With pretty much all DJs using some kind of digital technology nowadays, whether DJing from USB drives or laptops, you could be forgiven for thinking that, in 2023, the turntable is pretty much dead. But history tells us that great things rarely go fully away, and many DJs still use turntables, whether to play records or to control DJ software via DVS (digital vinyl).
Whether for scratching, for nostalgia, because you really want to learn this way, or just because you prefer the feel as an “old school” DJ, you may be in the market for a pair of turntables in 2023. Hell, you may even be in the market for just a single turntable, whether for ripping music, or just adding a bit of turntablism to your sets or music productions.
Whatever your reasons, in this article we list our 8 top picks for DJs of all types considering investing in turntables in 2023. Whether you’re a beginner wanting great value, a serious hobbyist, or a pro, we at Digital DJ Tips have been around turntables all our lives, we teach DJing to thousands of people a year, and we’ve played countless gigs on all types of gear, including turntables.
The era of the turntable as a DJ tool really began in the early 70s with the arrival of new direct drive technology and the Technics SL-1100 and SL-1200 models, and started to explode at the end of the decade with the launch of the 1200/1210 Mk2 (the 1200 was silver, the 1210 was black). This is the “classic” turntable which, five decades on and despite further models, is still the gold standard. It had incredible build quality, the all-important pitch adjust control for beatmixing, and a powerful motor to drive the platter.
Cheap copies flooded the market in the following years, turntables that looked like Technics but patently weren’t. They usually had belt-drive platters (where the motor is connected to the platter with an elastic band, not directly) something which makes any turntable horrible to DJ on, and they came from brands like Citronic and Gemini.
But good alternative turntables arrived too. Vestax in particular innovated and pushed the boundaries, and Stanton had, and still has, good models out there. Technics eventually withdrew from the market, but other names like Audio Technica, Reloop, Pioneer DJ and Denon DJ still have their own models – and now in 2023, even Technics is back, its current DJ-focused turntable being the 1200/1210 Mk7, a rather disappointing, built-to-cost Mk2-Mk5 replacement.
What to look for in a DJ turntable
Before deciding on the right turntable for you, it’s worth learning a few things about what makes a good DJ turntable, and what you should avoid. Basically, there are three universal pieces of advice that above all you should take on board:
Buy direct drive, not belt-drive – Belt-drive turntables, as I said above, are horrible to DJ on. They are spongy feeling, hard to cue and scratch on, and feel tenth rate compared to direct drive. The only possible advantage of learning on belt-drive turntables is that when you move up to direct drive, it’ll all become a LOT easier. Avoid at all costs
The higher the torque, the better – Torque describes how much power the motor kicks out. Higher torque means quicker start-up times, and more resistance from the motor when you try to slow it down with your hands – both of which are good things. The torque on a Technics 1200/1210Mk2 is 1.5kg/cm. You want your turntables to exhibit at least this much torque. The numbers quoted by manufacturers aren’t always reliable, though – best to try them out yourself if you can, or at least do your research well
Weight matters – and heavier is better – The big enemy of turntables is vibration, which causes all kinds of problems: degradation in sound quality, skipping, and sometimes horrible bass feedback from the speakers to the turntable body back to the stylus and around again and again. The lighter and flimsier the turntable, the more susceptible to this it is. Go for a heavy, sturdy, well-built turntable, especially if you’re going to want to use it in real gig situations
Parts of a turntable
These are the basic parts of a standard, modern turntable. Familiarise yourself with them so you can study carefully how any turntable you’re considering buying deviates from the “norm”.
7” adaptor (1) – Many 7” singles have a wide hole in the centre, originally because such a hole was needed for them to work with the mechanisms in jukeboxes. This adaptor lets you play such records on your turntable. Typically long-lost on club turntables; take your own if this is important yo you.
Anti-skating control (2) – Sets the anti-skating force, which is to counter the tendency of the rotating record to pull the cartridge towards the centre of the platter. Setting it to the same value as…
Cartridge (not shown) – A small attachment that fits onto the end of the tonearm, into which plugs the stylus. It contains a magnet, which transforms the vibrations from the stylus into tiny electrical signals. These are then sent to a phono pre-amp to amplify them, typically inside a DJ mixer. Can mount to the headshell, or be the same piece as the headshell.
