Pro-Ject Audio Systems, of Vienna, Austria, makes a turntable model for everyone. Their lower-priced models range from the Essential ($299 USD) through the Debut Carbon ($449, the model I bought) to the Esprit ($599) and beyond. The features and bundles vary -- claimed improvements in motors, platters, and cartridges account for the rises in price. Visually, however, many of Pro-Ject’s turntables look similar, with 8.6” tonearms (though of varying materials), and glossy, rectangular plinths of MDF, the latter sometimes available in colors other than red, black, and white (as in the Debut). Many models come with the same dustcover.
It’s with the Classic SB ($1499), which is basically the standard Classic ($1099) souped up with Pro-Ject’s SuperPack of added features, that the improvement in looks and features becomes exponential. The package includes a Sumiko Blue Point No.2 high-output moving-coil cartridge ($449 when sold separately), and the Classic SB’s striking wooden plinth (available in eucalyptus, rosenut, or walnut) recalls the appearance of Linn’s iconic Sondek LP12. The Classic SB is the sort of turntable a film’s set decorator would select for a scene in which an impression of wealth is to be established. Inside that retro base, however, the engineering is utterly contemporary.
The Classic SB’s platter of damped aluminum weighs five pounds and sits on a matching chassis of brushed aluminum, which itself sits suspended in the base to improve the turntable’s ability to handle vibrations. The subplatter is typical for Pro-Ject’s lower-priced turntables: machined plastic with a stainless-steel spindle. Pro-Ject has enough confidence in their range of parts to trickle them up as well as down.
The Classic SB’s platter is driven by a flat belt looped around the motor pulley’s single groove. Unlike with my Debut Carbon, whose platter I have to lift off, then move the belt to a second pulley to switch between 331⁄3 and 45rpm play, the Classic SB’s drive motor includes Pro-Ject’s Speed Box, which has one button for each speed, the speed indicated by a blue LED. (To play 78s, press both buttons and replace the flat belt used for 33s and 45s with the supplied round belt.) The platter comes up to full speed quickly, if just shy of the instantaneousness of a direct-drive platter.
At 9”, the Classic SB’s aluminum and carbon-fiber tonearm is slightly longer than my Debut’s 8.6”, carbon-fiber-only arm, and its greater weight makes it easier to lift and lower with assurance -- the lighter-weight arm tends to jump. The arm’s hefty chrome counterweight is visually appealing but devoid of calibration markings. I balanced the arm by eye, and got close to the Sumiko Blue Point No.2’s recommended vertical tracking force (VTF) of 1.8gm -- but even though Pro-Ject includes a branded analog VTF scale, I had to use a digital scale to set the tracking weight with precision. I used the included alignment protractor to verify that Pro-Ject had positioned the cartridge correctly at the factory. They had. The anti-skating force is applied by the usual tiny weight hung by a loop of fishing line.
The Classic SB came with packing lists enumerating 22 parts and 17 accessories, each checked off by hand. In addition to the Sumiko cartridge (the Classic comes with an Ortofon Silver moving-magnet) and Speed Box, the SuperPack edition also includes Pro-Ject’s Connect It low-capacitance phono cable ($99 when sold separately). I liked its length and pliancy, and thought it contributed to the tonal balance and distinctive sonic character of the Classic SB. Still, the basic interconnects that came with my Debut Carbon have never disappointed, and as high-quality as the Connect It is, its ground wire seems unnecessarily thin, with smallish spades at either end.
More than a simple center weight, Pro-Ject’s Clamp It ($99 when sold separately) screws down and grabs an LP, which Pro-Ject claims joins vinyl to platter more tightly, to reduce unwanted resonances. As the platter turns, its large, bright, deeply knurled knob looks like a spinning disco ball. It did appear to help flatten records that were slightly warped, but it didn’t work miracles. And because the Classic SB’s spindle is so short and its Leather It record mat ($59 when sold separately) is so thick, the Clamp It wouldn’t grab 180gm LPs. The Leather It, its finish more like suede than natural-grain leather, did seem to substantially reduce the dust-collecting static electricity LPs often generate.
The Classic SB and all its parts and accessories arrived very carefully packed, and for all the turntable’s sophistication and good looks, it proved as plug-and-play as its lower-end cousins. It should present no problems for vinyl neophytes.
Tucked away in the Styrofoam packing are the plinth’s three feet. These screwed in easily, but required a bit of experiment with their adjustment. When they were screwed in all the way, the Classic SB’s RCA output jacks, and especially its ground post, were too close to the stand I’d set the turntable on -- and the post was difficult to turn with the feet at any height. I settled on keeping the feet at their highest extension, but the turntable’s rigidity and weight (over 25 pounds) made it more susceptible to knocks and footfalls than the Debut Carbon, which sits on four shock absorbers of fixed height.
