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In the run up to Christmas 2007 my 14-year-old daughter announced one evening over dinner that she’d like a record player. What brought this on I don’t know. She takes little notice of the hi-fi system in our living room, using it only to deliver ‘big sound’ when watching one of her favourite music channels on TV.
  I’m not sure that she’s even clocked the Townshend Rock Reference that’s been sitting on the top shelf of my equipment rack since before she was born. My wife and I concluded that she must have been playing records at a friend’s house after school one day and, deciding that it was ‘cool’, wanted a record player for herself.

CONFESSIONS OF AN AUDIOPHILE
I’ve a small confession to make. She didn’t get a record player that Christmas. I bought her an iPod Nano instead. In pink. She was thrilled, and has used it on a daily basis ever since.
   I know, I know... how could a self-respecting audiophile like myself do such a thing? But I was being pragmatic. After all, I reasoned, what was she ever going to play on a record player? Not my records, that’s for sure. I shudder at the image of my treasured LPs, collected over a period of some 40 years, scattered across her bedroom floor and quickly getting trashed. She’s yet to learn that a CD’s plastic jewel case is somewhere to keep a CD, never mind how to care for precious (and fragile) vinyl records.          
   Which is all by means of a preamble to highlight that it’s true what they say: records are considered ‘cool’ again among today’s young trendies. And this has done no harm to the fortunes of Vienna-based Pro-Ject Audio Systems, which manufactures a considerable range of turntables at highly competitive prices in its factory situated in Litovel, east of Prague. From entry-level through to high-end, with models for DJs in between, Pro-Ject turntables cover all bases and are exported to countries all over the globe.

CHALLENGING THE GENIE
Nothing prepared me for the assured performance of this cheap ‘n’ cheerful turntable package. Complete with its arm and a budget Ortofon OM 3E moving magnet cartridge, it costs only £10 more than the Clearaudio precision electronic stylus gauge I used to set up the cartridge’s downforce!
   Having discovered in no time at all that this rig could sail through every band of the tracking ability tests on the Ortofon Pick Up Test Record [Ortofon 0002], I challenged the Pro-Ject to see what it would make of Peter Gabriel’s eponymous debut solo album, something I’ve always considered a tortuous test for a hi-fi system – at any price. Produced by Bob Ezrin (of Alice Cooper fame) it’s a difficult recording to reproduce with a vast dynamic range. I hunted for years for a decent pressing devoid of clicks and pops and treasure my Japanese pressing [Charisma/Poly Star 20S 100] on super-quiet vinyl, which allows the gain to be cranked up in order to hear into the fine details deep in the mix of the album’s dark, brooding production.
   All the pomp and majesty of ‘Waiting For The Big One’ was delivered with aplomb, from the plaintive choirs to the full-on assault of the orchestral climax, repleat with rock drum kit that has always sounded like it was recorded in an aircraft hanger. The little red Genie sang loud and proud with no sense of needing to take a rest for a breather. Likewise with ‘Here Comes The Flood’ where a record player can often run into difficulty toward end-of-side. The Genie never sounded anything other than totally at ease. And the infra-bass notes on Grace Jones’ ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ and Frankie’s ‘Two Tribes’ (on 12in 45s, naturally), were reproduced with a sense of confidence and poise way beyond the performance of budget classics of yore such as Garrard SP25s and Dual 505s.
   As I continued to enjoy a selection of records picked at random I found that the lift/lower device operated smoothly and accurately, my only gripe being the inaccessibility of the on/off switch built into the separate motor unit. Pro-Ject makes an accessory called the Speed Box (£85) offering electronic speed switching. I’d be tempted, were the deck mine.

HIGH VALUE ENGINEERING
Avoiding hyperbole is difficult, as it’s fair to say that the Pro-Ject RPM 1 Mk2 truly is the Genie in a bottle. From that bottle comes a sound that allows your speakers to project way beyond their usual confines. Frankly, this was way beyond my expectations, as £150 doesn’t get you a length of high-end speaker cable these days. In fact, if you’re serious about vinyl replay chances are your cartridge costs more than this complete package.
   It’s not often that I’m lost for words, but Pro-Ject’s Genie finds me dumbfounded. It should have been ruthlessly exposed by the £11,000 Revel floorstanding speakers in my living room, yet the player sounded like a deck costing ten, even twenty times the price. It represents a textbook excercise in cost/performance engineering and deserves a huge round of applause.
   Perhaps my daughter will get one next Christmas if she maintains an interest in buying some records. But given the state of her bedroom, methinks I’ll need to factor in the extra cost of a Perspex dust cover.

VERDICT
This new Pro-Ject Genie package with tonearm and Ortofon MM cartridge represents genuine value. Given its price, fit and finish is excellent, while sound quality is way better than one might expect; fabulous when the deck is isolated from external vibration. If there’s a collection of long-forgotten records in your attic you’ve really no excuse for not playing them.

 

Orginally published in the February 2009 issue