Pro-Ject X2 Turntable Review
David Price looks at one of the best value affordable turntable packages around…
Pro-Ject Audio Systems
AUD $1,990 | NZD $2,150 (no cartridge fitted)
Like every industry, the hi-fi business has its great characters to look up to, and/or look back upon. The ghosts of Wharfedale’s Gilbert Briggs, Quad’s Peter Walker and KEF’s Raymond Cooke loom large in older audiophiles’ collective memories. They made significant contributions to the industry, and laid the ground for the younger generation – the likes of Linn’s Ivor Tiefenbrun, Naim’s Julian Vereker and Rega’s Roy Gandy – to make it what it is today.
Now, that generation is slowly making way for the next. My own ‘thirty-year rule’ stipulates that you’ve got to have been hard at it for three decades, to be inaugurated into the hi-fi hall of fame. So by my reckoning, Pro-Ject’s Heinz Lichtenegger should start polishing his dress shoes and get his dinner jacket back from the dry cleaners. He launched his company in 1991, and since then has been steadily building a brand that now encompasses a vast range of products, sold all around the world. Interestingly though, he’s kept a fine balance between making quirky and enthusiast-oriented products, and keeping it mainstream.
The $1,990 Pro-Ject X2 absolutely encapsulates this philosophy. It may have some specialist features but is basically a practical, real-world turntable. For this reason, it doesn’t have a suspended sub-chassis because that’s too complex and costly on an affordable deck like this. Instead, the design is a beefed-up version of the budget X1 (AUD $1,190). The plinth is made of MDF and comes with eight layers of paint for a durable finish. Surprisingly at this price, you can choose between walnut wood veneer or black finishes.
At 460x150x340mm, it’s a little larger than some rivals, but certainly not bulky. The motor is decoupled better than that of the X1’s, being suspended on a free-floating elastomer belt to reduce noise. It retains the same DC/AC generator board to supply juice to the motor, giving push-button speed control. The drive belt spins a 2kg, 30mm diameter platter, which rests on a stainless steel main bearing with soft bronze bushings. Special feet are fitted underneath which do the lion’s share of the ground-borne vibration isolation work. As with any turntable – but especially those without elaborate suspension systems – you need to place it on a level, well-isolated support to get the best sound.
Pro-Ject tonearms have come on in leaps and bounds over the last decade or so, and the X2 benefits from this. The single-piece armtube has a low resonance carbon/aluminium sandwich construction and is topped off by an elastomer-damped counterweight. The tube is wider in diameter than the cheaper X1’s for extra strength and a full nine inches in length. Its base is aluminium instead of the X1’s softer plastic, to secure it more strongly to the plinth.
The tonearm offers a full range of adjustments – enough to please most vinylistas – but those who like to listen rather than fiddle will be happy to discover the package can be ordered with either an Ortofon 2M Bronze (AUD $2,589 / NZD $2,809) or Ortofon Quintet Bronze (AUD $2,989 / NZD $3,249) cartridge pre-fitted and pre-aligned. This makes setting up much easier because cartridge alignment is the most onerous thing about using turntables, in my view. You just need to carefully remove the deck and its various components (platter, etc.) from the box, plug the arm lead in, plug the power adaptor in, put the platter and belt on, unbind the tonearm and take the stylus guard off – then check the balance (according to which cartridge was ordered). My review sample came with the more affordable Ortofon Pick it 2M Silver MM cartridge (UK spec).
The VTA comes already correctly set, but you can fiddle around if you like, and experiment with (slightly) varying the tracking force. Generally, the heavier you go, the more secure the sound but it begins to get a little ‘lifeless’, so Pro-Ject has recommended 1.8g for a reason. The tonearm has a 13.5g effective mass, so will work well with moving magnet and moving coil cartridges alike. Tweaky types will like the choice of square and round section belts. This is typical Heinz Lichtenegger, who has a “different strokes for different folks” attitude on such matters of debate in the vinyl community. The customer is invited to decide for him or herself, but to my ears, the square-section belt sounds superior with a tighter and more speed-stable performance.