Fully assembled and set up, the Classic SB measures 18.25”W x 6”H x 13.5”D -- a relatively large footprint. The dustcover is made of sturdier, clearer, more reflective plastic than the one that fits my Debut. I left if off during playback, to reduce any possibility of resonance or thuds, but carefully replaced it when the platter wasn’t spinning. I never attached the cover to its hinges on the plinth.
The Sumiko Blue Point No.2, with elliptical stylus and aluminum cantilever, has a high specified output for an MC cartridge -- 2.5mV -- making it the equivalent of many moving-magnet cartridges in this regard. I first connected the Classic SB to the MC input of my NAD PP 2i phono preamplifier, which in turn fed my NAD C 325BEE integrated amplifier. It sounded great: exciting and detailed, vibrant yet refined, loud but lively -- just what I’d expected as an upgrade from the Ortofon 2M Red premounted on my Debut turntable. But after about a week, as the Sumiko continued to break in, that vitality turned to distortion, as musical information overloaded the MC stage. I went through another three or four combinations of phono preamp, integrated, and speakers, but found that most of them lacked that initial impact I’d so enjoyed. Finally, I settled on the NAD PP 2i’s MM input into the C 325BEE, and a pair of Elac Debut B6 speakers.
The sound from the Classic SB and Sumiko Blue Point No.2 was never less than rich and natural, if occasionally restrained through the MM input. The pairing revealed a luminous midrange in the voices of Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle, with all their respective gruffness and gorgeousness intact, in their duets on Waits’s score for the film One from the Heart (LP, Columbia PC 37703). “Picking Up After You” was detailed and continuously musical, with the correct amount of smoothness, and flawless integration that an MC cartridge can deliver. “Broken Bicycles” sounded even more resolved, but the lower end of Waits’s voice was a bit thin. In “Take Me Home,” Gayle’s voice sounded natural and potently transparent, with nothing obscuring her midrange. The Classic SB could dig deeply into vocal recordings.
The depth and volume of the soundstage was impressive with Los Lobos’ The Neighborhood (LP, Slash 26131), which generated more bump and low-frequency jump than other records I played. Through the Classic SB, the deep organ riffs that anchor the openings of “Down on the Riverbed” and “Emily” was captivatingly present, dramatic, and expressive, supplying generous amounts of texture and vinyl warmth.
Side after side, the Classic SB produced boiling, continuous streams of acoustic energy. “Never Enough,” from John Doe’s Keeper (LP, Yep Roc 2245), was defined by accuracy of tone and a vivid rendering of space. In the jazzy “Moonbeam,” the double bass in particular sounded complete, full, whole, and authentic. The sounds of strings against fingerboard decayed grainlessly, and the notes themselves were luminous and refined, rendering multitudes of sophistication and subtle contrasts.
In terms of microdynamics, space, and atmosphere, the Classic SB emphasized rhythm and vitality. The drum crack of “It Means a Lot,” from Keith Richards’s Talk Is Cheap (LP, Virgin 91047), leaped from the speakers precisely articulated. “Big Enough” had weight and sinew.
The Blue Point No.2’s output might be a little on the low side for an MM and a bit high for an MC, and lower-powered amplifiers pulled back its sound a bit too far. My LP listening has been formed by the Ortofon 2M Red, which is known for its forwardness and crunch. The Blue Point No.2 needed more power, but it gave me a taste of what a good MC cartridge can deliver: subtlety, nuance, gracefulness, intimacy. It feeds on wattage to deliver that ever-elusive jump factor, while also managing to sound just fine at lower levels. I look for audio gear and sound that will dominate my relatively small listening room (15’L x 13’W x 10’H) rather than merely know their place. In conception and execution, visually and sonically, the Classic SB achieved this.
At its price, the Classic SB nudges the ragged edge of the entry level, but what it offers justifies that price. Of the SuperPack enhancements added to the Classic to create the Classic SB, most attractive are the electronic platter-speed control and the high-output Sumiko MC cartridge. If you’ve already settled on a pair of speakers and own amplification powerful enough, dedicating this portion of your hi-fi budget to this first-rate analog front end is sensible. The Pro-Ject Classic SB is for those whose systems would most benefit not from an upgrade of speakers or amplifier, but from the addition of an analog front end that’s more than just a simple platter on a basic plinth.
. . Jeff Stockton
- Speakers -- Elac Debut B6
- Integrated amplifier -- NAD C 325BEE
- Phono preamplifier -- NAD PP 2i
- Source -- Pro-Ject Debut Carbon turntable and tonearm, Ortofon 2M Red MM cartridge
- Speaker cables -- Element Cable Double Run
- Phono cable -- Pro-Ject (supplied)
- Interconnects -- AudioQuest Evergreen
Pro-Ject Audio Systems Classic SB Turntable
Price: $1499 USD.
Warranty: Two years parts and labor.
Pro-Ject Audio Systems
Division of Audio Tuning Vertriebs GmbH
Pro-Ject Audio Systems
Distributed in the U.S by Sumiko Audio
2431 Fifth Street
Berkeley, CA 94710