You can technically use any turntable. However, professional DJs tend to use high-end turntables with direct drive motors and quality components. A direct-drive motor is considered an essential feature for DJs. Scratching, beat matching, and mixing requires a consistent speed, which you may not get from a belt-drive turntable. With a belt-drive turntable, the platter is connected to the motor with a rubber belt, which results in less torque and speed fluctuations. A direct-drive turntable has a motor attached directly to the platter, resulting in less vibration, higher torque, and greater consistency.
What Features Should You Look for in a DJ Turntable?
Along with a direct-drive motor, DJs tend to look for features that increase the versatility of the turntable and the quality of the audio. Useful features include a pitch slider, master tempo, straight tonearm, digital outputs, reverse, multiple speeds, adjustable torque, and MIDI controls.
A pitch slider is used to adjust the speed of the platter that the record sits on. By adjusting the rotation speed with the slider, you can smoothly alter the pitch and tempo of the record.
If the turntable has a pitch slider, it may also include a master tempo switch. The master tempo digitally processes the audio signal to maintain the original key of the track while adjusting the tempo with the pitch slider.
A quality tonearm is another feature to look for in a DJ turntable. It should help minimize vibrations and keep the needle on the track to prevent skipping. Many DJs find that straight tonearms deliver the best results but also tend to wear the needle faster.
Digital outputs are useful when using DJ software or recording your performances. Many of the latest turntables include USB and S/PDIF outputs for connecting to a computer or laptop.
If you do not plan on using a DJ controller, MIDI controls allow you to sync your turntable with your DJ software and add effects or cue points.
You may also want to look for a turntable that can play both 33 1/3 RPM and 45 RPM records. This allows you to play LPs and singles instead of just LPs. There are also three-speed turntables that can play old 78 RPM records.
Should Beginner DJs Use a Turntable or a DJ Controller?
A controller is not an essential piece of equipment for DJs, but it does make it easier to mix tracks and control loops and samples. It combines the functions of an audio mixer with controls for DJ software.
A complete DJ setup may include multiple turntables, a mixer, a DJ controller, and speakers. A beginner can get started with an inexpensive set of active speakers and a turntable or a DJ controller.
You connect the DJ controller to your laptop or tablet to control the software and apply effects instead of relying on a mouse and keyboard. The controller can also playback audio files from your computer and provides access to extensive music libraries. However, if you want to spin and scratch real records, you still need a turntable.