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Equipment Review, Pro-ject 6 Perspex VS. Marantz TT15S1 TurntablesPublished 2016-08-08
As the dealer, my opinions do not match his exactly, which is why I carry both tables. That said I do agree with his conclusions in that if you are in the market for “up to a 2k table” these two are both worth an audition, and spending the 25% more on the Pro-ject could be a reasonable consideration.
Here’s what DJH as to say;
"An enthusiast's review of the Marantz TT-15S1 and the ProJect 6 Perspex SB w/SuperPack Combo"
I'm one of those people described as having "great attention to detail" which generally isn't meant as compliment. This is a lengthy comparison and is intended for someone seriously considering purchasing one of these two turntables. Hopefully I answer, or bring to light, many of the answers I couldn't find when reading other reviews when I was researching these two units for my own consideration.
I've been an avid music fan for over 35 years and have owned and listened to media on reel-to-reel, 8 track, cassette, CD, DVD-A, SACD, and vinyl of course. I admit I have not owned a turntable since the mid 80's, but I became curious with the recent surge in popularity of the vinyl format. Production is increasing every month with new material and re-releases of original master recordings, and the surge of used record stores like Rich's Record Emporium in Collinsville, IL make finding affordable used music easy. New turntables generally start around $200 and can easily reach $10,000+ for those with a strong passion for vinyl and deep pockets to match.
For my reintroduction to vinyl, I started with a used but well cared for vintage 80's semi-automatic Yamaha P-220 with an Audio Technica cartridge rebranded in a Yamaha shell. It's amazing how many vintage tables are available between $50 and $200, but the more complex automatic tables are more likely to develop operational issues given their age. The P-220 worked fine and sounded pretty good, but I very quickly made the decision to stop treading water and proceeded to do a running cannonball into the deep end of the vinyl pool and set a budget of $1000-2000. Few companies make automatic tables at this price point and there are cost compromises as such. After looking at a few Thorens models I compared the price point to what level of technology could be owned in a manual table, and decided on either a Marantz TT-15S1 ($1499) or the Pro-Ject 6 Perspex ($1799) with the SuperPack Combo (extra $200). The SuperPack comes with a higher quality ProJect CC RCA cable and the Sumiko Blue Point Special EVO III High Output MC cartridge. The cable retails for around $90-100 and the cartridge around $550 so the Superpack is a no brainer if you need a cartridge.
Both tables are fairly similar in design. They both heavily utilize acrylic, have high end hand built cartridges sourced from a different company, are belt driven, have independant isolated motors, three adjustable aluminum feet, beautiful well reviewed tonearms, and both come with a record clamp. This review is broken down into sections directly comparing each part of these tables in critical detail with a selected winner for each part, and an overall winner in the summary at the end of the review. Let's get started!
The Marantz originally was produced with a clear acrylic plinth and was later changed to frosted acrylic, most likely to reduce fingerprints. Acrylic is naturally non-resonant, plus it tends to score high on the appearance scale with most people. The Pro-Ject (Perspex is a European brand of acrylic like Plexi is in the USA) plinth is completely clear acrylic. Some owners have found intersting ways to use colored LED lights which project (pun intended) LED lighting through the acrylic for an ambiance change and this can be done on either of these tables. Who wouldn't like the warm glow of a tube amp showing through your turntable?
WINNER: Tie, frosted or clear is a personal preference but note that the sand blasted exterior is just on the surface and any scatches cannot be polished out of frosted acrylic, unlike regular cast clear acrylic.
The Marantz has three substantial aluminum feet that taper slightly on the bottom. Two are adjustable but I prefer three in case the fixed one is the low foot. The Pro-Ject also has 3 aluminum feet, all adjustable, and are dampened by Sorbothane, a highly inert material which will absorb induced mechanical vibrations coming from the floor or speakers. The Pro-Ject's feet are also highly tapered and come to a point on the bottom. Little metal discs are supplied to rest the points on or gouging will most likely result on whatever the turntable is placed on. Pointed feet also reduce teh contact area with the table further aiding in the isolation of small mechanical vibrations coming from underneath. Some loud speakers and subwoofers also utilize cone feet to decouple them from the floor as well.
WINNER: Pro-Ject for dampening, isolation (pointed feet), and slightly better adjustability.
The Marantz's platter is also of the same frosted acrylic as the plinth and was perfectly machined with no variances while rotating. A felt mat is supplied but is optional. The vertical tracking angle of the arm/cartridge must be set based on whether the mat is used or not and a spacer is included to make that easy.
