The Pro-Ject Debut Pro is a simply outstanding record player for the price. You don’t knock the Rega Planar 3, a deck that has basked in What Hi-Fi? Product of the Year glory for a decade and more, off its plinth without being extremely special indeed.
A deck, though, is only one part of a system. Without partnering equipment it is, to all intents and purposes, useless. It makes sense investing in this turntable, then, only if you can partner it with appropriate kit that will help to prove its Product of the Year 2022 status.
It’s pretty clear from the number of boxes on display that we have gone for a full-on separates set-up here. Convenience, in the form of all-in-one systems, has its place of course, but to get the very best performance out of hi-fi kit, you need to use products that specialise in their own particular field.
Turntable: Pro-Ject Debut Pro (£699 / $999 / AU$1079)
Phono stage: Cambridge Audio Duo MC/MM (£199 / $299 / AU$699)
Floorstanding speakers: Dali Oberon 5 (£799 / $1499 / AU$1799)
Headphones: Grado SR80x (£99 / $125 / AU$179)
Integrated amplifier: Musical Fidelity M2si (£699/ $999 / AU$2200)
Total amount for this system: £2495 / $3921 / AU$5956
Integrated amplifier: Musical Fidelity M2si
And specialise this quintet certainly does. It’s a good thing that there is more to picking an amplifier than simply relying on a feature list. If that were the case, the Musical Fidelity M2si would be batting on a very sticky wicket. You will have gathered that we are prepared to forego much in the quest for superb sound; so the fact that this amp is lacking in the phono stage department is one that we are happy to work around. And it also fails on the headphone socket front…
No matter. It really doesn’t take long in our listening rooms to persuade us that the M2si is a terrific performer. This is a large-scale yet refined sound that copes with complex tracks with authority and ease. And, most importantly, we find it easy to keep track of individual instruments as well as luxuriate in a track as a whole.
- Read the full Musical Fidelity M2si review
Phono stage: Cambridge Audio Duo MC/MM
We have partnered the Pro-Ject deck with an integrated amplifier from Musical Fidelity that is so stripped back that it doesn’t have a phono stage; enter the wonderful Cambridge Audio Duo MC/MM, that will sit between the Debut Pro and the amp, boosting the signal to an acceptable level.
The Duo is so named because it deals with both moving-magnet and moving-coil cartridges (it has a sibling called the Solo that is moving-magnet only). For our purposes in this set-up, though, the duo of skills we most need from this little unit are that moving-magnet capability alongside its headphone amplifier, via which we can listen on our Grado headphones.
It’s a feature combination that makes this phono stage a five-star winner in our book – but only, of course, because it delivers on the promise of that impressive specification. Its presentation is spacious, detailed and dynamic, and is warm enough without ever allowing things to become too cloying.
- Read the full Cambridge Audio Duo MC/MM review
Floorstanding speakers: Dali Oberon 5
We move on, then, to the two parts of this hi-fi system from which the sound actually emanates. We shall start with the loudspeakers, as listening to music as a shared experience is one of life’s greatest joys. The Dali Oberon 5 have won What Hi-Fi? Awards as both a stereo pair and as part of the mighty Oberon 5 5.1 home cinema speaker package – so they are clearly great all-rounders, able to turn their woofers and tweeters to all shapes, sizes and styles of music.
These are compact towers, just 83cm high, so accommodation shouldn’t be a great issue. Bear in mind, though, that they like to stand a little away from a back wall facing straight ahead – no toe-in towards the listener. And, of course, we have chosen them in this set-up because they are terrific performers. They are musical, naturally, but also responsive and, of supreme importance, huge fun to listen to. They have dynamic subtlety, rhythmic precision and transparency, and truly pull the listener in to the experience.
It’s not all about fun: these are detailed performers, with low-end reach combining with crisp high frequencies that have plenty of bite without ever becoming brittle. They arrange the musical information in a composed and organised way, with edges of notes beautifully defined without ever sounding unnatural. The midrange is not ignored either– voices sound great in an expressive performance.
These speakers sound bigger than they are, and that power, combined with the sheer fun they convey in the music, means they are top performers at the price.
- Read the full Dali Oberon 5 review
Headphones: Grado SR80x
Thoughtful as we are, we have also provided you with options for the way in which you listen to your music. We have a top-value, top-performing pair of hi-fi headphones – the Grado SR80x – for when you want to keep things up close and (relatively) personal, and Dali’s wonderful Oberon 5 floorstanding speakers for when you feel like filling the room with sound.
Now before we get into waxing lyrical about the sound the Grado SR80x provide, we do need to issue a note of caution. These are classic Grado cans: great-sounding, but open-backed. Which means that everyone in the room will know precisely what you are listening to. But if that isn’t an issue for you, or you have incredibly understanding housemates, open-backed headphones are the way to go for the very best sound.
We say in our full review of these on-ears: “The SR80x might be considered budget headphones, but their class-leading transparency means they can satisfyingly participate in a more sophisticated set-up.” Well, this is that set-up.
And the Grado headphones revel in showing just what great performers they are further up the chain. They are nimble-footed and expressive, with a degree of punch and panache that makes them born entertainers. They are fairly analytical in character – far from warm in tone – but that means they marry rather well with the mellow sound the Cambridge Audio Duo headphone amplifier supplies. In fact, their character is such that we find ourselves listening to whole albums during our testing. High praise indeed.
- Read the full Grado SR80x review
That enticement to listen applies to this whole system. After all, what is music for if not to bring us joy and heightened emotion. In our book, that’s worth investing in – and with this considered set-up, you can be sure you're getting the best out of the mighty Pro-Ject Debut Pro, and indeed your record collection.
Read our review of the Pro-Ject Debut Pro
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