One of the coolest devices I saw at CanJam presented itself early in Aisle 1 where Jeff Coates was manning the booth for Pro-Ject Audio Systems. It was the Pro-Ject “Pre Box S2 Digital”. The S2 has the latest Sabre 9038 chips performing as a DAC but also acts as a preamp with switchable inputs and volume control. This thing is nicely small, just 103 x 103 mm square and 36 mm tall! Priced at $399 it makes an intriguing solution for either travel or desktop use. It does MQA decoding, PCM up 24/192 and DSD up to 512. Available in silver or black, this thing sounded surprisingly good for a dac/pre in the $399 range.
Below this box was the “DAC Box DS2 Ultra” which upped the ante with an AKM chip set that sounded a little smoother and more resolving to my ears. I used the available, revealing Sennheiser 800S for listening via the “Head Box DS2” headphone amplifier. Both of these cases have beautiful wood slab sides with metal case work in silver or black. The DAC Box has six inputs covering USB, optical, and coax choices. Chip set is the excellent AK4490 with five selectable digital filters available by front button and three sound modes. This DAC will do 32/768 PCM and up to 256DSD. The DAC is available in the $600 range.
The DS2 Head Box is beefy enough to drive demanding planar headphone designs via a dual mono design and uses a Blue ALPS pot for volume control. A full, dual-mono design that offers up four gain settings for better headphone matching. Again with optional wooden side panels and silver or black for the metal casework, this sounded like a very high quality amp on initial listen.
After getting Jeff to pose for a photo, he mentioned that there was an excellent two-channel Pro-Ject system upstairs in a room assembled by dealer Listen Up. So I covered a few more CanJam tables and headed right up there where I found a relaxing system centered on some Sonus Faber Olympica III speakers in a gorgeous new wenge finish ($13,500). My friend Buzz Goddard was helming a digital server but the centerpiece was a stunning Extension 10 turntable ($3,499) with a Sumiko Blackbird cartridge ($1,250 or $3,999 for both as a “SuperPack”). I was very impressed with the build quality and sound of this table but Buzz had a Pro-Ject Classic at $1,500 off to the side on static display which was clearly based after the Linn tables. On the Xtension turntable, you can readily tell they have some artisans back at the factory in Czechoslovakia as this light wood plinth was one of the prettiest I have seen. A thick alloy platter and 10″ carbon fiber tonearm completed the look and the table weighs in at a solid 48 pounds. A real showpiece for an analog fan.
Supporting electronics included the Phono Box RS at $999, the RS representing Pro-Ject’s upper tier performance line. This box is fully dual mono and has continuously variable input impedance. The preamp was the Pre Box RS, again fully dual mono and Class A with a tube output stage for $999.
The digital side was just as interesting as Pro-Ject has gotten into the recent streaming/server craze with the Stream Box DS2 T at their favorite $999 price point. The Stream Box offers a Spotify connection and lossless Tidal streaming with a 3.5 inch color display. Streaming up to 24/192 is on tap and covers WAV, FLAC, AIFF, WMA9 Lossless, ALAC, and AAC. It comes with a free control app. There was also a CD Box DS2 T with a slot for loading CDs, three digital outputs (spdif, aes/ebu, and optical) built around a four layer, suspended transport and the case had a high contrast dot matrix display which was easy to read all the way to the second row of listening chairs. Price for the transport was $749. The gear used Pro-Ject cables except for speaker where Audioquest cable was deployed.
Powering the Sonus speakers were two Amp Box RS Mono amplifiers, again at $999 each. The sound was rich in the midrange and had a nice tight bass. Imaging was excellent. I was impressed how well the Olympicas performed given the relative modest electronics investment. This was a terrific system with no fatigue. Analog was nicely warm and open sounding while digital had lots of resolution but not “digital sounding” at all. While I was familiar with the more affordable Pro-Ject tables, this was a terrific introduction to the better quality products from the brand. I was especially impressed by the Xtensions turntable and the DAC performance. Coupled with the impressive CanJam demo, Pro-Ject had a really superb showing at RMAF.