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Buyers Guide & Information

Best DJ Turntables For Mixing Tracks

Get the party started and spin tracks all night long with these top-rated DJ turntable brands!

by PITeam

Buyers Guide & Information

Best DJ Turntables For Mixing Tracks

Get the party started and spin tracks all night long with these top-rated DJ turntable brands!

by PITeam

by PITeam

We’ve all heard of them, but what are DJ turntables? A turntable is used to play prerecorded music, much like a CD player would, however, these are used with vinyl records. These DJ turntables are much different than what your parents or grandparents had.

They're used to mix tracks together to create an entirely different sound and transition smoothly between them. As there are so many models out there, it's important to choose a DJ turntable set that is one of the most high-quality and user-friendly. If you want the top models, then keep reading.

How DJ Turntables Work

To talk about how they function, we first need to understand what they consist of. First, you have the base. This is where you’ll find the motor that operates everything. Next up, we have the platter, which has a direct effect on the consistency of the speed the track is playing at. This is what you'll place your vinyl on (with a slip mat underneath). Denser platters are ideal, as they keep the speed steadier.  

Sprouting from the base, you have the tonearm which is a kind of metal tube-looking device that extends over the record. At the tip of the arm, you'll find the cartridge, often referred to as the "needle" or the "stylus." It may be tiny, but it's quite possibly the most essential component of the entire turntable.

The playback process as a whole begins with how well the stylus performs in playing the record. If it's a poor performer, then no other component can fix it. The stylus uses electromagnetic induction to transmit the grooves of the vinyl into soundwaves that we hear.

So, how does this work for a DJ? Let’s take a look.

First, you're going to have two turntables – one on each side of a mixer. A mixer is a completely separate piece of equipment from the turntables. They usually come in either 2 or 4-channel setups, with each channel belonging to a turntable. This means that we'll only be using 2 channels, as we have 2 turntables.

Each channel comes with little pots that control a certain frequency of the track that’s being played. Most mixers will have 3 pots per channel: one for low frequencies, one for mid frequencies, and one for high frequencies.

Low frequencies include things like the bass and kick drum, highs have elements like cymbals and claps, and mids will usually cover the vocals, main synth line/melody and so on. Occasionally, you’ll find mixers from manufacturers like Allen & Heath that have 4 pots (2 mid pots instead of 1) which allow for even more precision and control.

To start DJing or mixing two tracks, you'll need to place one record on each turntable and find the part of the song you would like to start at with the stylus. Once you hit "play," you'll want to make sure the volume is at an appropriate level.

When you get towards the end of the track, you'll want to begin to bring the next track in. To do this requires a lot of skill and you'll need to use the pitch fader to do it in a way that it sounds fluid.

Every song has a BPM, or "beats per minute." Let's say that your first track is 128 BPM and the second track is 130 BPM. You'll need to adjust the pitch fader of the second track by moving it down 2 BPM so that it is running at the same speed as the first. Once that is done, you’ll need to match the beats together so that the kick hits at exactly the same time.

Depending on how consistent the platter is in keeping the speed, you’ll need to keep adjusting a bit to keep them “beat-matched." You'll then use the mixer to improve the EQs of each track so that you can transition between them smoothly. This is of course, simplified, but you get the idea.


DJ Turntable Drive System Types

You may notice that there are two different types of turntables: direct drive and belt drive. Let’s take a look at each so you can determine which is best for you.

  • Belt Drive
    Belt drive turntables are what all of the older models were. The belt drive consists of an elastic belt attached to the motor, which offered relatively fast and precise movements. The platter of belt drive models sits on top of a bearing, separated from the turntable’s motor.  There are both pros and cons to this setup. One of the main benefits is that the elastic belt is resistant to vibrations which can help keep the record playing consistently while producing better sound quality. The downside? Their torque is significantly lower than direct drives which is vital in certain DJ settings like scratching (however, it may not be critical for you).  

  • Direct Drive
    The main difference between these and belt drives, is that the platter is directly attached to the turntable’s motor. This means they’re much quicker to start up, have more consistent speed, and much stronger torque. If you’re going for reliability, this is it. You’ll not have to deal with belt degradation, so if you’re looking to make a good investment, I recommend direct drive models.The only real downside with these is that they can have lower playback quality (though, it's not a rule). They're also not resistant to vibrations or other outside forces.

Benefits of DJ Turntables

DJ turntables are necessary if you’re going to DJ with vinyl records. While there are other ways of DJing with other music formats, to audiophiles and vinyl enthusiasts, there is no comparison to the authentic and warm sound of a record.

You'll also be able to prove those who say DJs "only have to push a button" wrong! Aside from that, you get the satisfaction of having all of your music right there, physically with you. You don't have to worry about transferring the music files online to your USB to play or use any software at all.


