Introduction - What is the Classic Evo?
The Pro-Ject Classic Evo is an unsuspended belt driven turntable. At least, it is largely an unsuspended belt driven turntable. As the name suggests, the Classic Evo is designed in part to evoke some of the thinking and styling that went into turntables of old. This is perfectly logical in one regard; nostalgia sells and many companies are doing a nice line of business mining the past at the moment, borrowing styling cues from a simpler and happier time.
In other regards, it’s a bit weird. Pro-Ject wasn’t around when these ideas were being done the first time around and this is compounded by the fact you can still buy turntables that were. Then, there is the perception - not entirely fair but widely held - that vinyl is a classic format anyway. Given the whole premise of dragging a piece of industrial diamond through a plastic groove is inherently old tech, mining the past seems counterproductive. Pro-Ject is nothing if not logical though and the reasons why they have built the Classic Evo make a bit more sense when delved into a little further. There is still a journey between ‘making sense’ and ‘being good’ though so we’ll need to spin some records and see whether the Classic delivers a thoroughly up to date performance.
Specification and Design
As the name suggests, the Classic Evo is not a clean sheet of paper design. The original Classic appeared a few years ago and forms the basis of what you see here. The Classic was something of a surprise when it appeared because it sat comparatively close to some existing models in pricing terms and exhibited some ideas that Pro-Ject had never shown any interest in up until this point. The main principle is the use of a chassis and sub chassis arrangement. The two chassis are traditionally separated by a suspension system. The Linn LP12 is perhaps the best known of these designs - certainly in the UK - but Thorens was also very active in this area too.
The catch is that suspended turntables - especially ones with the springs inboard like these designs tend to have - is that they are a pain to setup, particularly if you have no prior experience of doing so. Pro-Ject has designed the Classic/ Classic Evo with a main and subchassis but instead of springs has a sextet of Thermo Plastic Elastomer (TPE) spheres which offer the isolation needed without the attendant complexity. The spheres isolate the sub chassis but the two sections ship in one piece and they can’t drift out of setup. This is not an entirely new idea; the Roksan Xerxes is designed around similar principles, but this is one of the most affordable versions out there.
The first major change to Evo spec is what attaches to the subchassis. The aluminium platter is now partnered with a matching aluminium sub platter which improves the relationship between the two sections and imparts a higher quality feel. The belt acts on the sub platter and is spun by a motor that takes a DC feed from the mains and converts to AC on board. There is an electronic speed control via a pair of push buttons that allow for 33, 45 and 78rpm to be selected.
The other major area of change is the arm. The Classic Evo makes use of a 9 inch carbon fibre arm; the latest in what is now a fairly long running family of such designs. The tube has an aluminium core that is then stiffened by an application of carbon fibre weave. The result is a stiff and light arm although one that isn’t without operational quirks. The antiskate is on the traditional line and weight system - something that looks a little home made but works well in practise. Setting it for the supplied cartridge is a bit of a pig though as the correct point you loop the end of the line around is tucked well under the bearing housing. Compared to the bulletproof Rega RB330 that the Planar 6 uses, it’s a faff. It does work well once set though and the correct tracking force is easy to apply too.
The arm is now fitted with an Ortofon Quintet Red moving coil cartridge in place of the 2M Silver moving magnet of the original. The Red is the simplest and most affordable member of the Quintet family and makes use of a bonded elliptical stylus (and a reminder, we covered stylus types here) on an aluminium cantilever. The body is made from ABS plastic on an aluminium frame and it produces an output of 0.5mV - a tiny amount but healthy enough in the context of a moving coil design. The Classic Evo is available for special order without this cartridge fitted but Ortofon and Pro-Ject have a strong working relationship and their products historically work very well together. One nice design touch is that the Classic Evo has a proper pair of RCA phono plugs fitted to the rear of the chassis and a good quality interconnect is supplied. Ignoring any notional alteration to performance, being able to fit a cable long enough for a wall shelf is welcome.
The overall impression that the Classic Evo gives in the flesh isn’t significantly different to the original but there wasn’t much wrong with that. The more time I’ve spent with it the more I’ve come to appreciate some of its charms. For starters, the design is not overtly retro. Little choices like the brushed finish for the top plate and flat edges for the plinth ensure that the effect is fairly timeless rather than a pastiche. The use of the carbon arm also helps to anchor the Pro-Ject in the present and gives a sense of brand identity. The arm is the only piece of Pro-Ject branding on the deck itself (there’s another badge on the removable lid) and it gives the Classic Evo a clean appearance that can sometimes escape some designs from the company.
