The Pro-ject Essential must be frustrating for Pro-ject’s competitors. Just when they thought entry level had been defined by the Debut III, Pro-ject go even cheaper. That’s what happens when you sell the most turntables in the world, I suppose. More and more new designs of Pro-ject turntables are coming out each year, much to the benefit of vinyl lovers. The Pro-ject essential is another great turntable for the price, but have Pro-ject made it too affordable at the expense of quality?
Significantly cheaper than the Pro-ject Debut III, the Essential has fewer bells and whistles. Like the Debut III, the Pro-ject Essential comes with the option of having USB output and an in-build phono preamp, which will cost you an extra couple of hundred dollars. If it’s convenience you’re after, then having the build in preamp will be attractive, though it’ll be cheaper to buy a separate preamp and buy the standard model Pro-ject Essential. The looks are very similar to the Pro-ject Debut III as well, and the sleek, minimalist design is again a winner. The colour options are fewer unfortunately, with black, red and white the options available. The convenience of the budget Pro-ject turntables is here as well, and the Pro-ject Essential is close to being ready to go when it comes out of the box. The instruction manual is again fairly clear.
The isolation of the motor in some Pro-ject turntables leaves a bit to be desired, and the Pro-ject Essential is no exception. Having said that, when comparing to its competitors in the price range, the build quality is infinitely better. The steel platters and dodgy bearings of its competitors are almost guaranteed to create some unwanted rumble, whereas the Pro-ject Essential’s MDF plinth is miles ahead of the competition for isolation purposes. The tonearm is also excellent for the price. It’s a modified version of the 8.6 tonearm found on the Debut that does the job well.
Like the Debut before it, the Pro-ject essential lacks a little in the upper treble range, but does a fair job with the bass. You shouldn’t expect much beyond faithful tracking and fair reproduction, and that’s what the Pro-ject Essential delivers, though it can sound a little thin with more complex music with full dynamics. For a few hundred dollars, it’d be a better bet to upgrade to the Genie or the Debut, since the improvements will be very noticeable.
Pro-ject Essential Cartridge Recommendations
The stock cartridge with the Pro-ject Essential is the Ortofon OM3 cartridge, which comes pre-fitted. This budget Ortofon cartridge is a decent performer but, like many budget turntable cartridges, it can sound a little bright. Turning the treble down and the bass up is a quick fix if you have the capability to do so on your amp or mixer. In terms of upgrading the cartridge, the easiest way is to just upgrade the stylus. The Ortofon OM series is highly upgradable, and all you will need to do to significantly upgrade the sound is to clip out the old and clip in a new Ortofon OM 10, 20 or 30.
Pro-ject Essential Specifications
- Motor: Belt Drive
- Weight: 3.7kg
- Speeds: 33 and 45 rpm
- Wow & Flutter: +/- 0.25%
- Signal to noise: -65 dB
- Dimensions: 415x112x335
The Pro-ject Essential is another good effort from Pro-ject, and a good option if you’re on a tight budget, but the best bang for your buck will require a little more cash.