Specialist DJ turntables have certain key components that makes them especially suited to a DJ’s needs. The great thing about vinyl technology is that being analogue, it was mastered decades ago. Improvements in sonics have since occurred in other components of DJ equipment such as speakers, but DJ turntables themselves have stayed pretty consistent. Consequently, many of the best DJ turntables are vintage turntables first manufactured many years ago.
For years, the industry standard for DJ turntables and the number one turntable recommended has been the Technics SL-1200 . It comes in many different versions: MK2, MK3, MK 4, MK5, MK6, LTD and GLD. The 1210 model number refers to a table identical to the MK2, but with a black matte finish instead of the 1200′s silver. The MK2 was when the Technics SL-1200 series really took off. The turntable was originally intended as a hifi turntable, but has been adopted as a DJ turntable due to its outstanding build quality
The SL-1200 when first released was leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. One of Technics’ intentions was to eliminate wow and flutter. They did this by employing a direct drive system, instead of a belt drive system that was industry standard at the time. Direct drive systems were difficult to use well, as the extra moving parts created unwanted additional noise. Technics avoided this by making the platter part of the motor, rather than the platter being attached to the motor by screws.
Sadly, the SL-1200 series’ production ceased in 2010, which has driven up the prices on Ebay quite significantly. Most second hand ones cost $500 dollars, and there is a risk that they will have been used pretty heavily by club DJs. However, the turntable is built amazingly sturdily and could probably survive a drop from a 10 storey building, so even decades old second hand models should still be going strong. Replacement components may be required, which adds a little more to the cost. The Technics SL-1200 dominates the sub $1000 price range, and is one of the the best turntables in the world in terms of value for money.The SL-1200 has spawned a multitude of copies, most of which are targeted at the DJ turntables market. The real cheapies are blatant rip offs of the well known Technics design and should be avoided. Some of the more expensive copies are good quality, but for the money you’ll be better off getting a genuine SL-1200 and refurbishing it. Given their popularity, there is no shortage of parts available despite the fact that it is an older system.
Alternative DJ Turntables to the SL-1200
The Numark TTX is part of a group of DJ turntables in the same market as the highly-favoured Technics. The TTX is actually preferred by some over the SL-1200, primarily because it comes with more bells and whistles. The pitch control is adjustable to +/- 8%, 10%, 20% or 50%, whereas the SL-1200 unmodified will only be able to handle +/- 8%. A particularly attractive feature of the TTX is the ability to adjust tempo without adjusting pitch. This is a feature typical of CDJ units, but the nature of vinyl makes this difficult, so the TTX allows for some extra tricks to be thrown in to mixes that the SL-1200 does not permit. The TTX has a lot of torque (the ‘spinning power’ of the platter) which is totally adjustable. The increased torque reduces the start and stop times of the record significantly. It also has a BPM counter on its digital display, although BPM counters are fickle beasts and are only good enough to give you a guesstimate of what the BPM actually is.
The TTX’s detractors profess that the added bells and whistles aren’t at all necessary for DJ turntables intended for club use. We think the extra features are awesome for turntablism, but recognise that 50% pitch control is more of a novelty factor. The original model of the TTX, the TTX-1, had a tendency to overheat, so later models which are all labelled TTX or TTXUSB are certainly the way to go. All around, the TTX is a great alternative to the far more expensive SL-1200.
The Stanton STR8-150 is one of the heaviest DJ turntables ever. Clocking in at 36 pounds, carrying two of these in to a club will probably cause you to break out in a sweat. All the features are available on this turntable, One of the most attractive features of this turntable, which is not commonly found on DJ turntables is the ability to play records at a range of speeds: 33, 45 and 78 RPM. Although DJing with 78 RPM records is rare to non-existent, it’s a nice added feature for home use for the collector-cum-DJ. It has S/PDIF output so that the turntable can be plugged in to a computer sound card or a digital surround receiver. Rarely for professional DJ turntables, this Stanton model comes with a pretty decent DJ cartridge ready to go (the other turntables on this list do not).
On the downside, the Stanton STR8-150 doesn’t come with a dust cover and there doesn’t seem to be one available for it. Some independent tests have put the wow and flutter at 0.1, which is reasonably high for DJ turntables, considering that the Technics models boast wow and flutter of 0.01.
Vestax PDX series
The Vestax PDX-2000, PDX-2300 and PDX-3000 are progressively more expensive, purpose built DJ turntables. They have a reputation for being excellent turntables for scratching, which is no surprise given that they have huge amounts of torque. The PDX series comes with what Vestax call the Anti Skipping Tonearm, a spring-balanced, straight tonearm which makes skipping the tonearm very difficult as the name might suggest. Other than that, the number of features that the PDX series has is magnificent and ideal for any turntablist that feels restricted by the bare-bones feel of the Technics. Each member of the PDX family has a few updates to it, and the additional labels such as MKIIs and pro are to be sought after. The higher end PDX-3000 boasts impressive stats of 4.3CN/cm of torque and a direct drive motor that is able to play a record at a constant speed 0.5 seconds after pressing the play button.
Unfortunately, the PDX series is made of plastic. Vestax claims that this plastic is durable and noise-dampening, but generally this turntable isn’t as strong as some other DJ turntables. They also look like lower quality turntables than they are, mostly due to the plastic, but for us the button setup on the turntable looks a little cheap.
Which DJ Turntables To Buy?
The best DJ turntables don’t need a great deal to be effective: good pitch adjustment, high torque and true tracking. All of the turntables on this list do that well. Is the Technics SL-1200 worth it? Decreasingly so. The rising cost of the SL-1200 means that what was originally value for money is no longer worth the cost since the price in the second hand market has doubled over the last year or so. Couple that with the usual risks of buying second hand goods, and more people are turning to new DJ turntables. The Technics SL-1200 has one card up its sleeve though that continually trumps the other models: it remains, 30 years later, the industry standard for club DJing. This means that the DJ turntables that most clubs own are Technics. For budding DJs, practising at home with the same model that is out at the club is a good way to get used the equipment. There are subtleties between DJ turntables that make moving between different models awkward, but certainly not impossible. We think that in the next few years, prices on the Technics SL-1200 should go back down once the rush of buying and selling on Ebay has died down. Then again, they might end up being a collector’s item and go up! At the moment, the best value for money DJ turntables are the Vestax, Stanton and Numark models.