unsuspended turntable but those feet have seen further improvements. The Carbon Evo has excellent isolation for an affordable turntable but the PRO gains new metal feet that - for the first time on a Debut model as best as I am aware of - they can be adjusted to perfectly level the plinth.

On the other side of the plinth, which is still made of a single section of MDF, the motor mount is a further evolution of the system on the Carbon Evo, where the motor sits in a well, sat on a TPE damped plate. The motor itself is an AC unit that, in standard Pro-Ject design practise, takes a DC feed from the wall and converts on to AC on board the turntable. Like the Carbon Evo, the PRO benefits from the belt from the motor acting on a sub platter, rather than around the outer edge of the platter itself. This sub platter is the same two piece one that the Carbon ships with but the distributor Henley Audio confirms that it can be swapped out for the all metal one tested as part of the upgrade pack.

Pro-Ject Debut Pro

The platter on the other hand, won’t need changing. Like the Carbon Evo, it’s made of metal rather than acrylic but it’s a far heftier piece of kit. It is solid aluminium with TPE damping. The key difference between it and the lesser model is that there is far more metal (and damping) in place here. The platter on its own weighs over a kilo and the damping forms a thick ring actually embedded in the outer metal lip of the platter. I have tested considerably more expensive designs that don’t have a playing surface as inert as this one does. Like the Carbon Evo, this works with the Clamp-It aftermarket clamp and evidence suggests it's worth adding.

The arm also sees wholesale changes; one being easy to see and one being rather harder to spot. The visible change concerns the bearing housing that now features a machined aluminium bearing block supporting an armtube made of carbon wrapped aluminium. This is a tremendously advanced tonearm to be found at this price. The bearing housing in particular feels like something that has come off a device in the £2-3,000 bracket rather than sub £1,000.

The adaptability of this arm (I was going to type ‘flexibility’ but this thing emphatically doesn’t flex) has also been substantially improved. This is the first Debut to feature the means of adjusting the VTA (vertical tracking angle, the height of the arm above the record) and you can also adjust the azimuth (angle to vertical over the record too). Historically, adjusting the former required shims and the latter could not be changed, making this by far the easiest Debut to change a cartridge on.

Pro-Ject Debut Pro

You might not rush into changing the cartridge though as the PRO mounts something a little different to the Carbon Evo. It looks like an Ortofon 2M, it clearly has parts in common with a 2M and the pricing isn’t wildly dissimilar to the 2M Series. The Pick It PRO is a moving magnet cartridge that takes the principle of the 2M Series but changes the compliance, capacitance and output to more closely mimic another Ortofon design, the SPU. These giant (they literally attach directly to the headshell socket of a suitable tonearm replacing both headshell and cart) moving coil designs are still in production and offer a unique presentation. The decision to make an affordable cart try and mimic them is interesting but one I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Put all these things together and the result is, aesthetically at least, going to divide opinion slightly. To the trained eye, such as yours dear reader, you’re going to pick up on that hefty arm, revised platter and the more sophisticated feet and clock that this is more expensive than the Carbon Evo… but I’m not sure that everyone will. The PRO exudes a functional brutality that is either going to appeal or leave you cold and I rather admire Pro-Ject going for this approach.

It’s also rather canny. At the moment (late Jan 2022), it is not possible to order a Rega Planar 3 with an Elys2 cartridge which means that the only pre fit option is the Exact. This in turn means that a Planar 3 (less speed control) is £880, making the £700 PRO look very solid value for money. A Technics SL-1500C is £200 more, and for that you get a phono stage and peerless build but a markedly less sophisticated arm and isolation system.

This impression is helped by the build and finish. Viewed from a distance, the matt plinth, matt platter and extremely dark overall colour palate of the PRO leave it looking a little austere but it’s a solid and confidence inspiring thing to use. Some of the details like the little rocker switch to select speed and the unpainted feet are also unquestionably smart too. It’s also no harder than a Carbon Evo (or a T1 for that) matter to set up and use. When Pro-Ject says that the PRO is still a member of the Debut family, this is just as applicable to installing and using it.

Pro-Ject Debut Pro

The PRO exudes a functional brutality that is either going to appeal or leave you cold and I rather admire Pro-Ject going for this approach

How Was the Debut PRO tested?

The Pro-Ject has been parked on a Quadaspire QAVX rack and powered from an IsoTek Evo3 Corvus mains block and tested with a Cyrus Phono Signature Phono stage running into a Cambridge Audio Edge A integrated amp, used with both Focal Kanta No1 and Neat Majistra standmount speakers. As a Clamp-It was not available for testing, a MoFi record weight, as seen with the Studiodeck was employed at various stages of listening. The test material had been vinyl.

