Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB turntable

Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB

In a sense the Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB turntable isn’t really entry level, because you can buy some turntables for just a couple of hundred dollars. But I wouldn’t play my records on most of them. Let’s just say that this turntable is entry level for those who are getting serious about vinyl.

Review: Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB turntable

  • Australian Website: here.
  • Manual here. (Check your downloads folder for a PDF.)
  • Price: A$540
  • From: Legitimate Pro-Ject hifi retailers and direct from Australian distributor here.
  • Warranty: Two years
  • Country of Manufacture: “Handmade in EC”
  • About: Pro-Ject audio is based Austria. It was originally founded in 1991 to make turntables, just as the turntable business hit its nadir. It established its manufacturing in the newly freed (then) Czechoslovakia and has since broadened its offerings to consumer electronics.
Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB

Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB turntable features

So, what do you get for your $540? The Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB turntable is a proper two speed, belt drive turntable with a built-in phono pre-amplifier. The platter is 8mm-thick glass. Its mass ensures rotational stability. The paltter is covered by a felt mat. The on-off switch is on the left side near the front, while the selector for 33 1/3 rpm or 45 rpm is on the plinth, not far from the power switch.

The Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB turntable comes fitted with an 8.6-inch (218.4mm) tone arm which has been pre-fitted with an Ortofon OM5e moving magnet cartridge. This has a recommended tracking force of 1.75 grams. That’s rather low for a turntable in this price range. Many use higher than 2 grams of weight. So long as the stylus is tracking the groove properly, lower is better. (But never reduce the force below what the manufacturer recommends, otherwise it won’t track properly and will instead cause damage.)

The phono pre-amplifier can be switched out, allowing the signal to pass straight through from the cartridge to your amplifier, should it have a built-in phono preamp, or to a separate phono preamp.

The turntable comes with a perspex cover. Its hinges were fairly stiff. With the low tracking weight I had to be very careful with raising or lowering it the stylus would skip. A damped cue lever lowers the arm, but it’s winter at the moment and the whole thing had stiffened up. The arm would not lower when I brought down the lever. A gentle press on the arm support managed to get the arm down. I imagine it will loosen up with time.

Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB

Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB turntable setup

Pro-Ject promises very easy setup with this turntable. It was right. I put on the stopwatch. It took less than ten minutes to slit open the box, take out the parts, assemble them, plug in the turntable, put on a record and start it spinning. A big part of that is thanks to the pre-fitted cartridge and tone-arm counterweight, which are already set to give the right tracking weight.

According to my digital Rega stylus pressure gauge, the force was 1.78 grams. That is, within measurement tolerances it was spot on for the recommended 1.75 grams.

But it proved to be tricky to accurately adjust the force should you decide to upgrade to a different cartridge. There’s no easy adjustment. You have to just try to slide the counterweight by tiny amounts forwards or backwards to get the right measure. Since the counterweight grips the arm fairly tightly with a rubber bushing (a grub screw ensures it won’t move once adjusted), this was a slow trial-and-error process.

A simple plastic and quite accurate stylus pressure gauge is provided with the turntable, along with a cartridge alignment protractor, to assist. (If those terms mean nothing to you, don’t worry. You probably won’t be changing the cartridge anyway.)

Yep, the stylus weight was spot on.

Listening using the Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB

The turntable always fires up at 33 1/3 rpm, even if last used at 45 rpm.  I noticed this when playing the 12-inch single of “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats. Once I changed it to 45 rpm the music went from slow, dreary and flat to bouncy, engaging and rhythmic.

Like “Safety Dance”, most of my vinyl is pretty old. Until the last three or four years, I don’t think I’d purchased an LP since perhaps 1986. After that it was CDs all the way. Much of it is still of brilliant quality, but I have gotten ahold of a few albums in recent years. So even though we’re more than 21 years past the title year of Prince’s album 1999, and that was 17 years after the date of release, my copy of the album is only a few years old. My goodness, what a fine sounding album it was. The early 1980s wasn’t generally a good time for sound mixing tastes. This album, as delivered by the Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB turntable, was an exception. Bass was strong and tight, with a good solid thump from the kick drum.

