Review: Pro-Ject Audio Systems – The Essential II Digital – A beginner’s Story

Vinyl

As soon as I knew the turntable was coming I started shopping for vinyl. That’s right, the number of records in my collection was… zero. I was born in the late seventies and grew up in the 80’s and 90’s and saw the cassette get replaced by cd. As a very young teenager I do remember buying vinyl singles from PM Dawn, Extreme and The Simpsons’ Do the Bartman. I have no idea where those singles are today, probably in my parents’ attic. The first CD I ever got was Crazy World from The Scorpions (1990) and when I got older my CD collection just kept growing. I never thought about buying vinyl even though my parents never stopped playing records, they’re in their 60’s and 70’s now and they still play records on a daily basis.

It was quite easy for me to start buying vinyl. I made a list of all my old and new favourite albums and started looking on the web. I’m the kind of guy that likes buying new stuff and so I started to look on Amazon and other sites where I easily found most of the albums I was looking for, and at very affordable prices. But then it kind of got harder. I couldn’t find a lot of my old albums “new” so I ended up on Discogs.com which is simply awesome. Discogs is the place to be for buying and selling vinyl and so my collection easily got a bigger again. Then all of a sudden a friend of mine told me he had started using and buying vinyl as well. We didn’t even know about each other having turned to vinyl and he obviously already had a lot more vinyl buying experience than me. He introduced me to several other “local” vinyl buying/selling websites and my collection grew once again.

He also showed me a lot of really old second hand albums that played perfectly and so the next step was only logic. Instead of buying “new” I turned to buying second hand (which is a lot cheaper!). We also went vinyl shopping in second hand stores which easily took up a whole day. I found lots of interesting good records for only 2.5€/piece and some more unique albums for very affordable prices. Every single vinyl store we visited was crowded and we even ran in to a couple of famous people shopping for records. I was also surprised to see that almost all the stores were using Box Design phono stages/headphone amplifiers, what a coincidence.

My vinyl collection hasn’t stopped growing and I keep on buying and looking for more records. It has become a new hobby and I’m afraid it’s a quite addictive one. Not only is it fun to find the albums you’ve been looking for but there’s also the sound, the analog sound has me hooked.

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Sound

I have read a lot of discussions and articles that tackle Analog vs Digital but you won’t hear me saying one is better than the other. I’d rather say they are different and I can easily enjoy both. As I have almost no experience with other turntables or cartridges, I can’t really compare the sound of the Essential II and its Ortofon cartridge to others. Even if the Essential II is considered to be a budget turntable, I find it to sound very good. Compared to the setup in my friend’s man cave it sounds less warm but his receiver or speakers could very well be the source of that.

I have always found my old Kenwood receiver and B&W speakers to produce an analog kind of sound and the Essential II matches them beautifully. The misses, who doesn’t like me using my speakers, from time to time even asks me to put on an album using the turntable as source. She never asks me to hook up my laptop/DAC to the living room setup, so there must be something special.

Using the Essential II gives me the feeling I am closer to the music. I get a lot more emotion and feeling from listening to vinyl then I do from a digital source. The Essential II delivers a lot of depth. Layering, together with timbre, is excellent and that makes listening to Jazz, Blues and vocals so much more engaging. Its presentation is relaxed, maybe even a bit smooth but most of all it is musical. I can’t immediately say what the Essential II does exceptionally good or bad, it’s just a nice to listen to turntable. The mids to me is where it shines. Having said that, I do prefer listening to faster paced rock music and metal on/from a digital support.

I’m pretty sure better or high-end tables will have a better level of detail, dynamics and precision but for a vinyl starter I can’t find anything I’m missing or that I don’t like. Ok, there might be one thing I don’t like: the felt mat gets static from time to time and tends to stick to the vinyl when flipping over the LP. That often made me slip the silicone belt from the disc and I ended up having to install it each time. Believe me, it’s not easy when you have two left hands like me.

A new addiction/hobby

I have really enjoyed my time with the Essential II Digital and I can fully recommend it as a starter table. It’s easy to love as it’s cheap, works great and sounds addictive. In fact the Essential II has already made me curious for more. I will be placing my order for the Pro-Ject 1XPression Carbon Classic with the 2M silver cartridge over the next few weeks.

If you’re not sure if getting in to vinyl is something for you, do put the Essential II Digital on top of your list:

  • you won’t break the bank,
  • you get a quality turntable that looks great,
  • you don’t need an external phono stage,
  • you get qualitative and addictive sound,
  • you can convert the analog system to a digital one should you want to,
  • you can always sell it on the second hand market when (not if) you’re ready to upgrade.

You don’t have to take my word for it, just listen to a Pro-Ject turntable yourself and you’ll be sold, just like me. Right now I’m listening to “As Nasty As They Wanna Be“, a controversial classic from the 2 Live Crew from 1989 and it just sounds so much better than the digital version.The Pro-Ject gear (and Box Design gear) is available all over the world to demo and buy. If you’re still not sure just google Pro-Ject and you’ll be surprised to see the number of awards they have won. Still not convinced? Did you know that Daft Punk are fans?

The Surprise

I was supposed to send the Essential II Digital back to Austria after the review but that’s not going to happen. You see, a few weeks ago, Felix (Pro-Ject’s new marketing guy) got in touch with me and told me we can do a giveaway with the Essential II Digital! That means one lucky reader will soon get the chance to listen to this excellent turntable him/herself. Details on the contest will be up on HFN later this week, so keep checking Headfonia.com and our Facebook Page if you want a shot at winning this turntable!

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

8 Comments

  • Reply January 5, 2016

    szoze

    Thanks for this nice review! I have a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit DC (Ortofon 2M Red), a step up from the Essential line, and I absolutely love it.

  • Reply January 5, 2016

    trashken

    Thanks for the review. Can you comment on the digital output? How does it sound compared to the analog outs?

    • Reply January 5, 2016

      Headfonia_L.

      Well, I said in the review I didn’t use the optical as I wanted analog sound 😉

      • Reply January 5, 2016

        trashken

        Fair enough. I’ve been trying to integrate vinyl into my digital set up (only accepts optical in) and there aren’t many options available. It’s either this turntable or get a Analog to Digital converter.

        • Reply January 5, 2016

          Headfonia_L.

          I would try keeping the number of components to a minimum. The DIGITAL was made to do this specifically, I’d go for it.

  • Reply January 6, 2016

    BlurRhino

    Great review as usual, make me tempted to go the vinyl path as well.. Hope you will be doing a review on the new TT that you are getting as well. 🙂

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