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Pro-Ject Debut Carbon review: Pro-Ject Debut Carbon USB turntable

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The Good High-quality audio performance. Excellent built-in phono preamp. USB connection for recording via computer. Fine looking.

The Bad Poor documentation. Default Windows USB Audio Device drivers make wrong settings. Identifies as both a USB input and output.

The Bottom Line The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon USB turntable provides very high-quality vinyl playback and useful digital transfer of vinyl to computers, but is let down by inadequate documentation.

8.0 Overall

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In this highly digital age, I am going to assume a relative lack of familiarity with turntable terminology. Old hands, forgive me.

Here it is in 2013, and I'm looking at a turntable, the main home entertainment signal source device from the late 19th century until the late 1980s. They haven't disappeared, and are indeed making a modest comeback if we can judge by the reappearance of "phono" inputs on mid-priced home electronics.

Just as the CD was cementing its dominance in 1990, the Austrian firm Pro-Ject Audio Systems started building turntables for vinyl playback, taking advantage of (then) low-cost manufacturing in (then) Czechoslovakia. It has a reputation for producing audiophile-quality turntables at reasonable prices.

Now for some real turntable nitty gritty.

The Debut series is a step above entry level, and has recently been enhanced with an improved suspension on its motor to reduce noise, and the use of a tone arm with a carbon tube. That is said to increase rigidity while reducing mass, allowing the arm to better follow the grooves on vinyl disks. It comes with an Ortofon OM10 cartridge pre-fitted. This is a moving magnet cartridge (higher output than moving coil), and has an elliptical stylus fitted. Pro-Ject recommends a tracking force of 1.5 millinewtons (or grams, as we used to say in the old days).

The output voltage of moving magnet cartridges is around three orders of magnitude lower than that of a CD player (around 2.5mV versus 2 volts), and the sound is encoded on vinyl in accordance with the RIAA EQ curve, so that bass is greatly reduced in amplitude and treble greatly emphasised (up to 20 decibels). So a standard turntable needs to be connected to a phono preamplifier (sometimes built into a regular amplifier) to provide the counteracting EQ and to boost the signal up to near CD levels.

This turntable has the phono preamplifier built in so it can be plugged into any regular analogue audio inputs. It also has a digital-to-analogue converter, configured as a standard USB audio device (it has a USB Type B socket).

This model costs AU$150 more than the non-USB version of the turntable, so if you don't need to record to a computer and already have a decent phono preamplifier in your system, you can save some money.

As a turntable

Setting up the turntable was very easy, as far as setting up turntables goes. They are all a bit fiddly. You install the belt from the pulley to the "hub" upon which the turntable platter rests using a little plastic tool (you do not want finger grease on it). The pulley has two different diameters to provide for 33rpm and 45rpm operation; you change speeds by moving the belt to the other reel. Pop the counterweight on the end of the tone arm. Carefully rotate it until the arm balances perfectly flat. Adjust the calibration ring to zero, and then wind the whole counterweight in to show 1.5.

Then you install the anti-skating weight. This is on a fine nylon thread, which hooks over a lever at the rear of the arm, suspending the weight above the body of the turntable. With most turntables, the force vector imparted on the stylus by friction with the surface of the record is at a different angle to a line drawn between the stylus and the tone arm mounting point, so there's a net force toward the centre of the record. The anti-skating fixture applies a counter-force, keeping the force relatively even on both sides of the groove.

The perspex lid slips neatly onto two rods from the hinges. A chunky external 16-volt (AC, so you can't use some random replacement) wall wart provides power. The body of the turntable is made from MDF and is finished in what looks like a nice gloss enamel, which can be had in several colours. The review unit was a striking bright red. The platter is made of a fairly heavy-pressed metal, and is covered by a thin felt mat.

The review unit had the wrong manual in the box: it was the manual for the non-USB version, so it insisted that you have to plug the turntable into a phono input. Actually do that with this one, and you'll overload the input. You can download the proper manual from the Australian or international websites.

Plugged into the line level inputs of my audio system, the turntable worked well. The sound quality was excellent, and the output levels were reasonably high.

There was no audible rumble, even with the subwoofer going. The unit tracked the highest levels of my Shure Audio Obstacle Course LP. On a good range of classical and (relatively) modern music, the tone was balanced. There was no wow (slow-speed variations) on piano, nor flutter (high-speed variations). Quality was entirely dependent on the quality of the LP, which is of course highly variable.

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