Turntables

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

ARTICLE INDEX

Introduction to the Pro-Ject 6 PerspeX Turntable and Sumiko Blackbird MC Cartridge

Noted Austrian audiophile, Heinz Lichtenegger, founded Pro-ject Audio Systems in the 1990's as a way of providing high quality analog playback components at reasonable prices. Since then, Pro-ject has gone on to earn a reputation for high quality, fine-sounding turntables and tonearms irrespective of price. Pro-ject has enjoyed major success over the years and celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2011.

This review is of the new 6PerspeX table which comes fitted with Pro-ject's newest tonearm, the 9cc Evolution. Pro-ject's North American distributor, Sumiko, included a Blackbird High Output Moving Coil Cartridge in the package. This turntable and cartridge combination is available with package pricing when you purchase them as a complete setup. Please check with your dealer for the specifics. So let's see how this affordable analog vinyl kit up performs.

PRO-JECT 6 PERSPEX TURNTABLE AND SUMIKO BLACKBIRD CARTRIDGE SPECIFICATIONS

  • Turntable
  • Pro-Ject 6 PerspeX
  • Design: Belt-driven with AC Synchronous Motor
  • Speeds: 33 RPM and 45 RPM
  • Platter Weight: 4.4 Pounds
  • Tonearm: Pro-Ject 9cc Evolution
  • Wow & Flutter: <0.06%
  • S/N: -73 dB
  • Dimensions:6.25" H x 18" W x 14.5" D
  • Weight: 23.1 Pounds
  • MSRP: $1,999 USD
  • Pro-Ject
  • Cartridge
  • Sumiko Blackbird
  • Design: High Output MC
  • MFR: 10 Hz - 50 kHz
  • Output: 2.5 mV/ch
  • Impedance: 47 kOhm
  • Internal Impedance: 135 Ohm
  • Channel Separation: 35 db @ 1 kHz
  • Channel Balance: 0.5 db @ 1 kHz
  • Tracking Force Range: 1.8 – 2.2 gm
  • Weight: 9.6 gm
  • MSRP: $1,099 USD (Package Pricing on Table + Cartridge Available from Dealers)
  • Sumiko
  • SECRETS Tags: Turntables, Tonearms, Cartridges, Vinyl

Design of the Pro-Ject 6 PerspeX Turntable and Sumiko Blackbird MC Cartridge

Pro-Ject makes a surprising number of turntable models that are grouped into four lines. The entry line is called the Essential Line. The next step up is the Debut Line. The remaining two Pro-Ject lines are their top lines. They are the RPM Line and the Classic Line. The price ranges overlap significantly between these two lines and the models in this upper range are differentiated by style more than by price. The RPM tables embody a contemporary look and design while tables in the Classic Line are characterized by a retro-style but with underlying modern technologies and materials.

The 6-perspeX table is marketed through the Pro-Ject Classic Line. It is the lowest Pro-Ject model that comes complete with Pro-Ject's newest and most advanced tonearm, the 9cc Evolution.

This turntable has a number of unique features. Probably the most striking feature is the use of magnets to support the sub-chassis. Also, the sub-chassis is formed from Corian, a material manufactured by DuPont that is essentially inert to internal resonances. Pro-Ject developed these two advances through a series of rigorous listening tests. The Pro-Ject team was reportedly very pleased with the increase in fine dynamics and the decrease in distortion as a result of these two design choices.

The AC synchronous motor is decoupled from the sub chassis and comes fitted with a pulley that has two races - one for 33-1/3 rpm and the other for 45 rpm. The motor sits on a Sorbothane pad in its cutout in the plinth. An optional speed box is available that offers electronic speed control so you can fine-tune the speed and switch between 33-1/3 and 45 rpm without moving the belt. The 6-perspeX table is not compatible with 78 rpm. Pro-ject makes other tables that can accommodate 78 rpm. Please see their catalog if you need this capability for your record collection.

The 6 PerspeX table's plinth is acrylic. This material is known for its durability and impact resistance. Not coincidentally, Perspex is one of many trade names for acrylic plastic.

The inverted bearing uses a stainless steel spindle to hold the ceramic bearing. The bearing plate is also ceramic. Another ingenious use of a modern material involves the inclusion of Sorbothane in three key areas. First, the table's adjustable aluminum feet are Sorbothane-damped. Second, Sorbothane is used to dampen the tonearm counter weight. And the decoupled motor sits on a Sorbothane pad as mentioned earlier. The 4.4 lb (2kg) platter is made from MDF and topped with a 0.16" (4mm) layer of vinyl. The unit comes complete with a screw-down record clamp, a spirit level and a hinged dust cover.

The 9cc Evolution tonearm is Pro-Ject's newest and most advanced tonearm. It is available in three lengths 9", 10" and 12". The respective model numbers are the 9cc Evolution, the 10cc Evolution and the 12cc Evolution.

The 9cc Evolution tonearm here is said to direct unwanted resonances away from the headshell while allowing precise tracking of the record groove. It also facilitates fine adjustment of vertical and horizontal tracking angles.

The integrated headshell and armtube are made from a single piece of carbon fiber. This is a very good material choice for this application as it is lightweight and stiff. Plus, it looks very cool and modern. The armtube is conically shaped to avoid wave reflections. The bearings are ground to ABEC 7 tolerances and the large outside ring is open to avoid resonances. The counterweight shaft has been lowered to record level to reduce dynamic wow when playing warped records (this worked well in practice).

The arm shipped with two counterweights. All told, there are 4 available counterweights compatible with cartridges ranging from 5 – 14g. The effective arm mass is a mere 8g.

