A hypothetical scenario. Your new turntable is a Pro-Ject Essential III, as announced at Munich High End 2017. Behind this turntable’s clean design lines sit the following press-released features: a new DC motor; a ‘diamond cut’ aluminium pulley; heavier MDF plinth and platter (to better minimise resonances); a new bearing (for reduced rumble, wow and flutter); Connect it E wire; a stiffer felt mat and, most notable of all, an Ortofon OM10 cartridge (instead of the Essential II’s OM5).
You take your pick from one of the Essential III’s high-gloss colours (black, red or white), forego the base model (€325), take a pass on the Essential III Digital with in-built ADC + 24bit/96kHz TOSLINK output and choose the Essenial III Phono (€359) with built-in phono pre-amplifier. If only Pro-Ject also offered the one-click speed-changing Essential III SB (€399) with internal phono stage.
Side note: the “lossless Bluetooth streaming” promised by the aptX-equipped Essential III Bluetooth (€399) gets the beady eye because lossless audio over Bluetooth doesn’t yet exist. Experience tells us that Qualcomm’s promotional spin for their aptX codec is slippery at best.
Pro-Ject are one of the world’s largest and most respected turntable manufacturers. The chance of us netting a dud without an a priori audition is (to repurpose this ‘table’s model name) essentially zero.
The hypothesising continues. Your next digital front end will come from an entirely different price point – £55K – and a manufacturer will a proven track record in the world of uber high end audio. In their own words.
“Since 1987 dCS has been at the forefront of digital audio, creating world-beating, life-enhancing products that are a unique synthesis of exact science and creative imagination. Each of our award-winning product ranges sets the standard within its class for technical excellence and musical performance. As a result, dCS digital playback systems are unrivalled in their ability to make music.”
“All dCS products are designed and manufactured in the United Kingdom using proprietary technology, and materials and components of the highest quality. A carefully judged balance of our unique heritage and world-class engineering ensures there is a rich history of ground-breaking innovation inside every dCS system.”
Also at Munich High-End 2017, dCS launched their Vivaldi One that puts (the usually separate) hi-res capable network streamer, TEAC/Esoteric VRDS NEO SACD/CD disc spinner and proprietary Ring DAC™ under a single roof, all in celebration of the company’s 30th birthday. Production will be limited to 250 pieces. Choose from an anodised black or silver finish or opt for a custom paint job. How about a high-gloss red to match that Essential III.
Digital inputs include Gigabit Ethernet, asynchronous USB, AES, BNC and S/PDIF. Best of all, the Vivaldi One is Roon Ready.
Now comes the twist. This hypothetical brings some much needed specificity to the digital vs anologue debate. Surrendering all other vinyl and digital front-end machinery, you get to keep only one as an indefinite loaner: either the Pro-Ject Essential III with in-built phono stage or the dCS Vivaldi One.
Before you make your decision, consider the words of the idealist vinyl-phile: “nothing beats the sound of vinyl” (literally: nothing); or the oft-repeated opinion that vinyl playback is richer, more engaging than its digital counterpart. If vinyl is as good as claimed by idealists and the mainstream press, the Pro-Ject should easily outperform the dCS box irrespective of the price-point disparity and your vote in the poll below should be an easy one to make.
Voting closes a week from today.