A couple days ago, I took a trip to the local Guitar Center to test out some of the latest gear. I’ve been a loyal Guitar Center customer since I purchased my first pair of Technics 1200 turntables there 15 years ago.
I’m a gear addict, so I frequently visit the store to keep up with the latest gear and give everything a test run. As I entered the Pro Audio and DJ room, there was one thing noticeably missing from the demo setup.
Instead, what I saw was a showroom full of DJ controllers.
Don’t get me wrong, I love using controllers just as much as the next person, but for me, there’s just no feeling better than mixing on vinyl.
After I finished messing around with some of the current controllers such as the Pioneer DDJ-SX2, I started thinking to myself, is this the beginning of the end for the DJ turntable?
Nowadays, you see more and more young kids learning how to DJ on controllers and not looking back. Most don’t even bother learning how to spin on a standard turntable and honestly, I can’t fault them for it for the most part.
Before digital, there was a different standard and skill set that was necessary to learn how to become a DJ. First, you had to purchase two turntables, a mixer, a pair of needles, and headphones just to start.
Next, you had to go out to all of the record stores and actually dig for and purchase records. You had to make a firm commitment to become a DJ because buying records is very costly. Singles could run you about 7 dollars each, while entire albums cost around 20 dollars or higher.
These days, you can simply use a laptop, download mixing software, some MP3’s, and off you go.
The last and most important factor was perfecting your craft. There’s a saying that lots of people still use today, “Did you put your 10,000 hours in?” Referring to the time you must spend in your bedroom/studio mastering your skill.
Learning how to manually mix records by ear is not an easy task that can be learned overnight. Nudging the pitch control and the record to match the other record, all while monitoring the sound in your headphones is like patting your head and circling your stomach at the same time. It takes practice. Lots and lots of practice.
DJ controllers have made mixing by ear obsolete in one stroke. That death stroke is called the “sync” button. One push of the sync button and your tracks are automatically pitched evenly for your convenience. All you have to do next is drop the track on time, but that skill isn’t even necessary, thanks to quantization that’s available in various DJ software applications.
Because of all of the recent advances in technology, all of the aforementioned skills are technically not required to start your DJ career. Now to be skilled, that’s a different story.
There are many advantages of using controllers as opposed to turntables. One being that you don’t need a cartridge to play music. It’s definitely a great advantage not having to worry about needle skips and audio dropouts. Not to mention that quality cartridges can run you for over a hundred bucks each.
Reduced setup time, portability, and reliability can also be contributing factors to why a new DJ would choose a controller setup over a turntable rig. With a controller, just connect to your laptop, turn it on, and you’re ready to go.
With turntables, there’s a lot more wires that need to be hooked up and the more wires, the more than likely to run into some kind of audio problem. I remember when I used to use all vinyl, I’d almost have to pray before each gig that no audio problems would occur.
With a digital setup, there is the risk of your computer freezing, but fortunately, that hasn’t happened to me yet. (Knock on vinyl)
Through all the pros and cons of turntables vs. controllers, in the end, I believe it comes down to one thing. Cost.
Fifteen years ago, when I first bought my Technics 1200 turntables, you were able to purchase them brand new for $500 each. Unfortunately, in 2010, Technics discontinued the iconic 1200 turntable line. So it’s hard to find one that cost less than $1000 these days.
Recently, Technics announced that they’re releasing a next generation SL-1200G turntable which will set you back a whopping $4000! For one!
Pioneer does offer a comparable option but they still go for $699 each.
So let’s think about this. If I were a 15-year-old kid with limited funds wanting to give this DJ thing a try, what setup do you think I would pick? The $700 turntable which I need to buy a pair, along with a mixer, and a pair of needles? Or a $250 Pioneer controller that does everything the turntables can, with many more additional features and effects? It’s a no-brainer.
At the end of the day, to “keep it real,” you have to pay the price. And that’s a price not many newcomers are willing to pay. I didn’t even mention how mixer prices are also getting more expensive as well but that’s another story.
So unless these gear manufacturers find a way to make professional grade turntables more affordable, DJ controllers will continue their rise and eventually phase out the turntable. Similar to how you can walk into a Best Buy only to see the CD section get smaller and smaller as time passes.
The turntable is the foundation for Hip Hop, and for that reason, I’ll always keep a pair of turntables in my studio. Like I mentioned earlier, the feel of vinyl is unlike any other. But you have to also embrace technology and keep up with it or you’ll get left behind.
So is this the beginning of the end for the turntable? I really don’t know the answer to that question. It sure seems like it, but that’ll be for the next generation to decide.