A home orientated, cheaper alternative to the PLX-1000. It’s not constructed as ruggedly, and lacks the variable pitch control range, but it has the same high torque direct drive motor – and introduces a USB record output, meaning you can rip your vinyl straight into Rekordbox. It’s also available in white, unlike the 1000. You also get all the extras you need in the box, including dust cover with jacket stand, a slipmat, and a silver edition PC-HS01-S headshell (cartridge and stylus included).
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First Impressions / Setting up
The PLX-500 is a direct-drive turntable with three speeds: 33, 45, and 78 RPM. It looks a lot like the PLX-1000 and the Technics 1200: it has a power knob, a start / stop button, target light, a tonearm and tonearm assembly that looks like what you’ll find in a standard Technics 1200 or PLX-1000, and a pitch fader that lets you adjust platter speeds up to -/+ 8%.
It’s heavy, but not as heavy as a Technics 1200 or PLX-1000 though. It doesn’t look cheap for a budget deck, though it certainly feels on the cheaper end as far as DJ turntables go, and this is due to a number of things:
First, the unit’s shell is made almost entirely of hard plastic. Sure, it’s got a heavy base inside, but almost everything else is plastic, including the top and bottom plates. This means that, as a whole, the deck is more susceptible to vibrations and accidental bumps, stuff that normally occurs during a DJ set.
Next, the metal tonearm feels lighter than the PLX-1000, and the assembly is made of plastic. Again, less mass means that it’s more susceptible to those little jolts and nudges, which could potentially move the needle out of its groove.
Lastly, the metal platter underneath isn’t as dense as the PLX-1000. It doesn’t feel as solid as the flagship.
The PLX-500 comes with everything you need to get started DJing or ripping tunes: a headshell with a Pioneer DJ cartridge and stylus (the PN-X05), a slipmat, dust cover, USB cable, and a 45 adapter for playing 7″ records.
It has a USB jack in the rear for ripping vinyl to your laptop via Rekordbox, a pair of wired RCA jacks, a phono/line output switch so you don’t need to plug in the RCA jacks to a phono input (eg you’re connecting this to a home stereo), and a power socket. No grounding lead here, folks.
I hooked up a pair of them to my DJM-450, set up the tonearm and cartridge, and got to work.
I tried the PLX-500 with actual vinyl first – I listened to some Pink Floyd and Psychedelic Furs, and the PLX-500 was fine as a player. The sound was decent, and the included Pioneer DJ cartridge was up to task. Nothing to report here – it worked fine. For general playback and listening to music in your bedroom, it’s certainly more than capable, especially compared to cheaper turntables that have popped in recent years due to the vinyl revival.
Next, I wanted to try ripping some tunes, so I hooked one PLX-500 to to my laptop via USB and fired up Rekordbox, which has a vinyl recording feature. Again, no issues and it worked fine. So far, so good. My expectations are being met, which got me excited about my next test, which was spinning.
I tried spinning some old dance records I had, and it was then that the PLX-500 showed its blemishes: while the pitch control was responsive and up to task for pitch bends, I found that the headshell would pick up thumps and noises even when I’d just gently tap or nudge the deck. If you’re a careful DJ, then this wouldn’t be a problem, but in a rough gig situation, this isn’t desirable. This is because of the rather hollow build that the PLX-500 is cased in.
I also had to be a little bit gentler when it came to speeding up the spindle and slowing down the platter edge with my fingers – the motor doesn’t seem to have as high a torque as that of the PLX-1000, which again is understandable since this is a budget model. I did some digging: the PLX-1000 can start up in 0.3 seconds, while the PLX-500 takes up to one second to fully start. It sounds like a small thing, but this makes for a noticeable difference in performance.
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Cueing a track was also a bit more challenging because the lower motor torque means that you’ll have to nudge the record forward with a bit more force in order to get it up to speed. Not a total deal breaker, but one to keep in mind.
Still, I was able to mix and beatmatch between two records. Admittedly, it was quite satisfying to know that I could still do it after all these years of DJing on a controller, and to be honest, it felt I had switched gears and was doing a different, more introspective style of DJing since there weren’t any screens around (and because I was playing some obscure minimal techno that I can’t pronounce).
The PLX-500 was beginning to show its weaknesses, but it was still usable; certinaly better than the shoddy pair of belt-drive decks I started out with way back when. As such, I still had a smile on my face when I went to my final use test: scratching.
Here’s where it gets ugly for the PLX-500. The combination of its plastic build and motor led to problems for me when it came to scratching. I needed a lighter touch to prevent the platter from stopping while I was doing some basic scratches, and it took a while for the platter to spin at its full speed once I let go of the record.
This makes it quite challenging to pull off more intermediate / complex scratch phrases. No doubt a skilled turntablist will be able to adjust accordingly, but it may lead to frustration for beginners, and intermediate DJs will be able to tell the difference after just a few tries.
Learn to scratch with us: Scratching for Controller DJs
Also, since you’re more “hands on” with the deck while you scratch, you also potentially introduce more noise, and there is a fair amount of that here if you aren’t careful. Again, if you’re scratching or practising at home then it may be permissible, but in a loud club at a DJ booth where all sorts of rowdiness happens, it may end up compromising your set or scratch routine.
For home scratch use, it’s passable, but definitely leave the decks in your DJ studio and don’t take them to gigs.
Using the PLX-500 with Rekordbox DJ was the last thing on my list. It doesn’t come with a Rekordbox DVS licence, and you still need to hook up a Rekordbox DVS-enabled mixer or DJ controller to your laptop. I have a licence and timecode vinyl that came with my DDJ-RZ, so I tried it out. Getting it set up and calibrated was a breeze (as is the case with DVS these days).
For the most part, it was fine and it was DVS as you’d expect it to be, however there were a few times that I’d hear some nasty “wobble” artifacts – perhaps this is because of Rekordbox DJ or Rekordbox DVS and a patch is in order, but I had only experienced it in Rekordbox DJ.
Turntables are fussy things – they rely on a tiny needle sitting in a record groove. This is why the best DJ turntables are built like tanks, weigh a ton, and often expensive. The added mass and weight make them less prone to unwanted vibrations and bumps, especially when you’re stood next to a pair of bass bins. When you cut corners to make a DJ turntable, compromises are inevitable.
Pioneer DJ has done an OK job at distilling the essentials of what a DJ turntable is (eg pitch control, acceptable torque, adjustable tonearm), and it is fine for those who want to get started, but this is not something you’d want to take to a gig because of its relatively hollow build. Intermediate and pro DJs will want to save up and look elsewhere – the Reloop RP-7000 for example, is a better option that costs less than Pioneer DJ’s flagship PLX-1000. Of course, you can also go the used route and get a pair of Technics 1200s.
If you absolutely must buy Pioneer DJ, and you must buy brand new, I’d recommend saving up for a PLX-1000 pair. If your budget is under $800, you might want to look at models from Reloop or Numark instead. Unlike DJ controllers, on which you can play identical-sounding DJ sets using a $200 or a $1000 model, with vinyl decks – more cash counts.
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