The Pro-Ject is primarily MDF (medium density fiberboard) and bonded to a 4mm covering of recycled melted down records. Pro-Ject claims no mat is needed and this vinyl coating is sufficient for dampening and grip although I found it to be quite slippery if a record was placed on top without using the included record clamp. Dual materials (MDF and vinyl) also tend to help dampening of vibrations coming from the plinth but there isn't much room left on the spindle to run an additional mat if one so desired. I also noticed a slight vertical wobble during rotation, not unlike some records with a slight warp. I've never been a fan of MDF as it's a very cheap material and over long periods of time can be succeptable to moisture warpage. The vinyl coating completely covers the platter providing an excellent moisture barrier however so this most likely will never happen. Even the holes drilled on the underside for balancing were then sealed with the vinyl covering. Much more expensive turntables also use MDF frequently so it's technially a tried and trued material so I didn't hold my personal feelings of the cheapness of MDF against the Pro-Ject in this case.
I'd also like to mention that the Pro-Ject's spindle is threaded for the included clamp (more on that later) but is tapered off well where the threads stops to reduce the chance of damaging the spindle hole on your records and the top is rounded and polished as well. You'd have to be very careless for this to be an issue, unlike other units with rough cut and threaded spindles. This isn't a "plus" for Pro-Ject but worth mentioning that the threading was done right.
WINNER: Tie, this was a tough call given the slight wobble on the Pro-Ject platter, but the dual material and slight extra mass (2kg+clamp) made up for it in dampening performance to result in the tie.
The Marantz has none and the platter rides directly on the bearing in the plinth. This isn't a bad thing as most turntables do not employ a sub-chassis. The Pro-Ject however, has one of the more complex setups I've seen, and is the most unique feature of this model and trickle down technology from their higher end tables. The sub-chassis is made of Corian, a material used in many kitchen coutertops that happens to be very resistant to vibrations. In addition to this material there are three adjustable magnets below the sub-chassis that suspend it over the plinth, nearly decoupling the two. There are two small steel guide pins to keep everything lined up but this leaves very little contact area to transfer mechanical vibration coming up from the plinth. The platter and tonearm both mount to this Corian sub-chassis also decoupling them from the floor.
I read many "official" reviews of this suspension and every one of them scratched their heads and left it at factory settings. There are three locking screws used for shipping that have to be removed before installing the platter. I noticed that they were under a decent amount of force and after all three screws were removed, the sub-chassis popped up quite a bit from the magnetic force under them. There is no mention of how to adjust this suspension in the manual other than "level the sub-chassis". More force is needed at the magnet nearest the tonearm pivot due to the extra weight on that part of the sub-chassis. I initially experienced horrible skipping from walking which the table was in use. It was only after extensive research that tables with suspensions are not recommended for rooms/house with floor joists as the are very sensitive to footfalls. Suspension tables are best suited to concrete slab floors, or if you're internal walls are sturdy enough a wall mount for the table can isolate it from the floor enough where the suspension becomes a benefit. Given that I have none of these options I adjusted the magnetic force to the max setting, effectively locking it down to the plinth. It's a shame that there are no warning or guidlines on the Pro-Ject website or manual about this. Then again, many companies use suspension (usually spring based) and none tend to disclose potential footfall issues.
WINNER: Pro-Ject, but it takes some setup experience and may not be for the faint of heart. If you can level a table and mount a cartridge, you can tune this sub-chassis. It's shameful the instructions have no mention of this other than "remove the shipping screws".
5. Platter Bearing
The Marantz uses a single steel ball bearing at the bottom of a machined bronze bushing cylinder. It's easy to lose and has a reminder to tape it up during transport and not to invert the table because it may fall out. It also shipped with a small bottle of Clearaudio's expensive synthetic lubricant. There is a precision machined aluminum cylinder that holds the platter and has a steel pin that rides on the bearing. It's highly precise, well machined, and effective.
The Pro-Ject utilizes a similar single bearing but is inverted and has a ceramic thrust-pad. Imagine a post with the ball on top. It's contained and cannot fall out and uses some form of white grease compared to the oil used in the Marantz. It's hard to tell which lubricant is better, but grease tends to stay put which is important since the bearing is at the top and oil would eventually wick down the shaft leaving the bearing dry. The bronze bushing/cylinder is mounted to the platter in this case, and slides over the steel shaft holding the bearing in the plinth. The Pro-Ject spun longer than the Marantz platter. Regardless, less friction or increased mass tends to reduce speed variance while rotating (wow).
WINNER: Pro-Ject (Mass can also alter how long a platter will rotate when not under power, but the Pro-Ject platter also moved with very little force and just spun forever it seemed. High mass and low friction may explain the slightly better speed variation rating of the Pro-Ject but this could due to motor stability as well.)
