You have to imagine that dinner round the Lichtenegger table must be a fun experience. In the blue corner, you have Heinz, top dog at Pro-Ject, in the red corner, you have Josefina, the boss of European Audio Team. I’ve seen these two battle it out extensively over counterweights and bearing oils; it’s friendly banter between two engineers, but make no mistake – EAT turntables are not simply ‘blinged-up’ Pro-ject designs. They are cogent, sophisticated models in their own right. Typically, however, EAT began where Pro-Ject stopped price-wise, but the new Prelude is right in the middle of Pro-Ject territory.
EAT turntables are priced at a premium because they use premium materials, premium finishes, and – often – damn heavy platters. The logic being high mass means lower vibration and resonance, so the arm and cartridge have less stray noise to wade through. While there are different ways to crack this particular nut, EAT’s approach is consistent and sensible. The problem is a lower cost turntable and a high-mass platter are not entirely compatible, if only because the cost of shipping puts the price up. To reach a new audience, EAT needed to produce a sub-£1,000 design. To make a product in that price range, compromises had to be made in terms of platter mass, but the basic principles remain the same, so a heaver-than-expected aluminium platter (made from the same grade of material as used in EAT’s more high-end designs) is coupled to a low tolerance polished stainless-steel bearing in a soft bronze bushing, which is designed to act as an isolator to reduce the ingress of vibration and “to ensure a super silent and smooth movement”.
The plinth itself is made out of dense MDF, protected by eight layers of lacquer to give the Prelude a luxurious look; the days of low-cost high-end being something that sounds good but looks as if it was pulled out of the ground by a tractor are long gone. Instead, the Prelude is designed to look fine when it’s not playing and sound fine when it is. Given the alternative at this price is often a plinth that’s actually a layer of veneer glued to particle-board, this degree of finish is great, and the piano finish is deep and even enough to avoid the orange-peel mottling that some lazy lacquers deliver. To add to the overall chic, the motor can be provided in EAT’s distinctive minty green as well as black. Whichever colour scheme you choose, that motor is fully free-standing with the only connection to the platter being the belt itself. This limits the possibility of motor vibrations being transferred directly to the deck. The motor housing itself is not mass-loaded; there are a number of more up-market EAT models that have the motor housing in its own power supply and this adds its own mass to the motor, but in the Prelude, price constraints make such a layout impossible, so placing the motor in its own free space is a good compromise. It does also mean what few controls are on the deck are actually on the motor housing.
Mass comes into play in the tonearm, though, as the higher-mass-than -normal bearing block behaves like an energy sink for resonances from the cartridge, as well as the low frequencies from the deck. Think of it like border security for two different sets of resonances. Meanwhile the counterweight on the tonearm implements an anti-resonator damper to reduce the amplitude of the natural tonearm/cartridge resonance.
The arm uses a carbon-fibre armtube, and while the cynics will immediately point to Pro-Ject’s 9CC arm, any similarities end at the bearing housing. Yes there are aspects of the arm design that are shared with Pro-Ject, but this is more to do with ‘parts in common’ than ‘copying’.