Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO turntable

A few months ago, a friend asked me to recommend a record player. This friend knows and loves music as much as I do; when he visits, we spend our time drinking wine and listening to records. Last time, it was Scott Walker, Fela, Joni Mitchell, Jacques Brel, Burzum, and both glorious sides of The Chronic.

"How much do you want to spend?" I asked cautiously. His answer: $500, tops.

For a sane, music-loving American, that's a reasonable sum to allocate to buying a really good record player, way better than the ones you'll find at big box stores or, God help us, Urban Outfitters. Yet, in the trenches of our hobby, $500 can be an awkward amount to spend on a turntable, much less an entire record playing system; it's a price more commonly associated with a perfectionist USB cable. "Right," I said. "Huh."

The turntable I ended up recommending was Pro-Ject's best seller, the Debut Carbon DC ($449). With its hefty steel platter, carbon-fiber arm, and Ortofon 2M Red cartridge, it made for an effective combination with my friend's Bellari outboard phono preamp and Audioengine powered speakers. This compact system filled his small New York City apartment in a pleasingly fleshed-out and satisfying way, whether playing Stevie Wonder or Sibelius.

So, a few weeks later, I was suitably delighted when Pro-Ject's follow-up to the Debut Carbon DC—the Debut Carbon EVO—arrived at my door.

221project.plater

Jeffrey Coates of Sumiko, Pro-Ject's US importer, told me that part of the impetus for the EVO, which retails for $499, was an unfavorable exchange rate and production cost increases at Pro-Ject's factory in the Czech Republic. "We hated to raise the price," Coates told me, "so we thought hard about practical ways of upgrading the turntable with existing technologies from our more expensive models." The EVO ended up with a new motor suspension, a heavier and better-damped platter, adjustable metal feet, and a motor-control circuit said to improve speed accuracy and stability. Instead of the Ortofon 2M Red, the new turntable comes with an installed Sumiko Rainier, a high-output moving magnet cartridge that retails for $150. As Coates told me, this was a totally different beast.

Setup
I probably shouldn't admit this, but for me the fussiness and tedium of setting up a turntable rank somewhere between scrubbing a bathtub and doing taxes. But setting up this one turned out to be almost tedium free—following a poster-sized sheet with logical, well-illustrated instructions, I had the Debut assembled, connected, and leveled on my Box Furniture stand in about half an hour, a personal best. Someone at Pro-Ject had thought carefully about assembly and taken the time to iron out the kinks, a sign of a mature product. I checked the cartridge alignment with a Dennesen Soundtracktor. It was nearly perfect.

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Much about this turntable struck me as thoughtful and cool. The carbon-fiber tonearm features a tiny screw near the base for azimuth adjustment, and I could detect no play in its synthetic sapphire bearings. The reassuring 3.75lb steel platter is damped along the outer edge with a strip of thermoplastic elastomer; watching it from the side, I could barely tell it was moving. The shielded, directional phono cable included in the box appears far more substantial than the no-frills RCA interconnect usual at this price point. And changing speeds from 33 to 45rpm—previously accomplished by removing the platter and manually moving the belt from one pulley to another—is now done with a discreetly placed three-way rocker switch.

Which brings me to my favorite, stealth feature of the Pro-Ject: a second belt that allows it to play 78rpm discs, a gift to those of us with beloved shellac collections.

As it turned out, not every kink has been ironed out. The mystifyingly short cable of the wall-wart power supply barely reached my floor, making connecting the Pro-Ject to AC power needlessly kludgy. The tonearm offers no way to adjust VTA, so changing cartridges and platter mats remains a dicey proposition. And when I first listened to the turntable, I heard a distractingly loud hum. I checked that both of the grounding spades were connected—they were—then noticed that the hum changed volume as I repositioned the phono cable, suggesting it was being affected by noise from nearby power supplies. On advice from Chris Menth, an analog specialist at Sumiko, I unplugged the Pro-Ject from my AudioQuest Niagara 1000 and plugged it into a surge protector connected to another outlet. I also ran a wire between the grounding posts on the turntable and my preamp. Both steps decreased the hum slightly but didn't banish it. Changing to another phono cable did. Both Coates and I suspect that I received a faulty cable, and I left good enough alone.

