Pro-Ject Pre Box Preamplifier and Head Box II Headphone Amplifier Review 
Home Theater Preamplifiers Stereo Preamps
Written by Andre Marc   
Monday, 23 May 2011

Pro-Ject Audio Systems celebrates its 20th year in 2011. The Austrian based company has been one of my very favorite Hi-Fi entities for a number of reasons. They offer off the charts value, great designs, and components with uniquely small footprints.  Pro-Ject products are also known for an elegant simplicity and long term reliability. Pro-Ject may be best known for their affordable turntables and phono accessories, but they also offer a full line of components including amplifiers, preamps, Digital Audio Converters, iPod docks, CD players, speakers, and cables. They have even introduced a digital music streamer.

Pro-Ject was founded by Heinz Lichtenegger, a former Hi-Fi shop owner who was motivated to offer his clients fairly priced, great sounding, and ergonomic audio gear. Pro-Ject has some very specific design and business philosophies that I find impressive. First, they claim “less (features) = more (music)”. They also say “clever circuit layout, short signal paths, the best components and the application of progressive digital technologies make it possible to achieve sonic qualities that you would not expect at such reasonable prices”. 

Pro-Ject has declined to move manufacturing to Asia, because they say “to guarantee highest possible standards in workmanship, all of our products are Made in Europe. “Considering the price points, this is rather remarkable.  Another one of Pro-Ject’s secrets is allocation of resources. According to Pro-Ject, their products “represent astonishing value [and] to achieve such sensible price levels, we had to overturn current thinking about the cost principles of electronic products. Typically, 70% of an electronic unit (amp, CD player, etc) is paid for its housing and only the remaining 30% is budgeted for the components inside. We think that you should pay for the functionality you need, which is why we produce large quantities of minimalist, common-to-all housings for our equipment. Therefore we are able to reduce expenses drastically and leave 80% for the components that really matter another highly important part of cost reduction is the removal of unnecessary features. Many of today’s electronic products offer functions that you have to pay for and but rarely use. With the modular concept of Box Design, you only buy what you really need.”

Pro-Ject Head Box II black

Up for evaluation from Pro-Ject are the Pre Box stereo preamplifier and the Head Box II headphone amp. Both these units are part of the Box Design series which adhere to the philosophy above, and are sub compact in size, and stripped of any bloat.  Both units are incredibly well made, sturdy, and are housed in very attractive case work available in both silver and black. I received both of mine in silver. Both the Pre Box and Head Box II are housed in enclosures that are, according to Pro-Ject, “made from die-cast metal, with brushed aluminum faceplates – 100 % resonance optimized and stable. No plastic! Interior components were selected for their audiophile properties, especially in the high-end SE series. Computer-optimized circuit boards and SmD-technology (Surface mount Device) are used for best sonic quality and short signal paths. All connectors are gold-plated for the preservation of signal quality and were selected for their superior connectivity.”

Retailing for $349, the Pre Box features a volume knob, two RCA line inputs, one set of line outputs, and a remote control. Yes, a remote that controls input switching and volume, as unreal as it seems at this price. The Head Box II retails for $159, and also features a volume knob, and one set each of line inputs and outputs, and a ¼-inch headphone jack. Both units come with wall wart power supplies, but can be upgraded with a POWER-Box linear power supply. As mentioned above, there is a SE (Special Edition) version available of each unit, with premium power supplies and parts.

Pro-Ject Pre Box SE



Set Up & Listening:

Pro-Ject Pre Box

I used the Pre Box in a few different settings.  I mostly used it to the to directly drive my vintage Bang & Olufsen Beolab active speakers. The B&O’s are great sounding, beautifully made columns with RCA line inputs and onboard 30 wpc amplifiers for each speaker. I ran a set of 3 meter Audioquest interconnects between the Pre Box and each speaker. My first reaction was one of sheer delight as I cued up music using an Oppo DVD player along with various HD cable music channels. The Pre Box offered clean, clear, and grain free sound without a hint of the harshness one might expect from inexpensive solid state gear. As a matter of fact, the Pre Box sounded better than it had any right to, and was even quieter than some preamps I have heard costing five times as much. Maybe less is more.

