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Pro-Ject Debut Carbon review
10:03 pm | September 29, 2017

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Hi-Fi Turntables | Comments: Off

Editor's Note

• Original review date: October 2017
• Launch price: $400 / £349 / AU$550
• Target price: $499 / £399 / AUS600

Update: February 2024. OK, Pro-Ject's naming strategy can be a little confusing, so do note that there's now an also-five-star 2020 Debut Carbon Evo model and a 2021 Debut Pro to consider. In addition, certain Debut Carbon models (such as the Esprit) now support Sonos streaming too, to rival the 2023 Victrola Stream Carbon (we did warn you it's confusing). For us though, the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon edges it across the board, hence its continued inclusion as one of the best turntables on the market right now. And owing to both inflation and its continued relevance, that 'target price' is actually a little higher than its asking fee at launch – progress, eh? That said, it's still a stone cold bargain in the sound-per-pound stakes. The rest of this review remains as previously published.

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon: Two-minute review

If you’re wondering what’s the difference between a cheap, inexpensive turntable and ones exalted by audiophiles, it comes down to design, damping, materials and the phono cartridge. A $99 turntable will play records just fine (probably), but you’ll want to spend more if sound quality is your goal. 

$400 (£349, AU$550) may sound like a lot to spend on a turntable, but entry-level hi-fi turntables like the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon are actually a bargain when seeking out the best turntables.

In the case of the Debut Carbon, the turntable comes with the excellent Ortofon 2M Red phono cartridge as well as a lightweight and rigid carbon fiber tonearm – parts that separate the Pro-Ject from its competitors and the benefits pay off in sonic performance. 

Said simply, if you’re serious about record collecting, the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon is one of the best entry-level hi-fi turntables you can buy. For the money, you’re getting a beautiful, well-built turntable that sounds excellent. It’s easy to setup and use, even for absolute beginners. 

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon: Design

Our Pro-ject Debut Carbon came in piano black but Pro-ject offers a few variants of the Debut Carbon in white, gray, yellow, red, green, blue and purple. It’s nice to see a legit turntable manufacturer offer colors that aren’t black or silver to show off your personality. 

The turntable platter is made out of medium density fiberboard (MDF), which offers good damping for noise isolation from footsteps and vibrations from speakers. The turntable rests on non-adjustable rubberized feet that also aid in damping the turntable from vibration.

Take a look at the motor and you’ll find that it’s decoupled from the turntable via a rubber suspension system. This design ensures that the vibration of the motor doesn’t transfer through the platter, your record and to the needle. 

Speaking of the platter, it’s heavy made of metal, topped with a thin, felt mat. The platter is shockingly heavy but that’s a good thing as it is one more way Pro-Ject fights noise and vibration. The only downside is that you’ll have to pick up the heavy platter every time you need to switch from 33 ⅓ and 45 rpm. Switching speeds requires moving the belt between the upper and lower pulley, which is an annoyance but not a deal breaker. 

The defining feature that separates the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon from the competition is its single-piece carbon fiber tonearm. Beyond simply looking good, carbon fiber helps fight resonance with its stiff construction and natural damping abilities. It’s also lightweight and helps with tracking records smoothly. 

Lastly, the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon comes with a clear acrylic dust cover. It’s attached to the turntable via two metal rods and doesn’t affect the sound quality of the turntable, though you will hear the thud of the cover when you close it when a record is playing, but that’s normal. 

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon: Setup

There's nothing worse than buying a new record player and having no clue where to start. Thankfully, setting up the Debut Carbon is simple, even for beginners just getting into the hobby. This is due in no small part to the included manual which simply and clearly explains where everything goes. 

The most difficult part of the setup was balancing the tonearm, which simply requires you to make sure the tonearm is level before setting the tracking force. 

Setting anti-skate is a bit different with the Pro-Ject, as it uses a small weight on fishing line to fight the needle’s natural movement to go toward the center of the record while it plays. It’s not as easy to use as a dial but you won’t be fiddling with your anti-skate much unless you’re constantly switching phono cartridges. 