The Marantz has a nice self contained and detached A/C motor and pulley system. It actually sits within a forth hole at the back left of the plinth giving the impression it's a forth foot, but it doesn't actually touch the plinth, reducing transmitted vibrations. The power switch is a simple round rocker type mounted on the side, and the body is the same attractive aluminum and complements the three feet. It's very awkward to flip the power switch and even harder to do so without moving the motor which would then touch the plinth, breaking its mechanical isolation. I found an easy solution was to plug the power cord into a 6-way power outlet with its own switch and use that to turn the motor on and off. The motor is a low torque model which struggles at times to rotate the platter from a dead stop. It's fine once up to speed and Marantz claims this was intentional because an overpowered motor would create additional electrical interference than could be picked up by the cartridge. This may be possible but I'm presonally skeptical because super high torque direct drive DJ tables don't seem to have a problem. I found a gentle helping push to get the platter started before powering on the motor worked well. Although this didn't bother me personally, many consumers may feel the motor should be sized properly to not need assistance at start up. I've also heard of new owners sending the table back for warranty for a defective motor for just this reason, but never heard if the same motor was sent back, or if a "secret" higher torque motor was used as a replacement for customers that complained. Your preference may vary, but in a mechanical table one extra step in helping spin up the platter shouldn't be a deal breaker for any potential owner.
Although the Marantz motor was effective enough, there is one glaring problem, inrush current. When an electrical circuit is powered on or off there is a momentary spike in power drawn until the circuitry can stabilize to the nominal operating current. Ever hear a loud pop out of your speakers when turning am amplifier on or off? This is the inrush current taking place and boy does the Marantz motor have it. Of course you can just lower the volume on your amplifier while turning it on or off, but I find this disappointing at this price point because there is no performance reason to not include a means to handle the inrush current, unlike a low torque motor and its "theoretical" lower EMI/EMF generation. The "pop" from the speakers is significantly louder than and sound from dropping the stylus down and it happens again when powering the motor off. A lot of high end equipment does this, but I still find it disappointing given how easy it is to handle it.
Finally, to change speed between 33 and 45 rpm you need to manually move the belt to a different rung on the two step plastic pulley. Marantz doesn't recommend touching the belt with bare hands as the natural skin oils can reduce the life of the belt and cause traction issues between the belt and pulley which could definitely impact speed stability as it hits intermittent slicks spots on the belt and can slow the platter down. A pair of cloth gloves are included for belt handling and even for overall plinth movement, although the frosted acrylic is much more resistant to fingerprints. Although I used the gloves for belt installation I noticed on some startups I could actually hear a little belt slippage. Giving the platter a helpful spin before turning the motor on prevented this slippage in addition to preventing any non-starts from the low torque motor.
On to the Pro-Ject's motor. This is where Pro-Ject really hit it out of the park. The motor is a cylindrical, aluminum unit not unlike the Marantz, but is anodized black to match the tonearm and other black accents and hardware, but is a silver/grey on the top. It's an AC motor like the Marantz, but also has a DC driven AC generator. The pulley is a single groove silver aluminum part that is a slightly different shade than the top of the motor. The motor also sits in the back left of the plinth but rests on top of a foam pad on the plinth for isolation from vibration. You can't beat the full isolation of the Marantz motor, but this seemed to work well enough on the Pro-Ject and motor rumble was non-existent. Keep an eye on the foam because this will be the material that will break down first as years pass by.
There is a single button on the top of the unit that performs all functions. It's clear and lights up green when in stand-by mode. A single press down powers up the motor, the green light turns off, and the top LED light starts blinking blue. Definitely enough torque here to not require assistance on startup and it seemed to gradually build up speed rather than applying full torque right away. This was a nice touch and results in less belt slippage at startup and longer belt life. In 8-10 seconds or so the light turns solid blue, letting you know it's ready. I never found this startup time to be too long because it was always ready by the time I ran a few revolutions of a carbon fiber brush over the record and queued the tonearm. To change speeds between 33 and 45 rpm simply tap the same single button. The top LED goes dark and the lower LED light then starts the same blinking blue, and turns solid blue when the speed is at 45 rpm. Another press of the button shifts back to the top LED and 33 rpm. The built-in speedbox usually sells separately for $100-200 and is a recent upgrade on the 6 Perspex. Previous models had a two step pulley that required manual belt changes like the Marantz. The button setup is also a newer design as most pictures I've seen show a small rocker switch on the top of the motor. This is the first 6 Perspex I've seen in person and I definitely like this new motor design both in form and function. And the big finish is.... no inrush current on power up or down!
WINNER: Pro-Ject (Not just a home run, but a walk-off grand slam in game seven of the World Series. Pro-ject, your champagne is in the mail....if you update the user manual with a section dedicated to sub-platter setup.)
The Marantz uses a clear, round, seamless silicone belt. That's a lot of words to describe a belt, but it's actually very nice and they even include a $30 spare. The clear belt also blends well with the frosted acrylic platter.
The Pro-Ject uses a flat black, round, rubber-like belt. I couldn't tell what material it is and I think I found a seam. Not that a seam impacts performance at all, but may possibly reduce life if it splits at the seam. Only one belt is included. The flat-black color blended well with the acrylic coating on the platter.
