The 10 Best DJ Turntables
This wiki has been updated 32 times since it was first published in September of 2015. Whether you're coordinating the soundtrack for your cousin's wedding at the local community center or getting ready to let loose in front of a crowd of thousands at a major music festival, you're going to need a solid set of DJ turntables to get the job done. Our selections for this category offer a variety of options for enthusiastic amateurs and established professionals alike. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
March 06, 2020:
During this round of updates, we replaced the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB and Audio-Technica AT-LP1240 with the Audio-Technica Hi-Fidelity AT-LP120XUSB and Audio-Technica Professional LP1240-USB XP, as well as the Numark TTUSB with the Numark NTX1000. We also eliminated the PylePro PLTTB3U and Gemini TT-1100USB to make room for some high-end models, including the Rane DJ Twelve – a nice choice for deejays thinking about transitioning from vinyl to digital, and the Pioneer CDJ 2000NXS2 – an industry standard in the electronic-music-festival scene that’s loaded with useful features to help artists manipulate songs.
A few factors to consider while you’re shopping in this category:
Belt Drive vs. Direct Drive: The motor in a belt-drive turntable is situated off center, and spins its platter using (you guessed it) a rubber belt. This might be sufficient for average music enthusiasts, playing records back to themselves in their bedrooms, but for deejays who are constantly scratching and pulling back on their vinyl, a stronger system is necessary. Direct-drive turntables have their motor centered under, and connected directly to, their platter, which provides better torque and less wow and flutter (sound distortion) when you spin. At this point, after our deliberate elimination of the belt-driven PylePro PLTTB3U and Gemini TT-1100USB, our rankings for this category should be comprised strictly of direct-drive options.
Pitch Control: Virtually every deejay turntable these days offers some level of pitch control, allowing artists to manipulate music on the fly by pitching-up or pitching-down, enabling you to control the tone your live mixes. Depending on your personal style, this might be an extremely important feature for you – or, maybe not so much. While models like the Numark NTX1000 and Roland TT-99 feature +/-8% and +/-10% pitch control, respectively, others like the DJ Tech SL1300MK6USB offer +/-50% pitch control.
Analog vs. Digital: This is still a sticky debate amongst turntable technicians of all stripes, and I’m not weighing in one way or the other, but with the rise of digital music – not to mention all the advances in technology we’ve seen, in recent years – I couldn’t leave these rankings in good conscious without including at least a couple of digital options. The major arguments in favor of vinyl, besides nostalgia and blind loyalty, are its sound quality and its feel. Scratch deejays in particular, who honed their craft on direct-drive turntables like the legendary Technics SL-1200MK2, are loathed to turn their back on that familiar feeling. The Rane DJ Twelve is a response to just that hesitation, and promises to provide deejays with that familiar feeling without all the headaches that come with maintaining tonearms and hauling around crates of vinyl. The Pioneer CDJ 2000NXS2 is a machine that’s on a level of its own (although, so is it’s price tag), with a top-of-the-line sound card that can handle high-resolution audio and way more features than we have space to get into here. Just suffice to say that a pair of these, especially in combination with the company’s DJM-900NXS mixer and DDJ-SP1 controller, are less of a music player and more of a musical instrument.
Now that we've gotten all that sorted out, all there is to do is pick out a new mixer and headphones, plus possibly some speakers and lights, or a booth and a laptop stand, and you should be ready to go!
(If all that sounds intimidating, you could always keep it simple and start with a nice controller.)
Spinning Like The Pros
Smart indie bands caught on, and many pressed their records to vinyl, knowing that their fan base hungered for that kind of media.
In the past decade or so, vinyl records have enjoyed a nice resurgence. Part of this is because streaming services and digital music purveyors like iTunes have long provided users with sub-par audio files. If you look at the bit rates, which are great indicators of sound quality, the problem is clear as day. Back when people bought music through iTunes instead of streaming it, their standard bit rate was 128 kbps, and if you paid a little extra, you could get 192 kbps, which is the average rate for streaming. That’s compared to CD quality which was around 320 kbps at its lowest. Vinyl records, captured losslessly, offer bit rates in excess of 1,000 kbps. That means there’s that much more data available on a real record.