Counterweight (3) – Used to balance the tonearm so it applies just the right amount of pressure to the cartridge and stylus. The correct “tracking weight” is usually two or three grams, but you see DJs reversing the counterweight, adjusting it to be as heavy as possible, and even attaching small weights like pennies to the top of their cartridges to help stop skipping.
Cue lever (4) – Lets you lift up and lower the stylus without touching it. Rarely if ever used by DJs, who prefer to lift the tonearm using the arm of the headshell.
Headshell (5) – The mount for the cartridge and stylus, has a little arm that is there to help you lift and place the assembly where you want it. Sometimes it is not a separate piece from the cartridge.
Headshell holder (6) – For storing a headshell that you’re not using. Can theoretically be useful if you use your own headshells for DJing (a good move!) so you can store those supplied by the venue. I’ve never seen anyone using it.
Height adjuster ring (7) – For adjusting the fulcrum height of the tonearm. Don’t mess with this unless you have good reason to and know what you’re doing – it’s unlikely to cause you any issues left as it is.
Needle (not shown) – See Stylus
Pitch adjuster (8) – Essential for beatmixing, because it lets you change the speed of the motor, and so the speed of the record, and so the tempo. Gets its name because speeding a tune up or slowing it down also raises or lowers the musical pitch, +/-4% being about a semitone. Curiously, moving it up lowers the pitch, and down speeds it up. The scale printed on the turntable’s body allows you to see the percentage value of your change.
Pitch adjuster range (9) – Doubles the range of the pitch control, meaning you can slow down or speed up the record more, but at the expense of accuracy.
Pitch reset button (10) – Sets the pitch to zero no matter where the pitch adjuster is set – basically, disabling the pitch adjuster. Pressing it again returns the turntable to the currently set pitch.
Power switch (11) – Rotating on/off switch for the deck. Sits on top of the strobe light on many turntables. On some turntables, it can be turned off to give the classic turntable “slowing down” effect. The reason why cutting power to the turntable cuts the motor but not the sound, is that no external electricity is needed to output an audio signal – the audio signal that leaves a turntable via the “phono out” cables is unamplified, created only by the movement of the needle on the record and a small magnet in the cartridge.
Platter (12) – The rotating surface, on which you place the slipmat and record (or control vinyl) on.
Slipmat (13) – A thin, slippy felt mat that sits between the metal of the platter and the record. Allows DJs to easily stop and manipulate the vinyl with their fingers, while the platter continues to spin underneath.
Speed buttons (14) – Where you select the turntable’s speed, usually a choice of 33 or 45 RPM. Long-playing records tend to rotate at 33, singles tend to rotate at 45 RPM. On some turntables, pressing them both together sets the turntable to 78 RPM – the speed of a very old record format.
Spindle (15) – Goes through the hole in the centre of your record. Should the hole in your record be accidentally not quite central (it happens…), the record will appear to speed up and slow down slightly as it plays, and the tonearm will move left and right slightly with each revolution.
Strobe light (16) – Rapidly flashing light that illuminates the strobe markings. It appears to be a solid light to the naked eye.
Strobe markings (17) – Dots or other markings on the sides of the platter that work in conjunction with the strobe light. They give the illusion of “freezing” at certain pitch positions (-3.3%, 0%, 3.3%, +6%). useful for checking the turntable is spinning at a constant speed.
Stylus (not shown) – A small diamond mounted on a tiny metal arm that picks up the sound. When it “tracks” through the groove of a record, the needle vibrates. Attached to the cartridge.
Target light (18) – A light that shines across the surface of the record. It helps DJs to see where the quiet and louder parts of the song are, and indeed the gaps between tracks should there be more than one track on the side playing. Quieter parts appear “smoother”. Some are removable; on Technics decks, they can be pushed down to hide, and a button pops them back up again.
Tonearm (19) – A hollow metal tube that has the cartridge and needle mounted on one end, and the adjustable counterweight on the other. The idea is to set this up so it applies just the required weight to the cartridge and stylus for them to “track” correctly in the groove.
