Introduction to the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Turntable
Each year the RIAA releases sales figures to try to show that their industry is dying and then points to a wide variety of causes. Dig into the numbers and you will find one bright spot for the music sales: vinyl. Vinyl is now selling better than it has in a number of years, with large growth year over year. From people returning to vinyl after decades away, or younger listeners moving into it for the first time, the old record is selling better than it has in years.
Of course you need something to play these on, and turntable vendors have been happy to provide a wide assortment of turntables for the new listener. Pro-Ject has been making turntables for two decades now and they have always had a major focus on value with their Debut line. Now they have introduced the Debut Carbon, which is their cheapest table to come standard with a carbon fiber tonearm, and improved the standard cartridge to be the well-regarded Ortofon 2M Red. Is this the easiest way to get straight into high quality vinyl playback without spending a fortune?
PRO-JECT DEBUT CARBON TURNTABLE SPECIFICATIONS
- 8.6″ Carbon Fiber Tonearm
- Ortofon 2M Red MM Cartridge
- Belt Drive Turntable
- Speed: 33/45 RPM (Manual belt change)
- Wow and Flutter: +/- 0.10%
- Speed Drift: +/- 0.8%
- Platter: 300mm Diameter Aluminum with Felt Mat
- Tonearm Overhang: 18.5mm
- Effective Tonearm Mass: 6.0g
- Dimensions: 4.7″ H x 16.5″ W x 12.7″ D
- Weight: 12.5 Pounds
- Secrets Tags: Turntables, Pro-Ject, Tonearms, Cartridges
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Turntable Design and Setup
Turntable setup is much different than a disc player, and so Pro-Ject has tried to make it as easy as possible for those getting started. The Ortofon 2M Red MM cartridge is pre-mounted to the carbon arm and is almost ready to go. Installing the arm counterweight is a relatively simple process but will require that you have access to a scale to verify the load. My 2M Red cartridge was just slightly misaligned, but 5 minutes with a screwdriver and the included alignment tools and everything was setup and ready to go.
Out of the box and in glossy red the Debut Carbon is a striking table. The top of the table is very clean, with the power switch hidden away under the plinth and the belt located under the platter. Pro-Ject has done away with the captive phono cables that are typical on budget tables, so you are free to upgrade the phono cables to a higher quality cable if you wish, or to just install a cable of the correct length to avoid a rats nest of cables in your AV rack. Pro-Ject also includes a dust cover to keep the table clean, though I prefer not having to deal with it and left it uninstalled for my testing.
The Debut Carbon comes ready to go, other than a phono amp, but they offer a range of upgrades for the table as well. The Speed Box II replaces the standard wall-wart power supply with an external box that offers a quartz clock generated power supply to allow for both more accurate speed control, and push-button 45 RPM playback so you no longer need to adjust a belt. There is also an acrylic platter, the Acryl-It, to replace the standard metal platter and felt mat that offers lower resonance and no static electricity.
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Turntable In Use
After a short installation and setup the Debut Carbon is ready to start playing some music. Listening to Nirvana Unplugged from ORG Music, the bass is much deeper and tighter than with a typical budget turntable and cartridge. Kurt Cobain’s voice is a bit hoarse and scratchy but well anchored and isolated from the instruments. Musicians are well laid out on the stage in front of me, though it doesn’t extend beyond the speakers or too deep into the rear wall. Projecting a large soundstage is where budget tables and cartridges run into their limits, but the Debut Carbon did a very nice job with putting everyone in their proper place.
Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge over Troubled Water sounds far more impressive than Nirvana did. On “The Only Living Boy in New York” the Debut throws out a soundstage well beyond its price range. Vocals were articulate and clear, with the harmonies of Simon and Garfunkel staying distinct from each other instead of blurring together. Instruments often seem to be coming from the walls halfway between the speakers and my chair, providing a larger-than-life soundstage that is truly enveloping.
To see how the Debut Carbon can improve from stock I installed the Acryl-It and Speed Box II upgrades to my unit. The Acryl-It is lighter than the included metal platter, but lets you ditch the felt mat, and is less resonant as well. The Speed Box II is a far higher quality power supply that uses a quartz clock and filter system to improve upon the speed control of the table and allow for switching between 33 and 45 RPM with the touch of a button. Installing both upgrades takes under 5 minutes, and the Speed Box II is tiny enough to hide right next to the table.
Though you would think these are subtle upgrades, I find them to be anything but. With The Black Keys El Camino LP, the Carbon does a better job of getting everything out of the grooves, for better or worse. Backgrounds are now clearer, though any dust and grime that is in the grooves is also far more present as well. Speed control is improved, and drums have more kick to them than before. Moving between the two different upgrades, the Speed Box II makes more of a difference as the boost to speed accuracy is clearly noticeable, but the benefits of the Acryl-It are strong as well.
