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Step up from Pro-Ject’s entry-level T Series and you’ll find this smartly styled over-performer, Home Cinema Choice’s Best Buy.
TURNTABLE ALL-STAR PRO-JECT, founded in Austria in the early 1990s, seems to have a model for every occasion. Its Essential range fills the gap between the entry-level T Series and more sophisticated Debut line. The III Phono is belt-driven and the only model here where changing between 33rpm and 45rpm requires you to move the belt to another pulley. Its built-in phono stage can be bypassed via its line-level output, should you wish to add an external one.
The Pro-Ject is our slickest-looking model thanks to its red, black or white gloss plinth (there’s a walnut option too), and generally high standard of finish. Fitting the belt is easier than the Elipson but still fiddly, and some other aspects of setup might require recourse to the manual for beginners. One big advantage the III Phono does have, however, is excellent feet. These keep the playing surface isolated from the outside world and it means the deck is less fussy about where you place it than most budget models.
In sound quality terms, the Essential III Phono is the most consistent performer here. It has enough bounce and energy to make Think something that engages you and draws you in. Aretha Franklin sounds rich, detailed and lifelike and there’s
respectable bass energy too. The long piano notes of Exile show the Pro-Ject to have excellent pitch stability and it really uncovers the emotional content of the piece. It shows a trace of end-of-side distortion but only when you’re really listening out for it. It then proceeds to absolutely nail Remember to Breathe, capturing the timing and drive of the music really well and placing Simpson’s vocals beautifully into the overall mix – he sounds clear but never detached from the song as a whole. It’s a very convincing display of what vinyl is capable of at a relatively sensible price point.
Pro-Ject Essential III Phono – £360