Dr. Perry Alexander

The University of Kansas

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Pro-Ject Pre Box S2

Latest audio gear purchase is a Pro-Ject Pre Box S2. As the name implies it is a preamplifier from the folks at Pro-Ject with whom I have no prior experience. I needed a new DAC for my office desk at home and priced at $349 with tons of inputs and MQA support it seemed worth the risk to try out.

First, the Pre Box is a tiny little device. Tiny enough that I was just a touch disappointed during the unboxing. Once I got the box up and running, it size is not disappointing at all. Actually turns out to be a nice feature. Small as it is the build quality is excellent. Solidly constructed with high quality connectors and volume knob. Tiny little remote is also neat, but this sits on my desk and I don’t use the remote much.

Second, the Pre Box is loaded with inputs. TOSLINK, USB, analog, the works. I use TOSLINK and USB exclusively for Mac and Roon inputs respectively. The Mac input is coming through a docking station that outputs an optical signal that works fine coming into the Pre Box. I don’t use that too much. The USB link is used constantly. I have a Raspberry PI running a Roon bridge that makes a connected device visible to my Roon system. In this case, the bridge makes my Pro-Ject Pre Box visible as a DAC. The PI ran me about $80 with nifty case and connectors while the Roon software was free and installed the first time with no problems under Ubuntu. I could buy a similar device for $800, but couldn’t be happier with my $80 solution.

The USB connection works like a charm as one would expect. A bonus I did not expect is the device can be powered from the USB port. As this exists in my desktop environment, one less cable is always a good thing. The Pro-Ject box displays the input it’s using as, sampling rate and MQA presence on a nice LCD screen. As noted the volume knob is solid with the volume displayed as dB gain. I like that although it’s only decorative. It appeals to my inner geek.

My outputs Grado SR-2 headphones, Sennheiser Momentum 2 headphones, PSB self-powered desktop speakers. Pretty good range here from audiophile grade headphones to high-quality, consumer grade speakers.

When I think about audio devices I think in terms of audiophile per dollar. How much high-quality audio and enjoyment one gets from a device per dollar spent. Completely subjective and kind of silly, but fun to think about. The Pro-Ject is killer however you look at it. Using my SR-2 phones, the soundstage is outstanding given that cans will always close things in. Bass and treble response give me the edge that I like from Grado cans. When comparing with my Benchmark DAC1 HDR I use at work the Pro-Ject loses, but not by much. But it’s not fair to compare a $2500 DAC with a $300 DAC. The differences are primarily in the separation among instruments. The Benchmark is stunning it its ability to reproduce space. The Pro-Ject just can’t keep up there, but it’s still a great listen.

Oddly, the Pro-Ject stands out most with the Sennheiser phones. I love these headphones and for the price they cannot be beat. Pairing with the Pro-Ject makes great sense and the result is nice. Not as big as the Grados, but that is to be expected. The bass is phenomenal, but the setup is appropriately neutral. Treble is not harsh at all. While not on par with Benchmark/Grado combo, it held its own surprisingly well.

Finally, the PSB self-powered bookshelf speakers. This is not fair. They sound like they should sound. Nothing truly horrible, but no bass or midrange to speak of. A bit tinny. However, that’s the way they always sound. The Pro-Ject device is not going to fix that. Still, when I’m listening to Behind the Bastards or Tiny Desk Concerts on Saturday morning, they are just fine.

The Pro-Ject Pre Box is highly recommended. Solid build, great sound, and tiny. Fantastic box for your desktop.