The Pro-Ject Debut Pro is simply an excellent turntable for the price. You don’t knock the Rega Planar 3, a card game that has empathized Which Hi-Fi? Product of the Year glory for a decade and more, off its pedestal without being extremely special indeed.
However, a deck of cards is only one part of a system. Without partner equipment, it is useless in every way. It therefore makes sense to invest in this turntable, only if you can combine it with the right kit that will help prove its Product of the Year 2022 status.
It’s pretty obvious from the number of boxes on display that we’ve gone for a completely separate set-up here. Convenience, in the form of all-in-one systems, has its place, of course, but to get the very best performance out of a hi-fi set, you need to use products that specialize in their own particular field.
Turntable: Pro-Ject Debut Pro (£699 / $999 / AU$1079)
Phono Stage: Cambridge Audio Duo MC/MM (£199 / $299 / AU$699)
Floor standing loudspeakers: Dali Oberon5 (£799 / $1499 / AU$1799)
Headphones: Grado SR80x (£99 / $125 / AU$179)
Integrated amplifier: Musical Fidelity M2si (£699 / $999 / AU$2200)
Total amount for this system: £2495 / $3921 / AU$5956
Integrated amplifier: Musical Fidelity M2si
And this quintet certainly specializes. It’s a good thing there’s more to choosing an amp than just relying on a list of features. If that were the case, the Musical Fidelity M2si would hit a very sticky wicket. You will understand that we are willing to sacrifice a lot in the quest for superior sound; so the fact that this amp is lacking in the phono stage department is one we’re happy to work around. And it also fails on the front of the headphone jack…
Does not matter. It really doesn’t take long in our listening rooms to convince us that the M2si is a great performer. This is a large-scale yet refined sound that handles complex tracks with authority and ease. And, most importantly, we find it easy to keep track of individual instruments and enjoy a song as a whole.
Phono stage: Cambridge Audio Duo MC/MM
We’ve paired the Pro-Ject deck with a Musical Fidelity integrated amp that’s stripped down to the point where it doesn’t have a phono stage; enter the beautiful Cambridge Audio Duo MC/MM, which will sit between the Debut Pro and the amplifier and boost the signal to an acceptable level.
The Duo is so named because it handles both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges (it has a sibling called the Solo that is moving magnet only). However, for our purposes in this setup, the duo of skills we need most from this little device is the option of a moving magnet next to the headphone amp, which allows us to listen on our Grado headphones.
It’s a feature combination that makes this phono stage a five-star winner in our book – but of course only because it delivers on the promise of that impressive specification. The presentation is spacious, detailed and dynamic, and is warm enough without ever getting too drizzly.
Floor standing loudspeakers: Dali Oberon 5
We then move on to the two parts of this hi-fi system from which the sound actually emanates. We’ll start with the speakers, because listening to music as a shared experience is one of life’s great joys. The Dali Oberon 5 won Which Hi-Fi? Awarded as both a stereo pair and as part of the mighty Oberon 5 5.1 home cinema speaker package – so they’re clearly great all-rounders, capable of turning their woofers and tweeters into all shapes, sizes and styles of music.
These are compact towers, only 83 cm high, so accommodation should not be a big problem. Keep in mind, however, that they like to stand a bit away from a back wall and look straight ahead – no toe-in at the listener. And of course we chose them in this lineup because they are great performers. They are musical, of course, but also responsive and, most importantly, immensely fun to listen to. They have dynamic subtlety, rhythmic precision and transparency and really draw the listener into the experience.
It’s not all about fun: these are detailed performers, with low end range coupled with clear high frequencies that have plenty of bite without ever getting brittle. They arrange the musical information in a composed and organized way, with note edges that are nicely defined without ever sounding unnatural. The mid-range isn’t ignored either – vocals sound great in an expressive performance.
These speakers sound bigger than they are, and that power, combined with the sheer joy they convey to the music, means they deliver top performance for the price.
Headphones: Grado SR80x
Thoughtful as we are, we’ve also given you options for the way you listen to your music. We’ve got a high-end, best-performing hi-fi pair of headphones – the Grado SR80x – for when you want to keep it up close and (relatively) personal, and Dali’s gorgeous Oberon 5 floorstanding speakers for when you want to fill the room with sound.
Before we wax lyrical about the sound the Grado SR80x delivers, we must issue a warning. These are classic Grado cans: great sounding, but with an open back. This way everyone in the room knows exactly what you’re listening to. But if that’s not a problem for you, or if you have incredibly understanding roommates, open-back headphones are the way to go for the very best sound.
We say in our full review of these on-ears: “The SR80x may be considered a budget pair of headphones, but their industry-leading transparency means they can be used satisfactorily in a more advanced setup.” Well, this is that setup.
And the Grado headphones are happy to showcase what great performers they are further down the chain. They are quick-footed and expressive, with a certain amount of punch and panache that makes them born entertainers. They’re fairly analytical in character – far from being warm in tone – but that means they go pretty well with the mellow sound the Cambridge Audio Duo headphone amp delivers. In fact, their character is such that we listen to entire albums during our tests. High praise indeed.
That temptation to listen applies to this entire system. After all, what is music for, if not to bring us joy and heightened emotion. In our book, that’s worth investing in – and with this well-considered setup you can be sure you’re getting the best out of the mighty Pro-Ject Debut Pro, and your record collection.
Read our review of the Pro-Ject Debut Pro
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