How a DJ should choose a High-Quality Turntable

Usage

If you’re going to be regularly using your turntables (which you should be if you’re just starting out) then you’ll need one that can take a beating. Look for those with solid builds from the plinth to the tonearm to the stylus. With turntables, literally every single component matters and should be taken seriously.

Turntable Type

We’ve already sufficiently covered belt drives and direct drives, but there are also automatic and manual turntables. This refers to having to move the tonearms with manual ones, and automatics will move the tonearm to where it was last placed. Automatic models are easier and much faster to use; however, aren't really the "traditional" way of doing things.

Cartridge Type

You’ll find either a moving coil shape or a magnet cartridge. Moving coil cartridges are notably more expensive, but well worth it due to the better sound quality it provides.

Tonearm

This is quite possibly the most complex component of the turntable. It starts at the base with some space between it and the platter to control vibrations. At the tip is where you'll find the cartridge which makes contact with the platter.

Phono Preamp

I also recommend choosing a turntable that comes with a phono preamp built-in. These boost the sound signal generated by the needle, making sure the music is loud enough.

Sound Quality

Literally every component of a turntable can and will affect the sound quality. This is why it’s crucial to get a high-quality table.

Storage & Portability

When we think of turntables, "portability" isn't really the word that comes to mind. However, some are easier to store and transport than others. If that's something that's really important to you, I recommend looking for the more lightweight models or those that have a smaller footprint to make storage easier.

Build Quality, Design & Style

No matter where or how often you’ll be using your turntables, build quality, design, and style are all important. You want the build to be nice and sturdy. Some are made of plastic while others are made of wood. Which do you think is going to last longer?

You also don’t want cheap-feeling buttons, as you’re going to be using these repeatedly, even if you’re only playing at home. The design should be intuitive, so you’re not feeling clumsy or unnatural, and the style should work with your personal tastes and music genre(s).

Extra Features

These extra features may push you to choose one turntable over another. Look for digital outputs like a USB port to connect to your PC if you plan on DJing with digital vinyl. You should also take a look at those with the option to play in reverse, how fine the pitch adjustment is, and more.

Price & Warranty

How much are you looking to spend on your new DJ turntable? It’s a wise idea to figure this out before you start, to eliminate any chance of having buyer’s remorse by spending more than you’d wanted. No matter your budget, we’re sure we have an excellent option for you on our guide.

I’ll mention, though, that going up in price will get you better build quality, more user-friendliness, and will almost always help you develop your skills more efficiently. I highly recommend, if you can, opting for a model that has at least a 1-year warranty, just in case something happens to your turntable(s).


9 Best DJ Turntables Reviewed

1. Audio-Technica ATLP120USB

Best DJ Turntable

Turntable Type

Direct Drive

Tone Arm Type

S-Shaped

Playback Speeds

33/45/78

Power Requirements

115/230V AC

Braking System

Electronic

Warranty

Yes, 1 year

Audio-Technica is one of the most well-reputed brands in the audio world, with their headphones found on the ears of countless professional producers and DJs around the globe. It's no wonder, then, that their ATLP120USB is ranked as "Amazon's Choice," as well as one of the best DJ vinyl turntables on the market today. 

Playing 33, 45 and 78 RPM records, you aren’t limited at all in what you can play. In fact, it even has a reverse playback feature and pitch adjustment, which is pretty much a necessity when using it for DJing. Fully manual operation allows for quick start-ups while the balanced S-shaped tonearm is easy to use thanks to the hydraulically dampened lift control and lockable rest. To ensure accuracy even in low lighting, you’ll love the popup stylus target light to allow you to see where and what you’re cueing up.

On top of that, I found it to produce some of the most precise LP to digital conversions, so if you're looking to convert them into digital files to take with you to play on CDs or keep conveniently on an external hard drive, this is a great option.

Though it does come with the audio editing software, Audacity, the software itself is already free even if you don’t purchase the turntable. While it’s not as user-friendly as other software out there, once you watch a tutorial or two, it’s easy to record vinyl for conversion. Not only that, but you can also clean up audio with it.

Whether you're DJing for a crowd of hundreds or just for yourself at home, playback quality matters. To help ensure you have the best playback possible, you have a tonearm with a counterweight to keep the pressure just right. In addition, you'll find the anti-skating feature to prevent the needle from skipping and a pitch adjustment/lock to change the pitch and disable it.

The LP120 doesn’t come with built-in speakers nor a headphone jack, but you’re not going to need either of those for DJing, anyway. Built-in speakers do not typically produce quality sound, so it’s nice that these have RCA outputs to plug into external speakers. The USB output connects right into your laptop, so if you’re looking for digital vinyl DJing, it’s super easy to do so with this model.

