Pro-Ject’s E1 BT Turntable Makes Vinyl More Approachable

Warm sound quality and retro aesthetics define this device

There’s a commonly held belief that vinyl fans favor mystique over clarity, but Pro-Ject’s new entry-level turntable, the E1 BT, rebukes that—and will ultimately appeal to enthusiasts and those just starting their record collection. Pro-Ject, an Austrian company founded in 1991 that makes some very high-end audio products, will tell you that the E1 BT is for the toe-in-the-water crowd precisely because it’s not priced at a tier that feels like a big commitment—the E1 BT costs around $499. Also, it’s already unorthodox; the “BT” stands for Bluetooth, enabling users to throw in a pair of wireless earbuds or pair their turntable directly to a Bluetooth speaker and not have to mess with wiring.

Courtesy of Pro-Ject

However, it is also designed to easily connect directly to an amplifier that either has a phonograph stage or does not, meaning it’s backward compatible with older amplifiers that were produced when turntables were more common and already had the added circuitry (a phono stage) to boost the signal strength of vinyl. If your amp was made in the wake of the CD era, it may not have that function, which is why Pro-Ject builds it into their turntable. Flip a switch, and it works with either style of amp.

by Michael Frank

We tested the E1 BT with the Sonus Faber Omnia, both using the direct, wired link, as well as via Bluetooth, to see if we could hear a difference. The short answer is yes. If you’re into bass-heavy music, Bluetooth tends to muddy those signals more, while upper-register treble tones were a tad less refined. That being said, this turntable is great if you want to stream vinyl to your backyard party or deputize guests to DJ while you tend bar.

Courtesy of Pro-Ject

Plug the E1 into the amplifier, however, and you get the full effect of the moving magnet cartridge (the element that includes the needle that translates the vibrations from a record into a sonic signature) and steady, weighted arm. The sound quality is warm rather than overly bright, and high note details come through crisply. Middle register and bass also harness details, though you’re not getting the sharpness you would from a lossless streaming service like Tidal or Roon. That loss, however, is definitely offset by a resonance that’s frequently stripped out from digital audio, which is why vinyl experts often say they find digital music colder.

Listening to the Black Keys’ “Dropout Boogie,” which features a lot of their bluesy guitar, you get the band’s famous fuzz distortion resonating right through the floor without losing the soothing depth of Dan Auerbach’s smoky vocals. That was just the beginning: the E1 pulls that essence from every record we tested, including some old Count Basie, Roxy Music, the Clash and an amazing 1979 live acoustic recording of Pete Townshend playing “Don’t Get Fooled Again.”

by Michael Frank

The E1’s tripod design, with two felt-softened feet in front and one in the rear, can feel a little unstable, and without any way to unthread the feet to balance the deck’s MDF plinth that forms the turntable platform, you might find yourself having to shim them to make the unit perfectly level.

Courtesy of Pro-Ject

Also, unlike automatic turntables that lift the tone arm off the inner portion of the record rather than let the needle skitter into the center, E1 users must manually lift and swing the arm back to the side. Likewise, while there’s both a 33 1/3 setting and a 45 RPM mode, because this isn’t an automatic design, the turntable keeps spinning even after you return the arm. Again, you have to manually turn it off and flip the record, not a big deal for those who want the full vinyl-playing experience.

Aesthetically, the Pro-Ject has advantages with a clear, dampened acrylic dust cover that lowers softly into place and stays open and out of the way when you’re swapping records. Depending on your home decor style, you can choose from a black, white or very 1970s car dashboard faux walnut that’s delightfully retro and certainly signals its manual attributes.

Hero image courtesy of Pro-Ject