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Ready to do some listening, I beheld the EVO on its shelf; mine came in a wood-veneered plinth. To me, it looked neither beautiful nor sleek—in the low-key manner of, say, the Rega Planar 3, which I owned in various iterations for over 20 years—but rather competent and purposeful. Not to mention sane. My own turntable, a 1956 grease-bearing Garrard 301 in a Box Furniture plinth outfitted with a 12" tonearm from Thomas Schick and an Ortofon SPU Classic G cartridge, looks and sounds wonderful but requires a high tolerance for neurosis. It is more a lifestyle than a machine. Putting it together required exotic accessories, specialized services, perusing obscure articles, and—worse—internet forums. (Restoring the Garrard, at Woodsong Audio in Idaho, cost almost twice as much as this Pro-Ject turntable.) In contrast, the Pro-Ject promises good sound while asking for very little in return: not much of your space, not much of your money, not much fuss. There's something kind of Zen about that, or at least something Marie Kondo.

COMPANY INFO
Pro-Ject Audio Systems
US distributor: Sumiko
(510) 843-4500
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
partain's picture

Reminds me of my AR turntable . Simple but effective.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Yup. Quite a few vintage TTs, given proper maintenance/upgrade, still work wonder as of today.

IMO, given a low budget as trial for new vinyl fans, vintage TTs can be a good choice ! So often their performance value can easily beat those brandname new models catered for low budget markets.

Jack L

Anton's picture

Love the review, it really seemed to capture your energy regarding this table!

Love playing with mats, so that was a total added bonus. Headshells and mats are two great ways the 'fifty percenter' can thrash about in the audio pool, for sure!

I think this table is fine to also be called "perfectionist." Thank you for not saying "high end USB cable!" I think JA 2 has also picked up on 'perfectionist' as a term. The term showed up twice in this issue, perhaps a trend is happening!

thethanimal's picture

As someone yet to take the plunge into vinyl, I’d love to read some comparisons between a ‘table like this and streaming through the price commensurate Bluesound Node 2i, which I own. How much do I have to spend to better its sonic performance, leaving aside the tangibility, process, and collecting sides on vinylism?

Jack L's picture

Hi

As a somewhat 'seasoned' vinyl guy (owning 1,000+ LPs), I can only tell you there is huge gap between digital & vinyl.

First off, digital does not involve the somewhat tedious "tangibility, process, and collecting sides on vinylism". It provides quick & easy access to millions of music titles at one's fingertip. For those digital guys who are already 'spoiled' by the digital convenience, do NOT fancy vinyl. Vinyl to them is like opening up a huge can of worms, no joke !

So how come I've switched from digital to vinyl only a few years back no regret ?

Simply for its closer to LIVE music quality that no digital up todate can yet catch up, IMO. You will appreciate what I mean to tell you after you have frequented enough live music performances like me.

That said, I still keep my CD, DVD-audio & WiFi Blu-ray players for on back burner, just for once-a-while listening some really good music titles which vinyl does not cover.

Only last year, I added a no-name DAC (paid dirt cheap from a no-name web vendor) for processing music from my 50" 4KUHD WiFi TV via its optical Toslink output. I hook up the DAC to my audio rig to get the best sound quality available from the music performances (mainly classical music) streamed from YouTube - FREE !!

So why I would go streaming ? For one purpose: to update myself the latest trend of music performances worldwide to cover what I would always miss from my existing music 'software'. Strictly for quick & easy FREE music access convenience. NOT repeat not, for the digital sound quality which nowhere come close to vinyl music, IMO.

That's why I only spent dirt cheap money for streaming: for convenience rather than sound quality !!!

