2016 DJ Turntables Buying Guide, From DMC World Champion Vekked
With the appearance of many new DJ turntables on the market and a constant flow of used gear, it can be difficult to decide what set of decks are worth hunting down. We got 2015 DMC World Champion Vekked to share his thoughts on DJ turntables and to break down the current state of the market, both new and used. Keep reading for the juicy details.
There’s been an influx of new turntables being released in the past few years. There’s been a lot of misinformation online as well as strongly worded endorsements by people associated with different companies, so I was inspired to do this breakdown to help guide people through this minefield of opinions. For those who don’t know me, I’m the 2015 DMC World Champion, and turntables are my weapon of choice:
I’ve owned most of the major brands out there and I like to think that I’ve put them through more rigorous testing than most DJs will ever need to. So I’m going to try to be as objective as I can, however it’s always best to try to get a few hours in on a particular turntable you are interested in before buying one.
I’m going to lead off out the gate with my current opinion on the new turntable market:
NO NEW TURNTABLE IS WORTH BUYING
As many know, almost every new turntable being release is a clone of the Hanpin Super OEM models. Hanpins are good turntables, and for all-around use the turntables I prefer are Super OEMs. But from a value perspective the used market is saturated with so many cheaper turntables that are just as good, so I can’t justify recommending any new turntable out there. The fact that major brands are putting out the same re-branded Super OEM for more money seems like price-gouging to me. There are a ton of used Super OEMs from brands like Stanton and Audio Technica which sell for cheap on the used market, and older turntables from Numark and Vestax that are every bit as good. Not to mention you can still find Technics SL-1200s used for decent prices that make them a better buy as well.
So if you’re starting out, definitely skip to the used section in this article and I’ll try to give you guidelines for used shopping. I’ve bought a lot of used turntables over the years, and I’ve had almost exclusively good experiences (turntables last!).
NEW TURNTABLE COMPARISON
If for some reason I had to buy a new turntable, my current favorite turntable is the Stanton Str8-150. It’s a Super OEM turntable like the rest of the market, and there’s nothing special about it outside of having the most features for the lowest cost that I’ve found. Super OEMs share the same great torque, and a nice platter that feels similar to a 1200. So, if you can find another Super OEM with the following features at the same price or lower, it’s probably a good buy.
Here are the key features for me:
- Straight arm: This is the different between the Str8-150 and ST-150 models. In my experience, straight arms are superior for general DJ use and performance. They give you more room to move your hand on the record, and they skip less. The only deal breaker for a straight arm is that you can’t use elliptical needles due to the angle, and they’re quite a bit harder on your vinyl. So if you’re still spinning real vinyl often, or archiving vinyl, go for the S-arm. Nowadays most DJs either use DVS records or scratch records, both of which are easy to replace, so record burn isn’t a big downside.
- Independent start/brake time adjustment knobs: Some of the other Super OEM models don’t have this, and they stop really quickly before you get the classic vinyl brake sound, making them almost into a mute button. So for me this is important.
- Two brakes: Most turntables only have the brake on the right side. Having two brakes makes it so you have a brake handy no matter which side of the turntable your hand is. This is more important if you’re doing turntablist routines or something more performance intensive, but it’s handy nonetheless. The downside is if you still use Dicers, you can’t put them in the 45 adapter slot because there is none.
- Specific playback controls: reverse, pitch lock (reset). 78 RPM. All features that you may not use every day but many other Super OEMs left one or more of them out.
Here are the downsides:
- They are the heaviest turntables I’ve ever felt. If you’re gigging or constantly moving them, that can be a bit of a pain. However, some argue that the weight causes better isolation from vibration, so maybe this is a good thing. Just something to be aware of.
- The buttons are cheap and break down. This isn’t a Str8-150 specific issue, many Super OEMs have the same buttons, but I own three of these turntables and the buttons are becoming less responsive on all three of them, namely the 33/45 buttons but they’re all identical.
So in short, out of all the Super OEMs the Stanton Str8-150s are near the bottom in price, and near the top in amount of features. Given that they all have the same parts inside, this is the only thing that matters. But note that there are many brands that have put out Super OEMs, so if you find one with straight arm, start/brake time controls, 2 brakes, and the other playback controls, you can probably assume it’s just as good.
These are the most unique Super OEMs on the market because of the built-in MIDI controls. These are the only Super OEM turntables I might suggest outside of the Stanton Str8-150s, only if you need the extra features. If you already have a Rane Sixty Two, 57, Pioneer S9, or a Z2, you might not benefit from MIDI controls on your turntables. Here are the benefits of this specific model:
- MIDI controls: Cue point, loop, roll, slice all from the turntable. It’s basically like a built-in Dicer but more features. The buttons aren’t ideal for finger drumming. Your main consideration whether to buy this turntable over any other is whether you need this. If you don’t, they’re a lot more expensive for a model that other Super OEMs match in features.
- Torque adjust: I like the idea of this feature, but I haven’t found it to make a ton of difference on some turntables. Make sure you get to try the specific turntable with torque adjust and see whether you can actually feel the difference. I personally use max torque 100% of the time so I can’t comment on how well it is implemented on this specific turntable.
- Button quality for basic features: The start/stop, 33/45, etc, seem better quality than the Stanton buttons. But I haven’t put in years on the Reloops as I have with the Stantons, so it’s possible that they will fail after heavy use as well
- Pitch display: It shows the current pitch digitally. Kind of cool, but definitely not a necessary features.
- No independent start/brake control: This was a big oversight: the start and brake controls are the same knob. If you want a slower brake time, the motor also starts slower. I’ve never wanted the record to start up slower, so I just leave it at fastest. But then the brake is almost instant and might as well be a mute button. They may as well not have even included the features.
- Power: The on/off switch does a weird speed up thing when you power down, making things worse for power down tricks and transitions.
- Price: They’re expensive because they’re like a turntable + midi controller in one. If you don’t need the midi controller, they’re a waste of extra money. As a pure turntable, they are marginally worse than the Stanton Str8-150s for more money.
Everyone has been talking about these since they dropped. Pioneer finally came out with a turntable. But it’s basically another re-branded Super OEM. These are the most expensive Super OEMs on the market, even more than the RP-8000s with MIDI controls. But they’re popular so I’ll review them anyways.
- Design: They look really cool. They’re the best looking Super OEMs.
- The platter is sunk: This is more a design thing than a real advantage – it makes them look and feel marginally closer to Technics 1200s.
- They’re missing: start/brake adjustment, straight arm, reverse, 78rpm, only 1 start/stop button, and no torque adjust. They’re basically just a more basic version of the Stanton or Reloop turntables, for more money.
I will say that I do use these at home right now, and I still like them, because all Super OEM turntables are still at worst a solid 8 out of 10 turntable, and if they were $200 less maybe I’d recommend them. But at the current price, there’s not much reason to buy them aside from aesthetics.
Used/No Longer in Production:
These are one of the last truly new/unique turntables released. They feel and perform differently than any other turntable, so there are real subjective reasons behind choosing them (unlike Super OEM clones, which all feel identical and the only distinctions are features and price).
For pure scratching and creative stuff, these are my favorite turntables. I hate them for basic beat juggling, basic mixing, and routines. If you’re not using the features, they can be pretty weird because they function fundamentally different than most other turntables. Here are some key points:
- MIDI-Controlled Pitch: THE COOLEST FEATURE EVER. There’s a MIDI input on the turntable that allows you to change the pitch range by semi-tones with a MIDI keyboard instead of using the pitch fader. This allows you to transpose songs/samples on the fly in true musical increments, even when using real vinyl. Check out the last 2 minutes of my DMC Online video (below) for an example of how it can be done in a melodic turntables context. This feature came out before DJs became really diligent about harmonic mixing, so the feature never really got attention, but it’s a hidden gem.
- 2 Pitch Faders: Which are dependent on each other, so you always have to be conscious where the other one is. This allows for more specific pitch/speed tricks but makes mixing and changing things on the fly trickier.
- The controls are pretty tiny across the board. The extra pitch fader, the start/stop/the power off, they’re all small and more sunken than other turntables, which makes them tough to use for intensive performance DJing. If there was ever a turntable you were going to miss a control on while you’re doing something quickly, it would be these.
- The lightest turntables I’ve ever used. Often if I’m going somewhere and just need one turntable, I grab these because they feel about half the weight of any other turntable out there.
All of the Vestax PDX models from 2000 on function pretty much like these, with slight differences, except the MIDI input feature. That’s PDX 3000 exclusive – but if you find a Vestax PDX-X000 of any sort used, you can feel safe knowing it’s a great turntable, albeit a bit weird.
