REVIEW: PRO-JECT 175TH ANNIVERSARY VIENNA PHILHARMONIC TURNTABLE
When turntable brand, Pro-Ject decided to commemorate the Vienna Philharmonic’s 175th birthday, the occasion demanded something a wee bit special and that's exactly what transpired. We take a closer look.
Pro-Ject Audio Systems
The Vienna Philharmonic Turntable
The magic number is 175. Just 175 …
When turntable brand, Pro-Ject Audio Systems decided to commemorate the Vienna Philharmonic’s 175th birthday, the occasion demanded something a wee bit special.
You can imagine the nabobs at Pro-Ject's headquarters mulling over idea after idea. Then came the light bulb moment.
Why not build a limited run of 175 turntables with a retro-modern styling and a sonic signature that connotes brass and wooden musical instruments?
A styling that’s both funky and classy, and a form factor anchored in the turntables of the 70s, but with a finish and build quality that’s unmistakably hi-tech 21st century.
Why not indeed?
The endeavour would have been much easier said than done. Luckily, handier even, Pro-Ject already had its inspiration in the retro shape of its best selling, budget-priced, retro-styled, Classic turntable model.
That's exactly what transpired, and as they say, the rest is audio history.
Only it isn’t. Pro-Ject didn’t stoop to a simple makeover of the Classic vinyl spinner. No way Hose and Jose.
Celebrating the Vienna Philharmonic’s 175th birthday bash called for something much more intelligent. A simple rehash wasn’t going to cut it.
What Pro-Ject did sign off on was essentially a new turntable, and a new tonearm and cartridge each built and finished to the level of an expensive watch.
The keyword here is “precision” and verily, more than anything else the 175 turntable connotes the jeweller’s art.
This exquisite collector’s item called the Pro-Ject Audio 175 - The Vienna Philharmonic Limited Edition turntable is now playing in my room. The serial number is 46, and as far as I know, it’s the only sample released for global review, thus far. Thanks must be made to Pro-Ject's Australian distributor, Interdyn for making the possibilty a reality.
Only in Australia, eh…
When I press the “play” switch, the exquisite style and build pedigree remind me that each of these 175 limited edition vinyl spinners, is the result of two months of intensive, highly skilled labour.
Call it eye-candy, audio jewellery, or call it what you like. But when you see a model 175 in the flesh don’t be surprised that your eyes are constantly drawn to look at, and admire it. It is breathtakingly beautiful.
During the time it was weaving its beguiling music quality in my listening room, I kept getting up from my listening chair to allow my eyes to take in another detail or view it from another angle.
Leaving aside the fact I’m a turntable lush, the fit and finish is spellbinding and lives up to Pro-Ject’s goal of making a vinyl spinner that connotes the brass and wooden instruments of an orchestra.
The Narrative Of The Pro-Ject 175 Turntable
Pro-Ject Audio is based in Vienna.
So when the city’s renowned orchestra’s 175th birthday was approaching, the company decided to honour this milestone by issuing a very special turntable.
A meeting was convened and you can just imagine the excited banter, deep in the inner sanctum of Pro-Ject’s HQ with the company’s head honchos saying:
Gather around chappies. We need a turntable to commemorate the city’s philharmonic orchestra. It has to be retro but modern, and it has to reflect the spirit of the orchestra.
The brainstorming session obviously took off when someone with a modicum of creativity said:
Lads we’ve already got the retro Classic turntable. So why reinvent the wheel? Let’s take the Classic to a level of build quality that essentially gives us a completely new model?
Deal done. The Pro-Ject 175 turntable was off the drawing board. On completion, it is a unique design. There’s nothing vaguely like it in the turntable heartland.
There are better sounding turntables, to be sure. Pro-Ject's Signature models will best the 175 in most facets of performance prized by hardened audiophiles.
But none rival the Pro-Ject 175’s dazzling architecture.
What turntable has a gilded metal top plate fashioned to mimic an orchestra’s brass instruments?
What model available now or in the past, has a wooden plinth covered with multiple coats of lacquer to resemble the finish of a violin?
The orchestral theme continues with a stunning tonearm, finished in silver to offset the golden sheen of the top plate. The 175’s tonearm has a removable headshell, and its fitting is what we’d describe as a “universal SME” mounting method.
What isn’t immediately obvious is the headshell’s finger-lift which is crafted from a clarinet flap. Lovely, It has a wonderful tactile feel.
The orchestral theme even extends to the operating controls. Look carefully at the front, left side of the top plate and you’ll see three unobtrusive push buttons for powering the 175 on and off, and to switch speeds from 33 1/3 to 45 rpm.
Amazingly, these switches are made from the buttons on a flute.
These orchestral touches are beautiful to see and feel. But so is the lacquer finish of the turntable and the tonearm. It must have been an excruciatingly precise process to add layer after layer of this high gloss lacquer to the turntable and tonearm.
Take a magnifying glass to peruse the turntable and I can guarantee you will not see one drop of lacquer smear or a millimetre of imperfection.
The 175 reaches a standard of finish that’s sure to make anyone viewing it, take in a deep breath and appreciate the two months of laborious hard yakka it took to complete each one.
Suffice to say, the Pro-Ject 175 turntable has parts of such precise tolerance levels including the bearing of the turntable and those in the tonearm, that any comparison with the existing Classic model, isn’t possible.
The final touch is found around back. It’s a metal plaque with the serial number of the turntable and get this, the name of the owner!
The 175 turntable ships in a wooden crate that’s about one metre long and half a metre deep and wide.
