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Decks - the lowdown from Deft

Straight to the comparison chart...

Simplicity, reliability, durability and robustness are the key qualities that all equipment design should try to adhere to - perhaps even more so with respect to dj turntables.

Technics managed to capture all these ideals in the late 1970's with their SL-1200mk2 turntable. With a dizzying array of revision numbers, region differences and minor changes the basic Technics design has still remained virtually untouched and can be seen in it's latest embodiment as the SL-1200mk5/SL-1200mk5g.

More recently, however, the higher end dj turntable market has seemingly opened up. A demand for certain features, such as underhung straight tonearms (re-introduced by Vestax as their "Anti-Skipping Tonearm System" (ASTS)), wider pitch control options and digital key correction facilities have fuelled this new 'Technics-alternative' market which was unthinkable
ten years ago.

The first realistic alternative choice to Technics probably occurred when Vestax simplified it's turntable line to concentrate it's efforts into the PDX-2000. With it's short, straight tonearm, ultra-pitch fader and space-age moulded plastic design it was lauded and derided in equal measures.

Technics had - and still has - an extremely loyal following, built up through the rock-solid performance of it's SL-1200mk2. It also featured in virtually every club installation, which gave it a strong, tight grip on the market.

The PDX-2000 is now established enough to allay fears of it's long-term performance and has recently gone through a substantial upgrade to become the PDX-2300 (this upgrade process can also be applied to existing PDX-2000's).

In March of 2002, Numark announced the impressive TTX-1 with it's interchangeable tonearm system, onboard key correction DSP and a pitch fader that could be orientated horizontally and vertically for maximum setup flexibility. The TTX-1 has gone through a revision of sorts - and now ships with an improved motor delivering a higher level of torque (4.5kg/cm start-up torque compared with 3.7kg/cm).

Stanton also has a flagship turntable - the ST-150/STR8-150 (identical aside from the style of tonearm supplied), which also offers a direct S/PDIF digital output, key correction, selectable pitch ranges and 78rpm speed setting.

At a very basic level, the obvious fundamental areas of concern for performance will be the motor, platter and tonearm. The motor needs to be strong and durable enough to ensure no unintentional slurs of audio occur, and that it can cope long term with constant interruption and adjustment of platter movement. The platter needs to be extremely stable with as little vertical movement or play. The tonearm also needs to be stable with good suspension and be easily adjustable to help with skip-free playback.

These are not qualities you will usually find on budget or mid-price turntables, so as with most things in life - if you want quality, you will have to pay for it.

Tonearms: S-shaped or Straight?

The straight underhung tonearm featured on the Vestax PDX-2000 and others gain stability at the expense of how accurately it traces the record and hence the distortion that occurs. It does this by removing one of the main problems with S-shaped tonearms - the constant inward turning force created by the offset arm design. Whether you feel this trade-off is acceptable or
noticeable in either direction is a personal choice. The extra stability gained can provide a safety net during an important routine, although correct cartridge setup can go a long way in removing skips in traditional S-shaped tonearms. This is also why angling the cartridge outwards by 23° on an S-shaped tonearm increases stability. By lining the stylus up with the pivot you are performing a very crude straight arm emulation. Be aware that by removing the offset angle in this way you will add large tracking error angles which will cause excessive damage to your vinyl!