2022 was a great year for turntables with some excellent new affordable options from Pro-Ject, U-Turn Audio, Audio-Technica, Roksan, Fluance, NAD, and Technics. Having owned some very expensive decks in the past from Michell, Audiomeca, and Wilson-Benesch, I’m fully aware of the playback differences between $1,000 and almost $7,000 with a rather expensive Benz Micro MC at one point on the Michell Orbe SE.
A Michell Gyro SE is an aspirational product for me at this point; I am rather content with my restored Thorens TD-160 Super and TD-145 MKII from Vinyl Nirvana in New Hampshire.
Audiophile Entry-Level (Below $600)
Andover Audio SpinDeck Max Automatic Turntable ($599)
There is a lot of competition below $600 and I was fortunate this year to try many of them from Rega, Pro-Ject, Fluance, and Andover Audio. The level of performance that can be squeezed out of an entry-level deck is surprising, but for most people — they just want to set it up and listen.
I wasn’t really blown away by the SpinDeck but the SpinDeck Max is a completely different table that is manufactured in Germany for Andover. The automatic design just feels more substantial and it’s built to a much higher standard; which includes the tonearm and rather beefy platter.
The supplied Ortofon OM10 is fine but I swapped it out for a Grado Prestige Red3 which just sounds fuller and less bright in my office system. The SpinDeck Max is not a fancy deck but it comes across as slightly more authoritative sounding with excellent pace in most systems. It can also be tweaked with a cork platter from Analog Restorations and certainly benefits from some isolation. You might be surprised at what this deck can do with a better cartridge and phono preamplifier.
Pro-Ject Debut PRO ($1,000)
Having spent two months with the Debut Pro which proved to be one of my favorite products of 2022, I’m more than confident to recommend it to anyone in the $1,000 range. Inflation has pushed everything higher but I’d still spend the extra money on this one.
I compared the Debut Pro to all 5 tables that I have at home and while I’m not in any hurry to swap it out for my Thorens TD-160 Super/Rega RB-303/Ortofon 2M Black setup, it certainly kept my attention for almost 60 days.
Pro-Ject has the ability to manufacture almost anything and the new tonearm and very inert platter elevate this table in a very substantial way; it sounds far more forceful and dynamic compared to the Debut EVO tables that lack some bottom end weight and presence in comparison.
Audiophile High-End ($2,500+)
Pro-Ject X2 B ($1,799)
Does balanced really make a difference?
My experience suggests that it does if you have to contend with certain noise issues.
Almost 22 years ago, I invested in a very expensive turntable and felt that I had reached vinyl nirvana. I paid a professional $200 to properly install the cartridge, setup the table which had a finicky suspension system, and help me mount the turntable shelf to the wall.
My building at the time was a pre-war in downtown Toronto that needed an upgrade on the electrical front. Noisy to say the least.
No matter what I tried, my turntable setup always sounded noisy; ground loop issues, constant hiss, and it became a a source of depression (first world problems). Why bother spending almost $8,000 on such a system if it sounded terrible.
A local dealer suggested that I have my arm and table modified so that I could run a fully balanced rig; which also included upgrading to a balanced phono stage. I sold a few other items to facilitate the changes.
But when I listened to the same records that mattered to me — I was stunned by the differences in clarity, noise floor, and overall dynamics of the sound.
Does a balanced setup always sound better? Not necessarily and I’m not convinced that every manufacturer who markets “balanced” is really offering that.
The Pro-Ject X2 B offers both single-ended and balanced connection options, but you do need to use an MC cartridge for a balanced setup.
Is there a huge gap between the Debut PRO and the X2 B? Fair question.
If running the same MM cartridge like a Sumiko Wellfleet, I would still give the edge to the X2 B when it comes to impact and overall resolution, but the gap isn’t enormous.
However, when running a MC cartridge into one of the Pro-Ject balanced phono pre-amplifiers or something like the Moon by Simaudio 610LP — the gap between the two tables is rather enormous.
The clarity, bass impact, soundstage depth and width, and overall dynamics of the system totally changes.
The Pro-Ject X2 B goes from being a very good $1,799 turntable to a rather exceptional table that can compete with with some tables in the $2,500 to $3,000 range and I’ve heard enough $3,000 tables to know.
My rather long and in-depth review after Thanksgiving. Learn more here.