Having only one other experience with a belt-drive turntable, the Fluance RT85, which I should probably revisit now that I’ve had the opportunity to fuss with the Pro-Ject offering, I have a better understanding of these delicate record players. Released in 2017, Pro-Ject has been delighting vinyl lovers with their Essential III turntable. Essential is an apt name for it too. It is a well-built beautifully designed turntable that offers very little in the frills department and focuses on quality construction; and of course, the music. A few of my friends picked up super cheap turntables when buying vinyl became cool again, some of them even bought an old crappy one from a garage sale. The Essential III is a perfect step up into a proper turntable if you are in the market
Pro-Ject has been around since 1991 with a mission to offer the best analog experience at a good price. The best way to start in their opinion is with a good turntable. The Essential III sits in the mid-range of Pro-Ject’s long line-up of turntables (there are twelve lines if you include the special editions) and this current Essential range is comprised of 7 different models; The Essential III, The Essential III HP, The Essential III Bluetooth, The Essential III Digital, The Essential III Phono, The Essential III Record Master, and The Essential III SB. Whew! For a deep dive on all the available models please visit their website for details, the model we’re focusing on is the plain old The Essential III.
The Essential range is a decade old now, and the III took four years of reworking to get right before it was released in 2017. Enhancing this newly-revamped turntable is a diamond-cut aluminum drive pulley, a resonance-optimized MDF main platter, and an MDF chassis. The high-precision platter bearing has also been refined and has significantly lower tolerances than the Essential II. The deck came packed with Ortofon’s OM10 cartridge to boot! If this isn’t enough, the Essential III has picked up a host of industry awards like EISA’s ‘Best Value Turntable’.
The folks at Pro-Ject also supplied their Phono Box Pre-amplifier for this review, which came in handy as I use a Pioneer DJM 450 mixer with my Technics and don’t own a dedicated pre-amp. After my misadventures with Fluance’s nifty T85 Reference turntable, I was curious to see how the experience with an established turntable manufacturer would be. As luck would have it, I have the Pro-Ject setup feeding into a Cambridge Audio CXA-61 integrated amplifier which I have on hand for review (color me lucky!), which powers a pair of B&W 685 S1 bookshelf speakers.
Pro-Ject Essential III Turntable
- Belt drive with synchronous motor and silicone belt
- Diamond cut aluminum drive pulley
- MDF Chassis and Platter
- Integrated DC-powered motor control minimizes motor vibration and guarantees speed stability
- Low tolerance platter bearing with stainless steel spindle
- 8.6” aluminum tonearm with sapphire bearings
- Ortofon OM10 cartridge pre-mounted
- High-quality semi-balanced Connect it E phono interconnect with gold-plated RCA connectors included
- Special decoupling feet
- High-gloss color options: black, red, white
33, 45rpm (manual speed change)
33: 30.70% 45: 0.60%
WOW & FLUTTER:
33: 0.21% 45: 0.19%
300mm MDF & felt mat (0.8kg)
EFFECTIVE ARM LENGTH:
EFFECTIVE TONEARM MASS:
COUNTERWEIGHT FOR MASS:
TRACKING FORCE RANGE:
0-25mn (recommended OM10 18mn)
Power supply, dust cover
4.5 Watts max
(lid closed): 16.3” x 4.4” x 13.2” (W x H x D)
(lid open, 90°): 16.3” x 14.4” x 15.4” (W x H x D)
(without lid): 16.3” x 3.7” x 13” (W x H x D)
pro-ject, turntable, essential III, essential 3
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The Pro-Ject Essential III is a gorgeous little turntable. Mine arrived finished in a bright red gloss. If I were purchasing one, I would have opted for black or white but the red really grew on me. The Essential III features a diamond-cut aluminum drive pulley and a resonance-optimized MDF main platter and MDF chassis. The high-precision platter bearing has also been refined and has significantly lower tolerances than the Essential II.
The whole thing is classy to look at. It’s quite lightweight for a turntable which gave me pause as I thought it would have been a bit heavier and therefore sturdy. Place it onto a sturdy shelf or sideboard and you should be without worry. Lately, I’ve been moving all my hi-fi kit higher to prevent my two kids from mashing the buttons and inserting cheese sticks (OMG!!!!) into whatever opening they feel is a good idea at the time. To help with sturdiness, there’s an upgrade path. You can opt to upgrade the MDF platter to a Pro-Ject’s ‘Acryl It E’ acrylic platter. Which is said to enhance the listening experience with less static, improved bass and more detail. It will run you $100. Now, if it’s so much better, it really should be standard on a truly ‘Hi-Fi’ offering and not an add on. Fluance for their part offers the same upgrade path to their budget turntables and includes the acrylic platter on their higher-end offerings.
