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Before reading beyond this first paragraph, just pause for a moment to take a longer look at our photos of this gargantuan deck. Not for a long time has a product been the cause of so many ‘oohs and aahs’ in HFN’s photographic studio. In the flesh Pro-Ject’s latest turntable looks utterly gorgeous.
   We first spotted Pro-Ject’s new flagship, dubbed the Xtension, in January when it was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Prompt telephone calls to Henley Designs in Oxfordshire, Pro-Ject’s UK distributor, ensured that our name was on the very first sample to arrive in this country from the Pro-Ject factory situated in Litovel, east of Prague. As the Xtension is designed to accommodate 12in tonearms Henley Designs supplied it with an Ortofon RS-309D fitted with an Ortofon Kontrapunkt B moving-coil cartridge.
   With its high gloss lacquered real wood veneer and substantial acrylic hinged lid the Xtension is redolent of immaculate Japanese high-end turntables of a bygone age. It’s impossible to fault the quality of finish, our sample featuring a highly-grained and distinctive olive wood veneer. Other options available are cherry, apple and piano black gloss.
   What our photographs might not portray is the imposing scale of the Xtension. While it is not particularly heavy at 20kg (of which nearly 6kg is the platter), it’s a truly massive deck measuring 550x250x450mm (whd) with the lid closed – and it will require a substantial equipment rack to accommodate it. Unfortunately it was way too big to sit on the top shelf of the standard-sized Seismic Sink Stand that supports my 20 year-old Townshend Rock Reference turntable. Consequently I did the Pro-Ject no favours whatsoever in having to park it on top of a flimsy IKEA-style TV rack. Fortunately the Xtension’s plinth rests on four height-adjustable ‘magnetic field’ suspension feet with integral Sorbothane damping that afford the deck a pretty good degree of vibration isolation.
   Once the arm and cartridge are set up and the deck levelled there is no maintainance required. This is a ‘fit and forget’ player that is simple to use, with electronic speed switching and pitch adjustment built in.

SMOOTH OPERATOR
As the stylus of the ruby-cantilevered Kontrapunkt B cartridge dropped gently into an LP’s run-in groove for the first time there was an immediate sense of calm about the way in which this record playing system goes about its business. Playing an original 1971 copy of Moving Waves by Focus [Blue Horizon 2931-002], an LP that I’ve owned since it was first released (it was one of the first albums I ever purchased in my early teens) demonstrated in an instant that here was a turntable/arm/cartridge combination that was uncommonly forgiving of surface imperfections. Despite having been massacred by a plethora of groove-gouging radiograms and portable record players during a mis-spent youth, the LP’s myriad juvenile ticks and pops were surprisingly benign as the player dug deeply into the recording.
   Suspecting that the sound might be overtly rolled off to be so immensely kind and easy-going, I was soon reverting to a familiar reference of the London Philharmonic Orchestra at full tilt: the opening of ’A Sussex Overture’ from the two LP set Arnold Overtures [Reference Recordings RR-48]. I was reassured in hearing the brittle rasp of the LPO’s brass section and the clatter and crashing of percussion that was far from over-smooth. Meanwhile the wallop of kettle drums and double basses demonstrated the Xtension’s assured handling of all manner of musical hurdles.
   A couple of days later, after many pleasureable hours spent plundering my record collection and discovering ‘old treasures’, I found myself listening to side four of Frank Zappa’s 1979 Sheik Yerbouti album [CBS 88339]. As ‘Wild Love’ segues into ‘Yo Mama’ I braced myself for the load ‘crack’ that I’ve become used to ever since my European vinyl copy acquired some mysterious damage more than 20 years ago. Once again the ‘crack’ emerged from my speakers precisely where I expected it, only it was more a dull, recessed ‘tick’ as the groove damage was traversed with a minimum of fuss.

BRINGING IT ALL BACK
Owning a record player such as this Pro-Ject/Ortofon combo doubtless would have me scouring secondhand LP bargain bins once again, something I’ve not considered for many years since listening to digital formats for a quarter of a century has made me so utterly intolerant of noise in analogue replay.
   Ortofon’s RS-309D 12in arm is immaculately finished and fuss-free to use, nevertheless I’m sure it could be bettered by a fixed headshell design with more robust armtube. Still, I’ve not enjoyed playing records as much as this for many years – and before Pro-Ject’s importers call to take it all away I’m looking forward to experimenting further with Ortofon’s Kontrapunkt B cartridge in a variety of systems. I suspect this ruby-cantilevered transducer with Fritz Geiger stylus profile is something of a forgotten gem.

HI-FI NEWS VERDICT
Boasting the type of sumptuous finish common to high-end Japanese turntables of the ’70s, Project’s luxurious Xtension assures pride of ownership. Moreover it is completely straightforward to set up, requires no on-going adjustment and proves a pleasure to use. Given its delightful music making – velvety smooth and flowing in this incarnation – it can be highly recommended.

 

This review was originally published in the April 2009 issue.