By Ben Bowers
on 9.22.09

pro-ject-turntable-usb

Vinyl has an interesting problem of image management. Depending on your exposure and background, people who listen to it are often stereotyped into one of three different categories. Whether it’s old timers who could never keep up to date with newfangled tech, audiophile snobs who can’t bear to live without the warmth of its sound, or nostalgic hipsters who want to stand out, the medium’s had some terrible spokes people.

It’s really a shame though since modern music technology has yet to fully mimic the musical gravitas of this 90 year old analog storage method, or create a surrogate to fill the sense of ownership that putting your hands on a LP once provided to fans.

Vinyl’s overall labor intensive qualities from setup to playback and general inconvenience compared to modern digital solutions of course doesn’t help its case either. However, recent conversion products like those from ION Audio do solve one major hurdle. Thanks to their built in USB ports, whatever tunes owners had on vinyl could easily be converted to digital copies, meaning money spent on the format could at least be shared across all manner of other systems.

Their downside however lies in poor playback, with most being focused simply on conversion rather than stand alone listening. Thus Gear Patrol took aim at finding a table which offered a balance between sound quality and modern day integration, with the hope of providing a good suggestion for curious buyers thinking about delving into the past.

debut_usb_black

Based on our in home testing of the Pro-Ject Debut III, we’ve been pleased at how well it does just that. Oozing with glorious minimalist styling, the table has the presence of a high end piece of audio equipment. It also ships with a fitted Ortofon OM 5E MM-cartridge, which holds a great reputation as a decent mid level cartridge perfect for those just getting into the swing of vinyl listening. The fact that it’s pre-fitted means buyers will avoid one of the biggest headaches associated with owner record players as well– cartridge calibration and alignment.

Overall, playback from the Pro-Ject was everything we’ve come to expect from the medium, and anything from Simon and Garfunkel to DJ Shadow’s Entroducing just held that extra something our high quality and loss less digital tracks couldn’t replicate. We’ll be the first to admit though that reaching this point was no easy feat and in general what we experienced is something anyone interested in buying any turntable should be prepared face.
debut_iii_usb_out
First of all, like most tables, the Pro-Ject Debut III is not something you can simply plug in and play. Balancing the tonearm and counterweight placement is a first step that requires some patience to accomplish, and can be bewildering for those lacking experience dealing with record players. Ensuring the table is level on it’s playing surface and properly grounded is another hurdle we encounter particular headaches over during our review. However this was because the review unit’s cartridge had somehow become ungrounded (most likely from previous use) and we were tasked to fix it. Note though that is not a negative reflection on the manufacturer, just simply a fact of life when dealing with previously used units.

The point though is this: don’t expect this older technology to behave like a CD player or iPod. Wringing proper clear playback from these devices requires some effort that may turn many off. We assure you though that a little patience reaps enormous rewards for anyone who appreciates music and enjoys listening as a stand alone activity.

With those warnings and caveats aside, we will say the ability to rip loss less and encoded music from vinyl was a relatively easy process thanks to the Pro-Ject’s on board USB port and Audacity’s free vinyl ripping software. Personally as someone who owns quite a large collection of vinyl, integrating some of my rarer tracks into my digital music collection was a god send, and knowing I can do so in the future definitely makes swallowing the cost of buying more in the future that much easier.

At a price of $500 the Debut III USB is a great bargain considering it’s killer looks and combination of great stand alone playback and modern day accessibility.

The bottom line: We’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for entre into the world of analog audio, and encourage readers to hit us up with questions should they need help. For more details and specs check out Pro-Ject’s stateside distributor Sumikoaudio.net and Pro-Ject’s website Project-Audio.com.

For info on Vinyl in general, check out the great blog AnalogApartment.com

Cost: $499

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