WINNER: Marantz (Better belt design and included a spare)
Both units include a clamp and are optional to use. The Marantz included a Clearaudio branded "Clever" pressure clamp made by Southern Engineering. It's clear plastic, about 3" in diameter, and simply presses down over the spindle and stays in place from the grip it has on the spindle. It's effective, very to easy to use, and available separately for around $30 retail. I used it because it was included in the TT-15S1 but I would not pay $30 for such a simple piece of plastic that is operationally no different than one of those huge metal paper clips.
The Pro-Ject includes their own in-house clamp that threads onto the spindle. It's all metal, just a bit smaller in diameter than a record label and probably weighs around 100-125 grams but that's just a guess. Although it adds a slight amount of mass, it's primarily a clamp and not a weight. Fortunately, the knob on the top is a separate piece so when you spin it on the threads to tighten the clamp, it doesn't rotate the bottom piece which would grind on the label. It's a smart design, but the contact area on the label is only on the very outside of the bottom of the clamp and still may cause wear if used on the same record over many plays. There are also very few threads on the spindle so if the clamp is used you probably won't be able to use an additional mat if you wanted.
WINNER: Pro-Ject (extra mass, variable pressure, good 2-piece metal design)
Here is where the bread and butter of most tables resides and neither pulled any punches. The Marantz utilizes a custom version of a Clearaudio Satisfy tonearm. The retail Satisfy is a carbon fiber armtube with polished sapphire watch bearings on both bearing axis and retails for around $1600 by itself, more than the entire Marantz TT-15S1, including the cartridge! The vesion in the Marantz utilizes an anodized aluminum armtube and has ceramic bearings on the less critical axis and sapphire watch bearings on the other. Very, very nice for a bundled arm. The arm rest/holder is cheap clear plastic that you almost "snap" the arm into when not in use. It works, but gave me the impression that it may break after a lot of use. Clear plastic is brittle and this is a stress part because of the repeated bending, like the clear pastic clamp. The lift arm itself is a little cheap looking and very thin shiny steel which contrasts the beatiful machined aluminum that makes up all the separate parts of the tonearm and its base. The lift arm reminded me of a paperclip with a rubber cap on teh end. The horizontal lift pad is of the same nice machined aluminum, but whatever material is used as padding between it and the arm has too much friction and has a slight angle to it. When lowering the arm onto a record, it doesn't drop straight down and tends to slide out at least a few grooves of where you think it should land. I noticed this right away and had to catch it many times. If not paying attention you could literally miss the record and the arm and stylus could drop off to the side completely.
The counterweight is a nice machined piece of aluminum with a rubber insert that acts like a nut when threaded onto the back of the tonearm. The rubber provides good resistence so the weight will not rotate once the proper vertical tracking force is set. There are no numbers on the weight, but a sticker is provided to set "zero" once the arm is balanced. Unfortunately, because the rubber is acting as the female threads, if you ever remove the weight, the sticker number will be off because new "threads" will most likely be cut into the rubber when reinstalling the weight. It also wobbles a bit as you turn it but that's a very minor complaint. I'd also recommend holding onto the arm when rotating the weight as more force is required than most other VTF adjustments I've used. 2.0 grams of downforce takes about two full revolutions of the counterweight so it's easy to obtain very precise tracking force down to maybe 0.05 gram increments.
The headshell is a nice two piece machined aluminum design. The catridge is mounted to the small inverted "T" and then the post is inserted up into a slot in the arm and tightened with one screw. Very easy to install and adjust length, but I found it nearly impossible to adjust cartridge skew compared to the usual two slot mounting method. Most likely it's set perfectly for one of the three main cartridge alignment methods, but it doesn't specify which one. Clearaudio claims this headshell design also allows for azimuth adjustment but there's mention of it in the manual so you'll have to hunt for a tiny screw somewhere back near where the tonearm mounts to the pivot probably.
The anti-skate is a mixed bag. Initially, I thought it was pure genious. This arm doesn't use the standard internal spring or hanging weight to provide the counterforce. Instead, there is a magnet on a threaded shaft off to the right and towards the back of the tonearm near the bearing and pivot point. In the arm itself, you can see three small magnets of opposite polarity that provide different levels of "push" as they get closer to the big magnet as the arm rotates from the outer to inner grooves. The instructions only say to install it in the middle and adjust as needed. No numbers or measurements. I remember hearing horrible inner groove distortion from two rooms away on one record and ran to the plater to see what happened. Forty-five minutes later, and after confirming that all other adjustments were still where I originally set them at, I started to suspect the anti-skate. I started adjusting by ear and when that one song was tolerable (it's on the last song on that side) the first track on the outer grooves then sounded like a child with a bad lisp. Breaking out my test records that have large sections of grooveless areas allowed me to see the impact of the threaded magnet and what forces were applied to the arm. Anti-skate is a non-perfect technology and designed to be set as the best average over the entire sweep of a record. With no grooves to pull or direct the arm I could see just how much force was applied to the arm and in which direction. It was crazy to see the arm literally change direction on whether it wanted to drift in or out just by turning the thread magnet a few turns. Unfortunately, adjusting for the inner grooves used most of the threading and also threw the outer tracks completely out of synch. I couldn't find a happy medium and came to the conclusion that it was a phenominal idea, but poorly implemented in this particular arm. I couldn't trust the setting and felt it was more inconsistent than the cheaper wound spring method of applying anti-skate force on budget tables. I thought about breaking out my calipers and protractors to fined the exact distances of the arm magnets and calculate the angles and force vetors as the arm got closer to each magnet. Ultimately, I didn't measure anything because none of this adjustable or tuneable, so I went back the "set it the middle and forget it" that was recommended in the manual. Unfortunately cartridges have recommended anti skate ratings from 1 to over 2 grams so adjustment is needed if you use a cartridge other than the included Virtuoso.
