Pro-Ject Pre Box SE Review 
Home Theater Preamplifiers Stereo Preamps
Written by Andre Marc   
Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Pro-Ject, the company from Austria, whose Pre Box and Head Box I previously reviewed, has been expanding their product line while keeping true to their mission. That mission is producing great sounding, well built, amazingly affordable audio products with a small foot print.  I was tremendously impressed with both components I reviewed, and was eager to hear something from their Special Edition line.

Interestingly, one could easily call everything in their line, minus turntables, “micro” components.  What amazes me is how they manage to do this without sacrificing sound quality.  In the company’s literature, they maintain they are dedicated to short signal paths, eliminating unnecessary parts, low mass, attention to resonance control, and enclosure quality.  

It is not surprising that Pro-Ject is distributed in virtually every country on the planet. Their product lines consist of everything from vinyl and digital source components, amplification, speakers, racks, cables, and accessories. It is also not surprising their products are small in comparison to most audio equipment. We in America enjoy the luxury of space. And we worship at the altar of big.  Not so in most European and Asian households. Their cars and toys tend to be significantly slimmed down.

I received a sample of the Pre Box SE (Special Edition) in silver, priced at $499. It is available in black as well. Right out of the box I was impressed by the solid build quality. Even the external wal wart power supply was the best I have encountered.  The Pre Box SE is also very attractive to my eyes. The Pre Box SE is a minimalist preamplifier in the best sense of the word.  It has no balance control or mute button. However, one can mute, or put the unit into standby via the handy little remote, which is about the size of a pack of gum.  Volume and input switching are done via small black rubber buttons on the front panel, or via said remote.

There are four line level inputs and, along with preamp output, additional outputs for recording and connecting a subwoofer.  There is also a remote trigger option for powering on or off other components. The front display offers easy to see indications of which line is currently selected, and the volume setting, which offers 1 dB steps. The display can also be dimmed.  I found myself thinking this was a pretty impressive package for around five hundred bucks.

Set Up & Listening:

After connecting the usual cables, in this case Kimber and Transparent, and powering on, it was time to get down to some listening.  What I noticed first was a clean, precise, and low noise presentation that was quite unexpected considering the price point. At first the sound was a bit “tight” and cold right out of the box, but after about a week of continuous use the presentation became much more relaxed, with excellent musical flow. There was plenty of resolution and punch.

 

I streamed tons of FLAC files through my Squeezebox Touch and spun good old CDs in an attempt to get a read on the sonic signature of the Pre Box SE. What I discovered is that it was a pretty neutral performer, maybe leaning slightly towards the cool side. It was a perfect match for my Revox A722 power amp, which is a full, rich sounding amp. I would imagine the SE would also be a wonderful partner for a tube amp, providing precise and quiet operation.

I cued up a wide variety of music to put the Pre Box SE through its paces. Some of the discs I spun included Sound System: The Island Anthology by legendary reggae band Steel Pulse, David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust (RykoDisc version), a lost classic from Wood, Songs From Stamford Hill, the great new album by Lisa Hannigan, Passengers, and the 2011 remasters of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here and The Dark Side of The Moon. Across the board, and regardless of musical genre, the Pre Box SE was consistently engaging.

 Pro-Ject Pre Box SE

Conclusion:

I found very little to quibble about in evaluating Pro-Ject Audio’s magnificent little Pre Box Special Edition. Maybe the long break in time was a minor sticking point, but once you let the circuits burn in you are home free. It did run a bit warm to the touch, which probably is due to the small enclosure. For me this was an easy trade off, as the small size made it easy to integrate into any system in the house.  

Pro-Ject Audio has been an underground audiophile favorite for a number of years now.  Their inexpensive turntables and phono accessories have a cult following. They have managed to expand their market with smartly designed compact electronics, especially in Europe and Asia where space is at a premium.  The fact they sound terrific is the icing on the cake. At $499, the Pro-Ject Pre Box SE is around a $175 premium over the standard Pre Box. It gets you double the inputs, an LED display, and it is upgradeable with an external power supply.
I would love to hear the Pre Box SE with the Amp Box, which comes in mono or stereo configuration. I had one local dealer tell me it was a great combination.

I am impressed enough with the Pro-Ject Pre Box SE that I will be adding it to my bedroom system. That I have cables in that system costing more than the Pre-Box is rather amusing, but that is how enamored I am with it. Down the road I plan on matching it to a tube amp as well. For those on a budget who need a remote controlled, no nonsense, solidly performing preamp, the Pro-Ject Pre Box SE is it.

Specifications



Pro-Ject Audio Systems Pre Box SE:

• Remote control included
• Display dimmable  
• Four line level inputs  
• Record- and subwoofer output  
• Remote power switching for connected units via on/off switch (Trigger)  
• Available in black and silver

Gain: 12dB
Pre out: 1 pair RCA/Phono sockets
Record and subwoofer out:    RCA/Phono sockets
Line-level inputs: 4 pairs RCA/Phono sockets
Input impedance: 100kohms
Weight:1.200g without power supply


Review System 1


CD Player: Naim CD5 XS
Server: Squeezebox Touch with CIA  VDC-SB power supply
DAC: Bryston BDA-1
Preamp: Audio Research SP16
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55
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

Review System 2


CD Player: Marantz 5003
Music Server: Squeezebox 3, Marantz NA7004
DAC: CIA VDA-2 with VAC-1 Power Supply
Computer: Dell netbook running Windows XP
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Preamp: Pro-Ject Pre Box SE
Amplifier: Revox A722
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3
Cables: Kimber/QED/Transparant/Shunyata(AC)/PS Audio, Pangea Audio (AC), RS Cables, Element Cable







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