As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m a huge fan of Projects Essential II for its low-cost, minimalistic approach that gets all the basics right. They don’t have any fancy features, but they sound great and won’t ruin your precious vinyl records. For $300 (£209) you can’t go wrong on a budget.
One of the great things about project turntables is you can easily upgrade them with a number accessories should you have the budget and inclination further down the line.
Here are just some of the upgrades you can make to significantly improve your investment:
Replace the felt Mat with Cork
This upgrade is one of the easiest and most significant upgrades you can make to the Essential II (or any other turntable with an MDF or metal platter for that matter). A cork mat replaces the thin, flimsy felt mat that’s included with your turntable and improves the sound quality significantly by reducing resonance and improving contact.
How does it help?
Vinyl records sound best when the playable surface area makes consistent, secure contact with the plater. The problem is, records aren’t made entirely flat, and because the grooves are cut into the disc, both the edges and label are raised. A high-quality cork mat will account for these extrusions by cutting space for the label and allowing the records edge to hang over the sides. The result is a tighter, more focused sound.
Additionally, Cork mats are less prone to static. The standard felt mat supplied with Project turntables can easily collect dust and dirt through static charge, which in-turn is transferred to your records causing undesirable pops and click. My verdict – make this change right away if you can afford it.
Note: Don’t be tempted to cheap out when buying a cork mat. Some cheaper models do not feature a label in-dent.
Replace the MDF platter with an Acrylic (Acryl it E)
If your budget will stretch a little further, you can skip the cork mat and jump straight to an audiophile Acrylic platter. Acrylic is regarded by most as the best material for turntable platters. They significantly reduce turntable resonance and allow you to place the record directly onto the platter with no slip mat required. This can significantly improve playback performance by reducing the chance of mis-tracking caused by movement between the mat and platter.
Acryl it E is a simple and effective upgrade; simply remove your stock MDF platter and replace with the new Acrylic upgrade. With the absence of a soft mat, the lower frequencies will be tighter, the midrange firmer, and high-frequencies clearer and accentuated.
Note: It might seem like witch craft that a simple change of material can affect the sound of your vinyl records, but it’s more logical that you might thing. What you have to remember is that your stylus is reading grooves that are microscopic. Each groove is narrower than a human hair, and any minute movement can affect tracking and ultimately cause distortion. The more precise your tracking, the better your records will sound and age.
Use a Clamp It
There is much debate across the audiophile community as to whether or not using a clamp is necessary or beneficial. In my experience, they can help with resonance and stability, but more importantly, they’re essential in helping to increase the stability of mildly warped records. Once again, records sound best when the playing surface sits evenly across the record platter or slip mat – any warping of the records surface will create gaps. A record clamp improves the stability of contact between the record and your turntable platter, which reduces unwanted resonance and improves tone. Even if your records aren’t warped, a record clap will improve contact and prevent the record from slipping.
The Project Clamp It will not apply any undue pressure to your record, and it can be adjusted depending on the records condition. Project recommend this accessory for use with a Cork mat or Acrylic plater (as per above). They look pretty snazzy when the record is spinning, too.