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To really turn up in the DJ booth, you’re going to need a turntable. Just take it from Australian DJ Alison Wonderland, who’s remixed tracks by everyone from Justin Bieber to Dua Lipa, and whose latest single, “Peace,” is climbing the dance charts. “I love creating the set off the crowd’s energy and I love treating the decks like an instrument,” she says. “It’s always fun to experiment with two tracks on top of each other.”
A descendent of the classic phonograph, the word “turntable” may be used interchangeably with “record player” these days, but it does more than spin a disc. “A turntable is what you put your music into and it actually plays the music,” Wonderland says. “You use these to time your songs.”
As part of a full DJ set up (which also includes things like a mixer, controller and speakers), the turntable is often the starting point for creating your set.
“The turntable is the device that plays the song which is then broadcast by the mixer,” explains DJ Mensa, a Toronto-based nightclub, radio and mixtape DJ who’s a three-time winner of RedBull’s 3Style DJ competition. “Two turntables playing songs alternately keeps the music playing at a non-stop pace. That,” he says, “is DJ’ing in a nutshell.”
When looking at turntables, you’ll typically want to consider a belt-drive turntable versus a direct-drive model. A belt-drive turntable gets its name thanks to an elastic “belt” that rotates the platter, whereas a direct-drive turntable uses a motor.
Most turntables designed for at-home listening are belt-drive models, and are said to have a slightly better sound output. But, Mensa says, “DJ (direct-drive) turntables are more precise, and more durable over the long run.”
While direct-drive sets are now industry-standard for professional DJs, Wonderland says it’s okay to experiment with classic turntables as well. “To be honest I started on a DIY setup because I didn’t have everything,” she says. “It made it a challenge and I had to use my ear, which was helpful in the long run. I think it’s okay to make it a little hard for yourself at the start and then transition to the standard decks.”
Whether you’re planning to go pro or just playing a party, we’ve rounded up some solid turntable options that deliver a great vinyl listening experience at home, but can be configured to take your DJ set up a notch or two as well.
1. Audio-Technica AT-LP1240-USB Direct-Drive Turntable
This Audio-Technica turntable delivers reliable, consistent sound and a ton of manual features that let you switch up your set.
The built-in phono preamp lets you use the unit with a wide variety of receivers, speakers and other A/V components. An USB output lets you connect the turntable to your laptop or computer for easy file transfer, and the included “Audacity” software even lets you create digital files from old vinyl records.
The fully manual operation lets you cue, forward, reverse, start and stop with ease, and the turntable plays at 33, 45 and 78 RPM speeds.
Users say the parts feel sturdy and well-balanced, and say the turntable can absorb any vibrations, bumps and knocks from the dance floor without affecting the sound. They also like that the tone-arm is adjustable.
PROS: Responsive, tactile turntable with great speed accuracy.
CONS: If using this at home, you’ll want to switch out the included mat for a cork mat or something with more traction.
2. Audio-Technica ATLP120USB Direct Drive Professional USB Turntable
There isn’t much you have to do or adjust with this professional turntable from Audio-Technica. Users say it’s easy to use and the sound quality is surprisingly loud and clear.
Great for listening to a classic record at home, the anti-resonance, die-cast aluminum platter and included anti-slip mat help to minimize vibrations, while giving this set some heft.
Like most modern turntables, the platter features a stroboscope (basically a paper or cardboard disc with a spindle hole in the center) to measure the turntable’s rotational speed. Other features include both forward and reverse options and variable pitch control, great if you’re using this set for mixing.
We like the well-balanced tonearm, which is controlled via a hydraulically damped lift and lockable rest. Audio-Technica says their elliptical diamond stylus, meantime, is designed to track record grooves with high accuracy for outstanding audio reproduction.
This set includes a USB cable, two output adapter cables, 45 RPM adapter, AC line cord and cartridge (pre-installed on the headshell).
PROS: Great sound right out of the box, even with the included cartridge; little to no platter warp.
CONS: Some users say the built-in pre-amp muddies up the sound, though the pre-amp can be removed.
3. Audio-Technica AT-LP60XBT-BK Bluetooth Belt-Drive Turntable
“Cut the cord, keep the vinyl.” That’s the slogan Audio-Technica is pushing for this AT-LP60XBT set, which gives you all the great features of a fully automatic belt-drive turntable with the added convenience of Bluetooth wireless connectivity.
Pair the turntable to wireless speakers around the house, to really amplify what you’re spinning. You can also use the turntable’s built-in speakers to play music from your phone or connected device.
This turntable plays at two speeds, 33 1/3 and 45 RPM, and users say it delivers consistently warm, nuanced sound. The slim, minimalist package fits into most spaces and decor schemes too, whether at the office, bedroom or den.
PROS: Connect wirelessly to speakers and Bluetooth-enabled devices.
CONS: This is a belt-drive model so may be better suited to at-home listening rather than DJ-ing.