There a very few elements of gear more iconic in music, than a DJ turntable.
And it’s probably because, of all pieces of gear a DJ uses nowadays (and trust me there are many)…
The VERY FIRST ONE was a turntable, which makes sens really, if you consider music wasn’t always played through a computer.
That’s right, DJs used to have to switch from one record to the other in order to keep the music playing.
Now, with the advent of digital music, people though turntables would become obsolete…
Well, guess what, they’re more popular then ever!
And it takes a very unique skill to be able to match beats, cue up some records and scratch in a groovy fashion.
So if you always dreamed of making the crowds dance to the sound of the latest house beat…
Or if you’d love being able to remix your favorite old school hip-hop record…
I’ve compiled in today’s post the 6 very best DJ turntables currently available in the market.
So here we go…
Before we start looking at the best picks, let’s see what actually makes a good turntable, shall we?
And we couldn’t look at that without comparing a DJ turntable to a “regular” vinyl record player.
And so here are the major differences between both devices:
- The motor – unlike regular vinyl record players, a DJ turntable requires a special kind of motor
- The Torque – which is the “strength” of the motor and is typically higher on DJ turntables
- The Pitch controller – records player usually have a two-positions controller, whether DJ turntables allow for fine-tuned pitch choice
- A built-in preamp – so you can directly hook up your turntables to speakers
The stylus — or needle — on the headshell comes in various shapes:
- Conical/Spherical – which is the cheapest shape and is found on lower end turntables. Odly enough, they’re the most popular type for DJing.
- Elliptical – due to its shape, an elliptical stylus will track the record’s grooves more accurately, as you can see on the image on the right
- Micro Line/Shibata/Van Den Hul/Hyper Elliptical – which are considered the best tracking stylus, catching more of the grooves’ surface. However, they’re mostly used by audiophiles on HiFi setups due to their fragility and high prodution cost.
As a scratching DJ, you’re looking for resistance, which is why conical needles are the most popular: they can withstand a great amount of:
- Tracking force – meaning you can use a conical needle with virtually any turntable.
- Back-cueing – no matter how much you wiggle your record to set it back to the beginning of the track, a spherical needle can withstand it.
- Scratch – probably the most important factor for any aspiring DJ, a conical needle is the only shape that can withstand havy and intense scratching.
Finally, they’re also the cheapest type of needles to produce, meaning if you’re on the heavy-hand type, you won’t have to worry too much bout replacing your stylus every now and then.
Setting the Tracking Force
Alright so we talked about conical needles being able to withstand high tracking forces. But what exactly is the tracking force?
The tracking force is basically the weight applied by the tone-arm to the record. Setting it properly is the difference between the best sound possible and possible damages done to the needle or the record, more precisely:
- If the tracking force is set too high – your needle will be pushing down on the record too much, provoking distortion and tonal imbalance or worse, damage to the record and/or needle.
- If the tracking force is set too low – your tone arm might be sent up by the grooves of the record, “skating” over the record back and forth thus skipping some parts of the music or worse, scratching the record.
So needless to say it is vital to set it correctly. In order to do so, follow these steps:
- Turn the weight dial so that the tone arm floats above the record, not making any contact with it
- Immediately lock the tone arm in its rest place and set the adjustment dial to “0”
- Next, set the tracking force to the middle value of the range recommended by the manufacturer (if the range is 1.25-1.75g set it to somewhere around 1.50g) . If you can’t find this value or google it set it to 2.00g
You can also watch this video from Audio Technica for more informations:
So now that we’ve learned a a good deal of info about turntables’ technicalities, let’s dive in and take a look at the best models currently available, shall we?
1. Crosley C200 DJ Turntable
Had you told anybody 10 years ago you could be buying a professional DJ turntable for less than $200, they’d have probably laughed at your face.
Yet, this is exactly what the Crosley C200 is: a very affordable, professional grade turntable.
