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Buying Guide:DJ Equipment Part 2 - Turntables

Direct-drive vs. belt-drive

There are two types of drives that make vinyl turntables go ’round. Belt-drive turntables feature a motor attached to a smaller spindle that turns a large rubber-band-like belt, which is linked to the platter. Belt-drive turntables are more affordable than direct-drivetables, although they take longer to get up to speed and can be sluggish when making pitch adjustments. Belt-drive tables are not recommended for scratching and it's harder to lock tempos manually.

Direct-drive turntables feature a motor with a ring of powerful magnets that drive the platter, which decreases the time it takes to get up to speed. Direct-drive turntables are the overwhelming favorite among experienced DJs, and it can save you money in the long run by starting out with a quality set of direct-drive turntables that you’ll be able to play out on when you get good enough. Direct-drive tables are recommened for scratch DJs.

Platter, spindle, and strobe dots
Technics SL-1210M5G Pro Turntable
Technics SL-1210M5G Pro Turntable

The platter is the round plate that the record sits on and the spindle is the metal tip in the center of the platter that the hole in the record fits through. The spindle can be used to make adjustments in speed; you’ve probably seen DJs pinching and twisting it. Strobe dots are the marks on the side of the platter that are used to ensure your turntable is calibrated correctly. When the platter is spinning at exactly 33 or 45rpm, the strobe light will cause the dots to appear as if they are standing still.


The slipmat reduces friction between the platter and the record allowing the DJ to stop the record with his or her hand and not affect the platter’s movement.

Power on/off and start/stop

You’ll want to leave the power on while you play—if you want to start and stop the platter, use the start/stop buttons. Some turntables let you adjust the start and stop times so you can wind the music down or slowly start it up. When shopping for turntables, be sure to compare the startup speed. Turntables with higher torque specs will have faster startup times, so think about what kind of speed would work best with your playing style. The versatile Numark TTX offers a variable torque motor with three settings: low (2.5kgfcm), medium (3.7kgfcm), and high (4.7kgfcm).

Speed selector buttons

The speed selector buttons set the initial playback speed to 33 or 45rpm (some turntables also have a 78rpm setting), which you can then fine-tune with the pitch control.

Pitch control

Most tables let you speed up and slow down up to 8% (or more). A turntable with an 8% pitch correction would show that specification as ±8% pitch control. The pitch control is used for cueing and beatmatching.

Tone arm

This light, balanced arm on one side of each turntable holds the cartridge used to play a

Numark Battle Pak DJ System
Numark Battle Pak DJ System

record and points it in the right direction.


The orientation of the turntables in your setup will depend on where you want thetone arms, based on your playing style. In standard mode, the turntable is oriented so that both tone arms are on the right side of each turntable and pointing directly at you. In battle mode both turntables are turned so that the tone arms are away from you (see photo at right). Battle mode is used mostly by turntablists because it’s harder to bump the tone arm when scratching in these setups.

S-shaped vs. straight tone arm

Because of their better tracking ability,straight tone arms are ideal for scratch DJs. If you aren’t planning on scratching, an S-shaped tone arm will better suit your needs. The Numark TTX comes with both a straight and an S-shaped tone arm for maximum flexibility.

Ortofon Nightclub S Turntable Cartridge Twin Pack
Ortofon Nightclub S Turntable Cartridge Twin Pack

Cartridge and stylus (needle)

The grooves on a record cause the stylus to vibrate. Magnets in the cartridge detect these vibrations and turn them into an electrical signal that is then amplified for output through speakers. The stylus will wear out over time and most are replaceable separately from the cartridge. A consumer cartridge won’t hold up to the stress put on the cantilever (the piece that holds the stylus) from back-cueing and scratching. DJ cartridges have stronger cantilevers to handle the stress.

Spherical (conical) styli feature a small sphere at the tip, which contacts the V-shaped groove in a record and one point on each side, which concentrates the force on two small points and wears out your record during normal playback. However, during scratching, a spherical stylus wears out your records less than an elliptical stylus because there’s less contact area. For this reason, spherical styli are the choice of scratch DJs. Check out theOrtofon Q.Bert stylus.

Elliptical styli provide better high-frequency response and are ideal for general-purpose use. Their egg shape lets them get deeper into the record groove and spread the tracking force over more area to reduce wear during normal play and increase the frequency response. Since this shape gets deeper in the groove, you need to be even more careful about cleaning dust off your records with a record brush. Check out the Ortofon Night Club E stylus.


The counterweight allows you to balance the weight of the cartridge and tone arm to ensure the needle is putting the right amount of tracking force on the record. Tracking force is the downward pressure required to keep the stylus inside the grooves of the record. Too much force causes excessive wear on your record and too little can cause the stylus to lose contact with the record and damage the groove when it lands. The position of the counterweight is adjustable to suit your needs and complement yourcartridge, which should have a recommended setting for ideal results. Scratch DJs sometimes turn the counterweight around to gain even more leverage so that the stylus stays inside the groove during the most difficult scratch maneuvers.

Technics SL-1210MK2 Turntable
Technics SL-1210MK2 Turntable

Technics 1200s

First produced in the 1970s, this turntable remains the industry standard for DJs around the world in MK2 to MK5 versions. With their direct-drive motor, quick startup time, and variable pitch control, the Technics 1200s have stood the test of time in a world where most technology is obsolete within a few years. While many turntables today offer more advanced features, the DJ’s love affair with the 1200s won’t end anytime soon. Many club/rave and hip-hop DJs would recommend starting out with Technics1200s because of their excellent resale value and because that’s what you’ll be playing at most clubs and raves when you start playing out.








Part 1: Choosing an audio player
Part 2: Turntables
Part 3: Digital players
Part 4: DJ mixers
Part 5: DJ headphones
Part 6: Glossary