For those seeking the best possible sound you can get from a record player at the relatively affordable end of the spectrum, look no further. In our testing the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon really delivered on the promise of hi-fi sound, offering the best bass, sharpest high end, and the crispest overall clarity of all the models we tested. Just remember that the Debut Carbon doesn't have a built-in preamp, so you'll have to factor an extra $80 or so into the price if you don't already have one. We got great sound out of this turntable using the Pro-Ject Phono Box MM DC Phonograph Preamplifier. If you don't want to deal with the extra logistics of an external preamp, then the the Audio-Technica AT-LP120BK-USB, is a great choice. It sounds nearly as good as the Debut Carbon, has everything you need built-in, and is significantly less expensive.
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Review
Pros: Exceptional sound quality, high quality construction, easy to use
Cons: Susceptible to skipping if bumped, expensive
Manufacturer: Pro-Ject Audio
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon is our favorite sub $500 turntable for audiophiles looking for the best possible listening experience. Plus, it sports a stylish monochrome and minimalist aesthetic that will fit in with almost any decor.
The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon earned the top overall score in our testing, bolstered by its incredible sound quality and sturdy components. In the following sections we discuss how it fared in all of our individual tests.
The Debut Carbon was the clear frontrunner in our sound quality testing, earning a score of 9 out of 10.
What really sets this record player apart is its clarity. Everything we listened to was well defined with rounded fullness, and brought almost the same electric feel that comes with listening to live music. The dynamic range was also the widest of any model we tested, with ghost notes quiet enough that they stayed in the background while accented notes cut through with resonant impact. When compared to a standard mp3 played on the same speakers the Debut Carbon was a noticeable improvement, with better clarity and a warmer tone. If you're looking for a more refined listening experience, you won't be disappointed with this turntable. The only model that was at all comparable was the Audio-Technica AT-LP120BK-USB, but its clarity wasn't quite as crisp and its dynamic range was just a bit thinner.
The Debut Carbonwas also at the top of the leaderboard in our component quality testing, earning a 9 out of 10.
Overall the Debut Carbon's build is solid with both good craftsmanship and high quality materials. It uses a belt drive to reduce motor vibration, a goal also achieved with its relatively heavy aluminum platter (a slightly heavier acrylic upgrade is available) and felt mat. The tonearm is carbon fiber, one of the best materials available for the application, and it uses a high quality Ortofon 2M Red cartridge. This tonearm/cartridge combo was the best of any of the models we tested. The only product that had any better componentry than the Debut Carbon was the U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus, which comes with a slightly heavier acrylic platter. However, it would be easier to get the Debut Carbon and upgrade the platter than to buy the U-Turn and try to find a compatible carbon tonearm upgrade, so we still prefer the Debut Carbon overall.
The Debut Carbon was just off the top scorer in our user friendliness testing, picking up an 8 out of 10.
The Debut Carbon is generally easy to use, with an intuitive interface and a nice tonearm and cue lever that makes cueing quite straightforward and hassle free. However, it does have a few downsides that put it behind the Audio-Technica AT-LP120BK-USB in this metric, namely adjustability. Where the Audio-Technica offers pitch control and can play 33's, 45's, and 78's, the Debut Carbon has no pitch control and can only play 33's and 45's. This is by no means a deal breaker as pitch control is rarely used in day-to-day listening and 78's are fairly rare, but some people may appreciate the extra options of the Audio-Technica.
The biggest knock against the Debut Carbon was its anti-skate weight. While we had no problems with it in testing, a number of users have complained of it falling off. Even though we couldn't recreate the issue, we knocked the Debut Carbon's score because enough users have complained. Also, the Debut Carbon requires the extra step of finding and hooking up an external preamp. This is by no means difficult, but is something not required by any of the other models we tested.
Vibration resistance is the only metric where the Debut Carbon was only mediocre rather than exceptional, earning a fairly average score of 6 out of 10.
In our testing the Debut Carbon skipped anytime we bumped the table it was sitting on, even just gently. This was comparable with the other great sounding model we tested, the Audio-Technica AT-LP120BK-USB. We found that if you want a player that can handle a racous dance party without skipping, you'll have to sacrifice some sound quality and go with the Fluance RT81, which stood up to some relatively violent table bumps.
The Debut Carbon is the most expensive model we tested, and it requires the purchase of an external preamp, but it is also the best sounding model we tested. If you value sound quality then the Debut Carbon's price is commensurate with its performance. If you're just looking for the vinyl experience but don't want to spend close to $500, there are better values available.
The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon is the best sound quality you can get from a sub $500 turntable. It is the perfect entry point for audiophiles that want high end sound quality and a machine that can be upgraded in the future.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata