It’s the late 1990s. CD is king, MP3s the reserve of PC nerds, and vinyl was assumed dead. Into this climate, launched the original Pro-Ject Debut Turntable.
It was a strange time to be a vinyl enthusiast; new vinyl pressings were almost entirely the reserve of dance music, one area in which vinyl was still king. With the exception of a few ‘statement’ releases from independent artists and the occasional limited edition run, vinyl was feeling like something of an orphan.
None the less, a huge enthusiast network of vinyl lovers and enthusiasts still existed. Keen ‘crate hunters’ determined to dig out that rare pressing, or (in the case of your author) using the affordable price of used vinyl to build up a huge collection of back catalogue music.
This left an unpredictable situation, however; a lack of an affordably priced, high-quality Hi-Fi turntable. In the late 1990s, there were pretty much three options: The Technics SL1210 (still in production thanks to DJ’s), a high-end audiophile deck such as a Linn LP-12, or a refurbished vintage deck (your author still has his beloved Lenco GL59 to this day).
Pro-Ject arrives on the scene.
Pro-Ject arrived on the scene in the 1990s as a young Austrian Hi-Fi company. Whilst their sister company ‘Box Design’ concentrated on conventional Hi-Fi products, Pro-Ject was dedicated to one thing: vinyl
Utilising the extant manufacturing and design skills of the old Czechoslovakia, Pro-Ject utilised the low, cost base and knowledge of the old Eastern Block to their advantage. The Cold-War era Tesla factory in the Czech Republic was known for producing a range of high-quality electronics behind the iron curtain. Separated from the west, development of vacuum-tube electronics and traditional Hi-Fi had continued.
Pro-Ject’s very first turntable, the original ‘Project’ was a ‘hot-rodded’ Tesla design. To this day, Pro-Ject turntables are manufactured in the old Tesla Turntable manufacturing facility – a legacy which stretches back almost 70 years.
The Debut is Born
Pro-Ject released its first home-grown design, the Pro-Ject 1 in the early 1990s. The Pro-Ject 1 displayed all the key values of a Pro-Ject turntable: affordability, value and performance through good, solid, simple design and quality engineering.
It was to be a UK distributor, which was to sew the seeds for the Pro-Ject Debut range. The request was sent out to create an introductory deck (hence ‘debut’) at an unprecedented low price. Pro-Ject’s answer was to take their successful Pro-Ject 1 turntable and ‘trim the fat to the bone’.
The Debut appeared in 1999 with a pressed steel platter, and MDF plinth. The motor was a simplified version of the Pro-Ject 1 motor which was isolated by a single spring. The tonearm was a straightforward, aluminium tonearm. Nothing fancy, but wholly fit for purpose. An Ortofon OM5E cartridge was included – a proper, audiophile-quality cartridge with elliptical diamond stylus. It was, and still is, a simple recipe but one which has consistently attracted praise for over 25 years.
The Pro-Ject Debut – An Instant Hit
Upon its launch in 1999, the Debut was an instant hit. Retailing at just £109, it was within reach of any Hi-Fi enthusiast. It’s attainability no doubt inspired people to dust off some of their old records, and has been accredited with playing a part in the current vinyl revival.
The Pro-Ject Debut received unprecedented praise from the Audio press. Tellingly, many Hi-Fi magazines had, by this point, abandoned an award category for ‘best turntable’ altogether. This didn’t stop the Pro-Ject Debut gaining numerous awards, however.
In 1999, ‘What Hi-Fi’ awarded the Pro-Ject Debut ‘Product of The Year‘, an incredible accolade for any new product, let alone an analogue music player in a deeply digital world. Through the years, and various revisions, The Pro-ject Debut has continued to pick up a dizzying array of awards from the press:
1999 What Hi-Fi – ‘Product of The Year’
2000 What Hi-Fi – ‘Best Buy’ accessories & essentials
2001 What Hi-Fi – ‘Product of the year’ Turntables & Accessories
2001 Hi-FI News/British Audio Awards – ‘Best Analogue source up to £500’
2002 What Hi-Fi – ‘Best Buy’ -Turntables up to £150
2004 What Hi-Fi – ‘Best Turntable under £250’
2005 What Hi-Fi – ‘Best Turntable under £150’
2006 What Hi-Fi – ‘Best Turntable under £300’
2012 What Hi-Fi – ‘Best Turntable up to £500’ (Debut Carbon)
STUFF – ‘100 Best Gadgets Ever’
What Hi-Fi – ‘Ten Best Turntables of All Time’
The Debut Range Today
Never has the Pro-Ject Debut range been more relevant than today. Vinyl is undergoing a massive renaissance, with sales higher than in decades before. Ironically, many manufacturers have ceased making CD players altogether; the black circle lives on with aplomb!
It seems somewhat fitting that the Debut now sits more towards Pro-Ject’s mid-range Turntable offerings than it once did. The absolute, bare-bones, entry-level decks are now the Pro-Ject Elemental and Primary decks. These both offer plug&play operation with an included Ortofon OM5E cartridge and are worlds apart from some of the gimcrack offerings found on the high street in clothing shops, for example!
The current Debut range still offers the same qualities which made it a success over 25 years ago. The street price of the entry-level Debut S/E3 is barely more than the price of inflation over that time. It does, however, like all the current Debut line, come with the benefit of over 25 years of design improvements.
The Debut S/E3 is the ‘entry level’ Debut turntable, with an eye-catching price of just £219. Don’t think it hasn’t moved the game on in all those years though. A high gloss, black, finish immediately identifies the Debut S/E3. Debut users of yore will note a larger improved platter and improved motor mounts.
The Tonearm now features and improved bearing set, and wears an improved Ortofon OM10 pickup cartridge compared to the OM5 of years passed. A convenient rear junction box, rather than hard-wired tonearm cabling, allows for easy interconnect upgrades for those inclined.
In summary, then, the Debut S/E3 is the traditional Pro-Ject Debut but with welcome improvements and true Hi-Fi quality at a truly budget price.
Debut Carbon DC
Pro-Ject have always been great at bringing technology and features to a hitherto price point. The Debut Carbon DC is just such an example, bringing a carbon fibre tonearm to the party. One could easily expect to pay the £349 asking price for the carbon tonearm alone, but with the Debut Carbon DC, there’s much more for your money.
Ortofon themselves have contributed some of their expertise in the Carbon DC in a few areas: clearly, the most noticeable is that the carbon fibre tonearm wears the excellent, elliptical tipped Ortofon 2m Red cartridge with pride. Look a little further and the keen-eyed might pick up (forgive the pun) the improved motor isolation mounts, developed by Ortofon for Pro-Ject.
The Debut Carbon DC also benefits from an improved DC motor power supply, which aids with improved speed stability. The Gloss finish can be ordered in an array of eye-catching gloss shades. There is also the Debut Carbon Phono USB version, which adds a convenient onboard Phono Pre-amp and USB interface.
Debut Carbon SB
The Debut Carbon SB takes all the features of the Debut Carbon and adds the last finishing touches to make the Debut the turntable it always wanted to be. Speed can now be changed at the flick of a switch, rather than the traditional Debut method of removing the platter and swapping belt pulleys.
An acrylic platter is included – which not only looks fantastic but it’s highly inert, resonant free nature assists audio playback. Available in three high-gloss colours (Black, White & Red) this really is a serious audiophile deck, but at a price (£425) you wouldn’t believe. Have we come used to expect anything less from a Pro-Ject Debut?