Pro-Ject Debut PRO Turntable Package Page 2

In other words, a soupçon of experience and a load of common sense will have this optimised for your system. The only proviso is that the gains of a puck are too great to ignore, the felt mat slipping around if not secured from above. With the classic edition of George Benson's Breezin' [Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-011] dating from the label's West Coast days, it was easy to hear the effect of a puck in nearly every area.

I stress this because the puck I used was a £10 purchase from Amazon, so we are not talking about breaking the bank. While the PRO invites upgrades, and not just Lichtenegger's prediction that owners will court MCs, I used the supplied cables and felt mat. Just mentioning them, though, tells you that you can have a field day experimenting with tweaks, which is as it should be, when they don't cost the earth.

In fighting form, the most staggering element of the Debut PRO to my ears was the solidity and extension of the bass. This extracted all the weight of the Benson recording, ultra-expressive lower registers courtesy of the legendary Phil Upchurch. But a Benson LP is about voice and guitar, and the Debut PRO was a more-than-competent deliverer of richness in all areas, a boon for Benson's honeyed tones.

Statement Of Intent
As for his guitar work, speed and attack are as much about the experience as the fluidity, however mutually exclusive the two might seem. The Debut PRO – and, for that matter, the Pick it PRO – managed to balance the two, so Lichtenegger was right: the PRO conveys body and fatigue-free listening without any blatant loss of detail. Probably the only thing missing, which would be a reason to consider an MC, is a touch more air and space.

Not that the sound was congested – I am being brutal about this, having played with the Debut PRO right after using a package costing ten times its price. But the gains you would achieve over this, when the time comes to upgrade, would be matters of scale, perhaps a touch more stage depth. But auditioned in context, the Debut PRO yields nothing, as I heard with William Bell's The Soul Of A Bell [Speakers Corner STAX S719]. This is more about voice than anything else, despite the usual peerless backing all Stax releases employ.

His sublime composition 'You Don't Miss Your Water', exhibited vocal textures so convincing I was having second thoughts about MCs. The warmth in the voice defied the technology of the phono stages, vivid and apparent whether through all-valve or solid-state step-ups. 'Coherent' replaced 'competent' as this deck certainly earns its suffix, 'PRO' being less of a conceit and more a statement of intent.

Juggling Act
This was made even more evident when I cruelly subjected it to a slightly knackered copy of The Best Of The Lettermen [Capitol ST2554]. I have no way of knowing how much HF content had been shaved off over the years by abuse, but the Pick it PRO extracted each of the three voices in their own sonic turf, blending them with such authority that I had to dig out my copy on open-reel tape for comparison purposes. I no longer felt their takes of 'Yesterday' or 'When I Fall In Love' were exercises in schmaltz.

With the 1.6kg non-magnetic alloy platter removed, the sub-platter, belt and AC motor are all revealed beneath. Flip the switch [lower left] right for 45rpm and left for 33.33rpm

Even better, as harmonising was dominating my mood, was the sublime Analogue Productions release of The Beach Boys' Smiley Smile [APP068]. Even the weird numbers like 'Vegetables' and 'Wind Chimes' were captivating, but the LP's two masterpieces – 'Heroes And Villains' and 'Good Vibrations' – were further evidence that the retrieval of detail hadn't been compromised. Both are studio creations of almost absurd complexity, on a par with The Beatles' releases of the same period, that heady year of 1967.

Whatever bizarre sounds Brian Wilson chose to employ, the Debut PRO handled with aplomb. And that includes the Theremin, the signature sound of 'Good Vibrations' and a rare example of electronic sound that doesn't immediately suggest artifice. Throughout the album, though, were the harmonies of a group that ranks in the permanent Top 10, along with The Mills Brothers, The Ink Spots, The Hollies, The Everlys and the rest. As with The Lettermen (Capitol Records must have had a thing about harmony), the sound was ethereal yet palpable. How's that for a juggling act?

Having spun over 30 LPs on the Debut PRO, I leave it convinced that it begs to be heard by the sort of audiophile-in-waiting Lichtenegger designed it for, just as it begs the use of a puck or clamp. I would love to have one just to see how far the various upgrades can take it, the easy swaps like trick cables, outré mats, and whatever MC cartridge one cares to fit. But even in stock form, it joins the best of sub-£1000 front-end combinations. 'Entry level' has a new champion.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
Having lost count of the Debuts I've tried, I'll confirm one thing: each new model delivered an advance on its predecessor. If, as CEO Heinz states, the PRO is the ultimate expression of the Debut concept, and further gains mean moving up to the next range in the catalogue, he couldn't have come up with a more fitting way to mark Pro-Ject's 30th anniversary. Simply stated, the Debut PRO is a knock-out.

Pro-Ject Audio Systems
Supplied by: Henley Audio Ltd, UK
01235 511166