Pro-Ject knows how to make a good budget turntable. The many five-star reviews and Awards we’ve given the company can attest to this. Though the company has dominated this end of the market for a while, to its credit, it hasn’t become complacent.
The Pro-Ject Essential II Digital is an attempt to tweak the winning recipe, a new take on the Award-winning Essential II with added digital goodness.
It’s a risky move to mess with something that works, but one that demonstrates a willingness to adapt. So, did the risk pay off?
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That depends on what you want from a turntable. Outright sound quality or the convenience of wide compatibility? By taking the Essential II and adding a phono stage, based on the company’s Phono Box design, Pro-Ject is gunning for both.
You get your analogue line level output, along with a 24-bit/96kHz digital optical output. Pro-Ject wants you to plug it straight into AV receivers and soundbars.
The rest of the turntable is very much what you get with the original Essential II. You get an 8.6in aluminium tonearm, a heavy MDF platter, a low-voltage motor perimeter belt drive system and an Ortofon OM5E cartridge.
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Speed change is manual: to play singles, you shift the drive belt to the larger step on the motor pulley. The design is about as basic as turntables get, but the main bearing is nicely put together, as is the tonearm.
Everything moves smoothly with no creaking or rattling, and the pre-fitted cartridge is solid.
The Essential II Digital needs careful placement to get the optimum sound, especially as it doesn’t have much in the way of suspension. It’s best to place it on a rigid support, away from the speakers or any other source of vibration.
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Do this and the Essential II Digital will reward you with a fine performance. We begin with the analogue output. It has a good handle on the fundamentals: detail levels are good, timing is crisp and dynamics are forceful when required.
It’s a well-organised and enthusiastic performance that rarely gets flustered, even with more demanding recordings. But it’s missing that special something to take a product from good to great. It’s not the most insightful, nor refined, listen.
Dynamics could be stronger, and the scale could be larger. It’s enjoyable, but we’re left wanting a little more.
Switching over to the digital optical side, we find the sound to be of a similar character, only less subtle than the analogue. It captures the broad strokes but misses out the finer textures and dynamic shifts.
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We admire Pro-Ject for tweaking its Award-winner, but the results are not quite a total success. The added convenience of a phono stage and digital output will appeal to many, but we’re not taken aback by the performance.
It’s good, but needs to be better still to claim the full five stars.
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