Tonearm stand (20) – Where you stand the tonearm when you’re not playing a record.
Prefer us to show you this?
In this live lesson, I talk you through all the features typically found on DJ turntables, and we chat with our community on the subject.
How to set up a turntable
When you buy a new turntable, it’ll likely need a bit of assembly, and it will always need care in positioning and set-up. These are the steps you’ll want to follow (as well as consulting your instruction manual, of course…):
Find somewhere flat and as isolated from knocks and vibrations as you can to set up your turntable – Your turntable’s isolation will only ever be as good as the floor they’re on, too; I remember once having my decks set up on the rickety floor of a first-floor apartment on a main road, and my decks jumped every time a bus trundled past!
Insert the platter into the base unit – The platter nearly always comes separate from the base unit, and there may well be packaging designed to protect the platter and the spindle area. Remove it all before slotting into place
Assemble your cartridge, stylus and headshell – Fiddly wires need to be pushed into place, screws tightened, angles got right – follow the instructions. Some types of assembly have the headshell and cartridge in the same unit, which makes things easier
Balance the tonearm – With any stylus protector removed from the needle, turn the counterweight until when you let go of the tonearm, the tonearm is at zero degrees, like a flat seesaw. If the headshell assembly is touching the platter or too low, dial the weight back; if it is high in the air, add weight
Apply the correct weight for your stylus/cartridge set-up – When you’ve done the previous stage, you can rotate the dial on the counterweight to indicate that setting as “0 grams”. Now by rotating the counterweight to add weight, you can add what the instructions say you need (typically two or three grams). Set the anti-skate to the same value
Test – Play a record or a piece of DVS vinyl, and check the needle sticks in the groove OK, and is resistant to jumping when you knock it. Try a bit of scratching. You typically may have to apply a bit more weight than what the instructions suggest
The Shortlist: Our 8 Turntable Picks
OK, so now you’re up to speed on what you’re looking for, what you’re going to do when you rip the box open, and the basics of how these things work… time to dive into what’s out there.
Whether you’re looking for something just to get started with at home, or you’re getting serious and want something a bit better, or you’re going all-out for the best money can buy, they’re all here – starting with beginner turntables.
2 Best Beginner DJ Turntables
Beginner decks are generally cheaper than their more expensive “pro use” counterparts. They also have a lighter build which can cause problems when spinning in clubs, bars and festivals, so they are best used as part of a home DJ set-up.
At this price point, the biggest drawback is always the weight – they’re flimsy, lightweight units best designed for home use. A plus point though is that these turntables are nearly always supplied with cartridges and styli, so you can get going right out of the box.
Reloop RP-2000-USB MK2
The Reloop RP-2000-USB Mk2 offers phono/line and USB output, so you can plug it into anything, analogue or digital. It is lightweight as per turntables at this price point, so best used at home. It has +/-8% pitch, and comes complete with an Ortofon cartridge/stylus and a slipmat, although you can fit any you wish too. Also available as a non-USB model.
We like: Standard deck layout, does everything as you’d expect.
We don’t like: Won’t work well in club environments, no dust cover.
Pioneer DJ’s entry level turntable, the PLX-500 (see our full review), like the Reloop above, has a very standard layout. It has an added 78RPM speed (press 33 and 45 together) and also offers USB recording as well as phono/line output. It comes with a dust cover, unlike the Reloop. Despite being a bit heavier than the Reloop, it also particularly suffers as most entry-level turntables do from feedback/resonance issues. Cartridge/stylus and slipmat provided.
We like: Standard deck layout, does everything as you’d expect.
We don’t like: Bass feedback is an issue at loud volume, relatively expensive.
It’s for scratching and performance DJing. It moves the delicate tonearm assembly to the back of the deck, where it’s less likely to get knocked while the artist performs.
Why are there two different types of cartridge/headshell systems?
Ortofon has the long, slim system where the cartridge and headshell are all one piece of moulded plastic, but the standard is to have a cartridge that screws onto the headshell. Both work well; it’s preference, really. Note that for this reason, and for the fact that you can spend a little or a LOT on cartridges and styli, they tend to not come supplied with decks – budget for them too in your buying research.
