PRO-JECT is an Austrian company that has been around for a few decades now. They first made their name by producing low-cost yet good quality players for mass production, but quickly moved into every niche, including the ultra high-end with some products costing well north of $5000.
Their Debut Carbon DC was my top choice for the $500 category. I really appreciated the simple, elegant design and no-nonsense approach to function and sound quality.
When deciding which player was best in this category I couldn’t look past these same attributes in the RPM 5.1.
While the Debut Carbon was already a minimalist beauty, the RPM cuts away almost all the fat. There is barely any deck visible and whatever controls are there are essentially invisible.
The styling cues are very subtle. The sidewall of the turntable is the only light color that breaks up the blacks, but the felt mat is, well, matte. The deck is glossy and the tonearm is textured carbon. So somehow the RPM manages to be visually very interesting without resorting to riotous colors.
The purity of the design reflects the idea of audio purity I think.
Although you can get a range of magnetic cartridges with the RPM, this particular model comes with the Blue Point No. 2 from Sumiko Audio.
Sumiko has been around for more than 30 years and has a good name in high-end audio components. The Blue Point No. 2 accounts for more than half of the RPM’s asking price. The RRP of the Blue Point is a steep $450 after all.
This is also the key component in sound quality delivery. The Blue has a wide frequency response range of 15Hz-35Khz, which compares well with CD audio. There’s also a solid 32dB of stereo channel separation, which is a common weakness of vinyl. This means that on paper we know we’re in for a good time.
It does, however, make one wonder about the decisions made here. Sure the cartridge is important, but having it take up half the budget does not bode well for the quality of the rest of the components, right?
We’ll, I thought so too, but PRO-JECT has been really smart about how it’s built the rest of the record player.
There is, of course, little point in putting such an expensive cartridge in a headshell and arm assembly that destroys your audio quality. We can’t accuse PRO-JECT of skimping here, though. The headshell and tonearm are a single piece of carbon. This highly-rigid material provides a good platform to ensure the subtleties of the Blue Point don’t get lost in external interference sources.
The arm itself uses a conical shape that reduces the occurrence of standing waves. In other words, vibrational waves that travel down the arm don’t come back up again.
The ABEC7 bearing ball races, counterweight, ring housings, and every other component on the tonearm assembly has been designed to help reduce vibration and resonance.
The exotic arm is not the only thing PRO-JECT has done with the RPM to make sure no vibrations except the good ones make it to your ears.
The whole thing stands on three height-adjustable cones made from light aluminum. The platter itself comes with both felt and cork mats. It uses a clamp-down system to hold down the record. The stainless steel axle runs on a teflon bearing. The motor itself is not actually coupled to the plinth, so vibrations from the motor can’t be transferred there. The motor itself is also a high-quality, low-vibration unit. The power supply is external, which allows for the minimalist design but also removes yet another source of interference.
The platter is belt driven through a two-step pulley system, which means that those mechanical vibrations get smoothed out before they reach the platter.
Given how pricey this turntable is, there are of course not that many people around who can share their experiences, but the aural reactions I have read are overwhelmingly positive.
The most important observation that people have made is that the Sumiko cartridge is usually paired with MUCH more expensive turntables. The most amazing thing that PRO-JECT has achieved here is essentially building a carefully designed home for high-end cartridges (you can also get other similarly-priced ones) for a “low” price.
The carbon arms performs well, tracking even quite warped records. It’s just a pity that the trade off for such a beautiful, minimalist design is a few awkwardly placed buttons. For example, you have to take the plinth cover off in order to switch speeds between 33 and 45 RPM. Still, I think that’s minor considering how stunning it is.
There are no concerns about build quality, sound quality, or anything quality related. Despite its relatively high price this record player actually represents great value for money. I don’t think the same can be said about, for example, its big brother the RPM 9, which goes for $3000 if you’re lucky.
The only thing to keep in mind is that you will have to invest in a really good preamp (LINK) because the output from cartridges like the Sumiko is pretty low. Other than that, this is vinyl heaven.
For most people this is a lot of money to invest in a piece of home audio equipment, especially since you’ll have to buy a bunch more stuff on top of this. But I think this is worth every penny, and if you want the best player money can buy before returns begin to diminish, this is it.
Its amazing design and incredible commitment to cutting down on all the many things that work against good vinyl audio adds up to an impressive offering. Even when you aren’t actually listening to music on it this record player tells you how awesome it is simply by sitting there. It’s weird to be this in love with a mere object, but I almost feel like this belongs in a museum and not in someone’s house.
The RPM 5.1 is, for most people, an aspirational piece of equipment. It’s like the writer who yearns for an expensive, top-of-the-line mechanical keyboard. Other people won’t understand how you could spend this much money on music equipment, much less equipment for a format that most people consider obsolete. If you are meant to have something like this, however, you won’t even question it. You just know it in your heart.
I guess that’s really the final word here. This is not purchase for the brain or even for the ears. This is a purchase for the heart.
We all know how that works – the heart wants what it wants.