Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pro-Ject RM5

Since I've been posting about turntables this weekend, I thought I should continue the thread and feature a few more tables that have caught my eye.

This turntable is Pro-Ject's RM5. The basic table sold for $650 until it was discontinued earlier this year. Needle Doctor was selling their supply at the dangerously low price of $500, one of the great steals of hi-fi audio. Unfortunately, I was completely bankrupt at the time, so I was never able to take advantage of that chance. Instead, I've stubbornly stuck with my humble Pro-Ject Debut III table, adding a few necessary additions here and there.

RM5 is now being sold exclusively as a "Special Edition" model, with a $300 Sumiko Blue Point 2 phono cartridge attached. The platter, made from MDF (medium density fiberboard), is given an extra layer of vinyl on top, so you can place your records on directly without any mat. I've never been a fan of those stupid turntable mats, anyway.

Unfortunately, those additions place the RM5 at $999. That puts it into a whole new realm of hi-fi, and it's almost certainly too high. I've noticed that the prices for many of these tables have shot up in the past year, largely due to the collapse of the US Dollar. Yet another reason to be thankful for George W. Bush. There are new fewer options for turntables under a grand. You have the entry-level stage, where you can choose between the Debut, Music Hall's MMF2.2, or Rega's P1. Beyond that, you will find empty landscapes, except for a couple tables.

In any case, that's a shame. I think a table like RM5 could do very well in the $500-$700 range. It's a great improvement over the entry-level tables, but it's still a step down from the higher models. Corners still need to be cut, and the engineers must be inventive in creating great music for a low price. Besides, this doesn't really "look" like a pricey model. Really, where is the money on this thing? It's very stylish, yes, but very stripped down.

Sometimes I really enjoy the style of RM5. It's basically a giant circle, with just enough of a board to hold the tonearm. This design is based on Pro-Ject's high-end RM9, which retails for $1,800 without a cartridge. The motor lies within the encircled plinth (the board), unlike the external motor on the RM9. I'm sure it's much better than the cheap motor that's given me headaches on my Debut.

I think I would feel better if everything wasn't made out of wood. It does look fine, yes, and I do appreciate the piano finish. But it's still basically a slab of plywood. Most of the money on this turntable goes into the tonearm, a dazzling carbon-fibre arm that should handle just about anything. The carbon-fibre arms are a fixture of the Pro-Ject line (except, of course, the humble Debut), and they always look amazing. I've never heard them in action, but I have no doubt they are quite excellent? Are they as good as Rega's legendary tonearms? Ehh, I don't know. Probably not. But that's what being "legendary" means.

Every once in a while, I see an RM5 for sale at Audiogon, and I'm strongly tempted to buy one. Most audiophiles take very good care of their systems, so there's little worry about being sold a bill of goods. But there's still that possibility, so I remain hesitant. Perhaps I'll find one sitting in a storeroom one of these days.

I don't know where RM5 fits in the grand sphere of turntables. My own love/hate relationship with the Debut has made me a bit wary. Pro-Ject should be applauded for making quality products, that much is certain. But are they really competitive? Or are they always a step behind the big players? Always a step behind Rega? It remains, for me, a mystery. Even in Minneapolis/St. Paul, there are few places to walk in and visit, where you could just sit down and listen to the merchandise. Needle Doctor remains the dominant player, but they're basically a tiny storeroom in the heart of Dinkytown. They're packed in like rats.

Still...sigh, I have to wrap this up somehow...Pro-Ject's RM5 looks really good. My interest has waned somewhat in the past six months, but there's always a chance that one good listen would turn things around. As always, be sure to kick the tires and drive the car around the block before you commit. We're not talking chump change here. We're talking real money.

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