If you’ve ever taken more than a passing interest in turntables, you’ll have heard of Rega and Pro-Ject. They’re two of the biggest players when it comes to entry-level and mid-range record players, with decades of class-leading products under their respective belts.
More than likely, you’ll also have heard of the Rega Planar and Pro-Ject Debut decks. They’re among the most successful and best-loved designs from these two esteemed brands, and have each gone through a number of iterations to reach where they are today. If you want the best possible sound for this kind of money, you really need to be in Rega Planar 2 or Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Evo territory.
As ever, which is best for you will rely a lot on your situation, including any components you already have to pair it with, and a little to do with personal preference. Despite that, as these are the two best record players we’ve heard at this price, the least we can do is arm you with all the differences and particulars before you get to audition them for yourself.
The Planar 2 has been on quite a journey then, so much so that the only things existing from the original are the drive belt and the plastic mouldings for the dust-cover lid hinges. That’s surprising, as a picture of the last and current-generation models side-by-side would make for a challenging spot-the-difference puzzle.
The only things you’d ring straight away are the acrylic-laminated plinth – now supposedly more rigid and, like the Planar 3, sporting a more modish black or white glossy finish – and the power switch, now underneath the plinth.
It’s a smartly understated design, and solid build quality is a sign of Rega’s long-established success at this price bracket. Less immediately obvious changes include the 24v low-noise motor, newly designed central bearing, and upgraded platter with a new floating glass ‘Optiwhite’ design. Rega also designed new feet to improve stability.
Crucially, the Planer 2 is fitted with Rega’s new RB220 tonearm, which features ultra-low-friction ball bearings, a stiffer bearing housing and an automatic bias setting, making it virtually plug-and-play.
That should please newcomers who want to enjoy vinyl with minimal fuss, but be aware that the Planar 2 doesn’t have a built-in phono stage, so it needs to hook up to a stereo amplifier that has one. Or you can always buy a separate unit. That’s the case with both of these turntables, so certainly it’s not a reason to discriminate between the two.
The no-nonsense set-up requires minimal effort, save for ensuring the speed is set correctly (speed change is manual) and fixing the weight to balance the tonearm. Once the tonearm is in a floating position, setting the Carbon MM cartridge’s tracking force to the recommended 2g simply entails turning the weight a whole circle.
While we’d prefer numbers on the dial for guidance, we do find it reasonably accurate. Needless to say, buying a stylus gauge to double-check the measurement would be money well spent. It’s important that the Rega sits dead flat on a tabletop or wall bracket, too, as it is with any turntable.
Compare all that with the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Evo, released last year, and you’ll find they have a few core values in common. The design is equally minimalist – though Pro-Ject offers more colour options – and simplicity and ease of use are evidently held to be almost as important as sonic performance when it comes to these lower mid-range decks.
Taking its most popular turntable design and altering almost every aspect, while at the same time increasing the price, was a dangerous game for Pro-Ject; but the Debut Carbon Evo is a triumph of calculated risk-taking that takes all the jeopardy out of buying your first deck.
Pro-Ject has worked hard at making its latest Debut a class leader, but also one with the potential to be a steady midrange competitor thanks to the changes the company has made.
Among the upgrades are improved motor mounting, new height-adjustable damped feet and a heavy steel platter that weighs 1.7kg and features a thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) damping ring on the inside for quieter operation.
Perhaps most welcome, though, is the addition of a rocker switch on the bottom of the deck that allows you to adjust the rotation speed. No more removing the platter and manually readjusting the belt when you want to go from 33.3rpm to 45. Without doubt, this is an area in which the Debut scores points over its Rega rival.