Around the back of the turntable, you’ll find RCA outputs and a ground peg, which means it’s super simple to replace worn cables in the future. Pro-Ject includes a beautiful cable in the box for you to connect to your phono preamp. Note that the Debut Carbon doesn’t include a phono preamp so you’ll have to pick one up on your own. 

There’s no need to align the cartridge as the included Ortofon 2M Red comes mounted to the tonearm out of the box. This is great for beginners as aligning a phono cartridge can be the most difficult part of setting up a turntable. 

If you do decide to switch cartridges sometime down the road, however, Pro-Ject includes a simple protractor in the box. 

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon: Performance

If you’re spending $400/£349 on a turntable, it had better sound good and we’re happy to report that the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon sounds spectacular. 

Every little attention to detail for damping has paid off as the Pro-Ject doesn’t pick up any noise from the motor and does an amicable job of neutralizing footsteps. However, you’ll want to make sure you place the turntable on a solid surface or buy an isolation rack to completely eliminate the sound of footsteps.

The included Ortofon 2M Red does a good job of pulling detail out of records. It tracks nicely and has good dynamic range. Whereas cheaper turntables like the Denon DP-300F make cymbals sound splashy and harsh, the 2M Red makes them sound smoother and more life-like. While you won’t get the micro-details and expansive air that more expensive phono cartridges are capable of, the 2M Red is a perfectly good starting point on your audio journey. 

In terms of tonal balance, the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon and Ortofon 2M Red combination sounds neutral with crystalline highs and velvety mid-range. Bass is adequate but may disappoint audiophiles who prefer a slightly warm tilt. 

We talked a lot about Pro-Ject’s attention to detail when to comes to damping and it pays off in sonic performance. The turntable is extremely quiet, which lets you hear more of the record itself instead of the hum of a motor or the subtle vibration of an a poorly damped turntable. 

The carbon tonearm definitely helps cut down resonance, allowing you to hear more of the record and less of the equipment that it’s playing on. 

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon: Verdict

The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon is well built, beautifully designed and just sounds awesome. It’s not the most resolving turntable but you wouldn’t expect it to be at this price range. When looking at the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon as a package, it’s hard to think of another turntable in this price range that can top it. 

While it's still incredibly easy to use (especially for anyone used to setting up more complicated players), you are giving up conveniences like auto start/stop, an anti-skate dial and a built-in phono preamp but for audiophiles, none of these downsides matter as the turntable’s sonic performance vastly outweighs its minor trade offs. 

For those who want a set-it-and-forget-it experience, check out the Denon DP-300F. It doesn’t sound nearly as good, but it’s the simplest way to start listening to records with its automatic tonearm and built-in preamp. 

While it's not the cheapest record player on the shelf, the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon is still an incredible value. We can’t recommend this turntable enough. 

First reviewed: October 2017

Denon DP-300F review
1:40 am | September 26, 2017

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Hi-Fi Turntables | Comments: Off

Editor's Note

• Original review date: October 2017
• Launch price: $329 / £245 / AU$417

• Target price: $429 / £349 / AUS550

Update: February 2024. The Denon DP-300F isn't the newest deck on the block (although for a turntable, a late Noughties release is hardly old), but it's still very much a current contender and class-leader in the affordable turntable arena – and for our money, it remains one of the best turntables around. Owing to both the current financial climate and its continued success, the 'target price' is actually a little higher than its launch fee (not unlike the LPs you'll want to play on it), but if you're looking to dip your toes into vinyl, keep it on your radar. The rest of this review remains as previously published.

Denon DP-300F: Two-minute review

The vinyl resurgence is here to stay and as a result, many audio companies are releasing turntables. This makes choosing the best turntable quite tricky, as there are a ton of good options – especially for those first getting into vinyl. 

That being said, if you’re just starting out, the Denon DP-300F is an excellent choice because it's fully automatic i.e. you can simply press a button to start and stop playback rather than physically move the arm. It also means that when you’ve finished one side of the record, the tonearm automatically lifts and returns itself to resting position, preventing premature needle wear. 

