Pro-Ject T1 SB Turntable
What a fantastic sub-500,-€ performer!
Cartridge & phono-stage included.
One of the great benefits of being an audio reviewer is that you come into contact with several different companies and distributors every week. By carefully digging into their product list and assorted information, you regularly come across both older audio gems still in production as well as new offerings to suggest to music lovers & audiophiles. Especially if these products pass all your ticks & clicks and manage to make a connection with your brain and soul. In such a vain of audio discovery, and after talking with Orpheus Audio of Athens, the distributor of Pro-Ject in Greece, we decided on doing a ‘summer’ review of the Pro-Ject T1 SB edition turntable. After a short initial listening session through Primare amplification at their premises, it seemed that we may have found another little high fidelity gem that managed to get all the ‘basics’ of an entry-level analog source so remarkably well together, that the results were trully inspiring. Lets find out everything about the T1 SB…
All elements of an non-entry level (!) turntable are evident here. First things first: The CNC machined plinth is made from MDF which means lower distortion, as many turntable designers also prefer. Mounted to the plinth is a steel/brass bearing, same as the one found on the award-winning Essential III model, combined with a heavy glass platter. The tonearm is made from a single piece of aluminum – it’s light but rigid. As for tracking, is as precise as possible in the sub 500 euros category making listening to records a more involving experience with greater sense of flow that we have ever experienced from an Ortofon 5E MM cartridge. This cartridge costs 55 euros! The tracking force is preset at the factory, with the OM-5E already been set up at the proper 1.9 grams. Proper setup also double-checked by Orpheus Audio techs before entering our reviewing salon. The SB edition adds a built-in phonostage (solid-state) located under the plinth that can be switched on or off, as well as a pair of RCA outputs. The distinguishing feature of the SB version, reviewed here, over the standard version of the Pro-Ject T1, is also the electric speed change. Rather than having to lift the platter and physically change the belt to another pulley as with entry-level Rega turntables, speed is changed at the touch of a button. If you are regularly switching between 33 and 45rpm records, this convenient feature will prove to be a time saver.
Concerning the turntable’s drive system, as Pro-Ject is keen to highlight, most similar products in the market use unregulated DC motors with wide speed fluctuations, but the T1 SB features the company’s highly efficient electronically regulated, precision-speed AC motor system, complete with speed monitoring. Total time between unpacking, setup and turn on was under 15 minutes! Overall, the whole review system sounded great within the first half hour and without even passing the critical 70-80 hours of burn-in – it was evident that the T1 SB has really set the bar too high for the competition -in this price range- to follow.
In the overall performance comparison with other turntables in the sub 500 euros category, the T1 SB is clearly a winner, especially for its balanced richness/resolution and musicality layered upon backgrounds both as dark and clear as one could want, enabling the listener to enjoy jazz music just as much as rock.
Well-recorded productions, especially from jazz ensembles, but also rock and even hard rock bands, sounded surprisingly three-dimensional, a testament to the attention to detail that Pro-Ject has put in this particular turntable. During the whole duration of our long, ten-day auditions, I found myself smiling just how good and satisfying vinyl could sound for under five hundred euros – phono-stage included! Attaching a good pair of RCAs like the ones we had at the time, Van Den Hul (The Integration Hybrid) or Nordost, resulted in aural surprises, details and new facets of resolution that were exposed in records listened to repeatedly over many years via other well-known, relatively low-cost analog sources. Sessions extended deep into the evening hours, a rare occasion, making me and our hiendnews teammates wish that we had available several higher-cost MM cartridges fitted onto the T1’s tonearm for further testing. If you are in search for the best of the class, especially if you are ready to rock’n’roll or jazz the nights out, your new best friend is here waiting for your vinyl’s hand-shake.
