Whether you are a beginner audiophile (a hi-fi or home audio enthusiast), an avid user, or a returning enthusiast from the old days of great record players, you’re going to enjoy this easy-to-understand review and comparison to other similar turntables (or record players) on the Pro-Ject Essential II.
In fact, in this review, we’re going to dissect the Pro-Ject Essential II to find out whether this affordable turntable is worth your hard earned money. We’ll also compare and contrast it to popular record players like the Pro-Ject III and Debut Carbon, as well as the U-Turn Orbit and Rega RP1.
In fact, to better help you, please feel free to use the interactive table below to directly compare the Pro-Ject Essential II to some other very popular and comparable record players on the market:
|Pro-Ject Essential II||$$||★★★||Low-resonance MDF Platter|
|Project Debut III||$$||★★★★||Isolated AC Motor|
|Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC||$$||★★★★||8.6" Carbon Tonearm|
|Rega RP1||$$||★★★||Rega Carbon MM Cartridge|
|U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus||$$||★★★★||Machined Acrylic Platter|
|Audio-Technica AT-LP120USB||$$||★★★★||USB Direct Drive|
|Fluance RT81||$$||★★★★||Built-in Pre-Amp|
|ProJect RM 1.3||$$||★★★★||Decoupled AC Synchronous Motor|
This Essential II turntable is manually operated with a low-vibration, low-voltage synchronous motor, and an integrated motor control with DC power supply. The motor drives the silicone belt that goes around the platter made of MDF that’s low-resonance with a bearing made from stainless steel runs in bronze bushing with a Teflon bottom.
Under the platter is a lightweight base made of laminated particle board with special rubber feet for effective decoupling to prevent feedback to the stylus (or needle).
The tonearm is a one-piece standard size made of aluminum with sapphire bearings for low-resonance and pre-mounted to the base. On the front end of the tonearm is an Ortofon OM5e moving magnetic cartridge and stylus. On the back end is the counterweight dial to balance the tonearm and an anti-skate weight used to adjust how the tonearm moves across the record. It comes with manual speed change for 33-1/3 and 45 rpm speeds accomplished by moving the belt that goes around the platter either up or down. It is available in three colors of black, red, or white.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling record players currently available for sale on Amazon:
- Audio-Technica AT-LP60
- 1byone 3-Speed Turntable
- Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB
- Fluance RT81
- Project Debut Carbon DC
The Pros of the Essential II
The Essential II is a entry-level affordable turntable making it a great choice for newcomers. It has excellent crisp sound with the ability to let you hear more detailed sounds that may not be heard on more expensive turntables. One leading magazine in the UK on home entertainment called What Hi-Fi? gave it an award in 2015 for being the best turntable that cost under $400.
The Ortofon OM5e moving magnetic (MM) cartridge is a bonus as it is valued at $50 if bought separately. Many users feel that this cartridge is far better than others priced higher. It comes with the elliptical shaped stylus that has a low wear rate on records and distortion-free sound. The cartridge is held by a one-piece tonearm with sapphire bearings that is made of aluminum making it lightweight but sturdy, which most users felt was the reason it had few tracking problems. This part of the turntable is the most delicate and needs to be handled carefully, especially since you manually place it on the record.
As for the base that holds the platter, it is well-constructed with a nice quality finish made of lightweight laminated particle board. On the bottom are three rubber feet that grip the surface it’s sitting on.
The Cons with Solutions
The biggest here just might involve the drive belt that runs around the platter. It can be tricky to use and falls off easily. It would be nice to have a groove in the platter to keep it from slipping so much. If you have never used a turntable with a belt drive exposed, you should keep fingers clean of sweat or oil when handling and keep them away from the belt when changing records. And, of course, you should not put on or take off a record while the turntable is moving.
In one of the review forums there were a few people that complained that the Essential II didn’t have a preamp built in. They most likely were not aware that if the specs on a turntable do not say “plug-and-play” or “preamp built-in” then it means there is not a preamp included. They do this as some people already have a preamp so before you buy a turntable, you need to consider whether you want to get a model that already has one built in or not.
If you don’t know what a preamp is—it is short for preamplification also known as the phono stage. The short explanation is that the audio signal that comes directly from the cartridge is very faint so a preamp is required to amplify that analog signal before sending it to the main amplifier. For the long explanation, you can go to Wikipedia. The original purpose of the preamp was to amplify the ten percent bass that the record cannot produce because it’s not physically possible to record on vinyl. When the vinyl records were phased out, the amplifier manufacturers took the preamp out of the amplifiers. To make up for that some turntables come with a preamp built in.
There were some complaints that the base under the platter could be heavier as it’s not very sturdy. It is made of particle board which isn’t that heavy so using a heavier material like MDF would be a way to solve that and Pro-Ject has changed to MDF and other materials with their newer models. However, there may be other things coming into play that may solve a problem of slight movements, such as the placement of the turntable. It should always be on a wood flat surface because wood doesn’t resonate the sound as much as other material. It also should be somewhere that you can reach easily but should not be on the same shelf as the speakers. Plus, it needs to be at least a foot away from speakers, TV or anything that may cause a slight shifting.
