When Pro-Ject Audio unleashed its top-selling Debut Carbon turntable several years ago, no one expected it to be a runaway hit. But despite a minor early-production tweak that addressed motor noise, the component kept pace with its higher-priced siblings while showing the high-end design community what's possible when you build an economical, yet remarkably musical, rig.
Fast forward to this month's arrival of the company's all-new Debut Carbon EVO, a major upgrade from its sales-record-setting cousin. EVO boasts features and benefits that bring more passion to playing vinyl all the while making nary a dent to your pocketbook. Plus, like all Pro-Ject gear, it is manufactured in the European Union.
From the moment you unpack EVO, you'll notice improvements. The internal packaging seems extremely robust for its price point. Gone are the flimsy inserts, replaced by thick albeit lightweight, environmentally friendly foam and cardboard framing. As with all Pro-Ject 'tables, cloth covers protect the 'table and dust cover from abrasion in transport, and leave no residue on the plinth or dustcover.
Once you finish with the packaging, you'll see several welcome enhancements in comparison to the original Carbon. Let's start with the plinth. Pro-Ject's attention to eye-catching, European design meant presenting a wide range of color choices for music lovers like me who crave lifestyle and looks – and high-tech engineering. Modernists will love the assortment of colors, while budget-minded audiophiles can take note of the impressive array of specifications and parts. Pro-Ject's always durable, one-piece, carbon-fiber 8.6-inch tonearm with racetrack pivot assembly seamlessly complements the factory-fitted Sumiko Rainier cartridge, a formidable competitor to Ortofon's 2M Red. (Note: Pro-Ject supplies 2M Red for markets outside the U.S.) Together, they maintain excellent trackability while surprising listeners with improved weight to bass notes as well as heightened detail and imaging.
Then there's the motor, now outfitted with a pulley that gives you instant access to virtually every LP, from the traditional 33 and 45 RPM to 78 RPM (with optional belt) vinyl. Built-in Speed Box circuitry relieves you of the incessant need to move the belt a level to change speed; instead, a rocker switch does all the work. And, of vital importance to vibration, the motor arrives braced with a heavy metal plate and elastomer damping rings, offering a remarkably quiet background.
One of my pet peeves with most low-cost turntables is the tendency for manufacturers to skimp on crucial elements – a non-starter for any budding audiophile. Project's early Debut Series rigs often suffered such fate with a bell-ringing metal platter (which is why I recommend replacing it with an Acryl-It platter for remarkable improvements). Now, with the addition of a TPE ring under the platter edge, EVO gains requisite extra detail while lowering noise floor levels – and you still get a full-size platter and felt mat. Budget rig build be damned, this counts as a dramatic improvement.
Along with the inclusion of a high-quality Connect-It interconnect, gold-plated RCA junction box, low-voltage PSU, and dust cover, EVO also comes with user-adjustable feet, a first for Pro-Ject models in this cost bracket. Any finely tuned analog rig calls for precise leveling to ensure maximum playback. These dampened feet fit the bill.
My verdict on the EVO after an initial listen: It's a must own for the money. I'm confident that once you have this exciting ‘table as part of your suite of gear, the engagement you have with your records will be immediate – and constant.
Follow @besnieverajr on Twitter and Instagram