Heavy rock rotation. Yes, AC/DC’s and Van Halen’s original ‘muscle’ is still there, alive, despite the fact that I mainly used to enjoy both bands with costlier analog setups & phono stages. To be honest, this can also be attributed, in part, to the almost tactile improvement in texture and vibrancy due to the addition of a good pair of RCAs. Whether it’s Back In Black album or Van Halen’s I & II dueling electric guitars, the T1’s fitted tonearm & 5E is as muscular and agile as it needs to be, letting our Jadis & Musical Fidelity amplifiers pass their own “message” through and assert their class. Need more? AC/DC’s guitars sound bold, thick, clear and palpable without messing around with the bassist – enough! The only thing missing is that iota of physical presence and percussion attack that only the next tier of cartridges & turntables can offer.
In terms of character, the T1 SB with the OM 5E cartridge does not scream “moving-magnet, entry level performance” at all. The T1’s ability to lift the efficiency and effectiveness of this moving magnet to new heights as well as the overall performance of the turntable, makes it worthy of an award (maybe an EISA among others). It handles both classical music and rock like the champ of its category. The surface noise of most of my old LPs was incredibly low, details sprang out quite like the 2M Red cartridge, based on my high fidelity memory. There’s nothing particularly warm or romantic about the sound, nor is there so much of a hint of the easygoing, sometimes ‘boring’ sound nature that marked down other popular low-cost moving magnets when ‘reading’ less then stellar productions. This tonearm/cartridge combo can pass nicely fleshed-out dynamics both micro & macro, with midrange volume and balance – this is the keyword.
Another Los Angeles Rock / Funk Rock band that needs almost no introduction is Red Hot Chili Peppers. Listening carefully to the grooves of their award-winning Blood Sugar Sex Magik double LP, I noticed that the dynamic expression and flow of music was specially enjoyable (something that again & again rarely occurs so vividly without a pricier moving magnet+tonearm to start with). The whole frequency range response was superbly balanced: highs were clear and extended; the midrange rich enough and ever so slightly to the warm side of the spectrum. Also worth mentioning, the bass just went on and on, note after note, clear and well described, although not as deep as my far pricier up-to 3k reference sources. Slapping bass notes were also a joy to listen to, transients were not too etched or hard and the sonic palette had enough woody overtones. Once again, the T1 managed to hit the bull’s eye in terms of aural enjoyment and re-confirm its overall value-for-money.
Classical music: Beethoven’s Symphonie No.3 “Heroique” (Von Karajan). I found myself listening the whole record without a hint of fatigue or something really annoying or shrilling (entry level offers=very common). Stringed instruments had the proper air although the whole stage appeared less ‘grand’ in comparison to f.e. Nagaoka MP-200 MM and Pro-Ject’s RP9, a far pricier combo I used and enjoyed for a while. But still enough, it was wide and deep to make me and ‘us’ @hiendnews.gr e-magazine want to stay up and listen to classical works all summer night long. The continuous rotation of Piano Concertos also made us re-evaluate the quality of the equipment available on the analogue market today under the five hundred euros price tag. Enjoyable dynamic expression …double check. Violins, clearly just to the left of the center in the stage. Enticing and fun to hear. The improved sense of each instrument’s tonal color, plus the liquidity of the piano’s upper keys, whenever recording quality permitted, surpassed our previous listening experience of Rega’s P1 & P2 with Carbon MM fitted and the factory’s preinstalled phono cable. The same recordings sounded more compressed and closed-in on that occasion in A/B comparison.
Next day, we set for another head-to-head comparison between P1 & P2, Fono MM phono-stage and T1 SB. For this test, I had to install Ortofon OM 5E cartridge to both tables and do the comparison in our eight thousand euros tube integrated-based system, which currently consists of ProAc speakers, Nordost and TelluriumQ cables and Jadis Orchestra Ref. Integrated amplifier (plus some tweaks). Once again, It became immediately obvious that the Pro-Ject T1 SB and its integrated phono little preamplifier throw a wider soundstage and -by far- wider dynamics than the Rega’s entry duo P1 or P2, as well as being more ‘lit up’ in the top frequencies, without any hint of excessive brightness. It gave me a deeper soundstage layout with superior detail retrieval and a slightly more neutral presentation than the Carbon MM & Rega’s P1 performance traits. Music delivery possessed more ‘brave’ sonic character in comparison to the compressed macrodynamics – especially in the midrange frequencies – of the two British ‘P’ brothers and the standard cabling / moving magnet they both came with. Where the Pro-Ject feels more open and big sounding, the Rega P1’s -especially- performance was more relaxed and closed-in, losing points in resolution and PRaT (pace, rhythm, and timing). High frequency projection was another area where major differences appeared: the P2 with Carbon MM had less extended and slightly fuzzy highs in comparison, while the T1 SB excelled in delivering more air and hall reverbation retrieval, depending of course on each album’s specific production qualities. Also, in terms of analysis & vividness, the Pro-Ject bettered in the delivery of stringed instruments and especially violins & cellos despite the unit’s low retail price. On the other hand, the T1 SB might easily reveal each respective album’s production shortcomings at elevated listening levels. Last but not least, the Pro-Ject performed LP after LP with less surface noise than I’m used to hear from entry-level cartridges.
