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Pro-ject Phono Box MM Review

Rate this phono stage:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 32 24.1%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 81 60.9%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 16 12.0%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 4 3.0%

  • Total voters
    133

PeteL

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OK yes this is very affordable, but can we say sometime too cheap is just too cheap? I look at the Mani from Schiit, still extremely affordable at 149$, but I can't seem to find a single metric where it's not significantly better, better and much more flexible. Loading options, MC possibility, rumble filter. Wouldn't we all agree that 60$, basically the price of two LPs if you're about the not so fancy pressings and widely distributed ones, is a no brainer?
 

computer-audiophile

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What sounds wonderful though are the tape masters of music
No wonder, that was also the best one could have for a long time. The closer you were to the master tape with the copy, the better. I remember many listening sessions where I could hear orchestral recordings from German radio studios played on large Telefunken studio machines. I am not aware of any better sound quality. Today there are digital masters, but I have not much experience with those yet. What is marketed is reduced consumer quality.
 
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computer-audiophile

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OK yes this is very affordable, but can we say sometime too cheap is just too cheap?
Even Pro-Ject has several more elaborately made phono preamps. I would reach a little higher into the shelf if I had to buy something like that.
 

DMill

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It’s $89. And doesn’t suck. I voted ”fine”. Almost gave it a Great cause it costs less than taking me, my girl and her two kids to see a mediocre remake of Little Mermaid.
 
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amirm

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Why has the Cambridge Duo fallen off the SINAD chart?
It was tested at a higher input voltage. After a lot of complaining that it was tested in a different condition, I took it out of the graph.
 

Kimbrough Xu

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Pro-Ject Phono Box MM preamplifier. It is on kind loan from a member and costs US $89.
View attachment 297927
As you see, this is a compact and sturdy box. I wonder if they put some weight in it because if feels heavy for its size. This is useful to keep it from walking although my RCA cables did pull it down.

Pro-Ject Phono Box MM Measurement
Let's start with our usual dashboard of 5 mv at 1 kHz:

View attachment 297928
I like to see this measurement being noise dominated due to RIAA equalization. Here though, we have a tall third harmonic setting the limit. Still, what is there lands the unit in the middle of the pack which isn't bad:
View attachment 297929

Most important measurement here is RIAA equalization in the form of frequency response:
View attachment 297931
That's extremely good! We don't see many phono stages regardless of price with such accuracy. Do note that it is flat down to below 10 Hz so any rumble, etc. will be amplified as well.

Distortion raises its ugly head early though:
View attachment 297932
And also clips rather early. That is 1 kHz. It gets much worse at higher frequencies:
View attachment 297933

I don't think I have ever tested a phono stage with so little high frequency headroom!

Excluding noise, pure distortion takes a dip where it matters (i.e. our hearing is most sensitive):
View attachment 297934


Conclusions
I like the form factor of the unit at this price point. And the perfect RIAA equalization so tonality should be what the cartridge produces. Distortion though is a bit high and sets in early. Worst aspect is lack of headroom so pops and ticks will be more pronounced.

I am torn between the good and bad parts. Usually an audio device is mostly one or the other. Here we are right in the middle. I guess if you don't care about headroom, then it is a very good bargain phono stage. Personally I would look elsewhere.

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Thank you for your measurements, what do you mean by headroom? What will it affect?
 

Kimbrough Xu

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Thanks @amirm for this informative and critical review. It seems to perform well enough for what you pay. Is it just me or are there indeed that many Pro-Ject clones, like those from @Fosi Audio, that seem to preform quite well (even when fitted with tubes ;))?
Which Fosi Audio's product are you using?
 

DSJR

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No wonder, that was also the best one could have for a long time. The closer you were to the master tape with the copy, the better. I remember many listening sessions where I could hear orchestral recordings from German radio studios played on large Telefunken studio machines. I am not aware of any better sound quality. Today there are digital masters, but I have not much experience with those yet. What is marketed is reduced consumer quality.
I must be missing something - at a record company's studios once, the digital dub of a good analogue master tape sounded 'exactly the same' to me, not harsher or whatever... The CD derivative was also as near as darn it the same, apart maybe from very subtle 'response tuning' done in cheaper domestic players back then.
 

DSJR

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It provides nothing extra on fidelity front because of the format itself. What sounds wonderful though are the tape masters of music from 1970s. They are so superior to any digital versions of the same. I have compared them one by one using Tidal streaming. The digital versions are just horrid. They are harsher, louder, etc. I don't know of any comparable release in digital.

What is great about tape is that it doesn't have the noises LP does. Nor its limitations in recording. And of course it has those beautiful VU meters! :D
I answered in some confusion above, as the digital releases really shouldn't sound different if properly mastered, let alone worse if my admittedly limited experience of direct comparisons is anything to go by. I'm hoping it's just bad mastering...
 
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amirm

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I answered in some confusion above, as the digital releases really shouldn't sound different if properly mastered, let alone worse if my admittedly limited experience of direct comparisons is anything to go by. I'm hoping it's just bad mastering...
It is definitely bad mastering.
 
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amirm

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computer-audiophile

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I must be missing something - at a record company's studios once, the digital dub of a good analogue master tape sounded 'exactly the same' to me, not harsher or whatever... The CD derivative was also as near as darn it the same, apart maybe from very subtle 'response tuning' done in cheaper domestic players back then.
Tidal e.g. makes a business model out of surpassing the CD quality. Their term MQA is meant to allude to the fact that the songs have a similar quality as if they had been played back from the master in a recording studio.
 

