Before the MP3, the CD, the cassette, or the 8-track, we had records. We had the big ones that played a 33 1/3 and the little ones, called 45s. Records made album rock a thing, which was excellent for listening to on your giant over-the-ear headphones.
An essential part of this old-school listening experience with vinyl was the turntable. You might remember these contraptions at someone’s house, which is (much) older than you. Nevertheless, they are an iconic part of the consumer musical journey.
The turntable is a classic DJ equipment piece, too. However, in today’s digital age, they are unnecessary, but many DJs still have them because they love how turntables sound.
Let’s look at turntables, turntable components, and some of the best in different categories you can consider in your DJ setup.
So, Why Use Vinyl in Today’s Digital Age?
So, let’s start with the elephant in the room: who needs vinyl in today’s digital age? Honestly, you might not need or want it, and that’s fine. Some DJs swear on a stack of bibles that the sound is better. But, if your ear isn’t that tuned into that vibe, then you do you, as the kids were saying a couple of years ago.
However, whatever personal feelings you have about them, these classic licorice pizzas persist in the DJ world. So, why is that?
The DJ Revolution makes a good point about vinyl. It is the only true lossless audio format, meaning it is the closest version of the original recording. Another way to think of it is as the music the producer intended. That could mean that vinyl sounds way better than digital files. (BTW: CDs are not as lossless audio as vinyl but have lost less than digital.)
However, modern vinyl records are recorded from digital masters. That means the record you have wasn’t recorded on an analog signal, so the vinyl today is not necessarily like your mom and dad’s (or grandma and grandpa’s) records. Also, if the pressing wasn’t great or the record is old or scratched, then it isn’t necessarily going to sound like the producer intended or good.
Primesound has three more excellent reasons to consider a turntable in your DJ setup:
- You engage with the music before it plays. More than pushing a button or asking your AI to play a song for you, the turntable requires you to engage with it to play music. You put the record on the turntable, move the needle into position and lower it. Then, you hear the song. Sure, it’s more labor intensive, but it makes you more likely to listen to the record because you had to put some effort into it.
- They are inexpensive. Unlike some of the other components you shell out for, turntables are more affordable than they were “back in the day.”
- You can unplug. There is a lot of digital in your life today. It’s nice to go analog and close your eyes rather than scrolling and squinting for the next song.
The Difference Between Belt-Drive and Direct Drive
There are two different types, belt-drive and direct-drive turntables. A belt drive is fine if you listen to an old collection from the aforementioned mom & dad or g-ma & g-pa set.
However, Professionals need direct drive. So, per DJ Revolution, the platter on these models connects directly through the spindle (the little nubby thing in the middle of the vinyl). That gets the platter going faster.
So, what is a DVS? A Digital Vinyl System (DVS) is a “best of both worlds” type of technology. A DVS allows you to mix digital files on a DVS turntable. It uses a particular vinyl record called a “timecode disc” that communicates through audio inputs and outputs with the software on your laptop.
The DVS allows you have some of the fun of using a turntable, old-school-style, without having to lug around an awkward amount of vinyl to gigs. Serato, Traktor, and Pioneer all have DVS versions if you are interested.
The Components of a Turntable
In addition to the type of drive a turntable has, here are a few parts of a turntable to be familiar with, per DJ Tech Reviews:
- Arm: That’s the thing that has the needle on the end of it. Arms or tonearms have a calibrated weight load, so the needle (more on that below) properly rides the grooves in the vinyl.
- Cartridge: This is at the end of the arm, holding the needle and then turning the vibrations into the electronic signals you hear.
- Stylus: This term is the audiophile word for needle. It picks up the grooves and sends vibrations to the cartridge. It also makes those excellent scratching sounds in movies when someone breaks up the party unsanctioned teenage party.
- Platter: This part rotates under the record, usually with a mat between it and the vinyl to protect the vinyl’s surface.
So, What Are Some Turntables That Might Work For You?
The Technic SL-1210 MK7
It’s no surprise that this one makes the list. Its predecessor, the SL-1200, has been the industry standard for almost 50 years. Technic’s turntables are professional, use direct drive, and have excellent components.
The SL-1200 is the classic, but Technic stopped producing them in 2010. The SL-1210 MK7s are DJ-focused turntables. They both have a high-tracking performance tonearm, and the construction makes the equipment vibration-resistant. In addition, Technics updated the pitch control that made the SL-1200 so famous to a fully digital control that enables adjustment between ±8 percent and 16 percent. Little new features like the stylus light and returning features like the quintessential (if decorative) strobe light—along with the all-black construction —reinforce the brand’s iconic heritage.
The only complaints you might see about this one are the price, which is not cheap at around $1,000 to $1,300 depending on where you buy it, and the bulkiness. However, most DJ sites agree that you can’t go wrong with this brand of DJ turntables if you can afford them.
