Brand Breakdown

The Complete Guide to All of Pro-Ject’s Excellent Turntables


March 25, 2020 Tech By Photo by Pro-Ject
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Welcome to Brand Breakdown, a series of comprehensive yet easy-to-digest guides to your favorite companies, with insights and information you won’t find on the average About page.

Even if you only have a passing interest in vinyl and hi-fi, you undoubtedly have heard (or seen) a Pro-Ject turntable. They’re known for the distinct design, bright colors (sometimes) and excellent sound quality. Of course, the secret sauce of the Austrian company is its ability to keep such high-performing turntables at a relatively affordable cost. And it’s been able to do that by producing almost everything in-house.

Pro-Ject has engineering and manufacturing facilities in Austria, Czech Republic and Slovakia. In addition to turntables, Pro-Ject makes a range of other hi-fi components, such as phono stages, DACs, preamps and amplifiers, many of which it integrates into its turntables. This practice has helped Pro-Ject keep its costs down and thus become a really successful hi-fi company.

“I started Pro-Ject to bring as many people as possible to the world of hobby hi-fi, especially in the 1980s when CD players were extremely expensive and generally inaccessible,” said Heinz Lichtenegger, the founder of Pro-Ject Audio. “At this time, I realized that a good turntable could sound even better than a CD, however, there were no quality turntables available that were low cost. So, in 1991 I decided I had to make one.” Nearly 30 years later, the company is still known for just that: audiophile-grade turntables at affordable prices.

Today, Pro-Ject makes many different turntables that are designed for every type of vinyl enthusiast, from beginner to seasoned audiophile. And these turntables can range anywhere from $300 to over $16,000. To help navigate the different lines of turntables, we had the man himself, founder Heinz Lichtenegger, to walk us through each line.

Just Getting Started

The Primary Line

What is it?
The Primary line is the most affordable line of turntables that Pro-Ject makes. Starting at $200, it borrows design elements from both the company’s Debut and Essential lines, and makes them out of slightly fewer materials. There are also fewer models to choose from within the Primary line, so instead of customizing the turntable to fit your needs, you’re basically deciding whether you want the Primary E or the Primary E Phono, the latter of the two has a built-in preamp.

What Heinz Lichtenegger says:
“The Primary Line is designed for people who have a limited budget (around $200) but want a real hi-fi turntable beyond a piece of plastic, this customer understands the complexities of setting up a turntable. [It’s] designed with a tonearm perfect for the high-quality Ortofon cartridge with preset tracking force and anti-skating, allowing users to just plug and play while remaining a handmade product made of quality materials without any resonating hollow spaces.”

The T Line

What is it?
The T Line is one of Pro-Ject’s new lines of mid-range turntables. It’s priced between the Essential and Primary lines, so it’s still relatively affordable, but one of the biggest reasons why you’d buy a T Line over something else has to do with its visuals: It has a striking platter that’s made of tempered glass. It only comes in three models. There’s the baseline T1, which requires an external phono stage and a powered amplifier; the T1 Phono SB, which has a built-in phono stage; and the T1 BT, which also has a Bluetooth transmitter for connection to a powered speaker or AV receiver.

What Heinz Lichtenegger says:
“The tempered glass platter is not only a good solution to a resonance-free heavy platter, it also is more visually attractive than, for instance, the minimalistic designed MDF platter used on the Primary Line.”

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The Essential Line

What is it?
The Essential line is made up of a variety of mid-range turntables, each of which is designed to work with a specific hi-fi setup. For example, the baseline Essential III is designed for those who want to use their own preamp and speaker, while the Essential III Phono has a built-in preamp so you can connect directly to a powered speaker (like a Sonos Play:5). There are several other models, including the Essential III HP, which is for customers who mainly listen through headphones, but the point is that you can match this turntable to fit your needs. And you can buy one for right around $300.

What Heinz Lichtenegger says:
“The Essential line was designed as an alternative to the feature-laden, low cost, low-quality turntables that began flooding the market several years ago. By allowing the buyer to focus on the features that they cared about, and not pay for features they wouldn’t use, we were able to design a very high-performance European-built player for music lovers on a tight budget.”

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The JukeBox Line

What is it?
The JukeBox line is another one of Pro-Ject’s midrange line of turntables, but they’re specifically designed for people who want an all-in-one solution. The JukeBox E, for example, consists of a record player, phono stage, Bluetooth receiver, line pre-amplifier and power amplifier. It requires you only to connect a pair of passive bookshelf speakers to complete the system. (The JukeBox S2 is essential an upgraded version of the JukeBox E.)

What Heinz Lichtenegger says:
“The JukeBox package is also very cost-effective, for the price of a better streaming speaker or soundbar, you get a real HiFi, stereo system including a turntable and Bluetooth module to stream from an external music source.”

