Pro-Ject Audio Debut Carbon EVO Review [English]
Valuable experience, know-how & generous approach of turntables manufacturing for audiophiles on a budget,made this major advancement come true.
It strikes again, with conviction!
Decades ago, an audio reviewer wrote that audiophiles also have the tendency to form tribes. When dealing with turntables, two analog-world tribes exist. On one hand, the ‘tube-rich’ sounding tribe who are in search for sources of a lush midrange, a total lack of harshness and a spatial imaging from their analog source, preamps and cartridge included, and on the other hand, the ‘solid-state’ clan, looking before buying for attributes as bass control, precision, dynamics and neutral tonal balance. Speaking of the truly evolutionary – newest – Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO in review, we refer to a turntable, which is designed to outperform the immediate competition in its category (and way more expensive proposals), asking a mere five hundred euros, that includes a carbon tonearm and pre-fitted cartridge. The initial goal to achieve is clearly to satisfy the ‘tube-rich’ tribe at first, but also to intrigue the precision & control clan, by offering more resolution and detail retrieval, originating from the center of a bold and emotional galaxy of sound colors.
Pro-Ject is well aware that there exist a lot of paths to be taken before one achieves his final sonic objective. I strongly believe that in 2021, the new Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO is the achievement of a highly experienced team of vinyl lovers, focused on creating a sensibly priced (one might even say low priced) offer. They decided that “with such competition and LP sales growth rate, it is time to ‘unleash the dragon’ and let people enjoy true high end sound” (in the meantime eradicating the competition – good for all music lovers!). We enjoy the vinyl format resurrection, as more & more LPs are sold – we just love it….. In the last four years, several brands have produced turntables retailing up to a thousand euros, trying to achieve a major part of the mellowness, organic flow and transparency that the much costlier analog offers deliver in spades. This approach, however, still relies mostly on a company’s experience, technology and power of will – each responsible for different parts of the process. Now follows the question: the tribes on a budget are still at war or this war just ended, unifying them under the flag of Carbon Debut EVO ?
Before the ‘2M’ landing.
The first unboxing of Debut Carbon EVO in our country was made proudly by hiendnews.gr team on November 2020. Quite a joy, as Orpheus Audio (the distributor for Greece) knew already that we are big fans of every Pro-Ject and let us have the first go. Inside the box, one can find the well-known Ortofon 2M Red cartridge – factory pre-installed – on the new and shiny 8.6 inch carbon tonearm, with extreme attention to detail and step-by-step setup photo instructions, a really good sounding RCA phono cable, plus two belts (one flat for 33/45 rpm and one for 78 rpm), some tools and last but not least the power supply. The Evo provides electronic speed control that changes speed with the flip of a switch on the bottom left side of the plinth. We balanced the catridge on-the-fly, setting the proposed tracking force with Pro-Ject’s Measure-It E, reading the optimum of this setup VTF at 1.78 grams – using this highly accurate electronic balance made it very easy, setting up the anti-skate weight and that’s about it. There are nine color finishes available and the one we chose was the satin fir green – very British!
With a little help from my friends
For the sonic evaluation, I used mostly a Lejonklou Slipsik version 7 – made in Sweden solid state phono-preamp (~1.150 euros) – in order to take advantage of its ability to sound ultra-transparent, dynamic and emotional in tandem. I found it to be one of the best-sounding equipment, to help me truly understand the heart and soul of ‘budget’ turntables. Noticeable gains in depth and transparency were achieved from using cables from Nordost, TelluriumQ, Van Den Hul & Pure Silver custom interconnects.
I also got superb results by using the Musical Fidelity MX-VYNL phono stage. Amplification was courtesy of Conrad-Johnson (earlier versions of solid state line power amplifiers), Jadis, Pathos and Musical Fidelity integrated offerings.
Emotion Overflow Out Of The Grooves
In our opinion, the new Debut Carbon EVO is the most affordable truly audiophile analog source of our times. There is no evidence of any cost-cutting politics in its construction – probably the cause of a slightly increased price compared to the previous Debut DC. It’s every bit as solid and even more so, classy-looking and produces a feeling of pride of ownership, very akin to the one for higher end models of the brand.
