The new Pro-Ject T1 series of turntables is the Austrian company’s latest addition to its budget line, which is filled with turntables $500 and below. But the three T1 models are Pro-Ject’s purest expressions of an entry-level product, designed to appeal to vinyl fans who like to keep things cheap and simple.
We’re taking a look at the T1 Phono SB, the $399 model in the middle. It has a built-in phono preamp and electronic speed controls for 33 and 45 rpm. The basic T1 ($329) does not have a phono preamp and requires you to change speeds by manually moving the belt. The T1 BT ($429) adds Bluetooth and a phono preamp but takes away electronic speed switching. They all come with a $70 Ortofon OM5e cartridge.
The T1 Phono SB’s Combination Of Features Seems Just Right
The T1 Phono SB can be plugged directly into a pair of powered speakers, or you can switch out its preamp and use an external phono stage for a more traditional set-up. Many similar turntables have landed in recent years, with Audio-Technica leading the way with its wildly popular LP120X and LP120 models.
The T1 Phono SB and its siblings certainly look enticing. Plinths are available in glossy black, satin white or walnut, and the sporty glass platter has a satisfying heft. Pro-Ject reports that plastic is not involved in the manufacturing of the T1 plinths and that keeping resonances to a minimum was a priority.
A new tonearm is similar in many ways to other Pro-Ject arms but doesn’t have adjustable anti-skate, an apparent cost-cutting move which some may not like. But whatever Pro-Jet has done to achieve usable anti-skate works; the arm never once skipped, jumped or hiccuped.
At $399, the T1 Phono SB feels like a lateral move in the Pro-Ject line. The popular Pro-Ject Essential III Phono is $389 and has a better tonearm and better cartridge, but speed has to be changed manually by moving the belt (although you can opt for the Essential III SB, which at $460 adds electronic speed switching).
So like the entitled little blonde-haired girl who stole all the porridge said, the T1 Phono SB’s combination of features seems just right.
With the Essential line firmly established and competitively priced, what’s the point of the T1 Phono SB?
The primary appeal is the simplicity of set-up and use. A newcomer to turntables has enough variables to worry about even on a good day, and the T1 Phono SB is designed to scratch some of those variables off the list. It’s easy to get lost when playing with anti-skate adjustments, for example, and when a noob gets lost bad things usually happen. Toss in electronic speed switching and the T1 Phono SB is the closest thing to plug-and-play that Pro-Ject offers under $400.
Setting up the T1 Phono SB was straightforward and the instructions were clear and concise. The cartridge was perfectly aligned but the vertical tracking force (VTF) was set at 2.40 grams instead of the recommended 1.75. For anyone comfortable with making the adjustment this is no big deal, but I’ve rarely dealt with a counterweight as fussy as this one. This thing likes to scrap and tightening its set screw invariably led to the VTF changing. Eventually, I settled on close enough for rock and roll because life is short.
Overall, the T1 Phono SB makes pretty music and looks even more pretty, making it strong competition for the handsome Audio-Technica LPW40wn, a budget model I really like. It leans toward a friendly sound, with a plump bass and tipped-down highs (some of which, of course, is attributable to the cartridge, which is easily upgradeable).
It’s an easy ‘table to listen to for extended periods. You don’t get that magical suspension of disbelief, the sensation that John Lee Hooker is in the room, but that’s just not going to happen with a budget turntable. Instead, you get a reasonable facsimile, just enough to make you hungry for more, which is why Pro-Ject makes The Classic and the 1Xpression.
I had two glitches during the review period, neither of which turned out to be a dealbreaker. The T1 Phono SB’s phono preamp is pretty good, no better or worse than the recently-upgraded version used by Audio-Technica, but you can always do better. I like to plug any budget ‘table with a line out option into a Lounge Audio LCR MKIII, which at $300 puts a lot of expensive phono preamps to shame.
However, the Pro-Ject and the Lounge refused to get along. No matter what I tried, there was a constant low-level 60Hz hum — these guys just didn’t get along. With every other phono preamp I tried, including a PS Audio GCPH and Eastern Electric MiniMax, there was zero hum.
The other glitch came after a really long listening session, around seven hours, when the motor pulley started making a steady noise best described as a rubbing sound.
Maybe something heated up and expanded. Most people don’t play records for seven hours straight unless hosting a record party, in which case they’re probably super drunk, listening to Black Oak Arkansas for no good reason, and definitely not worried about a rubbing pulley. In normal use, including sessions that lasted a few hours, the noise never returned.
As with every other turntable/cartridge combo at this price point, an experienced listener will notice things such as a lack of bass definition, average separation of instruments and a more dry tonal quality. None of it was missing to an alarming degree, and if you’ve never heard a nice upper-middle-class stereo system — and the majority of people buying this turntable likely haven’t — then you won’t miss them.
Pro-Ject offers a dizzying array of models between $250 and $500, maybe too many, but the T1 Phono SB hits a sweet spot of features, sound and price. For anyone looking to get into vinyl without dropping a lot of cash, it joins Pro-Ject’s Essential line and the AT LPW40wn on the shortlist of potential buys.
This article produced in partnership with Pro-Ject.