Pro-Ject Audio Tube Box DS-2 Review
Moving Magnet & Moving Coil tubed phono preamplifier.
Priced well under 1,000 euros including wooden sides (as supplied for review – final price depending on various available options), the fairly compact (240 x 93 x 227mm) phono stage from the well-known Austrian brand Project Audio, holds an important place in the market for a number of reasons. First of all, the amplification circuit includes tubes (a pair of 12AX7-ECC83 double triode tubes – one for each channel), but also a load selection option for mm & mc’s cartridges characteristics (plus Gain dB selections), a very wide range of settings that allows compatibility with practically any cartridge out there, two inputs for simultaneous connection of two turntables if necessary, two outputs (via selector switch) so that it can be connected to a second system or a recording medium without the annoying cable swapping and an external (pulse) power supply, providing its user the option of easily upgrading to a more classic (linear) power supply if needed.
The DS2’s construction is of very high quality (both internally and externally, especially with the wooden sides) enabling it to compete directly with phono stages costing multiple times more. Peeking at the rear panel, we find good quality, gold plated RCA jacks (two inputs plus two outputs), a ground, the power supply input and automation ports. Moving inside the DS2, we see good (to very good) quality materials, consistent with Project Audio’s intention of building a quality product that also sounds good.
Audio testing involved four different sound systems, a couple dedicated to critical listening and two others for general impressions. One of the two main testing systems was actually my own turntable, equipped with the motor and control circuits from an older JVC Direct Drive Quartz model (with an Origin Live ‘Silver’ tone arm and a Van den Hul ‘The Frog’ cartridge), while the second testing system was an E.Α.Τ. [European Audio Team] ‘Forte S’ model (with an E.A.T. ‘C-Sharp’ tone arm and again a van den Hul ‘The Frog’ cartridge). The other two systems used for reference testing were both equipped with a belt turntable (Merrill & CJ Walker plate, Rega RB900 & Alphason Xenon tone arms) as well as Dynavector DV20XV and van den Hul Grasshopper III-GLA cartridges respectively. The consistency of audio results from all four analog sound systems most likely suggests that, in the right audio environment and with a properly tuned system, any user will be able to rip the sonic benefits of the DS2. One thing that should be noted is that, with all four systems, extra care was needed for the proper support of the phono stage as the included tubes in conjunction with the DS2’s low weight, rendered the unit more vulnerable to vibrations that could affect its performance. In our case, the issue was successfully tackled by using Finite Elemente and Aktyna bases (audiophile tuning feet), bringing in a slightly different but equally impressive audio result.
With the DS2 phono stage in place of an older higher-end Bonnec Fono and a Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista Vinyl in the first and second critical listening audio systems respectively, I was pleasantly surprised to find that although reproduction quality dropped a little (which is to be expected as the Bonnec commands about 8 times the price of the DS2), the musical delivery remained more or less consistent. The flow and rhythm moved at very satisfactory levels and while the overall tonal balance softened and became a little more rounded, the reproduction of the energy and the overall dynamic range remained at high performance levels. The system also retained a good level of detail (one of the best in its price range), with a very satisfactory rendition of all those elements that make a good recording enjoyable. Actually, the DS2’s milder nature (probably due to the tube affecting the signal) will assist many systems with more affordable cartridges to produce a more digestible, pleasant, natural or dare we say ‘richer’ tone throughout the whole frequency range, in contrast to some semiconductor-equipped phono stages that will probably (due to their unforgivingly high quality) reveal the limitations of a less expensive analog system.
In fact, if we were to factor in the unit’s reasonable price and the level of ergonomic comfort it provides (easy access to all possible settings via the front panel, as well as the inclusion of twin inputs and outputs, very impressive for its class), then the Project Audio package can easily lay claim to the ‘Best Buy’ title in the average user category, the market segment where the DS2 (based on its pricing) is ultimately being addressed to.
Project Audio’s fairly affordable, extremely ergonomic tube-driven phone stage is a great solution for a number of end users: those who own a less than stellar turntable (and phono pre) searching for a truly jaw-dropping sound upgrade without breaking the bank, those who want to find the best “2 in 1” solution for their twin turntables as well as those who like to record their LPs but don’t like the limitations and cable-swapping hassles of their single output phono stage units. The DS2 is also addressed to those who value tubes, both aesthetically and acoustically, or, at the end of the day, those who are simply searching for a serious phono stage at a reasonable price. Easily recommended (subject to your own personal test drive and ‘taste’ of course).
Reviewing Reference System:
Analog Sources : E.A.T. (European Audio Team) Forte S, Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO, Origin Live Silver κ.α. Phono Stages ): VTL, Lejonklou Slipsik 7.1, Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista Cartridges : Ortofon 2M Black & 2M Red, Van den Hul THE FROG, Vertere Mystic, Sumiko, Kuzma CAR-50 Digital Sources : Primare, RT-Audio Design Orpheus HiRes Battery DAC Streaming Music Services: Tidal premium, Spotify premium, Preamps : VTL, E.A.R.-Yoshino, Conrad-Johnson (various) Integrated & Power Amplification : Pathos Classic One MkIII edition, Jadis Orchestra Reference, RT-Audio Design Class-A, Musical Fidelity (various), Conrad-Johnson (tube & solid-state) Transports (CD/SACD/File): Musical Fidelity, MusiChi, Foobar2000, Hysolid, various PC-based others Speakers : Duevel, ProAc Studio & Response series, Kharma CRM 3.2 FE Black Edition, Klipsch Klipschorn, Club-27 Kurt mk2 Signature Kit, Triangle (Various) Cables: Nordost ηχείων-interconnect, Neotech interconnects, Esprit Audio ηχείων-interconnects, Nordost USB cables, Alpha Core Goertz Sapphire Silver RCA, Van Den Hul interconnects (RCA) Power Cables : Neotech, IsoTek, Oyaide, Shunyata Research Power Conditioning : Shunyata Research Hydra, Nordost Qv2/Qk1, Lab12.
Price: 829,00 €
Distribution & Audition Showrooms: