• Price: US$899
  • Rating:

Denon DJ VL12 Prime Turntable Review

Last updated 4 October, 2018

2

1231

The Lowdown

Denon DJ completes its Prime series of pro DJ equipment with the VL12 Prime turntables. These are of a distinctive design, which is clear when you sit them next to either Technics or most other Technics-esque designs out there. While they’re not as fully featured as say the higher-end Reloop models, they do have a few tricks up their sleeve. Ultimately there’s better value out there for the DJ not looking to complete a Prime set-up – but for the DJ who is, these are a no-brainer.

Video Review

First Impressions / Setting up

Design

The Denon DJ VL12 turntable screams quality right out of the box. It is really heavy, with a distinctive design that’s not your usual Technics or Technics-esque look that most turntables, cheap or expensive, conform to – at least in the DJ world.

It is of course metal (black, brushed), and has the Denon DJ logo adoring all four of its rather slim sides, in white. The deck tapers underneath (think iMac, or the way chunky watches sometimes hide their depth) which has the effect of making its bulk appear streamlined. It has an oddly pleasing combination of “battle” and “traditional” orientation features, too, which we’ll look at a little later.

VL12
It doesn’t do an awful lot, but what it does do, it does well: The VL12 is high-end, beautifully built, and sufficiently different to the rest of the pack to bag itself some considerable style points, too.

Its four chunky feet offer a kind of damped suspension (think mountain bike forks) that you can adjust to be squidgier or firmer, but you can’t adjust to be totally firm. It’s obviously to reduce vibrations, but may be a bit too soft for some, even when set to the firmest.

Motor and platter

It’s got a powerful, quiet direct drive motor connected to a heavy platter (the latter is heavy because it is damped with lots of rubber on the inside, presumably to reduce vibrations). The turntable has a neat single ring of strobe markers that work in both 33 and 45 mode, unlike the multiple dots on Technics-type turntables. (This probably works due to an automatic change in the frequency of the strobe light when the rotation speed is switched. It’s clever and neat.)

The motor delivers a start-up speed that is almost brutally fast, and indeed there is the option to switch it to slightly less powerful if you are not used to such strength! The specs in the manual reflect the pedigree, with low wow and flutter and noise, making it a high-end turntable period, not just when compared to others in the DJ world. The platter is completed with a felt slipmat, not a heavy rubber mat such as used to be supplied with Technics turntables (thankfully).

Platter furniture

Surrounding the platter are the usual features, all where you’d expect to find them. There is the practically useless jukebox 7″ vinyl adaptor in silver and associated recess top-left to store it in, the start/stop button, the on/off rotating power switch (recessed so you don’t knock it accidentally), and the 45/33 buttons; like all the buttons on the unit, these are in hard plastic. (Note that pressing the latter two together doesn’t switch the turntable into 78 RPM speed as with some models.)

The strobe light for the deck speed markers is of course built in to the on/off switch, and is white – as are the two supplied, detachable vinyl surface lights. One is in a silver casing and one in a black casing, and they give you two choices of white light to shine across your vinyl – a kid of warmer version, and a cold LED look. I have no idea why!

Pitch controls

The pitch fader is digital, and has no centre click, but rather a relatively large area in the middle of its throw where the pitch stays at 0%. There is a “range” button with +/- 8, 16 and 50% LEDs that show the pitch range you’ve selected, and there is also a curious “RESET” button, which turns off the pitch fader entirely, but also returns the speed to pitch to 0%, no matter where it is set.

Inputs and outputs

Round the right of the turntable (or the back in battle position) are the IEC “kettle lead” power socket, and two phono sockets along with an earth pin (no line/phono – so no ripping directly to computer without a phono pre-amp, which is a bit stingy at this price point for me).

VL12
On the back/right-hand side of the turntable are the power in, the phono out, and the earth pole.

While you may think having the inputs and outputs at the side might not be ideal if you want to use the turntable in “traditional” orientation, actually because it is supplied with right-angle leads, and because this area is recessed, you can hide the cables out of sight easily.

Other controls

So 180 degrees across, on the other side and also recessed underneath the edge of the turntable, you’ll find a few extra controls; these would be at the front of the turntable in “battle” mode, or the left in “traditional” orientation. (The latter of course means they’ll be hard to reach on the right-hand deck when it is butted up against a mixer, for instance – but as you’ll see, they’re “set and forget”, so no biggie.)

VL12
On the front/left-hand side of the turntable are the off/low/high intensity switch for the LED rim lighting, the colour adjuster knob, and the low/high torque switch (which should really say “high” or “very high”!).

Here you’ll find the aforementioned low/high torque toggle, plus two controls for the rather blingy but awesome LED ring around the platter. One of these switches it off/on/bright on, the other (a knob) cycles through all the available colours – basically RGB plus white. It’s pretty cool, especially if you match a pair of turntables up with a pair of SC5000 media players, which also have a similar control.

