Pro-Ject E1 review: a low-price, beginner-friendly turntable that looks as good as it sounds

The E1 is an excellent all-rounder and a particularly good option for vinyl newcomers or returners

Pro-Ject E1 turntable on a glass surface
(Image: © Future)

TechRadar Verdict

The Pro-Ject E1 is well worth considering if you want a fuss-free turntable that sounds good and doesn't cost too much money. It lacks automation and fancy features such as Bluetooth, but crucially it sounds better than similarly priced rivals. It's gorgeous, too.

Pros

  • +

    Exceptionally simple to set up

  • +

    Warm and detailed sound

  • +

    Affordably priced

Cons

  • -

    No automation

  • -

    No frills

  • -

    Very lightweight

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Pro-Ject E1: Two-minute review

The Pro-Ject E1 is a very capable, but affordable, turntable that's a particularly good option for people who are new to vinyl or who just want a fuss-free turntable that won't break the bank. It looks good, it sounds good and it comes with everything pre-set so you can simply assemble it, plug it in, and start playing.

The simplicity means that the Pro-Ject E1 lacks features you'll find in some rivals, such as a 78rpm speed setting, a phono stage pre-amp, a USB port or Bluetooth streaming – so if you want to stream old shellac singles to your Bluetooth headphones or rip them to digital this may not be the best turntable for you. But its simplicity is its strength: the focus is on delivering an involving sonic performance, and the E1 does that very well.

For this price, you won't really get any better sound than this has to offer. And it comes basically ready to out of the box – you won't need to have any fears over the set-up process, which makes it fantastic for beginners. It lacks automatic operation, which is a bit of a shame, but not a big deal. It's also quite lightweight, so make sure it's not positioned somewhere vulnerable to vibrations.

Aside from these notes, it's hard to fault this for what it delivers – it's designed to make great sound analogue sound easy, and it 100% achieves that.

The version we tested here is the plain Pro-Ject E1, which does not have its own phono stage – it's designed to be connected to an amplifier or to a system that has a phono stage before the amp. It's also available as the Pro-Ject E1 Phono with an integrated pre-amp, enabling you to use it with self-powered speakers, and as the E1 BT, which has the same pre-amp and adds Bluetooth transmission.

Pro-Ject E1 review: price and release date

  • Released in May 2022
  • $349 / £299 / AU$649
  • Usually available for less

This isn't Pro-Ject's cheapest turntable – that honour goes to the Primary E, which is about a third cheaper – but it's still priced keenly. The Pro-Ject E1 has a recommended retail price of $349 / £299 / AU$649, but at the time of writing it was available in the UK for as little as £209 and AU$494 in Australia, so buy at the right time and you can get a serious bargain. It was launched in 2022.

Pro-Ject E1 with raised lid

The Pro-Ject E1 is very light, so much so that you'll probably want to loosen the hinges for the acrylic cover. (Image credit: Future)

Pro-Ject E1 review: design

  • Beautiful in an understated way
  • No need to adjust tracking force
  • Very lightweight

The Pro-Ject E1 is beautiful in the way that a classic Swiss watch or a really good tailored suit are: understated rather than look-at-me flashy. The version I tested was entirely black with a gloss black plinth and matte black hardware, a look that reminded me of Hotblack Desiato's spaceship in The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy or the cover of Spinal Tap's Smell The Glove.The other colors retain the black hardware but replace the black composite fibre plinth with gloss white and walnut versions respectively.

The tonearm is rigid but lightweight aluminium with tracking force and its anti-skid pre-set and the 8.6-inch platter is lightweight ABS polymer with ridges designed to reduce unwanted resonance. The power supply plugs into the back, where you'll also find the decently long phono cables and ground wire. Unlike other Pro-Ject turntables, the RCA cable here is pre-soldered directly to the turntable. The cable length is 1.23m.

This is a very light turntable, so much so that lifting the lid can move the entire thing. You'll want to use the supplied hex key to loosen the hinges a little, and ensure your turntable isn't close to the speakers, or anything else that shakes the room, because it's likely to pick up some vibrations when it's this lightweight. High-end turntables are often seriously heavy in order to absorb unwanted vibrations, but this one is slight.

  • Design score: 4.5/5

Pro-Ject E1 close up cartridge

Our turntable came with an Ortofon OM 5E cartridge, which is a good all-rounder. (Image credit: Future)

Pro-Ject E1 review: Features

  • No flashy bells or whistles
  • No need to do a belt change
  • Fully manual operation

This is a very zen turntable: if it's not necessary, it isn't here. It's a fully manual turntable without bells and whistles, which helps explain how Pro-Ject has managed to keep the price down.

Unlike many belt-driven turntables, there's no need to do an awkward belt change when you want to change speeds: the E1 has an electronic speed switch with three positions, 45, off, and 33.

Although the Pro-Ject website currently lists the E1 with an Audio-Technica AT3600L cartridge, our review unit came with an Ortofon OM 5E. That cartridge is known for its neutral sound, making it a good choice for eclectic music tastes. It's upgradeable to Ortofon's other Super OM styluses.

As mentioned above, you don't get a built-in phono stage here either, so pay attention to whether your amp has one, or whether you might be better off getting the E1 Phono model.

  • Features score: 3/5

Pro-Ject E1 power socket

It doesn't get much simpler than this: plug the power supply in here, connect the cables to your amp and you're good to go. (Image credit: Future)

Pro-Ject E1: Audio performance

  • Exciting and involving sound
  • Great clarity and separation
  • Bass is big without being baggy

Belt-driven turntables are typically quieter than direct drive ones, and that's definitely the case here. The E1 is very quiet in operation, enabling the music to shine. And it really does. After reviewing some much cheaper turntables, listening to the same records on the E1 was like the bit in The Wizard of Oz where everything goes into technicolor. 