The Pro-Ject tonearm is of their own design and is the newer 9cc Evolution. The 6 Perspex is one of the more affordable tables in Pro-Ject's lineup that includes this arm, and the Evolution arm is utilized in tables costing thousands more. The arm is a one piece carbon fiber conical design that reduces standing wave vibrations compared to a straight tube like the Clearaudio Satisfy. The Evolution is also extremely lightweight and has an effective mass of only 8 grams allowing use with a very wide range of cartridges including the heavier and/or low compliance cartridges. Four separate counterweights are shipped to complement cartridges weighing between 5 and 14 grams. Although the counterweight is also rotated along a shaft at the back of the tonearm, much like the Satisfy, there is some form of internal cam making the movement very smooth and repeatable. A little turn goes a long way though, but each counter weight comes with a built in dial that is "zeroed" when leveled, so adjustment is easy and measureable. The weight itself is also damped with more Sorbothane and the conical design of the armtube directs vibrations towards this vibration "sink" and away from the cartridge. It's very sensitive and getting within 0.1g of VTF might take a few tries.
The lift arm is a nice tapered aluminum arm and the horizontal rest is matching black like everything else on the arm. More importantly, the tonearm drops straight down when lowered. I would call the styling of the Pro-Ject more "industrial" compared to the "elegant" Satisfy tonearm. Both tables utilize a fluid damped lift arm but the Pro-Ject lowered a little slower and dind't slam the stylus down as hard, like comparing a butterfly landing to the endzone spike after a touchdown has been scored. This is more likely unit to unit variance and not a fundamental design difference between the two models though. The arm holder is a machined aluminum, black anodized again, in the shape of a C with the opening to the left. An unseen magnet is used to hold the arm in place which is a nice touch. The only thing I didn't like about this design is the lift arm holds the tonearm up a little higher than the arm holder, so when returning the arm to the rest it rubs along the top of the carbon-fiber and will eventually show a wear mark. I'm sure I have a piece of adhesive felt laying around, but it would be nice if it came from the factory with something to protect the beautiful carbon-fiber weave a bit more. If the lift arm is adjustable in height it's not mentioned in the manual.
Cartridge mounting is straightforward. The tonearm incorportates a non-removable headshell into its one piece design and there are two slots to mount the cartridge and adjust its skew angle. Azimuth is adjusted via a single screw towards the rear of the arm and it was noticeably off to the naked eye from the factory and required adjustment. Anti-skate is accomplished via a small weight that hangs off a brass post at the back near the bearing gimbal, and attaches to another brass post threaded into the tonearm. It's a very cheap looking, but effective method, and as much as it pains me to say, I'd rather have it compared to innovative magnetic anti-skate in the Satisfy tonearm. The Pro-Ject "weight-on-a-string" solution works, applies consistent force, and even has three notches for different settings depending on the recommended force from the cartridge manufacturer. If they say apply 2 grams or 20 mN, I want to know I'm doing just that. Settings are 1-1.4, 1.4-1.9, ad 2+ grams. As the tonearm sweeps across a record the angle of force applied to the tonearm changes so it looks like it was designed to have variable force. I did not experience the same sibilance issues or inner groove distortion as with the Marantz magnetic anti skate.
The bearing system in the Evolution is interesting. Most high end arms utilize synthetic jewel bearing if a gimbal, a Unipivot, and some have even experimented with magnetically suspended axes. The precision required for tonearm tolerances make magnetic suspension incredibly difficult compared to using magnets on a sub-chassis like the 6 Perspex. A chassic tolerance is in in tenths of an inch. Tonearm bearing races are measured in THOUSANDTHS of an inch. Pro-Ject uses harded steel shafts running on ABEC level 7 bearing races that have accuracies measuring down to 0.0025". This is three to four times as precise as most sapphire watch bearings. After balancing the tonearm I was amazed at how freely it would float around in BOTH axes. Usually an arm will float side to side more easily, but the Evolution moved to unseen air currents in my living room. At one point I swear I could "will" the arm to move just by looking at it, but I probably just left a bottle of record cleaning solution open nearby and had unknowingly inhaled too much. Regardless, I'm a believer in high precision bearings now. The 9cc Evolition retails for around $1000 which is close to or perhaps a few hundred under what the aluminum version of the Clearaudio Satisfy in the Marantz table would cost.
