Pro-Ject Debut Pro vs Rega Planar 3: which mid-price turntable is better?

Rega’s Planar 3 has been our go-to mid-market turntable recommendation for more years than we care to remember. It was first introduced way back in the late 1970s and since then has been carefully developed through numerous generations to remain the defining product in its market sector. 

Compare the current deck to the original and the two look remarkably similar with just the different tonearm attracting our attention. But take a more careful look and you’ll find that just about every aspect of the design has been improved over the years. It’s certainly a slicker-looking product than before even if it remains the same in essence.

Pro-Ject’s Debut is a long-running model too, but not quite as long. It started life in the late Nineties as the company’s entry-level deck and has remained a firm budget recommendation of ours since then. The massive commercial success of the design encouraged Pro-Ject to expand the line-up in all directions with a huge array of finishes and options, but it’s fair to say that the Debut Pro is the most sonically ambitious version yet. The Pro moves the Debut well away from its budget roots and is the first of its family to pose a serious challenge to Rega’s Planar 3. 

Turntable system: Pro-Ject Debut Pro

(Image credit: Future)

Pro-Ject Debut Pro Vs Rega Planar 3: at a glance

  • Pro-Ject Debut Pro is the most sophisticated and most capable Debut deck we’ve reviewed
  • Rega Planar 3 comes with the Elys 2 cartridge and is still a strong proposition despite a hefty price rise
  • Both need careful placement and a good partnering system to shine
  • Both turntables sound excellent for the money. The Pro-Ject Debut Pro is more precise and clear while the Rega Planar 3 has more verve

Pro-Ject Debut Pro Vs Rega Planar 3: price

Turntable: Pro-Ject Debut Pro

(Image credit: Future)

Both of these contenders sit at a solid level above traditional budget offerings when it comes to performance and engineering. 

The Rega Planar 3/Elys 2 now costs £799/£1395/AU$1449. Price rises seem part and parcel of most things now, but up against the Pro-Ject, it does weaken the Rega’s long-established position of being arguably the best value record player on the market. 

Pro-Ject has been aggressive with the Debut Pro’s pricing. At £699/$999/AU$1079 it undercuts the Planar 3 by a solid margin, but that only matters if it can compete in terms of build, ease of use and, most importantly, sound quality.

**Winner: Pro-Ject Debut Pro**

Pro-Ject Debut Pro Vs Rega Planar 3: build quality

Turntable: Rega Planar 3

(Image credit: Future)

Both of the decks are superbly made for the money. The Rega is a well-proven design and everything about it feels carefully engineered and built to last. The plinth is simple but looks smart covered with its glossy acrylic laminate. There are two standard finish options and they both look suitably classy. The last round of improvements on this product took in a pair of phenolic resin braces on the top and bottom surfaces of the plinth between the arm base and main bearing. These improve rigidity in that vital area, and so help performance.

The main bearing is tightly toleranced so that there is little discernible free play when we rock the 12mm-thick glass platter. While the Pro-Ject is good in this respect, certainly better than other Debuts we’ve reviewed in the past, the Planar 3 really excels. It has a beautifully engineered arm too. The RB300 series of arms has been an industry staple since it was introduced in the early Eighties. Since then it has become the de facto starter tonearm fitted to some really exotic third-party record players, which is testimony to the excellence of its design. Even in RB330 guise, as it is here, the arm remains a terrific product.

It is some credit to the Pro-Ject arm that it isn’t overshadowed by the RB330. Its armtube combines an outer skin of carbon fibre with an aluminium inner layer used for reinforcement and damping. The claim is of high rigidity and low resonance.

This arm feels like a quality item with smooth movement and no sign of excessive play in the bearings. We particularly like the care taken over the finish of the bearing housing with its smart Nickel-plated metal parts. That’s not all, this design allows adjustment of both arm height and azimuth, so it should be easy to accommodate and optimise for a wide range of cartridges. The RB330 doesn’t offer such easy adjustability. Overall it’s very close though, but the Rega just edges it thanks to the superb overall engineering.

