AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt

PRO-JECT
Debut Carbon EVO Turntable

Not only an evolution on the Debut Carbon DC, but a revolution in sound quality for the money

PRICE


$499.00

THE HIGH NOTES


  • What a Value!
  • Thermoplastic Elastomer Isolation
  • Carbon Fiber Tonearm

Company & Product Overview

This review is on a brand new turntable from Pro-Ject, the Debut Carbon EVO. EVO as you might guess is short for “evolution”. The new EVO model is the latest of an ever-evolving world-class turntable from Europe’s Pro-Ject Audio Systems.

The world of vinyl was in quite a different state than today when Pro-Ject Audio Systems was founded by Heinz Lichtenegger in the 1990s. Vinyl sales were at an all-time high low, whereas in 2019 they broke records, and surpassed 2018 by almost 20%. Heinz had a vision of producing a great budget line of turntables and electronics. His crystal ball turned out to be very clear, as Pro-Ject Audio Systems is now the world’s largest manufacturer of turntables! 

Their first turntable was called the Debut, as it was their debut into turntables. This model later evolved into the Debut Carbon, the Debut Carbon DC, and now is getting some major upgrades and changing to the Debut Carbon EVO.

Every version of the Debut has been just an incredible value, offering far more performance than most of the competition in the same price range. 

When we were having a conversation with the US distributor and going over all the new features of the EVO, we were a little concerned that all of the upgrades were going to drive the price of this new turntable above $700 and make it less affordable for the wide audience the previous Debut’s had reached. Our jaws hit the floor when they told us the final price, which is just astounding for everything the new EVO offers.

We also thought it would be fun to do a comparison review looking at all of the upgrades over the previous Debut Carbon DC, which you can find here if you are curious.

Design & Build Quality

Like all Pro-Ject turntables, the Debut Carbon EVO is a manual, belt-drive turntable. This means you need to flip a switch to start things up, move the tonearm over the record, lower the cue lever, then raise the cue lever when the record ends. This is how almost 95% of turntables made today are designed as there is no need to put a bunch of gears and parts under the tonearm which could reduce the performance.

Pro-Ject has usually offered a large range of color choices on some of their turntables and that tradition continues with the EVO being available in 7 different beautiful finishes. It has a very sleek design with the speed switch hidden under the plinth (the base of the turntable) and a slim, friction hinged dust cover. Our sample was their very elegant satin steel blue finish.

Pro-Ject builds many turntables that cost multi-thousands of dollars and like the previous models, the EVO is built to those same standards. Fit and finish is just top-notch, as is the box it comes packed in. Taking the EVO out of the box is a very easy process with all of the parts extremely well packed.

We could not wait to get it set up and running, but first, as always, our curious eyes had to give it a very thorough going over.

Features & Technology

A manual belt-drive turntable does not really have a lot of features to talk about, but Pro-Ject did add something many people had been asking for with the EVO. Switching from 33 to 45 is now done by a simple rocker switch underneath the turntable. 78 speed is also now an option. To engage 78 you have to remove the platter and install a different belt, but it’s nice to have for those rare 78 LP occasions.

The color choices, which by the way get an 8 coat lacquer finish, offer up high gloss black, white and red; satin black, white, fir green, golden yellow, and steel blue; plus a beautiful satin walnut finish. 

However, the technology in the Debut Carbon EVO is a list a mile long! Pro-Ject recently introduced a new line of turntables in the X series which are much more expensive than the Debut range. From the looks of it, they took a lot of the tech from the X1 and filtered it down into the new EVO. We were just super impressed with everything Pro-Ject packed into this new model.

We will start at the bottom and work our way out. 

The three feet are height adjustable and made from a combination of a thermoplastic elastomer and aluminum. Pro-Ject uses the elastomer called TPE in many of their upper-end turntables and we can verify, it does an awesome job at damping out resonances. The feet are also pretty large in diameter giving the table a very stable base.

The rocker switch under the table engages a variant on Pro-Ject’s separate Speed Box turntable speed control. This uses a precision crystal to generate the signal that goes to the motor, ensuring super accurate speed. A feature like this is pretty much unheard of in a turntable priced like the new EVO.

Pro-Ject made a huge change to the motor in the EVO. It now uses a large steel plate the motor mounts to which shields the platter from the motor. But they did not stop there! The shield is attached to the plinth using TPE washers on both the top and bottom side of the mounting screws which effectively isolates the motor totally from the plinth. It is hard to get around the fact that all motors vibrate to some degree. This design will keep any motor noise from getting up into the platter and making its way into what the cartridge picks up. This design clearly came from the much more expensive X1 turntable.

The stamped steel platter weighs in at almost 4 pounds and has a large ring of the TPE damping material around its ring. This greatly reduces any platter resonance and adds a nice flywheel effect to the platter for better speed.

The tonearm is a one-piece carbon fiber design. This is one beautiful tonearm with zero play in its special sapphire tonearm bearings. We always like to try and see if we can get a pivoted tonearm’s bearings to wobble any (a bad sign) and the EVO is spot on.

The phono cartridge is a very important part of any turntable as it is the device that pulls the music out of the record grooves. Sumiko, the US importer of Pro-Ject, had been working on a new line of phono cartridges for years. They wanted something that was a great value from a cost/performance standpoint. Sumiko worked with a team of engineers in Yokohama, Japan to develop a whole new line up a couple of years ago.

