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- Written by Oliver Amnuayphol Oliver Amnuayphol
- Category: Full-Length Equipment Reviews Full-Length Equipment Reviews
- Created: 15 February 2015 15 February 2015
The first turntable I ever bought was a Pro-Ject: the 1.2. Though a fairly simple machine, it was designed with performance in mind, as evinced by its heavy platter of cast aluminum, decoupled AC motor, and one-piece armtube. At only $399, the 1.2 offered decent value in 1995 $US.
Thanks to its distribution partnership with Sumiko in the US, the 1.2 could also be bundled with one of several Sumiko cartridges, including the popular Blue Point. That was the option I chose: For only $100 more, this high-output transducer brought the virtues of moving-coil cartridges to the masses, making for a simple and musically right vinyl-playback rig for under $500 -- a $50 savings over buying the cartridge separately.
Twenty years later, Pro-Ject is going stronger than ever -- so strong that their product line now comprises far more than turntables and record-replay accessories: It now includes electronics, such as phono preamps, CD players, music streamers, and DACs.
Of course, record players are still Pro-Ject’s bread and butter, but the range has grown far beyond the budget category. The subject of this review, the Classic Xtension 10 Evolution ($3499 USD), is one of the latest of the Austrian manufacturer’s more upmarket offerings.
The Classic Xtension 10 Evolution certainly looks like a premium turntable: my sample came wrapped in a gorgeous olivewood veneer that put to shame the appearance of many higher-priced rigs from much smaller manufacturers. The carbon-fiber tonearm, too, looks as if it could sell for $3500 on its own. The Xtension 10 can also be purchased in a Sumiko SuperPack: a $3999 bundle that includes Sumiko’s BlackBird cartridge, which otherwise costs $1099 -- a $600 savings over buying the two separately. Either way, the Xtension 10’s build quality, good looks, and features would seem to carry on Pro-Ject’s tradition of offering good value for money.
Most notable among those features are its magnetically decoupled suspension feet. Properly executed, mag-lev footers can offer many of the advantages of a suspended subchassis: superior isolation from noise; mechanical uniformity throughout the motor, platter, and tonearm; and the elimination of unpredictable vibrational behavior. Moreover, these can be accomplished without any of the usual drawbacks of subchassis, such as rocking (“porch-swing sway”) and difficult setup.
Those uniquely designed feet support a massive plinth of MDF filled with metal sand -- overall, the Xtension 10 weighs 48.4 pounds and measures 18.7”W x 9.2”H x 15.6”D. On the front-right corner of its top surface are a digital speed display and pushbuttons. At the left-rear corner is a rigidly mounted, 15W, AC synchronous motor, its pulley and metal guard protruding above the plinth. Playback speeds of 33 and 45rpm are selected with pushbuttons; for 78rpm, move the belt to the larger-diameter pulley and push the 45rpm button.
The motor uses the belt to drive a 12.5-pound, flywheel-balanced, Thermo Plastic Elastomer (TPE)-damped, sandwiched aluminum-alloy platter, whose top layer is covered with a mat made from recycled LPs. The platter’s bearing well includes a ceramic thrust pad that magnetically mates to an inverted bearing assembly tipped with a ceramic ball. It’s housed in its own subenclosure, which is mounted all the way through to the underside of the plinth.
A layer of TPE joins the Xtension 10’s plinth to its 10cc Evolution tonearm, whose armtube is molded from a single piece of carbon fiber for low weight and high stiffness. The 10cc Evolution has an inverted, gimbaled bearing with an ABEC 7 rating. Four TPE-damped counterweights and two headshell weights are included for compatibility with cartridges weighing from 4 to 14gm. The tonearm cable is available terminated with RCA or XLR plugs, and is a detachable DIN-type, should a cable upgrade strike your fancy.
The tonearm is also adjustable for all major parameters, including vertical tracking angle (VTA) and azimuth: The former is changed by loosening setscrews at the collar of the arm pillar, the latter by loosening another setscrew near the armtube/pivot interface. The antiskate force is set via the ubiquitous thread-and-falling-weight assembly.
The Xtension 10’s dustcover isn’t anything special, but the fact that there’s one at all -- included at no extra charge -- is a minor miracle, considering that, these days, more and more enthusiast ’tables go topless. As someone who seems to be forever dusting his hi-fi or shooing his cat off it, I consider the Xtension’s cover a stress reliever and turntable protector of the highest order.
