Pro-Ject X1 B Turntable and Phono Box S3 B Review: Unlocking Balanced Sound
In a world where digital music often dominates, vinyl enthusiasts remain steadfast in their devotion to analog sound. Pro-Ject Audio Systems, a renowned brand in the turntable and phono preamplifier realm, has recently introduced a unique combination that caters to those seeking the highest level of sound fidelity – the Pro-Ject X1 B turntable paired with the Pro-Ject Phono Box S3 B phono preamplifier.
The Quest for Symmetrical Signal Transmission
Pro-Ject’s X1 B turntable comes as a successor to the A model, and it introduces an intriguing feature – symmetrical signal transmission. This technology, often associated with studio and event equipment, offers robustness and interference-free audio transmission over extended distances. While this may not be a primary concern for home listeners, it brings notable advantages, especially when dealing with very low-voltage phono signals from Moving Coil (MC) cartridges.
Design and Build Quality
Let’s delve into the design and build quality of these components, which are essential to their performance.
X1 B Turntable
- The Pro-Ject X1 B turntable boasts a sleek and modern design. Its acrylic turntable platter adds a touch of elegance while ensuring rotational stability.
- The turntable’s motorized drive allows for seamless switching between 33 1/3 and 45 rpm speeds, eliminating the need for manual belt adjustments.
- Notably, the X1 B is assembled in Europe, emphasizing Pro-Ject’s commitment to craftsmanship and quality.
- Its motor design reduces vibrations, promoting high-quality sound output. The motor operates with minimal friction, enhancing precision.
- A flat belt connects the motor to the inner platter, which is meticulously engineered to minimize friction and vibration. This attention to detail ensures optimal sound quality.
- The tonearm, featuring an aluminum core and a carbon layer, is versatile and offers precise adjustments for azimuth, vertical tracking angle, and tonearm height.
- The rear panel provides both RCA and mini-XLR outputs, offering flexibility in connecting to various amplifiers and preamplifiers.
Phono Box S3 B Phono Preamplifier
- The Pro-Ject Phono Box S3 B phono preamplifier boasts a compact, elegant metal housing available in black or silver.
- The front panel features a user-friendly interface with adjustable settings for input impedance, input capacitance, and gain.
- It accommodates both Moving Magnet (MM) and Moving Coil (MC) cartridges, providing versatility for different setups.
- The preamplifier remembers settings for different inputs, streamlining the process when switching between turntables.
- The “True Balanced” circuitry and double mono design contribute to its impressive sound performance.
Now, let’s explore how these components translate their design prowess into sound quality.
X1 B Turntable Performance
- When compared to the Pro-Ject Perspective Anniversary turntable, the X1 B demonstrates a tighter and more focused sound signature in an asymmetrical configuration.
- However, the X1 B truly shines when utilizing the “True Balanced” principle. This approach results in more detailed resolution, a broader dynamic range, and a more emotionally engaging listening experience.
- Symmetrical connections reveal increased brilliance in the higher frequencies, enhanced spatiality, and improved vocal presence. The tonal balance is neutral, providing a musically free and relaxed feel.
- The X1 B showcases its strengths across various musical genres. For example, with U2’s “The Electric Co.” from “Under A Blood Red Sky,” it delivers a more spirited and dynamic performance compared to the Pro-Ject Perspective Anniversary.
- Exploring the lower registers with Public Enemy’s “Pollywanacraka” from “Fear Of A Black Planet,” the X1 B in asymmetrical operation provides a pronounced bass but lacks precision. Switching to symmetrical connections yields a grippier and more neutral bass response, resulting in a more homogeneous overall sound.
- In terms of spatiality, the X1 B demonstrates sharper and more concentrated imaging in symmetrical operation, enhancing the sense of immersion.
Phono Box S3 B Phono Preamplifier Performance
- When compared to the Mytek Brooklyn DAC +, the Pro-Ject Phono Box S3 B offers a more substantial, full-bodied, and balanced sound. It caters to different listener preferences, providing a more involving and organic experience.
- In a cross-comparison with the iFi Audio ZEN Phono, the S3 B proves superior with its transparent and appealing characteristics.
- Despite its competitive price, the S3 B shines with its comprehensive adjustment options and its ability to deliver a captivating listening experience.
Comparison with Linn LP12
To provide a broader context, a comparison with the Linn LP12, a higher-end turntable, shows that while the X1 B performs admirably, the LP12 offers even more liveliness, resolution, and stage presence. However, this comparison is influenced by significant price differences.
Sound Test: Unveiling the Sonic Performance of the Pro-Ject X1 B Turntable and Phono Box S3 B Phono Preamplifier
A crucial aspect of evaluating any audio equipment, especially a turntable and phono preamplifier combination, is to subject them to rigorous sound tests. The Pro-Ject X1 B Turntable paired with the Pro-Ject Phono Box S3 B Phono Preamplifier is no exception, and it’s essential to understand how this duo performs across various musical genres and sonic characteristics.
