While vinyl makes up just a small sliver of all total music sales, the format’s surging popularity among a niche market of audio enthusiasts is evidence that there is an increasing number of consumers who are searching for music that isn’t damaged by the effects of low-resolution files, or listless from the effects of heavy-handed mastering techniques.
A new era of turntables has risen to meet the needs of these listeners. These products deliver the advantages of analog audio through modern engineering that maximizes the potential of the LP. One of the leading turntable manufacturers is Pro-Ject, and the company recently introduced its Xpression Classic to the specialty and custom markets through its American distributor, Sumiko.
The Xpression Classic is a reasonably priced, mid-level product with many cost-friendly benefits that mid-tier products don’t typically offer. For example, the $799 table ships with a Sumiko Pearl moving magnet (MM) cartridge and elegant dust cover. It also offers removable output cables, allowing for future upgrades.
Other standard features include Pro-Ject’s 8.6c carbon-fiber tonearm, a balanced aluminum platter, a low-noise motor and a choice of gloss black, mahogany and olive wood finishes.
Some of the installation adjustment options include vertical tracking angle (VTA), azimuth and tangency.
I don’t claim to be a turntable expert. Most of what I’ve learned has come through the restoration of my Thorens TD-160, conversations with experienced industry veterans and watching instructional videos.
I am happy to say the Xpression Classic did not test my limited turntable knowledge during the setup process.
After unpacking the unit and removing the shipping screws I put on the pulley belt and the platter. Next, I removed the safety that secures the tonearm; I placed the cork mat on the platter (Pro-Ject also ships a felt mat with the table) and I inserted the output cable that includes an integrated ground that is secured by tightening an easy-to-access rear-mounted screw.
Following up those basic steps I moved on to the counterweight and anti-skate setup. To install the counterweight I followed Pro-Ject’s somewhat cryptic instructions that said to screw the weight on until the arm balanced itself, and I hung the anti-skate weight that prevents tonearm movement.
Finalizing the setup, I checked the VTA, needle azimuth and anti-skating force. Following Pro-Ject’s instructions, I found the company’s anti-skate recommendation, which is essentially resting the anti-skate mechanism (a weighted string) over the middle notch on the back of the tonearm assembly.
Verifying my setup, I attempted to drop the needle on a record. I found that I didn’t set the counterweight correctly. Running back through the steps I was able to correct my error.
In all, it took me about 45 minutes to setup the turntable up. With some practice it is safe to say that I could easily shave that time down.
The first records I spun were The Cars’ self-titled debut album and ELP’s Greatest Hits. For what it’s worth I think The Cars’ debut LP sounds great on vinyl and lousy on CD. I should mention that most of my listening was done with Cary Audio PH302 MKII phono preamp and NAD Masters M3 integrated amp. I also used Bryston’s B135 SST integrated amp with the MM phono input.
I was immediately impressed with the table’s dynamics and detail. I thought the bass may have been a little ripe, but after running the table through the break-in period I found the low end to mostly even out. On records from The Eagles and Triumph I did detect a bit of bloat in the upper bass (it may be a bit forward-sounding in the midrange to some), but for the most part I liked how big and well-defined the Xpression Classic reproduced lower frequencies.
One of the strong points of the table is its ability to dynamically groove. What I mean by this is that I could literally feel every downbeat. Part of this I believe, especially with old records, is that back then mastering engineers didn’t limit dynamic range of recordings like they do today. The Xpression Classic, to its credit, is able to communicate the richness of older recordings. Once it breaks in it will also provide a nice image with lots of resolution in the midrange. On the solo section of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Flying High Again” it was great to hear the guitar solo modulate over the key changes without sounding muddy or congested.
Compared to the more expensive tables from companies like VPI or my Thorens with an RB-303 arm on it, the Xpressions Classic isn’t quite as smooth, but its ability to engage a listener more than makes up for this shortcoming. For getting into analog or perhaps upgrading your lower-end turntable, the Xpression Classic represents a fantastic buy.
As an incremental step up from entry-level tables it is an incredible value, providing music lovers with a clear upgrade path too. It is a foundational piece to great analog sound through its inclusion of key items like a pre-mounted phono cartridge. It also sounds great — it’s lively and dynamic, and it projects a nice detailed image. Throw in its upgrade options that include output cables, phono cartridges, as well as the addition of Pro-Ject add-ons such as the Speedbox products that better regulate the table’s operational speed, and this is a can’t-miss solution for analog-curious enthusiasts.
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Sumiko Pearl Fitted Cartridge
33 / 45 / 78 rpm (78 optional)
-70dB Signal Noise
8.7g, 8.6-inch Carbon Fiber Tonearm
10-30mN Tracking Force
MSRP is $799
It’s a turnkey analog audio solution. It comes with everything necessary to get into the world of analog audio.
Great stock sound with lots of upgrade options.
Sets up easily.
It could sound smoother, but that’s a nitpick and not really a fair criticism.
Setup instructions are cryptic.