Unscrew the crate’s lid and inside is the kind of bespoke packaging good enough to freight the British crown jewels.
Everything is provided, including a smaller wooden box that holds Pro-Ject's electronic stylus force gauge, anti-skate mechanism and other accessories such as a record clamp, dust cover and a high-end audio cable.
Surprisingly the cartridge is packed mounted on the end of the tonearm. It’s a hand-picked model ordered especially for the 175 turntable from Ortofon.
Pro-Ject says this cartridge is based on a top-of-the-line Cadenza series model. A long listen suggests it’s easily the equivalent of a Cadenza Black or Bronze cartridge and perhaps even more refined than either of these two top-rank Ortofon models.
Whatever its provenance, the cartridge is not only pre-installed, but its also been calibrated for the user for the perfect overhang and azimuth measurements. All one needs to do to get the music flowing is install the ant skate mechanism and apply the correct tracking weight.
I couldn’t resist selecting 60s and 70s albums to spin on this exquisite example of turntable art.
Records that meant much to me in that period are the Beethoven 6th symphony also known as The Pastoral Symphony, the Beethoven late string quartets, Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, The Beatles Sergeant Pepper, Dylan’s The Times They Are A Changing and Joni Mitchell’s Blue.
The overriding quality experienced with any of these celebrated albums was engagement.
The Pro-Ject 175 turntable doesn’t hurtle detail at you like some more credentialed high-end vinyl spinners. Nor does it thrust an overwhelming amount of bottom, top or mid frequencies at the listener.
Frankly, it doesn’t excel at any of the desired audiophile parameters such as imaging, transparency, soundstage or timing.
It simply goes about the art of playing back recorded music with a naturalness that relaxes and engages the listener, and it becomes addictive.
Take the Karajan/Berlin Philharmonic 1977 performance of the Beethoven 6 symphony for example.
On the mega-dollar Continuum, which is unarguably one of the best turntables ever made, this version of the 6th symphony had nowhere to hide. I recall hearing every vestige of recorded detail and the experience was unnerving.
The Continuum has the ability to take you to the production values of a recording. Overdubbing, multi-micing, multi-tracking, - it reveals all the sins of modern recordings.
They emerge as if caught in a powerful spotlight. The effect is dazzling, unnerving and exciting, simultaneously.
Via the more modestly priced 175, Beethoven’s first stanza carries you along with each light-hearted and unthreatening note. As you progress further into the music, Beethoven’s incomparable magic takes you deeper into this musical landscape inviting you to unlock your imagination and create your own individual interpretation of this symphony’s terrain.
Move to the composer’s more spiritually intense late string quartets as interpreted by the Vegh Quartet, and like me, you may have the realisation that these sublime creations demand to be savoured on vinyl.
The 175 isn’t overtly detailed. No, you won’t hear the strings rake the resin on the violinist’s bow like you would hear if the same album were played back on turntables the calibre of the majestic Kronos, Sperling or indeed the fear-inducing Baasner turntable.
Pro-Ject Audio’s inspiration for the 175 is much more modest and more intimate. What you will hear is four performers playing in perfect sync, and believe me, you will hear your interpretation of the composer’s musical message.
Move to modern music like Dylan’s timeless The Times Are A Changin' composition and it becomes clear the 175 is even-handed with its approach to all genres of music.
Track 7, Boots Of Spanish Leather is a simple song about love and longing. But it’s also laced with a hint of irony. Some pedigree turntables give you all the detail of this wistful song in triplicate. But they also obliterate the irony. You pays your money …
As for Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother, all you need to know about its mood, temperament and orientation is contained in the title at about 14 minutes in the track called rather indiscreetly, Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast.
Could the 175 evoke times past? Not quite. No component can take you back precisely to the place, time and mood of an album or track heard for the first time.
But gosh, many do get close. What I can say is the 175 gave me a lot of the pleasure I derived from hearing this track way back in my student days.
And the same was to be had with Ballerina, a track from Morrison’s Astral Weeks album. I still play and replay the copy I bought in 1968 and regard it as one of the centrepieces of my record collection.
Ballerina has the same musical insistence as does Ravel’s zany Bolero. The 175 preserved this with a subtle but enjoyable sense of timing, the music rising and dissipating, as the music demands it should.
As for rendition of female vocal, a must-do/must-have quality before I buy any component, the 175 does rather nicely as it did with Joni Mitchell’s timeless song, A Case Of You from her album called Blue.
Mitchell’s young voice was seductive and endearing thanks to the 175’s smooth and slightly warm tonal balance. But its accompanying arm and cartridge must take a lot of the brownie points because they are such an organic match for the 175.
I closed one long listening session with The Beatle’s eighth studio album called Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Released in 1967, this album is widely regarded by those that know about these things, as probably the greatest pop album of all time.
From the opening pizazz of the first track especially when the brass instruments blazed in with plenty of spite and bite, I knew I’d be playing both sides of this LP on Pro-Ject Audio’s 175 turntable. And I did.
Although these things are open to debate, if you were to ask my opinion about what were the three most iconic turntables of the last fifty years, I’d reply: Michell’s Gyrodec with the brass inserts on the platter and, any and every version of Oracle’s Delphi turntable.
Pro-Ject's 175 Vienna Philharmonic Limited Edition turntable makes it to third.
For more information visit Pro-Ject Audio Systems.
One of the veterans of the Australian HiFi industry, Peter was formerly the Audio-Video Editor of the Herald Sun for over two decades. One of the most-respected audio journalists in Australia, Peter brings his unparalleled experience and a unique story-telling ability to StereoNET.