For this review, I fitted a Sumiko Blackbird Cartridge to the 9cc Evolution arm. This is a high output moving coil design in the Sumiko Reference Line of cartridges. The coils are hand-wound and each unit is hand calibrated through a rigorous and labor-intensive process. The Blackbird's rated output is 2.5mV into a standard 47k Ohm input. I found this cartridge sufficiently drove typical MM phono stages without a step up transformer. Sumiko's claim is that this provides the best possible signal to noise ratio for real-world systems.

The cantilever is made of a stiff long-grain Boron. This differs from the design choice of many others who feel that a ductile material is better for a cantilever. My intuition leads me to believe that a stiffer cantilever would better track the groove and transmit all the vibrations to the motor structure. The stylus is a very tiny elliptical diamond. The cantilever and stylus are not user-serviceable, but Sumiko offers a low cost re-tipping service in the event you need to replace the stylus due to wear or damage.

This cartridge does not have an external cartridge body. The omission of the external body eliminates one additional source of possible sympathetic vibrations in the mechanical structure of the cartridge. Be warned that this design choice leaves the stylus, cantilever and leads exposed to possible damage if you do not exercise the utmost caution in handling and installing this device.

Another design advantage with this cartridge is that it attaches to the headshell by way of tapped, threaded screw holes. This design choice means you don't need nuts to attach the cartridge. This reduces the effective mass even further. All told, this table, arm and cartridge system is designed as a suite of products that will work together to transmit unwanted vibrations through the arm and into the armboard with the least possible effects to the musical signal. Furthermore, the entire system also reduces wow & flutter, hum & rumble, lowers the noise floor and expands the effective frequency response.


Setup of the Pro-Ject 6 PerspeX Turntable and Sumiko Blackbird MC Cartridge

As with most any other turntable, some assembly is required. I found the assembly time for the 6 PerspeX turntable to be about normal for most turntables on the market today. That is to say it took me around an hour to get it unpacked and set up to where it was functional. The arm was already installed and all I needed to do was install the feet, motor platter, pulley and cartridge.

As mentioned above, Pro-Ject provides a decent spirit level with the 6 Perspex. It is not a bull's eye level, but is adequate for the job of leveling the platter. Just check two normal axes with it. Pro-ject suggests that you level the equipment shelf before placing the table on it. I agree with that. Even though the feet and the sub-chassis are adjustable, it is best that you don't rely on these systems any more than necessary to level the platter. And it is also desirable that the motor, platter and belt ride in the same, level pane. I strongly recommend that you take the time to ensure your shelf is leveled.

So I used the supplied level to balance the shelf in my rack before placing the 6 PerspeX turntable on it. The three threaded adjustments that balance the sub-chassis essentially control the spacing of the magnets in the passive magnetic suspension system. These controls are relatively easy to access. But be careful anyway. One of the knurled screws is near the headshell and it would be possible for you to bump the stylus when adjusting the sub-chassis at this point. The final adjustment of the Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA), the Horizontal Tracking Angle (HTA) and azimuth took a little more time than with some arm, headshell and cartridge combinations. The 9cc Evolution tonearm is indeed fully adjustable, but the adjustments are not spring-loaded or controlled by shims as with some other arms.

The biggest concern here was that the VTA and HTA adjustments interacted. Once you loosened the set screws to adjust the VTA, you could easily throw off the HTA. So I tried to get the HTA as close as I could and I simply raised or lowered the arm mount with each subsequent adjustment to dial in the VTA. If I threw off the HTA a little, then I could make the fine adjustments by loosening the cartridge and using the play in the headshell to fix the length and angle relative to the spindle. This took some trial and error to get it right, but the payoff in the sound quality department was worthwhile. I found the Blackbird cartridge was especially sensitive to changes in the VTA. Slight differences in rake angle made substantial differences in the tonal balance and time coherence of the sound. The way I resolved this was to set the VTA for a 200 gram pressing. When I played thinner records, I used one or more mats to raise the record surface to the optimum level. Voila, best sound achieved!

The anti-skate control uses a small weight and machined brass pivot. It worked OK with my only complaint being that it was behind the tonearm's large pivot ring and it was difficult to access.

The manual that comes with the Blackbird cartridge was very useful in providing guidance on how to use your listening skills to dial in the angles, tracking force and anti-skating force. I recommend this manual to anybody adjusting a tonearm/cartridge of any ilk. It is a very useful treatise on the subject. Here is the online link to the Blackbird Manual.


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.


Conclusions About the Pro-Ject 6 PerspeX Turntable and Sumiko Blackbird MC Cartridge

I have learned a number of useful things in many decades of involvement with high fidelity. One lesson I've learned is that your system can't be better than your source component. The source component is the major factor in establishing the possibilities for your system. I found that the 6Perspex turntable will allow an accomplished system to reach a high level of performance - a level of performance beyond normal expectations considering the 6Perspex's very reasonable price. So if you are looking for a table that is solidly put together, capable of clean and honest sound that won't break the bank, then you owe it to yourself to give the 6Perspex table an audition. You may find its advanced design which includes a magnetic sub chassis support, the generous use of sorbothane, a high quality motor and a modern tonearm provides just the right mix of performance virtues to meet your needs.

The Sumiko Blackbird cartridge was a solid recommendation as well, so much so that I purchased the review unit. I found that the Blackbird cartridge was able to offer excellent performance with the 6Perspex turntable. But it revealed even greater transparency, high frequency air, channel separation and bass extension and accuracy with lower distortion when I used it in a much higher end table. This cartridge can really grow with your system. I also think this cartridge is an excellent choice for a reviewer as I have found it to be compatible with a number different phono stages.