Both of these are also very unique feeling and functioning turntables. Some of the first next-generation decks with high torque, but as a result they have some flaws. I would still feel completely comfortable performing any high level routines on a good pair of these, but they are pretty notorious for having issues and dying.
If you get a working pair, keep them. If you find a cheap pair and can risk them dying after a year, buy them. If you know how to fix them (apparently not all that hard or expensive for their common issues), then buy them and feel good about it. I sold mine a few years ago, but I used them for about 4-5 years straight (had to fix them twice in that time), so I’ve put some miles on them. Here’s what you need to know:
- Feature rich: They have all the features of the Stanton Str8-150, with the LED pitch display of the RP-8000. All implemented pretty well.
- Two arms: A straight arm AND S-arm. You can unscrew the tone-arm and screw in the other one. This is a double-edged sword, as I found that both of the tonearms were a bit shakier than the straight-arm and S-arms of other turntables, probably because they were removable.
- You can move the pitch fader: It unscrews and you can swap the other pitch controls so that it runs vertical instead of horizontal, or vice-versa. If you use your turntables “battle style” it makes more sense.
- Surprisingly durable, outside of the motor/electronics issues. Everything that seems to break on them is internal. I never had a button on them break or become less responsive.
- Unique feel. The platter isn’t flat/smooth like a 1200 so I find it doesn’t backspin as quickly as a result. It might bring the record up to speed slightly quicker though too. Not a positive or a negative, just a difference.
- Tend to break down, but not every model of them. Numark has released a few versions of the turntables over the years, and the more recent ones fixed some of the issues. It’s difficult to tell which are which at a glance, so if you’re considering buying one, do some research to figure out what to look for.
Technics SL-1200s + Used DJ Turntables In General
Used turntables vary a lot in price depending on where you are in the world. Different models are more or less common in different places, which affects price as well. In general I think that roughly $275 ($350 Canadian,€250 Euro) or less is a good price for Super OEMs, Vestax PDX-X000s, or Technics SL-1200s. If you find any of those turntables for that price or less, you should be feeling good. All of them are professional turntables. The Numark turntables are great bargain turntables to look out for because their reputation for breaking down usually means you can find them for $100 or less, which is a steal whether you’re beginner or a pro.
Also, there are so many brands putting out Super OEM turntables that aren’t known for their turntable quality, the prices are generally pretty good on the used market. Stanton, Audio Technica, Epsilon, DJ Tech, and many other companies that focus mainly on entry to mid-level DJ gear often end up going for cheap on the used market just because the name isn’t as trusted as Pioneer/Technics/Vestax.
Technics SL-1200s are still my go-to recommendation for DJs looking to buy one set of decks to last them for a while, despite them being behind the times as far as features. None of these other turntables have proven to be as durable, and it’s much easier to find someone to repair 1200s even with problems that would put most other turntable out of commission for ever. Plus, they hold their value, so they’re a better investment than these other decks. That said, I haven’t used Technics 1200s outside of gigs and competitions for many years now, so if your life doesn’t depend on your turntables being immortal, try to find one of the other decks.
Make sure you do your due diligence when buying used turntables. Read Xonetacular’s guide to buying used Technics! Get the seller to let you play a record on it that you’re familiar with, using your own needle. At the very least, plug it in without sound, check all the buttons to make sure they do what they should, and keep an eye on the motor. You can use the dots on the side of the platter to check if there’s something wrong internally that might not be obvious from the aesthetic condition. Scratches and scrapes on a turntable usually won’t hurt it, but if you see any damage on or around the tonearm, be very careful because that’s when repairs get expensive (or impossible).
DJ Turntables, The TL;DR
Here are the cliff notes for those who don’t want to read all that:
- Don’t waste your money on brand new turntables. All of the ones on the market are the same Super OEM turntables with different paint jobs, and slightly different feature sets, but they’re all over-priced.
- Don’t fall for any DJ, no matter how popular, saying that X new turntable is way better than Y new turntable. I’ve tried them all, the differences are subtle. Give them a try yourself to see what differences matter most to you.
- All of the turntables I recommended are more than capable of performing anything you need to do. None of these are basic/entry-level turntables.
Until companies start making entirely different turntables again, I recommend buying the cheapest one of these you can find, and saving your money for mixers, where the difference between models is actually substantial.