On DJing and Turntablism

It takes time to learn the techniques of the .. Technics. (Pun not intended, and cheesy to boot.) It's fun just messing around and the more time you spend at it, the better you get (like most things.)

Allow me to tell a story.

Here's a little story that must be told

Show more related photos} related photos

Manipulating vinyl (mixing or scratching, etc.) is tough - the guys who are really good at it make it look really easy.. In reality, they've just been at it for a long time (or perhaps have some weird talent for moving things spinning in circles.)

DJ-oriented equipment is expensive because I believe the market dictates that it should be, and it is a "niche" market. I really think a turntable is pretty simple by design - there are some machined precision metal parts, but most of it is plastic, rubber and (most likely) epoxy. Despite this, you will pay a lot of money for a pair of tables! However, they will last forever and provide endless hours of entertainment, parties and perhaps a few attractive members of the opposite sex.

Nonetheless, a pair of Technics 1200s (the industry standard, found in clubs everywhere and used since the late 70's) is around $1600 CDN. Mixers range from $150 to $2500 depending on what bells and whistles you want. Hope you have a good line of credit!

Join the Cult

Technics aren't the only brand of turntables out there, but they've been around for a long time and have established quite a reputation for themselves. They're built like tanks (can take a beating), "last forever", and retain their value well. Plus they perform well and are the standard everybody compares the new guys' stuff against. ("Is it as good as a 1200?") .. I won't say there isn't almost a "cult" following in Technics' equipment with DJs, but if you were to ask someone into this kind of thing about what turntables to buy? .. You could bet it would be these ones. Plus girls like silver... Okay, so I made that last one up.

Numark has some less-expensive turntables which have some neat features like LCD panels, reverse, digital outputs and other nifty things which the Technics don't have. The design of the 1200 is over 20 years old, but it hasn't changed because it's worked very well. On the other hand, some of the cool features on the Numarks and other brands like Vestax make Technics' stuff look kind of boring by comparison.

Brand comparisons

I had been using some Numarks for about 2 years, and a friend made me borrow one of his Technics tables - he said "don't believe me if you want, but I'm telling you - you'll like the Technics." Admittedly, I didn't want to believe him as I didn't see anything wrong with the stuff I had, but I was intrigued by this brand that everyone always spoke highly of.

He was right, too. A few minor things began to bug me about the Numarks after trying my friend's out - basically I had noticed that they weren't as solid as the 1200s.

The Numarks were more sensitive to vibration (ie. tapping on the table and hearing it in the speakers - the turntable base was hollow instead of solid - design flaw, I think.. would've been fine otherwise.)

The other thing was lightness of the platter (thing the record spins on), so it was quicker to go off pitch when cueing up a song/sample. I think this is related to either the platter design (weight and solidity) or the motor, not sure.

Now I hadn't really noticed this until I tried "some of the other stuff", but that was something I learned. If you're serious, go for the high-end stuff from the beginning. Otherwise it'll end up costing more in the long run.

In Numark's defense, I have always seen them as the leader in "putting cool sh*t on turntables." Whether it was animated LCDs, reverse, or 20+ pitch control, they had some neat stuff and were the first to do it. I think they probably realized pretty quickly that the vibration thing was an issue (They made the TT-1 Pro in 2000), and have since made their decks with a more solid (rather than hollow) base to deaden vibration etc.

Rather than buy and be disappointed.. If you have a friend who's familiar with DJ equipment, go window shopping at your local equipment store and play around with some stuff. Most places typically have demo equipment out for people to try, so you can get a hands-on feel of how the stuff works. (Wouldn't want to spend over $1,000 on something only to find it's no good!)

But aside from those two things however, the Numark tables I had were damned good. It was hard to intentionally skip the needle while playing, even under heavy scratching (once set up right) with a cartridge designed for scratching.

