Friday, January 16, 2015

Project Genie Review

On review today is the Project Genie. Priced at AUD $429.

Straight to it. I fitted this turntable with a new old stock Nagaoka XXXXX (edited)  cartridge which comes with a shibata stylus.  I've listened to this cartridge on a few different turntables and it really is an excellent cartridge. The cartridge motor is a 1970's design, but really who cares? Some of the most highly acclaimed cartridges come from the 1970's - Grace, Shure etc. Being old doesn't mean bad or obsolete!
People in the 1970's could still hear up to 20khz and amplifiers were able to reproduce the full range of frequencies with suitable detail.

OK, the sound. Compared to a variety of 1970's and early 1980's "affordable" turntables that I have in my collection, what can I say about the build quality?

The main bearing is very good. It uses an inverted bearing with  stainless steel center, and a ball bearing contact surface. Rumble and platter rotational noise is very low. Good!

The tonearm is not that great. Being an S shaped arm its static balance is off, and since there is no weight to correct for this static balance issue, that is a bad thing, though only a few 1970's tonearm manufacturers did actually provide this weight, most don't. Is it necessary? Yes!

The tonearm bearing also has a lot of play in its vertical bearing. The tonearm can physically be pulled up and down. The horizontal bearing seems fine.

The stock mat that comes with the Genie is a dog. It sounds really bad. The material is too soft and can be folded in half easily. This turntable doesn't like a soft mat. I tried a few mats and ended up with a firm felt mat that I have owned for many years. This mat makes the sound much more dynamic, and makes everything clearer from treble to bass.

The sound of the Genie is a dark sound. Bass is fairly strong, but not particularly tonally rich. Treble is rather soft. In my opinion the treble of a vinyl record is one of LP's stronger points when compared to digital. The sound stage is rather limited. The sound is tight and controlled, but in my opinion too tight and controlled. To me the sound is reminiscent of the original Rega Planar with the glass platter, and in some respects that isn't too bad a thing. I admit that I have a preference for the sound of suspended chassis turntables like Thorens and Linn, and a variety of "affordable" 1970's  turntables with suspended chassis. I find that the suspension gives a "musicality" that non suspended turntables often dont have. When I say musicality, I dont mean resonance, distortion, bloated bass or anything like that, I mean, they sound musical and enjoying to listen to, with clarity, rhythm,  "swing" and dynamics to the sound. The Genie, sounds very much like an "average" CD player, and this is the problem.
If someone wants to hear vinyl at its best, they need a musical deck. As far as I'm concerned the Genie, does not exceed the sound of an average CD player in terms of dynamics, musicality, sound-stage or detail. The sound is rather flat and closed. My missus walked into the room looked at the Genie, and commenting about the sound said "I thought that was a CD"

In its favour: good quiet main bearing.
Flat and un-dynamic sound.
Plastic sounding - due to the material used to make the platter and also probably the tonearm.

The Genie is a competent deck, but I've heard so many affordable used "vintage" decks that can be bought on ebay for far less than the Genie. I'm talking 1970's Pioneer or Pioneer style decks that can be had for around $150 - $250 that can annihilate the Gennie in terms of musical enjoyment, that i cant really recommend this deck even as an entry level model.

So who might this deck suit?
Well considering the belt needs to be manually switched between 33 1/3 RPM and 45 RPM, the power switch is in an awkward position. When swapping cartridges, the tracking weight is adjusted by operating a hex head screw on the weight and requires fiddling for far too long trying to get the weight just right - Its neither easy to set up, doesnt have a dust cover, and it also has limited "tweaking" potential.

Basically what you buy is what you get. Its neither a "tweaker" and "upgraders" deck, nor is it awesome "out of the box" so , really, if you are looking for a "cool" and different looking turntable perhaps this is for you, but otherwise, I'd rather spend my $429 elsewhere. It just doesn't have any special quality for me to give it any particular recommendation whatsoever. Even if I needed to save up for a long time to be able to afford this, I would much rather keep on saving until I reached $1,000 and then buy something with much more going for it, or buy  a vintage deck with a half decent reputation for lesser money!

Final thoughts: 
Perhaps this cartridge isn't the best match for this deck. Considering this deck has a tendency for flat sound perhaps an Audio Technica cartridge with a more "in your face" dynamic and vibrant sound would be a better match. Such as the AT95 E or AT3400 E etc. After further fine tweaking of cartridge VTA, I did manage to get a more satisfying sound out of it, although my earlier comments still stand.

If we purely think of this in terms of where it sits in the market place of new turntables its a cleverly priced unit that has sound commensurate with its price. Its probably better than Project's cheaper decks, and not quite as good as turntables that are double its price. So in terms of market positioning its pretty spot-on.

Its competent, but in my opinion its not a great deck.

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