Further tricks & upgrades
I challenged myself to take the most out of the T-1 SB and enter the next-level or more accurately, my exit-level of its performance abilities. In my opinion, this turntable/phono combo can be made to reach new heights without excessive ‘audiophile’ expenses. First of all, I switched the Connect it E Phono Cable RCA included with the Van Den Hul Integration Hybrid and subsequently with the Nordost Purple Flare interconnects. Wow. The difference was really ear-opening. Soundstage expanded, dimensionality and focus reached another level and the feel of air around the instruments, especially of bass notes, made for an extra enjoyable listening experience from start to finish. Upgrading to Ortofon’s 2M Blue Cartridge (~195,-€) will further expand dimensionality plus add extra points in the handling of individual instrument timbres. I strongly believe you do not need to upgrade any further and the total satisfaction level can only be surpassed by investing in a far more expensive phono preamplifier or of course buying a pricier turntable and arm. The 2M Blue as well as the Nagaoka MP cartridges are great upgrades for owners of low to mid market turntables and the combination demonstrated here, will touch the sky value-for-money wise. I can’t imagine a more sonically attractive package for around 200 euros of added cost. The Ortofon’s Blue also brings a higher level of resolution, liquidity and lushness on both vocals & guitars, better bass-lines linearity and a gentler ‘touch’ to the sensitive mid to high frequency spot. Highly recommended future upgrades, as this true giant killer might return furious!
I dare to say that compared to the Rega P1 & P2 turntables that I own, Pro-Ject’s T1 SB finds itself practically on another league/class, both sonically and in terms of construction. Although it does carry an entry level cartridge, the unit’s performance is elevated to much higher levels than its cost suggests, mainly due to the overall synergy of its components and a very capable tonearm. It rocks, it plays fleshed-out jazz, let’s you enjoy the blues and allows classical recordings to display enough maturity and authority that will have you rotating record after record in no time. Detail, soundstage dimensionality and balance are at the top of it’s price category. Should it be considered right up there among the ones you really ought to audition before settling down with one final budget turntable -phono stage included- in 2020 ? You bet! Sometimes, simple really is better. T1 SB is a clear award-winning little champ. Undoubtedly, a “seasoned” sub 500 euros performer and a real-world slayer.
Associated Components for this Review:
Analog Sources: Rega P1 & P2 turntables with Carbon moving magnet cartridge, Ortofon Blue 2M Digital Sources: Musical Fidelity M6sR DAC, Metrum Acoustics Menuet, RT-Audio Design Orpheus HiRes Battery DAC, Streaming Music Service: Tidal premium, Spotify premium, Preamp: VTL 2.5, Conrad-Johnson Classic, Audio Hungary AT100, Amplification & Integrateds: Jadis Orchestra Reference KT88, Musical Fidelity various models, Tsakiridis Devices KT-based tube monoblocks, Speakers: ProAc Studio & Response series, Klipsch Klipschorn, Cables: Van Den Hul The Integration Hybrid, Alpha Core Goertz Sapphire Silver RCA, Nordost (various), TelluriumQ Ultra Blue speakers cable, Power Cables: Shunyata Research, Power Conditioning: Shunyata Research.
Distribution & Auditions in Greece: