So many turntables have hit the market over the years I can imagine it must be frustrating for new DJ to know what to spend their money on. Back when I started scratching, the ideal setup was to DJ on Technic SL 1200 Turntables with collected vinyl records as the music format. I was 16 year old and that was a whole lot of money I wasn’t going to have any time soon. Once you added in some turntable cases and a pair of scratch needles and a decent mixer, you were looking at a $3000 setup. Lots of cash for the 90’s and you had not even purchased any music yet.
I have outlined my favorite DJ Turntables that a DJ could consider as a first time setup. A lot of people just need a basic setup to learn the fundamentals of mixing.
It’s a good idea to build the listening skill of beat matching in order to Mix Live during a performance or else a DJ can get confused with what is going on over the speakers with multiple songs playing.
A basic modern turntable setup is a set of 2 DIRECT DRIVE turntables. There are many brands. I remember DJ Holly Tree started on my old Gemini turntables I had gotten from DJ Kid Kemizt.
DJ Ferocious ( Miffy Wilde ) started with Numark turntables. When I met her she had been hanging out with the Vast Crew Breakdancers. Amazing DJ Norma K first turntables were the Vestax brand. Another brand I remember is American DJ.
-BASIC TURNTABLE SETUP
$400 Setup STANTON STR8-60
The Stanton STR8-60 Turntable set was my second DJ setup. Back in 2001 this was mostly what I played on with The Blond Bay DJ, and DJ Street Justice. They were $400 Each new and I took them everywhere. This is a inexpensive setup. It has all the controls you need to beat match and scratch like a professional DJ.
It has a straight tone ARM so you can scratch without the NEEDLE SKIPPING with the standard Stanton Needle CARTRIDGE and HEADSHELL setup. The motor is not high torque, so you really have to pull and push the record with your hands. I recommend making a wax paper scratch mat to put under the slip mat for best performance.
For beat matching the pitch slider goes to +-10 where the Technics 1200 goes to +-8 so there is a greater speed variation range.
The blue LED lights are very cool and the RCA are gold.
These turntables are in great working order. They are like 17 years old.
-$500 Basic CD PLAYER SETUP. PIONEER CDJ800MK2
The majority of my DJ career I have played on my PIONEER CDJ 800MK2 setup. These turntables are fantastic. My best cash ever spent. They have way more features than a basic setup so they may be overwhelming at first. I picked up my set of 2, used, for $1100 Back in 2007. Now 11 years later they are still fully functional. The secret is that they are much better than the 800MK1.
The scratch platter mechanism on the 800mk2 is the same as on the PIONEER CDJ2000NXS. It only does not have as fancy of lights or as high resolution screen. Once you get used to the PIONEER CDJ800MK2 you can play on the club standard setup because the control interface is the same. Earlier CDJs may have the old scratch wheel.
Each CDJ800MK2 has a built in loop sampler. You can sample at least 32 beats counts. A discontinued feature on other models is the 4 buttons AUTO BEAT. Its more like SAMPLE CUT to cut and divide the sampled loop into half, quarter, double, and single sections. Also discontinued is the QUICK RETURN sample button which I’m pretty sure is completely left out on later CDJ turntables and totally a awesome trick. You can create unique sample builds with this turntable on the fly.
It’s a whole lot of fun to use with your old CD collection. The Pitch slider is great. With store bought CDs you can slow the bpm speed right to zero. With the auto pitch button on, the song will still be playing in the correct key no matter what the speed is. The vocal still sounds good. CD are super cheap at thrift stores and contain a lot of music. Very rarely do I find an old CD will not play through even when scratched. You can also set cue points in the memory of the sampler and store them for performing practiced sets. Anyways there is a lot to talk about with these turntables.
The MK2 will play mp3 CDs. So you can load up two, 80 track mp3 CDs and just practice with those. Just find 160 tracks you like. Oh yeah and don’t forget to press the VINYL button on the right side to activate the scratch platter. Always play the CDJ in VINYL mode.
The best part is how mobile these are. One under each ARM and your ready to go. Or throw them into your old record bags for transport.
SUPER STYLE SETUP $3600
I had been playing on my old PIONEER CDJ800MK2 setup for 10 years before I finally upgraded to the PIONEER CDJ900NXS set. I saw Krafty Kuts and Dynamite MC play the show locally and I have to say Krafty Kuts set was so cool that I bought a new DJ setup the next week. Krafty Kuts was mixing with 4 CDJs and had all his tracks Analyzed and Quantized with Rekordbox. It sounded like he had even set all his cue points and beatgrids. This was some pretty heavy work which takes a few years of computer work with the Rekordbox computer software specifically if you have a large selection of tracks. You then send your tracks to a USB drive that plugs into the turntable and leave the computer at home.
So I hunted out a deal on the PIONEER CDJ900NXS and picked a set of 2 locally from Long N Mcquaid for $2500. This was a lot of cash. I realized that I totally scored because they are a rare turntable to aquire and currently the price is around $3600 for a pair. I was nearing my 20 years of DJing and realized I would have them for 10 years at least so as long as I used them it was a great investment in my future as a DJ.
The CDJ900NXS is the newer setup than the CDJ2000NXS. It’s like they improved the setup yet again, this time without the light ring around the scratch platter. So I was on my way to mixing like Krafty Kuts I just needed to learn the Rekordbox software and how to load up some USB drives with playlists full of analyzed tracks. That took about a year. Now I have a massive collection of playlists full of analyzed tracks that are quantized. Maybe I will get a chance to set the cue points correct so I can accurately mix with 4 CDJs later next year. I have a lot of songs.
Although initially I had been excited by the CDJ900NXS having the AUTO SYNCH button, I get that once you have put the time in to analyze your tracks and set your cue points your listening skills would be good enough to never use it, even with 4 Turntables. Still maybe one day I’ll find a use for it.
The new design of the CDJ900NXS has a flat screen while the older CDJ900 has a tilted screen. The sampler on the CDJ900NXS is pretty cool. It’s very similar to the CDJ800MK2. They removed the QUICK RETURN button and put in a SLIP SCRATCH button. It’s kind of gimmicky, but it could make a novice scratcher sound good. The beat Automatically goes back in place after your scratch so if you don’t have good listen skills then it’s a fail safe like the AUTO SYNCH.
The AUTO BEAT (SAMPLE CUTTER) interface from the CDJ800MK2 was moved to below the screen on the CDJ900NXS and now the buttons remix your looped sample in a new unique way. They call it SLIP LOOP. I’ve had a lot of fun with it although with the change of interface from the old CDJs I had to relearn some tricks because they actually changed the button location and names of some of the features.
Playing the guitar actually made me better at the sampler. You have to press the sample buttons to the beat in order for the sampler to be seamless. Pressing the correct button sequences you can create unique remix builds with a lot of practice. I picture it similar to mastering a solo lead on the electric guitar. Some tricks work great chained together while others crash the build and ultimately jumble your mix with the second track. Practice is how figure it out.
The CDJ900NXS is really the Cadillac of DJing. If you are just starting out though they will look like the pilot controls of an alien space craft to you, and it might take 5 years to learn all of the controls and options with them. A lot of new DJ will start with a setup that is too advanced for their skill set basically paying for a fancy options that they don’t understand.
CLASSIC SETUP $??????
The Technics 1200 MK2 IS the classic standard. They are the original ‘WHEELS OF STEEL’ turntable. The MK2 were originally released in 1978. If you can find a pair, you will have the original professional top of the line turntable setup without any of the extra controls to confuse a new DJ. These are great to learn on and once you are used to the high torque direct drive motor you will have a hard time playing on anything cheaper.
They have become highly collectible. Over the years, the finish on the turntable yellows with use and the TONE ARM is quite delicate, so they break easily. The motor speeds and brake controls sometimes need to be fixed. It is more and more rare to find an all original ‘WHEELS OF STEEL’ set with light use. There are shops like LOTUSLAND ELECTRONICS in Vancouver which takes old Technics Turntables and refinishes them selling them again for $1000.
The Technics SL 1200 Turntable with the classic flight cases. 2 of these make up a very heavy DJ setup to cart around. Still when you hit the house party with your enterage and ‘THE WHEELS OF STEEL’ in flight cases. Everyone knows they are in for a good show. This particular set was originally owned by an old friend DJ Aaron West (BYOB) who DJ’d with James ‘Broadhead’ Cameron on Vancouver Island back in the 1990’s. I found them at the Courtenay Pawn Shop in an old neighborhood where I used to DJ in college. They were in their Flight Cases under an old printer. It was crazy because I recognized the setup from the stickers on the cases. I had not seen them for 13 years.
I was lucky to learn to beat match in high school. I was renting a house with DJ Kid Kemizt who was fortunate to save his cash to have purchased a new set of Technics SL 1200 MK3 Turntables with the Orange Flight Cases. At 16 years old DJ Kid Kemizt was able to perform his first club with DJ Jay Dee in Campbell River at the old Animals Club next to Cougars Bar.
The standard Scratch Needles and Cartridge to play with the Technics is the Sure M447. They are pricey, you really can purchase a used basic turtable setup for the same price. We used to use the Stanton SK2 Cartridge & Needles and then stack some coins on the HEADSHELL for some extra weight.
A GREAT SETUP $600
VESTAX PDX 2000
The VESTAX PDX 2000 Turntables are awesome. DJ Mike Jack and also Amazing DJ Norma K purchased these setups nearly 20 years ago and they are both still in use today. They have the high torque direct drive motor, and the straight tone ARM so they are ideal for scratching. They also have a reverse button and a wide pitch range with 2 speed sliders. VESTAX used to be the top of the line DJ equipment through the 2000s until PIONEER took hold. The VESTAX PDX 2000 Turntables are no longer widely known so you can find them for a great price when compared to the Technics SL 1200. Their performance capabilities are comparative and they weigh a lot less.
I know everyone has their Pioneer or Traktor DJ surf board all in one setup these days. It seems like they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Unfortunately when one part breaks you have to replace the whole unit. It like buying a new mixer and 2 turntables every time 1 turntable needs a repair.
Everyone is also carting their laptops around which was a fad I never understood. Why do you want to look like, you are on your laptop is entertaining to your dance crowd?
These changes in the DJ community make it hard for DJ to play music together without having big switch overs during the night and gaps in the music.
We all used to play records on turntables and you had to mix into the track that was playing, This ensured the music didn’t stop. We used to play 2’s and 3’s (2 or 3 tracks) and then pass the set to the next DJ. You would throw it down again on your next round in the next hour or so. All the DJ’s would get to play so everyone would show up.
The Clubs standard setup now and for a while has been the PIONEER CDJ2000 turntable and they are super expensive for a home setup. Just make sure you can play on them and if you don’t have your tracks on USB yet you can just bring 2 CD discs.
I was going to try Serato out finally but Rekordbox is free and I’ve been pretty happy with it so far.