Although the high-end is all about choice, at this level of the high-end being able to opt for a turn-key solution might be more suitable. So the Prelude comes pre-loaded with an Ortofon 2M Red moving magnet cartridge. Installation is done for you and – although there’s an alignment protractor in the box, the reality is many Prelude users will be at that ‘good moving magnet’ stage in their audio story arc, and the 2M is perhaps the best expression of that ‘good moving magnet’ on the market today. Especially as it’s upgradable to Blue or even Black status by swapping stylii. Simply place the Prelude somewhere light, rigid, and level, rebalance the counterweight and apply antiskate, and you’re away! A good set of feet (not levelling) and a handy dust cover complete the deal for the Prelude.
Low-end, high-end audio faces something of a dilemma. If, as is the case here with the Prelude, it goes for the natural and detailed sound that high-enders crave, it may not find favour with those who want a more immediate, up-front sound. On the other hand, if it goes for the more initially impressive performance common at this price point, the product may be short-lived in a high-end system. EAT has gone with the more honest approach. This is a turntable that consisciously attempts to make a sound more in line with high-end systems costing far in excess of the Prelude’s price. And that means if you are starting out on a high-end road, the Prelude will stay with you for a lot longer.
If we were going to pin down the Prelude’s performance in sound-bites it would be ‘neutral’ and ‘dynamic’. Music doesn’t jump off the platter unless that’s what is required of the album... but playing the 1950s D’Oyly Carte/LSO classic cut of The Pirates of Penzance[Decca SXL], there’s a lot of foot stamping and stage direction that gives the recording a sense of being in the concert hall. You expect raucous during ‘The Major-General’s Song’ because patter songs like that are all about the fun, but you can hear singers walking about the stage getting to and from position before and after the song. This authority and solidity is not unheard of, but is hard to find at the price, where thin and bouncy rule the roost.
Solo piano is something of an acid test of neutrality (as well as dynamics) and Liszt’s La Campenella from the LP of Nojima Plays Liszt[Reference recordings] is an almost perfect example. This doesn’t get much play in a digital world, because it’s all too easy to hear the minor fluctuations in pitch and speed stability. In most turntables at this price point, those fluctuations in pitch are either nailed at the expense of bass depth, or are conveniently ignored in the hope that deep bass overshadows the lack of pitch stability. This is what you typically pay good money for when you spend a few thousand on a good turntable, and the Prelude is one of the few turntables at anywhere close to the price that has that same sense of musical confidence. Not everyone’s going to like that, of course, because some who listen to bass lines for their ‘phatness’ might find that sort of precision troubling. Personally, I’d go for the most accurate front-end I could muster because you can always add a bit of seasoning later in the cooking process.