While audiophiles won’t be impressed with the $329 (about £245, AU$417) Denon DP-300F, beginners who aren’t looking for the best sound quality will likely find its sound good enough, especially for those who don’t have high quality speakers or headphones in the first place. 

Denon DP-300F: Design

The DP-300F is an all-black turntable that looks borderline generic, yet manages to be beautiful at the same time. It's coated with a black paint that’s not quite piano black but almost a dark gray with what looks like metallic flake in it. 

The turntable is belt-driven, which means its Aluminum platter is well damped from motor vibrations. The plinth (the base of the turntable) is relatively well damped but it picks up more footsteps and vibrations compared to entry-level hi-fi turntables like the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon. 

The plastic tonearm is a straight design and features a replaceable headshell, making cartridge swapping simple. You can buy additional headshells and attach other cartridge and needles to experiment with the sound. Denon even includes an extra set of headshell leads in the box. 

Thankfully, the Denon DP-300F doesn’t require a manual belt change in order switch from 33 ⅓ rpm to 45 rpm. Instead, there’s a button next to the tone arm that you can press to switch between the speeds. 

While 33 ⅓ and 45 are the most common, there’s no support for 78 rpm playback, which isn’t a very common record format nowadays anyway but might've been a nice extra had Denon been able to squeeze it in. 

Next to the speed button are buttons to switch from 12” and 7” records – but if those sizes don’t work for you, you can manually queue the needle yourself via the tonearm lever. 

Our only gripe we had with the design of the Denon DP-300F is that the switch to toggle the built-in phono preamp on and off is under the platter, which means you’ll have to lift the mat and rotate the platter to access the switch. It’s a pretty minor gripe as you likely won’t need to hit that switch very often. 

Denon DP-300F: Performance

The Denon DP-300F comes with Denon’s own DSN-85 cartridge and stylus, both of which are on the low end of the sound spectrum. As a result, the turntable produces average sound quality. Highs lack extension and bass doesn’t have the visceral impact of more expensive cartridges. Cymbals sound splashy and the soundstage is a bit confined, but you wouldn’t expect a $40 needle and cart to please audiophiles. 

Where the Denon DP-300F shines is in its easy setup and playback controls. If the prospect of manually queueing your turntable’s tonearm seem like too much work, you’re going to love the start/stop button on the Denon. 

To get it started, simply place your record on the platter and press “Start” and marvel at the tonearm move itself into position. The tone arm will also auto-return once one side of the record is done and the platter will come to a stop, making it easy to simply turn the record over and hit “Start again.” 

In terms of damping, the Denon is about average. If you live in an apartment with wobbly floors, you’ll cause the DP-300F’s needle to skip since the turntable can’t isolate itself from quite as much vibration as more expensive decks. Again, you wouldn’t expect a budget beginner turntable to be great at damping. 

The only other downside, if you care, is that the Denon DP-300F doesn't come with a USB output for digitizing your records. However, many of today’s records come with codes to download MP3s of the record but crate-diggers may miss the USB-out feature found in the Audio Technica AT-LP120-USB.

Denon DP-300F: Verdict

If all you want is to listen to your records and not have to worry about queueing, premature needle wear or digitizing your records, the Denon DP-300F should be at the top of your list. Its features get you listening to your vinyl records as soon as possible instead of having to fiddle with complicated components and manual queueing … just don’t expect it to sound as good as some other manual, entry-level turntables like the AT-LP120-USB or Pro-Ject Debut Carbon. 

For the price, the Denon DP-300F is on par with other entry-level turntables in terms of performance but bests them in terms of features. While there are cheaper automatic turntables like the Audio Technica AT-LP60, the Denon offers a better tonearm and lets you swap out cartridges, which the Audio Technica doesn’t. 

The bigger and more complicated Audio Technica AT-LP120-USB sounds a bit better than the Denon but at the cost of simplicity since it doesn’t have auto queueing. However, if you don’t connect with the Audio Technica’s styling or features, the Denon DP-300F is a great alternative. 

First reviewed: September 2017