Turntable Reviews

Pro-Ject 6 PerspeX Turntable And Sumiko Blackbird MC Phono Cartridge

ARTICLE INDEX

The Pro-Ject 6 PerspeX Turntable and Sumiko Blackbird MC Cartridge In Use

I had one minor operational problem with this turntable that I'd like to get off my chest right here and now. The arm lift lever was very close to the tonearm pivot. I tended to bump the bearing ring when raising or lowering the lift. No amount of adjustment of the lift gave me enough clearance to completely avoid this. So I learned to use the lift with due caution. In actual practice, this was not a big deal after I got used to it.

Before sitting down for my critical listening, I broke in the Blackbird cartridge by playing numerous records amounting to a total playing time of more than 50 hours. First up in my serious critical listening was Hacienda: Big Red and Barbacoa. This LP received the Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity Best New Vinyl Recording of 2010 award. Jason Crawford discovered this group which originated from South Texas. But, wait a minute there; I'm the guy from San Antonio. I'm the one who eats barbacoa for breakfast at Tommy's on Nogalitos. I am supposed to be the one to discover this group and then wax rhapsodic about the Villanueva brothers!  What exactly is going on here?

In any event, I agree with most of what Jason wrote regarding this album. Many of the tunes can get into your head and stay there - particularly the instrumentals. These guys have their own fusion of psychedelic, conjunto and beach music. It is just pure fun. Most every sonic virtue is fine on this record except that the soundstage can get limited to a narrow window near the center of the stage.

The salient hallmarks of the Pro-Ject/Sumiko rig were a low noise floor, first-rate bass response, low harmonic distortion, pleasing air in the treble and a somewhat coolly analytical presentation overall. The bass extension was on full display with Track 3, I keep Waiting. Not only was the bass extended and clean, but it came through with good delineation of pitch. Although I found that many of the songs had a constrained stereo image, this was not true of all the tracks. Take Track 5, Prisoner, for example. The soundscape was vast and airy. I simply fell in love with the guitar groove on this song over the Pro-Ject/Sumiko rig. The closer on Side 1 is the instrumental Big Red. This is how I like Hacienda . . . get yer go-go boots for this upbeat, danceable tune. The transient attack of the percussion and the pacing of the music were held intact by the Pro-Ject/Sumiko set up. Then it was on to Side 2. All of this side was engrossing through this playback system. The leading edges and sibilants in voices were clear and transparent despite the recording having an overall ragged and rough-hewn quality.

Keeping with a Texas theme, I pulled out my 1985 pressing of Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown "Pressure Cooker" on Alligator Records. Like Hacienda, Gatemouth is another Texas original. But he is from Buddy Holly's hometown, Lubbock, which is in North Texas. Gatemouth eventually hit it big in Europe and this reissue comprises songs from his French records that were recorded in 1973. Spin this one if you want to rock the house!

This album isn't plagued with the narrow image as with many of the Hacienda songs on Big Red. In fact, it sure sounded like the channel separation exceeded the Sumiko spec for the Blackbird cartridge. The imaging on this record was downright holographic. This album also came through with a fantastic dynamic range. The cymbals were airy and natural. The fundamentals of the upright bass really sounded like it was in the room. The bass response in general will raise eyebrows. But it wasn't at the cost of frequency balance especially with this record that exhibited only a slight trace of the analytical qualities I heard before. I also thought Gatemouth's vocals sounded astonishingly real on "Ain't Nobody Here but Us Chickens".

I needed to try some female vocals and so I reached for Adele 19. I am not a huge fan of Adele, but I must admit (under some duress) that her music is one of my guilty pleasures.

This record has challenges where the crescendos sometimes take on a hardened quality while the soundstage gets a little pinched in the middle. But everything falls in place on "Right as Rain" with its up-beat tempo, clean and tight bass. The organ filled the room and I could hear the subtlest inflections in Adele's voice. Another well recorded track is "Make You Feel My Love" where the midrange is not thin but is actually very rich while retaining the natural transients. The Pro-Ject/Sumiko set-up brought out all this goodness.

The final selection for my critical listening sessions was my 180 gram pressing of the Mercury Living Presence LP of the Medelssohn Cello Sonata in D Major and the Chopin Cello Sonata in G Minor featuring Janos Starker on cello and Gyorgy Sebök on piano. The performances on this record are downright terrific. The playing is pure emotional virtuosity. And the production qualities are top-flight as well. I also chose this record because pianos can be challenging for analog playback. This Pro-Ject/Sumiko set up handled the piano expertly. There was no audible wow or flutter. I crossed over into a fantasy realm with most every note on this record. There was tremendous delicacy and subtlety in the sound. Tape hiss aside, the notes sprang up from near nothingness and took me away on a very Zen-like ride. I was able to forget the worries of the day relax, enjoy and have fun! That is the point of all this hi fi stuff after all. I prefer side 2 of this album, the key signature and the composition are better as well as the interplay between the instruments. The cello had that organic wooden quality that makes reproduced strings as realistic as possible. The sound was so well delineated that I could almost hear each individual oscillation of the strings.