Pro-Ject Primary USB Turntable Review

In the year 1990 sales of cassettes and CDs were booming while vinyl sales, though still reasonable, were quickly diminishing. In a few years the big black discs would be forgotten by all besides DJs, dedicated music fans and audiophiles with treasured collections. A strange time then to setup a company dedicated to the manufacture of high performance vinyl turntables.

But that’s what Heinz Lichtenegger, founder and director of Pro-Ject Audio Systems did. Establishing the company in Vienna, Pro-Ject went on to produce some of today’s most revered budget turntable’s including the Debut line which has won the company a vast number of accolades. Further expansion saw the introduction of an electronics line under the Box Design brand, though the company remains true to its roots and its primary efforts are in the manufacture of vinyl replay equipment.

Their current range is vast, comprising the Elemental, Primary, Vertical, Essential, Debut, Classic, RPM and Signature lines. There are special editions too, and artist editions including a customised version of the Essential III designed to accompany George Harrison’s solo box set. With each range comprising several models and prices ranging from £175 to over £7500, their range really does include a turntable for every imaginable system and budget.

The primary is the combination of two lines in the range – the Elemental and Essential II. The elemental’s motor, arm and cartridge are combined with the full-size MDF plinth, isolating feet and detachable dust cover of the Essential II. The primary not only offers a more traditional stile but also removes the likelihood of damage occurring in a domestic environment as could occur with the Elemental, which lacks both a plinth and cover leaving its fragile components exposed.

Pro-Ject Primary Black

The Primary shares the Elemental’s tonearm – an 8.6” aluminium arm riding on sapphire bearings with an under slung counterweight to lower the centre of gravity. An Ortofon OM5E cartridge comes preinstalled with the tracking force and bias both preset at the factory. The OM5E is a moving magnet cartridge with an elliptical stylus tracking at 1.75 grams. The stylus is user replaceable and is supplied with a slip-on protective cover.

Ortofon OM5E Phono Cartridge

The low vibration synchronous motor is controlled by an internal speed regulator, driving the platter via its outer perimeter. The 0.8 kg platter is made from an acoustically neutral MDF and topped by a felt mat. Speed change is manual, requiring that the belt be moved between 2 sections of the motor pulley to switch between 33.3 and 45RPM.

Also taken from the Essential II is the acoustically neutral MDF plinth, available in black, white and red finishes. Three isolating feet beneath keep vibrations at bay, while the plinth also allows for a hinged acrylic dust cover which is included in the box.

Pro-Ject Primary White, with Dust Cover

The Primary comes in 2 forms. The basic £189 model is exactly that – a turntable in its basic form. Its arm terminates in a pair of RCA cables and requires connection to a moving magnet phono stage. The £229 Phono USB model incorporates not only a moving magnet phono stage but also a USB output, allowing you to digitise your vinyl to a computer using recording software of your choice. The latter model is also able to be directly connected to a pair of active speakers to form a simple vinyl playback system without the need for bulky and expensive ancillary components.

In the box you’ll find the turntable itself along with a dust cover, belt, USB and interconnect cables and some documentation. You also get an adapter for records with large centre holes, 2 Allen keys for adjusting the arm and cartridge and a paper cartridge alignment protractor. As the primary is entirely setup at the factory, you’ll require the latter tools only if you should decide to upgrade the cartridge. This is unlikely as though the Ortofon OM5E is a half inch mount cartridge, the Pro-Ject’s arm and headshell don’t offer as much scope for cartridge replacement as the more upmarket models.

The Primary really is plug and play. With the turntable sited on a level surface and the packaging removed, the belt must be looped around the outside edge of the platter. This is a simple task though one that isn’t without frustration as the platter offers no lip to keep the belt in place. Once installed, changing speeds can be done easily providing you take care not to dislodge the belt in the process. Then it’s a matter of removing the shipping tie from the arm, slipping off the stylus guard and you’re ready to begin spinning records. Once you’ve plugged in the power supply and wired up some speakers, of course.

Build quality is excellent throughout. The deck is light though well put together, the bearing is smooth and quiet, and the tonearm is solidly made. It does have a slight amount of side-to-side play, but its horizontal bearing is solid and the design of the arm relies on its centre of gravity to keep it stable. It tracks well and more importantly won’t damage your records.

The Primary Phono USB features both RCA and USB connections along with a ground post. I was somewhat surprised to note the presence of a ground but encountered no excessive hum when using the deck with traditional hi-fi, active speakers or my studio mixer. Connection to a computer is effortlessly simple too. The Primary was detected straight away by my Mac and was instantly ready to use in any software of my choosing. The USB interface supports sampling rates of up to 16 bit, 48kHz.

Sound wise the noise floor is low, and the placement of instruments is easy to discern within a well defined stereo image. The sound is crisp and clean, a little thin perhaps, but well balanced overall. Digital transfers made using the USB output can be a little edgy on some recordings and the imaging (your perception of the performers and their instrument) a little vague, but the transfers are more than acceptable.

Pro-Ject’s primary is a great value budget vinyl spinner with an enjoyable sound, fuss-free setup quality build and clean looks. Opt for the USB model and you get a capable phono stage and a USB interface too. If you’re starting out or need a turntable to spin some old favourites, this could well be it. Highly recommended.

By Ashley

I founded Audio Appraisal a few years ago and continue to regularly update it with fresh content. An avid vinyl collector and coffee addict, I can often be found at a workbench tinkering with a faulty electronic device, tweaking a turntable to extract the last bit of detail from those tiny grooves in the plastic stuff, or relaxing in front of the hi-fi with a good album. A musician, occasional producer and sound engineer, other hobbies include software programming, web development, long walks and occasional DIY. Follow @ashleycox2


  1. I just bought a Primary last week and the sound is terrible. It starts out fine at the very beginning of the record but then quickly degrades after about a minute and sounds fuzzy, sibilant and scratchy for the rest of the record. Wondering if i need to realign the cartridge or adjust the downforce, but since this thing is supposed to be “perfect” right out of the box, as the instructions say, I’m not sure I should touch it and maybe just return it instead.

    1. I would return it and have it checked, unless you have a downforce scale already as there’s no harm in checking. Are the records clean? Certainly shouldn’t sound that way. Does the stylus appear visually straight and undamaged?

  2. Hi! I am wondering what actually is the difference between the Primary and the Essential 2 – and what would be the reason to choose for either of them, given that the price is nearly the same. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

    1. The difference is that the Primary is plug and play with the tracking force and anti-skate set from the factory. The Essential requires that tracking force and anti-skate be set by the user on arrival which, while not a difficult task, may be difficult for some. The Essential would offer the ability to change the cartridge if you wanted an upgrade later. While it is technically possible to upgrade the cartridge on the Primary, you’d need a tracking force gauge to do so and are limited to the preset anti-skate. I think otherwise the decks are mostly the same, though I’d imagine the more expensive deck would have higher tolerance components.

Share Your Thoughts

Discover more from Audio Appraisal

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading