Monday, December 15, 2008

Pro-Ject RM-6.1 SE

Even though I've told myself to save my money this holiday season (oh, no, I did it again - curse you, War on Christmas!) , I am keeping my eyes open for the next turntable upgrade, hopefully sometime during the new year. I've had my current table, a decked-out Pro-Ject Debut III, since March, and it's long been a love-hate affair. By all accounts, I should be more than happy with the table, and it's an excellent entry-level system that's perfect for converting anyone who's curious or nostalgic for vinyl lp's.

But I still want a better table, one more powerful. And preferrably one I won't have to upgrade endlessly. That's one concern you must address when choosing a turntable - do you like to tinker around? Or do you just want to play records? There are options for you either way.

Part of me is looking towards a Rega table; probably the tinkering side of me, since Rega's can be hacked around forever. For owners, it's something of a badge of honor. It's also painfully expensive, and I feel unnecessary as our nation is sliding to the edge of another Great Depression.

Another part of me wishes to stay with the Pro-Ject brand. I'm the loyal type, stubbornly so, and I already have a number of Pro-Ject upgrades (Speed Box 2, Tube Box 2) that can be used on a new table. Ideally, I'd like to pass my Debut on to someone else, but move up the food chain considerably. So therin lies our goals for the hunt.

I've already written about Pro-Ject's other mid-range tables, the Xperience and the RM-5. Today, let's look at the third table in the $999 arena, the RM-6.1 SE. This turntable is easily overlooked in favor of cooler-looking (Xperience) or cheaper (Xpression III, RM-5), and it's almost unheard of online, except for the British audio sites. All of the reviews have been glowing, but it's very difficult to find critical reviews among the audiophile press. Make of that what you will.

I admit that the look of the RM-6 didn't appeal to me earlier, but having scoured around for photos, it looks much better to me now. It's a very minimal design, really just a giant silver puck to play records on. This is actually the turntable's platter. Wow. The platter is MDF (medium-density fiberboard), with a layer of vinyl on top. I've noticed that the vinyl doesn't cover the entire platter, so there's that sore sight of your records hanging over slightly. This was a sore spot for me on my standard Debut III, until I upgraded to a 12" acrylic platter. Perhaps I'm just being picky here.

The sub-platter is made of acrylic and looks terrific. This is a notable upgrade from the cheaper Pro-Jects. Is this the only model to use this kind of sub-platter? Very impressive. I also like the skeletal design. We'd expect to see this turntable on The Jetsons. Very futuristic, very stylish.

The tonearm uses Pro-Ject's 9C carbon-fiber arm, which looks excellent and compares very closely to the company's top-model RM-9.1. The owner of Needles and Spins, a UK audio store, praises this setup highly. He argues that the improvements to the tonearm design make the RM-6.1 a better table than either Xperience or RM-5.

As you can see, there's a Speed Box attached to the table, and it's hard-wired, so there's no dealing with upgrades or tweaks. This would work for me, since every Pro-Ject (or Music Hall, since they use the same parts) table requires a Speed Box to perform its best. I could give mine away with the Debut.

My only beef - and, yes, this is a major one - is the lack of any dust cover. My apartment gets really dusty, and a cover is really needed. Otherwise...would I just use a towel? I'm not spending hundreds for some expensive box. Maybe I'd just have to learn to dust more often. Not a deal-breaker for me, but it is a real concern. In a perfect world, I'd get to test these tables out and compare them against one another.

In any case, there you go. Pro-Ject's RM-6.1 SE. Cartridge is not included, so you'll have to factor that into your costs. Tables at this price range usually don't include 'em. Looks great, lots of praise, all the features of the higher-end tables. And strangely unknown. So maybe it's an underdog table. Works fine for me; I always root for the underdogs.

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