Symmetrical Signal Transmission: Elevating the Listening Experience
Before diving into specific sound tests, it’s crucial to highlight the significance of symmetrical signal transmission, which is a key feature of this setup. Symmetrical connections bring advantages in terms of reliability, noise reduction, and signal purity, especially over extended transmission paths. This technology is particularly pertinent for the delicate phono signals produced by Moving Coil (MC) cartridges. It’s all about extracting the utmost detail and emotion from your vinyl records.
Sound Test Methodology
To comprehensively assess the performance of the Pro-Ject X1 B and Phono Box S3 B, we conducted a series of sound tests across various musical genres, carefully noting the nuances in sound quality, tonal balance, dynamics, and spatiality. These tests were performed with a range of vinyl records, ensuring a diverse musical selection.
Classical Elegance: Puccini’s “Tosca”
Track: “Tosca,” Puccini (Performed by Berlin Philharmonic)
We started our sound test with the classical genre, a demanding category known for its dynamic range and intricate details. Puccini’s “Tosca,” performed by the Berlin Philharmonic, provided a splendid backdrop to assess the turntable and phono preamplifier’s ability to reproduce orchestral music.
- In symmetrical operation, the Pro-Ject duo exhibited a remarkable level of detail and precision. The spatiality and imaging were particularly impressive, allowing for a deep and immersive orchestral experience.
- The tonal balance was neutral, ensuring that the various sections of the orchestra were reproduced faithfully.
- The sense of air and dimensionality around the instruments added to the realism of the performance.
- Vocals in operatic passages were clear and well-placed in the soundstage, contributing to the overall emotional impact of the music.
Rock and Energy: U2’s “Under A Blood Red Sky”
Track: “The Electric Co.,” U2 (Live Album: “Under A Blood Red Sky”)
Shifting gears to the rock genre, we turned to U2’s iconic live album “Under A Blood Red Sky.” This track allowed us to assess the Pro-Ject X1 B and Phono Box S3 B’s capability to capture the raw energy and dynamics of a live rock performance.
- The Pro-Ject duo, especially in symmetrical operation, brought out the liveliness and spirit of the live performance. The dynamic attack in Larry Mullen Jr.’s percussion was notably more pronounced.
- The upper registers exhibited heightened presence and sparkle, lending a sense of excitement to the music.
- Bass reproduction was tighter and more controlled in symmetrical mode, adding depth to Adam Clayton’s bass lines and contributing to a more engaging live feel.
Soulful Warmth: Joe Cocker’s “Cocker”
Track: “Heart Of The Matter,” Joe Cocker (Album: “Cocker”)
Our sound test ventured into the soulful realm with Joe Cocker’s album “Cocker.” This track allowed us to explore the midrange and vocal nuances while assessing the turntable and phono preamplifier’s ability to convey warmth and emotion.
- In asymmetrical operation, the Pro-Ject X1 B and Phono Box S3 B combination provided a warmer timbre and a more nonchalant definition of voices and instruments.
- Transitioning to symmetrical connections, we observed a more informative, transparent pace of the music. This approach eliminated the slight heaviness and contributed to a more relaxed, musically free-feeling style of playing.
- Instruments and Joe Cocker’s distinct voice appeared more differentiated, with enhanced outlines and plasticity.
Bass Precision: Public Enemy’s “Fear Of A Black Planet”
Track: “Pollywanacraka,” Public Enemy (Album: “Fear Of A Black Planet”)
Exploring the depths of bass precision, we turned to Public Enemy’s “Fear Of A Black Planet.” This track allowed us to evaluate the Pro-Ject duo’s performance in the lower frequency spectrum.
- In asymmetrical operation, the bass appeared more prominent and voluminous. However, a closer listen revealed a certain lack of precision, with some muddiness and imperfections.
- Transitioning to symmetrical connections, the tonal balance shifted to a grippier and more neutral bass response. The bass retained depth and pressure but presented a more homogeneous and controlled overall action.
Spatiality and Detail: Instrumental Variety
To assess the spatiality and detailing capabilities of the Pro-Ject X1 B and Phono Box S3 B, we explored various instrumental tracks ranging from classical to jazz and electronic music. These tracks highlighted the soundstage, imaging, and the ability to reproduce intricate musical textures.
- In symmetrical operation, the Pro-Ject duo consistently provided sharper and more concentrated imaging, especially in the outer edge areas. This enhancement added to the immersive quality of the music.
- Instruments were positioned with precision, making it easier to locate them in the soundstage.
- The nuances in instrumental timbres and the articulation of musical textures were more evident in symmetrical connections, revealing an enhanced level of detail and transparency.
Comparative Analysis with Linn LP12
To place the Pro-Ject X1 B and Phono Box S3 B in context, we conducted a comparative analysis with the Linn LP12, a high-end turntable known for its exceptional sonic capabilities.
- The Linn LP12 exhibited lively dynamics and high-resolution upper registers. It provided a rush of color in the midrange while delivering sonorous and powerful low tones with precision and agility.
- In direct comparison, the Pro-Ject X1 B held its own but displayed a more relaxed and musically free style of playing. It offered a balance between precision and musicality, appealing to listeners seeking a neutral and engaging sound signature.
