Pro-Ject Debut III S Audiophile

As Pro-Ject continues to expand its most popular turntable range, HFC checks out the Debut III S Audiophile

I recently found myself chatting with a fellow audio scribe about the number of turntables currently available. We discussed a few favourites and his final comment was: “Yes, a great selection; although about half of them are made by Pro-Ject!” While we chuckled, I couldn’t help thinking he had a point. Not since the late seventies, and the bewildering array of decks to be found in the Technics catalogue, has one manufacturer covered such a wide span with its model lineup. 

The latest sub-range to be augmented is the Debut Line. Not content with the Debut S/E3, Carbon DC (HFC 366), Carbon Esprit SB (HFC 383), Carbon Phono USB, RecordMaster and Carbon RecordMaster Hi-Res, it has now introduced the £325 Debut III S Audiophile, which is distinguished by the new S-shaped tonearm. 

The newcomer also introduces a few other new features, the most obvious of which is a new Pro-Ject logo. This graces both the plinth and the dust cover, and its arrival heralds some changes at the company, including the opening of a new headquarters in Austria, and expansion of its turntable factory in the Czech Republic.

The Debut III S Audiophile is based around a superbly finished gloss plinth, which is available in black or white. The sub-platter has a stainless steel bearing shaft, which spins in a brass housing and is driven by a flat belt from the motor – which is a synchronous AC type. Its drive signals are generated on a PCB inside the deck, with a wall-wart 15VDC power adaptor supplying the necessary juice to run everything. The main platter sits directly on the sub-platter and is 300mm in diameter and made from steel. A felt mat is supplied, but is not wholly successful in removing the resonance from the platter; more of which later. 

The S-shaped aluminium tonearm is 8.6in long and easy to set up and fine-tune. The adjustments available even include azimuth, as the arm tube can be rotated about its axis in the bearing housing after loosening a screw, which is convenient. It comes pre-fitted with a moving-magnet cartridge, which is another newbie from Pro-Ject, but one that is currently only available as part of a turntable package. Designed for the Austrian company and dubbed the Pick-IT 25 A, it’s based on an Ortofon OM10. However, internally, the coils have been replaced by pure silver types, which Pro-Ject claims: “Opens up the transparency of the cartridge” and offers better quality and dynamics. The deck’s output is via stereo phono sockets at the rear and a £45 Connect-IT E cable is bundled.

The final new feature is to be found underneath in the form of three feet constructed from Aluminium and TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer) to offer better levels of insulation against vibration. Exotic feet like this are usually found on more expensive decks, whereas I tend to be of the opinion that they make more sense on budget designs that are less likely to find themselves sat on a proper audiophile support. Their inclusion here gets a thumbs up from me.

Sound quality
The Debut III S Audiophile turns out to be aptly named. While many decks at this price level are thoroughly enjoyable, they can often ultimately be a little rough around the edges. Not so this one, as it has a poise and sophistication that belies its price tag. While it has absolutely no problem with bounding along like an excited puppy when the mood takes it, there is an underlying couthness that makes it sound surprisingly grown up.

Bass performance is impressively weighty which, again, puts it a step ahead of its peers. There is a caveat here, however. Initially, I find myself enjoying things, but with a slight feeling that the low end is a little fruitier than I would like at times; bass notes occasionally outstaying their welcome a little. However, years of turntable fettling leads me to point the finger straight at the mat and platter issue, and so it’s off with the felt mat and on with a Pro-Ject Leather-IT (£50) from my personal vinyl toolbox. 

Now, the platter responds with a dead ‘thunk’ when tapped with a fingernail, and bass lines are much tighter and better controlled. Jessie Ware’s Your Domino on 45rpm LP bounds along with verve and enthusiasm and the Debut III S Audiophile keeps everything at the low end under firm control. Even better, the bass guitar from Donald Fagen’s Morph The Cat is quite beautifully detailed.

Across the midband, the deck also does a very fine job of capturing instruments and singers vividly. Budget designs often tend to blur the finer aspects of the soundstage somewhat, but this separates individuals out surprisingly well. It images very competently and has good depth perspective, giving a fair sense of atmosphere to recordings. Ultimately its lateral perspective is somewhat curtailed and central image stability could be stronger, but I have to remind myself that this deck not only has a three-figure price tag, but it also has one that’s still a long way from four figures. All things considered, it turns in a very fine performance for the price. 

At the top end, however, it is clear that the newly developed cartridge is working its magic. I’m very fond of the old Ortofon OM series, but am well aware that it is a little soft around the edges. Not so the Pick-IT 25 A, however. Those silver coils imbue just the right amount of sparkle upon proceedings, but without ever straying into harsh territory. As a result, violin strings are vivid but without screech and the cymbals backing Outlaw Man by the Eagles shimmer delicately off into the distance. Out of curiosity, I dig out an Ortofon OM10 from another compartment in my audio toolbox for comparison. While the rich, smooth tones of the OM10 are like an old friend, the sound becomes a little soporific and loses its sense of keen musicality. As a result, I’d definitely stick with the cartridge as supplied, which balances the combination of deck and cartridge superbly.

Even though the Pro-Ject Debut range might already be a little daunting, the Debut III S Audiophile is a welcome addition. It takes the best of the existing models and adds a dash of extra sophistication and poise to their performance. The individual changes add up to a convincing package, and it is clear that this is a design that has been properly thought out. The whole is most definitely greater than the sum of the parts, but be sure to budget for a better mat. AS

Product: Pro-Ject Debut III S Audiophile
Price: £325
Origin: Austria
Type: Belt-drive turntable
Weight: 5kg
Dimensions: (WxHxD) 415 x 118 x 320mm

● 33 & 45rpm
●  8.6in S-shaped aluminium tonearm
●  Fitted with Pro-Ject Pick-IT 25 A moving-magnet cartridge

Distributor: Henley Audio Ltd.
Telephone: 01235 511166
Read the full review in June issue 437