‘The Classic’ is a turntable launched to mark the 25th anniversary of Austrian firm Pro-Ject Audio Systems. Founded in the 90s during the mainstream decline of the vinyl format, Pro-Ject’s aim first and foremost was then, and continues to be, the manufacture of high-quality turntable systems to fit virtually any budget and system. Visually modelled on the 50s, 60s and 70s designs pioneered by the likes of Thorens and Linn, the Classic is a nod to the humble beginnings of the true high-fidelity turntable though with some modern innovation as you would expect from one of the world’s largest manufacturers of vinyl playback equipment.
While the Classic is a turntable styled much like the aforementioned decks, it’s a thoroughly modern design. The inner plinth is a sandwich of metal and MDF and the outer MDF plinth is finished in a walnut, rosenut or eucalyptus veneer. Gone is the sprung suspension system of yesteryear, the inner plinth instead ‘floating’ on blobs of TPE Thermo-Plastic damping material. TPE (Thermo-Plastic Elastomers) are a family of ultra-modern dampening materials designed to dampen resonances at specific frequencies with different materials selected depending on the intended use. Three decoupling feet allow for levelling and offer further isolation. The outer frame allows for a hinged dust cover, and has neat cable cutouts in the rear for power and interconnect cables.
While similar in design to the Debut platter, the Classic’s platter is an aluminium alloy with a ring of TPE lining its underside. It’s heavy and beautifully machined. The sub platter and main bearing are similar to those of the Debut line but are manufactured to far tighter tolerances. The platter is topped by a felt mat which helps to further reduce ringing.
The AC motor, mounted in the outer plinth to reduce the affects of vibration on the record, is driven by a DC-driven AC generator similar to Pro-Ject’s Speed Box. The Classic is a belt drive turntable with a manual speed change, necessitating that the platter be removed and the belt moved between 2 steps of the motor pulley to switch between 33.3 and 45RPM.
The classic tonearm is a new design incorporating Zircon pin-point cardan bearings (top and side) and a Japanese ball bearing at the base, with a vertical cable outlet to allow unhindered arm movement. The tube is a sandwich composite of carbon fibre (for increased speed and reduced mass) and aluminium (for its better damping), with a fixed headshell and fully adjustable azimuth and VTA. TPE dampening extends to the counterweight which is unmarked. A basic ‘balance beam’ tracking force gauge is supplied to set the required vertical downforce.
Anti-skate is via a hanging weight suspended by a hair-thin thread from a stub behind the arm bearing. The thread is looped through one of 3 notches corresponding to a given downforce range, and hooked through a supporting loop to suspend the weight in mid air. This is by far my least favourite of the anti-skate methods employed by tonearm manufacturers, as on some arms the weight does tend to fall off continuously and is a pain to reattach. In fairness to the Classic it didn’t suffer any such issues, the only time the anti-skate weight came loos was do to carelessness on my part when making a slight tweak to the VTF. I do still prefer a magnetic or spring wire bias control however, not least because I think that both have technical advantages over the threaded weight system.
There’s a slight amount of side-to-side play in the vertical bearing, though this is by nature of the design. The arm rest lacks a clip to hold the arm in place, instead employing a small magnet allowing the arm to drop into place. It’s a neat system and a minor addition that I began to appreciate the more I used the deck. The arm lifter operated flawlessly throughout the review, lowering the arm to the record in a slow, gentle fashion. Not once did it miscue, and it’s easy to adjust should a little more height off the record surface be desired.
The Classic is supplied with an Ortofon 2M Silver cartridge. The Silver is an upgraded version of the popular 2M Red wound with pure silver coils, bundled only with a selection of Pro-Ject turntables. The Silver features an elliptical stylus and tracks at nominal 1.8 grams. Frequency response is rated at 20-25,000Hz with a healthy 5.5MV output and >25dB channel separation at 1kHz. It shares the same body style as the rest of the 2M series, and the same awful stylus guard.
