For nearly 30 years, Pro-Ject has exemplified what it takes to design audiophile-quality turntables that don’t break the bank. The X1 model is the most recent incarnation of the design that started it all, the Pro-Ject 1. In the new X1, Pro-Ject has a turntable design embodying all the core principles that continue to drive the company to this day.
Back in 1991, Pro-Ject CEO, Heinz Lichtenegger, took the bold decision to launch a new turntable design during a boom time for the CD format. Based on a belief that music on vinyl simply sounds better and delivers a more rewarding overall experience, Heinz launched the Pro-Ject 1 (or P1). The goal was very simple: to create “astonishing products with impeccable value”. The first Pro-Ject model was a surprise hit, providing the company with a platform from which to evolve. Over the years, the company has solidified a reputation for building great-sounding decks at extremely competitive prices.
This is not the first time Pro-Ject has revisited their first offering, as the previously available Xpression models are essentially forebears of the new X1. This constant state of evolution demonstrates a refusal to sit still. The company has spent the last three decades honing their craft, upgrading manufacturing capabilities, and taking full advantage of material improvements. Fitting then, perhaps, that Pro-Ject should revisit their core design principles as they approach their 30th birthday.
Ahead of this review, I spoke directly to Heinz Litchtenegger, asking him to elaborate on the companies thinking behind the X1. He revealed his concerns about the quality of some newer turntables entering the market, and his refusal to compromise. “The X1 is designed to be at the lowest possible price point where there is no big technical compromise,” Litchtenegger explains. “In recent years, we’ve seen the turntable market flood with ‘shiny’ far-eastern produced models aiming to impress with lots of bells and whistles. Look a little closer, though, and you will see many compromises, from the material quality to the core mechanical functions. Surprisingly, it’s not just affecting the cheap end of the market; we also see similar problems in the $500+ price-point. The X1 is a perfect example of how Pro-Ject rejects this trend; there are no fancy new features, just good quality components without significant compromise.”
Pro-Ject X1 Overview
On first glance, there are a number of features that let you know you’re looking at a more sophisticated deck than some of Pro-Jects lower-priced offerings, such as the much-loved Debut-Carbon, for example. Firstly, the plinth is an over-sized, heavyweight MDF structure, making it much more resilient to resonance. Secondly, the platter is a heavy, non-resonant acrylic platter—a material famed for its sonic performance. And thirdly, the X1 features a built-in electronic speed control for 33/45 rpm speed change. (The deck also supports 78 RPM playback – more on this later).
Immediately obvious upgrades aside, the X1 boasts a lot more still…
The tonearm is said to improve on previous models with its carbon and aluminum sandwich construction, making it both super-agile and stiff. Even better, the tonearm is adjustable for VTA and azimuth settings (giving you a level of control that you often won’t find at this price-point). The tonearm is also supplied with a TPE-damped counterweight, and pivots via ‘ultra-low friction’ four pin-point precision tonearm bearings.
Underneath the hood, there is the DC/AC generator and a speed control board that drives the motor. The motor is also decoupled from the plinth using a new suspension system – great for reducing any unwanted transfer of vibrations. The motor drives an aluminum pulley that turns the sub-platter via a rubber belt. Two belts are supplied, depending on whether you’re running standard 33/44RPM records or 78s.
To enable 78 RPM playback, the primary flat drive-belt has to be removed, and the second, round drive-belt has to be fitted around the sub-platter and the larger diameter part of the motor pulley. This is a neat feature, although you’ll also need to swap the cartridge and stylus for a model that’s suitable for playing the wider grooves of old 78s. (The Ortofon 2M 78 is a good option here).
Speaking of the cartridge, a curious addition to the X1 is the supplied Pro-Ject Pick-IT S2 MM cartridge, which is designed by Pro-Ject and manufactured by Ortofon. The design is based on Ortofon’s popular 2M series, but is voiced by Pro-Ject. Like most Pro-Ject turntables, the cartridge ships pre-aligned, meaning you can get going in a matter of minutes without all the fiddly installation and alignment.
But Enough Technicalities… How Does it Sound?
For me, it’s around this price-point that vinyl really starts to shine as a format, and the X1 doesn’t fail to deliver. Yes, you can get great results at the $300 – $400 mark, but there’s a noticeable uplift in energy and excitement in the playback performance once you move to a model like the X1.
First up for the listening test is Santana Abraxas (a record I admire both for the virtuosity of the musicians, and also for the dynamic recording). There’s plenty of early stereo production at play here, and the X1 does terrific justice to the stereo image. The separation is beautifully clear, and it’s easy to place each instrumental element. Being a late 60s recording, much of Abraxas is a live-performance, with lots of dynamic range. The X1 does a stellar job here; the playback is both natural and lively, with plenty of subtlety in the quieter passages, and tons of impact when the full band kicks in.
Moving on to a heavier number, I cue up “When The Levee Breaks” from Led Zeppelin’s fourth offering. It’s another very lively record, with plenty of depth. The X1 delivers plenty of punch on the famous thunderous drums that drive the whole song. There’s bags of “air” and space; it honestly feels like you’re right there in the hall-way with John Bonham’s drum kit smacking you in the face.
Shifting genre completely, I wanted to see how the X1 would perform in the electronic realm. John Frusciante’s Foregrow EP provided the sonics for this one, and I was impressed with the solid and tight bass, which was partnered perfectly with lots of high-frequency sizzle. In general, the X1 is very competent at tracking very energetic high-frequency detail (helped in part no doubt by the agility of its nibble, carbon tonearm).
To wrap up, I reach for mellower tones from The Red Garland Quintet. Garland’s piano is soothing and warm, and I suddenly feel I’m at a high-class restaurant. John Coltrane’s tenor sax sounds throaty and expansive as the X1 adds just enough analog warmth to remind you that you’re listening to a beautiful vinyl record, rather than a digital medium.
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking for a true audiophile turntable below the $1000/£800 price-point, the Pro-Ject X1 should absolutely be on your shortlist. The sound is natural and dynamic, and the design is beautiful in its minimalism. Arguably, the X1 is not a luxurious deck; there are no shiny aesthetics or particularly glitzy features. Instead, the focus is on high-quality core components that deliver impressive audio performance when sat alongside its peers. You can always spend more money on a turntable, and sure, you’ll likely find some additional performance benefits if you do, but it’s pretty difficult to beat the X1 on value. In that regard, this might well be the ultimate Pro-Ject deck in that it wholeheartedly lives up to the founder’s mission. I was so impressed, I bought one of these decks myself.