There is no doubt that the current rise in popularity of the vinyl format is continuing unabated. Yet even vinyl fans still own digital music players, CD players, have Spotify, Tidal and other streaming accounts. Many will plug a pair of headphones into their phone and/or laptop to access crummy MP3 files, on occasion. The Debut Carbon RecordMasterHiRes turntable as reviewed here has been positioned to address both analog and digital markets to offer all virtually things to all people.
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon RecordMasterHiRes is a new three-speed (33.33, 45 and 78rpm) turntable based on the Debut Carbon platform, yet has an enhanced acrylic platter plus an 8.6" carbon fiber tonearm. The tonearm is neatly fitted with an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge. Hence, this turntable can be classed alongside the Debut Esprit in terms of basic build. There's also an onboard ADC (analog-to-digital converter) that can output digitally via USB or TosLink optical support, for a built-in turntable facility. The ADC is based around a 32-bit Asahi Kasei Microdevices AK5552VN, which is a relatively high-end device featuring AKMs proprietary Velvet Sound architecture supporting up to 24-bit/192kHz or DSD128.
The acrylic platter sits upon a smaller sub-platter. The belt fits around the latter and the stepped drive pulley. This assembly is also fitted with TPE pads to improve isolation from unwanted vibrations reaching the needle. To the right is the tonearm assembly, which includes an arm lift plus built-in finger lift attached to the one piece headshell.
A simple classic anti-skate 'fishing wire and lead' line is situated at the rear. The counterweight includes a useful downforce scale while the arm sits in an open rest which is not as secure as I would like to see it. I much prefer a latch to prevent unfortunate knocks displacing the arm.
For speed control, a useful automatic unit is present on the left corner of the plinth. A flashing blue light waits until the platter is running up to speed. When the correct speed is found the flashing light ceases to a steady glow. Speed tests showed that the motor runs true and accurately. To turn the motor off, you press the button for an extended period, waiting for a click for switch off. Around the rear of the chassis is a power socket, hinged fasters for the optional lid and two pairs of RCA sockets (Line in for cassette/reel-to-reel tape machines and Line out to an amplifier). There's an easy to use push button switch to toggle between them. You'll also find a USB socket and TosLink optical connector with a Record Level knob and earth connector. Spanning 16.34" x 4.65" x 12.6" (WxHxD) lid closed, the RecordMaster weighs in at 11 lbs.
Set up is fairly straightforward and the design is, broadly speaking, plug-and-go. The arm and cartridge are all fitted and ready to use so you only need to add the platter, mat, and belt, then set the arm weight and tracking force. Plus, of course, plugging the thing into electricity. The downside with this new turntable is that it cannot be plugged into an external phono amplifier. The recording facilities are taking precedence here, not the analogue vinyl play. This means that the quality of the sound you hear now from this design, in analogue vinyl disc play terms, is about as good as you're going to get because the glass ceiling that is the internal phono amplifier will, at some point, be the bottleneck that permanently restricts potential sound quality.
The phono amplifier is unique to Pro-Ject, though, because it was specially designed for RecordMasterHiRes, and thus has no equivalent within the rest of Pro-Ject Audio range. It has been optimized for use with moving magnet cartridges and every channel uses low-noise Japanese-sourced OpAmps. Nevertheless, you need to think about this important issue seriously before you reach for your cash. If you are looking for a turntable that is but a first step on an ongoing upgrade path then look elsewhere. For those users whose priority is recording from vinyl to various types of media and who are looking for a measure of stability and have no further audiophile ambitions, read on.
Highlights of the package include recording to WAV, FLAC, Ogg, MP3 or AIFF, CAF, AAC and Apple Lossless. You can split tracks and, intriguingly, even record 78s on a turntable with no 78 option. Just record at 45rpm and the software does the rest (The RecordMaster turntable does offer a 78rpm speed option, though). You can also apply RIAA and other recording equalization curves and lookup and edit the track listing while recording. A host of online database sources can easily be consulted for track listings and sleeve art. There's plenty of additional features but, most importantly I found that the software was very easy to use with - if you want it - plenty of hand holding in the form of onscreen prompts. Despite its third party stance, it worked well with the Pro-Ject turntable.
I then turned to female vocal jazz and Sandra King, warbling the Henry Mancini ditty, In The Art of Love. King's voice offered a clear, bold and quite focused delivery while the background orchestra reflected that general precision. Yes, the upper mids were slightly softened on the brass section but there was enough detail to impress while the piano and percussion offered a sense of depth to the soundstage.
This system is all about recording, though, so I launched the VinylStudio software on my MacBook and went for broke, aiming to transcribe The Fall track at DSD 128. I filled in all of the basic textual labeling information about the group: album title, song title and so on which would be associated with this recording. Creating an 'album' in the software also created a folder on my Mac. I then played the vinyl track to check the levels which were way too high so I altered that via the knob at the rear of the turntable until only red zone peaks appeared during song crescendos. The arm was then removed from vinyl play. I then checked the Wait For Needle Down option in the software. Doing so made VinylStudio wait for me to lower the stylus before it started recording. Once a helpful notification arrived, I lowered the arm and pressed Record on the software.
After recording, I played the resulting file through my MacBook (SSD) via Audirvana Plus and hooked up an ATC HDA-P1 DAC to it and a pair of Sennheiser HD800s to the DAC. Unlike the slightly reserved sound from the turntable itself and its built-in phono amplifier, the sound quality of the recorded file was excellent, for the price, with a full and open sound and a very detailed lead guitar, providing multiple layering and an enhanced character. Drums spanned a broad soundstage, being fun, powerful and dominant while the electric piano exhibited its growl when in full flow, adding a measure of depth to the track. Finally, the normally non-existent bass guitar was now relatively easy to follow, being rhythmic and melodic in form. Other recorded formats at varying resolutions also performed in a similarly admirable fashion.
(Note, the ratings reflect the performance of the package as a recording system, not the turntable in isolation)