The Pro-Ject Classic SB Superpack Turntable: “Brains” and Good Looks Too

It’s doubtful Pro-Ject could have produced a high performance, feature packed, beautiful to look at turntable like the Classic SB Superpack and priced it so reasonably ($1499 including $449 Blue Point No. 2 cartridge) were it not for surging turntable sales and Pro-Ject’s place at the top of the high performance turntable market (“high performance” meaning not counting the plastic mass market cheapies).

Though with its wooden base (your choice of three finishes: Eucalytpus, Rosewood or Walnut) the look is “classic” 1960s-‘70s era (or you could say Linn Sondek-like), the engineering is thoroughly modern.

The inner chassis of handsome brushed aluminum and MDF rests upon the wooden base on 6 vibration damping/isolating balls of TPE (thermoplastic elastomer), while the entire assemblage sits on 3 height-adjustable damped feet.

Drive is via an A.C. synchronous motor (built in-house at Pro-Ject) controlled by a built-in D.C. electronic speed controller that at the push of a button allows you to change from 33 1/3 to 45rpm. With the use of an additional belt (supplied), the platter can spin at 78rpm, though I wouldn’t recommend playing 78s with the supplied Blue Point 2 cartridge.

For added rotational inertia, the 5 pound aluminum alloy platter is precision-machined to feature on its bottom surface a thick outer ring that’s damped with a TPE insert. The result is a platter that does not ring when finger “pinged”.

A flat belt rides on a stepped, crowned, machined aluminum pulley and fits around a precision-machined plastic sub-platter upon which the main platter rests. Pro-Ject founder Heinz Lichtenegger quipped during a recent factory tour that while the plastic sub-platter may look “cheap”, it’s carefully machined to very tight tolerances and is anything but “cheap”. The main bearing, similar to what’s found on lower cost Pro-Ject turntable, features a Teflon-coated brass bushing in which rides a mirror-polished stainless steel spindle.

The 9 inch arm is of an aluminum/carbon fiber sandwich construction that combines stiffness with effective damping. Smooth, precision movement is said to result from the use of ceramic (Zirconia) vertical gimbaled bearings and in the horizontal direction, low-friction Japan-sourced ball bearings in a configuration that effectively dresses the arm wires to prevent interference.

The heavy yoke provides for the bearing housing what appears to be excellent stability, while the chromed TPE damped counterweight is said to reduce by half, the amplitude of the tone arm-cartridge resonant frequency. The arm is fully adjustable for both VTA/SRA and azimuth though not “on the fly”. Anti-skating is via the familiar weight attached to a length of looped monofilament.

Accessories include a high-quality, attractively produced hinged beveled dust cover, a locking machined record clamp, a leather mat, a set of low capacitance interconnects that are not an afterthought or the usual “throwaway” cables supplied with moderately prices turntables, a “basic” tracking force gauge and of course the Blue Point No.2 cartridge—a high output moving coil design that outputs 2.5mV and is designed to track at 1.8 grams. It sells separately for $449.00.

The standard Classic is also available for $1099 minus the electronic speed controller and substitutes for the Blue Point No.2 a Pro-Ject/Ortofon 2M silver (coils wound with silver, not copper wire) cartridge.

Unboxing and Setting Up

Pro-Ject has seriously upped its packaging and instructions quality putting it up there with the best. Don’t discount the importance of good instructions and packaging!

Thanks to the fine instruction manual complete with excellent photographs, setting up the Classic SB Superpack will be relatively easy even for a first-time vinyl person.

Accessories include a rudimentary but useable stylus pressure gauge, a set of Allen keys and a singles adapter. You even get the “white glove treatment”.

Screw in the feet, remove three transport screws, install the platter and the dustcover, level the turntable (it’s preferable to begin with a level mounting surface), top the platter with the leather mat (or replace with the mat of your choice) and you’re almost ready to go.

The cartridge comes mounted and aligned so all that’s left to do there is remove the stylus protector, attach the anti-skating weight and set the vertical tracking force. Use the supplied RCA to RCA cables or substitute your own favorite low capacitance phono interconnects (Pro-Ject includes a nicely built RCA jack/ground lug termination block at the back). Plug in the “wall wart” power supply and you’re ready to play records. (For the purposes of this review I chose to use the supplied cables, leather mat and locking record clamp rather than substitute others).

Sonics and Speed Performance

The PlatterSpeed app numbers and graph look good considering the Classic SB Superpack’s price point. First note that the turntable spins at just a shade slower than perfect at 3147.6Hz for a 3150Hz test tone. That’s a negligible deficit that a strobe wouldn’t pick up. WOW is low and the low pass filtered frequency deviations both relative and absolute are very low.

Looking at the graph, you’ll note that the low pass filtered green line is not the straightest you’ll have observed (if you’ve been paying attention to this in the AnalogPlanet turntable reviews). I suspect that’s due to the speed controller’s attempt to keep things “tidy” but having to work at it due to the relatively light platter. Still, both charts indicate good speed consistency and stability.

The impulse “tap test” (putting the stylus in the groove of a non-spinning record and gently tapping on the platform, on the chassis and then the record), while not necessarily indicative of final sonic performance usually hints at overall coloration or lack thereof particularly on bottom.