I’ve seen turntables with straight tonearms, and heard they’re better for scratching than S-shaped arms. Is this true?
There has been lots of debate online as to which is best as far as scratching, record wear and so on over the years. Some people also rightly point out that there are J (one bend) and S (two-bend) arms. Truth is, for all practical purposes, you’ll be fine with either, although the bent arms are far more common.
I want to buy turntables primarily for controlling DVS. Should this affect my decision?
Not massively. DVS is very forgiving of wobble and skips, in Relative mode anyway, so theoretically nothing is quite so exacting for DVS use – but these are still things to avoid if possible. And the big advice around direct drive, torque and weight still holds true for DVS.
I hear all turntables are made in the same factory. Is that true?
No, but there’s some truth in it. Many brands do indeed use the same factory in China to make theirs, but they specify different things and quality and features can and do vary. And that factory (“Hanpin”) is fully capable of turning out amazing turntables. Numark and Denon use a different factory, and Technics different again – although the current Technics 1210MK7 is no longer made in Japan as the Mk2s were. TLDR; don’t get too hung up on all of this!
What is the “earth lead”? Do I need one?
Some turntables have an “earth lead”. If yours does, connect the other end to the “earth” pole on your mixer or controller. If your turntable doesn’t have this, don’t worry – it means you don’t need it for your unit’s design.
2 Best Semi-Pro DJ Turntables
Mid-tier turntables generally have a sturdier build and more mass, so they are a bit closer to what you’d find on a Technics 1200 (pictured above) compared to starter models. That said, you still have to be careful about placement and feedback issues if you plan on gigging with them.
Once you hit semi-pro, the turntable sometimes (but not always) get more substantial and so more able to withstand loud environments better. They tend to get more features, too. Note that from this price point up, it’s less common to get a cartridge/stylus provided, as you’d be expected to have your own, or at least have a preference, and so be buying these items separately.
Audio Technica AT-LP140XP
The basic model from a well-respected company, offering a standard layout but with the addition of a pitch reset (disable) button, a reverse button, and 16% and 24% pitch range as well as the standard 8%. It comes with a proper dust cover, slipmat and decent Audio Technica cartridge and stylus pre-mounted to the headshell. Still lightweight though, and best used at home or in low-volume environments.
We like: More controls than the cheaper decks.
We don’t like: Even at this price point, still best used only at home.
A sturdier turntable than the RP-2000 featured above, the RP-4000 Mk2 adds a few features (reverse button, pitch reset, 78RPM additional speed, 16% pitch as well as the standard 8%) but loses a few (no line out or USB out). It’s much better suited to use in louder environments than cheaper models including the RP-2000 Mk2. Comes with a slipmat and cartridge/stylus, but no dust cover (that’s an optional extra).
We like: A lot for your money. Good-looking design, USB connectivity.
We don’t like: We’d expect this brand to include a stylus/cartridge.