I would like to mention that the combination of the light arm and heavy 8.3g cartridge resulted in a 13Hz resonance in the lateral plane which is higher than the 8-12Hz recommended range. This was measured from the "HiFi News Ultimate Analogue Test LP" I used throughout this evaluation. Negligible resonance was detected in the vertical axis. The Marantz tested within 8-12Hz in both planes but I can't remember the exact frequencies.
WINNER: Pro-Ject (Both are beatiful arms, but the Pro-Ject executes every feature well. The Satisfy just appears to be an older design that could benefit from a refreshing, but is still a competant arm. It's also easy to research reviews on these arms separately, however most reviews are of the carbon or ebony tubed Satisfy which would be an upgrade over the aluminum arm in the Marantz.)
Cartridge preference is very subjective to each listener so I will only give my objective observations and very generic subjective thoughts afterwards. take with a grain of salt. Tone also changes based on which table a cartridge is mounted on so it's hard to compare cartridges when mounted on different tables. The Marantz table is always bundled with the cartridge but the Pro-Ject is normally sold without a cartridge.
The Marantz bundles a Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood Moving Magnet which has since been replaced by the Virtuoso Ebony V2. It has an aluminum core with a wood base that mounts to the headshell. Other than the addition of 2 grams of Ebony wood on the sides of the newer version, specs remain the same and are very respectable; >30dB channel separation, frequency response is average at 20-20kHz, channel balance is an UNREAL
Another interesting thing I noticed is that the cantilever appeared much longer than normal. I even witnessed it swaying back and forth during playback, but it never missed a beat and tracked quite well. A longer cantilever results in smaller more controlled movements at the magnets, and possibly better detail. I don't know if this was intentional or not, but it's not advertised as such and it'd hard to test for something like this. It did sound much better than my cheap $200 automatic table with a basic Audio Technica cartridge, but it should. Retail on the Virtuoso Wood is around $750 but sells for much less. This cartridge also tracked very well despite the long cantilever and only exibited light distortion at 300Hz on a +16dB signal which is fairly normal.
The Pro-Ject does not come with a cartridge for it's retail price of $1799 but this review model came with the Superpack Combo which includes the Sumiko Blue Point EVO III HO-MC cartridge and was supposed to come with an upgraded Pro-Ject cable, more on that later. The EVO cartridge is the upgraded replacement for the original Blue Point Special and is a High Output (HO) Moving Coil (MC). There is much debate on MC cartridges having greater high frequency detail, mostly due to the lower moving mass of the coils vs. heavier Moving Magnets in an MM cartridge. My personal belief is that this may have been true decades ago but MM carts have come a long way and an equivalently priced MM cart would most likely perform like it's MC counterpart. This may change around the $1000 price point for cartridges though as MM's are mostly designed for mass market and fewer high dollar MM options exist compared to MC or moving iron cartridges. MM carts can be notoriously hard to load correctly and can sometimes require expensive cables to keep capacitance in check.
The EVO is a hybrid of these two cartidge types. Phono inputs are rare on modern receivers and the few higher end models that have one will only support the more common MM style. The HO-MC models are marketed towards these owners to support high performance without having to spend hundreds more on a separate phono pre-amp that can handle an MC cart. Regular MC cartridges have around 1/10th the output of a comparable MM. To increase the output, more copper windings are added to the coil to increase output to level an MM pre-amp can work with. The drawback is that significant weight is added to the coil, potentially negating the whole point of using an MC in the first place. It's still lighter than an MM cart and should theoretically respond faster in the higher frequencies.
The Evo cartridge has 2.5mV of output which is about as low as any MM cartridge would be willing to show its face in public. This yields about -3dB of output compared to the Virtuoso Wood at 3.6mV, so hardly anything to be concerned about. I listen to wide range of music, some of it quite loud, and I found the output to be more than adequate. The remaining specs are an impressive 12-40KHz frequency response (not that humans can hear that range), a phenominal 35 dB channel separation, and
The EVO doesn't use any crazy exotic materials in the body or the cantilever (although the cantilever is coated), and has a standard elliptical stylus like the Virtuoso. It's impressive specs are the result of being hand built and tested in Japan, every one of them. This attention to detail is like getting a custom cartridge made just for you, and sells for a reasonable $500-550. Being a HO-MC means it also responds exactly like an MM cartridge and is sensitive to capacitive loading and not inductive like a true MC cartridge. 47kOhms is the recommend load resistance like the Virtuoso and nearly every other MM cartridge on the market.