The anti-resonance, die-cast aluminum platter helps keep audio sounding good while maintaining a consistent speed. Overall, it's a durable model that's great for regular use. While it offers reliable sound quality, I'll be honest when I say it's not the best of the best in that regard, but it is high up there.  

Pros

  • Convenient USB outputs
  • Anti-resonance die-cast aluminum platter
  • Very durable
  • Comes with Audacity software

Cons

  • The audio could be slightly better

2. Numark NTX1000

Best DJ Turntable (Runner Up)

Turntable Type

Direct Drive

Tone Arm Type

S-Shaped

Playback Speeds

33 1/3 and 45

Power Requirements

100 – 240V AC

Braking System

9 Step Electronic Servo Brake

Warranty

Yes, 1 year

Next up, we have yet again another huge brand in the world of DJing. Numark is an innovative brand that really takes its customers' feedback and applies it to their products to ensure they're user-friendly and reliable. The NTX1000 is exemplary of that standard, coming with everything you could ever need to matter if you're an absolute newbie or seasoned pro.

It’s also a solid option if you’re on the search for a cheap DJ turntable made with a high level of quality. The all-black design is sure to stand out, with its sleek and original looks.

Featuring a full-size die-cast aluminum platter and high-torque direct-drive motor, you'll be able to choose between either 33 1/3 or 45 RPMs to play a wide variety of vinyl. The S-shaped tonearm tracks very accurately, and even comes with height adjustment, damped cueing, anti-skate control and a fully adjustable counterweight. This makes it particularly convenient for beginners and DJs in a busy club environment. I love how the tonearm is also a matte black, too.

If you’re DJing, then you need to know how to sync up your tracks. This is almost always going to require you to adjust the pitch of a track, which is why you’ll love the pitch faders that can be adjustable to 8, 16, or 50%. The long-throw fader makes it easier than ever to adjust, with a reset button as well.

Easy Start and Stop Time knobs are also available to you, along with feedback and external vibration resistance. This makes them perfect when you’re using them with large sound systems, as the bass can easily shake the platform or table they’re sitting on. If you are going to be playing out, then you’ll appreciate how easy these are to transport!

Pros

  • Height adjustment, damped cueing, anti-skate control, adjustable counterweight
  • Attractive matte black design
  • Precision pitch faders
  • Easy start/stop time knobs

Cons

  • More expensive than many other models

3. Reloop RP-2000-M

Best DJ Turntable Under $300

Turntable Type

Direct Drive

Tone Arm Type

S-Shaped

Playback Speeds

33 1/3 and 45

Power Requirements

115 – 230V

Braking System

Electronic

Warranty

Yes, 1 year

Coming with a heavy mass chassis and robust, clean design, the Reloop RP-2000-M is one of the highest-performers when it comes to the best DJ turntables under 300 dollars. The design is quite simple, but the quartz-driven turntable with direct drive is perfect for beginners.

No matter what skill level you’re at, you’ll enjoy the fact that this table can take a beating. Whether you’re using it every day to improve your skills or are taking it to perform in public, you want it to be able to hold up against potential abuse.

From an aesthetic point of view, it's neither a stand-out model nor an eyesore. The black metal chassis is heavy-duty and looks okay, but the controls are quite plain and even a bit dated.

However, the most important part of a turntable isn’t its looks, but its performance. The well-isolated feet work well to eliminate a good amount of vibrations (but not all) which is acceptable for club environments.

The turntable features a decent S-shaped tonearm which is acceptably precise, but not the best I’ve used. The motor performs at a similar level – not the absolute best but still pretty good. For the price, it is hard to find a model that can compare with it.

The pitch fader is average, with a +-10 pretty standard range, though it may not be quite as easy for beginners to match. There are also multiple reports of the pitch control losing its precision over time, along with motor dropping in torque just enough to notice. Of course, this is relatively common with turntables of this price range, but it's good to take into consideration. 

Pros

  • Heavy chassis great for eliminating vibrations
  • Affordable
  • Good looks

Cons

  • Pitch loses precision over time
  • Torque drops slightly over time

4. Pioneer DJ PLX-1000

Best DJ Vinyl Turntable

Turntable Type

Direct Drive

Tone Arm Type

S-Shaped

Playback Speeds

33 1/3 to 45

Power Requirements

110 – 120V or 220 – 240V

Braking System

Electronic

Warranty

Yes, 1 Year

Pioneer is easily the most recognized and reputable brand in the DJ world, present-day. They are the industry standard in clubs worldwide due to their resilience, cutting-edge technology, and history of being reliable. I will say that I don’t consider the Pioneer DJ PLX-1000 to be an entry-level turntable due to how premium it is in every sense of the word. You can also expect more premium pricing, so if you’re not sure if you’re going to like DJing, you may not want to spend that much money on them just yet.

