- There's been no shortage of direct-drive, DJ-friendly turntables on the market over the years. Models by brands like Stanton and Numark have offered any number of theoretically welcome features, like variable-range pitch adjustment, extra start/stop buttons (to better accommodate battle-style setups) and straight tonearm architecture. You won't find any of the above on the Technics 1200 (or 1210) MK2, the industry-standard DJ deck. But whatever else these other turntables offer, they didn't have what buyers really wanted: the feel of Technics. If you learned to beatmatch on a pair of 1200s, then you internalized the torque of the motor, the texture of the platter sides, the amount of resistance on the pitch fader—the variables that make them play the way they do, in other words. Even slight differences could distract from nailing mixes. Ideally, DJs want a seamless transition from home to club and from one booth to the next. And because Technics are such workhorses, you could reasonably expect them to be everywhere, even after production on new decks ceased in 2010.
That doesn't mean that the existing stock of 1200s isn't aging—most rapidly, perhaps, in the sort of club environments where they're both getting the most use and need to be in the best working order. Technics aren't getting any cheaper, either, and that price comes without a warranty and the high likelihood you'll be paying for repairs down the line. I can see why club owners especially might want the security that comes from installing a new product, but there's never been an option that would appease most DJs, for whom nothing but a pair of Technics will do.
Enter the Pioneer PLX-1000, the first new turntable released by a big brand that might actually replicate the classic. When I first saw the deck at last year's Musikmesse in Frankfurt, I was struck by how unexciting the design was—it looked more or less like a Technics clone—and it took a second for it to sink in that this might actually make it rather innovative. As DJs got their hands on them at clubs like Berghain/Panorama Bar, where I spotted them installed as the default decks for much of last fall, the early word seemed mostly, if not universally, positive: DVS1 apparently loved them, while Levon Vincent and Ron Morelli weren't convinced. From my vantage point as a punter, they didn't seem to be causing any distress in the booth—again, not a mindblowing achievement, but it was a big deal to have a new machine doing the job like the old one did. We've had a pair installed at Resident Advisor's Berlin office for a few months now. Though none of us can claim to be touring DJs, the majority of us DJ with some frequency (primarily with vinyl) and have 1200s at home, and our experience has been overwhelmingly positive. We still have our trusty 1210 MK2s on hand, but the PLX-1000s remain hooked into our mixer long after the novelty of the new decks had worn off.
A Pioneer turntable certainly isn't a Technics deck, but the important similarities are present, and the additional features add surprising value to the package. The dimensions and proportions are nearly identical—the operating buttons are all right where you'd expect them—and the finish, though a bit shinier and more metallic than the black on a standard 1210, completes the familiar aesthetic. The deck is noticeably heavier than the original, though not enough to irk a sound tech; in basic terms, it adds to the high-quality feel of the build. The tonearm shares its S-shape with stock Technics, and the base is adjustable across all the same parameters: there's the same circular weight at the back of the arm, height adjustment from 0 to 6 mm and an anti-skating dial running from 0 to 6, like on the higher-end 1200 MK5. The platter is lined with the mirrored dots like a Technics platter, providing information about speed when it's in motion (reflecting light from the power switch) as well as some haptic feedback during beat mixing. That power switch, as on the MK5, is recessed a bit in its casing, so you're not likely to accidentally stop the motor, and the light is blue instead of red. Also familiar is the pop-up platter light, though its LED bulb provides more even coverage than on a standard 1200 and isn't likely to burn out anytime soon. The platter stop/start button is now circular, like on a Pioneer CDJ; when the platter is running, it's ringed in the same blue light as the power switch. It's probably the biggest aesthetic departure on the product's face, though I can't imagine it'll make a big difference for most users.
If one word could sum up the differences, it'd be flexibility. You'll see an example of this at the back of the deck: none of the cables are hardwired. Each deck comes with stereo RCA, grounding and power cables in the box, which are all plugged into connections on a recessed panel just behind the platter. (There's also a Kensington security slot, so you can secure the decks to the booth with a standard laptop lock.) Making these connections interchangeable, but also far enough from the outside of the casing that they're unlikely to accidentally come unplugged, is a brilliant improvement that should eliminate the need for lots of maintenance down the line. If one cable dies, or if you'd like to swap out the standard RCA cable for high-end ones, you'll have no problem making the change.
The other big difference is variable tempo range. In addition to the standard plus-or-minus 8%, you can also adjust at 16% or 50%, via a tempo range button below the base of the tonearm. A blue indicator lets you know which range you're working with. 50% is more extreme than most will need, but I found myself clicking over to 16% often when playing stylistically diverse sets. On a standard 1200 pitch adjustment fader, I'll often have it set at one of the extreme as I mix disparate styles, leaving my hands tied for fine adjustments; at 16%, 8% is now in the middle of the range, providing plenty of wiggle room when beatmatching. The fader itself doesn't feel exactly like the one on the 1200, in ways both good and maybe less good. Like the MK5, the Pioneer features a reset button instead of the awkward "click" at 0%—never a bad thing. But I found it offered a little less resistance than I was used to. This didn't cause me any serious grief as I mixed, but it's the only part of the workflow I had to spend a few transitions getting used to.
Luckily, in every other regard, I noticed no difference between the PLX-1000s and Technics. Though the motor adds some torque, playing a record—and back-cueing, tweaking the sides of the platter and whatever other tics I've developed over the years to beatmatch—felt just like it always does. In fact, the Pioneers felt like mint MK5s—which is to say, quite a bit better than most of the beat-up MK2s you're likely to encounter these days. In terms of sound, I didn't notice any difference. Perhaps in the context of a nightclub, I'd hear the dampening effects of the rubber-insulated tonearm and the added weight, but the new decks sounded identical to our old ones through an Allen & Heath mixer and Adam Audio monitors in our (admittedly acoustically imperfect) office. So unless you need a product with a warranty, think you'll benefit from removable leads or need more flexible pitch adjustment options, there's no reason to trade in your Technics. But the fact that the PLX-1000s can hold their own against them makes these decks a critical entry into what was once a one-product category.
Ease of use: 5.0