It has everything you need to get started as a scratch DJ:
- Fully pre-set S-shaped tone-arm – tone-arms normally need to be balanced manually, but the Crosley C200’s tone arm is already balanced
- Audio Technica cartridge – The C200 comes with an AT cartridge to ensure sound quality and fidelity
- Cueing Lever – which is a small device that allows you to lift the stylus so as to keep it in the same position on the record, in order to pick up the record exactly where you left it
- Vibration Control Feet – the C200‘s feet are designed to keep unwanted vibrations at bay
Click here to check it out:
Note: this turntable doesn’t have a USB line out but you can still plug it to your computer using this trick.
2. Audio Technica AT-LP120X USB DJ Turntable
At its most basic form, a DJ turntable is a device with a direct drive motor, a pitch controller and a tone arm with a stylus…
Which is pretty much what you get with the Audio Technica AT-LP120X USB.
However, if you know audio manufacturers just a little bit, you probably know Audio Technica and the reputation that follows them.
So if you’re just starting out as a scratch DJ and don’t know the first thing about it, and are looking for cheap but reliable turntables, there are very few safer bets than the Audio Technica AT-LP120X USB.
Check it out:
For a similar turntable, take a look at the Reloop RP 4000 MK2 whose only difference is the motor, a brushless DC type vs servo-type for the Audio Technica.
3. Audio Technica AT-LP140XP
One step above the previous model of this list, the LP140XP offers a few significant upgrade:
- A higher torque motor with speed stabilization – with a starting torque of 2.2 kgf-cm, the LP140X has more than double the starting torque power than the LP120X
- A conical stylus – which is indeed an upgrade when it comes to DJ turntables, compared to the elliptical stylus in the LP120X
- A forward/reverse operation feature
- A popup cueing light – as opposed to a plug-in type cueing light for the LP120X
- A heavier build – The LP140X weighs 10kg, 2 kilos more than the LP120X, making it a sturdier turntable
So overall definitely a significant upgrade.
Check it out:
4. Pioneer PLX1000 DJ Turntable
Entering the high-end spectrum of turntables, we have the Pioneer PLX1000.
And — as you’ll notice — the more you move higher in the price range, the more certain characteristics improve, in particular the weight and the starting torque.
And on both these features the Pioneer PLX1000 is perhaps the first turntable on this list to boast real professional performances
With a starting torque of >4.5kgf/cm, the starting time of a regular 33⅓ rpm disc is of only 0.3sec. Yes, that’s very good.
Check it out:
5. Denon DJ VL12 PRIME
As we’re closing in on the $1000 mark, here is the turntable with the highest starting torque on the market with 5kgf/cm.
Apart from that, the Denon VL12 Prime offers a few unique features:
- 2 interchangeable lights – a bright white one and a warmer, yellower one
- RGB lighting on the platter’s edge – which adds a nice touch when you’re out gigging in a dark club
- Isolation feet+isolated motor – on top of specifically designed isolation feet, the VL12 Prime comes with an isolated motor as well, reducing greatly undesirable vibrations. Vibrations are mostly present in bass-heavy environments — like clubs — and are the sworn enemy of turntablists.
Check it out:
And for the final pick…
6. Technics SL-1200 Series
Of course I couldn’t write a “best turntables” post without at least mentioning the legendary Technics SL-1200 Series turntables.
Launched back in 1972, this Technics SL-1200 Series revolutionized the turntable market by being the first consumer model to offer:
- A magnetic, direct drive motor – which was one of the first of its kind at the time
- A military grade build quality – which meant the turntable could easily be moved from one place to the other without fear of damaging it, which is the reason it became a favorite among DJs.
- A higher torque than any of its competitors at the time – which guaranteed an almost instantaneous start at the right RPM.
But the real innovation might actually have come from the artists who actually understood the full potential of this turntable…
Which is how scratching was born.
Indeed, when DJs such as Afrika Bambaata, Grand Wizard Theodore (known as the inventor of the cratching technique) or Grandmaster Flash started experimenting with the SL-1200…
They quickly understood the motor’s resiliency and ability to come back to initial RPM speed, even when subjected to “intense wiggling”.
In other words, the Technics SL-1200 is the turntable to have made scratching technics possible.
Since then, Radio and Club DJs have also adopted the SL-1200as their prefered turntable.
So that’s for the “history” part.
Now, the SL-1200 was discontinued in 2010 but re-launched in 2019 under the reference SL-1200 MK7
Check it out: