If you feel as if you’ve seen this turntable in a past life, fear not. For indeed, the new Pro-Ject RPM 9 Carbon bears a strikingly close resemblance to the well-regarded RM-9.2 belt-drive ’table that was reviewed by Wayne Garcia in Issue 206. It’s the same handsome profile and its compact, open-chassis, outboard motor design is déjà vu familiar. And yes again, it’s similarly equipped with the top-notch 9cc EVO tonearm–a traditional pivoted design. But oh boy, there are some major differences and not all of them visible to the naked eye. It’s like they say in the hot-rodding world: It’s what’s under the hood that counts.
The $3000 RPM 9 Carbon is Pro-Ject’s “tuner” special and it’s been kitted out with three significant upgrades over the stock RM-9.2. There’s a new motor that’s both quieter and uses the same quartz-lock technology derived from the firm’s outboard Speed Box II. Also there’s a new DC-driven power supply that features an improved AC generator for speed stability. The major takeaway is that the electronic speed control allows single-button selection between 33 and 45rpm, a handy improvement over the pulley switching required with the RM-9.2. Available in the near future will be a 33/78 pulley, as well.
Also hidden from view is the attention that’s been paid to the newly upgraded chassis. The plinth is a mass-loaded design that incorporates a CNC-machined MDF plate that uses hard, resin-coated steel pellets to form the heavy sandwich construction. A special heat treatment and a woven-carbon-fiber surface-coating suggest low resonance levels. It also looks very cool and is, as they say, “track ready.”
The platter is new, as well. Gone is the acrylic of the RM-9.2, replaced by a specially polished aluminum platter with internal TPE damping and a vinyl mat layer on top. The inverted ceramic main bearing offers stable turntable speed and extra-low levels of rumble. Effectively decoupling the chassis are a trio of height-adjustable magnetic footers that fit beneath the plinth and are designed for precise leveling. Beautifully constructed devices, the magnetic footers reportedly allow “for isolation and mass to work in tandem to help filter resonances out of the chassis.” Speaking of mass, included with the RPM 9 Carbon is a heavy brass record clamp capable of flattening even stubbornly bowed records.
Carried over from the RM-9.2 is the 9cc EVO arm, which uses a one-piece conical carbon-fiber armtube with integrated headshell and inverted bearing design. In its current iteration it incorporates a denser carbon-fiber weave to reduce resonances, plus a substantial C-collar for added rigidity in the bearing housing—an improvement which Sumiko (Pro-Ject’s importer) says allows the ’arm and cartridge to have greater agility in the grooves. The ’arm’s counterweight is Sorbothane-damped and taller and shallower than the previous version—changes that place it closer to the bearing’s pivot-point for greater freedom of movement. All in all the EVO arm is a nicely crafted, highly adjustable component that permits cartridge tweakers a panoply of optimization options including overhang, azimuth, and VTA.
My review sample was also equipped with Sumiko’s “hit the ground running” SuperPack that adds the Sumiko Blue Point Special EVO III (a 0.5mV moving coil and a $549 value) and 5P Connect-it tonearm cable with a five-pin female DIN on one end and single-ended RCAs on the other (an XLR version is offered as an option). An optional dust cover is available and in my view, advisable. First, turntables attract dust like bees to honey. And second, a cover can protect a stylus from an inadvertent swipe of a Swiffer–especially in an open chassis design where the headshell end of the tonearm is essentially floating in free air and almost begging for the Stephen King treatment. This is just one reason why I like a dedicated base protecting the essentials of a turntable. I know the arguments against them, but I also know from experience that when properly executed—like my Sota Cosmos’ Corian base—they make a table highly immune to airborne and mechanical resonances.
Setup was glitch-free. A handy template is provided for optimally positioning the motor vis-à-vis the edge of the platter, thus allowing proper tensioning of the belt. And operationally it’s also a breeze. The one-touch motor gets the table up to 33 speed fairly quickly—45rpm is a little more on the languid side. To switch speeds from 33 to 45 merely press the button a second time and quickly release. To stop the table, hold the button down a few additional seconds. The damped cueing is commendably gentle on the stylus, but I was a little surprised at how powerfully the magnetized armrest seated the tonearm each time I returned it home. Clack. I kept thinking of the Starship Enterprise caught in a Klingon tractor beam.
If there was a system that could show up the Pro-Ject as a playback poseur it was the one it faced during this evaluation. One of the highest-resolution setups I’ve had in my room recently, it was composed of the Parasound JC 3+ phonostage, the Classé CP-800 preamp, CA-D200 amplifier, and TAD CE-1 loudspeakers (review forthcoming). Synergistic Research supplied its all-new Atmosphere Level 4 cabling (with red tuning modules). My own LP setup is the Sota Cosmos vacuum-hold-down ’table with SME V tonearm, Sumiko Palo Santos Presentation cartridge, and Audience Au24SE phono cable.