Being able to switch from 33 RPM to 45 RPM without needing to switch belts makes the Speed Box II an upgrade I wouldn’t go without. Many titles I previously avoided as the changing of belts is a hassle, but removing that obstacle led me to my 45 RPM titles. Rumours by Fleetwood Mac is as brilliant as always, with detail and clarity that blow away the CD version my wife owns. Strings and guitars have more texture and air than on CD, sounding far more like a live performance and less like a sterile recording.
Beyond audiophiles, the main growing market for turntables is a young buyer. While some hipsters just want to use a turntable to flash their indie-cred and show they don’t fall into the iPod crowd, for many they are discovering it’s the best way to actually hear their music. The past two decades have seen the mastering of popular music go way downhill, where Radiohead’s second album, The Bends, has fantastic dynamic range but their latest releases like In Rainbows are horribly compressed and squeezed yet still get Grammy nominations for recording quality!
Thankfully there are often two masters produced for albums: One that is used for the digital copies of it, be it on CD or a download, and one that is used for the vinyl release. Often the vinyl release has a wider dynamic range, more detail, and can actually take advantage of high performance audio equipment. Listening to the latest releases from Fiona Apple, Passion Pit, M83 and others on vinyl all sounded superior to their digital versions. Background instruments were more audible and not just obscured by louder instruments; drums and bass had actual kick instead of just being loud or louder, and the top end wasn’t nearly as harsh since the recording wasn’t constantly being clipped.
While those that listen to jazz and classical are spoiled by having recordings that truly prize quality and dynamics compared to popular music, those of us with more mainstream tastes can get much better quality from a turntable like the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon. No matter how great your CD player or DAC is, if your recording is junk, it’s going to sound like junk, and you’ll find that a simple $400 turntable will blow away far more expensive digital equipment on modern music. Listen to some current recordings on the Debut Carbon and I doubt you’ll want to buy a CD of anything again.
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Turntable On The Bench
Using the Platter Speed iOS app from Feickert Tools and the Ultimate Analog Test LP record, I was able to easily compare the speed accuracy of the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon with and without the Speed Box II in place.
The stock speed at 33 RPM is close, with deviations of -0.22% and +0.19%, but certainly not spot on.
At 45 RPM the lower deviation is higher, at -0.25% but the upper deviation is closer at +0.08%. Lowpass-filtered both results are even better, and those numbers are better to use as they represent a more likely real-world result. Adding in the Speed Box certainly made a measurable difference.
Now if you look at the raw data, we are only at +/- 0.11% for 33 RPM playback, but lowpass-filtered that is a remarkable 0.01% deviation, which I don’t imagine many people being able to notice.
At 45 RPM the numbers are not quite as good, though that early error seems to throw it off, but in this case the numbers have the same mean frequency as without the Speed Box, but the variation is more centered instead of low.
Using the 1 kHz test track on the same LP, I measured the THD+N on the Pro-Ject Carbon, using all four permutations of the Speed Box II and Acryl-It Platter, and using a Pro-Ject Phono Box as the Phono Preamp.
Here you can see the Speed Box II makes a moderate, but measurable, difference. I’m a bit surprised to see that the Arcyl-It version scores worse both times, but that seems to be the case. From these numbers I do recommend picking up the Speed Box II if you want to get the most out of the Pro-Ject Debut Turntable, as it makes improvements in both sound and usability.
Conclusions about the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Turntable
Vinyl is experiencing a resurrection in the marketplace, but is an intimidating world for many to enter. For many used to CD players or digital downloads that just play and don’t require any tweaking, it is often overwhelming to enter the world of analog and all the adjustments it can entail. Pro-Ject has done a wonderful job of producing a table that someone new to vinyl, or returning after an absence, can remove from the box, quickly assemble, and be ready to start playing without any fussiness.
Compared to the budget table I started with a few years ago, the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon offers better bass and soundstaging, with a wide variety of upgrades available that allow the performance to really grow. It also looks far cooler to all my guests with the bright red finish of my review unit really standing out in my rack. The Carbon is an exceptional performer for the price, and is highly recommended for those that want to add a turntable into their system. Out of the box it is great and only gets better as you add a Acryl-It platter and Speed Box II control to it. As your love of vinyl grows you can go ahead and upgrade the cartridge as well and get even more performance out of the Carbon tonearm and platter than the very capable Ortofon 2M Red can do.
If you’re a fan of modern rock at all, you really need to get a turntable into your system, as digital music is often far more compressed than the analog master is now, no matter how good the digital section of your system is. Adding a turntable and some of your favorite titles on vinyl will let you hear what you’ve been missing and the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon is an ideal place for making that leap.