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Pro-Ject Audio Systems X1 turntable with Sumiko Olympia cartridge Review

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This Pro-Ject X1 started out on my good side right off the bat because all X1 turntables distributed by Sumiko now include the wonderful-sounding Sumiko Olympia moving magnet phono cartridge. I gave a very favorable review to the Olympia back in 2018. A number of turntable manufacturers include a very inexpensive phono cartridge to keep the price low. I have read comments that putting a cheap phono cartridge on a more expensive turntable is better than putting a quality phono cartridge on an inexpensive turntable. This is the exact opposite of my experience. I have found through my years of listening that the phono cartridge makes the biggest impact on the sound of your turntable setup because it comes into direct contact with the record. The differences between phono cartridges are readily apparent, whereas the differences between turntables are more subtle, provided your tonearm is compatible with the phono cartridge. My inexpensive Goldring turntable is combined with a Talisman moving coil phono cartridge and this was a significant improvement over the inexpensive phono cartridge I had been using with this turntable. This view was reinforced by my conversations with phono cartridge guru Peter Ledermann of Soundsmith.

I used the Pro-Ject X1 with the NAD PP1 phono stage. I used both my Wyred 4 Sound mINT integrated amplifier and my Antique Sound Lab tube line stage combined with a pair of Quicksilver 25-watt tube power amplifiers using KT77 output tubes. My aging pair of Acarian Systems Alon 1 were the primary speakers used. I used both AudioQuest and Monster speaker cables along with their interconnects throughout my main system. All records were cleaned with one of my Nitty Gritty vacuum record cleaning machines prior to playing.

The Sumiko Olympia comes already installed and aligned on the X1, which makes setup very easy. I did double check the alignment and tracking force, as I always do even when a cartridge is installed by the manufacturer or dealer. The azimuth seemed correct, so I left it alone. The vertical tracking angle also looked correct. When I first turned on the turntable, I listened to hear how quiet the Pro-Ject X1 turntable ran and this turntable passed with flying colors. You could hardly tell the motor was running, even when I was standing right next to the turntable. Next, I checked the speed accuracy with my strobe and template. The speed was accurate. Isolation from outside vibrations and interference was only fair because if I touched the turntable base or tonearm, I could hear noise, although this did not drastically affect my enjoyment of the music. This seems like an extremely well-engineered turntable for the price.

I listened to a variety of records using my Sumiko Olympia with my AR turntable before the arrival of the Pro-Ject X1 to make sure I was completely familiar with the sound. This would enable me to better compare the results of the Pro-Ject X1 using the same cartridge and the same components.

After I switched to the Pro-Ject X1, I let the cartridge have some break-in time before I started seriously listening .I have mentioned in the past that break-in time will not substantially change the basic characteristics of the phono cartridge, it just lets the stylus settle in to perform at its best. This also allowed me to double check the connections of all of the components.

I played a number of different genres of music to see how well the Pro-Ject X1 compared to my existing turntable, starting with General Public. I was looking for how quiet the background noise was playing older records. Next up was some Gerry Mulligan jazz, specifically K-4 Pacific. The Pro-Ject X1 did a nice job of keeping the record background noise to a minimum, no doubt helped by the fine tracking of the Sumiko Olympia. Imaging and soundstage were similar to the presentation I hear from my AR turntable, although this may be more a function of the Olympia cartridge. I played Lincoln Mayorga’s album The Missing Linc, which I purchased a couple of years ago at a record sale. This is a direct-to-disc recording, recorded straight to the master disc using no tape. I switched over to some classical music playing some Aaron Copland, one my favorite composers. I also played a recording of Handel’s Messiah on the L’Oiseau-Lyre label. I could not hear any inner groove distortion no matter which record I played.

Overall, the Pro-Ject X1 is a very musical sounding turntable, similar to my AR turntable. I am not sure if the lack of isolation on the X1 contributes a musical coloration, but I could listen to this turntable all day without fatigue. No matter which record I played, surface background noise was kept to a minimum, which is one of the biggest advantages of buying a better turntable.

