High Fidelity: RM-5SE turntable steps up quality as well as price

By Todd Whitesel
Pro-Ject’s RM-5SE turntable sports a radically different design than the entry-level Debut III.
Pro-Ject’s RM-5SE turntable sports a radically different design than the entry-level Debut III.
Pro-Ject’s RM-5SE turntable sports a radically different design than the entry-level Debut III (reviewed in Goldmine #756, July 17, 2009), an improved tonearm and a very good phono cartridge. This audiophile rig retails for $999.

Features & Setup

The first thing you’ll notice is the RM-5SE’s sleek, eye-catching design. It looks like a tiny spacecraft and features a triangular platform with rounded edges, finished in piano-lacquered dark grey.

The RM-5SE can play 33 rpm and 45 rpm records. Changing speeds requires removing the platter and moving the drive belt to the larger-diameter step on the motor pulley. It’s actually quite easy. Installing a phono cartridge can be intimidating; it’s a physical challenge just to get the tiny screws threaded and secured. But you needn’t go down that path with the RM-5SE as it comes equipped with a pre-mounted Sumiko Blue Point No. 2 Moving Coil cartridge.

The Blue Point has been praised for its dynamic and detailed rendering of music. On its own, the cartridge sells for $299 and it makes sweet music with the RM-5SE. The cartridge is affixed to Pro-Ject’s 9cc tonearm, a single-piece, conical carbon-fiber tube and headshell that is lightweight and rigid, yet easily adjustable.

Pro-Ject asserts that the conical design “avoids standing wave reflections,” which can cause certain frequencies to be artificially enhanced or diminished. The RM-5SE’s AC motor is decoupled from the plinth, further reducing unwanted vibrations. The chassis rests on three adjustable rubber-damped aluminum cones.

The deck requires minor assembly out of the box, not much more than removing transport screws, fitting the drive belt around the hub and motor pulley and setting the MDF platter onto the spindle and supplied cork mat onto the platter. From there, it’s a matter of fine-tuning and adjusting the cartridge downforce, vertical tracking angle, azimuth and anti-skating force (all detailed in the instruction manual). Once completed, connect the ’table to an amplifier/receiver/phono stage via the gold-plated RCA phono outputs and connect the turntable’s power supply.

Listening

Listening to a new turntable is like sampling new cuisine — you may not like it, but it’s exciting to try. I’m happy to report that the RPM 5.1 is one tasty ’table and a deck that operates with whisper-smooth quiet and lets the music do the talking. Compared to the Debut III, the RM-5SE offered broader sound staging, better imaging, overall dimension and more “air” around instruments. The sound was warm, engaging and vinyl-tastic.

Just as impressive is what isn’t heard: There’s no rumble from the platter, no unpleasant feedback or annoying resonances. The turntable quietly goes about the business of playing music with so little perceived effort that it’s easy to lose yourself in the sound. The record clamp holds records tight to the platter and keeps all in order.

It’s tempting to play to a turntable’s strengths by feeding it the best vinyl in the collection. And though I spun 180-gram LPs and some time-honored sonic masterpieces, I decided to focus on a few records with music I like rather than pick platters based on how well they were recorded.

Les Dudek’s self-titled release from 1976 is a mix of jazz-inflected guitar rock, with Dudek backed by some of the hottest session players of the day, including drummer Jeff Porcaro, keyboardist David Paich and bassist David Hungate. The Latin-tinged “What A Sacrifice” had tremendous bloom; Dudek’s many-nuanced guitar tones came through with gritty verve equal to the panoply of congas and assorted percussion.

The Beach Boys’ Holland is loaded with excellent tunes and arrangements. Even the “non-Beach Boy” track “Leavin’ This Town,” co-written by Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin, is masterful and sounded wonderful through the RM-5SE, a silky and warm reproduction. Dennis Wilson’s “Only With You” was likewise intimate and captivating. Those who complain about vinyl’s surface noise and other artifacts would be silenced hearing this LP as I did, with the songs emerging from a still, black background and only music presented through the speakers. And my weathered copy of Holland is years removed from factory-fresh.

One of the first songs I learned to play on piano was Dan Fogelberg’s haunting instrumental “Aspen,” from 1975’s Captured Angel. It’s been awhile since I’ve revisited that record and was blown away by how good it sounded on the RM-5SE. Again I was presented with a large sonic image and an open window into the sound of individual instruments. One favorite moment was listening to the 12-string acoustic guitar that kicks off “These Days” and hearing it as a 12-string guitar, not just an acoustic guitar. Anyone who has strummed a 6- and 12-string knows how different they sound, but that’s rarely relayed in recordings. Such detail is no longer hidden.

Final Thoughts

The RM-5SE is not just a step up the vinyl ladder in cost; it’s a step up in performance, as well. It looks great and sounds equally so. If you’re on the fence about spending a grand on a turntable, I invite you to step over and listen to the RM-5SE. It’s a winner.

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