AudioQuest NightOwl

PRO-JECT

T1 Turntable Review

Plenty of tech at a very modest price point.

THE HIGH NOTES


  • A serious table at an amazing price 
  • Glass Platter 
  • Great Tonearm 

Company & Product Overview

Pro-Ject Audio is the brainchild of Heinz Lichtenegger. Heinz founded Pro-Ject in 1991 with the desire to bring high-performance audio down in price by using great manufacturing processes coupled with economies of scale. Almost all of the Pro-Ject components are designed at their engineering facility in Austria and manufactured at their plants in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. By controlling all parts of the production process and making components that have wide appeal, Pro-Ject Audio has carved out a niche of giving you both high performance and value.

The turntable revolution has certainly helped play a large role in the worldwide success of Pro-Ject Audio. Their Debut Carbon model, which has gone through a few revisions over time, is probably the world’s best selling turntable over $200. It is certainly a big hit at Audio Advice as they seem to come in and go out by the pallet load! To go along with their turntables that span from as low as around $250 to as high as $14,000, Pro-Ject also makes phono stages, DAC’s, preamps, and power amps. Their phono stages are also extremely popular as they give you a ton of bang for the buck.

Today’s review is on a brand new turntable line up from Pro-Ject Audio that comes in under their popular Debut Carbon DC series. Many years in the planning, the new Pro-Ject T1 series offers up a lot of technology you’ll see in much more expensive turntables from around the world. The initial launch consists of a T1 table that comes complete with an Ortofon phono cartridge, and the T1 Phono SB with the addition of a built-in phono stage. Later on, Pro-Ject will add a Bluetooth table to the series.

Packaging, Design & Build Quality

Like almost all great turntables where audio performance is the most important aspect, the T1 series are manual, belt-drive turntables. In the world of turntables, manual means you start the platter spinning with a button push, move the tonearm over the record, lower it using the cue mechanism, and when the record ends, you lift the tonearm up using the cue. If you think about it, this design uses the least amount of moving parts, which means there is nothing to add noise or vibrations to the signal.

Belt drive turntables are also the defacto standard for most high-performance turntables for a couple of reasons. First, with direct drive, the platter sits right on top of the motor. Any motor noise present will be transmitted up to the platter and make its way to your phono cartridge. With a belt drive design, the motor is off to the side of the platter and connected with a belt. The belt keeps any motor noise from getting to the platter. Belt drive turntables, if properly designed, also have better speed stability than most direct drive turntables. With direct drive, the motor is constantly making adjustments to keep things at a steady speed. However, our ears can detect these micro-adjustments and the sound just does not come off as exciting and involving. While direct drive tables instantly come up to speed, belt drive tables take a few seconds to get up to speed, but once they do, the weight of the platter creates a flywheel effect that keeps them spinning at a very constant speed. This constant speed makes the sound more like real life.

Of course, you can make a mess or success of either design, but as a general rule, almost all of the great turntables are manual and belt drive like the new T1 series.

When we first looked at the T1, we were super impressed with the way it is put together. The Pro-Ject Audio factories have some pretty serious equipment for turning our consistent product results. The T1 seems to be made just as well as their other tables costing 2-3 times its price.

Features & Technology

The list of features and tech found in the new T1 tables is very impressive when you consider their modest price. We will start from the bottom and work our way up.

The three feet for the T1 are vibration resistant to help isolate the T1 from picking up vibrations from nearby speakers. We still feel you want to try and isolate any turntable from large speakers capable of deep bass.

Pro-Ject T1 Turntable feet

The plinth is CNC machined out of a solid, composite material. It is a combination of MDF with a foil wrap to reduce resonance. Pro-Ject chose this material to reduce any vibrations inside the plinth. There are three finishes available: high gloss black, satin white, or walnut. The motor is mounted to the plinth with isolation material in between. Pro-Ject also uses an advanced electronic control system for the motor to ensure it spins at a constant speed.

Pro-Ject designed a new sub-platter for the T1 series and mounted it to a very precision main bearing with tolerances down to .001mm. The bearing is identical to the one used in the Pro-Ject Essential III table with a hardened steel axle and brass bushing.

One big deal on the new T1 is the blasted glass main platter. This type of platter is normally seen on tables costing much more. With a heavy glass platter (3 pounds, we weighed it!), you get a great flywheel effect, improving speed stability. Offering a glass platter at this low price is clearly a jab at one of Pro-Ject’s main competitors who offer many tables with glass platters incorporating a more high tech design on most of them, but at higher price points. The whole table weighs in at about 8.3 pounds. The included felt mat tops off the glass platter.