All that scratching is making me itch

Scratching, speaking of which, is nothing more than turning on and off the audio channel while moving the record back and forth at the same time. The most basic form is the "baby scratch", which is a simple back-and-forth movement (no "cutting" of the audio.) It's a great one to start with, because people do it almost instinctively; hell, I see people play "air turntables", doing a baby scratch-sort of movement sometimes while listening to music - I have to admit I almost die laughing. Then I do it myself ;)

There are a lot of different "styles" of scratching, basically it's all variations on a theme - moving the record in a certain way while cutting the channel in and/or out with a rhythm.

There are names for the different kinds of scratches (audio samples too, most use the classic "aahhhhh" sound) which are too numerous to go through here, but needless to say there are a lot. I think there are only a certain number of true different sounding ones, and then lots are just "knock-offs" of the others, but that's just my opinion.

Musical recipes: Mixing

As far as mixing, well - match two songs together that are similar in style firstly, and secondly in tempo - then fade one out while fading the other one in.

"The ideal mix is the one the audience never heard", I once read somewhere. Of course, while this is happening the DJ up at the front doing the show is silently going "aww yea.. but that was the smoothest mix ever and nobody even said anything!"

This is another skill that takes time to learn, and years to perfect. Once again, the guys who are good make it look like it's effortless; in their defense however, they have probably spent several thousand hours behind those decks, practicing routines endlessly to end up where they are now (in a club, entertaining a crowd or what have you.)


Bottom line? My turntable shopping list goes something like this (over roughly 4 years).. prices in $CDN..

  • 2x Technics 1200s: $1700 (ow.)
  • 2x Shure M44-7 needles/cartridges: $150
  • 1x Stanton SK-1 mixer: $650
  • 3x crates of records, mostly new: (Who the hell knows. $1200? Lots still have the price stickers on them. I'll admit I'm bored, but I'm not that bored.)

- - - - - - - - - - -
Cheque, please:

That doesn't include my "upgrade lesson"..

2x Numark Pro TT-1's: $1200 (sold to my younger brother later on for significant loss - however I have something to play with when I'm visiting on vacation!), and a $200 Numark DM1001 mixer (also went to the same brother.)

But that was worth it. I bought one Numark turntable and had it for almost two years before getting a second one, and by then I had saved some money for a while and was able to find a (nearly) matching second one. (They only made the model I had for one year, so that was also a regrettable mistake.)

One turntable was still good enough for me though, I had a lot of fun evenings messing around with a lone turntable and a mixer, hooked up through my computer with some instrumental MP3s etc. playing on there.

I used to record stuff, and still could mix songs - the only restriction being I could only mix one song in "for real" on the turntable, then I'd have to get over to the computer and hope I clicked "play" at the right time in Winamp if I wanted to continue any semblance of a mix. ;)


I highly recommend trying it out though - best thing to do (without getting into any financial commitment of course), is ask a friend (or find one) who has some decks and a mixer, and try it out. See if you like it first! It would be a shame to spend a lot of money on something you'd keep for a few months only to turn around and want to sell at a loss.

I bought my first turntable (and a cheap $150 mixer) in 2000, and it's been awesome. At the time of writing this, I have been recently invited to play at a local club, so I'm fairly stoked for that also.

I started out knowing nothing about "turntablism", DJing or any of that stuff - I heard the classic "aaahhhhh" sound on an old Vanilla Ice song in 1990 called "Hooked" (I was in Grade 5 at the time) and wondered, "What is that neat sound, and what makes it!?" - Of course, I had no-one to ask who knew the answer.

It was some time in '98-'99 when I saw the Beastie Boys playing with their DJ, Mix Master Mike (who I have met in person since!) who I saw doing amazing things with two records and a mixer; I've been hooked ever since then. (Mike has been doing this since 1990 or earlier if my memory serves me correctly, he is one of the best if not the best scratch DJ in the world.)

In short

Do it - it's fun. The only expenses are money, and time. Keep the ego in check and have fun playing, and when you've practiced go do some house parties, and people will have fun listening. That's all there is to it.