The Pro-Ject turntable range is a formidable and periodically intimidating thing and it can sometimes be tricky to work out how one model differs from something superficially identical. The X8 is similar in basic design to other premium Pro-Ject models. It has no suspension, relying instead on three isolating feet to decouple it from the outside world. It makes use of a heavy aluminium platter mounted on a thick MDF plinth that houses an impressive looking bearing and an AC motor that takes power from an AC converter built into the X8 itself. You’ll also find the company’s highly regarded 9CC carbon fibre tonearm and an Ortofon Quintet Blue moving coil cartridge.
So, if much of the X8 is similar to other models, what makes it different? The answer to that is less about the X8 itself and more about how it talks to the outside world. As phono cartridges have separate ground cables for the left and right channel, they are naturally balanced; the audio is separate to the ground and ‘doubled up’ (so any errors can be summed out by combining them). The X8 makes use of this to terminate in a pair of balanced XLR connections.
This is where the DS3 B comes in. This has XLR inputs and outputs (and unbalanced connections too) and can support the output of the X8’s Ortofon cartridge. So long as you have an XLR input on your amplifier, the signal from your record can be run fully balanced from the stylus, with a significant drop to the noise levels. While they are available separately, it is best to view the X8 and DS3 B as being a pair because they are about the most cost effective balanced turntable and phono stage on the market.
Cost effective or not, the build and finish of the two units is superb, with excellent materials and careful attention to detail throughout. The wall wart type power supplies feel a little crude but they work well enough and Pro-Ject will happily sell you a linear PSU that can power both the X8 and DS3 B at the same time if you wish.
The key sonic attribute of the X8 and DS3 B is a slightly odd one, in that it is what you can’t hear as much as what you can. Drop the needle onto a clean record and the silence before any music appears is genuinely beyond pretty much any other rival turntable and phono stage at the price point. Neither is this something of purely abstract interest. That tremendously low noise floor means that fine detail that other turntables can miss is much more discernible here. Perhaps the only aspect of appreciating this phenomenon is that you will really need to hear this combo compared to another device to appreciate how effective it is. It’s important to stress that, while the duo can work over RCA as well, they really do need XLR to show what they can do.
Other attributes are rather easier to appreciate though. The Pro-Ject duo has an exceptional ability to find space in a recording and make everything it plays sound effortlessly three dimensional. It combines this with truly effortless levels of scale too, thanks in no small part to excellent bass response that is both deep and impressively controlled at the same time. The manner in which it recreates voices and instruments is also very well handled too. The X8 is able to deal with less than perfectly mastered records in a way that keeps them enjoyable while still responding well to high quality pressings.
Combine this ultimately forgiving presentation with an impressive ability to flow through music that keeps the Pro-Ject sounding controlled and exciting with faster music while not forcing slower and more considered material and you have a combination that is very hard to unsettle. There are more detailed options available for the same sort of price but very little has the all round effortlessness that the Pro-Ject does so well.
Pro-Ject hasn’t become the force in vinyl it is by ignoring usability. The X8 is logical to set up and, once you do, it has electronic speed control, impressive isolation thanks to its clever feet and it even comes with that most underrated of objects, a lid. The DS3 B is superbly made for the money and has the means to support other cartridges if you fancy changing the one on the X8 at some point in the future.
So long as you consider that the X8 and DS3 B really need to be seen as a pair to purchase at the same time and that they will need to be connected to a device with an XLR input to really show what they can do, this is an outstanding vinyl front end for the asking price, combining superb performance with impressive build quality and user friendliness.
Kings of Leon Youth and Young Manhood
The X8’s ability to open up and make sense of densely recorded material turns this nigh on impenetrable debut album into a masterpiece and reveals the joyous and propulsive songwriting that underpins it.
Orbital Monsters Exist
The key to making this album sound good is bass. It has to be deep but well controlled and able to reveal the detail and texture it possesses. The X8 and DS3 B does an exceptional job of delivering low end you feel as much as hear.
Talk Talk Laughing Stock
This is an album where the silences matter as much as the music does. As this duo is very good at silence indeed, they bring this album to life in a way that even some very talented turntables can struggle to achieve.
Drive principle; Belt
Outputs, RCA or XLR out
Cartridge included; yes- Ortofon Quintet Blue
Dimensions (WxHxD); 465 x 150 x 350 mm (Lid closed)
If you are looking to buy a turntable and phono stage at the same time and you have a system with a balanced XLR input, the Pro-Ject duo can deliver a level of performance that is very unusual at the price point; delivering a spacious, refined and engaging performance with extremely impressive dynamics thanks to their balanced configuration.