Setting up the Xtension 10 couldn’t have been easier. First, screw the mag-lev footers into the plinth, making sure that the footer marked for the front-left position -- i.e., the one bearing the highest load -- finds its proper home (the others are all of the same size and weight). Level the turntable, if necessary. Lower the platter onto the bearing, fit the drive belt around the pulley, screw on the pulley guard, and plug in the power supply. All that’s left is to fit the cartridge, counterweight, and antiskate assembly onto the tonearm, and to adjust alignment parameters as necessary.
Using the supplied paper protractor and my own digital stylus-force gauge, I had the Xtension up and running in about 20 minutes. For the most optimal setup, however, I recommend using something like the Dr. Feickert Analogue gauge or Pro-Ject’s own Align-It gauge. Sumiko had sent along its BlackBird cartridge so that I could evaluate the SuperPack combo; I performed all of my listening tests using the BlackBird.
Once I had the BlackBird dialed and broken in, I cued up a go-to record I know well: Classic Records’ reissue of Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue (Columbia/Classic CS 8163). In some ways, the Xtension-BlackBird combo sounded exactly as one might expect such a design to sound: The music emerged from a superquiet, jet-black background with a big, commanding sound, lifelike scale, and tight, deep bass -- all hallmarks of a well-designed, high-mass turntable. Paul Chambers’s lowest double-bass notes in “Flamenco Sketches,” for example, had authoritative weight and extension while remaining taut and well-defined, devoid of any bloat or overhang. And the pulsating synth-bass in “Limit to Your Love,” from James Blake’s eponymous debut (Polydor B0015443-01), well plumbed the subterranean depths while still sounding controlled, pitch-correct, and articulate.
In other ways, the Xtension-BlackBird combo was a pleasant surprise, sounding livelier, more extended, and more crystalline in the treble than the typical heavy ’table. The cymbals in “I Am Sold,” from Blake’s Overgrown (Atlas 10LP), and “Milkola Bottle,” from Airhead’s For Years (R&S RS1308LP), were reproduced with extra doses of sizzle, detail, and shimmer, with lingering transients and harmonic information. This was anything but the round, warm, overrich sound so commonly heard from massive ’tables.
Unfortunately, the Xtension’s extra energy in the highs was sometimes a bit too much. The guitars in “Lost Cause,” from Beck’s Sea Change (Geffen/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL 2-308), sounded too forward, etched, and unduly emphasized -- the same was true of the cymbals and James Mercer’s voice in “Phantom Limb,” from the Shins’ Wincing the Night Away (Sub Pop SP 70705). Still, this extra presence and treble emphasis sounded unpleasantly excessive only with LPs that already tilt too far in that direction; in day-to-day listening it went mostly unnoticed.
One area in which the Pro-Ject came up aces was in its treatment of less-than-pristine LPs: The Extension 10 and BlackBird rendered groove and surface noise utterly innocuous. Though it wasn’t necessarily the quietest ’table I’ve ever heard, it had a way of softening the edges around groove and surface noise enough for those artifacts to sound separate and nearly absent from the music. Playback of a well-loved, garage-sale copy of Artie Shaw’s Moonglow (mono, RCA Victor LPM-1244) exemplified the Pro-Ject’s imperviousness to ticks, pops, ’n’ clicks -- they all seemed to recede deep into the background, allowing more of the music to shine through.
Perhaps the combination of the Xtension 10 and BlackBird’s immunity to groove noise and its inky-black backgrounds accounted for its soundstaging prowess: The combo threw a deep, wide, realistically holographic soundstage without artificially hyping it. With a reissue of Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and Petite Suite (Mercury Living Presence/Speakers Corner SR90213), the Pro-Ject package did a fine job of imaging that soundstage, too, conveying the scale of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (led by Paul Paray) while rendering both soloists and instrumental sections with fine clarity and image specificity. The Xtension’s imaging made it easy to hear why many analog-addicted audiophiles are fans of mass-loaded turntables.
How did the Pro-Ject stack up against its mass-loaded brethren? I compared it with VPI’s Classic 2 (with Lyra Delos cartridge), in for review. It didn’t take long to hear similarities between these two large-and-in-charge ’tables. Each delivered a big, bold, solid sound, underpinning the music with a solid, inert foundation, regardless of genre. Upper-bass and lower-midrange sounds, such as Beck’s voice and bass guitar on Sea Change, sounded fulsome and timbrally complete through both models.
Nor did it take long for the ’tables’ differences to make themselves known. The VPI brought out all of the warmth and roundness of the Susie Arioli Band’s That’s for Me, an album of small-combo acoustic jazz (Justin Time 195), making it sound comfortably rich, lush, and inviting. The Xtension combo did the same, but also highlighted the airy upper register of Arioli’s voice and her come-hither breathiness. Cymbals, too, stood out with greater detail and emphasis through the Pro-Ject, translating to a brighter, more spotlit tonal balance.