PeteL

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I must be missing something - at a record company's studios once, the digital dub of a good analogue master tape sounded 'exactly the same' to me, not harsher or whatever... The CD derivative was also as near as darn it the same, apart maybe from very subtle 'response tuning' done in cheaper domestic players back then.
Which song was it and where can I hear that digital master?
 

DSJR

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Tidal e.g. makes a business model out of surpassing the CD quality. Their term MQA is meant to allude to the fact that the songs have a similar quality as if they had been played back from the master in a recording studio.
Well, we all know about the basic situation that was MQA I think now. 1970's and earlier analogue masters really don't seem to have much over 18kHz (I doubt a busy mastering player can go higher anyway as the heads wear and these were only lapped or replaced when the 15kHz tones at the front of each master tape couldn't be adjusted out on the set-up eq I was told) but maybe a 1980's Dolby SR master done on more advanced tape that hasn't lost its oxide may be better at higher speeds? No first hand experience so can't say for certain. Looks as though low bass on some machines was a bit 'variable' too although the ATR (102?) machine I think Linn used was rated highly in third party testing.
 

DSJR

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Which song was it and where can I hear that digital master?
The Blue Nile recordings Linn put out in remastered form (these now done done by the original recording engineer) are one example. There was a Decca release of Mahler 10 done early to mid 90's which I think was conducted by Chailly -


All my 'classical music' and jazz CD's are stored away sadly and little chance to play them again currently

It's been reissued since and I don't know if it's been 'tweaked' in this remastering. Decca used to 'beauty-shop' some of their CD releases to improve the 'ambience' between movements and so on but no idea now. Actually, a lot of the once mid price Decca orchestral 1990's CD releases from 50's and 60's recordings were originally 'done' by my mastering engineer pal and he almost NEVER eq'd, compressed or otherwise interfered with what was there on the tape unless he absolutely had to for technical reasons with said tapes. The original 1990's two-disc issue of singer Tom Jones' greatest hits should also be a goodie, as he did one disc and his boss (who really did know what he was doing) the second and tape shedding apart (apparently they 'got to' the tapes just in time), I felt the 'sound' was excellent and apparently what you hear is what the producer heard with no 'mastering engineer' interference!
 

PeteL

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The Blue Nile recordings Linn put out in remastered form (these now done done by the original recording engineer) are one example. There was a Decca release of Mahler 10 done early to mid 90's which I think was conducted by Chailly -


All my 'classical music' and jazz CD's are stored away sadly and little chance to play them again currently

It's been reissued since and I don't know if it's been 'tweaked' in this remastering. Decca used to 'beauty-shop' some of their CD releases to improve the 'ambience' between movements and so on but no idea now. Actually, a lot of the once mid price Decca orchestral 1990's CD releases from 50's and 60's recordings were originally 'done' by my mastering engineer pal and he almost NEVER eq'd, compressed or otherwise interfered with what was there on the tape unless he absolutely had to for technical reasons with said tapes. The original 1990's two-disc issue of singer Tom Jones' greatest hits should also be a goodie, as he did one disc and his boss (who really did know what he was doing) the second and tape shedding apart (apparently they 'got to' the tapes just in time), I felt the 'sound' was excellent and apparently what you hear is what the producer heard with no 'mastering engineer' interference!
Could be more common in the classical world to leave the original recording intact but it is really rare to find rock or pop digital releases that are in their original form. Almost all of that 70s music have been remastered much louder than what it originally was.
 

DSJR

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Sorry for the thread drift -

As I understand it, original transfers done with then crude editors left levels alone and 'cautious.' Decca were so unhappy with what was available in the mid 80's they made their own but by the 90's, the commercial Sony and other types were deemed good enough and they apparently went over to them. One of the Decca chaps remained in the Belsize Road building (Audio Archiving Company) and I seem to remember some time back he went to a Yamaha made editing work-station. The thing is, it's now seemingly easily possible to 'normalise' levels without compression, bringing the loudest parts up to and around '0VU' and this shouldn't be a sonic quality issue at all nowadays. It's when compression and limiting is also involved it becomes an issue really. Not that pro engineers here would look into a thread like this, but if they do, I hope they can expand and/or put me right if I'm wrong.


Back to (bloody) vinyl... I've heard some stunning results from records in my time and the best examples keep noise, distortion and so on very low and totally unobtrusive in fairness, the phono stages not ringing or getting upset with the 'ticks and splats' they receive along with the music. I've also heard cheaper vinyl systems which magnify all the imperfections alarmingly, add motor drones and noises to an already compromised sound and making a mockery of the format. This cheapie-box really needs to be expanded a bit in hf overload performance and if it costs more, so be it I feel!
 

mhardy6647

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I am torn between the good and bad parts. Usually an audio device is mostly one or the other. Here we are right in the middle. I guess if you don't care about headroom, then it is a very good bargain phono stage. Personally I would look elsewhere.
In fairness to the Pro-Ject folks, the price is quite reasonable.
 

Martinvb

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Which Fosi Audio's product are you using?
The Phono Box X2, which produces a remarkable attractive sound at very low noise levels. I can not measure the sound characteristics myself, but I expect it comes with some colouration. I was a bit sceptical at first, but after listening for a few hours it made me again curious about how LPs sounded in the old days (I still have a small stash of vinyl, mainly jazz). Again I was able to appreciate the vinyl sound, despite the inevitable pops and clicks that I started to hate after the CD was introduced. The Fosi unit was only €70 and even contains 2 tubes… which is 1/5 the price of the Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 (note the name resemblance). It is almost the same form factor as the Fosi: I would be interested to compare the internal components of both units.
 
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