Published on December 6th, 2012 | by Greg
Sumiko Pro-Ject Debut Carbon: Analog Architecture
Turntables and vinyl LP records. Analog audio, belt-drives, and cartridges. These are things that the average home listener probably hasn’t worried about in decades- and unless you’re a hipster or an audiophile, chances are that you might not have listened to a vinyl record at home in your lifetime.
But you’ve been missing out. Streaming digital audio is amazing and MP3 files are great, but there remain many pieces of music out there only available on vinyl. Plus, the audio quality is different- most folks under 40 might not believe the claim that it’s “better”, but it’s certainly more intimate. There are more ways to affect the sound quality and style, and the warmer reproduction often features variability that is part and parcel of the experience. We won’t say that it’s easy, or that setting a record player up is as simple as loading a library in iTunes. Still, it’s a challenge worth meeting for any audio lover, and if you’ve wanted to play some of Dad’s old records- or want to join the growing number of fans who like the sound and the ethos- we’d recommend starting with the Sumiko Pro-Ject Debut Carbon.
Though it may be considered an “entry-level” record player, this is anything but your Grandfather’s basic model. There is little or nothing about it that is truly old-school besides the theory- every part has been engineered and designed to very modern specifications with new (even futuristic) materials. Witness the “carbon” part of the name, in the carbon fiber tonearm, the part that reaches over the holds the needle above the record and a piece where minimal weight and maximum stability is crucial. The Debut line has won a wide range of awards for the tricky balancing act of price versus quality, and we were impressed at the precision afforded by this relatively inexpensive unit. The Debut Carbon can be hard to find perhaps- it’s sold out many places we’ve looked-but is a record player well worth the search and the pricetag.
As we mentioned, setup isn’t simple, though that’s true for most decent audio gear. The belt-drive here means that it’s superior for playback, but isn’t suitable for DJs or turntabling. Assembly is a multi-step process and though the directions are decent, they aren’t perfect and unless you’ve done this before, it will take time and trial/error. After unpacking the unit, take a moment to appreciate the lovely high-gloss color of the base. Ours was a vivid blue, but they are also available in black, red, green, yellow, silver, and white. You’ll have to wind the belt around the unit, after setting up the 300mm platter and laying out the bits and pieces. Unlike more automatic models, changing between 33 and 45 rpm speeds is a task here, requiring manual key adjustment, so if you plan on changing between the formats quite often you might want to consider a different player. Make sure that you remove the sticker from the cartridge (easy to overlook), and bask in the inclusion of an excellent one, the Ortofon 2M Red. The cartridge is the heart and soul of a player, and this particular one normally costs $100 on it’s own.
Oh, and did we mention the weight? No? We wish we could forget about the next part, where you attach weights to the arm and carefully adjust them in two different ways (first macro, then micro). It’s not easy to do, and it is easy to accidentally mess up. And when that part is over and your tonearm magically moves to a neutral position, you then have to take a small weight with fishing line attached and connect it through a loop and over a set of ridges that require good eyesight and a steady hand to align properly. Sound complicated? Well, enjoy trying to plug in the connections after you’ve done it, and then re-doing everything all over again when you realize that they are difficult to get to as they are recessed under the unit. And we hope you’ve taken a level to the player first, since that’s kind of essential. Our felt mat was also a bit rumpled and bent, so we had to flatten it out for a while before records would lay nicely flat.
If you can get through that, the Debut Carbon is without a doubt a thing of beauty. The lack of visible controls adds to the effect, though means you’ll be bumping it around a bit when trying to get at them. The dust cover is excellent, and adjustable so you can showcase your unit. And there are lots of technical details that help ensure smooth, accurate, nuanced, and consistent playback (things to avoid include ‘wow’ and ‘flutter’, and you’ll learn about motor damping and Sorbothane™ suspensions if you know what is good for you). Decent RCA cables are even included with the player.
Simply put, there is no other record player out there that comes close to achieving this level of quality at the reasonable price of $400 or so, in a gorgeous museum-worthy setup. The Debut Carbon brings high-tech materials and design to your home theater system, and does it with exceptional style at a great price. We can’t fault it much for being difficult to setup- that’s the nature of the analog world- and we’re proud to have much of our staff’s introduction to the vinyl world be through such a solid device.