Pro-Ject T1 Turntable glass

The tonearm on the T1 is a brand new design from the Pro-Ject team. It is the same effective length (8.6”) as the one on the Debut Carbon DC but is a one-piece design to reduce resonance. The rear counterweight is decoupled from the arm. If you need to adjust the tracking force, it slides forwards and backward with a set screw to lock it down when you are done adjusting. The bearing assembly on the tonearm is pretty massive for something in this price range. Pro-Ject developed a new bearing that has very low friction. Unlike the arm on the Debut Carbon, you will not have a way to adjust the vertical tracking angle as this arm has a fixed height. However, according to Pro-Ject, the arm is specifically designed to be a perfect match to the included Ortofon elliptical OM5E cartridge (a great $70 cartridge). We like this trade-off they made. Rather than trying to make the arm compatible (more expensive) with any possible cartridge, they made it work perfectly with the cartridge 99% of the people who buy this table will wind up keeping.

Speaking of the cartridge, many other turntables in this price range that come with a cartridge will have one with a spherical stylus. For more details, check out our turntable buyers guide, but in a nutshell, an elliptical stylus has more contact with the grooves of your record, allowing it to pick up more of those subtle audio nuances. You’ll get Danish engineering on the T1 with the included OM5E. It also has a user-replaceable stylus when it's worn out and time to replace.

Pro-Ject T1 Turntable Cartridge

The Phono SB model of the T1 has a few differences besides the included phono stage. First, we talked with Pro-Ject and found the built-in phono stage is a cross between their E series and MM series moving magnet phono preamp. Due to the fact that it's connected directly to the tonearm cables internally (think super short signal path), the performance is far better than even the MM separately. Plus it is perfectly tuned to the Ortofon OM5E. If you do not have a phono stage, we recommend you just go ahead and get the T1 Phono SB. Another nice part is should you decide to upgrade the built-in phono stage, you can easily bypass it with a slide switch under the base of the turntable.

The Phono SB model also gives you the convenience of electronic switching between 33 and 45. There are two little buttons located on the top of the plinth to change speed. With the regular T1, you simply remove the main platter and move the belt on the motor pulley.

You’ll also get some pretty high-performance cables with both tables. Pro-Ject gives you their $69 Connect It cables that are a very low capacitance design. On the Phono SB version, these are removable, whereas on the regular T1 they are fixed.

With all of these cool features, we could not wait to test out the T1!

Performance

Set up is another bonus we noticed when we unpacked the T1. Everything is pre-mounted, aligned and balanced from the factory. All you have to do is make the audio connections, put the belt on, add the outer glass platter, connect the power supply and you are done.

As usual, we decided to connect it up to a system probably beyond what most people would use with it just to see how it really sounded. For this test, we used the B&W 703S2 speakers with an Arcam SA20 integrated amp. This system had a MoFi Ultradeck in it we swapped out for the T1. The T1 we tested was the version with the built-in phono stage.

Pro-Ject’s product blurb on the T1 says it has a rich, lively sound. After listening, this seems to be a pretty accurate assessment. We decided to pull out a classic album, Joan Baez, Diamonds and Rust. We had a copy of the Half-Speed Mastered Nautilus version around.

The first thing we noticed was how well this table and cartridge combo tracked. There was very little surface noise and minimal breakup when things got really complicated. On the title track, the guitars jumped out into the room just like they do on a much more expensive setup. Focus and imaging were also very good. On some of the cuts with more rhythm and pacing, we found ourselves tapping our toes to the music, a good sign.

The built-in phono stage of the T1 works really well with the Ortofon. Just for grins, we compared it to a Sutherland Insight (yes, we know, this is crazy, the Insight alone is $1400) and while the Insight was a lot better, it showed us how decent the built-in phono stage is. The comparison showed more of what was missing than anything the built-in one was doing wrong.

Our only reservation, and we have to put this in context as all turntables in this price range behave like this, the deep bass is much less defined and detailed than on a really great turntable. So, while the T1 did not surprise us with revolutionary bass for this price category, it was full and musical, just as Pro-Ject described.  

Overall Recommendation

Pro-Ject has obviously reset the bar for entry-level performance turntables with the new T1 series. You will be hard-pressed to find a table in this price range with the plethora of tech found in the T1. If you are just getting into tables and do not have a phono stage, we suggest the T1 Phono SB model with the built-in phono stage. However, if your system already has a phono preamp, the T1 will be an excellent choice. There is one other consideration though. If you are a tinkerer and think you might want to play around with different phono cartridges in the future, the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC is probably a better choice for just a bit more. At $399 it has a fully adjustable tonearm, upgrade options for a few of its components, and comes with an even better $100 Ortofon Red cartridge. Should you consider going beyond $400 in your turntable investment, we find you hear big improvements in turntables as you move up. The improvements as you move up are pretty easy to hear each time you listen to a better one. Remember the sound begins at your table, so the better the table, the more music you’ll pull off your records. The choice really comes down to how deep you see yourself getting into the world of vinyl fun!

HIGH NOTES UNPACKED

A Serious Table at an Amazing Price

The T1 has more high tech features than any table we have seen in this price range, from the company that invented budget, performance turntables.

Glass Platter

Normally only found on more expensive tables, the glass platter is very heavy, giving you a great flywheel effect for excellent speed stability.

Great Tonearm

The new tonearm on the T1 is state of the art and perfectly matched to the included Ortofon OM5E cartridge. A superb combination.

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