With a higher price, you can expect only the best features, from the build to performance. Coming with a quartz lock pitch control, you’ll easily be able to beat-match with precision; +-8% or 16 is possible, and you have a reset button to change it back to +-0 immediately.

The heavy mass diecast chassis is ideal in loud club environments due to how well it eliminates vibrations. The 8mm-thick resin bottom and 9mm-thick vibration-damping material on the base ensures that you'll have no problem with rumbly bass. The insulated S-shaped tonearm also helps to reduce any howling kind of sounds.

High torque is essential for most advanced DJs, and this direct drive table has that. You’ll have supreme control over your tracks, even if you’re into scratching. Thanks to interchangeable power and audio cables, it's easy to hook up and replace which is excellent if you're in a club where you have to connect your own turntables. The professional-level, gold-plated RCA jacks also provide low impedance and excellent sound quality.

The only downside? You’ll have to add your own cartridge and stylus as they’re not included.

Pros

  • Diecast chassis is perfect for eliminating vibrations
  • High torque/great control
  • Precision pitch control
  • Excellent sound quality

Cons

  • Cartridge and stylus aren’t included

5. Numark PT01 Scratch

Best Cheap DJ Turntable

Turntable Type

Belt Drive

Tone Arm Type

Straight

Playback Speeds

33 1/3, 45

Power Requirements

Batteries

Braking System

n/a

Warranty

n/a

Falling under a rating of both one of the best cheap DJ turntables and best DJ turntables for beginners, the Numark PT01 Scratch is a fascinating piece of equipment. The turntable is absolutely not made for club use or for professionals. This model is ideal, however, if portability and fun at casual hangouts is your priority when it comes to equipment, then keep on reading.

The lightweight belt-drive turntable is completely comprised of plastic. This means that it's easy to carry in a bag, but not so great for serious gigs. They're also not going to be able to eliminate or even reduce vibration the way more expensive models would. It does have a removable dust cover which will keep it nice and protected while you're transporting it, though. The 7" platter can use full 12" records, or you can choose to use the 45 adapters if you prefer.

At first glance, you’ll notice something much different from other models: the Numark Scratch Switch. This is essentially an on/off crossfader to make for quick cuts. This makes for fun and simple scratching, albeit maybe a bit gimmicky, but if you're looking to seriously improve your skills, you may want to set out for using a mixer. However, as it does come with a built-in speaker, you don't need to hook anything up to get going. The tonearm is straight and also made of plastic, so don't expect features like anti-skate control, a counterweight or height adjustment. It does include volume knobs, pitch control, and EQ tone control. 

Pros

  • Very lightweight and portable
  • Great for having fun in casual settings
  • Inexpensive
  • Perfect for absolute beginners

Cons

  • Made of plastic
  • Not ideal for intermediate or advanced DJs

6. Stanton T.62 MKII

Best DJ Turntable for Beginners

Turntable Type

Belt Drive

Tone Arm Type

Straight

Playback Speeds

33 1/3, 45 and 78

Power Requirements

n/a

Braking System

Electronic

Warranty

n/a

If you're just starting out and want the perfect DJ turntable to begin honing your skills while taking hold of the learning curve, then check out the Stanton T.62 MKII. The sleek, modern style looks terrific no matter where you have it, while offering pristine sound and excellent build quality to ensure it lasts through all the bumps you put it through.

Before we really jump into things, I'll address my least favorite characteristic and perhaps the only complaint I had about this model: the fact that it's really heavy! This makes it difficult if you're going to be taking it to gigs or even moving it around your house. Weighing in at almost 17 pounds will, though, sit nicely in a studio setup.

Coming with a pre-mounted 300 cartridge, it offers a surprising amount of quality for a “beginner” setup. Accuracy is no problem, which will help make your time from the bedroom to the DJ booth much shorter. You’ll also receive a manual pitch fader, though it’s pretty standard, allowing you to increase/decrease the playback by 10%.

If you’re looking to get into hip-hop or scratching in general, then this is definitely a great selection for your DJ turntables and mixer setup. The straight tonearm gives you excellent tracking capabilities which is crucial when scratching, along with Deckadance DVS software, which is owned by Stanton, themselves.

While it does include RCA cables, a slip mat, and dust cover, I would’ve liked to have seen more USB ports.