The platform tap demonstrated decent isolation between the stand and stylus/record interface though both the frame and chassis tap produced a healthy amount of passed energy to the speakers—though I’ve heard more from some costlier turntables. The tap on the record though was impressively low thanks probably to the clamp/leather mat/damped platter combo.

So how does all of this translate into sonic performance? That’s easy! The Classic SB Superpack with Blue Point No. 2 cartridge produces music that’s smooth, detailed and stable that’s as easy to listen to as the ‘table is to use.

When I returned from Hong Kong with the final pressing of the Anne Brisson Trio’s Four Seasons in Jazz Live at Bernie’s (BMS-DD 101-45) a direct to disc recording engineered by Michael C. Ross at Bernie Grundman Mastering.

It was interesting to play what I was certain would be a spectacular sounding record on a modestly priced turntable through a costly system in which it’s not likely to find a permanent home.

The recording is sensational—in the open, free, natural sense—and features Ms. Brisson on piano and vocals backed by Jean-Bertrand Carbou on acoustic bass and Pierre Tanguay on drums and percussion.

There’s lots of quiet to trip up a noisy turntable, many sustained notes on the piano to highlight pitch instability and between the acoustic bass and the piano’s lower keys, plenty of low frequency energy to produce “mud” on bottom and if things seriously go awry to fudge up the vocals.

Of course the cartridge has a profound effect on the overall sound. The Blue Point No. 2 (elliptical stylus, aluminum cantilever) has been around for many years and it’s a “bread and butter” cartridge that produces all around moderate to fine performance (once broken in) that’s ideal for a “starter” cartridge on this ‘table. Tonally it’s on the warm and smooth side but it’s “faster” than many moving magnets and so delivers satisfying transient detail and speed.

The turntable/tonearm produced a very pleasing combination of background quiet, image stability, good top to bottom extension and overall tonal neutrality with a minor touch of warmth extending throughout the midrange.

I compared the original UK pressing of Radiohead’s OK Computer (Parlophone 7243 8 5522918) with the 20th anniversary 3 LP OKNOTOK 1997 2017 reissue (XL 634904086817) and heard the same differences heard through the “big rig”, though to a lesser extent (review coming). This turntable/cartridge combo reveals plenty.

When I was in Hong Kong recently I was recommended Zhao Cong’s Sound of China (Dance in the Moon) (MCD3101LP). She plays the Pipa (stringed instrument) on this “goes to 11” recording of Chinese/western fusion music that is cinematic in scope (Hans Zimmer take note!). It was engineered in Denmark by Hans Nielsen and the sound is spectacular, plus you’ll dig the music (“tip-on” style gatefold sleeve, pressed on 180g vinyl at Pallas).

The bass on this recording is depth-charge deep. It nearly rearranged my room the first time I played it. I was pleasantly surprised by how the Classic SB Superpack handled the bottom end. It went deep and was very well controlled with only hints of “hangover” that was more expressed as a slight softness than as unwanted bloat or notes that hung around too long.

The Pipa’s sharp transients were also somewhat soft compared to what the big rig produces but that was expected. Overall though the turntable produced a credible, rhythmically and spatially satisfying rendition of a sonic spectacular.

Conclusion

Pro-Ject roughly (and informally) divides its turntables into “lifestyle” and “performance” categories. This one is visually more on the “lifestyle” side but sonically it straddles the fence, offering both great looks and accomplished (for its price) sound.

My wife, who is very critical (of both me and sound) came downstairs while this was playing, having heard it from upstairs and also having heard it the first time I played it a few weeks ago on The Air Force 3/ Graham Phantom III/ Grado Epoch cartridge combo into the CH Precision P1/X1 phono preamplifier, the combination of which costs approximately $90,000.

She came down, listened but didn’t look to see the source. I was surprised that she didn’t comment on the sound, which doesn’t scale the sonic heights and depths provided by the aforementioned combination.

That’s how good is the Classic SB Superpack’s overall performance. It has no glaring additive deficiencies and it’s main one is pleasing slight warmth, which if you don’t care for you can probably eliminate with a more “analytical” cartridge. Othewise, its “issues” (if you can call it them that) are subtractive. However, I suspect most buyers will be more than happy with the Classic SB “as-is”.

Combine performance, looks, presentation, set-up ease and price and you have from Pro-Ject one of its best balanced, most attractive “plug and play” offerings at a very affordable price.

COMPANY INFO
Sumiko (American Importer)

COMMENTS
Audio 1's picture

Such an attractive turntable with a wealth of features that seem hard to better at this price point. Would be interesting to know how it would perform with an upgraded cartridge.
Would be great if you review one of the new MoFi turntables as I suspect they will also have a high performance vs. cost ratio, but without the classic cosmetics.

So much incerdible analog gear at all price points right now.

vinyl listener's picture

ideal for the first time buyer looking for a turn-key experience.
when new can be so good and relatively inexpensive, why bother with a cheap vintage turntable ?

Ortofan's picture

... for the US with their own brand of phono cartridge instead of an Ortofon, as the Superpack is sold in Europe.

