What is the best DJ turntable for spinning vinyl? Unlike many of the buyers’ guides we produce here at MusicRadar, this one comes with a fairly straightforward answer – the Technics SL-1200. Ever since its Mk2 iteration hit the market in the late 1970s, the Japanese-made deck has been the standard weapon of choice for hip-hop scratchers and club DJs alike. It wouldn’t be at all controversial to describe it as a definitive DJ turntable.
Quickly adopted by early hip-hop, disco and house DJs at launch, within a decade the SL-1200 – and its close sibling the SL-1210 – dominated the DJ landscape to such an extent that most DJs would refuse to play on anything else. In the latter decades of the 20th century, if you were building a DJ setup for a club, bar or radio station, there was no two ways about it, you needed a pair of Technics.
That said, if you have a smaller budget or different needs, there are plenty of great alternatives on the market, which we'll be taking a look at in this guide.
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Now that the Technics SL-1200/1210 is back in production with the Mk7 version, it’s undoubtedly regained its crown as the definitive, go-to DJ turntable. Even in its updated form it’s still the standard model of choice for DJs, and not without reason.
That said, there are cases to be made for looking elsewhere; the 1200 is far from the cheapest DJ deck, especially when you factor in buying a pair, and lags behind much of the market when it comes to modernised features.
For something that crosses into the digital DJ realm, Reloop’s RP-8000 Mk2 is good value and well-worth a look. For the more budget conscious, a pair of Pioneer’s PLX-500s cost less than a single SL-1200 and the look and feel punches well above that price point.
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Because the majority of DJ turntables on the market take their cues from Technics to varying degrees, there’s often not a huge amount of variation between designs. There are some aspects worth considering though:
There are two kinds of motor used in turntables – belt drive and a direct drive. Audiophile turntables tend to opt for belt drive models as these distance the motor from the record itself, resulting in reduced vibration. For DJ use, however, a belt drive motor lacks the power and precision needed for cueing, scratching or accurately beatmatching records, so a direct drive design is a must.
Depending on model and motor used, different DJ turntables will provide varying degrees of torque – ie. the power with which it drives the platter. Higher torque effects factors such as how rapidly a turntable will start up and how much pressure is needed to slow the record when mixing.
Realistically any of the products in this roundup will provide enough power for most DJs. It’s only really high-level scratch DJs who need to worry too much about torque levels.
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Tonearms come in a few shapes. On DJ turntables, ‘S’ shaped is the most common variety, but you sometimes see straight tonearms too. Functionally there’s little difference between the two, and choice comes down to personal preference – some scratch DJs swear by straight tonearms, but there’s no definitive right or wrong.
Another DJ essential not normally found on audiophile/home listening decks, the pitch fader controls the speed at which the record spins (albeit, completely separately to the standard 45/33rpm control). Pitch faders offer a percentage range by which they can speed-up or slow-down the record – a higher percentage range means more scope to reach higher or lower BPMs, but less accuracy within that range. Modern pitch faders tend to be digital, and more reliable. Newer varieties often allow users to change between a variety of different percentage ranges.
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Are all DJ decks the same?
Do a little Googling around the subject of DJ turntables and you’ll rapidly stumble upon the term ‘Super OEM’, and likely a few forum posts telling you why many turntables need to be avoided. So what’s this all about? The long and short of it is the suggestion that the bulk of modern Technics-inspired turntables are rebadged versions of the same Super OEM range produced by a single Taiwanese company (Hanpin).
There is some truth to this; as with some other products, brands tend to outsource parts of production, and a number of turntables have underlying similarities between them because of this.
However, that’s not to say that there aren’t design variations between models. Equally, while there’s a case to be made that few turntables can match the sturdy build of the original Technics SL1200 Mk2, any forum posts telling you that all other models are a write-off are complete hyperbole. Our advice – don’t worry about it too much.
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Throughout their production run from 1979 up to 2010, the original SL-1200s changed very little in terms of design and materials; a 2010 unit was remarkably similar to the original Mk2s coming off the production line in the late ’70s. When Panasonic brought production of a DJ-centric 1200 back in 2019, they had to create a new production process and effectively ‘redevelop’ a new version of the classic design.
There are a number of changes between the Mk7 and the original decks, but they’re mostly subtle and in many cases decidedly positive. While the dimensions, feel and style are all familiar, the new SL-1200s have a slightly modernised look, along with a new, more powerful motor.
Feature-wise, it’s mostly a case of ‘if it ain’t broke...’ but there are some small, welcome upgrades: the RCA and power leads are now detachable, so far-easier to replace, and the pitch fader now has a x2 mode for doubling its range. Functionally, there’s no difference between the 1200 and 1210 models here – the names are just regional.
These latest models are no-longer produced in Japan, and the build is, by all accounts, not quite up with the Mk2s, although it’s still solid. In terms of the all-important sound and feel though, these new 1200s live up to the legacy. These remain the industry standard and, if you’re buying a new DJ turntable, you can’t really go wrong here.
Although Technics dominate the DJ turntable market, Pioneer DJ are the standard when it comes to CDJs, so it’s a brand name with a lot of clout when it comes to DJ gear.
The PLX-500 is Pioneer’s entry-level DJ turntable, which has a similar look and many of the same features as the 1200-rivalling PLX-1000 turntable, albeit at a street price that means you can pick up a pair for under £600. While the motor doesn’t have quite as much power as its higher-priced sibling, it should be enough to suit all but the most serious scratch DJs.