**Winner: Rega Planar 3**

Pro-Ject Debut Pro Vs Rega Planar 3: features

Turntable: Pro-Ject Debut Pro

(Image credit: Future)

Turntables are inherently simple things and these are no different. Both come fitted with decent moving magnet cartridges, with the Pro-Ject supplied with the new in-house Pick It Pro cartridge. This is a development of Ortofon’s long-running 2M Red, with the main changes focussed on the suspension with a view to producing a more lively and punchier sound. It is an accomplished performer that tracks well at the recommended 2.0g downforce weight, though there’s no harm in experimenting within the 1.8-2.2g recommended range to fine-tune results in your system.

The Rega comes with the well-proven Elys 2. This is an energetic and dynamic performer but isn’t quite as refined as the Pick It. The Elys 2 mounts onto the RB330 with a three-bolt arrangement that ensures alignment is spot-on and tracks at a conventional 1.75g. Beyond finding a good support, fitting the platter, setting tracking and bias there is little else to do on either of these decks to get them going.

We welcome the Debut Pro’s electronic speed change. It feels so much slicker to change speed this way rather than having to manually move the drive belt from one step on the motor pulley to the next as on the Rega. The Pro-Ject offers the standard choice of 33⅓ or 45 RPM at the flick of a nice toggle switch on the front of the deck, and if you fit a supplied adaptor, it’ll even play 78 RPM records. The Rega doesn’t have this option. Make sure you replace the Debut Pro’s standard flat rubber belt with the supplied round-section one if you do this.

**Winner: Pro-Ject Debut Pro**

Pro-Ject Debut Pro Vs Rega Planar 3: sound quality

Turntable: Rega Planar 3

(Image credit: Rega)

This is where these decks are hard to separate. It’s not that they sound the same, they don’t, but they are broadly on a par when it comes to talent. The Rega is excellent, of course. No product could dominate the category as completely as this has done over the years if it didn’t perform to the highest standards. 

The Planar 3/Elys 2 is an exciting and musical package that digs up so much detail but manages to organise all that information in a cohesive and musical way. The Rega ticks all the boxes; it is dynamic enough to deliver Jupiter by Holst with the impact and authority the music deserves while having the rhythmic drive and energy to rock out with Bruce Springsteen’s High Hopes set.

Looking for points of differentiation it’s fair to say that the Debut Pro, though capable, isn’t quite as dynamically expressive as the Rega, and is just short of its rival when it comes to delivering the excitement of a piece of music. The shortfall in either area is small though, and you would need a really transparent set-up to think those differences were decisive. 

Things swing the Pro-Ject’s way if you value outright detail resolution. The Pro-Ject package sounds a little cleaner and crisper, delivering low frequencies with an agility and precision even the Rega struggles to match. The comparison is close enough between the two decks for it to come down to your taste and system.

**Winner: Draw**

Pro-Ject Debut Pro Vs Rega Planar 3: verdict

We love the Rega Planar 3/Elys 2 combination. It has ruled this particular roost for years, and rightly so. While it remains an excellent performer, recent price rises have opened a door for Pro-Ject. 

While it remains extremely close, the Debut Pro’s price advantage is enough to swing our vote, particularly as it matches the pricier Rega’s performance. If you are looking for the best turntable at this level look no further than the Pro-Ject Debut Pro. It is a stonking buy that fully deserves our Turntable Product of Year title for 2022.


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Ketan Bharadia
Technical Editor

Ketan Bharadia is the Technical Editor of What Hi-Fi? He's been been reviewing hi-fi, TV and home cinema equipment for over two decades, and over that time has covered thousands of products. Ketan works across the What Hi-Fi? brand including the website and magazine. His background is based in electronic and mechanical engineering.

With contributions from
  • nopiano
    Good write up. But whatever tool you use to ‘price scrape’ needs revisiting, as currently it thinks a Pro-ject platter at £115 is a selling price for a complete turntable!