I have never liked the 2M red in its standard form. Despite the praise that has been heaped upon it since its introduction, no example I’ve used has offered a satisfactory level of performance, nor been able to track a record without excessive and seemingly incurable end of side distortion. The 2M silver, while still far from perfect, was better in almost every way. End of side distortion was barely noticeable though the top end does lose some of its sharpness and focus as the side progresses. It’s also pretty good at integrating vinyl imperfections with the music, rendering them less noticeable. That said I do consider the Classic to be a turntable worthy of a far better cartridge; Audio-Technica’s AT440MLB or something from the new VM cartridge line will take things to a hole new level offering better tracking, far more detail, longer life and less record wear.
Out of the box, the Classic is a simple deck to setup. 3 Transit screws must be loosened, which secure the inner plinth to the outer frame during shipping. The belt can then be installed around the motor pulley and subplatter. pro-Ject supply a pair of cotton gloves and a belt hook intended to prevent the transfer of skin oils onto the belt. With the belt installed, the platter can be placed upon the sub platter, and your attention turned to the counterweight.
The Classic is supplied with a ‘balance beam’ tracking force gauge. The gauge is placed on the platter and the stylus placed between the 2 desired points on the gauge. The weight is then adjusted until the gauge levels out. Such a gauge will result in a reasonably accurate tracking force, though with accurate digital gauges costing less than a tenner it is recommended to simply purchase one as it makes the job much easier. With the tracking force set, the bias weight can be looped through its hook and slid onto the stub at the rear of the arm, the second notch being the correct setting for the 2M Silver cartridge.
The Classic is supplied with a DC power supply with country-specific outlet adapters and a high quality interconnect cable, complete with a third ground lead. The plugs are of high quality, as are the connectors on the Pro-ject itself. You also receive a paper alignment protractor and some hex keys for adjusting the arm and cartridge, as well as a plastic adapter for records with missing centres and some documentation.
I began my tests as I usually do with a 2012 reissue of the Beatles’ classic ‘SGT Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. My reasons for using this album are twofold; first off it’s a classic and beautifully recorded album and chances are any vinyl fan owns a copy. I have a couple of spare copies of the reissue so it’s easily replaced if damaged by a dud review sample (it happens). The classic did an exceptional job of separating the vocal harmonies, most noticeably during the SGT Pepper intro.
Detail levels were good, and the presentation was relaxed with an extended top end and agile bass. Background noise levels are low though not as low as I’ve heard at this price, and the top end does lose some of its sparkle as the side progresses.
I switched to a worn copy of Meat Loaf’s ‘Bat out of Hell’, which is a great test of the player’s ability to handle pressings that are far from perfect. The Classic performed exceptionally well in this regard. The continuous crackle present throughout this LP didn’t detract from the music, and the album was still an enjoyable listen. This isn’t a particularly good master, and the Classic can become a little harsh and unruly at the top end at times.
Speed accuracy and stability is acceptable on both 33 and 45RPM, measuring 33.25 RPM (0.3% slow) and bang on 45.00 RPM respectively).
Warps are handled with apparent ease and the isolation system works fantastically well also. Tapping the top of the rack where the Classic sits produces no audible noise through the speakers, and neither does tapping the outer wooden plinth. Only a tap to the inner plinth produces any noise as you would expect.
The classic did an admirable job with a loud modern pressing. Shinedown’s ‘Amaryllis’ is dynamically compressed to the point where it’s a wonder any turntable can track it at all. The classic demonstrated superb tracking ability and excellent separation of instruments and vocal layers, particularly during ‘Adrenaline’ and ‘Bully’, both of which feature pounding drums and loud, heavy guitar riffs. The classic did show some strain at the top end, particularly at high volumes, but it put in an enjoyable performance nonetheless.
Pro-Ject’s ‘The Classic’ is a modern deck with a degree of retro charm. Clever technology meets a classic design, and the result is a worthy contender at the price. A better cartridge wouldn’t go Amiss, and a revised anti-skate system would be a major plus too. Nevertheless, the Classic is a wonderful turntable with excellent sonics and plenty of scope for future upgrades. Recommended.