28 December, 2010

Talk Vinyl: Pro-Ject RPM1.3 Genie, Speedbox, Ortofon 2M Red

Talk Vinyl: Pro-Ject RPM1.3 (Genie 3) + Speedbox II

Clearaudio Concept Part III
Ortofon Kontrapunkt C/H Part II
Overview: Pro-Ject

Mickey Mouse Business
Call me a child. About 2 years ago I saw the first version of this TT, then simply called Genie, in What HiFi and I immediately wanted one. I know I have better TTs around, quite a few of them, but I still wanted one...

It was not because I am a fan of Mickey; quite the contrary. I simply admired the simple and elegant design, in such a cheap product! Now, no one shall criticize me for having lost my "cheap" touch! And the red color was smashing (not the white belt though). A de-coupled motor, and that arm with low-slung counter-weight looks well thought-out and in-line with modern thinking; besides it is directly wired and terminates in gold-plated cartridge pins.

The early version was only available in Europe but apparently sold well enough for Pro-Ject to continue tweaking it. This version 3 has also been officially granted the designation RPM, in line with the rest of the line. Reviews of the RPM1.3 have been uniformly excellent (HiFi Choice, What HiFi). The curious thing is that, for all indications, this is actually higher in the pecking order than the popular Debut. Also, this is now available in the USA and HK/Asia.

As with many European things, the price in HK is a lot better than that in the US, costing only a little over HKD 2k. The HK version also comes standard with the Ortofon 2M Red MM cartridge, which alone costs close to USD 100, making this a huge bargain.

Pro-Jecting Confidence
As I have said before, ever since I heard the big and confident sound of an early and humble RPM3 at my friend hoi's house (Denon 103, through the Verdier Control B, Unison Research Smart 845 and Spendor SP-100) I was convinced of the excellence and value of Pro-Ject. Since then I have heard several Pro-Ject TTs, and all of them sounded at least musical, and frequently striking, bolstering my confidence. I shall remain a fan of the company's budget offerings, though I notice that they are making much more expensive products now too, and I hope they would not neglect their budget offerings.

Ortofon 2M Red
For in-depth reviews, read the links provided by Needledoctor. The very fine review by Noel Keywood of HiFi World is particularly impressive and puts MANY reviews of hi-end cartridges in magazines like TAS to immediate shame.

A big, rich sound vs Clearaudio Concept
I'd not spend too much time elaborating on the sound. I made no concessions and put it in my regular setup:

Preamp - EAR 912
Amps - various SET amps (ICL, Elekit, Sun Audio)
Speakers - Tannoy Canterbury HE

Suffice to say it sounded great right out of the box, with the 2M Red. As with many Pro-Ject TTs, the sound was like a canvas painted in bold strokes. In my all-tube system, with the stock 2M Red, the sound was robust and, as mentioned in the reviews, slightly reticent on top but full in the mid-bass. Most noticeable was the excellent rhythm and pace, a little less fast but perhaps more bouncy than the excellent Clearaudio Concept, Dynamically, the Pro-Ject is a little more scaled back compared with the Clearaudio, but still no slouch. Overall I'd judge its performance superior to the original Rega P3/Bias/Elys I used many years ago. I never was as enthusiastic about the P3 (except the arm, which was for many its raison d'etre) as the UK crowd, and I hope Rega has significantly improved things in its current (much more expensive) P3-24, as competition is much stiffer now, as the much cheaper RPM1.3 amply demonstrates.

More comparison with the Clearaudio Concept. Much to my surprise, the much lighter RPM1.3 is more immune to vibrations than the sensitive Concept! Unlike the Concept, which took an intense dislike to the glass surface of my rack, the RPM1.3 was much more tolerant.

Excellent as the 2M Red was, I have to say I was used to just a little more detail and usually use MC's. So I soon swapped out the 2M Red with the much more expensive and heavier Kontrapunkt C/H, which of course took things to another level, demonstrating that the arm is not shamed by much more expensive cartridges. The heavier Kontrapunkts also had the counterweight almost all the way to the back; perfect!

During swapping I encountered small difficulties:

1. The screws mounting the 2M Red are ridiculously poor in quality, and with their very narrow and esily damaged slots surprisingly difficult to remove! Come on Pro-Ject, don't skimp on this!

2. The cartridge pins (directly wired) and wires were too short to mount the Kontrapunkts. I gingerly pulled on them and to my relief dragged out additional lengths reasonably easily. I talked to the dealer later, and he told me that there is actually quite a bit of leeway. But exercise caution with the delicate wires!

While on the negatives, I'd like to mention another 2:

3. The "arm-rest" is terrible. The U-shaped rest is very loose and you can easily dislodge the arm if you run into it. Be careful!

4. The ultra-thin felt mat is also downright dangerous, easily dislodged. Make sure you don't damage your cartridge by a flying and flipping mat!

Enter the Speed Box II
I could not resist the temptation to get the Speedbox II, also cheaper in HK than in the USA. The difference is subtle but definitely there. Things became a little more delineated. Most interestingly, with orchestral recordings, the massed strings felt more real, more en masse, and that's an achievement for a budget TT.

Despite some shortcomings, the Pro-Ject RPM 1.3 performs way out of its league. For anyone who wants to start playing vinyl, or for someone more experienced who wants a second TT, this would make a good choice. It doesn't even disgrace itself when played side by side with the several times more expensive Clearaudio Concept (some may actually prefer the more robust sound). Even with the Speedbox added, it's still small change, coming in at less than HKD 3k. I cannot imagine money more well spent.


  1. You might have the best hi-fi/music blog around. Thanks for your invaluable insights.


  2. Thank you for your kind words. Comments like that fuel my desire to share my experience.