I don’t like everything on it. The speed selection buttons are a little fiddly and the blue LEDs jar slightly on a retro styled design (red would be more authentic) and the spin up time of the platter is fairly lethargic too. These issues are not the end of the world though and the build and general fit and finish of the Classic Evo is pretty good. There’s a reasonable element of practicality to it as well. There’s a lid which is an underrated pleasure and the overall footprint and design of the Classic Evo is unlikely to be an issue in most conventional setups. No less useful is the absence of an external PSU or speed control which some rivals have and that needs to be accommodated too. There is no need to suffer for the sake of the look with the Pro-Ject which is always a welcome thing.
The more time I’ve spent with it the more I’ve come to appreciate some of its charms.
How was the Classic Evo tested?
The Pro-Ject has been placed on a Quadraspire QAVX rack and powered from an IsoTek Evo3 Aquarius mains conditioner. It has been connected to a Cyrus Phono Signature phono stage running into a Cambridge Audio Edge A integrated amplifier and a pair of Kudos Titan 505 speakers. I had briefly considered unlimbering the cartridge and testing the Pro-Ject with some other designs but the nature of how securely the tags are secured at the factory meant that this idea was abandoned. The test material has been vinyl.
The engineering argument for suspended subchassis turntables is that the playing surface is effectively isolated from the outside world. The emotive argument is, if anything, more persuasive. There is an indefinable something about suspended decks and the way that they make music. The suspension adds a degree of character to the presentation that - while notionally induced colouration - still appealed at an emotional level.
Technically, as the Pro-Ject has no springs, it wasn’t ever likely to demonstrate the same level of character but there is a certain something to the manner in which it makes music that isn’t the same as a conventional unsuspended deck. Listening to My Baby’s Mounaki on the Classic Evo is a more physically engaging performance than it is on digital. There’s a swagger to the presentation that fundamentally works with music like this. It’s subjective - and would be at the core of any debate about whether you want the direct tap of the mixing desk or something a little different - but it infuses what the Classic Evo does.
What helps this to be charming rather than overt is that the fundamental performance of the Pro-Ject is accurate and consistently believable. Pitch accuracy and stability are excellent and the noise floor is low enough to not be an issue - it doesn’t make itself felt via the extremely quiet Cyrus so it is unlikely to be an issue with much else. There is a commendable level of three dimensionality to the presentation too. With a pressing of any quality, the Pro-Ject lets things happen in an orderly and believable way that extends beyond the location of the speakers.
From there, it takes the basics and exerts a slight but distinctive character to the music that never becomes so overt that it takes you out of the music itself. Put simply, the Pro-Ject is fun and not simply when it has a big, exuberant time signature to play with either. Listen to the Voices, the rousing but far from boisterous opener for Labi Siffire’s So Strong, fizzles with an energy that grabs your attention and keeps it throughout the record.
Picking apart the roles and responsibilities of the various parts of the Classic Evo is almost impossible and, to an extent, irrelevant as it is sold as a single unit. I do feel that there might be more to gain from the basic turntable than the Quintet Red can deliver but this has to be offset against the pricing structure that makes the version that comes fitted with the cartridge rather stronger value. I would also say that this is the best that I’ve heard the Ortofon sound; a realisation of the notional synergy I mentioned earlier. I do think that a slightly more advanced stylus profile would benefit the performance a little but I can’t test that to be absolutely sure.
What I can say is that this is a fun and rewarding turntable to listen to for extended periods. I’ve done some all day sessions with it, pottering through a huge selection of records and it hasn’t been wrong footed or unhappy at any point. It avoids the sort of shock and awe trick that is deeply engrossing for a short period and wearying thereon after. It is forgiving of hot pressings in a way that some other turntables can struggle with and can then still deliver the benefits that decent pressings allow.
It does makes for an interesting point of comparison to the Rega Planar 6. Fitted with an Ania cartridge, the Rega is the punchier and more immediate of the two models. It is £220 more though, not as nice to look at and needs more space on account of its external PSU. Pro-Ject has done their homework here in that there isn’t much that combines the performance and convenience that the Classic Evo does for the same money.
Pro-Ject has done their homework here in that there isn’t much that combines the performance and convenience that the Classic Evo does for the same money
- Sounds great
- Looks great
- Well priced
- Performance might be seen to be slightly coloured
- Could stand a better cartridge
- Fiddly antiskate system
Pro-Ject Classic Evo Turntable Review
For most of the lifetime of the company, Pro-Ject has made products that you choose because of the sheer bang for buck they offered. Even when you look at the vast flagships that the company builds, there’s still a sense that you’re getting more turntable for your money than most rivals. Recently, in both the affordable T1 and here with the Classic Evo, that formula is changing a little. This is still a turntable that offers huge bang for your buck - the specification on offer and the general quality of what it is attached to is very high. More than that though, the Classic Evo is covetable. I love the looks and the slight character it brings to the performance. It has character (and I mean that as a selection of positive attributes rather than flaws) and it’s a hugely likeable product. For these reasons, the Classic Evo comes Highly Recommended.
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