Pros

  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Includes Deckadance DVS software
  • Excellent pre-mounted cartridge
  • Pristine sound quality

Cons

  • Missing USB ports
  • Rather heavy

7. Denon DJ VL12

Best DJ Turntable for the Money

Turntable Type

Direct Drive

Tone Arm Type

S-Shaped

Playback Speeds

33 1/3, 45

Power Requirements

100-240 VAC

Braking System

Electronic

Warranty

n/a

The Denon DJ VL12 PRIME is a great selection if you're looking for a turntable that will provide you with a high level of quality while still being relatively easy on the budget for what you're receiving. They're simple enough to wrap your head around if you're just starting out, but great for pros, too.

Right when you take this beauty out of the box, you'll see that Denon is serious about delivering quality. The heavy design looks expensive, with black, brushed metal and the Denon DJ logo on each side. Each foot provides suspension that you can adjust the firmness on, helping to reduce vibrations significantly.

The direct drive motor is great, yet surprisingly quiet thanks to the interior rubber. Working with both 33s and 45s, you can use the vast majority of vinyl out there, and it also includes a jukebox 7” vinyl adapter. As far as start-up speed goes, you can expect it to be one of the quickest.

Moving on to the tonearm, this one is S-shaped and perfect for precision tracking. You can also adjust the pitch range +-8%, 16% or 50% to give you more versatility and make it easier and quicker to beat-match. The all-metal composition ensures durability, as well.

You may have noticed the RGB lighting which surrounds the edge of the platter. This not only looks cool and futuristic, admittedly but lets you control the color and brightness so you can see better. The easy grip/brake chamfered platter offers excellent feedback and control, no matter where you're playing and no matter which genre of music. 

Pros

  • Modern, helpful RGB lighting around the perimeter of platter
  • Sturdy build quality
  • Quiet operation
  • Super-fast start up time

Cons

  • Jukebox adapter is kind of useless in DJ settings

8. RANE DJ

Best Rated DJ Turntable

Turntable Type

Motorized

Tone Arm Type

n/a

Playback Speeds

33 1/3, 45

Power Requirements

12V

Braking System

Electronic

Warranty

Yes, 1 year

Easily one of the most interesting DJ turntable setups out there, the RANE DJ Twelve is a motorized control turntable which gives you an authentic vinyl experience in comparison to digital music software which just doesn't provide the same feeling. If you're looking for that classic turntable feel but want more modern additions, then don't go anywhere.

If you read DJ turntable reviews, chances are, you're going to get mixed feedback. This is because vinyl purists may look down upon its new features, while others may love the modern take. While it's true, this model can't play traditional vinyl records; it is still a long-lasting solution for many DJs. If you’re a touring DJ, you’ll love the lack of RCA wires, tonearms, and worries about the state of your cartridges and needles.

If you want to get technical, the “turntable” is essentially a MIDI controller as it's completely controlled through a computer or digital mixer. This means less hassle, more control, as well as more versatility regarding digital capabilities. 

So, who is this digital DJ turntable for?

It's for those who seek convenience overall, along with those who are passionate about hip-hop and scratching differently. I was a bit naïve to think that scratching would be easier with this one, but it's actually a pretty accurate representation of how scratching goes on a regular turntable. This would make it a great beginner table in this sense, as you wouldn't have to go all out on traditional models before learning the basics.

Choose between 33 1/3 or 45 RPM platter speeds, using the traditional top panel rotary and motor off mechanism for a great amount of control. You’ll also find a high-quality pitch fader that lets you adjust 8%, 16%, or 50%, which is also great if you're learning how to beat-match.

What’s really interesting is the 4-deck function. You can choose any amount of decks, from 1 to 4, depending on how many you’d like as well as how many channels you have available on your mixer.

So, all in all, I agree – it’s not for everybody. However, there’s a reason why it’s still one of the best rated DJ turntables on the market today! It may even be the turntable of the future.

Pros

  • Extremely convenient for travel
  • Works well for beginners
  • Scratch function feels genuine
  • Versatile pitch fader

Cons

  • Not ideal for vinyl purists

9. Pioneer CDJ-2000-NXS

Best Pioneer DJ Turntable

Turntable Type

n/a

Tone Arm Type

n/a

Playback Speeds

n/a

Power Requirements

110V

Braking System

Electronic

Warranty

Yes, 1 year with optional 3 year

Before I anger anyone, I'll start this off by saying that no, this isn't a traditional vinyl turntable. The Pioneer CDJ 2000 NXS is, well, a CDJ. A CDJ is a digital music player that started out playing music from CDs, which is where the name came from.

However, current models like this one can play digital music files which are stored on either USB flash drives or SD cards. This makes them extra convenient as you don't need to bring any records along with you – just a USB or SD card that can fit in your pocket!