After the initial burn-in, by listening to a lot of fifty LPs in a week or so, EVO produces a wonderfully smooth and musical midrange, and in the context of my system, all kinds of great recorded instruments sounded more lifelike. It has a kind of seductive, organic richness and woodiness, that we never were aware it was hidden inside the 2M Red moving magnet – not until now. Violins and cellos are very well portrayed as are guitars – acoustic and electrical in general. Kudos to the Carbon tonearm – an excellent partner to the effort. All the sweetness and texture I could ask for by squeezing it out from the 2M Red, came forth. Spinning various LPs, I enjoyed listening once again The Smiths’ “The Queen Is Dead” LP (180gr.). I could hear all musicians and Morrissey’s voice – totally captivating and charming – at center-stage, with no added warmth or brightness – just right.
And the highs were equally wonderful. On five jazz LPs I was enjoying from 60s-70s era, I could clearly hear all the delicate differences between striking cymbals and triangles, ringing out in the same channel, with a charming natural warmth and glow. Speaking of jazz material, constantly recording after recording sounded full and organic. I could hear more texture, body and reality of tone of guitars, plus a great piece of the saxophone charm, comparable to the top tier moving magnet catridges. I wondered once again if I really found the limits of the red cartridge in hand.
While definitely bold, dynamic and powerful with the 2M Red, the newest Debut Carbon EVO ultimately improves when a 2M Blue or Nagaoka MP-300 cartridge kick in, always hooked up to the same phono-stages. The pricier cartridges are simply more tuneful and articulate. But never underestimate the 2M Red in its new ‘guise’. Being the standard pre-fitted choice of many brands, it goes a long way and outclasses most of the market’s MMs – up to several hundred Euros. In the well structured ‘home’ of EVO, producing a very slightly romantic presentation and exhibiting nice resolution, you may feel sorry if you discard of it. Using any of the pricier ones though with EVO, it presents a real challenge up to the 1.5k class of analog titans. The European Audio Design B-Sharp turntable – under Pro-Ject’s umbrella also – is one of the few that can get in the same ring and prove worthy, maybe the only one that actually manages to produce an even more worthy solid stereo image – plus rock-solid bass response. We recently reviewed the B-Sharp and in terms of transparency and articulation it is a step-up for sure. Bear in mind also that it asks of you to fork out three times as much to acquire it. Always a geometrical rise.
Close to the end of a late-night listening session, around 03:00 AM on a lock-down Athens night, I started playing several rock & hard rock tracks at low volume, through the Debut Carbon EVO and I was enjoying it very, very much. The sound was very holographic, involving and rich and despite the fact that I used only half of or just the first watt of my amplifier, I never got bored. Tip one: the great sounding Musical Fidelity MX-VYNL and Lejonklou Slipsik v7 phono-stages were left on for days. Tip two: unless you spend a lot more for amplification, speakers and cables that EVO’s price bracket usually associates to, do not expect to extract the last iota of soundstage depth and width that it is capable of. Tried and tested. Only then you will realize its full potential, the pedigree of this analog category champion.
Classical music reproduced through EVO -especially mated with tube & hybrid amplification from Jadis & Pathos – sounded very good. Being an owner of two previous Pro-Ject models, one of them the mid-priced 6.1 RPM carbon with a Benz ACE (M) cartridge, I have to admit that playing the same classical recording (over and over again) up to this day for evaluation purposes, and during the spinning sessions of various Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Gustav Holst works, it was quite evident that the newest Pro-Ject’s creation outperformed tonally and once again emotionally – dare I say – pricier, older and higher up the rank offerings from the Pro-Ject stable. Notes on classical works and opera are of a dynamic and sweet sounding presentation that never fiddles with the organic realism of violins, bold and harmonically rich piano holograms – when the production is up to – unsurpassed soundstage transparency and dimensionality for the money asking. I would partner Debut Carbon EVO with more sensitive speakers and single ended triodes. It’s a must. As many other reviewers are cueing up to get a hold of this analog marvel, I chose to buy it and not leave this warmed-up satin-fir sample up for grabs!
