Pro-Ject Produces "Carbon Copy" of Debut III That's Even Better! (CORRECTED 8/25/12)

Note: based on the instruction manual I assumed it was not possible to adjust azimuth on this new Carbon turntable. But Craig Sypnier, owner of Audio Renaissance Turntable Shop in Rochester, NY alerted me to to the fact that there is an Allen screw countersunk into the arm tube as on the older Debut III tonearm and that by loosening it, it's possible to rotate the armtube and so adjust azimuth. I guess Pro-Ject didn't wish to alert consumers to this adjustment lest they 'abuse' it, but it is there.

The Pro-Ject brand began as a vinyl lover's pipe dream. Vienna based audio distributor Heinz Lichtennegger believed as did many of us back in the 1990s, that vinyl was not dead. It just needed a defibrillator in the form of an inexpensive, well-made and reliable turntable.

One day Mr. Lichtennegger spotted a forlorn-looking piece of an all-black turntable sitting on a shelf somewhere or other that I can't recall. He inquired and found out it was manufactured in the Czech Republic at a Soviet-era factory that once built just about everything including refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, televisions, you name it!

The factory was mostly abandoned, but in one little corner they were still turning out this homely little turntable. Lichtennegger paid a visit and found an amazing facility that machined everything in-house including every screw, nut and bolt found in that homely little turntable.

Lichtennegger contracted with the factory to build one to his specs and fit'n'finish, that he marketed under the Pro-Ject name. It too was a fairly homely little number but it was inexpensive, worked well and sounded remarkably good. It was just what indie rock kids were looking for and could afford. From there the company just took off.

I visited the factory some years ago and took many pictures that I will try to post on this site as soon as possible so you can see what went on there then that I'm sure has been greatly enhanced since.

Twenty five years later, Pro-Ject manufactures and markets worldwide a full line of turntables (some pricey) as well as reasonably priced phono preamps, speed controller boxes and A/D and D/A converters. All direct descendants of that homely little turntable Lichtennegger spotted on a dimly lit shelf. This is a story I love!

The new $399 "plug and play" Pro-Ject Carbon replaces the old $399 Pro-Ject Debut III. Yes, the price remains essentially the same (the Debut III was $349 in black, add $30 for colors), but Pro-Ject has managed to greatly upgrade this "bread and butter" turntable beginning with the tonearm, which is now fabricated from carbon fiber from head shell to counterweight stub. The old arm was pressed from aluminum.

Other improvements include a heavier and larger diameter pressed steel platter, a new Sorbothane motor suspension system and an RCA jack termination block on the 'table so you can swap RCA cables should you choose to do so instead of the hard wired ones on the Debut III. Pro-Ject includes a set of cables that appear to of a higher quality than the formerly hard wired one. And last but especially not least is a $99 Ortofon 2M red with elliptical stylus in place of the Debut III's Ortofon OM-5. And the price includes choice of seven high-gloss colors.

Now that's what I call analog progress brought to you by ten years of solid analog growth in all sectors. More people buying turntables has allowed Pro-Ject to take advantage of the economies of scale—a concept rarely heard in high quality audio circles, particularly in the analog sector. But here we are.

Easy Set Up

Anyone, even an analog neophyte can set up this turntable thanks to clearly written instructions and a parts diagram. The Ortofon 2M red comes pre-mounted so all that's left to do is make sure the turntable is on a level surface, put the belt around the sub-platter and motor pully, mount the counterweight, follow the instructions for balancing the arm and setting the 1.75g suggested vertical tracking force and add the anti-skating weight. Plug the outboard "wall-wart" power supply into the back of the 'table and into the wall, add the RCA terminated interconnects and you're ready to spin records.

Unlike the Debut III there are no shipping screws that need to be removed from the motor mount before play. The old system suspended the A.C. synchronous motor from rubber O-rings. While it proved to be an effective isolator, it also allowed the motor to shimmy, thus changing the distance between the motor and sub platter, which had a minor effect on speed stability. The new system replaces the transport screws with thick rubber Sorbothane donuts. The result is continued effective motor isolation and less motor shimmy.