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The Upgrade

The Debut Line

What is it?
The Debut line is the company’s other mid-range line of turntables, along with the Pro-Ject’s Essential line, but it’s a little nicer. While similar in looks and features, the Debut line has a couple of notable upgrades over the Essential line that are designed to reduce noise and distortion, such as a heavier platter, higher-quality feet and a motor that’s decoupled from the plinth. It’s worth noting that the Debut Carbon (DC), which starts at $399, is by far the company’s most popular turntable.

What Heinz Lichtenegger says:
“The Debut is our superstar. Revolutionary in its price range, the Debut boasts a heavy 8-coat lacquered MDF chassis, heavy platter, suspended motor, carbon tonearm, and an expensive (over $100 USD) cartridge from Ortofon. These are all features usually found in a higher-priced item. The first choice of any music lover who looks for an audiophile turntable at a low cost.”

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The RPM Line

What is it?
The RPM Line is a range of higher-end turntables that are still relatively affordable. The have a distinct look, with a teardrop-shaped plinth. The RPM Line consists of five different models, ranging from the RPM 1 Carbon ($499) to the high-end RPM 10 Carbon ($3,499); as you go up in numbers, the turntable gets upgraded up with better materials, technologies and features.

What Heinz Lichtenegger says:
“The RPM Line is designed for audiophiles who want to have the best quality available within its price range and are happy to live with slightly unconventional product design. The RPM Line’s teardrop shape plinth and non-rectangular chassis cause less resonance (as in high-end speaker designs) and the motor is free standing and isolated at 100 percent to eliminate rumble or vibration. There are many little audiophile features (such as spiked cones and inverted bearing) that target the product to the discerned audiophile.”

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The X Line

What is it?
The X Line is one of Pro-Ject’s most recent lines of turntables. You can think about the X1 as a high-end turntable that’s still relatively affordable. It starts at $899, but that price increases rapidly with the higher-end models that have more robust parts, such as a bigger chassis, better isolation feet, better bearings, heavier better platter, better tonearms and better cartridges.

What Heinz Lichtenegger says:
“The X Line is for people seeking the highest sound quality in a traditional design — including dustcover and hinges. From the X1, these units are ‘no compromise’ and 100-percent correctly designed turntables including all of the features an audiophile dreams of.”

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The High-End

The Classic Line

What is it?
Now we’re getting into the “high end.” The Classic Line consists of two turntables, the Classic $1,099 $899) and the Classic Evo ($1,699), both of which are designed for hi-fi entusiants with a refined taste. The turntables have an elegant, retro design, such as a thick platter, and brushed metal top-plate that looks like it’s built directly into the wooden plinth.

What Heinz Lichtenegger says:
“The Classic is a traditional sub-chassis turntable designed for a user who needs to have their speakers close to the turntable, perhaps in a more restricted living environment. [It has] a nostalgic appearance with its retro design reminiscent of the 1960s and 70s, but upgraded with modern technology such as precision CNC’ed pulley, diamond knife-cut sub and main platters created for the highest precision, and sub-chassis isolation by modern rubber dampers (TPE, thermoplastic elastomers) instead of the traditional springs.”

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The S-Shape Line

What is it?
The S-Shape Line is a range of high-end turntables that get their name from their “S”-shaped tonearm that’s made of aluminum. The aluminum is heavier than carbon, which is what Pro-Ject makes most of its other turntable tonearms out of, and this results in a softer; the result is that the S-Shape Line sounds different — softer, less open — than many of the company’s other turntables.

What Heinz Lichtenegger says:
“Pro-Ject likes dynamic and openness, therefore, we use carbon tonearms which give you the highest speed and transparency possible. However, not everyone likes this feature and we aim to reach as many music lovers as possible. The heavier aluminum S-shape arms deliver a sound that’s rounder, more relaxed and softer. They also allow the use of a detachable headshell to choose a variety of cartridges, which can be changed quickly and easily.”

The Signature Line

What is it?
This is Pro-Ject’s pinnacle line. Both the Signature 10 and the Signature 12 are high-end turntables that compromise nothing. They each have mass-loaded sub-chassis, a floating turntable design and a unique S-shaped tonearm. They’re designed for a truly engaged audiophile.

What Heinz Lichtenegger says:
“The Signature 12 ($12,000) is unique in its ability to control motor resonances better by a flywheel drive. My personal problem in my system is that I have about 40 different cartridges and have my favorites for different music. I prefer the speed of my carbon tonearms, but I need the flexibility of an S-shape arm which allows fast change. By using an ultra-low friction uni-pivot tonearm bearing, I am able to reach a traditional aluminum close to the speed of a carbon arm.”

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5 Affordable Turntables That Even Audiophiles Would Want

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Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

Tucker Bowe

Tucker Bowe has been on Gear Patrol's editorial team since 2014. As a Tech Staff Writer, he tracks everything in the consumer tech space, from headphones to smartphones, wearables to home theater systems. If it lights up or makes noise, he probably covers it.

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