I'll continue by saying that this model is undoubtedly the club-standard around the world, save a few select venues. It’s used by relative amateurs and the biggest DJs in the world, alike. Why? They’re extremely reliable, heavy-duty, versatile, and just plain easy to use. They feature cutting edge technology that even to this day, no other model can compete with.

Let's start by addressing the fact that the 2000 NXS can connect to laptops, smartphones, tablets, and more through Wi-Fi capabilities. You can also "link" two or more CDJs together by an ethernet cable, so you only need to insert one USB or SD card into one CDJ.

Click the "LINK" button on the side of the others’ screens, and you’ll “magically” see your playlists on every other CDJ, even if they don’t have a USB/SD card in them. However, if you’d like to go a little more “old-school” then you can simply insert CDs into the CD slots on the front of each model. It does usually take a bit longer to read these files, however, so keep that in mind when you’re playing at a venue.

Using Pioneer’s Rekordbox software, you can analyze your tracks, set cue points, memory points, and more. The most significant difference between these Pioneer DJ turntables/CDJs and other models on our guide is that you aren't just going off of your ears. You have entire visual displays with waveforms and beat grids.

Waveforms are a visual display of a track. Usually, you'll find that the parts of a track with harder percussive elements will make a wave "bigger" and during the breakdown, intro, and outro of a track, they'll shrink in size. This can help you greatly with knowing where to mix in and out of a track. The beat grids aid greatly in beatmatching, indicating each beat with a line, and even the bar you’re at.

While controversial, no doubt, the 2000 NXS also come with a “SYNC” functionality, which lets you automatically sync two or more tracks together, depending on how many CDJS and mixer channels you’re using.

Choose between "CDJ MODE" or "VINYL MODE" – the choice is yours. CDJ mode will allow you to use the jog wheel essentially to nudge the playing track forwards or backward while VINYL mode will act more as actual vinyl.

If you touch the top of the jog wheel, it will make a "scratching" noise and stop, just like if you were to touch a record playing on a traditional turntable. You can also take advantage of "SLIP MODE," which keeps the track playing during looping, reverse playback, or scratching.

Pros

  • Extremely convenient for those who don’t want to carry records around
  • Can connect to laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc.
  • CDJ and VINYL mode available
  • Versatile pitch fader
  • Offers visual cues and waveforms

Cons

  • Not ideal for vinyl purists

DJ Turntables vs. DJ Controllers

DJ turntables and controllers are both very common among DJs, but what are the differences? Let’s take a look.

Controllers are either standalone units or are made to be used with a laptop. Independent units come with a built-in screen that displays waveforms and comes with two jog wheels that will let you adjust the tracks, select, create loops, use effects, and more.

You'll also get a built-in "mixer" to EQ adjust and mix. Standalone units are similar to CDJs in that you will use USBs with your music files stored on them and analyzed in a software that's compatible with the controller.

Turntables use vinyl records only to play music, and have a cartridge, needle, and tonearm to transmit the signal to the monitors to reproduce sound. They do not include a mixer section, so you’ll need to get one separately.


DJ Turntables vs. CDJs

CDJs are often confused with controllers, though there are many differences between them. CDJs are much larger and expensive than controllers (typically) and come with a platter that's very similar to traditional vinyl turntables. They do not come with mixers, so these will need to be purchased separately, just like with turntables. CDJs play music files stored on a USB drive, SD card, or CD. 


