The Elemental is the entry point to Pro-Ject’s vast range of great-value turntables. But it defies everything you’d expect of a model from the budget end of the market, with curvaceous design and a respectable cartridge.
This isn’t quite a plug-and-play solution, since it doesn’t have a built-in phono stage, but it’s just about the starting point for serious vinyl replay.
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The Elemental makes a great first impression. The narrow strip of vinyl-coated MDF plinth is nicely finished, and its rounded ends neatly echo the circular platter and motor pulley above. My review unit’s plinth has a red top and black sides, but the Elemental is also available with a grey or white top.
If you’re concerned that such a skinny MDF plinth isn’t going to hold everything steady when the motor begins to spin, a quick glance beneath the MDF platter should alleviate those fears. Here you'll discover a substantial disc of artificial stone that adds mass and holds a stainless-steel main bearing with a bronze bushing. Four felt pads under this stone act as the turntable’s feet.
The front-left end of the plinth houses the motor and an on/off switch, which is discreetly tucked away on the front edge. The motor pulley is stepped, so changing between 33 and 45rpm speeds is achieved by popping the drive belt up or down a level on the pulley. It's a simple enough process, because the pulley is always exposed and not underneath the platter like it is on many turntables.
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On the back left is the arm mount. The tonearm is an 8.5-inch low-mass unit that appears to have been made specifically for the Elemental. It has a very thin, non-tapered arm tube and separate headshell, and, although flimsy, it still feels more substantial than the majority of arms you’ll find on a record player at this price.
There's a high-quality, captive phono cable with gold-plated RCA plugs already connected to the arm, which is a nice touch. Sadly, it doesn't have an anti-skate mechanism.
The pre-fitted cartridge is a moving-magnet Ortofon OM5e, which is the same cartridge found on Pro-Ject’s next-step-up Essential II series and costs just over £50 on its own. A replacement stylus is rather steep at £40, though.
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A felt mat is provided to top the platter, but in terms of extras, that’s your lot. You’ll need to factor in the cost of a separate phono pre-amp, unless your hi-fi amplifier has one built in. Pro-Ject sells the Phono Box E for £39, which still keeps the overall cost below £200.
The Cover-IT E dust cover is an optional extra at a rather pricey £60, which suddenly makes this package seem less great value – the Essential II is £209 and comes with a lid (but looks far more prosaic).
Setting up the Pro-Ject Elemental is incredibly simple, as you’d hope at this price. The platter is already fitted, as is the cartridge and counterweight. All that’s left is to place the felt mat on the platter and fit the drive belt around the platter and motor pulley.
Switching on the Elemental revealed a similar niggle to one I encountered while testing the Pro-Ject Essential II Digital. Pressing the side-mounted on/off switch caused the whole deck to slide around on the shelf it was sitting on, as the felt feet don’t really provide much friction. I had to get used to steadying the plinth with one hand while flicking the switch.
That aside, the experience of spinning vinyl on the Elemental was a pleasure. The tonearm’s finger lift is nicely designed for easily swinging the needle onto the record, changing speeds is a cinch and, crucially, the sound quality is truly excellent at this price.
Pro-Ject has done well to bundle the Elemental with such a high-spec cartridge at this price. The Ortofon OM5e has a warm, full mid-range that helps this budget turntable sound like it should cost a lot more.
It does a solid job with vocals and acoustic guitar – with Gregory Alan Isakov’s That Sea, The Gambler came through the Elemental with all its intimacy and earnestness intact. There could be a little more subtlety to the mid-range and more of an attacking edge to the treble, but you’d have to pay twice as much as this to hear any serious improvement.
Bass isn’t neglected, either. A spin of De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising showed this Pro-Ject/Ortofon combo can bump and bounce along very nicely indeed.
Most importantly, the Elemental manages to conjure the magic of “proper hi-fi” – it makes you want to keep listening, digging out records you haven’t heard in ages, just because you want to know how they’ll sound on it.
The Elemental really is exceptional value – even when you add the cost of an external phono stage. It’s a great performer that really offers a taste of what vinyl can do. And it does it without looking in any way bland or plasticky.
The only problem will come if you decide you need a dust cover, since the cost of adding one could suddenly bump your overall investment above the £250 cost of a Flexson VinylPlay. The Flexson has a built-in phono stage and lid, is more solidly built, and sounds a tiny bit more exciting, albeit a little leaner in the mid-range.
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The best sub-£200 turntable by a country mile. Looks cool, too.