So, a lot of audiophiles and regular consumers started resurrecting their vinyl collections, finding great old records at shops and yard sales. Smart indie bands caught on, and many pressed their records to vinyl, knowing that their fan base hungered for that kind of media. Unfortunately, this was a case of one step forward, two steps back, as certain companies saw an opportunity to capitalize in vinyl’s newfound popularity without respecting the sound.
The result was a tsunami of new products on the market, the worst of which are small, all-in-one record players. They look like little suitcases, with the turntable and speakers built in, and they’re based off of a design that was marketed to children and teens in the 1960s and 70s. Now, they’re being marketed to millennials and whatever the generation is called that’s coming up behind them.
To be fair, these portable turntables are fine if you intend to use them as a kind of supplement to a real stereo system, something you can carry around to play your favorite records on the go, or in a room far away from you home’s main entertainment center. As a hub for enjoying vinyl records, they miss the point, reducing all that great sound potential to a tinny garble.
That’s why so many consumers have turned to DJ turntables to build their stereos. Not only are these tools excellent for professionals who are interested in performing live with physical records, they also represent the finest combination of parts — from the belt drive to the needle and cartridge — that you’re liable to find on the market. And by maximizing each component in the chain that relays audio from the grooves on the record to the drums in your ears, you ensure that there are no weak links, and that every note, every breath, every intention of the artist is heard with utter precision.
How To Choose Your DJ Turntable
If you’re new to the world of turntables, there’s going to be a lot of jargon thrown at you that might be pretty difficult to understand at first. You might also be a budding DJ in your own right who’s decided it's time to upgrade your gear. Whatever the case, it’s important that you go into this decision armed with the most information possible.
Units in the former camp will have features that appeal to regular consumers, but will also boast specs that any self-respecting DJ could use in a gig.
To simplify things for you a bit, we can divide the available DJ turntables on the market into two essential classes: those built for everyone including DJs and those built exclusively for DJs. Units in the former camp will have features that appeal to regular consumers, but will also boast specs that any self-respecting DJ could use in a gig. Units in the latter group may lack some of the conveniences that consumers look for, or may be needlessly complicated or expensive for home use, but will also be a boon to any gigging DJ.
There are a few things that can easily tip you off that you’re looking at a model that’s tuned specifically for professional DJs. These include advanced tempo controls, electronic brake systems, and bundled software packages. Certain brand names, like Stanton, for example, are also usually tuned to the pros. Common features on high-end turntables that could suit DJs and audiophiles equally well include hinged dust covers and simplified layouts.
Knowing which camp you fall into will go a long way toward guiding your decision, but once you’re there, there are additional features you can use to evaluate the quality of a given turntable. One of the most useful of these is the system’s counterweight, or counterbalance. This is the bulbous portion at the back end of the unit’s tone arm, and it determines the amount of pressure that your needle applies to a record. Too little pressure, and the needle could skate across the record as it attempts to play it, ruining the listening experience and potentially causing damage to the vinyl. Too much pressure might not be as easy to detect at first, but it could also easily cause the quality of your records to degrade faster than you might like.
Tips For Maintaining Your Vinyl
If you grew up listening to CDs or MP3s, taking care of vinyl records might not be the most familiar practice for you. Unlike digital files, which need nothing except the occasional backup, or CDs, which will stay true so long as you don’t scratch them, vinyl requires a little extra TLC. Fortunately, there are some products on the market that make this job easier, as well as a few tips we can share.
For starters, it’s important to keep your vinyl clean. Not only will a dusty record provide a lower quality of sound, that dust will accumulate on your needle, shortening its lifespan. You can keep your records dust-free by storing them properly, employing your turntable’s dust cover if it came with one, and by utilizing a simple brush designed for the job. These brushes often come in vinyl cleaning kits that are essential if you shop for used records, or if you encounter any mishaps with a piece of your collection.
When it comes to storing your vinyl, it’s best to keep it in its original packaging, but make sure that you store the paper sleeve that goes in the cardboard with its opening facing up. If you don’t, your records could easily slip out of the cardboard and get deeply scratched.