That included tracks like “Delirious”, the closing one on Side 1. The inner tracks of an LP are typically the poorest sounding. That’s because the track curvature is at its greatest, the track linear velocity is at its lowest and the tracking angle error is at its (equal) greatest.

Smoother music

Laura Marling’s album Short Movies was very nicely presented, with a good intimate view of her close-miked voice. The percussive accompaniment had good bite and body. Stereo imaging was a little flatter than I would have liked, but it was acceptable.

Much better stereo imaging was from one of my old pressings, this one a 1983 release of Symphony No. 1 in E minor by Jean Sibelius, along with his Finlandia, played by the Gothenberg Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Neeme Järvi. This was a BIS release and BIS was a company that concerned itself with the quality of its recordings. In this one the Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB properly layered the elements of the orchestra, with a sweet delivery of the strings. The woodwinds to centre right were remarkably detailed.

And the deep rumble of the tympani in the final movement of the symphony was superb and did not upset proceedings in the higher registers in the slightest.

If I may be permitted a slight digression, after listening for a while I wanted to know more so I read the liner notes. This recording was made with just five Neumann microphones, mixed down to a Sony PCM-100. That was, I believe, an early adaptor which would convert analogue signals to 44.1kHz, 16-bit digital audio and modulate it so it could be recorded on a VCR. Early digital comes in for a lot of criticism, but this album shows much of it was unwarranted.

Skipping through the music

There was one record, though, that this turntable simply would not play. This also was a recent pressing which I purchased new a few years ago. It’s the 1966 album Blues Breakers John Mayall with Eric Clapton. By “would not play”, I mean that within a few seconds of starting to play it, the stylus would jump free of the track and skip in by a few millimetres towards the centre of the record, then repeat that a few times until it was much closer to the middle. I flipped the album and tried the other side. Same thing. I played the album on my (triple the price) Rega Planar 3. No problems. And then, to be sure, unpacked and installed another turntable I have in the review queue. Again, no problems.

What could be going on? Was the album warped? No. I pulled out my trusty record clamp and tightened down the album, just in case there was some invisible warp. No difference. I adjusted up the stylus pressure a little, up to 1.9 grams.  That’s why I know how fiddly that adjustment is. No difference.

At this point I felt I’d better explore some more. I played the “Trackability” test tracks on my old Shure test record. The Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB seemed to cope perfectly well with those.

Mono skating

Then I tried the skating test track. That’s a section of vinyl without any grooves. If anti-skating has been set up properly, then the stylus will just happily stay in the middle of this section. If there’s too much anti-skating, it will move towards the outside of the record. Too little and it’ll move towards the middle. With the Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB, the stylus positively … well, skated towards the middle. There was either no anti-skating or very little.

I’m guessing that the trouble with the album was a combination of little or no anti-skating, a fairly high groove modulation, relatively shallow-cut grooves and the fact that this album is mono. With stereo albums the groove modulations are both side to side and up and down. One 45-degree combination of the two gives the left channel, the other way the right channel. Mono albums are modulated to the left and right only. So they need not be as deeply cut.

Does this turntable have anti-skating? The manual doesn’t mention it, nor the specifications, so I’m going to guess no. Especially since there was no way of adjusting it.

What is skating? Because of the geometry of tonearms and turntables, there’s a net force on the cartridge towards the centre of the record. An anti-skating device – typically a weight on a string or a small hidden spring – applies a force the other way to counteract it. Usually the anti-skating mechanism is adjustable because the amount of skating is proportional to the stylus pressure.

Every other album I played worked perfectly well. And I don’t think I even have any other mono albums. Those Shure trackability tests are mono, so I’m not certain what gives.

Gadgetguy’s Take – the Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB Turntable is a high value player for a good price

Is all that a problem? Probably not. I played dozens of albums and only that one gave any trouble. For all the rest, the performance was very good, while the price is right and setup is easy. The one thing that troubles me is the apparent lack of antiskating. Perhaps that just the vinyl purist in me.

Value for money
Ease of use
Good sound
Good value for money
Very easy setup
Apparently no antiskating
Difficult to adjust counterweight