For someone that’s used to having an auto return on the tonearm, not having it can be frustrating. This makes sense but it’s just a matter of time to get used to doing it manually. Also, there were a few complaints about the anti-skid being hard to set up properly and the weight easily falling off. Try watching YouTube videos on setting up the anti-skid, plus they have other tips.
Another thing to bring to your attention is that the dustcover may be stiff and hard to open and when opened, it can cause the platter to tip due to having only three feet to stabilize it. While playing your records, it’s not advisable to move the dustcover but instead just leave it open until you are finished using it. I agree that adding a fourth foot would help and Pro-Ject’s Debut Carbon did just that by adding a foot to make it more stable (more on that below in Comparisons).
If by chance you don’t get a parts list with your shipment, these are the items you should have in the box:
- A turntable with platter and a tonearm and cartridge with stylus (installed & packed together)
- AC power supply with a 6’5” DC cord and 3 AC plug adapters
- Drive belt, 45 RPM adapter, an anti-skate weight, and a counterweight
- Plastic hook tool and a two-point cartridge alignment protractor
- Dustcover, felt platter cover, and the Owner’s Manual
If there is anything missing, look up the number for a local dealer on Pro-Ject’s website and they can help you out. If you have any issues that are not answered in the Owner’s Manual, call your local dealer.
It is always good to compare any important purchase with others that are similar in price range to see if you are getting a good deal. So I have researched the differences between the Essential II and the below four turntables and these are the results:
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon vs Essential II
Its price runs $100 more than the Essential II. The cartridge is worth $100 more if bought separately. This model does not have a dustcover. It is more stable with a heavier base and has four feet instead of three. The belt is concealed and it has a larger platter. The carbon tonearm is more rigid but just as light. The calibrating may take more time. The sound may not seem much different to a new or casual listener but to the more experienced ear, it’s considered a step up from the Essential II.
U-Turn Orbit vs Pro-Ject Essential II
The U-Turn Orbit comes with preamp around the same price or without a preamp for almost $100 less. There’s no set-up as it comes ready to play right out of the box and has an acrylic platter. For those who want to buy only American-made, this is the one for you. Some reviews say it has inconsistent speed issues and a high wow and flutter. It is not as much a value as it used to be and there is no USB option.
Pro-Ject Debut III vs Essential II
Price varies a lot from $100 less to the same or up to $100 more with a preamp. There are many similarities to the Essential II, such as tonearm and cartridge. Some complaints are that motor starts humming after using for a few months. It is considered a solid entry-level turntable with plug-n-play available.
- You can read our review of the ProJect Debut III here.
Rega RP1 vs Pro-Ject Essential II
Price varies from $50 less to the same or more. It is similar to Essential II but cartridge upgrade may be needed. There are some complaints of speed variations. The motor can be louder than Essential II and others in same price range. Some said it is cheaply made and shouldn’t be in the same price range.
- You can read our review of the Rega RP1 here.
Essential II Phono USB and Digital
In your research, you may have come across other Essential II models, such as the Essential II Phono USB and the Essential II USB+Optical (or Digital). If you’re wondering what the differences are, I’m here to help you out. The main difference between the Essential II and the Phono USB is that the Phono USB has a built-in MM phono preamp and an analog-to-digital converter with USB connectivity compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux. It requires music-recording software to load onto your computer, which can be downloaded from the Internet. One thing that’s the same is the price. However, the Essential II Digital runs $50 more and has a built-in preamp that features digital fiber-optic and analog connections so it can be connected to multiroom systems, TVs, soundbars, or any device that supports 24 bit/96 kHz stereo digital audio.
All in all, the Essential II is a basic turntable that is a good pick for someone just starting out or anyone that is looking for one of the best affordable turntables around that sounds awesome. The fact that it won an award just two years ago for being the best turntable under $400 says quite a bit. Besides that, our pros are double the amount of the cons. Another plus is that 99 percent of the individual reviews said the sound was the number one thing they loved about it. If you don’t want to spend extra money on a preamp that would be sitting outside your deck, it would be best to get the Pro-Ject’s Essential II Phono USB with a built-in preamp at no extra cost.
Tips for the Beginner
If you are not familiar with how to care for your vinyl records (or LPs meaning long-playing), there are a few things that are important to know to keep your equipment running in tip-top shape. There are a lot of fancy accessories available that you can decide on later but to start out with, you will need a record cleaning brush and a stylus cleaning kit. Also, before you purchase the turntable is the time to learn about record maintenance. The Best Turntable is a website to learn how to clean and preserve your vinyl records.
Now imagine you are opening the box. Be careful not to rush too fast and end up damaging something. Slowly take the packaging out and place each piece gently down. Follow the written instructions or the video as you set up your terrific turntable!
Enjoy the music!
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