Digital Audio Review. Tying vinyl playback to such an inflexible triptych means vinyl rips – aka ‘needle-drops’ – where a turntable, its cartridge and the phono stage’s output is digitised with an A/D converter, computer and software.
The resulting files are portable – we can take the sound of our favourite turntable, cartridge and phono pre-amplifier combo out into the street using a DAP/smartphone and headphones.
Another benefit: these same digital files can be loaded into a software playlist, ready for quick-fire A/B testing that would otherwise be interrupted by the minutes (not seconds) required to swap out turntables, their cartridges and phono pre-amplifiers.
Scratching the surface of Internet file-sharing reveals communities dedicated to providing needle-drops of not only out-of-print titles, otherwise unavailable on CD or as a download, but also new releases. The thinking that underpins such activity: a needle-drop sounds better the equivalent CD.
That means no two needle-drops will sound alike. My own experiments, thus using entry-level tables (Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, Rega RP1), their factory-fitted cartridges and price commensurate phono stages and ADCs came up short. In almost every respect, they sounded inferior to the CD. A move upstream into more deluxe turntable territory was clearly called for.
Technics’ reborn SL-1200G and a Pioneer PLX-500 fitted with a Zu-modded DL-103R provided the springboard for an investigation into the audible delta between a three hundred Euro ‘table and one selling for ten times that amount. That one’s been and gone.
Arriving at the DARhaus in the wake of Munich High-End 2017 came the 6 Perspex from Pro-Ject Audio Systems (€1399). It was selected from the Austrian company’s entire range by yours truly, largely for its Future-Fi-channeling outward appearance. Readers can judge for themselves.
The 6 Perspex is also one of the more unusual turntable in Pro-Ject’s line-up in that a trio of magnets see a corian sub-platter ‘float’ above the acrylic (Perspex) plinth. Pro-Ject website blurb clarifies the intent: “A magnetic subchassis suspension system avoids parasitic noise normally caused by conventional spring mechanism”.
Elsewhere, an inverted bearing supports the main platter that comprises sandwiched layers of MDF and vinyl. The platter’s rotational power comes from an outboard motor that sits in the upper-left corner of the plinth and whose only other connection to the ‘table is the belt.
Supplied with my review loaner, an upgrade (of sorts): a Pro-Ject Speedbox SE II (€435) that delivers the necessary go juice to the motor. A trio of buttons give us one-click access to 45rpm and 33rpm – without lifting the platter and moving the belt – plus granular speed adjustment (where necessary).
For the newer 6 Perspex SB (€1599), the speed controller has been rolled into the cylindrical motor housing for a couple hundred Euro saving.
Both old and new models feature Pro-Ject’s in-house designed/made carbon fibre 9” 9cc Evolution tonearm. For my review loaner, fitted to the arm’s business by Pro-Ject’s German distributor is an Ortofon 2M Black (€600) – reportedly a giant among moving magnet cartridges.
The Ortofon nudges our spend over the €2000. Most would agree, we’re no longer operating at the entry-level and for this kind of green we might rightfully expect the 6 Perspex to deliver some of the magic heard from the Pro-Ject’s Xtension 10 Evolution (reviewed here). It does – emphatically and without doubt.
Operationally, if we consider only vinyl’s playback ceremony – pulling a record from the shelf, slipping the big black disc from its sleeve, placing it on the platter, starting the turntable motor, lowering the needle and anticipating the reassuring ‘thunk’ as we take our seat – this Pro-Ject feels quite lovely in use, if a little more finicky and delicate than the more robust Technics SL-1200G. If we describe the latter as a ‘hands-on’ turntable, the 6 Perspex could be described as ‘fingers-on’.
When it comes to sonic comparisons, I can only offer up thoughts on how this Pro-ject/Ortofon combo differs from the Technics/Zu DL-103r: the former delivers a little more finesse and delicacy but it often lacks the latter’s get-up and go. I really enjoy the Pro-Ject’s bass propulsion and surface texture definition.
Instinct tells me that the Zu cartridge – a real rock-n-rolla – would be better suited to the Pro-Ject ‘table and the Ortofon to the Technics. That’s an investigation for another day.
My long term goal is to find a sub-US$5K turntable/cartridge pairing that consistently – and without doubt – delivers needle-drops that sound superior to the CD / digital download; and with modern music as covered by the likes of Pitchfork, Resident Advisor, FactMag, Mojo and Rolling Stone. In other words, music made without the explicit nod to audiophile considerations that dominates audio demos.
Digitising the 6 Perspex and Ortofon’s output means you can hear what I hear, with my chosen music, but filtered through your DAC instead of the Expert 200’s. DAC colouration is relatively minor compared to loudspeaker and room changes but we cannot pretend it doesn’t exist, even if it doesn’t obscure the innate qualities of vinyl’s software and playback hardware.
From Devialet’s online Configurateur, the 2M Black was selected from the phono cartridge drop-down and the fresh settings loaded in via SD card. The Expert 200’s USB output then piped the two songs from AMC’s Everclear as 24bit/96kHz PCM into a Macbook Air running Audacity before being cut down to one minute samples.
This AMC album was chosen because it represents music that: a) I like; b) is reasonably well recorded/mastered; c) wasn’t made with audiophiles in mind; and 4) has only been issued once on CD and vinyl and, therefore, 5) has never been given the deluxe remaster/re-issue treatment.
With the first needle-drop in the bag, my investigations turned to another line of enquiry. “How does the phono stage and ADC influence the sound of the resulting FLAC file?”
Time to pull PS Audio’s NuWave Phono Converter from its box, to set its rear-panel jumpers to 47 kOhms, its gain to 51db (as per the 2M Black’s 5mV output) and its digital encoding to PCM, 24bit/96kHz.
Another needle-drop of Everclear’s first two songs was then generated using the same USB cable (an AudioQuest Carbon) the same computer (an 11” Macbook Air) and the same software (Audactiy).
The result? Two needle-dropped FLACs in 24bit/96kHz – one from the Devialet, one from the PS Audio – and the original CD (16bit/44.1kHz), also ripped to FLAC. I think you’ll be surprised by what you hear. I know I was.
You can download all three samples in one zip file
here [122Mb] and vote for your preference here:
Both the reader poll and the zip file download will cease operations after a week. Voting has now ended. Results are here.
Further information: Pro-Ject Audio Systems