The supplied cartridge is the high-quality Ortofon OM10 and it is pre-mounted (yay!), with a rounded stylus. The tonearm is straight and made from aluminum. The power switch is located on the left side and the supporting three anti-vibration feet located on the bottom are of good quality and provide sufficient dampening by decoupling them from the chassis.
Unpacking the turntable was straightforward; a big cardboard box and carefully packed contents. I guess the ‘Essential’ moniker extends to the packaging as well. I’m nitpicking here, but there was very little in the way of flair, just plastic bags, scotch tape, and soft cloths to protect the dustcover and gloss finish. I know, budget constraints are a real thing but take Fluance for example, their packaging was classier. And they included a legible, well designed, full-color manual. Pro-Ject did not. Their manual leaves a lot to be desired. It’s black and white and printed on newsprint. The images are dark, blurry and not conducive to helping you figure out what goes where; which is a shame, as clear images would have come in handy. Fortunately, Pro-Ject does have a more useful setup guide on their website which is downloadable in PDF format – it includes full-color images and really should come in the box. If you’re new to turntables like these, good instructions are a must.
Set up is fairly simple, unpack all the pieces, attach the platter and get the belt around it. To switch between 33 and 45rpm, you must manually move the belt between the two pulleys at the top left corner. Then add the counterweight and adjust the tonearm balance. The interconnects are fixed to the back of the unit.
The finicky part is the anti-skating weight which is small and attached to a fine string that resembles dental floss. Admittedly, I missed it at first and before discovering the setup guide online, the printed manual didn’t give me a clue as to what to do with it or where it went. Once I got it all sorted, the Essential III was up and running in under an hour. The dustcover is a simple set up. It’s not as elegant as Fluance’s hinged cover it’s more spartan than that, but once in place, it wasn’t an issue.
Using my experience with Fluance’s RT85 as a baseline, I got to grips with playing vinyl and resisting the urge to hover and touch the turntable while listening. I’ll admit that I still find manual speed changes cumbersome. Whenever I tried one, I almost always bunked it up and had the belt slip off altogether. That’s on me as I don’t hear the rest of the world complaining about it. It is what is. On the bright side, the premium looks are complemented by great sound.
Niagara – Sangandongo – Batucada Por Favor LP
If you haven’t heard this before you probably should. I first heard it in the late 90s and it quickly became a favorite. The whole LP was pretty great. Sangandongo is a near 20-minute stormer of an African-influenced drum track. The Pro-Ject sounded energetic and lively with plenty of bass definition. The soundstage wasn’t as wide as the Fluance RT85 but that turntable costs twice the price and has a more expensive Ortofon stylus.
Adred – Captivate (feat Robert Manos) Marcus Intalex Remix
I’ve been hammering this song ever since I was able to get my hands on it, first digitally, then on vinyl. As with any D&B tune, the focus is on the impact of the drums and bass first and then musicality. The Pro-Ject delivers on impact and impresses on musicality as well. The overall narrow-ish soundstage doesn’t detract from tracks like these. Especially since this is pressed as a 12″ 45rpm single, they generally tend to be louder than their 33 1/3 brethren.
Indigo Tracks Part One – Rites of Passage
I couldn’t resist. Part of the fun of turntable reviews is going back to my collection for songs that I haven’t been able to find digitally. This is one of them. I’m at a loss on how to describe it other than calling it a Deep House gem. In any case, the Pro-Ject once again pumped this out without a worry and the subtle shifts in the groove had me dancing through the living room.
I have only a couple of gripes here. First, I wish Pro-Ject would provide a better manual. Listen, I know you can pretty much google instructions and set up videos for just about anything these days. But packaging is a big part of the experience, much like looking at vinyl artwork and reading liner notes while listening to your favorite album. In comparison, Fluance, for their part, got it right and other manufacturers should take note.
Another thing I’d like to see from Pro-Ject is from a consumer’s POV – a simplified product line up. Man, the products on offer are amazing but so confusing. Seven variations of a turntable line up, and 12 lines of turntables. I get that we’re in a bit of a bubble in HiFi land, but if I was on the market for a budget deck, I wouldn’t know which ones I would be going for just by visiting their site.
Those minor complaints aside, I’d be more than happy to have a Pro-Ject Essential III on my shelf. It was easy to set up and sounded great. If you’re on the market for a turntable, I can wholeheartedly recommend it to you.
The Pro-Ject Essential III is a great turntable. It is as the name suggests, an essential piece of gear.
For the price, the build and quality are right on the money. The $499 USD Fluance RT85 that I reviewed is costlier but offers more in the way of features and is easier to live with. Then again, you can just as well step up to Pro-Ject’s Debut line and get the same feature set. But the low cost and high quality on offer from Pro-Ject are admirable and worth a look.
- Good looking, lots of color options.
- A better manual
- Simpler product line