As you’re comparing models, you’ll come across a whole host of other features that the manufacturers add to try and differentiate their models from the competition, especially in the mid and very much in the high-end brackets. Here is some background on some of those features:
Brake adjust knob
Basically, how quickly the turntable slows down when you hit “stop”. The time-honoured way to stop the music at the end of the night, by the way, is just to turn the turntable off, so the platter slowly slows down – the music on most turntables will keep playing as a turntable doesn’t need electricity to output a phono signal, so the audience hears the music getting slowly slower then finally stopping
Some turntables come with covers, some don’t. Some are high quality, some brittle and break easily. Third-party covers are sometimes also available from brands like Decksaver. You may even see or get fabric covers. DJs tend to DJ with the covers completely removed, though (one less thing to accidentally knock)
Most turntables have a “phono out” output, which plugs into (yup! you got it…) a “phono in” on your mixer or controller. The mixer or controller has circuitry inside it that then amplifies that minute signal from your turntable to the same level as the output of, say, a CD player (otherwise known as a “line out”). If you buy a turntable that has, or has the option of, a line out, you can plug it into the “line in” sockets on other equipment. If some of the equipment you are thinking fo plugging your turntable or turntables into doesn’t have a phono in, you’ll need this
Actually first invented by Vestax but brought back to life by Reloop in its RP8000Mk2 turntable, this allows you to “play” musical notes using the turntable as an instrument, by speeding the platter up or slowing it down depending on the notes you strike on a set of pads built in to the deck. Beyond me, but those entering DJ competitions or indeed musicians of a more avant garde bend might find this an exciting feature
A button that plays the deck backwards
Torque Adjustment Knob
While torque is generally good, some DJs prefer their turntables to have a certain level of torque that they’re happy with. An adjustment knob lets the DJ set a turntable to the torque they may be used to from their preferred brand
Some turntables have an audio interface built in. That means you can use a USB cable to plug your turntable directly into a computer. These turntables are useful if you want to digitise (“rip”) vinyl into digital files that you can later play using DJ software or on other digital decks. Many models are offered with or without USB, so you can save a bit of cash if you don’t need it. Probably not worth buying a pair like this – the likelihood of you wanting to rip two records concurrently is slim. Go for a pair but one non-USB and you’ll save yourself a bit of cash
You’ll only find the best, most heavy duty turntables at DJ battles like the Red Bull 3Style and DMC Championships.
At the top end of the market, turntables don’t compromise on features. They tend to be really very heavy, meaning they isolate well in very loud environments, and you sometimes find features here you don’t find on turntables lower down the food chain, too.
Audio Technica AT-LP1240 XP
A proper heavyweight turntable in all senses, this great value club-ready unit has phono/line/USB outs, 33/45/78RPM speeds, and an attractive gloss black finish to its curved metal body. It has a second start/stop button for when turned 90 degrees for scratching, 10% and 20% pitch ranges, a pitch reset (disable) button, and start/stop speed knobs.
This looks and feels just as the Technics 1210 has always done, with visibly just a pitch reset (disable) button differentiating it from the 1200/1210Mk2 in terms of functions. It does have extra features – you can change the lighting from red to blue, there’s reverse, brake and torque can be adjusted – but this happens with switches under the platter, out of sight. It finally has detachable cables too, like the rest. But the unit is too lightweight, which causes issues in loud environments.
We like: Iconic look and feel.
We don’t like: Built to a cost, poor in loud environments.
Pioneer DJ’s take on a high-end turntable has got 8%, 16% and 50% pitch range with a reset (disable) button, but apart from that function-wise it is very similar to the Technics model in this line-up – but it’s much heavier, and that means far better isolation in loud environments. That said many users have reported excessive tonearm bearing rattling, so watch the quality – and it looks expensive next to the Audio Technica in this range. Comes with dustcover and slipmat, no cartridge/stylus.
We like: Does most things right
We don’t like: Built to a cost, poor in loud environments.
A well-built, heavy (and so properly isolating), likeable turntable in the classic Technics style, but with lots of extras. So you get a reverse button, a second start/stop button, torque and brake adjust controls, three speeds, pitch range up to +/-50%, and a pitch reset (disable). It also has a phono pre-amp built in, but no USB output. There’s no dust cover which is a shame, and no cartridge/stylus (pretty usual at this level).
So we’ve just covered the big players in the “basic turntable” market. But there are two spin-off areas we’d be remiss not to tell you about – and they are “portablism” and “controller turntables”.
The Reloop RP-8000Mk2 is a standard turntable but is also a Serato pad and library controller.
The Rane Twelve controller for Serato DJ packs a 12″ spinning platter that emulates the feel and physics of a traditional DJ turntable.
Portablism – have turntable, will travel…
So the first offshoot of turntable culture is “portablism”. There’s a small but healthy scene based around small, easy-to-carry turntables with built-in speakers, for “scratching anywhere”.
You can stream to this battery-powered turntable from your smartphone and then mix and scratch over the musical bed, via its built in crossfader and speaker, recording the results directly to a USB stick! It even comes with 7” scratch vinyl.
These are often heavily modded, and DJs take a single turntable, some scratch vinyl, a crossfader (can be built in or modded in to the unit), and some kind of method of playing a loop or musical bed to scratch over (phone usually works).
