It's probably stating the obvious, but the Pro-Ject Juke Box E is nothing like your typical pub juke box. You don't put money in it, you probably shouldn't rest your pint on the edge while taking a shot at pool, and we certainly wouldn't recommend whacking it if your favourite record gets stuck. This fully manual, belt-driven record player ($689/£499) does share one attribute with that large, glass-fronted machine down your local boozer, though: it'll enable you to play your tunes with the absolute minimum of fuss.
Featuring a pre-mounted Ortofon cartridge, a phono preamp and a power amp, the Pro-Ject Juke Box E very much a plug-and-play system – simply hook up a pair of wired speakers and Bob's your uncle. (Indeed, if you buy the Juke Box E HiFi Set – $829/£599 – you'll get a pair of Speaker Box 5 monitors as part of the package.)
With a Bluetooth receiver on board, you can also stream music from your smart device, which is handy if you suddenly realise you gave all your best records to Oxfam 20 years ago. But how does this Austrian-made turntable compare with the best record players available today? To find out, we pulled ourselves an ice cold beer and sidled up to the Juke Box.
Pro-Ject Juke Box E review: Design
Historically, all-in-one record players have looked a bit – not for want of a better word – naff. The Pro-Ject Juke Box E goes against the grain, though. Unless your brain is addled from years of cigarettes and alcohol, you'll recall that the Austrian manufacturer launched a Juke Box turntable back in 2009. Well, aesthetically, this model isn't too dissimilar to that one, comprising a stylishly spartan, high-gloss MDF plinth (in black, white or red) that features a distinctive front-facing volume knob.
However, the Pro-Ject Juke Box E boasts a snazzy LED display on top, next to the tonearm, which reminds you whether you're using the turntable or an external device to source your music, and what the volume level is. Elsewhere, the on-off button has now been moved out of sight underneath the plinth.
Weighing 5kg and sitting atop a set of four decoupling feet, the Pro-Ject Juke Box E has a reassuring robustness about it, and this is enhanced further by its high-quality, 300mm particleboard platter and sturdy 8.6-inch aluminium tonearm. With the Ortofon OM5e cartridge pre-mounted, and all your tracking and anti-skating already adjusted, the only things you'll need to do once you've taken the turntable out of the box are fit the drive belt, insert the Bluetooth antenna and plug in your speakers.
In case you don't know, the OM5e is a moving-magnet cartridge that features an elliptical stylus (hence the E in the Pro-Ject Juke Box E name). According to Ortofon, these deliver better tracking and less distortion than the spherical type.
Pro-Ject Juke Box E review: Features
At first glance, you'd never know what treasures lie beneath that glossy slab – there's a feast of technology geared towards making your music listening as convenient, and as classy, as possible.
So, there's a moving-magnet phono stage, a 25W-per-channel power amp and a low-vibration synchronous motor. The 2009 Juke Box model enabled listeners to hook the turntable up to an MP3 player via an output round the back, but times have moved on since then and this variant comes with Bluetooth connectivity, meaning you can stream your tunes wirelessly from a phone or tablet.
While this is a handy feature, the Juke Box E does only support Bluetooth 2.1, meaning it won't be able to play lossless music. Also bear in mind that the Bluetooth only works in one direction – so you won't be able to connect the turntable wirelessly to speakers.
This being a fully manual turntable, changing the speed from 33 to 45rpm will require you to shift the belt on the pulley by hand. It's a bit of a pain but, to mitigate this inconvenience, you do get a remote control for things like adjusting the volume/bass/treble, muting the sound and choosing your input source. There's even a 'loudness' button in case you're feeling really rebellious.
The rear of the turntable features phono and line outputs, as well as a line input in case you want to hook up your set-top box or games console. And, finally, the package comes with a dust cover for keeping those airborne nasties from soiling your sacred investment.
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Pro-Ject Juke Box E review: Sound
You don't need us to tell you that Pro-Ject are one of the world's most respected audio manufacturers, the Austrian firm having been making audiophile products for more than 30 years. So we were expecting big things from the Juke Box E, especially as it commands a reasonably substantial price tag.
With the turntable hooked up to the aforementioned Speaker Box 5 monitors, we dropped an original copy of Fleetwood Mac's classic LP Rumours onto the platter – side two, as we love The Chain – and waited for that sweet transatlantic music to fill the air.
We've always found Rumours to be a bright and summery record (despite the bitter break-ups the 'Mac were going through when they recorded it), and the Pro-Ject Juke Box E delivered it with an easy-going warmth that reminded us of the old 1970s turntables our dad used to own.
The bass was a tad light and, at times, the leading edges felt a little softened, but the band's folky harmonies sounded rich and spacious, and the speed stability never once veered off course – unlike the band's marriages. Overall, the Pro-Ject Juke Box E delivered a very accomplished listening experience, though not a perfect one.
Pro-Ject Juke Box E review: The alternatives
If you love the idea of plug-and-play but don't have the budget for Pro-Ject's turntable, the Lenco L-85 offers similar convenience for a much lower price (£100/$138). This belt-driven record player doesn't come with a built-in amplifier but it does pack a phono stage for connecting your own. Another nice touch is its USB output, which enables you to record your favourite vinyl for digital playback.
You might also be interested to know that there's another excellent Pro-Ject turntable on our list of the best record players, for exactly the same price as the Juke Box E (£499/$689). The Debut Carbon EVO isn't plug-and-play but it's stylish as hell and sounds pretty fantastic, too.