Other features include an MDF plinth sitting on four isolation feet, and a precision ground flat belt riding on a crowned two step motor pulley for 33 1/3 and 45rpm operation. You have to remove the platter to change speeds. No big deal. The arm does not allow for either VTA or azimuth adjustability so no line contact or Shibata type cartridge upgrades are recommended.

Job one for a turntable is turning at the correct speed. Using the Feickert Platter Speed iPhone app, showed the 3150Hz test tone was reprodued a bit fast at 3156.9Hz, which is pretty good. Relative speed deviation was -.011%/+0.07% while actual was -3.3Hz/+2.4Hz. These are actually decent numbers.

Sound

In the ways that analog trumps digital, I'm confident the Carbon will sonically outperform any cheap CD player, particularly in terms of musical flow and general warmth. Pair it with a Bellari tubed phono preamp and play the combo for a kid weaned on MP3s and he or she is likely to start bawling. Literally. I did that a few years ago to a friend's kid who was big into Bob Dylan and had only heard MP3s. I took out an original Blood on the Tracks and played him "Tangled Up in Blue" on another brand inexpensive turntable and when it was over he was crying. He said "I've never heard half of those instruments and each guitar strum went right through me."

Yes the Carbon shaves off the edges of every performance parameter but what's left is an unreasonably good facsimile of what really high quality vinyl playback produces: warmth, air, depth, spaciousness and musical flow that seems to escape most digital playback. Best of all, the Ortofon 2M red tracking at 1.75 grams in this tonearm will not damage your records so they will be ready for the upgrade when you are.

I'm now playing a London FFRR from 1975 recorded at famed Kingsway Hall featuring pianist Alicia de Larrocha and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Concertos From Spain). The piano's pitch and intonation are quite respectable and the sense of the Kingsway Hall space is remarkably well preserved. The sense of depth and spaciousness plus the image stability is impressive.

Mostly, first timers simply won't know what they are missing and while the backdrop is reasonably quiet they won't get the jet black backdrops more expensive 'tables produce, but they will be quite aware of what they're getting: that great analog experience no amount of digital money can buy! Most highly recommended. I don't know what else comes close for $399, especially now that Pro-Ject includes the $99 Ortofon 2M red.

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COMMENTS
krell's picture

What a great story, I'd like to see those pictures.

Funny, I think it's actually pretty easy to get good analog playback at the cheap end, it only becomes hard(er) when you move up to the US1.2k-2k level where the choices are numerous and the pitfalls many. How I envy the kids with their cheap ass tables rockin' it!

Martin's picture

Living in Switzerland, I see a fair number of Pro-Ject turntables and am familiar with the story and the success story.

I actually picked up one of those old Pro-Ject black back-to-basics turntables a couple of years back, as a back-up turntable. Or one to have running in the background. Never used the thing. For the reason my other turntable is an SME 20. CDs are good enough for background.

But, the sound was really quite reasonable, I replaced the Ortofon it came with and put on a Sumiko Blue Point Evo II, high output MC cartridge which improved it no end. It was also a nice little thing to play about with to learn how to set up a cartridge rather than fooling around with an SME, which once set up, stays set up for life. Your lifetime and probably your childrens. Built like a tank to microscopic tolerances, I love the SME.

Back to the pro-ject, the sound I found really quite reasonable, all the performance parameters just reduced from a high end table. And a very cheap way to get a turntable, I picked it up for 300 bucks second hand, the Sumiko was likewise second hand, I got that for 150 bucks. I would also recommend it, nice, reliable and sounds good.

Michael Fremer's picture

I'm about to begin a reasonably priced cartridge survey including a Blue Point....among others...

Purgerificus's picture

Speaking of moving up and it's pitfalls, what would be a good upgrade path from a Debut III (that already has upgraded cart/platter/speed box)?

This combo  produces sound that is far and away better than my old Technics DD TT from "back in the day". And of course, night and day difference from CD. How much should I prepare to pay if I ever decide to look for the same difference in an upgrade? And how about a couple examples of the hardware that would produce this kind of difference?

