Pro-ject Debut III S Audiophile
FOR Solid design, smart finish, clear treble; good dynamics AGAINST Not much at this price
Pro-ject’s Debut range of affordable turntables is fast approaching its 20th birthday. Launched in 1999, the original Debut deck filled a gap at the affordable end of the market at a time when many thought vinyl was dead and buried. As it turned out, the Czech company has found itself well-positioned to capitalise on the vinyl revival of recent years.
The Debut III S Audiophile confirms the range’s new position in (just about) mid-market territory – Pro-ject now offers even cheaper decks aimed at both new and reinvigorated vinyl enthusiasts. That means we can expect a decent level of performance, which will be necessary if the Debut III S Audiophile is to compete with fine record players such as the Rega Planar 2 (£375) and Audio Technica ATLP5 (£330).
Up in arms
There are a few upgrades on the Debut format here, which aim to give credence to the ‘audiophile’ moniker. The S refers to the S-shaped tonearm, the first time such a design has appeared on a Debut turntable. This design is often claimed to improve tracking and reduce distortion compared with a straight arm, though it’s probably more a simple matter of personal preference. Available in black or white, the deck is certainly smart, the plinth feels solid and well put together, and the overall impression is of a more premium player compared with its competitors.
Some of that solidity is down to the user, however. As with any turntable, there is a degree of set up required here. The Debut III S Audiophile comes with two (new) aluminium feet in place at the front but we have to screw in a third at the rear. The steel platter and felt mat must be put in place, along with the belt drive (you need to move the belt between the 33 and 45rpm steps on the motor pulley). Take care to follow the tonearm tracking instructions, too.
There’s a new, specially designed Ortofon cartridge, which comes pre-installed. It’s called the Pick-it 25 A and is a variation on the OM Series. Eagle-eyed readers will also notice the new Pro-ject Audio logo. Elsewhere there’s a detachable cable and a lid to keep dust off the deck. Along with the belt-drive motor and power supply, these are the same as found on the Debut Carbon (£350). You will need a phono stage to get up and running, whether that’s a dedicated unit or part of your amplifier.
There is no need for Pro-ject to change its sound. Past decks have been good or excellent – and we’re happy to report that much here is pleasantly familiar. Listening to Four Tet’s Circling, the repetitive rhythms are handled confidently. There’s a good level of detail and decent dynamics, as the Pro-ject handles the full sonic spectrum without wavering. Treble notes are crisp and bass drums are solid.
Previous Pro-ject decks might have given a little away when it comes to bottom-end depth and solidity, but there’s no sign of that here. Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works 85 92 demands a firm grip of lower frequencies and this turntable proves highly capable. Timing is mostly spot-on, with only the most challenging tracks lacking a little momentum and drive compared with the likes of the Rega.
We turn to Nick Cave’s People Ain’t No Good to see how the Debut III S Audiophile handles vocals. It’s an excellent recording and the deck successfully relays the expression in Cave’s voice and the atmosphere of the recording session.
You can almost tell how close Cave is to the mic as you get a feel for the size of the recording studio. The more expensive Planar 2 might dig up more detail, but you won’t feel remotely short-changed by what this Debut can do.
Product ranges don’t hang around for the best part of 20 years without reason. The S III Audiophile is solidly designed and smartly finished, and though there may be a new logo and tonearm design, it’s a chip off the old block. All in all, this is another excellent Pro-ject Debut turntable.
For the first time, the Debut comes equipped with an S-shaped tonearm
The Debut III S Audiophile is the latest model in a 19-year-old range