The truly unique "feature" of the EVO III is the exposed motor structure. While most of the industry strives to dampen their cartridge bodies, some even with dual materials like the retail Virtuoso Wood, Sumiko leaves the the coils and much of the wiring fully exposed claiming to use an "Ultra-low resonance open generator" design. Even if this is true, a main goal of dampened bodies is to reduce the amount of external vibrations from getting to the generator and into the signal. There is a top aluminum plate with the coils, motor, and cantilever all naked and exposed directly beneath. There isn't even a stylus guard so great care must be taken when mounting this cartridge. I'll admit, it's a beautiful cartridge to the eye, but I stared at it for five minutes trying to figure out how to mount it to the fixed headshell on the 6 Persex, which would require holding it while putting two screws in. It's intimidting enough to mount a "normal" cartrdige without a stylus cover, but there are four UNBELIEVEABLY small copper wires that make up each polarity for each channel that are exposed on the sides. I had to pull out my 60X microscope to even confirm that they were there, and yes, human hair looks like a Titan intercontinental ballistic missile compared to these bottle rocket sized copper leades. DO NOT hold this cart by the sides or these little wires will snap. The two piece headshell of the Marantz table would have come in handy here because mounting a cart to any removeable or semi-removable headshell is vastly easier than to a fixed headshell that is part of the tonearm.
After that five minutes of awe I decided to throw it and the two screws into the air and ninja kick them all into place (do not try at home unless ninja certified). Needless to say, I was a bit nervous and when both channels fired up on the first record played, I did a little happy dance. Using the same test record and 300Hz signal, distortion became apparent around +15dB and was prononced at +16dB. The Virtuoso did fare slightly better than the EVO.
WINNER: Pro-Ject/Sumiko EVO HO-MC. This is where the subjective part comes in. Without doing immediate, A/B testing, the human ear and mind have a hard time comparing sounds but every tester must do the best they can. In my opinion, the EVO had slightly better center imaging, but noticeably better staging. Drum kits moved five feet closer to the stage and had much more distinct and smoother cymbal action and decay. I listen to a lot of classic rock, heavy metal, and test with various female vocalists and classical music. The EVO has been described as having a very neutral sound and is good for most music types and I'd have to agree, with the exception of cymbals and even some brass horns where I was dually impressed. The Virtuoso did have slightly better bass response and tracking however. The EVO cart isn't the best match for the 9cc Evolution arm given its high resonance, and may perform better in a heavy efficte mass arm. Regardless, for a $200 upgrade for the SuperPack Combo is a no brainer to get this cartridge. It has to be one of the harder cartridges to mount without damage however.
11. Dust Cover
The Marantz doesn't have one. The Pro-Ject does. The cover for the 6 Perspex is of the same clear acrylic and mounts via two friction based arms located at the back of the plinth. They're cheap, but get the job done and are easily adjusted for tension by simply turning a few screws. Mounting the cover to the two posts was difficult and care must be taken to not crack the mounting holes on the cover. Loosening up the posts in the friction mounts helped. Just don't forget to tighten those posts afterwards or the cover can come crashing down. One interesting design choice is that the cover doesn't actually cover the entire table. It comes to rest on two front posts that are a little over an inch in height, meaning there is a constant 1"+ air gap going all the way around. Most covers completely cover the player and this is unusual. It's not very noticeable really, and dust still finds its way throught the exposed side but the cover still provides some protection at least. I think this was a design decision which helped reduce the overall footprint of the unit, and the size of the cover needed. Covers that are hinged need to be even bigger as well. Aftermarket clear acrylic covers are available for the Marantz, but the large size needed puts it into the ~$300 range and are not hinged, they simply sit over the entire unit. This $300 covers the entire price difference between the two tables, but the Perspex still doesn't include a cartridge at that price.
WINNER: Pro-Ject (for at least having a cover)
Not a lot to rate here. The Marantz has fairly good instructions with diagrams and a specs listing and troubleshooting section towards the rear. It feels like any manual from a major manufacturer.
The Pro-Ject's instructions are less complete, but has nice digrams of the overall unit at least. Missing are key areas like sub-chassis tuning and a troubleshooting section.
The Marantz has fixed output cables, 1 meter in length, terminating in gold plated male RCA ends with an attached ground cable. It also contained a separate ground cable to attach to the bottom of the platter bearing but I found no difference with or without it. It's a nice touch just in case however. Unfortunately I forgot to measure the capacitance of the cabling, but Clearaudio recommends a loading of 100pF for the Virtuoso cartridge. Most mass market MM cartridges will work with loading between 200-300pF so 100pF is a very difficult and low load to obtain. In addition, most MM inputs on modern receivers have a fixed 220pF load, while older vintage MM pre-amps can be as high as 360pF! This loading is cumulative as well, so the pre-amp, the RCA cable, the headshell leads, and tonearm wiring all add up for the total loading. The Satisfy arm has continuous arm cabling so probably 20-40pF for just those. 100pF isn't going to happen and a massive high frequency peak between 10-15kHz is likely, resulting in a bright sounding cartridge.
