Beginner’s luck. We need a healthy dose to dispense with the wrinkles wrought by many sub-€500 turntables. Many manufacturers, like Austria’s Pro-Ject, help us out with a factory-fitted cartridge – their entry-level T1 (€275) hosts an Ortofon OM 5E – but leave us to source the corresponding phono stage, by definition an external device.
Adding a second point of friction, some turntables, like the T1, force us to lift the platter and move the belt to a different flywheel to change the speed from 45pm to 33rpm (and back again). These are hassles that many of us could do without.
Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be this way: Pro-Ject has remedied both of these niggles with the T1 Phono SB, which puts a Speedbox and an MM phono stage on the underside of the low mass plinth for an additional €75. Total spend €350. Now we only need press a button to change the rotational speed of the glass platter, itself less than common than metal or plastic at this price point.
The phono stage’s RCA outputs allow us to choose between a phono level (to feed an external phono pre) or line-level signal. I chose the latter, sending the T1 Phono SB’s line-level output to a Bluesound Powernode 2i (review here) using the supplied “super shielded, semi-symmetrical, low-capacitance” cables and twin-RCA-to-3.5mm adapter. The Bluesound drove a pair of Q Acoustics 3030i (review here).
I’ve already pitted the T1 Phono SB against the Bluesound Node 2i as the first Mystery Box ‘blind test’ and YouTube poll. Read the setup here and the results here. I expected the Bluesound to romp home but it didn’t. The poll results tell us that an entry-level turntable can still give us some things that a streaming DAC cannot (and vice versa). A finding borne out by my own listening tests. However, as a mechanical device, a turntable is a lot more than just a sound machine. We have to get hands-on. That makes its physical qualities all the more crucial that a streaming DAC that carries no moving parts (only electricity).
Further information. Pro-Ject Audio Systems