The stereo stage was much better defined, the high frequencies were airier, and the low end was thrilling and tight rather than merely thumpy. Although the Ortofon cartridge is known for its neutrality it still delivered what I'd describe as a warm and lively sound, especially on vocals and acoustic instruments.

This is a very musical turntable. Old classics such as Fleetwood Mac's Rumours were a delight, the backing vocals and keyboards taking their rightful place without overpowering those lush vocals; Billy Duffy's guitar on The Cult's Electric growled and soared; Sigrid and Pet Shop Boys' electronic pop was propulsive without becoming crowded. If the mark of a good audio product is its ability to let you hear things that were previously buried, the E1 passes with flying colors: it makes room for details that you simply can't hear on lesser turntables.

Obviously, at this price, they're not the last word in turntable sound. If you spend more, and have the amp and speakers to make the most of it, you can get even more dynamic range and crisp detail. But you won't feel wanting as a result of listening to the Pro-Ject with a suitable setup, and an affordable pair of the best stereo speakers to match,

I also have one of the E1's main rivals here, the Audio-Technica AT-LP120X-USB, which has a similar price. And while the rival turntable has more features, such as Bluetooth and USB connectivity, I think the Pro-Ject E1 is the better sounding of the two. The AT is a very good affordable turntable but the E1 is more involving.

  • Audio score: 4/5

Pro-Ject E1 belt

You'll only need to see the belt when you first assemble your turntable: speed changes in this model are electronic, not manual. (Image credit: Future)

Pro-Ject E1 review: Usability and setup

  • Everything's been done for you
  • You'll be up and running in no time
  • No automation

The Pro-ject E1 has been designed to be effortless to set up. The tracking force is already set, as is the anti-skid, so getting organized is just a matter of following the simple instructions to put the belt onto the pulley, the platter on top, and the felt mat on top of that. Run the cables to your amp or phono stage, plug in the power, and you're good to go. 

That super simplicity does mean some sacrifices, though: there's no automation, so you'll need to manually lift the tonearm when you reach the end of a side. 

Although the tracking force is pre-set, you can adjust it: the counterweight is locked but the supplied hex key loosens it should you wish to increase the downward force. 

  • Usability & setup score: 4.5/5

Pro-Ject E1 review: Value for money

  • You're not paying for features you won't use
  • Sounds more expensive than it is

At this price, the E1 is excellent value for money: you're not paying for bells and whistles you won't use (how many people are really ripping vinyl to USB these days?), so pretty much every penny is going on how your records will sound. So while lacking the extra flexibility of a phono stage or Bluetooth connection knocks this score down a little (though you can always get the E1 BT model instead!), it's still superb value overall.

It's a similar kind of thing with its lack of automatic operation – it would be even better for beginners if it had this option, but it's not a big deal that it doesn't have it. The really important thing is the quality, and it has that in spades.

If you're looking for a fuss-free turntable that looks good and sounds even better this is a Pro-Ject you'll want to join.

  • Value score: 4/5

Should I buy the Pro-Ject E1?

Swipe to scroll horizontally
AttributeCommentsScore
DesignLooks as good as it sounds thanks to its understated but practical design.5/5
FeaturesDon't expect bells and whistles: this is focused solely on playing records.3/5
Usability and setupEverything fiddly has been done for you. You'll be listening in no time.4.5/5
Audio performanceExciting, involving and very musical. A very enjoyable turntable.4/5
ValueIf you want a no-frills, low-cost turntable that sounds great, this is hard to beat.4/5

Buy it if...

You’re time-poor
Setting this turntable up is incredibly quick and simple.


You don't need shiny things
The E1 is focused on sound, not on adding extra features. 

You like it simple
Minimalism is the order of the day here, in features and design.

Don't buy it if...

You want to stream
This turntable isn't Bluetooth, although there is a Bluetooth model in the range – look for the Pro-Ject E1 BT.

You're not familiar with hi-fi terms at all
This particular E1 needs to be connected to an amp with a phono stage, or you need a separate phono stage. If you don't know what this means, you'll need to learn – or get the E1 Phono, which has this built-in.

You want to tinker
The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon would be the better option for anyone who thinks they might want to upgrade parts in the future.

Pro-Ject E1 review: Also consider

Image

Fluance RT81
Fluance's turntable is similarly priced, and like the Pro-Ject is belt driven for low noise. The stylus is an Audio-Technica AT95E and there's a built-in Texas Instruments phono stage. It's also heavier than the Pro-Ject. In our Fluance RT81 review we said it was the best starter turntable you can buy. It's been out for many years now but remains a superb performer.

Image

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon
It's a bit more expensive than the E1, but this sibling turntable is a superb all-rounder with a better cartridge and a metal platter, and in our Pro-Ject Debut Carbon review we said it's well suited to people who might want to upgrade its parts over time. The only negative is that it has a manual speed change.

How I tested the Pro-Ject E1

  • Tested over several weeks alongside the Pro-Ject Juke Box E1
  • Tested with Onkyo amp and Bowers & Wilkins bookshelf speakers / Beyer-Dynamic headphones

I tested the Pro-Ject E1 at home over several weeks, connecting it to my Onkyo amplifier (with the direct setting enabled to completely bypass the amp's EQ circuit) which in turn powered twin Bowers & Wilkins bookshelf speakers and Beyer-Dynamic studio headphones. 

I listened carefully to albums I already know inside out across a wide range of genres to assess how well the turntable delivered not just spacious, well-recorded music but also much more rowdy and crowded recordings.

Carrie Marshall
Contributor

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now and her next book, about pop music, is out in 2025. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band Unquiet Mind.