There are design elements where you can tell costs have been cut – the tone arm and RCA cables feel a little cheap compared to ‘pro’ level decks – but on the whole the build is solid and the torque and stability punch well above the price point. There are cheaper decks out there, and better spec’d ones, but for quality and style at this price point, the PLX-500 is hard to beat.
Read the full Pioneer DJ PLX-500 review
In the days before Panasonic revived the Technics 1200s, Pioneer’s ‘pro’ DJ turntable looked all set to fill the gap in the market. One look at the PLX-1000s and its immediately obvious that Pioneer were aiming to closely replicate the look and design of the industry standards.
Debate raged amongst DJs about how close these came to the sound and feel, but it’s fair to say they’re in the right ballpark, with enough stability and power to make these impressive DJ decks in their own right.
Of course, now that you can pick up an actual Technics-branded 1200 new once again, the PLX-1000 is a slightly tougher sell. There are a few factors to differentiate the two though – these Pioneer decks retail for around $/£100 cheaper than their Technics counterparts, and there’s more flexibility in the pitch range too, with +/- 8%, 16% and 50% modes available.
Although it works perfectly well as a traditional record player, the RP-8000 is aimed primarily at DVS users – DJs who use a ‘digital vinyl’ system that allow them to control DJ software with a hardware turntable.
The RP-8000 is essentially a hybrid between a traditional vinyl turntable and a MIDI controller. Its direct-drive motor, adjustable torque and pitch faders, and Technics-like layout put it in line with many other 1200-inspired decks on the market, but by incorporating a host of rubber buttons it can also be used to perform a number of digital tricks such as hot cueing, looping, slicing and triggering samples.
As a companion to Serato DJ or Traktor, the RP-8000 has a lot going for it, and the price is appealing too. For DJs who want to incorporate modern touches into their traditional vinyl setup, this is a great option.
The VL12 is part of Denon’s Prime range, which also includes powerful players and mixers boasting a host of modern digital DJ trickery. Despite the bells and whistles of its Prime counterparts, this is a fairly straightforward vinyl turntable. The only ‘flashy’ feature to speak of is the light ring that sits around the edge of the platter providing a customisable visual effect.
Other key features are less visually obvious. Denon boasts about the VL12’s special isolation feet, designed to eliminate feedback and disruptive vibrations, along with the isolated motor to reduce unwanted noise. The motor has a high-torque mode for extra power too.
This is a great compliment to an existing Prime setup, although for non-Prime users there are more affordable options out there.
Numark’s NTX1000 is a rugged Technics-inspired deck at a good price. It boasts powerful start-up torque and an adjustable range for the digital pitch fader, switchable between 8, 16 and 50%. There’s a USB output too, which is handy for those wanting to rip records from their collection to digital formats.
This is a fairly no-frills affair, but that doesn’t mean it’s one to avoid. At this price the NTX1000 offers most of the features you need, along with decent power and sound, all at a very appealing price point.
Audio-Technica is better know in the DJ and production world for its cartridges and their headphones, but its sole DJ-centric turntable is no slouch either. This is a classic, mid-priced Technics-inspired deck.
There are a few factors that differentiate it from its inspiration – removable RCA leads, adjustable pitch fader – but on the whole this is a solid, if fairly standard DJ turntable.
Possibly the most appealing standout factor here is the fact it comes pre-stocked with one of Audio Technica’s AT-XP3 DJ cartridges. If you see the AT-LP140XP at a good price, there’s no reason not to go for it.
The flagship decks from US brand Stanton boast some of the highest torque on the market. The STR8 also features a ‘skip-proof’ straight tone arm, making it aimed squarely at scratch DJs.
It boasts a heavy-duty aluminium chassis paired with low-resonance feet for reduced noise. Other features include an adjustable brake speed and switchable pitch fader. It also comes with a full license for Stanton’s DVS software, Deckadance.
More on the Technics SL-1200
What made the 1200 range so popular with DJs? While they did – and still do – sound decent enough, they were by no means the pinnacle of audio quality, neither were they the most feature-packed record players on the market in their day. In fact, a combination of fairly straightforward features add up to make the 1200s an ideal tool for mixing music.
The first of these is the high-torque direct drive motor that, when combined with a slip mat, allowed DJs to scratch, nudge and generally manipulate records without the player itself grinding to a halt. Then there’s the now-ubiquitous pitch fader, that gave DJs precise control over the playing speed of a record, making it possible to sync one track with another. Other winning features included the sturdy, grip-like feel of the platter edge – ideal for slowing records – and the s-shaped tonearm.
Perhaps most important though was the rugged build quality, which was a cut above many other record players on the market. While the 1200s aren’t entirely free of flaws – common issues include gradual oxidisation of the tonearm connections and unreliable hardwired RCA leads – a well maintained set would provide DJs with years of use.
To some extent, as time wore on, the 1200’s dominance became a self-fulfilling prophecy; new generations of DJs learnt to mix on 1200s because they were what their heroes used, and would become so used to the decks’ feel and design that anything different would likely throw them off their mix.
While the Technics 1200 series remains the definitive choice of DJ turntable, it’s not the only game in town. There have always been rivals out there that make a solid case for themselves by undercutting the Technics on price or offering additional features.
Technics’ parent brand Panasonic ceased production of the 1200 line back in 2010, citing fall in demand and difficulty sourcing parts, and although a new Mk7 deck has been in production since 2016, in the intervening years a number of potential third-party successors have emerged.