Performance

Pro-Ject Debut Pro

I have mentioned before that I was one of the many people whose first turntable was an early model Pro-Ject Debut. I’ve long since sold it on which at times like this is annoying because I’d love to side by side it with the PRO. My pet theory is, despite the difference in components and gulf in price, there is a common theme to both models and indeed all Debuts. This is distinct from the manner in which Rega goes about its vinyl replay; it’s less about timing, head nodding rhythm and drive and more flow and presence to material that is extremely involving. Debuts trade off the last ounce of depth at the bottom and sparkle at the top to give you midrange clarity and involvement that almost certainly isn’t as exact as digital but is gloriously compelling nonetheless.

With the PRO, the effect is intriguing because that still applies but the level to which the frequency extremes tail off is markedly reduced. With the bass response in particular, the Debut PRO enters a very select number of sub £1K turntables with bass that is both deep but also possessed of the control and definition and general clarity that really keeps well sorted digital honest. The Carbon Evo was moving in this direction, the PRO finishes the move.

Listening to the tremendous Shadow Party by the band of the same name, the PRO is expansive, potent and enjoyable. It’s not as ballistic as a Rega or even as mechanically propulsive as the Technics 1500 but that flow and engagement is there, backed up by a level of heft and scale that both of these decks can’t easily replicate. Once again, the midrange is extremely compelling. It’s detailed, tonally believable and opens up dense and congested recordings in a way that analogue replay sometimes struggles with.

Pro-Ject Debut Pro

The Pick IT cartridge seems to be an important part of this particular puzzle. Logic dictates it should behave like a 2M Red and I should raise the same criticism that I did of the Technics 1500C; that the PRO is under cartridged. The reality is a little different. It goes beyond my absolute grasp of engineering to explain why the changes actioned in swapping it from a 2M Red to a Pick It have resulted in a sweeter, fuller cartridge but they have and it benefits the PRO enormously. The out of the box performance of the PRO at £700 has me less prone to reach for the Blue Stylus than it does on the Carbon Evo at £500.

Good as it is though, what fascinates me about the PRO is that, even though it’s comfortably the most expensive Debut yet, it actually demonstrates more potential stretch than the more affordable Carbon Evo; and don’t forget, we did an entire article on things you can add to that. In the case of the PRO, it isn’t that there’s the same number of options; things like the add-on feet, acrylic platter and the like simply aren’t worth it, but the sub platter and clamp are likely to be as beneficial here as they are on the Carbon Evo. The MoFi weight - not a threaded clamp, simply a puck type weight, brought some useful little detail gains to the way that the PRO handles Hayden Thorpe’s Moondust for my Diamond and it suggests that the same basic dynamic of the Debut platform applies here.

What the PRO really will benefit from is a cartridge upgrade. Sure, the Pick IT is good but I have an inkling that the Ortofon Quintet Red supplied for (but not used in) the upgrade article or a member of the Audio Technica OC9 family would work a charm on the PRO. These are strange times when I find myself brokering the idea of a Pro-Ject Debut that cost £1,200 - £1,300 and suspecting that it might actually be a bit of a bargain in performance terms.

Pro-Ject Debut Pro

What fascinates me about the PRO is that even though it’s comfortably the most expensive Debut yet, it actually demonstrates more potential stretch than the more affordable Carbon Evo

Conclusion

Pro-Ject Debut PRO Turntable Review

There’s a psychological edge to summing up the Debut PRO that needs to be discussed because it’s important. This is absolutely competitive with any turntable I’ve tested under a grand. In fact, it’s realistically better than most of them. Ultimately though, it sits on your rack like a Pro-Ject Debut - it’s the same size, it’s arguably less visually distinctive than the cheaper Carbon Evo and while it’s very well made, I would completely understand if you looked at the PRO and felt that you wanted something with a little more visual pizzazz to it. Pride of ownership is a valid thing.

If, though, your pride of ownership stems from knowing that it’s not what it looks like but how it goes, the Debut PRO is likely to instil that in spades. This is a sensational turntable for the asking price. It is a breeze to set up and live with and it delivers a level of performance I would not have easily granted the Debut platform of being capable of and offers a truly remarkable scope to get still more out of it. This is a tremendous bit of kit - a real highwater mark in terrestrially priced vinyl and an unquestionable Best Buy.

Best Buy

Scores

Sound Quality

.
9

Build Quality

.
.
8

Connectivity

.
.
8

Ease of Use

.
9

Features

.
9

Value for Money

10

Verdict

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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