Essential DJ Equipment

  • DJ Mixers
    I covered this a bit already, but the mixer is what manipulates multiple audio signals (in this case, your tracks), so you can smoothly transition or mix them together. They will come with either 3 or 4-band EQs, and also allow you to plug in your headphones to hear the upcoming track.
  • DJing Laptop & DJ Mixing Software
    Did you know you can also use your turntables with a laptop? You’re going to need software to do it, but it’s a great way to DJ with vinyl if you don’t know how to beat-match with your ears alone, or if you don’t want to lug around crates of records. The standard software is Serato as it was at the forefront of digital vinyl DJing over 10 years ago. You'll need a kind of interface or "box" to move the signal from your turntables to the mixer and your laptop. Finally, you'll also require digital records, or "timecode records" which have an embedded timecode read by the turntable's needle. This is then sent through the interface to a laptop. 
  • Headphones
    If you don’t have headphones, you’re not going to be able to DJ. The headphones are used to listen to the song you’re going to bring in next to ensure it sounds good, and that it’s properly beat-matched with the song playing out to the crowd. You can also choose to hear the current song playing to the crowd in your headphones, or everything at once.
  • Soundsystem/Monitor Speakers
    The soundsystem are the various speakers placed throughout the club or venue you'll be playing in. These are more for the crowd than for you, as there is sometimes a delay in what you hear in your headphones and what the crowd is hearing on this system. Monitor speakers are just for you, though. There will ideally be two of these: one located at ear-level on each side of you. Monitors will play exactly what the sound system does: the main channel. These allow you to accurately hear what's going on in the venue so you can listen to the upcoming track and the currently-playing track at once. 
  • Phono Preamp
    To boost sound quality and level of sound output, you need to know if your turntable comes with a phono input jack or if it already has a preinstalled amp.
  • Slip Mat
    Slipmats will typically come in one of three materials: felt, cork, or rubber. Felt is the more traditional option, doing a great job at keeping dust away and avoiding static though they don't dampen resonance as much as rubber. Rubber can actually overdamp the record, though, leaving audible clicks and static. As the rubber grips onto the record, you also won’t be able to hold a record while the platter keeps spinning. The upside to static is that they don't collect dust and are easy to clean. Cork dampens resonances more effectively than felt, while also keeping dust away and avoiding static.
  • Stylus Cleaner
    A dirty stylus can affect the sound quality negatively, so it's important to clean it regularly. I prefer the Onzow Zerodust Stylus Cleaner as it's delicate on the stylus, effective, and quick to use. If that's not for you, then try a stylus brush (don't use the included cleaning liquid as it can dissolve the glue that connects the stylus to the cantilever). 
  • Turntable Weight
    These pucks are placed in the middle of records during records that work to dampen vibration, resulting in cleaner playback and minimized distortion. Aside from that, they also work to keep records flat. If you had a slightly warped record, the stylus might have a harder time tracking correctly, but the weight helps.
  • Record Cleaner
    These are made to safely and efficiently clean out the dust and grime from the record’s grooves. Carbon fiber brushes are great if they’re only dusty, but it’s important to be delicate with them. You can also use isopropyl alcohol, distilled water, and a couple of drops of a rinse agent along with a microfiber cloth for dirtier records.
  • RCA Cables
    These cables connect your turntables to the speakers, and if you select low-quality ones, you may seriously affect the audio signal negatively.
  • Master Sleeves
    Place your records in these, and you’ll notice they maintain a reduction in static and surface abrasion marks. Simply put, they’ll keep your vinyl in perfect condition.

How to Set Up a DJ Turntable

  1. 1
    Make sure everything is unplugged
  2. 2
    Attach the cartridge to the head shell, then to the tonearm and screw it in.
  3. 3
    Balance the tonearm by turning the adjustment clockwise until the stylus is even and leveled with the platter.
  4. 4
    Once it's balanced, make sure to clamp the tonearm and turn the adjustment that has numbers, calibrating to zero without turning the rear weight. 
  5. 5
    Now that it's at zero, look up how much tracking force is ideal for your cartridge. You'll turn the rear weight which then turns the calibration adjustment until adjusted to the recommended weight.
  6. 6
    Once this is done, connect your power source into your speaker, then an outlet. 
  7. 7
    Connect ¼" jack into the mixer where it says "BOOTH," then the other side into the speaker.
  8. 8
    Connect RCA cables from the turntable to the mixer input that says “CH1 PHONO”.
  9. 9
    Connect the ground wire from the turntable to the mixer (PHOTO).
  10. 10
    Connect the USB to the mixer, then the power source for your mixer.
  11. 11
    Connect the power source from the turntable and mixer to an outlet.
  12. 12
    Turn on the turntable, mixer, speaker, and laptop (if using one).
  13. 13
    ​Connect USB to a laptop (if using one).

Operating a DJ Turntable

Connecting a turntable setup isn't very useful if you don't know how to operate it! Let's take a step-by-step look at just how to pull it off.

  1. 1
    Make sure the dust cover is off the turntable, and the platter.
  2. 2
    Make sure the turntable is not spinning, and the needle is up. You can easily scratch your record if it's spinning while you place it onto the platter.
  3. 3
    Hold the record by the edge, and slowly lower it onto the platter, ensuring the spindle in the center goes through the middle of the record. When it is sitting flush on the platter, you may let it go.
  4. 4
    To remove the record, grab it by the edges that don’t have grooves.
  5. 5
    To operate the turntable, switch on the motor, which will put the platter in motion.
  6. 6
    Lift or cue the tonearm. This will vary depending on the model you have. Some will let you hit a switch that lifts the tonearm from resting. If you don’t have one, place your finger under the little handle on the shell head, lifting it gently.
  7. 7
    Position it over the beginning of the track you want to play. In most cases, this will be right above the outermost grooves of the record. There are usually be some bigger grooves around the outside perimeter, which is the part before the actual track begins.
  8. 8
    Once you’ve found the right place, lower the stylus onto the record. During this process, there should be no or very little popping or clicking sounds.
  9. 9
    Once it’s done, or you’re ready to play the next record, lift the tonearm from the record and gently place it back into the resting position.

