Pro-Ject set tongues wagging earlier this year with the launch of its limited-edition Metallica turntable, a collaboration with the legendary rockers that looks and sounds absolutely stunning. Sadly, the record player's eye-watering price tag (£1,149/$1,599) means most people will never be able to afford one. However, if you're determined to buy something bearing the Pro-Ject name, you're in luck as the Austrian firm sells a number of turntables at a fraction of that cost.
One such product is the Pro-Ject Primary E, an entry-level, belt-drive turntable that was launched in 2018 to replace the award-winning Pro-Ject Primary and a bit of kit that sits comfortably in our list of the best budget turntables. Is it the right choice for you? To help you decide, we spent some time with this budget record player, focusing on its design, features and sound quality. Read on to find out what we thought.
It's also worth pointing out that while the Primary E is described as a 'plug and play' machine due to its simple set-up (tracking force and anti-skating are pre-adjusted, while the Ortofon OM 1S cartridge comes factory fitted), it doesn't contain a phono preamp – if you want one of those, you'll need to buy the Primary E Phono.
Pro-Ject Primary E turntable review: Design
If you were hoping for a turntable that might catch the eye like the previously mentioned Metallica release, then you're going to be disappointed. The Pro-Ject Primary E is about as basic-looking as record players come, and whether you go for the black, white or red version, it's destined to fade into the background. According to Pro-Ject, removing “needless features” from the turntable was a deliberate ploy to keep the price down, so we shouldn't really complain – and anyway, its minimalist aesthetic means it should blend in nicely with just about any kind of home decor.
The Pro-Ject Primary E's rectangular plinth is made from a fairly solid, composite fibre material, but for extra stability it sits on a set of vibration-absorbing feet. Other than that, there's a 300mm platter (a felt mat is included in the box), an 8.6” high-precision aluminium tonearm with that factory-fitted Ortofon OM 1S cartridge, and, in the top-left corner, the belt-drive system, which is powered by a 230V synchronous motor.
A quick word about that cartridge: if you're unhappy with the one provided, you can upgrade it to Ortofon's OM 5E, OM 10, OM 20, OM 30 or OM 40 models. But we think you might be pleasantly surprised by the OM 1S, whose smooth tracking really adds to the listening experience.
To help keep your investment in tip-top condition, Pro-Ject packages the Primary E with an acrylic dust cover. When attached, this tinted lid gives the turntable a bit of a 1970s vibe – but hey, that was the golden age of vinyl, so what's not to like?
Pro-Ject Primary E turntable review: Features
As we specified earlier, Pro-Ject has kept bells and whistles to a minimum with the Primary E, preferring to channel its efforts into delivering a well-built, great-sounding – but ultimately cheap –turntable. So, there's no USB port for recording your vinyl to a computer, no way of hooking up to a Bluetooth speaker, and (unless you opt for the Primary E Phono) no preamp. This being a fully manual record player, there's also no electronic speed control – to change from 33 to 45rpm, you'll need to move the belt from one pulley to the other.
Indeed, the only notable features with this turntable are the fact that the power supply is now built into the unit, making things a lot tidier, and the presence of a sapphire tonearm bearing, which makes lifting the needle on to your record as smooth as a Chris Rea guitar riff.
Pro-Ject Primary E turntable review: Sound
In its promotional bumf for this turntable, Pro-Ject claims that it made “no compromise” when it came to the sound quality. That's obviously a good thing, but we have to be realistic here: the Primary E is an entry-level deck, and therefore is never going to compete with the really high-end record players. It is a very good entry-level deck, though: the pitch stability is excellent, the distortion minimal, the tonal balance clean and spacious. Sure, the bass isn't as resounding as you'd get with a turntable costing a grand, but it's at least crisp and warm. Overall, the Primary E is definitely one of the best-sounding decks we've experienced at this price point.
Pro-Ject Primary E turntable review: The alternatives
If you're looking for a turntable with a built-in phono preamp, you could go for the Pro-ject Primary E Phono that we mentioned earlier. Or, if you fancy veering away from the Austrian manufacturer and you're prepared to dig a little deeper into your pocket, you might want to consider the Dual CS 418 (opens in new tab). Offering a clean, precise sound, an electronic speed control and a solid Ortofon 2M Red cartridge, it offers plenty of bang for the buck.
Not prepared to spend that kind of money? For the same price as the Pro-Ject Primary E, you can get the Sony PS-LX310BT, a turntable that features not only a phono preamp but a USB port for recording your vinyl onto a computer, too. While it doesn't sound quite as good as the Dual CS 418, it's at least on a par with the Austrian deck.
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