- The Linn LP12 demonstrated greater audibility and a wider, deeper, and more vivid soundstage. However, it’s important to note the substantial price difference between the two systems.
Phono Preamp Comparison: Mytek Brooklyn DAC + and iFi Audio ZEN Phono
To assess the Pro-Ject Phono Box S3 B’s performance as a phono preamplifier, we compared it to the Mytek Brooklyn DAC + and the iFi Audio ZEN Phono.
- Compared to the Mytek Brooklyn DAC +, the Phono Box S3 B offered a more substantial, full-bodied, and balanced sound. It veered towards a more involving and organic listening experience.
- In a comparison with the iFi Audio ZEN Phono, the Phono Box S3 B demonstrated superior transparency and appealing characteristics, maintaining a pleasing balance.
- While the iFi Audio ZEN Phono performed well, the S3 B’s more transparent and appealing sonic attributes set it apart.
Conclusion: A Sonic Journey
In conclusion, the sound tests of the Pro-Ject X1 B Turntable and Phono Box S3 B Phono Preamplifier paint a vivid sonic journey. The symmetrical signal transmission capability of this duo significantly enhances the listening experience, offering heightened detail, dynamic range, and emotional engagement.
The Pro-Ject X1 B demonstrates its prowess across various musical genres, from classical elegance to rock energy, soulful warmth, and bass precision. In symmetrical operation, it reveals a balanced and expressive sound with enhanced resolution, dynamics, and spatiality.
The Phono Box S3 B phono preamplifier impresses as the true hero of the combination, offering a pleasantly balanced and involving sound. Its extensive adjustment options cater to different listener preferences, all at an accessible price point.
While a direct comparison with the high-end Linn LP12 showcases differences in audibility and soundstage, it’s essential to consider the substantial price gap between these systems.
In essence, the Pro-Ject X1 B and Phono Box S3 B provide an enticing entry point for audiophiles into the world of balanced signal transmission and high-quality vinyl playback. These components reflect Pro-Ject’s commitment to craftsmanship and sound quality, making them valuable additions to any vinyl enthusiast’s setup.
In conclusion, the Pro-Ject X1 B turntable and Phono Box S3 B phono preamplifier offer an attractive entry point into the world of balanced signal transmission and high-quality vinyl playback.
The X1 B impresses with its balanced and expressive sound, with symmetrical connections enhancing resolution, dynamics, and emotional impact. The Phono Box S3 B, on the other hand, stands out as the real hero of the duo. It delivers a pleasantly balanced and involving sound, along with extensive customization options, all at an accessible price point.
Considering the price range, these components provide audiophiles with a powerful upgrade potential, especially if they plan to replace the supplied MM system with an MC system in the future. Overall, Pro-Ject’s commitment to craftsmanship and sound quality shines through in the X1 B and Phono Box S3 B, making them worthy additions to any vinyl enthusiast’s setup.
The Pro-Ject X1 B turntable…
- Offers a powerful low tone that shines symmetrically with increased neutrality, tighter agility, and precision.
- Especially when wired symmetrically, it sounds as spirited as it is neutral.
- Sounds appropriately precise, dynamic, and detailed for the price range and increases audibly symmetrically.
- Comes with a nuanced and, simultaneously, suitable for long-term treble, which appears even silkier, clearer, and more relaxed in “True Balanced” mode.
- Has more colorful and full-bodied mids in symmetrical operation and minimally more covered mids in asymmetrical operation.
- Impress with impeccable and high-quality workmanship.
The Pro-Ject Phono Box S3 B phono preamplifier…
- feels wonderfully balanced tonally on the slightly warmer side of neutral.
- Clearly resolves in the highs and sounds sensitive, stress-free, not particularly analytical.
- Has airy mids without over- or under-emphasis, which appear even more expressive in symmetrical operation.
- Plays very deep, nice, powerful, and controlled for the bass price range.
- Sounds even more dynamic when symmetrical.
- Appears beautifully open and contoured, especially when integrated symmetrically throughout; realistic stage representation.
- Offers comfortable and flexible settings and connection options.
- Is very well processed.
- Model: Pro-Ject X1 B, standard with MM pickup Pick It S2, in the test with MC pickup Ortofon Quintet Red
- Concept: belt-driven turntable with two speeds
- Price: 999 euros
- Version: high-gloss black, high-gloss white, real wood
- Dimensions & Weight: 415mm x 125mm x 335mm, 7kg
- Other: selectable turntable speeds 33.3/45 rpm, 8.6-inch tonearm with azimuth and VTA adjustment
- Warranty: 2 years
- Model: Pro-Ject Phono Box S3 B
- Concept: fully symmetrical phono stage
- Price: 399 euros
- Inputs: RCA, mini-XLR
- Outputs: RCA, XLR
- Dimensions & Weight: 206mm x 55mm x 153mm / 930g
- Input capacitance: 50, 150, 300, 400 pF
- Input impedance: 10, 50, 100, 1k, 47k Ohm
Gain (+6 dB with XLR output): 40, 45, 60, 65 dB
- Finishes: Silver, Black
- Warranty: 2 years