Listening is believing

Jack L

thethanimal's picture

Jack, your response certainly jives with what I’ve heard from others and what I’ve experienced myself on a $300k system at HiFi Buys in Atlanta featuring Vandersteen, D’Agostino, VPI (I think), AR, and dCS. But surely the turntables at Urban Outfitters won’t best my Node 2i! So my question remains: what level of vinyl gear do I need to meet or exceed my current sound quality?

PeterPani's picture

To better the sound of your DAC you must spend a little fortune for your vinyl hifi-gear. 3000 for the record player, 2000 for the ton arm, 2500 for the MC, 2000 for the phono preamp, I guess. Then a good mounting on the wall. And maybe still your DAC sounds more correct.

To get better music as your DAC (means sitting in front and getting really involved into the music compared to always the same sounding digital noise) a low budget Project turntable with a cheap phono preamp will do. At around $800 overall you will not turn on your DAC anymore.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Keep yr Node 2i - award winning DAC a few years back. Super value for its price. You should not complain at all.

Sorry I just can't give you any recommandation of budget priced TT to beat the super value of Node 2i. Why? Like I was now a converted vegan & so I could not tell you which steakhouse in town would give you best steak without dropping a bundle !

Jack L

Anton's picture

Lately, I have started to wonder....

Channel separation for digital absolutely crushes vinyl. Digital usually has >70 dB channel separation, with cartridges running in the upper 20s.

Perhaps we like vinyl because our speakers might not be placed as diligently as they could be and we notice that 'flaw' more with digital and are happy with the more 'mono-like' sound of vinyl. Maybe vinyl hides the flaws in our stars, so to speak.

It's cool this review was posted so close to the Wilson review. I wonder how many more audiophiles would like digital better if we were only better at speaker placement.

Glotz's picture

but then I realized it may look like a popular sex toy! Lol..

And MY carts do 30db channel separation.. so there! lol..

Jack L's picture

Hi

Very true! A USD10,500 MC Anna Diamond cartridge gets only 25dB@1KHz. So Ortofon must be greedy & yet crazy enough to made such expensive product to woo those rich & affordable crazy customers.

First off, do you know what 70dB+ means to you? Some 10 million time from 0dB !!! Do you know our ears "channel separation" on incoming soundwaves ???

Glad to see you were fanzying in your digital nirvana. So keep it up pal !

Have you even attended any live music performances at all?
Tell me how far were the performancers positioned apart ??
For classical music, they sit less than 3 feet apart average.
Assuming you sit say 10th front row centre (my favourite concert seat), what channel separation YOU think you would get with a 100-person symphony orchestra all 'crowed' together on the stage.
Virtually a huge "mono-like sound" effect, right ?

That does not including the 'manipulation' of the soundtracks by the mixing/recording engineers on the say 24-channel control console .

So do we NEED 70+dB channel separation provided by a digital device ????????

So you THINK loudspeaker placement would improve digital reproduction quality!! Really ?? I wish it could be that simple !

So please advise me on my placement of my 2-way KEF standspeakers: being 5ft 10.5 ft between centre to centre of both speaker boxes, 10ft 2inch from from centre of each loudspeaker box to my ears. Both loudspeaker boxes are toed-in direcly toward my ears.

When I demo so often to my guests Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture (from my 24K gold-plated demo CD), playing thru my passive linestage+tube power amps + 3 active subs (L, R, L+R set to half bass volume only), the phenomenal thunderous sound effect virtually rocks my 5,600 cu ft basement sound den. Hi-5 always from my guests no exception.

So how come when I play same Overture on my LPs, I virtually share the solumn feeling of the patriotic Russians in Moscow, being invaded by the Frenchmen. With my gold-plated demo CD, I just lack such being there involvement ?

May I consult you how to change my loudspeaker placement to get back the being-there involvement lacking in my gold-plated demo CD ??

Jack L

Anton's picture

I am an analog guy.

I'm just interested in why.

I'm not a pissed off "jack" ass analog guy like you, but analog nonetheless.

I'm sorry to hear about your true passive pre-amp. I wish you better luck next time! Check out JA1's review of the new Pass Labs preamp.

_

Actually, I like Ortofon, as well. I use an A 95 and a Windfeld for MC, and enjoy their Century Concord as a fun toy. Please don't put words in my mouth about Ortofon, especially since you seem to blow almost all your words out your ass, Jack!

Otherwise, cheers, fellow audiophile. (I would say 'fellow music lover,' but you seem not so much the type.)

_

Last bit of help for ya:

"So please advise me on my placement of my 2-way KEF standspeakers: being 5ft 10.5 ft between centre to centre of both speaker boxes, 10ft 2inch from from centre of each loudspeaker box to my ears. Both loudspeaker boxes are toed-in directly toward my ears."

Your units of distance are too crude, Jack. We are talking 1/4 inch, 2mm differences here, not those vast "close enough for government work" measurements you are providing. This is a more nuanced conversation that your "10.5" feet blathering.

We would also need to factor in the 3 or so feet between your ears, too.

When you get to finer units of distance, chime in, please!

;-P

Jack L's picture

Hi

Be CIVIL ! You were so "pissed off" as to open yr bad mouth so so stink!

So you claim you are "an analog guy". Yet you stated "digital absolutely crushes vinyl". Who doesn't know this digital ABC: 70+dB channel separation? As a TRUE "analog guy", I would never bad mouth vinyl in this public venue. Your ego made you forget this forum is for turntables, not for digital.

What's YOUR problem with "true passive preamp" ?????

FYI, J. Gordon Holt stated clearly in his review "sound quality" of Dynaco PAT-4 preamp decades back:

"One extremely CRITICAL test of any preamp is the "BYPASS test" whereby the sound coming out of it is compared with the same sound fed directly from the signal source into the power amp."

A passive preamp is therefore a "bypass" straight line, an absolute comparison reference, technically & sonically for any preamp with gain, including Nelson Pass preamps, for sure.

You disagree, right? Got to gut to dig Gordon Holt out & challenge him face to face ???? I wouldn't mind acting as your witness.

Don't blind me with 'science'. I can sell you back in tons, pal.

You wrote like an loudspeaker expert, telling us proper positioning the loudspeakers could make digital sound better.

When I gave you my loudspeaker position distances, you told me silly excuses of 1/4" (2mm) measurement tolerance. You even told us "to factor in 3 or so feet between your head, too". Big mouth !!

Please school me how this is accurately done within 1/4' or 2mm tolerance with reference to any published acoustic research studies.

So you claimed you are a "music lover" & "an analog guy". Please tell us how many LPs you own at home & what are yr favorite artists.

I am all ears.

Jack L

MatthewT's picture

Angry. Listen to some music, maybe?

Jack L's picture

Hi

"Angry" or not irrespective, I don't bad-mouth in public venues like here. Mutual respects !!

I listen a few hours of vinyl music easily in the weekends & on my days-off from work. Vinyl music is my addition !

Jack L

Anton's picture

...so you can keep up. ;-D

I said digital crushes analog for channel separation.

My exact quote: "Channel separation for digital absolutely crushes vinyl."

You seem to disagree about that?

____

Regarding speaker placement, my reply to you was more a joke about the 2mm thing vs. 'half a foot.' I was actually teasing the 2mm thing, not your way of doing it.

____

I'm not sure how many records I have. People who know that kind of thing remind me of those those high school dopes who needed to walk around at parties regaling fellow party goers with the exact number of beers they had consumed. It doesn't matter. Shut up and party. Anyway, I would guesstimate I have 3,500? But, that has nothing to do with anything other than answering your question. As for what I like, all of it. Wait, no, I don't really care for "countrypolitan" or anything that's so compressed it actually intrudes on the music...which, these days, seems to be too many things. Bottom line, though, if someone took the time to record it, I will try to listen to it.

100 records is just as good. We all love the same thing.

I do admit to being a slight turntable hoarder. They fascinate me and I have never been able to get myself to part with one, so, they accumulate.