These new Oyster cartridges all have a new anti-resonant body and a special new generator system. They sound fantastic and have received tons of positive press around the world. One thing we love about the line is the first three models have an interchangeable stylus, so you can effectively start out with the entry-level Rainier, and should you wish when your stylus wears out and needs replacing, buy the stylus for a more expensive model and greatly improve your sound.

The new EVO comes with the Rainier model mounted and aligned and we see many people opting to upgrade to the highly regarded Moonstone when it's time for a new stylus. 

Wiring inside the carbon fiber arm is a high purity copper with a separate shield that is one piece all the way to the very solid gold plated rear-mounted RCA jacks. The Connect-E cable is included with the EVO. This is a pretty serious RCA cable with great internal materials and is the same one supplied with their more expensive turntables. Pro-Ject even compared different lengths and decided that 1.23 meters sounded the best. While the separate cable allows you to upgrade things later, this cable is very good.

After this complete inspection, it was time to put things together and spin some vinyl!

Performance

Setup was a snap. We especially liked the very large stylus guard on the Rainer. Some guards are tiny and a little tricky to remove without risking stylus damage. This one covers the entire cartridge and just pulls straight down. 

Our only complaint with the setup and we saw this on a lot of Debut Carbon’s out of the box is the anti-skate assembly. You want to put the little loop on the second groove of the tiny post on the back of the tonearm then hook it over a wire with a loop in it for a nice gravity-based anti-skate setup. The wire part has a little set screw that lets you move it from left to right. As it came out of the box, it was too close to the arm, so if you put the loop on the second groove, the angle pulled it to the third groove. We just had to take a phillips-head screwdriver, loosen it a bit, move it about ½” and all was well. 

Other than that, the total set up time was about 3 minutes. If you have never balanced a tonearm before, you may spend a little more time but we have several videos showing you how to balance a tonearm.

Our first track was from Donald Fagin’s Nightfly album I.G.Y. This track has a lot of varied synthesizer and drum sounds all going on at the same time. Many cartridges fail to track this properly resulting in some distortion. Not only did the Rainier/EVO combo track this fantastically, but surface noise was also super low. Before we knew it, as we sat typing this up, 2 more songs had played and Ruby Ruby started up, which is a very rhythmic cut. We noticed our toes were tapping to the music! All of the multiple layers of vocal harmony were totally separated and again the tracking on the Rainier was really impressive.

Next, we moved on to the Squeeze East Side Story album from 1981 that has the big hit Tempted. The first track though is In Quintessence. On this cut, there are two male vocal parts, but on many systems, it just sounds like one. The EVO with the Rainier made it perfectly clear they were separate voices. Like the Fagin cut Ruby Ruby, this one is very rhythmic towards the end especially. Once again our toes were tapping and our head was bobbing up and down to the music.

Staying in the last century we put on one of our favorite albums of all time, Eric Clapton’s Slowhand from 1977. Every song on this album is great, but the 9-minute long track, The Core, is just full of great energy with a lot of playoff male and female vocals. About 5 minutes in, it gets very complex with many overdubbed tracks of guitar, sax, drums, and vocals. Less expensive turntables tend to fall flat on this cut as they just can’t pull all the information out. While we have obviously heard this done better on much more expensive turntables, this combo did just incredibly well for $500.

Things sounded so good we kept listening to the next track May You Never. On this cut, which is more laid back, you can hear Eric Clapton putting little subtle emotions into the vocals. The tiny changes in volume that allow you to hear his expressions shined through with the EVO.

We have to say, after about an hour of listening to the new EVO with the Rainier, we feel this is one heck of an easy to listen to rig. Compared to more expensive tables it is lacking in very deep bass impact and it's not as dynamic as some $1000-$1500 tables, but geez, it's one incredible bargain for the price. The sound is never harsh, it tracks great, and just makes you want to pull out more records, always a winning combination!

Overall Recommendation

The various versions of the Debut have been the world’s best selling turntables for under $500. The Debut Carbon EVO is without a doubt, the best one ever, and still under $500. 

This table is simple to set up, easy to listen to, and will get you really involved in the music. We can not think of another table for $500 that sounds this good!

And we have saved the best part for last. Should you pick up an EVO and start really getting into vinyl, this table has several optional upgrades you can do to make it perform even better. Most of the upgrades for the Debut Carbon DC apply as well to the EVO, but we will do a separate article later on how to upgrade the EVO. 

  1. Pro-ject Debut Carbon Evolution Turntable Pro-ject Debut Carbon Evolution (EVO) Turntable
    Rating:
    98%
    $499.00

HIGH NOTES UNPACKED

AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt Highnotes 3

What a Value!

We just can not believe this turntable is only $499 with all of the great technology and materials. It sounds simply amazing for its price. It is destined to become a classic.

AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt Highnotes 2

Thermoplastic Elastomer Isolation

Pro-Ject upped the game on the EVO to add this high tech isolation material to the feet, the motor mount, and the platter.

AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt High Note 1

Carbon Fiber Tonearm

From the world of racing cars, the carbon fiber tonearm is light, stiff, and rejects external resonances.

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