It’s not exactly a secret that over the past decade turntables have gained popularity with the young and hip—okay, they’re also popular with the not-so-young and not-so-hip— appearing in movies, fashion spreads, and newspaper articles. As such, record players are more than mere tools to spin LPs on; they’ve also become something of a design statement that can be purchased outside of traditional brick-and-mortar stores and on-line audio retail sites.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, even veteran audiophiles experience gear obsessions triggered by the way a component looks—before we’ve heard a single note from it. Who among us has not ogled or, to conjure Jimmy Carter, lusted in his heart for the latest and greatest from any number of manufacturers reported on in these and other pages?
Although some of these objects of desire are unattainable—my credit line can’t quite cover $89k for the latest Walker Proscenium Black Diamond—almost anyone can afford something like Pro- Ject’s latest Debut Carbon. For $399 mounted with Ortofon’s 2M Red it represents the audio equivalent of Henry IV’s notion of “a chicken in every pot”—analog sustenance for the common man.
Though the basics remain the same—MDF plinth, cast-steel platter with felt mat, a belt-drive synchronous motor with simple Sorbothane “suspension,” and a choice from among seven gloss colors for the plinth—the Debut Carbon’s most significant upgrade over the Debut III can be found in the model’s name, which refers to the lighter, more rigid, single-piece 8.6" carbon- fiber arm tube that replaces the III’s aluminum arm.
The Debut Carbon comes pre-mounted with Ortofon’s 2M Red moving-magnet cartridge, which sports an elliptical stylus and a healthy 5.5mV output, making it compatible with essentially any built-in or outboard phonostage. If you want to use the Debut Carbon to transfer your LPs to a music server, it can be ordered with a built-in phonostage and analog-to-digital converter (with a USB output) for an additional hundred dollars. Either version of the ‘table is available in seven high-gloss colors (black, red, green, blue, yellow, silver, and white).
Ease of setup is an especially important consideration for today’s entry-level ’tables, which, as noted, are frequently sold by non-audio specialists. In other words, the buyer will need to do it him- or herself. After unpacking, all that’s involved in this case is fixing the drive belt, attaching the platter, threading the counterweight to 1.75 grams tracking force, attaching the ant- skating weight, plugging in the arm leads and wall-wart power supply, and you’re ready to play your first LP.
I do have one minor gripe: The arm’s finger-grip is a bit stubby, which makes it somewhat difficult to grasp. Combine that with a U-shaped armrest that sits higher than the arm’s “neutral” zone at queuing level, and what happens, until one’s motor memory kicks in, is an awkward and repeated bumping of the arm into its resting place. It took about a week before I got used to this and automatically remembered to raise the arm over and into its cradle. Presumably the younger audience the Debut is likely to attract will have greater elasticity in the cranial cavity than I.
As an entry-level design the Debut Carbon nails the basics: dynamic shading and speed constancy. The essentials of what we call “rhythm and pace” are impressive. Without this foundation a turntable is going to fail at its most important job—drawing us into the music.
Queuing up Glenn Gould’s recording of Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B-Flat Major [Columbia] I immediately heard a very nice sense of interplay between Gould’s overlapping hands and interspersed digits as he dances his way through this remarkable piece. Though one might accurately note a tad of smearing or lack of ultimate precision with those notes, this is really something that will only be heard by comparison with more costly designs.
Coltrane’s Crescent [Impulse] reinforced my sense of the Debut Carbon’s overall poise. Though the widest dynamics are not exactly explosive, there is, nevertheless, a natural balance between the peaks and valleys that works well at delivering the tunes. With the Ortofon, Coltrane’s tenor sounds throaty but not as meaty as it might, as does McCoy Tyner’s piano. But Jimmy Garrison’s bass is nice and tuneful with an impressive texture and feeling of wood, and Elvin Jones’ drum kit delivered good punch combined with a cymbal sound that was naturally shimmering and not too splashy. The soundstage was likewise good with more than a decent sense of air and space, and good instrumental focus.
Playing ORG’s excellent 45rpm edition of Marianne Faithfull’s Strange Weather revealed a hint of thinness in her mostly well- recreated vocal, but again an impressive overall balance, a sweet sounding violin, and the ability to pull listeners into the album.
Rock—from Jack White’s Blunderbuss [Third Man] to Nick Cave and Co.’s Grinderman 2 [Anti] to the Stones’ Sticky Fingers [RS Records]—showed that the Debut Carbon can also deliver the punch, textures, and gritty edge required to bring home the goods.
Whether for first-time turntable buyers or anyone wishing to enjoy high-quality LP playback without spending a lot of money, Pro-Ject’s Debut Carbon is a great way to go. 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.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: Belt drive, unsuspended turntable
Speeds: 33.3, 45 (78 rpm pulley adaptor optional)
Dimensions: 16.35" x 6.33" x 12.66"
Weight: 12.4 lbs.
SUMIKO AUDIO (U.S. Distributor)
2431 Fifth Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
Rega P3-24 and RP3 turntables; Rega Exact 2 moving-magnet and Lyra Delos moving-coil cartridges; SimAudio 310LP/320S phonostages; Electrocompaniet PL 1 integrated amplifier, PC 1 CD player, and EBS 1 loudspeakers; AudioQuest Diamondback interconnects and Type 2 speaker cable