Disclaimer: The Project-Audio Systems Essential II Digital was sent to me directly from the factory and it has to be returned after the review.
Why turntables on HFN?
Well that’s pretty easy. Several months ago my friend and I started playing darts for fun and while we were challenging each other in his man cave he put on records he had just inherited from his dad. We listened to Elvis, The Dire Straits, Johnny Cash, … and those old records sounded so good and so different from my digital files. It made me think about my own setup at home and the way we always use digital files. When reviewing or when on the go we always seem to use digital sources like DAPs or laptops with external DACs. It felt it was time for a change, time for something different, something analog.
I started researching affordable quality turntables and I found a company called Pro-Ject Audio Systems who seemed to end up in all the Top 5 lists of “best affordable turntables”. When I found out Pro-Ject was a European based company I decided to go for it and I shot them an email. I quickly got in touch with Mr. Lichtenegger and explained him I wanted to write about what it was like to get started with vinyl from zero. He, to my surprise, quickly agreed and he sent me a turntable on loan for a few months. It was the start of something nice.
No, this isn’t a typical review about how exactly the turntable sounds but it’s an article about the experience of discovering vinyl, setting up the turntable, shopping for vinyl, etc. Don’t worry, there still is a part about how it sounds, after all that’s what we like to talk about.
Pro-ject Audio is a division of Audio Tuning Vertriebs GmbH and is located in Austria. Wikipedia tells us the following:
“Pro-Ject Audio Systems is a manufacturer of audiophile equipment, founded in 1990 by Heinz Lichtenegger and located in Austria, with manufacturing plants in Czech Republic and Slovakia. It produces a range of audio equipment including a family of turntables which are often quoted as reference entry-level models. Under the name of Box Design they also manufacture a range of micro hi-fi components such as amps, CD Transports, Phono Stages, Streaming Devices and more”.
After a bit more research I found that a lot of their turntables in fact are made by Czech turntable manufacturer SEV Litovel. In the 90’s CD’s were everywhere and Pro-Ject’s original goal was to make affordable turntables allowing music lovers to still enjoy their “old” vinyl collection they had from the previous decades. Since then Pro-Ject has released turntables in all price segments and they have won numerous awards. Word on the web even is that Pro-Ject is partly responsible for the vinyl boom we’ve been seeing. That’s one hell of a compliment if you ask me.
Pro-Ject Audio didn’t stop there however and with their “Box Design” division they make products for all type of “audiophiles” – even the digital ones – and I’m pretty sure we’ll be reviewing several of them in the near future.
Essentail II Digital
The turntable Mr. Lichtenegger sent me was the Essential II Digital. It’s a turntable for vinyl starters with good sound reproduction and recording capability (Ortofon OM5e cartridge, pre-mounted). It also has an integrated phono stage which made it very easy to get started with vinyl. On top of that the Digital-version converts the analog sound to digital and transports it to your DAC or Integrated Receiver over optical. Pro-Ject Audio describes this turntable as follows:
“A quiet-running synchronous motor with silicone belt is driving a low-resonance platter made from laminated particle board. A new motor control with DC power supply minimizes unwanted vibration effectively. The main platter bearing consists of stainless steel spindle and bronze bushing with Teflon bottom to secure low friction. The main chassis is made from lightweight, but very stiff particle board. Essential II Digital utilizes a straight 8,6“ aluminum tonearm design made from a single piece of aluminum with sapphire bearings, which offers a far better „plug & play“ solution, than its predecessor. Special feet effectively decouple the turntable from the surface. Many new audio systems, like home cinema receivers, soundbars, multiroom audio, TVs and Bluetooth speakers only offer digital optic input connections: So up to now vinyl lovers using such systems had no chance to play their records on those systems.
The Essential II Digital cost around € 379,00 . Specs are as follows:
Pro-Ject Essential II Digital
|Speed||33, 45 (manual speed change)|
|Speed variance||33: 0,14% 45: 0,25%|
|Wow & flutter||0,12%|
|Platter||300mm particle board with felt mat (0,8kg)|
|Main bearing||stainless steel|
|Effective arm length||218,5 mm|
|Effective tonearm mass||8,0gr|
|Counterweight for mass||3 – 5,5g (included)|
|Tracking force range||0 – 25mn (OM5 18mn recommended)|
|Line output voltage typically||160mV/1kHz at 4mV/1kHz input|
|RIAA-equalisation accuracy||20Hz-20kHz / max. 0,5dB|
|Optical output||24/96 kHz (bit depth/sampling frequency)|
|Included accessory||power supply, dust cover|
|Power consumption||4,5 watts|
|Dimensions||420 x 112 x 330mm (WxHxD)|
|Weight||4,0 kg net|
I never owned a turntable and had no real experience whatsoever with them. I figured I just had to take it out of the box, plug it in to the power socket and start playing records. I was wrong. The turntable comes disassembled in a well-protected box and putting all the big parts together actually was quite easy. Setting up the arm and the weights on it though, that’s what took me some time.
I have two left hands and it took me two hours to get the turntable set up. The manual supplied by Pro-Ject actually is correct but it at the same time it also is very basic and for starters like me it just isn’t clear and detailed enough. Mr. Lichtenegger did tell me to give him a call if I needed help setting up but I couldn’t call the good man on a Saturday, right?
Youtube to the rescue.
I apparently wasn’t the only one having issues with setting up the turntable as there are several videos on how to get started with Pro-Ject turntables. Setting up the “arm” with the weight on the back and the counterweight at the side wasn’t easy but once I got everything right, I never had to touch it again during all the months I’ve used it. I connected the RCA outs from the phono stage to either my integrated receiver’s line in, or a headphone amp. As the Essential is in my living room (it’s pretty!) I hooked it up to my Violectric V281 headphone amp and my ‘91 Kenwood receiver driving B&W 600 series speakers from the early nineties. I have to say I didn’t use the Optical out part of the turntable as I wanted to keep it analog. Once I was finally ready to go, the vinyl I ordered hadn’t arrived yet and so I borrowed Billy Joel’s “Greatest Hits” album from my parents. I have listened to the digital version of this album an uncountable number of times but Billy never sounded this good.
It continues on Page 2, do check it out as there’s a surprise for you…