There are certain things Pro-Ject always seems to get right: classy, subtle design; intuitive, easy-to-use features; an organic, entertaining performance; great value for money.
Rare are the times we haven't pencilled in at least four of our five stars within the first few hours of testing one of the vinyl specialist’s products, and its Phono Box USB V ripping phono stage is another example of one we’d gladly give our time to.
Build and features
This stylish little number, available in either black or the silver of our test unit, is dominated by a decidedly tactile gain dial on its fascia - and keeps things clean, with only two further controls for toggling standby and input method.
To the rear are the input terminals: RCA and line in, RCA out, a push switch for determining moving magnet or moving coil cartridge, and a USB connection for ripping vinyl to your computer.
Apart from its power port, that’s all you need. It’s an aesthetically more endearing prospect than its former Award-winning competitor, the Rega Fono Mini A2D, but shares its endlessly attractive simplicity.
That extends to just how easy Pro-Ject makes it to transfer your vinyl to digital files – there’s no necessity to install a driver, so just download some recording software free from the internet, plug in the USB and away you go – and the sound quality of the files in line with the Phono Box USB V’s innate performance.
That performance, if you’ve enjoyed a Pro-Ject phono stage or turntable in the past, will be satisfyingly familiar.
Mogwai’s Rave Tapes is an example of a record that really plays to this phono stage’s strengths. From the opening hammers of Heard About You Last Night, that warm, full-bodied presentation is immediately noticeable - it's even across the frequency range but hits a real sweet spot in the midrange, with plenty of bass weight at its foundation.
Drums cut through with pulsing kicks, confident snares and cymbals wary of ever becoming thin or coarse, while the reverb over the track’s chorus refrain is allowed to wash over in ethereal majesty.
There’s energy and drive here too, as highlighted by the sprawling synthesizer hook of Remurdered, which likewise offers the Phono Box USB V the opportunity to dig deep into the low end to assert its authority and offer dimension to the track few rivals can match.
Taking a vocal-led track such as Blues Hour, we are again treated to that rich midrange, as well as taking a closer look at this Pro-Ject’s fine dynamic range.
There is restraint in the verses – offering up expression without the performance coming across as tentative – and the growth in both volume and texture in the choruses is dealt with assurance and ease.
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Despite the glowing warmth of the Phono Box USB V’s presentation, it does not shirk its responsibility to deliver insight.
There is granular texture in these instruments’ rich timbres, and even as arrangements grow in density there are no lines left to unlock.
Our ears may be directed more to some parts than others, but there is deeper listening to be enjoyed finding all strands are present and audible.
But rather than simply offering a different emphasis, Pro-Ject loses some ground on its Rega rival in terms of timing and organisation. The former is adept in both regards, but it doesn’t quite snap with rhythms in the way of its competitor.
Overall the Fono Mini A2D delivers a leaner sound, but its a sprightlier pace leaves it feeling less laboured and more readily able to inject that extra dose of entertainment when required.
Considering the Rega is also £50 less expensive, it is enough to relieve the Pro-Ject of a star.
In a sense, though, that ‘missing’ star could be irrelevant when it comes to which you come to take home. To make a decent moving coil cartridge sing usually takes a phono stage more expensive than this, but the option of using the Pro-Ject simply to rip from such a turntable is one well worth considering.
More importantly though is the company’s instantly recognisable, instantly likeable family sound. If you’re looking for full-bodied analogue warmth, few do it as well as Pro-Ject for the money – that could justifiably be more important than all-rounder status when it comes to personal enjoyment from longer listening.
This is another Pro-Ject product with all the traits of which we’ve become so fond, and eminently worthy of an audition.
See all our Pro-Ject reviews