Heinz should have Ortofon make for Pro-Ject a private-label version of whatever cartridge is being sold as the Music Hall Mojo. It's probably close to the old 540 or the VinylMaster Silver.

In this comparison test the Mojo was preferred to the Blue Point No.2: http://www.tnt-audio.com/sorgenti/4carts_e.html
Even the Ortofon 2M Blue, at half the price, was better than the Sumiko.

fetuso's picture

I've owned the 2xperience sb for about 7 months. It has the same arm and cart as this one. I read the comparison in the link, and just because one person preferred other cart's doesn't make them better. I don't know how turntables are marketed in Europe, but here in America warmth of sound is a selling point. The sumiko is definitely a warm cart, but not soft and flabby. It's a joy to listen to over long periods and puts my oppo bdp 105 to shame. Also, don't forget that the phono preamp is an important part of the equation. I tested 3 preamps and found my ifi iphono 2, with its configurability, to be the best match for the high output MC sumiko. Pro-ject smartly realizes this cart has the potential to please most of those seeking analog warmth.

Ortofan's picture

... the 2Xperience SB. The 2Xperience SB has the 9cc Evolution, with an all-carbon arm tube, whereas the Classic SB has a newer arm made from a combination of carbon and aluminum.
http://project-audio.com/inhalt/en/pdf/theclassicsbsuperpack.pdf
http://project-audio.com/inhalt/en/pdf/2xperiencesbdc.pdf
http://project-audio.com/inhalt/en/pdf/9ccevo.pdf

Regarding cartridge choice, it's fine if you want "analog warmth", but I'd rather have sound quality closer to that of the master tape, and that means a MM cartridge, according to the opinions of several recording engineers.
http://www.regonaudio.com/Stanton881AudioTechnicaATML70.html

fetuso's picture

You are correct about the arm. I read that in the review and forgotten it by the time I posted. As far as "sound quality closer to that of the master tape," how could you or I possibly know what that is? I just want my music to sound good to me. Not too worried about "accuracy."

OldschoolE's picture

By saying that Heinz just flat refuses to and doesn't make junk! So this table is really not that surprising to me. It's good, period. I mean, think about it, Heinz (rockstar that he is) even uses diamond cut aluminum pulleys precision MDF and a host of other finer things on the sub $300 Essential III and just goes up from there. To go to those lengths to make a real entry level table says a lot.
Heinz and Pro-ject are heros in my book and I don't own any of their products........yet. (I have my eye on one of the phono preamps they just came out with).

readargos's picture

Seems that companies that start at the affordable end and work their way up-market are perceived differently from companies that start at the top and "trickle down". Pro-Ject's products have also been criticized as being derivative rather than "original" and pursuing multiple paths to sonic nirvana rather than one overall guiding philosophy (e.g., high-mass v. low-mass).

Looking deeper, however, one finds that Heinz Lichtenegger is a turntable connoisseur and something of a Renaissance man of design, building on past greats with modern materials and technology. Pro-Ject has become the largest manufacturer of audiophile-quality turntables in the world, and that scale of manufacturing allows them to offer class-leading sound at their various turntables' price points.

Look, for instance, at the build quality on Pro-Ject's RPM-10 Carbon and compare it the rest of the market. Where else will you find a partially magnetically-levitated platter on a sub-$10K turntable? There are some carbon-fiber tonearms that cost more than the whole RPM-10 turntable package, yet look positively homemade compared to the 10cc EVO. And these are just a few of the design points.

Rega have upped their game considerably in recent years, but are still somewhat limited in "features" based on their design philosophy. VPI also have some high-value 'tables, but have struggled in the $1,000-$1,500 end of the market if the revolving door of their entry-level 'tables is any indication.

OldschoolE's picture

Well put. Also keep in mind that Heinz re-invests in his company on a big scale and keeps his eye on the marketplace. So when some Chinese company or what have you comes out with some knock-off of a Pro-Ject table, Heinz raises the bar high enough that it makes it very difficult to copy. How he keeps his prices so reasonable is still a mystery. He just got done investing in new CNC machines and a whole new state of the art factory! That is a ton of money and a ton of commitment.

Heinz has a philosophy of giving the customer what the customer needs and providing a path for all to have a great turntable and the like. He calls it "affordable luxury". He really does want to see everybody be able to get good product they need and can afford. That kind of attitude is what makes him a rock star in the industry.

Yes, Rega has upped their game too, but while very good, the Pro-Ject line just has that extra something. Ther ereally is a vast choice out there and something for everyone when it comes to turntables. Now they need to work on a good line up of phono preamps. Oh,...that's right, Pro-Ject seems to be leading the march there too. Hopefully, some others will follow suit. I have yet to understand these $4000 to $10,000 and above phone stages.

Ortofan's picture

... this $1500 turntable and the $1600 (also made by Pro-Ject) EAT B-Sharp, which comes (packed) with an Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge?
http://www.europeanaudioteam.com/en/eat-b-sharp-turntable-000145.html

cdlp4578's picture

That "cheap" sub-platter is part of the reason I chose a Music Hall over a Rega.

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