The tonearm

Last but not least of course, the tonearm. This is nothing out of the ordinary, frankly, and looks like tonearms I remember from decks way back in the 90s. It is an S-shape, and has the usually lockable height ring, anti-skate adjuster and counterbalance, with a tonearm extension for the back should you be using heavier-than-usual cartridges.

VL12
The tonearm is literally a 20-year-old design (at least), but with one modern feature: there is a “temporary” rest position and a “locked” rest position on its cradle, negating the need for a locking catch – this is a nice revision that we appreciated.

No cartridges/needles are supplied, but there are headshells, in this case the traditional Technics lookalike type. One (small) innovation though is a tonearm rest that has a kind of temporary “first” position, and a locking “second” position that you just push the tonearm a bit harder when resting it to engage – in other words, no need for a little latch to lock the tonearm. We liked this.

Overall though, we felt the tonearm was pretty standard, and that scratch DJs may have liked to at least see a straight arm option. Still, it’s an age old design, and as with much on this turntable, if it ain’t broke…

In Use

Maybe more than any other piece of DJ gear, a turntable is doing its job best when it “disappears” – you are getting on with the job of DJing, it is doing its job. You can go days, weeks, without ever thinking about your turntables… which is exactly as it should be. It’s probably why the original Technics SL1200s/1210s succeeded – they were true workhorses.

Happily, the VL12 is also a workhorse. You hit start, it starts – fast. You alter the pitch, it does what you ask (it’s digital, so it’s actually better than the old analogue Technics pitch control, which could get decidedly “wonky” after a few years of club abuse). The unremarkable tonearm is nonetheless totally up to the task, and our scratch expert Steve reported that – after the requisite careful adjustment – the turntables were solid for scratching on, albeit slightly spongier than a Technics. More a learning curve than anything, he says.

The “PITCH” button that disables pitch and brings it back to zero ould be used quite creatively, but the light that comes on at the centre of the pitch fader calibration to that show you’ve engaged this control would, to me, be better suited to show you when you’ve set the pitch fader to 0. I just expected that light to be on when a track was playing at true tempo.

Maybe a “soft pickup” would be nice, so that if you hit this control when the pitch fader was away from centre, the light came on (or flashes) and you had to move the pitch fader back to centre to “take up” manual control again, the light going off again as soon as you then set the pitch somewhere else? Unfortunately turntables don’t tend to have firmware upgrade options, lol, so I guess I’ll just have to dream about this wish…

VL12
There are only one set of strobe markings, but they work for both 33 and 45 RPM thanks to the strobe frequency changing when you press the 33 and 45 buttons – neat!

I actually really liked the single set of strobe markers around the turntable’s platter, which work in both speeds (33 and 45) thanks to the strobing frequency of the light that presumably alters when you press 33/45 – it’s just a neat little design touch that beats the three rings of dots on most turntables (for 33/45/78) – then again, I missed the 78RPM setting (the “hack” is to press both 33 and 45 buttons together on many turntable) – anything can be reapportioned as a DJ tool, and it seems a sad little thing to omit.

As I said above though, really turntables just need to get on with it and stay out of the way. Once you’ve chosen your vinyl surface shade of white, set the LED ring to how you want it (or gone all purist on us and turned it off entirely), and chosen your orientation, that’s what the VL12 does, staying out of your mind as you play – which is exactly as things should be.

Conclusion

The Denon DJ VL12 is a fine turntable. It’s got a distinctive design (albeit one also available in a cheaper turntable from sister brand Numark, the NTX1000), and has the right specs to fit in just fine anywhere a top-of-the-range set of decks is required.

That said, it doesn’t have some of the things I like to see on turntables today – keylock being one, a line output being another – and on the purely physical side of things, a supplied lid would have been nice. (Decksaver makes lid that does the job but a branded, detachable one would have been the right thing to supply or at least have as an option.)

NTX1000
The Numark NTX1000, while not so “Prime”, actually has more features than the VL12, albeit losing the blingy LED platter lighting… and it comes with a lid.

Price-wise, it feels pretty pricey for what you get, and I would certainly look at the Reloop RP7000 MkII, our current favourite “all-rounder”, if you’re after value. But chances are, you’re not! Chances are, you’re a Denon DJ Prime equipment owner, looking for turntables to add to your Denon DJ Prime set-up – and if so, these are your turntables. (Just in the same way that if you’re in the Pioneer DJ ecosystem, you’re far more likely to go for the PLX1000s, Pioneer’s top-end turntable that – surprisingly – is actually cheaper than this model)

Finally, if you like the look of these but don’t have anywhere near the budget, as I say do take a look at the Numark NTX1000s – at the time of writing we’ve not had the chance to review them, but they seem well specified, they have the line/phono switch – and they come with a lid!

Do you own a pair of VL12s? What are your thoughts on them? Are they a tempting purchase if not? Let us know your thoughts below.

DJ Census 2019