DJ Turntable Maintenance & Care Tips

A turntable is an investment, and if you want to have it for as long as possible, it's essential to maintain it properly.

  1. 1
    Use a carbon fiber brush to clean the stylus of dirt and grime. If not, make sure to use the other ways of cleaning I mention. It’s also recommended you change your stylus every 3,000 hours of use.
  2. 2
    Properly calibrate the tracking force, anti-skip, and height settings to avoid more rapid record wear and skipping needles.
  3. 3
    Replace the belt at least once every 2-3 years, or if you see it starts to slip lower it more than usual on the pulley.

If you’re a more visual person, then take a look at this helpful video:


DJ Turntables: Common Issues & Fixes

Tracking errors are quite common and can be fixed by adequately leveling your turntables. For example, if one side is higher than the other, then the stylus and tonearm are going to have a tough time tracking the grooves of the vinyl. Use a bubble level for best results.

Sometimes, you may find your turntable platter doesn't spin. First, make sure that it's connected to the wall outlet, and move the lever on the motor drive gear inward so the platter can spin. Put the belt drive over the notched guide on the pulley, making sure it's not twisted. Also, remove the ribbon used to loop the belt drive! Finally, re-sync the tonearm with the platter.


Understanding DJ Turntable Terminologies

  • Scratching – This is the moving of a vinyl record back and forth to create a percussive or rhythmic sound.
  • Mixing/Remixing – This is the mixing or blending of two separate tracks together to create a new sound and to transition smoothly from one song to the next.
  • Stylus – This is the needle that makes contact with the record and comes connected to the tonearm.
  • Tone Arm – These will either be straight or S-shaped. This part holds the cartridge over the record grooves while minimizing vibration to provide great sound quality.
  • Cartridge – These turn a mechanical movement of the needle bumping around in the grooves of a record into an electrical signal.
  • Anti-Skating/Bias –Anti-skate or bias is a sideways force on the cartridge to balance out the inward pull of the record groove to keep it correctly in line.
  • Azimuth – This is the horizontal balance of the cartridge when you look at it from the front. This will determine the angle the stylus sits on the record groove.
  • Plinth – This is essentially the body of your turntable, keeping in all wiring and motors.
  • RPM – This stands for “revolutions per minute” or how many times the record will spin entirely in 1 minute. Vinyl is produced to be played at either 33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM, and 78 RPM (but these are very rare).
  • RCA – RCA and phono are the same, so if you hear “phono plug” it’s an RCA plug.
  • Tracking Force – This is the way your cartridge sits in the record when it's playing or the downward pressure that's applied by the weight of the tonearm through the stylus to maximize playback performance while minimizing the chance of mistracking.
  • Torque – This is often debated, but all in all, higher torque means that the platter’s speed will be less affected by outside forces like a hand or the stylus.
  • Acrylic Platter – Platters are made of either MDF or acrylic, with acrylic providing better speed consistency along with a cleaner, more detailed sound.
  • Counterweight – This is usually in the form of a rotating tonearm counterweight which adjusts the tracking force of your needle.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does a DJ turntable cost?

It varies, depending on the model you’re looking at. You can easily find one for under $300 and over $1000.

Does DJ scratching damage records? Can you scratch with a belt drive turntable?

Unfortunately, yes, it does. Even playing your records continuously will damage them to some extent. While scratching is definitely easier on direct drives (in my opinion), it's more than possible on belt drives.

How should I handle my vinyl records?

First off, don’t touch the surface of them. Instead, touch only the edges or the inner label. Keep your hand steady when you’re cueing your records to avoid scratching them. Be just as careful when removing the needle from your records.

Do I need a license to DJ?

If you’re playing in clubs, you will almost never need one. However, if you’re going to be playing at public events like weddings, having a DJ license is probably necessary or at least a good idea.

What are the best DJ turntable brands on the market?

Pioneer are the absolute best of the best, but Technics is also well-reputed.


Conclusion

Now that you’ve had the opportunity to read all about the best DJ turntables, which ones will you be using to further your DJ career or hobby? While each of the tables I’ve reviewed are the best on the market today, I still highly recommend the Audio-Technica ATLP120USB Direct Drive Professional USB Turntable.

It's super convenient with USB inputs, is extremely affordable, can digitize LPs with included Audacity software, and play any record. What more could you want? More importantly, I hope that this guide has helped you select the perfect player for you. Thanks for tuning in, and I'll see you again soon! Happy spinning!

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