With the current analog revival showing no signs of slowing down, and the prices of today’s best gear continuing to escalate, it’s only natural for audio companies to expand their offerings upmarket. Indeed, at least two turntable manufacturers traditionally associated with great entry-level designs have recently reached price heights that would give Jimmy Stewart’s “Scotty” Ferguson a serious bout of vertigo.
One is Rega. I wrote a highly enthusiastic review of its $3000 RP8 in Issue 234, which was recently followed by the RP10 ($5500), and a possible ultra-limited-edition, cost-no-object design has been seen and reported on as being in the prototype stage. The other is Pro-Ject, whose upper-end HL Signature sells for $12,000, followed by the $3999 Xtension 12, and the model under review here, the $2999 Xtension 10.
Of course, both companies still produce fine lower-cost models. And as a longtime analog lover familiar with both lines it’s been fun for me to explore the outer limits of both companies’ technologies—which are fundamentally opposite in approach.
Rega, of course, has made its mark with designs that focus on low mass combined with high rigidity. The company’s top models push that thinking to new levels, while seriously upping the ante in the materials used and the refinement of construction. But Pro-Ject’s top models take what is arguably the more widely followed high-mass route. For example, Rega’s RP8 weighs in at a flea-weight 16 pounds. By contrast, the Xtension 10 weighs 48 pounds.
As the name suggests, the Xtension 10 is a slightly scaled-down edition of the Xtension 12 (the model numbers refer to the length of the carbon-fiber Evolution ’arms found on each ’table), with a smaller footprint but similar weight. As U.S. importer Sumiko’s literature says of this model, “The Xtension 10 represents [Pro-Ject’s] latest technological efforts to address mass-decoupling and resonance reduction.”
The foundation of the design is a mass-loaded, magnetically-floated sub-chassis, atop which sits a 3″-tall, 12.6-pound platter fashioned from a sandwich of recycled vinyl and aluminum alloy (a weighted record puck is included). The precision ceramic bearing is friction-free (as a quick flick of the beltless platter showed during the hassle-free assembly process), and the platter is belt-driven via a three-speed AC motor whose speed is regulated by a built-in electronic controller. An LED display flush-mounted to the front right on the plinth’s top surface shows the exact speed, while a trio of buttons selects the speed (33.3, 45, 78), as well as minus and plus in tenths of an rpm. (Some audiophiles may feel inclined to tweak the speed ever so slightly; I am not among them. But to do so simply hold the buttons down for a few seconds.) The ’table rests on magnetic decoupling feet to minimize mechanical and airborne vibrations, and base finishes are the high-gloss black lacquer supplied for review, a reddish mahogany, or blond olive wood.
Continuing the theme of mass and decoupling, the 10cc Evolution tonearm ($1299 when purchased alone) is fitted to a Sorbothane mounting board. The tonearm’s tube and headshell are fabricated from a single piece of carbon-fiber (said to minimize standing-wave reflections), though personally I wish the finger-lift were a tad longer (until I got used to its relative shortness I found it would sometimes slip, potentially dangerously, off my fingertip). Azimuth and VTA are easily adjusted, and I love that the ’arm comes supplied with a handful of different counterweights in order to match various cartridge weights (4-6g, 5-8g, 6-10g, and 8-14g) and therefore maximize proximity to the tonearm’s pivot point.
Sumiko also sells the Xtension 10 with a SuperPack option ($3699) that includes a Sumiko BlackBird cartridge and the upgraded ’arm cable supplied with the review sample. For this review Sumiko upgraded the cartridge to the company’s top Reference Series model, the $3999 Palo Santos Presentation moving coil. I also conducted listening sessions with a Transfiguration Phoenix MC.
Regardless of the cartridge used, the one thing I will report about the Xtension 10 is that it consistently provides not only a high level of musical satisfaction, but does so in a way that delivers a powerful emotional wallop.