The Pre Box was a total pleasure to operate, with the volume knob as smooth as butter, instant switching between the two available inputs, and zero mechanical noise.  The red, green and blue LED lights tell you the selected input if the power is on. The remote control unit had all you need -- power on or off, volume up or down, and input selection.  The small size of the unit made it easy to use in just about any setting; the Pre Box is literally the size of two packs of cigarettes.

Pro-Ject Head Box II

I then put the Head Box II through its paces with my Grado SR60 headphones, connected via the Tape Out from my Audio Research preamp connected with Kimber Silver Streak half meter interconnects.  While I don’t listen to headphones nearly as much as I used to in my high school and college days, I still enjoy cans during early morning or late night listening sessions. The Head Box II proved to be a superb match with the venerable Grado phones. I heard excellent bass definition, crystal clear mids and highs, and a superb imaging. I must confess I really don’t know why you would spend huge money on a headphone amp, but at around $150 the Head Box II is a damn bargain. The volume knob is smooth, with a nice sweep which allows you find the exact setting you are comfortable with. The Head Box II was also utterly quiet, a must for a headphone amp. A nice plus, as with the Pre Box, is the nice compact footprint. 

Conclusion

Pro-Ject Head Box II

Many high-end audio companies claim to operate under certain philosophies and credos, but not all live up to them. Pro-Ject, in my opinion, does exactly what they say. They offer beautifully built, great sounding, ergonomic, and to my estimation, absurdly low priced gear. How many companies offer a product line that allows you to assemble a complete and wonderful sounding system, including analog and digital sources, cables, amplifiers, speakers, and racks, for under $2000? You can count them on one hand. Pro-Ject is one such company and all their gear is made in Europe, with obsessive attention to quality control.

I loved the Head Box II and Pre Box. So much so I am purchasing both for my own use. I may down the road also pick up an AMP-Box. I have heard through the grapevine that they have also designed and built a network streamer, and when it is available I will be hoping for a review sample. My hat goes off to Pro-Ject on twenty years of great products. Cool company and cool products. Incidentally, Pro-Ject has a large US dealer network and several major online retailers.
 

Specifications


Pre Box
  • $349
  • 2 Stereo Line-in  
  • Motorised volume control  
  • Premium components and assembly  
  • SMD for short signal paths  
  • Gold-plated connections  
  • Remote control for on/off, input select, and volume  
  • 12V trigger function  
  • Available in black and silver
Head Box II
  • $159
  • Socket for 1 headphone with volume control  
  • Low noise semiconductors  
  • Available in black and silver

Company Information


Pro-Ject Audio Systems
Margaretenstrasse 98
A-1050 Wien 
AUSTRIA 
E- Mail: info@project-audio.com
 

Reviewer System 1


  • CD Player: Naim CD5 XS with Flatcap 2X
  • Network Player: Marantz NA7004
  • Preamp: Audio Research SP16
  • Amplifier: Audio Research VS55
  • Headphones: Grado R60
  • Speaker: Thiel CS2.4
  • Cables: DH Labs Revelation (IC), Kimber KCTG (IC), Transparent  MM2 Super (IC),  Transparent Plus (Speaker) Acoustic Zen Tsunami II (AC),Transparent (AC).Element Cable Element Cord, (AC)  Shunyata Venom (AC) Pangea AC-9 (AC) Audience powerChord e.(AC)
  • Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Sound Anchors stands,  Audience Adept Response aR6 power conditioner, Cable Pro Noisetrapper, Salamander rack

Reviewer System 2


  • CD Player: Marantz 5003
  • Music Server: Squeezebox 3
  • DAC: CIA VDA-2 with VAC-1 Power Supply, Arcam rDAC
  • Tape Deck: Revox A77
  • Preamp: Belles Soloist 3
  • Amplifier: Belles Soloist 5, Revox A722
  • Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3, Bang & Olufsen Beolab 6000
  • Cables: Kimber/QED/Transparant/Shunyata(AC)/PS Audio(AC), Pangea Audio, RS Cables, Element Cable, Belkin Gold






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