Pro-Ject E1 review: a big-sounding entry-level turntable that’ll grow on you

The Pro-Ject E1 turntable with a record spinning.

Pro-Ject E1 Turntable

MSRP $399.00

“The Pro-Ject E1 Phono is an upgradable, entry-level turntable with big, clear sound that will grow on you.”

Pros

  • Stylish, great-sounding turntable
  • Built-in phono preamp
  • Upgradable Ortofon cartridge
  • Speed switch
  • Reputable Pro-Ject name
  • Bluetooth model available

Cons

  • Sound needs some EQing
  • So light it slides around
  • Molded plastic platter, not solid acrylic
  • No auto-stop function

When it comes to turntables, Pro-Ject Audio has been responsible for some of the biggest hits in the industry, such as its hugely popular Debut lineup that’s still killing it to this day. To be sure, the Austrian company makes some serious audiophile decks that cost as much as a decent used car, but where Pro-Ject excels is on the affordable end of the spectrum, making quality turntables accessible to anyone looking to start digging into vinyl — and if you’re here, that likely means you.    

Case in point: The Pro-Ject E Series is the company’s latest budget line that it launched in May 2022. A range of three entry-level turntables — the $350 base mode E1, the $400 E1 Phono with built-in pre-amp, and the $500 E1 BT with all that, plus Bluetooth connectivity —  the E Series combines good looks with decent components that deliver a surprisingly big sound. They’re also a cinch to set up, making them perfect for newbies. But here’s the problem: Pro-Ject isn’t the only reputable deck maker vying for a piece of the budding record-collector pie, as it has to contend with the likes of Rega, Audio Technica, Fluance, U-Turn, Sony, and others to earn your dollars. But like I said, this is where Pro-Ject excels, and to borrow from Pink Floyd, the E1 Series is yet another brick in its formidable entry-level turntable wall. It’s worth noting that all three E1 turntables are identical, with the obvious differences — one doesn’t have a phono pre-amp, one does, and one has it plus Bluetooth connectivity. For my review, I tested the midtier E1 Phono. Let’s check it out.

Out of the box

The included parts for the Pro-Ject E1 turntable on a table.
The included parts for the Pro-Ject E1 turntable all packed in a single bag.

Given Pro-Ject’s experience with making things simple for the uninitiated, it’s no surprise that the E1 Phono review unit I received was perfectly packed, easy to unpack, and had pretty much every doodad in a single bag. As with most turntables that don’t come in a suitcase, there’s some assembly required, and in the E1’s box, you’ll find everything you need, including the individually packaged platter, RCA cables with included ground wire, a 3.5mm-to-RCA adapter (for connecting to an AUX input or set of powered speakers), rubber belt, AC power supply with international adapters, dust cover, and a little Allen wrench for adjusting its stiff hinges.

Finally, also in the bag, Pro-Ject has thoughtfully included a force-gauge protractor and a paper cartridge alignment tool. Now, you shouldn’t need these at setup as all the E1 turntables come “plug and play” from the factory (I’ll get to that below). But on the off chance that you need to set or reset the tracking force (the ideal downward weight at which the stylus contacts the record’s grooves) or anti-skate setting (a light, outward force that counters the tonearm’s tendency to move inwards), whether at setup or down the road if you ever change the cartridge, then these tools are easy to use and will come in handy.

Setup

If you’re going to call a turntable “entry-level” then it stands to reason that it should be super easy for beginners to get up and running. And the Pro-Ject E1 is. As mentioned above, the E1 line comes with its tonearm and cartridge set up by the experts at the factory, unlike higher-level decks that not only require precision cartridge installation but also assembly and balancing of the tonearm, which can be finicky for the uninitiated. There’s none of that with the E1. Aside from installing the rubber belt to the drive, placing the platter on the spindle post, sliding the dust cover in place, and connecting the RCA cables (all basic setup stuff), setting up the Pro-Ject E1 Phono (or any in the series) should take less than 10 minutes.

Overall, the Pro-Ject E1 is a gorgeous, well-built turntable in the Austrian company’s sub-$500 entry-level range.

Unless, like with my review unit, it doesn’t. For some reason, the and its rod was inserted into the tone-arm assembly backward (likely from the previous reviewer), and I had to balance it myself, which Pro-Ject says customers should only have to do when changing or upgrading the cartridge. That said, I found the included basic force gauge protractor that comes with most Pro-Ject turntables worked pretty well and it didn’t take long to get everything balanced.

Design and build The Pro-Ject E1 turntable spinning a record. Derek Malcolm / Digital Trends

Overall, the Pro-Ject E1 is a gorgeous, well-built turntable in the Austrian company’s affordable sub-$500 entry-level range. Its minimal design comes in white, black, and wood grain finishes (like my review unit), and is on par with many of the belt-driven turntables on the market, drawing its DNA from Pro-Ject’s long line of world-class turntables, including its award-winning Debut Carbon, which is still going strong as an audiophile-level turntable today.

The Pro-Ject E1 is a belt-drive turntable, a system that is considered quieter because the motors are separated and not directly connected to the platter like direct-drive decks. The E1’s minimal design also features a premounted cartridge and a counterweighted gimbal-balanced tonearm, as well as a basic but elegant cue lever and tonearm cradle — which is all you need.

But the E1 is light. Perhaps too light at just 7.7 pounds. It’s so light, in fact, that when you lift the dust cover, the stiffness of the hinges makes the whole deck move — you have to hold it down. Luckily, the hinges are adjustable with an included Allen wrench to loosen things to your liking. Similarly, when turning the turntable on with its side-mounted speed switch to start a record, the felt bottoms of the three isolation feet don’t create enough traction, so the whole turntable begins to slide. Maybe some grippy rubber footings would be better.

The molded plastic platter of the Pro-Ject E1 turntable
The gimbal and tonearm of the Pro-Ject E1 turntable.

The E1’s practically feather-like weight is on account of the turntable’s materials — an anti-resonant 3/4-inch thick plinth made of what Pro-Ject calls a “CNC-machined composite fiber,” molded ABS polymer (plastic) platter, and a lightweight aluminum tonearm. While you could find thicker, heavier plinths and solid acrylic or aluminum platters on other entry- or mid-level turntables (like the fantastic Fluance RT85N) for better anti-resonance, the vinyl-curious beginners or casual listeners that the E1 is perfect for won’t care or won’t notice, as the E1 sounds great (more on that later).

Features and operation

Each of the turntables in the Pro-Ject E1 line offers up all the features any beginner will need, and probably a couple that will set them up for success should they upgrade down the line.

To preamp or not to preamp The built-in phono preamp of the Pro-Ject E1 turntable.

The first thing to get out of the way are the options Pro-

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