The established player in this market is Numark with its PT01 Scratch unit (available from Amazon), but it’s recently been joined by Reloop with its Spin (pictured), an all-singing all-dancing take on the idea (available here), and Stanton’s STX option – also on Amazon.
OK, so completely different but equally on the fringes is what happens when you combine traditional motors, slipmats and platters with digital smarts – when you start to make “hybrids”…
Hybrid and controller turntables
So what happens when the humble turntable meets digital technology, specifically, software? We all know about DVS, which can turn a standard analogue turntable into a controller for digital music, but there are units that blur the boundaries even more.
Consider the Reloop RP-8000Mk2 “hybrid turntable”, which is a standard DJ record player, but also a Serato DJ pad controller – you can even select the next track via a library encoder from your deck! It kind of turns the humble turntable into a hybrid (hence the name), kind of “half human, half robot”.
Then there’s the Rane Twelve, which ditches any semblance of being a genuine turntable, and is instead 100% a Serato controller – it simply has a USB out to plug into your laptop. But the platter, slipmat, strobe light, motor, and so on mean that in use, it looks and feels just like using a turntable – it’s just that there’s no tonearm, and the vinyl is dummy, just for feel; you skip through your tracks using the touchstrip.
Both of these units blur and shatter the boundaries of what a turntable or turntable-like device can do, and if you’re a Serato DJ Pro user looking to add some turntable goodness to your DJ set-up, they’re well worth a look. See the Reloop RP-8000Mk2 and the Rane Twelve Mk2 on Amazon.
So you’ve picked out your choice of deck – one more thing you have to decide on is what cartridge and stylus to pair with your turntables. Cartridges are normally bought together in pairs which means you get the same performance and sound coming from both decks. Again, the reason that the top turntables don’t ship with them is because DJs are very particular about which cartridges and styli they use.
There are two types of cartridges: the first mounts to your turntable’s headshell via screws (the legendary and now-discontinued Shure M-447 is an example), and the second replaces your headshell entirely, effectively acting as both headshell and cartridge as an “all in one” solution.
A good option for beginners who want a reliable cartridge without breaking the bank ($79 each)
Audio-Technica’s top-shelf cartridge for DJs has a higher output and better tracking compared to its cheaper models ($159 each)
Ortofon Concorde MK2 Mix
The entry-level model in its Concorde range offers good performance at a value ($111 each)
Ortofon Concorde MK2 Scratch
As the name suggests, this cartridge is designed with scratching in mind providing superior tracking and high output ($166 each)
A versatile cartridge suitable for a variety of DJing styles. A good option for first-timers on a budget ($99 each)
Introduced at the same time as the PLX1000, this is Pioneer DJ’s own DJ cartridge for scratching and mixing ($149 each)
The iconic scratch DJ cartridge. Now discontinued, but deadstock can still be purchased online ($279 each)
The best part about DJing today is you can choose the gear you want to spin with, whether that’s turntables, CDJs, controllers, laptops, thumb drives, iPads, or a combination of any of them. All have their own strengths and weaknesses. Being familiar with and eventually mastering these different technologies makes you a well-rounded and versatile DJ who is more likely to take on whatever gig situation gets thrown at you.
We’ve covered a lot here, and if you’re planning on adding a turntable (or most likely, two) to your set-up, you should have found the answers to a lot of your questions in this article.
However, if there’s anything in particular you’d like to ask that you can’t find the answer to here, please feel free to do so in the comments – we’ll try our hardest to help you out.
And remember, to learn how to use turntables or any other type of DJ gear properly, take a look at our training courses, in particular our Complete DJ Course, designed to help anyone learn to DJ like a pro, on any gear!
If you’ve got any questions about turntables, ask them below.
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Phil Morse is the founder of Digital DJ Tips. His DJ career has taken him from a 15-year residency in Manchester, England, to the main room at Privilege in Ibiza - the world's biggest club. He is also an award-winning club promoter, and has taught music tech and DJing since 2010. He regularly speaks at DJ seminars and events worldwide. His book, “Rock The Dancefloor!”, is a global best-seller on how to DJ.