I would hate to spend $2K and think "well, it does sound a little better...I think."

krell's picture

Purgerificus you sound to be in the same boat as me. Looking around for the next level up from an upgraded Rega P3 has been mostly confusing. I'm beginning to think there's a big hole between your basic deck like a Debut Carbon or Rega and to get a significant improvement it's a serious dollar difference, I was thinking of moving from P3 to either RP6 or Clearaudio Concept but I'm not sure there's a big jump up... This probably says a lot about just how good these entry level decks like the Carbon are these days! 

Purgerificus's picture

I agree with you krell. I think a relatively large monetary outlay would be required to achieve what I would call a substantial improvement over what I have. Then again, it seems the modest upgrades I've made to mine have yielded significant sonic improvements. That's why I asked about what sort of money it takes to get a jump like I got from my old TT.

In one sense, I would love to hear one of these uber-expensive reference tables Mr. Fremer often speaks of in my system. OTOH, I would probably cry and hate my current TT. That would be a shame because I'm really happy spinning records on it!

parishay899's picture

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Michael Fremer's picture

Better not say that about your Technics DD TT on some of the online sites populated by SL-1200 fanboys! I got figuratively crucified on a few of them for suggesting that their turntables weren't God-like!<p>

I had a brief listen to the VPI Traveler I set up for that contest winner and at $1200 it struck me as a big step up for not that much more money. I assume you've upgraded cartridges from the original Ortofon OM-5?<p>

If not consider that first. Something like the Ortofon 2M Red or the Shure M97xe. Even the Audio Technica AT 95E might surprise you!<p>

I'll review The Traveler as soon as they send me one, which should be soon.

Purgerificus's picture

Thanks for the response, Michael. I look forward to your review.

I have an OM-30 (got a great deal) on the Debut III now. Sounds great.

wgb113's picture

So I'd be better off sticking with my Debut III and Ortofon 2M Blue than taking that cartridge over to a new Carbon?

labjr's picture

"pressed steel"

What exactly is that? 

Michael Fremer's picture

"Pressed" equals "stamped". 

Gatto's picture

Sounds (or will it sound) better than a Linn Axis w/Shure VMR V-15 both in very good shape?

Gatto

mfi2000's picture

The 1200 is JUNK!!!what!!! just kidding, I have one and have been wondering what would be a worthwhile stepup. It looks like the VPI traveller might do the trick..I would love to hear a side by side comparison though..have to see how I could pull that off.

latinaudio's picture

I used to have a Technics DD TT, and bought this one 2 months ago: Home run!

BTW Mickey: I used a Shure gauge to set the tracking force precisely at 1,75 grms, but the tonearm slides out few mm when is going down at the outer record groove.

Then I put the antiskate cord in the inner anti skate groove, with little effect. The table is level (with a bubble leveler). Any suggestions?

PaPoMuSiK's picture

Michael,

I am looking for a good budget turntable. It seems Pro-ject Carbon ($400.00) and Rega RP1 ($450.00) are great options at their respective price range.  I would like to know if you have listened the RP1 and how it compares against Pro-ject Carbon. 

Thanks

PaPoMuSiK's picture

Michael,

I am looking for a good budget turntable. It seems Pro-ject Carbon ($400.00) and Rega RP1 ($450.00) are great options at their respective price range.  I would like to know if you have listened the RP1 and how it compares against Pro-ject Carbon. 

Thanks

Paul Boudreau's picture

Sounds like a nice 'table.  I have a Debut III USB (which by the way does have a RCA jack termination block) to which I've added all available upgrades (full-size acrylic platter, speed-control/speed-switcher box, the best of the three available replacement styli, with the new Pro-Ject interconnects coming next month).  It sounds pretty good to me so far.  Is there a USB version of the Carbon?

Baygul's picture

The one I would like is this TT with the acrylic platter.  It is available in Europe, but not here.  I know ProJect has the acrylic platter available here as a seperate accessory, but it would be nice if I dont have to pay for the MDF platter I would never use.

