2014 Buyer’s Guide: Turntables and Record Players Under $1500

Equipment report
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon,
Pro-Ject Xpression III,
Rega RP1,
Rega RP3,
Rega RP6,
SOTA Turntables Comet S301
2014 Buyer’s Guide: Turntables and Record Players Under $1500

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—because, after all, that’s what good entry level models should provide, a solid foundation for musical pleasure. sumikoaudio.net

Rega RP1
It’s notable that Rega’s entry-level ’table today sells for roughly the same price it did some 20 years ago. That doesn’t mean the P1 performs at exactly the same level as the original P(lanar) 2 or 3, but it does mean that Rega’s commitment to value remains paramount and its knowledge of materials and manufacturing techniques has deepened. Perhaps even more remarkably, Rega is able to achieve this while keeping all manufacturing in the U.K.—no outsourcing for these guys! Building on success, 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 moving-magnet cartridge. You won’t get much frequency extension or wide dynamics here, but what you do get is the pace, musical interplay, and involvement that makes analog special. soundorg.com

Pro-Ject Xpression III
The Xpression III features an acrylic platter, machined cone‑feet, a carbon-fiber arm tube, and other refinements rare at this price. Indeed, the arm will accommodate considerably better pickups, not that there’s anything wrong with Sumiko’s supplied Oyster. The ensemble generates a wide deep soundstage, and has the ability to resolve complex musical passages. Its overall sonic character evinces clarity and smoothness, erring on the side of too much mellowness when it comes to instruments that should have some edge and bite (Miles’s trumpet, Rollins’ sax), but not a bad place for a budget component to land. This is a worthy example of budget driven “point-and-shoot” vinyl rigs, embodying analog warmth with limitations subtractive, rather than additive—always preferable. Like most inexpensive turntables, it lacks a tuned suspension, so where there’s lots of bass, its cone feet may provide insufficient isolation. (After‑market platforms such Gingko Audio’s are very effective.) sumikoaudio.net

Rega RP3
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 new 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). soundorg.com

SOTA Comet S301 with Dynavector 10x5
$1300/$1750 with cartridge
SOTA, which stands for State of the Art, has been building some of America’s finest turntables for well over 30 years. Its top-end models use the company’s well-known floating seismic isolation system, which hangs from a four-point sprung suspension. Because that technique is costly to execute, SOTA’s more affordable models, such as the Comet, use internal damping to isolate the chassis from vibration. Rounding out this excellent design is the Comet’s bearing cup, which is made from a Teflon-impregnated self-lubricating polymer; the platter assembly consists of a high-density polymer main platter sitting atop a polymer-based sub-platter and driven by a 24-pole AC synchronous motor. The resulting sound is at once easy and authoritative, warm, rich, and solid, with wide and nuanced dynamics, and a large 3-D soundstage. A great-sounding ’table at a great price. sotaturntables.com

Rega RP6
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. An outer ring adds mass to the circumference, increasing the platter’s natural flywheel effect, thus improving speed stability, accuracy, and consistency. The new subplatter adds an aluminum “top hub adaptor” with six-raised plateaus to ensure the flattest possible surface for LPs to rest on. The aluminum/rubber feet, too, are a step up from Rega’s standard rubber-cup-like units. 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. soundorg.com

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