I moved the turntable into my family room system where the Thorens TD-147 normally resides. Currently in this system I am using a pair of classic ESS Translinear speakers that I had refurbished a few years ago. The combination really filled my house with music and I really enjoyed the music because I could play the turntable almost all day, and move around the house as we often do with the Thorens. I played a wide variety of music, including classical, jazz and rock, just as I had with my other system.

This Pro-Ject turntable also has the ability to play 78 rpm records. The seventy-eight era was before my time; however, I did inherit some 78 rpm records. I haven’t played a 78 rpm record since I was a very young child, so I had to educate myself on the process. Based on my conversation with national sales and marketing director Jeff Coates, Sumiko will have the mandatory 3 ml stylus for the Olympia by the end of the year, which you can insert in the cartridge. I may do a follow-up with the records I have, if I receive the stylus in time.

I do have some minor criticisms on the X1. I mentioned earlier that I prefer a detachable headshell for convenience. Also, the headshell lift is very short, making it difficult for me to use. A detachable headshell would have made this easy to replace. Fortunately, the cueing is really nice, which minimizes the necessity for a better headshell lift. The tonearm rest was just loose enough to be annoying. The anti-skate adjustment was a little tricky to use. One other minor item was the power switch, which is located underneath the turntable as opposed to on top where it would be more convenient. I know I am nitpicking, and part of my issues are because I am so used to using my AR and Thorens tables — I guess change is really difficult for me. I do consider the Pro-Ject X1 a substantial upgrade over my Goldring turntable and, after an adjustment period, could get used to using the Pro-Ject table.

I still preferred both my AR “The AR Turntable” and my Thorens TD-147 turntables, especially their build quality and ease of use. When I checked the used prices of these vintage turntables, they would cost around $1,000, which is about the same price as a brand new Pro-Ject X1 turntable. There are issues when buying vintages turntables over 35 years old, as I have found out in the past, such as worn and broken parts that cannot be replaced without spending more than the turntable is worth. This is why I maintain my turntables by lubing the bearings and motor at least once a year. I also periodically replace the belt. When buying vintage, you are buying something that may have been misused. As the supply of quality vintage turntables dwindles, you now have the option to buy a brand new turntable that is ready to go with a full warranty for just under a $1,000, such as the Pro-Ject X1.

I did enjoy the time I spent with the Pro-Ject X1 turntable and would recommend it to anyone contemplating moving up from an entry level turntable or even just getting started in vinyl. The fact that it includes a quality $199 Sumiko Olympia phono cartridge, up-gradable to the Sumiko Moonstone, makes the $999 price very attractive. Spending a few dollars over the price of an entry turntable will get you a turntable that will give you years of enjoyable listening without having to change anything. Right now this would be one of my top choices for a turntable under $1,000.

I have been enjoying Sumiko products for the past 37 years, including my Sumiko Premier MMT tonearm; The Talisman S and Talisman A moving coil phono cartridges; and the Sumiko Olympia and Sumiko Rainer moving magnet phono cartridges. Sumiko continues to distribute some quality products and the Pro-Ject X1 turntable is another fine example. This company and their authorized dealers provide you with outstanding customer service, including their national sales and marketing director Jeff Coates and their customer service representative Amanda Castelli who helped facilitate this review. The average consumer would not need to contact Sumiko because the dealer can handle any concerns so Sumiko would be that extra customer service source.

Even though this turntable is a plug-and-play unit with everything ready to go, I would still recommend purchasing from your local authorized dealer. Unlike an amplifier or receiver, there may be some questions when unboxing and setting up the turntable properly. Working with a dealer ensures that if you have any problems they can be addressed right away. There are Pro-Ject authorized dealers all over the United States so for most consumers it is not necessary to buy online. I just prefer the safety net of a local authorized dealer.

Thirty-five years ago, who would have thought that turntables and playing records would still be popular while the compact disc has basically become obsolete due to music servers and streaming. You can find out why “Vinyl is making a comeback” and “to me it never left” by purchasing a quality turntable. After the quarantine is over, you can then browse the many record stores that seem to be opening up all over the place.


Copy editor: Dan Rubin


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