If you like colourful hifi, then the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon turntable may well be an ideal place to start! It’s available in a range of plinth colours including high gloss yellow, red and the rather startling blue that was delivered to me for review. If your taste doesn’t run to rainbow hues, then high-gloss black, silver or white are also available. Looks matter to many folk, and I think that the range of colours on offer is a fine thing.
So, what do we have here? ….
A relatively low-priced deck which aspires to sound rather good.
It’s belt drive and the tonearm has to be manually cued.
Carbon as a material is rare, to say the least, in a low-priced tonearm. This exotic material is usually reserved for far higher price points where it’s qualities of high stiffness and low internal resonance are much appreciated. But Pro-ject have somehow managed to provide a carbon tonearm in this low priced package. Impressive.
The funds available for this turntable can’t stretch to a full suspended sub-chassis and platter. Instead, the suspension system for the Debut Carbon is incorporated by use of vibration absorbing sorbothane in the turntable’s feet. The attachment of the motor to the turntable plinth also uses sorbothane to reduce transmitted vibrations.
The effective mass of the arm is a quite low 6g, so moving magnet cartridges are better suited than most moving coils; this is in line with the price of the deck as moving coil cartridges tend to be more expensive.
Platter speeds of 33 and 45 rpm are available via a manual movement of the belt. Pro-ject even supply a clever little plastic tool for this, so you don’t have to worry about getting greasy finger marks on the drive belt.
The music signal is output via 2 RCA phono sockets. A pair of cables is supplied for connection to an amplifier or phonostage, but the owner has the option of investing in higher cost alternatives.
The turntable package that I received for review included an Ortofon 2M Red moving magnet cartridge which retails for £80 on its own. The “package deal” of turntable plus cartridge retails at a wallet-pleasing £299 in the UK.
You can even get a USB output version of the Debut Carbon for a little extra money if you want to digitise your LPs or to listen to the turntable via your PC /computer.
Impressively, this is not too far off from a ‘plug & play’ turntable solution in that one of the fiddliest bits is often the mounting and accurate setup of the cartridge. With the Debut Carbon, the cartridge comes already mounted. All you have to do is …. take the bits out of the box; put the belt around the sub-platter and motor pulley; plop the platter with its felt mat on the centre spindle; loop the bias weight thread onto the short rod sticking out the rear of the arm; screw the tonearm counterweight onto the rear of the arm and balance the arm for level and then adjust the playing weight to suit the cartridge (1.75g for the Ortofon 2M Red); and slide the clear perspex lid onto the two metal rods at the rear. Use the supplied phono leads and ground wire to connect the turntable via its rear RCA sockets to your amp or phonostage and — Sorted! You are ready to play the vinyl. It took me about 30 easy-going minutes to get it all together.
The instruction manual is quite well laid out and easy to follow. Although, slightly confusingly, the list of component parts and where they are located in the packing box is at the rear of the manual. Being a fairly typical male of our species, I didn’t bother to read the manual through before starting putting the turntable together, so I was rather baffled when the tonearm counterweight was not readily to hand. It’s actually located in it’s own little cylindrical cutout in the packing foam. All is made clear on the diagram on the last page!
Happily, the cartridge supplied was well mounted in the tonearm, although the Ortofon 2M Red’s sloping body does not making assessment easy! In practice, the cartridge tracked very well, so the setup appears to have been well done.
The lid is friction held to enable it to stay open when left at an angle. In practice, you have to leave it near to fully open to achieve this, as at less than 60 degrees or so of tilt gravity wins the tussle and the lid closes with a clunk!
The on/off rocker switch is located at the left-hand side, just tucked under the plinth slab, about 4 inches (10cm) from the front. You need to make sure you can access this in the position you intend to place the turntable.
The tonearm lowering arm is damped and works smoothly, and the arm lowers nice and gently onto the record, allowing time to get back to your listening seat before the music starts!
The turntable is remarkably impervious to external knocks and vibrations. I first noticed this when lowering the lid once a record was playing; the lid came down rather harder than I intended and I fully expected the stylus to leap out of the groove with a loud thump – but, no, the music carried on seamlessly. More than a little baffled, I proceeded to jump up and down on my suspended wooden floor just next to the turntable with increasing enthusiasm. Nope, I couldn’t budge it. Amazing. How does it do it? – I have no idea. But it is very impressive.
Speed stability. Hmm, piano – that’ll catch it out! Nope, rock steady even on long sustained notes. Often on cheaper turntables, speed stability cannot be taken for granted. But the Debut Carbon is fine. Very impressive.
AND THE MUSIC ….
Playing Dire Strait’s Telegraph Road was a whole bundle of fun – energetic, toe-tapping, emotive – bass was driving along, if not the deepest I have heard; imaging was well-focussed and rock solidly stable; cymbals clean and effervescent; the vocal line expressive. Yeah! – I loved it.
Andreas Vollenweider’s new-agey classic, White Winds, was wonderfully atmospheric and involving. The breathy flutes and tinkly chimes were well caught, the synth bass deep and purposeful. Great stuff.
Some Louis Armstrong tracks recorded in the 1940s had real in-room presence and tactility, his gravelly voice well caught and the accompanying trumpet, clarinet and piano were timing nicely and creating a very sympathetic vibe.
Classical music was a little bit more problematic at times. The Debut Carbon didn’t quite have the insight to unravel a complex orchestral score, kind of skimming over the surface a little. The you-are-there feeling was also constrained by a rather shallow soundstage. At the price I cannot really complain, though.
IS THERE MORE TO BE HAD FROM YOUR RECORDS?
Is the Debut Carbon all the turntable you need? It might well be – it does sound impressive and very enjoyable. What extra expenditure on another turntable can give you is more authority and scale, a deeper and more tactile bass, even better image focus in a more 3D soundstage, and a wider dynamic range with greater impact. But taken in its own right it provides very fine and enjoyable sound.
SUMMARY & CONCLUSION
Impressive seems to be a word used with frequency in this review. It does sound good, is easy to set up and use, and it looks great, in a minimalist and optionally colourful sort of way. Music is well resolved and enjoyably involving. To be honest, for £300 you really can’t go wrong here.
In fact, I find myself coming to the surprising conclusion that I could quite happily live with this sound for the long term, with some occasional reservations when it comes to classical music. This conclusion is surprising because I’ve owned and enjoyed turntable systems worth £thousands.
So, without a doubt – I recommend the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon turntable and Ortofon 2M Red cartridge package with enthusiasm!
Review system: MBL 116F speakers, Parasound Halo A21 power amp, Restek Consens pre-amp, Pioneer PL-71 direct drive turntable, Zu/Denon DL-103 moving coil cartridge, Trichord Dino phonostage with Never Connected power supply. Also Beresford Bushmaster DAC with Mark Grant power supply, Pioneer DV-767 CD transport.