Pro-Ject Debut Carbon
The most significant upgrade to Pro-Ject’s latest Debut is found in the model’s name, which refers to the lighter, more rigid, single-piece 8.6" carbon-fiber arm tube that replaces the Debut III’s aluminum tube. Pre-mounted with Ortofon’s 2M Red moving-magnet cartridge, the Carbon offers all one expects from a modestly priced ’table. It doesn’t excel in any one area but gets the basics so right that it’s hard to criticize what’s lacking.
Rega’s entry-level ’table today sells for roughly the same price it did some 20 years ago, meaning that Rega’s commitment to value remains paramount. The P1 uses the classic Rega motor, drive system, and main bearing, but instead of a glass platter this one is made of MDF. The ’arm is the new RB101, which comes pre-mounted with Ortofon’s OM5e movingmagnet cartridge. You won’t get much frequency extension or wide dynamics here, but what you do get are the pace, musical interplay, and involvement that make analog special.
Pro-Ject Xpression III
The Xpression III features an acrylic platter, machined cone feet, a carbonfiber arm tube, and other refinements rare at this price. Supplied with Sumiko’s excellent Oyster cartridge, the Xpression III has excellent clarity, smoothness, and a wide and deep soundstage.
With a phenolic-resin “double brace” creating a “stressed beam” between the main-bearing hub and tonearm mount, Rega’s RP3 is a significant step forward. Thanks to a phenolic-resin skin and upgraded particulate core-material, the plinth is also lighter than its predecessor, while the RB303 arm features a newly designed tube said to increase rigidity at the bearing housing, arm carrier, and headshell mount. The result is deeper bass, lower noise, more dynamic pop, increased detail, and improved staging. Things get better yet with the optional TT PSU power supply ($375).
Pro-Ject RM-5 SE/Sumiko Blue Point No. 2
Easy to assemble, Pro-Ject’s RM-5 SE features a teardrop-shaped, black-lacquered MDF plinth, a suspended motor assembly, a stainless-steel and Teflon bearing, and a 9" carbon-fiber arm. Supplied with Sumiko’s Blue Point 2 cartridge, the RM-5 SE is musically involving, with a warm balance, stunning rhythmic incisiveness, fine dynamic shading, good detail, and natural depth.
$1400 ($1500 with Concept mm cartridge; $2000 with Concept mc cartridge)
The Clearaudio Concept turntable package does everything but unbox itself. Preset at the factory, this spinner features a svelte belt-drive chassis, a stunning friction-free, magnetic-bearing Verify tonearm, and the Concept moving-magnet cartridge. The build and finish of this German-made ’table are superior. For sheer musical engagement and superb speed stability, it’s the one to beat in this price range.
Rega’s RP6 offers the same phenolic-resin “double brace” found in the RP3, the same RB303 arm, and a whole lot more. Replacing Rega’s traditional glass platter/felt mat is a two-piece, 16mm-thick flywheel/platter made of two joined pieces of float glass. Moreover, the RP6 comes standard with the TT PSU power supply, a must for top performance. Note the large improvements in dynamic nuance and explosiveness, tonal and textural detail, size and depth of stage, and sheer musicality. Reviewed with Exact 2 cartridge at $1990.
SOTA Comet S301
$1545 with Dynavector 10x5 cartridge ($1150 without)
SOTA uses internal damping to isolate the Comet from vibration; the bearing cup is made from a Teflon-impregnated selflubricating polymer; the platter assembly consists of a high-density polymer main platter sitting atop a polymer-based subplatter driven by a 24-pole AC synchronous motor. The result is an easy authoritative presentation that’s warm, rich, and solid, with wide nuanced dynamics and a large 3-D soundfield.
VPI Aries Scout w/JMW-9
If you want to experience a huge taste of analog heaven without the hellish price tag, the VPI Aries Scout deserves your attention. This simple, affordable ’table uses an inverted bearing with a Teflon thrust plate and a scaled-down version of the JMW unipivot arm to create an exceptionally quiet background and high signal-to-noise ratio. Music leaps out of silence into the room.
$1999 ($2299 with Sumiko Blue Point Special EVO III & Connect-it Tonearm Cable)
The RM-9.2 (auditioned with Sumiko Pearwood Celebration II cartridge) is remarkable in ways that will appeal to both the music lover and the audiophile. Notably easy and relaxed, it is also rhythmically incisive and dynamically explosive. The ’table comes with Pro-Ject’s 9" EVO carbon-fiber arm, and is also available as a standalone unit or—at a combined discounted price—with Sumiko cartridges.