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Review: Pro-Ject Automat A1

It doesn't get any simpler than this

With fully automatic playback, Pro-Ject has made it easier to enjoy music on vinyl. But compromises are aplenty.

Karakter
Pro-Ject Automat A1
forfatter
Published 2022-09-07 - 8:00 am
Our opinion
Simple and easy to use turntable that delivers what it promises. Built-in phono step that can be switched off.
Lacks commitment and dynamics. Feels cheap and has few upgrade options.
Specifications
  • Type: Belt-driven fully automatic turntable
  • Arm: 8.3 inch aluminium
  • Pickup: Ortofon OM10 MM pickup
  • Platter: 30 mm aluminum
  • Connections: Phono output
  • RIAA/DAC: Yes/No
  • Other: Dust lid, single adapter
  • Color: Black MDF
  • Dimensions/weight: 43 x 13 x 36.5 cm / 5.6 kg
  • Web: project-audio.com

With super-simple operation, the Pro-Ject A1 is a turntable that won’t make you wince. Anyone can play records on it – it’s so easy to use, you don’t have to touch anything except the start button.

It also has a built-in phono stage, which is a preamp for the low output voltage of the pickup and the recording frequency curve of the records, meaning you don’t need a phono stage in the amp you plan to use.

You do need that if you buy another turntable. Since the selection of turntables in this price range with a built-in phono stage is modest.

But they do exist. The Rega Planar 1 Plus and Reloop Hi-Fi Turn3 are in the same price range. So is Pro-Ject’s own T1 BT Phono, which also has Bluetooth built in.

None of them are fully automatic. That is, you have to press Start and place the needle in the groove yourself, and you have to lift the arm back to the starting position when the record side is finished playing.

You don’t need to do that here. Put the record on, take the protective cap off the pickup, and put the button on start. Then the turntable takes care of the rest. When the turntable has finished playing, the arm is lifted and returns to the start position, and the turntable stops.

Turn the record over and repeat the process.

Project a1 6
Fully automatic means you start playback and then the turntable stops by itself when playback is finished. (Photo: Lasse Svendsen)

If you want to play a single track on the record, you start the same way, but here you lift the arm by putting the elongated button on the lift, so the arm doesn’t lower the pickup into the groove. Once you have placed the pickup over the desired track, lower the arm with the same button.

It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

Fully assembled

Most turntables require a little personal effort before you can play music. No need for that here. Everything is pre-assembled from the factory in Germany. All that stands between you and the music is plugging in the socket, putting on the felt mat, and putting the dust cover in place.

No adjustments are necessary. It’s not really possible either. The pickup, which is an excellent OM10 from Ortofon, is mounted on the single aluminium arm, which has a fixed counterweight at one end.

Project a1 5
Fully cast arm with attached counterweight makes it difficult to upgrade to a better pickup. (Photo: Lasse Svendsen)

The cable is of good quality, but it is also fixed and cannot be replaced.

In short, you have no upgrade options on the player itself, but you can choose to use a better phono stage than the one the turntable comes with. Underneath the aluminium plate is a tiny switch that turns off the phono stage, so you can use a separate one.

Project a1 2
The switch to turn the built-in phono stage on or off is located under the platter. (Photo: Lasse Svendsen)

Many may prefer to do so. But first a bit about the running precision, which turned out to be very good for a belt-driven turntable in this price range.

The deviation was marginal with a measured speed of 33.32 and a deviation of very low +0.03 percent. Wow and Flutter were not quite as impressive with a deviation of 1.03 percent, which is the highest we have measured on a turntable.

Dull and unengaging sound

Most turntables with a built-in phono stage sound better when you unplug it and use the phono stage on the amp. That’s the case here too. The player’s phono stage absolutely gets the job done, and on a pair of active speakers or a Bluetooth speaker (with AUX input), for example, there’s no getting around the built-in phono stage.

However, the sound becomes grey and colourless, with very poor dynamics, and the turntable generally delivers a weak and unengaging sound image. There’s very little gravity in the bass, and it simply sounds flat no matter what you do. If you disconnect the phono stage and use what’s built into the amp, or a separate one like the Schiit Mani, Rega Fono or Pro-Ject’s own Phono Box, everything gets much better.

Project a1 4
Ortofon OM10 is a good pickup at the price, here it comes with the turntable. (Photo: Lasse Svendsen)

Then the dynamic contrast comes out better, the soundstage grows a bit at the extremes with better and fuller bass response, and the whole thing opens up so you can finally feel the music. It shows that there’s more to the turntable than you get out of it through the built-in phono stage. This becomes particularly apparent if you connect the turntable to, say, the phono stage of a McIntosh MA9500, or to Primares’ eminent R35 phono stage. Which of course will never happen in the real world!

Still, there’s no getting around the fact that a Pro-Ject Debut Pro is a much better turntable. The same goes for the Rega Planar 1 Plus, which has livelier dynamics and a bigger, more engaging soundstage. If you’re after an affordable turntable with a built-in phono stage, the Rega is a good bet, but we’d still prefer a Debut Pro, which is well worth the extra money.

Project a1 3
Solid but not replacable cables. (Photo: Lasse Svendsen)

Conclusion

The Pro-Ject Automat A1 is an obvious choice for those who want a turntable without any frills. It’s very simple to set up and use, and it plays just fine for those who just occasionally put a vinyl record on. The more musically inclined with a small record collection should consider another turntable whose sound quality also comes into play. Pro-Ject itself has many alternatives that sound much better and even look better.

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Paul Dqlton

It would be very helpful to include a comparative assessment of the Automat A-1 to other available “automatics”, particularly to the Denon DP-300F, which often has been called “the best automatic of 2022” in reviews that don’t happen to also mention the Automat A-1.

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