Pro-Ject’s X2 turntable sounds very nice, but I do not mean that in a bad way – quite the reverse, in fact. There are many hi-fi designs around these days that specialise in one area of performance yet are pretty average in others. This is not one of them; instead, it has a wide range of obvious competencies. The result is a smooth, balanced, engaging and spacious sound that’s hard to beat at the price.
Tonally, the X2 proved to be slightly on the warm side of neutral. This is largely down to its upper-bass performance, as evidenced by Nick Lowe’s So It Goes. Here the bass guitar seemed a little more plump than I’ve heard from some of its rivals, with a gentle roundness which filled out the bottom end just a touch. Compared to the LED-like on/off capability of the Technics SL-1200GR in the bass, or the sinewy bottom end of Rega’s Planar 6, this Pro-Ject lacks ultimate grip yet seemed little the worse for it.
Indeed the bundled cartridge proved a good match for this turntable, with the two products apparently complementing one another rather well. The new Pro-Ject designed pickup has a slightly ‘well lit’ upper midband, and when bolted into the X2’s tonearm, it actually pepped the sound up a bit. The overall result was a balanced sound, with little sign of harshness regardless of what I chose to play. Vocals and cymbals were delivered in a sparkling yet sophisticated way. For example, Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill can be a little shouty through the wrong turntable/cartridge combination, yet this deck kept things under full control. Kate’s icy – almost shrill – voice was smoothly conveyed, even when she was belting things out at the top of her voice.
Many believe that vinyl sounds naturally more ‘musical’ than digital, and this debate still runs and runs. Certainly, the Pro-Ject does nothing to contradict this, offering a very jaunty sound considering its modest purchase price. It proved very good at letting the music flow, without over-analysing the LP being played. By contrast, its Technics rival can seem a bit too in-your-face, and the Rega a tad too clinical. I found that the X2 trod a skilful middle line, letting the infectious guitar work of George Benson’s Give Me The Night really shine through. It set up a generous groove which had me smiling – the rhythm wasn’t machine-gunned out at the listener, yet neither did the foot-tapping stop. It had a relaxing but enjoyable gait that proved particularly pleasing with jazz, soul and funk.
Music sounds natural and involving on the Pro-Ject X2 then, and also benefits from its decent soundstaging. The Crystal Ship by The Doors was big and bountiful, with plenty of space to its recorded acoustic. Instruments in the mix hung back where appropriate, while others pushed forward when called upon so to do. This made for quite an eerie and atmospheric presentation. Of course in absolute terms pricier decks do better, but this is still pretty decent compared to its immediate rivals. Both Technics and Rega rivals have crisper and more precise stereo imaging, yet still, this deck has a satisfying open and airy sound.
Dynamically, you’re aware that you’re listening to a more affordable turntable. I wouldn’t call it unduly compressed, but there’s definitely a sense that the X2 sits on dynamic crescendos just a little. Supertramp’s School, for example, didn’t quite have the knock-you-off-your-seat punch towards the song’s ending few phrases. Yet this is still a long way from most sub $2,000 turntables, many of which sound flat and compressed by comparison. Instead, it treads a middle path, where there’s just enough power and punch to hand to make the music fun.
As per Pro-Ject’s philosophy, the X2 turntable is a value for money audiophile product. When you factor in its bundled cartridge, it comes in around a quarter cheaper than its immediate rivals, yet still proves an enticing package. Sonically it’s good enough to enjoy your record collection without having to think about all the things that plague entry-level vinyl spinners – like rumble, speed instability and acoustic feedback. Factor in ease of use and set-up, and it’s ideal for those wanting a serious but user-friendly vinyl spinner at a persuasive price. Heinz Lichtenegger’s long ascent continues!
For more information, visit Pro-Ject Audio Systems.
David started his career in 1993 writing for Hi-Fi World and went on to edit the magazine for nearly a decade. He was then made Editor of Hi-Fi Choice and continued to freelance for it and Hi-Fi News until becoming StereoNET’s Editor-in-Chief.