The Xtension combo also made Jordan Officer’s guitar sound more twangy, while prolonging its harmonic decay and transient information -- even more so than did the VPI, which is already a bit too generous in this regard. I wrote in my review of Rega Research’s RP8 turntable that, after extended listening, I surmised that such long, lingering decays were in fact distortions that ultimately sounded artificial and excessive. Having spent a good chunk of time listening to how the Pro-Ject handles transients and decays, I’m now even more convinced that it’s the result of microvibrations in the turntable system not being completely dissipated before becoming part of the musical signal. Once you hear how the light ’n’ rigid Rega does it, it’s easy to hear the difference. Listen to both and judge for yourself. In terms of transient and decay information, then, it’s no surprise that I preferred the Rega RP8 with Lyra Delos to the Pro-Ject Xtension 10 with Sumiko BlackBird.
The Pro-Ject-Sumiko acquitted itself quite well in other areas, however. With Frank Sinatra’s A Swingin’ Affair! (Capitol CAPS26-0017-1), the Pro-Ject made Nelson Riddle’s orchestra sound fuller, smoother, and more golden, while the Rega brought out more clarity, suppleness, and separation of instruments. The Xtension also shifted the emphasis on Sinatra’s whiskey-hued voice a bit toward his lower register; the Rega let through more of the Chairman’s mouth resonance, impeccable phrasing, and deft articulation.
With Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, with André Previn conducting the London Symphony Orchestra (Angel SC-3802), dynamics were reproduced with excellent force and impact by both ’tables, but the Rega-Lyra’s range was better developed. When I listened to Dance of the Knights, the macrodynamic acceleration and microdynamic nuance of the Xtension combo could be thrilling, but not quite as thrilling as the Rega combo in these regards. Given the Rega’s wondrous dynamic capabilities, perhaps its edge here should be no surprise. But the Pro-Ject was no slouch, and was quite satisfying overall.
What I found surprising was the surefooted quality of the Xtension’s timing. The Pro-Ject’s note-to-note continuity and rhythmic flow on “The Way You Look Tonight,” from the Arioli album, were compelling. The Pro-Ject effortlessly delivered the music’s pace and rhythm, and did a fine job of propulsively carrying me along with the tune. Whether this was due to the Xtension’s mag-lev suspension, light and rigid tonearm, or a combination of the two, I couldn’t say. Regardless, the Pro-Ject’s rhythmically free and nimble delivery delighted my ears, record after record.
That last sentence is no exaggeration: I’ve had Pro-Ject’s Classic Xtension 10 Evolution here for quite a few months, and even after listening to countless LPs with it, I’m still impressed. Its big, solid sound, expressive dynamic capabilities, and effortless timing and tunefulness made listening to records great fun, regardless of musical genre. What’s more, its kindness to worn or noisy records was a major boon to one who frequents garage sales and Goodwill stores for his vinyl fixes.
Having heard Sumiko’s BlackBird in other turntables over the years, I can attest that it’s a heck of a fine cartridge for $1099, even if it tilts a bit too much toward the highs for some. Nonetheless, the combo of Pro-Ject Classic Xtension 10 Evolution and Sumiko BlackBird is a thoroughly enjoyable record-playing system -- one with eminently musical chops, fine sound, and fuss-free setup and operation. It’s one of the best Pro-Ject designs to date, and given the company’s history of making record players, that’s saying a lot. If you’re shopping for a complete turntable setup between $3500 and $4000, be sure to listen to the Pro-Ject’s SuperPack combo of Classic Xtension 10 Evolution and Sumiko BlackBird. You’ll be glad you did.
. . . Oliver Amnuayphol
- Loudspeakers -- KEF R700, Aperion Audio Verus Grand Tower
- Integrated amplifiers -- Marantz PM-KI Pearl, Pathos Logos Mk.II
- Phono preamplifiers -- Graham Slee Revelation M, Pro-Ject Phono Box RS
- Step-up transformer -- custom-made Sowter Magnetics 9570 1:10 transformer
- Sources -- Rega Research RP8 turntable, Lyra Delos and Sumiko BlackBird cartridges
- Analog interconnects -- custom single-core, copper coaxial (RCA), Blue Jeans Cable LC-1
- Speaker cables -- WireWorld Oasis 6
- Power cords -- WireWorld Aurora 5.2 and Electra 5.2
Pro-Ject Classic Xtension 10 Evolution Turntable
Price: $3499 USD ($3995 USD with Sumiko BlackBird cartridge).
Warranty: Two years parts and labor.
Pro-Ject Audio Systems
2431 Fifth Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
Phone: (510) 843-4500
Fax: (510) 843-7120