In came the Rega Planar P2 & Thorens TD 201 (loan from a friend), equipped with factory-installed Carbon (~45 euros) and Audio Technica AT 3600 (~35 euros) MM catridges, in top condition. Both cartridges are at the lower end than our overachiever Ortofon 2M Red (~99 euros). I figured it was more fair to compare alike, even though Planar 2s is slightly more expensive than the brand new Pro-Ject Carbon EVO. Still it was a closer match than to compare with Thorens TD 201, residing much lower sonically wise. Both competitors of Pro-Ject were connected to the same solid-state phono stage (Lejonklou Slipsik ver.7) and they were also granted enough warmup time. I had the feeling though beforehand, that they were about to demonstrate great differences much more quickly. Right from the beginning and just after the second LP album back and forth platters, the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO was far better than the Rega & totally outperformed Thorens: more emotional and weighty, more living-and-breathing, more detailed, more dynamic, more spacious. Also much more engaging and resolute without any distraction of harshness. Voices of many hard rock and jazz LPs, for example the 90’s rocker Alice Cooper’s “Hey Stupid”, a real torture for many cartridges, sounded so well that for the first time I could hear all the backing vocals transparent and clear like never before achieved from an under 1.5k turntable & tonearm combo, fitted with the 2M Red. Midrange and highs were superbly rich & creamy, letting distorted electric guitars sounding bold & big as they should, without getting overly aggressive and harsh. On Norah Jones various LP’s, the voice and band’s rendition was again, exemplary and way above the asking price. Replay through Thorens’ TD 201 had less articulate midrange bass and sounded closed-in for some reason. The Rega P2 contender also delivered slightly woolier mid-bass and lows, with the Debut Carbon EVO winning clearly. Suave, rich, warm and open from top to bottom. The thing that also prompted me to buy the review unit, was that it achieved a phenomenal physical impact for its category, truthful tonal colors and soundstage height.
I bought the reviewing sample as it was clearly the new champ to ‘beat’. What is there more to say ?! I listened to a dozen carbon tonearms, fitted with Ortofon’s 2M-series Red & Blue moving magnet cartridges, as an industry standard of many sub 1.5k turntable offers. It so happens that the newest Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO outperforms each and every similarly priced analog offer I carefully auditioned. A floating sound, big soundstage, extreme attention to deliver a deep emotional connection with the music. There is no doubt that the entire performance of Debut Carbon EVO model escalates to new levels of richness, realism and detail retrieval, entering ‘restricted’ audiophile ground territory for just about 570 euros, presenting a major challenge to other companies to over-achieve, using just the humble 2M Red as worthy companion to the effort. They simply can’t from the way it looks. Something strange is going on here, discovering how stunningly gorgeous this model sounds. Probably it’s the peak – bonus – prize of Pro-Ject’s decades-lasting honesty and respect towards vinyl and audiophiles on a budget.
Editing, Rewriting: mr. Christos Tsiatis
Analog Sources: E.A.T. (European Audio Team) B-Sharp, Clearaudio Concept Active, Musical Fidelity Roundtable S, & Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO DC, Dynavox PS-300, Oracle Audio. Phono Stages: Fezz Audio MM & MM/MC, VTL & Musical Fidelity MX-VYNL Cartridges: Ortofon, Kuzma CAR, Shelter, Nagaoka, Benz Digital Sources : Primare, Holo Audio Spring Kitsune’ Level 3 Edition, RT-Audio Design Orpheus HiRes Battery DAC, Ideon Audio 3R Streaming Music Services: Tidal premium, Spotify premium, Preamps: VTL, Conrad-Johnson,Audio Hungary Integrated & Power Amplification: Pathos Classic One MkIII edition, Jadis (integrateds), RT-Audio Design Class-A, Musical Fidelity (various), VTL ST series, Audio Hungary ,Conrad-Johnson (tube & solid-state) Transports: Musical Fidelity, MusiChi, Foobar2000, Hysolid, various PC-based others Speakers: ProAc Studio & Response series, Audio Solution (various),Klipsch Klipschorn, Club-27 Kurt mk2 Signature Kit, Triangle Various, Magnepan 30.7 Cables: Nordost & TelluriumQ , & Analysis Plus digital, Supra & Nordost USB cables, Alpha Core Goertz Sapphire Silver RCA, Pure Silver Cables, Van Den Hul interconnects (RCA) Power Cables: IsoTek, Oyaide Tunami, Shunyata Research,Tellurium Q Power Conditioning: Shunyata Research Hydra, Nordost Qv2/Qk1.
Distribution, Auditions & Retail in Greece:
Heaven Audio – Orpheus Petroupolis