JustinB's picture

I agree with you Purgerificus. Clearly, there seems to be a quality plateau for many of us now running (happily) with the upgrades on the Debut III and similar Rega models.  I was very tempted by the Clearaudio Concept but after the new VPI table came out with the positive noises from Meijias and Fremer I'm wondering if that table may actually be better, for slightly less cost.  So.... guys.... what's with the delay of those VPI reviews? And when they come, can you offer us comparisons to the current tables out now around the same price?  That would be super helpful. Thanks!

Jim Tavegia's picture

Unfortunately, you must spend some money to get a great spindle bearing that is quite and generally you need a massive platter to keep things quiet and consistent. This often does not come under $1K, but that is no reason to not enjoy vinyl on a Project Debut Carbon. For many people that is all they will ever need to enjoy the new vinyl reissues. 

Many of us live here and are quite happy, but I think to buy right and buy once you may need to go to an Rega RP6,  VPI Traveler, Marantz TT-15, and others near the $1500 price point.  Here is where the manufacturer can limit compromises while allowing dealers to make a profit. 

It is hard to imagine anyone offering more than what the Project Debut Carbon does for $400, plug and play. 

Taill1966's picture

Thanks for sharing this information, I think that this Pro-Ject much cheaper on the others and thanks you for the informations.

Tonya J. Roach
Tarlow Design Reviews

andrew wilson's picture

Well thank heavens for PROJECT.I think that the one that started it all was the P1?;If so then thats what i have as a back up.20 plus yrs and still going;how many cd players would we go thru in that time.The turntable itself is fitted with the ortofon 510;and it still sounds pleasing.They make good turntables project do.Maybe Mike could confirm that the P1 was their first.Andy.

Nelice's picture

This audio system is awesome. I really love to learn how is this device work. Keep posting!

Maria J. Aguon

Tarlow Design

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updater's picture

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crayon's picture

Hi, I know almost nothing about GOOD quality turntables. I used to have an old one of my family's for years, gone now....  and now I just got a really cheap usb one, that I HATE. The sound quality is terrible, it wobbles and was only about 160. I like the price range of this Pro-ject one, and am looking into whether I should get it. What comes with it, and what needs to be bought separately? How can I ensure I'm not going to ruin my records with this table? Are there accessories that I need to change speeds, or add anti-shake? I live in an old house with wood floors that tend to move a bit. 

Any ideas? Help a novice out! 

mike atherton's picture

Just read your post on the “Carbon Copy” of Debut III. It was really an innovative project done by Mr. Lichtennegger. I think the $399 “plug n play” will be really successful in the market. Waiting to read more reviews about it.Centennial Seeds

l5chambre's picture

Funny, the cheap end thinks they spent a cash wallop. Maybe the most expensive item in their home. I would just wait and get one for $875 like the MMF. 5-1 from Music Hall. It has many added features and is good enough not to have to upgrade later. I am a buy it once kind of audiophile. So many other components to go!!

malosuerte's picture

Hi Mikey.

I was wondering what your thoughts were in comparing this to the RPM 1.3 Genie.

I am replacing my early 90's Thorens, and am torn between the two.  If I do go with the Genie I would choose the Sumiko option.

Thanks for the site.

Barolojoe's picture

Optically, I like this coloured Pro Ject edition very much, expecially in blue.

In 1981 I've bought a Thorens TD 126 MK III with standard straight arm which still does his duty, bearing a Shure N 97 HE (needle replaced recently by old original stock).

Has anybody already compared the sound of these two turntables?

Is this Debut III Carbon Edition a match for an old Thorens TD 126 MK III in good condition ?

Michael Fremer's picture
I'd invest in a better cartridge and keep the Thorens for now...
mike.balhorn's picture

Hi Michael,
Pro-Ject's site lists some new features for the Debut Carbon. How new are they and did they get included in your review? Any thoughts on the upgrades?
• New DC power supply with ultra precision frequency DC-driven AC generator (like Speed Box) for ultimate speed stability.
• New TPE motor suspension

Michael Fremer's picture
Heinz Lichtenneger gave me the full tour but never pointed those out to me. If the price remains the same but those are added, it can only be a good thing.

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