___

Your preamp choice is yours alone to make, but I have to ask, which 'true passive' phono preamp do you use?

Jack L's picture

Hi

May I correct your erroneous wording. There is no such thing as "passive phono preamp" on this planet. Correct wording: Which phono preamp with true passive linestage do you use?".

FYI, I've done audio design/build/upgrade audio for decades, thanks to my addiction of music, supplemented by my electrical engineering background.

Like Nelson Pass, I don't need to finance any amps vendors as I've been using the phonostages, passive/active linestages & power amps I design/built.

Unlike Nelson Pass who is specialized in design/building solidstate amps, I use only triode tubes, the only true linear active devices in my amps. Musically friendly !

I don't sell my design/builds commercially as I am making much easier monies in the money markets. Better sounding products due to no commercial pressure.

Got it?

Jack L

PS: what's partying beers to do with vinyl records ??? You need a coffee to wake you up, not beers, pal.

Anton's picture

"I am making too much monies in the money markets."

tonykaz's picture

Dear Sir,

You probably have one of the finest vinyl systems out there, so I'll accept that you kinda like this little record player.

I don't recognise it's purpose for Audiophiles.

It seems like a beginners transducer system, doesn't it ?

Why would any confirmed vinyl person have an interest in such a thing? if vinyl people today are pretty much elite Audiophiles then this little device would be like Walmart training wheels for a Tour de France level enthusiest group.

Unless you ( or we ) are considering buying a player for one of our grandchildren. ( I'd locate a used LP12 or VPI or even a Michell Gyrodek ).

Conversely, I'd like to read your story on your path of discovering those Shindo pieces. ( I've never even seen one yet You, ArtD and KM own & seem to love them )

If you have a background story to tell, I'd like to read it, reading about a microphonic device isn't quite interesting when a fascinating reveal lies just below the keys of your keyboard.

Tony in Venice Florida

dial's picture

A lot of vinyl aficionados have vintage gear, even arms and cartridges. Why ?
I still own a Project tonearm the 1944191320(phew !) S shaped.
What we need are measurements, proving from A to B that the cheaper cannot sound good or the same or different but not worse than the high end.

Jack L's picture

Hi

True! As I already said above, vintage gears, PROPERLY maintained/upgraded, they are still audio gems.

You asked me "Why" ?

For me, I got two TTs, both I bought brand-new back then & get vintage with my age today. Both are still working fine with my routine maintenance/alignment. No complain at all !

One direct-drive TT of Japan brandname mounted with SME 3009R S-shaped black fiberglass tonearm/MC/factory headamp of Japanese origin. Today eBay asked for $1,632 with a cheaper SME chrome arm without cartridge.

The other table is Thorens 125II with factory tonearm/MM of Japan origin
Today eBay asked for $1,000 without cartridge.

God knows what today: the audio dice has rolled the opposite way in favour of analogue. Being an precision-nutty audio handyman, I keep these tables in good shape with frequent routine maintenance/alignment.

Well ready to re-enter my analogue music era again after living through decades of digital music, without wrecking my wallet to restock brandnew TTs.

Surely many audio fans out there can tell you stories like mine.

Listening is believing

Jack L

dial's picture

So you feel these old designs are better or equal to the current production, OK. These are also cheaper. I own 6 turntables, Goldmund studio 2(first with front panel 1 wooden yellow plinth)/Ddelaleu tonearm/Goldring 1042 ; Thorens 318/SME 3009 II/Orsonic headshell/DL103 stock ; Thorens 184 (to play 16 & 78 rpm only, or old mono records); Sony PST15 DD Shure 75B ; Grundig PS 1010 Ortofon X3 (last 2 in new plinths) and an elta USB with ceramic cartridge.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Sorry I never commented old timers are "equal or better". I just said given PROPER maintenance & frequent routine alignment, old TTs are still worthy to keep & play. So why toss them out?

So you are a table collector! Salute !

Which one you like the best ??

Jack L

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