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Three Affordable Turntables: U-Turn Orbit Special, Rega Planar 1 Plus, Pro-Ject RPM 5 Carbon

Equipment report
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Pro-Ject RPM 5 Carbon ($1499)

And now we make a big leap up to the RPM 5 Carbon, a new deck from the insanely popular company Pro-Ject. Obviously, this ’table is going to be pretty different when compared with the U-Turn or the Rega, especially given that it costs more than both of them combined. 

Right out of the box, the difference is obvious. Putting aside the interesting shape and design of the plinth, just the sheer amount of stuff that Pro-Ject includes in the box puts the whole package on that next level. There are multiple counterweights for the tonearm in order to balance cartridges of all different weights, a little key that allows the user to switch the belt from 33 to 45 without actually touching the belt, a power supply that works with multiple different international plugs, white gloves to wear while setting it all up, and much more. The sheer number of accessories that come with this deck shows how much thought Pro-Ject put into its ’table, but also suggests how flexible Pro-Ject wants it to be. This isn’t just a plug-and-play deck, one that you stick on the shelf and forget about. You could do that, of course, but this ’table was designed to be tweaked and upgraded.

And that’s the really big difference between the RPM 5 Carbon and the other two ’tables. The RPM 5 Carbon is incredibly flexible. It doesn’t have a built-in phonostage, so you’re free to experiment with that. It works with a huge range of cartridges, so go ahead and try whatever you want. This is the turntable for people that really want to go down the analog rabbit hole.

In terms of design, the RPM 5 Carbon is totally unlike the Rega and the U-Turn models. It uses a minimalist plinth that hugs the edge of the big acrylic platter and tonearm board, cutting out anything that isn’t necessary. The motor itself sits on a massive little stage and is entirely separate from the main platter’s plinth. You have to use a little jig to get the platter and the motor perfectly aligned at the right distance, but they’re never actually touching. This decouples the motor from the plinth and results in a much quieter ride. The main platter and plinth are pretty massive themselves, with tip-toe feet that can be adjusted in order to perfectly level everything.

Overall, I’m a huge fan of the aesthetics and the design. I was sent the bright red model, because why not? I’m usually a wood-or-black kind of guy, but this red just looks really fantastic. It’s a simple and very effective deck, and while it’s not going to look like those wood-grain vintage decks of yore, it’s definitely modern and clean and gorgeous. 

Setup took longer than the other two decks, and I won’t go into too much detail. But the hardest part of adjusting any turntable—cartridge alignment—was done at the factory, so mostly it was just getting everything in place, balancing the tonearm, dialing in the downforce, and that was more or less it. The RPM 5 Carbon comes with a Sumiko Blue Point No. 2, which is a high-output moving-coil design that retails for $449. Yeah, the cartridge is almost as expensive as the other two turntables, which is definitely worth noting. 

In sound, I was both impressed and incredibly pleased. The Pro-Ject was at least a match for, if not better than, my own reference deck, and it’s a clear and obvious step up from the U-Turn and the Rega, as it really should be. Matthew Dear’s killer album Black City is full of straight-up bangers, the kind of music that’s both interesting and catchy. In particular, “You Put a Smell on Me” is this tight, glitchy composition that’s both strangely unlike anything else, but also really familiar. The squeals and squeaks didn’t stray into the harsh, and when the bass really dropped in, it felt spot-on and tight. Pace and timing kept me engaged and felt entirely dialed in. My general impression was that RPM 5 Carbon’s strengths were surpassingly quiet, black backgrounds and precise soundstages. 

On top of a clear sonic advantage, as noted, the RPM 5 Carbon can be upgraded to your heart’s content. You’ll need an outboard phonostage, since there’s nothing built into the RPM 5 Carbon’s plinth, but personally I think that’s a good thing. If you’re stepping up to this price level, you’re probably the sort of person that wants to try out different ’stages.