The Pro-Ject has a box on the bottom of the plinth with gold plated female RCA plugs allowing the owner to choose which cable to connect to a phono stage. The Superpack Combo was supposed to ship with one of the higher-end Connect-It "C" or "CC" cables but was missing in the delivery. Inside the box was the basic Connect-It "E" series cable with an attached ground cable. The Sumiko Blue Point Evo III HO-MC cartridge recommends a capacitance loading of no more than 200pF and preferably less than 100pF. The EVO tonearm also has continuous tonearm wiring like the Satisfy so both are on an even playing field. I did measure the Pro-Ject's tonearm wiring which was a very good 21pF. Unfortunately, the Connect-It "E" cable measured at 335pF for the left channel and 359pF for the right and around 0.5 ohms of resistance for only 1 meter of length. I didn't know cables this bad even existed, let alone were intended to be used with a $1799 table. I'm not even sure if that was gold plating on the RCAs as it had a dull, almost brass look to it. This cable retails for around $30 but is literally the worst cable I have ever measured. Using this cable would result in a peak the size of Mt. Everent right smack in the middle of the audio band, basically negating the point of having any cartridge costing more than $100.
I build cables as low as 50pF per meter but used one that was around 150pF for testing, which is closer to what the Marantz probably has, and I still slightly prefered the sound of the EVO cartridge. Both of the cartridges would sound much better with a dedicated phono stage and low capcitance cables however. The "C/CC" Pro-Ject interconnect that I expected in the Superpack Combo is advertised at 75pF per meter of capacitance which is decent. Hopefully the missing cable was an oversight and will be taken care of by the vendor.
Update: After reaching out to the vendor, a "CC" 1.23 meter cable was promptly shipped out. The owner of Pro-Ject emailed from Europe and wanted to know the serial number of the table so he could track who packed the delivery and missed the cable. Mistakes happen and it's good to know Pro-Ject and Sumiko made it right and are looking into the quality control issues. This was good news, but unfortunately, the "CC" cable was not as good as hoped. The cable measured at 149pF. The cable alone is listed at 75pF per meter, so around 92pf for the 1.23m/4ft cable. The RCA ends look nice but if the'yre adding nearly 60pF of capacitance, beauty is only skin deep. The RCA's are also silver in color and not the normal gold plated. Chances are they are aluminum or nickel plated as anything silver or platinum would be advertised heavily. So, with 149pf in the new cable, 21pF in the headshell/tonearm wires, we're at 170 before we add any loading of the phono stage. The lowest loading of nearly any phono stage I've seen is 47pF which puts the EVO past its recommended max range and some external phono stages are fixed at 120pf or even 220pf like most receivers. At the price point of either of these two tables, I would recommend budgeting for a nice dedicaed phono stage with variable loading for either MM or MC cartridges. I still prefer to let the customer choose which cable to use as nearly every hard wired table I've seen has around 150pF cables. For the retail cost of ~$90, you can find better phono cables than the "Connect-It CC", but when bundled with the EVO cart for $200 it's basically free, even if it doesn't match well with the EVO. It looks nice so use it with your CD player or MC cartridge which doesn't care about capacitance.
WINNER: Marantz (for not having the World's worst bundled cable)
OVERALL: With most categories won, the Pro-Ject 6 Perspex with Superpack Combo is the clear winner. Keep in mind this combo does cost $500 more than the Marantz TT-15S1, but both are incredible values for the money.
Marantz is a dominant player in the high-end receiver market and currently only has two turntables in production, an entry level automatic and the TT-15S1 which was contracted to Clearaudio to produce. Don't hold that against Marantx however. Clearaudio is a juggernaut in the vinyl world and the Satisfy aluminum tonearm and Virtuoso Wood cartridge are worth more than the cost of the entire TT-15S1 package at $1499. Despite my concerns over the motor and the magnetic ant-skate, this table is one of the best looking tables around and has pretty stellar performance in its price range. Audioholics is a website I love because they give objective measured reviews and aren't afraid to call out a company that has deceptive advertising or just a poor perfiorming product. Many companies won't release review samples to them just for this reason, and they chose to use a Marantz TT-15S1 for their reference demo room. That says a lot.
In my opinion, the Pro-Ject 6 Perspex with Superpack is an even better deal however. Pro-Ject brought technology down from their high-end tables and made the 9cc Evolution tonearm and magnetic sub-chassis suspension available to a wider audience in the sub-$2k range. It's also a great looking table and the few friends that know audio and have seen it in my home have all gawked at how gorgeous the carbon fiber arm looks. The motor with built-in speedbox is a massive winner. I just can't give it enough praise. Even better is the Superpack combo yielding a hand built catridge for less than half its normal retail price. Just be careful mounting it and choose your interconnects carefully to properly load the EVO cartridge. Happy listening.