As an example I’ll start by describing my experience with a record I’ve listened to a lot over the past year, Stephen Stills’ Just Roll The Tape [Rhino]. Although the sound is not exactly audiophile (there’s occasional microphone overload and other imperfections), this live-in-the-studio demo of some of Stills’ greatest songs, which was taped after a recording session of his one-time lover Judy Collins, is an extraordinary document and musical treasure. The recording is rough, but immediate in a “you-are-there” kind of way. On one of the most personal— and famous—breakup songs of all time, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” the Xtension 10 brought out the heartbreaking beauty of a song that, for most people, usually has a much more upbeat pop vibe. I’m speaking, of course, of the version released on the first Crosby, Stills & Nash album. CSN’s rendition is wonderful, and the group’s multi-part harmonies and lacy guitar work helped make them superstars. But here, performing alone, Stills is a man whose life has been shredded: “Tearing yourself away from me now you are free, and I am dying.” Like I said, I’ve heard this cut dozens of times, but never quite like this before. It’s as if the Xtension 10 somehow bored a hole directly into Stills’ nervous system. That’s how intense, almost draining, an experience it was. On a sonic level this ’table also showcased Stills’ remarkable gifts as guitarist—his amazing rhythmic and dynamic shifts, great use of the instrument’s colors and textures—in a way that makes it another actor in the drama.
Changing gears to another failed love story, I put on the Athena reissue of Decca’s famous Petrushka with Ansermet and his L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. For evaluation purposes I like the Third Tableau section, which features various solo and orchestral forces and wild shifts in dynamic range, offering marvelous opportunities for us audiophiles to geek-out over things like ambience and soundstage depth.
Once again, the Xtension showed its ability to get to the heart of the music—this was riveting. Revealing great textural detail is clearly one of this design’s strengths (this was especially evident with Sumiko’s fine Palo Santos cartridge), and this Petrushka— with its ringing cymbals, growling cellos and basses, snare-drum rolls, piercing trumpet, and booming bass drum—provides ample opportunities. Although my Rega RP8 review sample has been returned, making A/B comparisons impossible, my sense with this recording is that the Rega is lighter, a bit more refined in some ways, a bit more layered in depth, but perhaps not quite as lusty or emotionally expressive as the Pro-Ject. Dynamically, the Xtension 10 figuratively blew the walls down as I had the volume up higher than I realized during a quiet passage, only to jump for the volume knob when that big bass drum took a thwack. And, yes, one really feels the hall’s great cushions of air and the fine front-to-back depth on this recording.
All of these qualities pay off with solo piano. In this case I’ll reference Ivan Moravec’s fine Debussy disc on the Connoisseur Society label; a true audiophile recording on 30ips tape with no compression, and tones and textures to die for, the Moravec again showcased the Pro-Ject’s excellence. During “Children’s Corner” I marveled at the beautifully layered harmonics, the richly charged sensation of air coming from the piano and filling the room, Moravec’s delicate poetic touch combined with great power in the lower registers, and the beauty of notes decaying across the range, like the strings of drooping spider webs.
I could continue. I could tell you about the beauty of Miles’ E.S.P. as reissued by IMPEX, or listening to Joni Mitchell’s breathtaking soprano on Ladies of the Canyon, or rocking out with Humble Pie at the Fillmore, or swooning to Ella’s Gershwin. But I’d only be repeating myself. Because what I really want to say, as I wrap up, is that I honestly didn’t expect to be as knocked over as I am by Pro-Ject’s Xtension 10. No design is perfect and my praise here isn’t meant to convey that. Sure, there are pricier models that will dig deeper, that will give you even more of the music, that, like the Rega RP8 mentioned above, will thrill in equal but different ways. But Pro-Ject is onto something wonderful here: a model that hits all the right sonic notes, while bringing an intellectual and emotional connection to the music that is rare in my experience.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: Belt-drive, unsuspended turntable
Arm: 10″ EVO Carbon Fiber
Speeds: 33.3, 45, 78
Dimensions: 19″ x 9.3″ x 15.8″
Weight: 48 lbs.
Price: $2999 with 10cc Evolution tonearm
2431 Fifth Street
Berkeley, California 94710
Sutherland N1 preamp and 20/20 phonostage; Transfiguration Phoenix MC cartridge; VTL TL-5.5 preamplifier and ST -150 power amplifier; Primare A34.2 power amplifier; TEAC HC-501CD/SACD Player; Magnepan MG 1.7 loudspeakers; Tara Labs Zero interconnects; Omega speaker cables; The One power cords and BP-10 Power Screen; Finite Elemente Spider equipment racks
By Wayne Garcia
Although I’ve been a wine merchant for the past decade, my career in audio was triggered at age 12 when I heard the Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! blasting from my future brother-in-law’s giant home-built horn speakers. The sound certainly wasn’t sophisticated, but, man, it sure was exciting.More articles from this editor
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