Best Overall Runner-up:
Pioneer is an excellent brand in the DJ world, so it’s no surprise that their professional DJ turntable is excellent, too. Music Radar describes it as “as close as you can get to an SL 1200 bar the real thing,” and it’s cheaper. The PLX-1000 has an adjustable pitch range, including ±8 percent, 16 percent, and 50 percent modes. The DJ Revolution ranks it higher than the SL 1200 and says that “everything feels high quality on the PLX-1000.” Primesound chose it as the Editor’s Choice, describing it as a “high-quality direct drive DJ turntable with s-shaped tonearm and electronic brake.”
Of course, these aren’t Technics. One reviewer on Sweetwater said they could tell these weren’t as nice and would buy Technics like they thought they probably should have. That said, Digital DJ Tips did a head-to-head comparison and determined that the most significant difference between the PLX-1000 and a used SL-1200 (because that’s all you will find of this model these days) is the price. The PLX-1000 comes at $650 on Amazon and $690 on Sweetwater.
Best for a Budget:
The Pioneer DJ PLX-500
If the Technic isn’t for you, another more affordable option could be Pioneer’s PLX-500. It’s entry-level but looks like and shares features with the Pioneer’s PLX-1000. It has a solid build, and the performance is better than the low price might indicate. Music Radar’s review points out, “it should be enough to suit all but the most serious scratch DJs.”
One of the criticisms you might hear about this budget option is that the arm and RCA cables seem cheap. In addition, DJ Tech reviews mention that it has a slow acceleration time and doesn’t like the construction much. Finally, the DJ Revolution goes so far as to say it’s not for professional use. However, if you don’t share these opinions, the PLX-500 can be an excellent option for your turntable needs. Plus, at $329 on Amazon or Sweetwater, the price is right.
Best for Durability:
Reloop 7000 MK2
This model is noted for its construction: DJ Revolution says the reinforced metal construction makes it nice and heavy with many sound-isolating properties and features. Adding torque and brake adjust controls as well as a second start top button that scratch and battle DJs like for vertical positioning, the 7,000 MK2 has a couple of differentiators from the leaders. Digital DJ Tips like how it also has an upgraded tonearm base and an improved direct drive motor. Plus, it isn’t as much as a Technic 1200 or Pioneer PLX-1000 at around $350-$600.
Best for a Beginner:
Numark PT01USB Turntable
In Adorama’s How to Build a Beginner DJ Setup, they recommend a Numark PT01USB Portable DJ Turntable as a budget-friendly option for beginners. They note that it is portable; you can plug it in or run it off of battery and use it to convert vinyl tracks to digital. Plus, Adorama says they make it simple to do so with the included software.
Numark designed this one to be tough, durable, and straightforward. It has pitch control with ±10 percent, a built-in loudspeaker, RCA outputs, and a 1/8″ headphone jack. To help with portability (and protection), it has a hard dust cover and a carrying handle. At around $120 to $130, it’s affordable and functional, perfect for helping a fledgling DJ find their sound.
So, there you have it. A few recommendations from some of the top reviewers in the industry that can help you narrow down the choices in DJ Turntables. Of course, we didn’t even mention many other great ones out there, too. The good news is that with so many options available, you will find something that spins you “right round, baby, right round….”
(Here, I’ll finish it for you)”…like a record, baby, right, round, round, round.”
Staff, Editorial. “The 7 Best Turntables For DJs In 2022 (For Professional Use)”. The DJ Revolution, 2022, https://www.thedjrevolution.com/best-turntables-for-djs/. Accessed 2 Dec 2022.
“Best DJ Turntables [Top Picks 2022] – DJ Tech Reviews”. DJ Tech Reviews, 2022, https://djtechreviews.com/dj-gear/best-dj-turntables. Accessed 2 Dec 2022.
“11 Best DJ Turntables Reviewed In Detail [Dec. 2022]”. Primesound.Org, 2022, https://primesound.org/best-dj-turntable/. Accessed 2 Dec 2022.
“Best DJ Turntables 2022: 8 Top Decks For Vinyl DJs”. MusicRadar, 2022, https://www.musicradar.com/news/best-dj-turntables. Accessed 2 Dec 2022.
“Roundup: The 13 Best DJ Turntables Of 2022 – Digital DJ Tips”. Digital DJ Tips, 2020, https://www.digitaldjtips.com/2020/02/roundup-the-best-dj-turntables/. Accessed 2 Dec 2022.
“Head-To-Head: Technics SL1200 MK2 Vs Pioneer DJ PLX-1000”. Digital DJ Tips, 2017, https://www.digitaldjtips.com/2017/09/head-to-head-technics-1200-vs-pioneer-dj-plx-1000/. Accessed 3 Dec 2022.
“DJ Equipment Guide: How to Build a Beginner DJ Setup.” Adorama, 2022, https://www.adorama.com/alc/dj-equipment-guide-how-to-build-a-beginner-dj-setup-2/
“PT01 USB | Numark”. Numark.Com, 2022, https://www.numark.com/product/pt01usb. Accessed 3 Dec 2022.