What Turntables To Buy?

"If I had a dollar for every time.."

The turntable brand question is probably the one that draws the most discussion and debate on DJ-oriented forums, probably because there are lots to choose from. The selection is expanding as well with digital "vinyl-like" emulation gaining momentum (and improving), so the debate over the one "trump" brand or model is unlikely to subside any time soon.

The following is the question that prompted a moderately lengthy opinion-cum-rant from myself, as originally posted on TheRoot42:

so just clap your hands... clap your hands.

i've always wanted turntables but just never took the dive ... I'm 90% certain i won't take it professionally; it will be for hobby and enjoyment. I'm not concerned about the 'novelty' wearing off cause it would be nice to have a good table for playing records; they sound soo warm, i <3 it.

Obviously [Technics 1200s] are one way to go and be completely satistified. Personally i think tables are a bit pricey considering how long they've been around. I feel like you should be able to get a great direct-drive table for $200/piece... not 600-800.

Is there anything very comparable to [1200s] but cheaper? Other brands making an impact?

Thanks for any info.


First, The Bottom Line

I'd consider the Numark line (based on the above,) since I started out with some of their earlier TT-1 Pros (nice looks too, I might add, especially for the time - one was champagne gold, the other, chrome! ha.)

My Experience

You can't tell they're 1200s, right? Track lighting silhouettes a DJ rig.

I found the TT-1 Pros (manufactured in 2000 I think) suffered from two crappy problems - vibration damping was lousy (you could tap the hollow top of the case and get a vibrating "bong bong" sound, not good especially for in a live situation with vibration coming back from the sound system) and platter consistency.

The latter is harder to explain, but you could grab and twist the spindle (where the record hole fits) and the platter would speed up or down way too easily when compared to the 1200s, which you really had to yard on to get any noticeable effect. This is handy for bending the pitch just slightly, if you know what I mean, during a mix.

Since then though, I think (hope) Numark fixed those two problems. You'd think a) a load of Epoxy/rubber up top and b) a more resistive motor would solve that, maybe that's what they've done since.

Numark has the slickest site of the TT manufacturers I've seen so far, and probably the coolest print stuff as well (might as well tie this in to TR42 somehow.. heh.) Whoever their creative agency is, seems to be pretty good.

The TT200 sounds like the "bottom line" for what you'd want to do, the TT1650 probably doesn't have as nice a motor etc. (TT motors are judged pretty much entirely by torque force - the more the merrier. Handy for when you're scratching and messing with the platter, to get it back up to speed.)

Of course, the TTX-1 would be nice if you want to go high-end - but then, you could just go with the industry-standard, "the one everyone knows and loves" and what you'll find in any decent club, the Technics 1200.

Equipment: Skratch, or Hi-Fi?

I think Numark's more recent toys are more expensive than they probably should be, but who's to say. Now you say you want to scr-scr-scr-scratch, so you'll need some Shure M44-7 cartridges (things which sit on the end of the "headshell" attached to the turntable "tonearm", which holds the needle ultimately in touch with the record.

Shure M44-7's are the undisputed heavyweight champions in this area - they provide pretty good sound, they don't cause heavy cue burn (ie. wear out the record quickly) compared to others, and are really skip-resistant when set up properly.

If it's "hi-fi" you want, I'd recommend getting some serious cartridges for that - like Ortofon or something - and have the crate of sound effect / loop / beat-uppable scratch records for that stuff, and the Radiohead / Beastie Boys / House Of Pain / Sade / Portishead / Westside Connection / Milli Vanilli crate for the "serious" listening.

I have some records I absolutely beat the shit out of, and then the remainder are strictly for listening or recording mixes with. I buy copies of crappy albums intentionally for samples or scratching as well, that's a personal amusement thing for me.

You'll need a mixer as well, and I'd recommend something from Stanton. Don't bother with the low-end Numark stuff, I think most of their mixers are crap. You'll want something that has good sound quality (low end means noise and/or distortion like hiss coming out of the damn thing when it's on at the low, low end of the mixer scale - you don't want that.)

I have a Stanton SK2F mixer which is pretty nice, although apparently it does have a less-than-perfect S/N (signal/noise) ratio, I've recorded all of my mixes on this one and I think they've turned out quite well (other things like the record, level/volume settings etc. affect all this too of course.)

Er.. I think that's almost it.

Oh and slipmats. These just sit between the platter and record, allowing you to stop the record while the platter keeps spinning - but then when you let go, provide enough friction that the record gets back up to speed without dragging.

You'll want to have some felt ones or "butter rugs" (actually a brand name.) Don't bother with the heavy rubber mats that come with most decks, since the record won't slip on that.

The Technics have those, but also come with their own nice flat card-type Technics-branded ones which you can use, and there's a plastic sheet that you can put underneath that, as the translated manual says, "for a different kind of slip". Love it.

On Religion, Computers and Sound Quality

Ultimately if you're thinking of keeping these for any period of time and using them more than "once in a while", go high-end. This is like the PC vs. Apple debate where the 1200 is like a nice Mac, just minus a Steve Jobs character and a similar cult following of semi-yearly upgrades and shelling out of more cash.

Anyways.. On the "hi-fi" thing, you should get yourself a nice tube amp if you don't already have one, some $6000 speaker cables, and hell, ditch the 1200.. get a $20,000 turntable instead. Or, just visit this audiophile page and get some common sense with a dash of humour.

Vinyl can produce a theoretically limitless range of sound frequencies, but it is limited in several ways, in reality:

  • By the equipment which the source material was recorded with.

    Do you think the latest recorded-and-produced-on-a-Mac, all-digital album like the most recent Beastie Boys (done on computers, a first for them I read,) is going to sound better on wax? .. sadly, many people would like to have you believe that it would.

    If a vinyl pressing of an album was made from an analog master, then I would be more likely to that'd have potential for more accurate reproduction of the original sound than a 16-bit stereo 44.1 KHz CD of the same. Know what I mean?

  • The wiring from the damn turntable ("the source of the sound",) is how thick? It's your typical 16-gauge wire.

    I think even smaller stuff runs from the tonearm into the turntable itself. And you want to connect 4-gauge (like 1" thick) vacuum-enclosed, teflon-coated, oxidant-free, $100-per-foot wire to your amp to preserve this incredibly clean signal?


In all seriousness though, I would consider getting a tube amp if you really like "that 'warm' sound", since a tube amp should do this for your CDs, computer, MP3s, any input. Or just turn up the bass a little bit on your current amp, and there you go.

You could also ditch your speakers, get some nice headphones and a nice tube-driven headphone amp (apparently these get pretty crazy $$-wise as well) and you can enjoy rich sound (headphones always do a better job of bringing the detail out in music, I've noticed) without paying a fortune - added side-bonus, your neighbours will love you for it too.

Damn, this is a rant!

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