Top 5: Best Direct Drive Turntable

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Are you looking to pledge allegiance to the DJ side of the great battle between belt drive turntables and the best direct drive turntable? Would you like to know some of the best direct drive turntables on the market today?

Then look no further, for we have a selection of 5 of the best here arrayed for your keen eyes today

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

What to Look for

Though there are a whole bunch of different components that make up a fully-functioning turntable, there are four main parts of a turntable to consider when purchasing one for oneself, regardless of anyone’s specific personal circumstances.

The preamp for one is rather important, especially seeing as it is not always a given for direct drive turntables (and the belt-drive turntable for that matter) to come fitted with one as standard. The preamp is the part that increases the weak signal of the turntable in its phono stage and readies it for being received, processed, and interpreted by the main amplifier.

The cartridge is perhaps the most underrated and/or underappreciated part of the turntable. It is one of the only parts of the turntable that actually comes into contact with the vinyl records themselves and thus will have a significant bearing on the sound quality overall. Of course, many turntables will offer you the ability to do a turntable cartridge replacement, but it is handy to have a good one already built in.

Likewise, the tonearm is of importance seeing as it is that which extends the cartridge towards the records, as is the case for belt-drive turntables too, to be fair. The best direct drive record player will like feature a phono preamp to do the audio quality justice, but also have a tonearm that does not resonate too much and that has an adjustable counterweight.

Finally, we have the plinth and the platter, which actually do the spinning and turning that the turntable is named after. Their importance surely does not need to be delved into. Sure enough, they are not going to make a difference to excellent sound quality necessarily. Still, if the turntable is unable to play at a regular speed it will make all the difference to the playback of a vinyl collection overall.

Belt Drive vs Direct Drive Turntables

Here comes the moment where you pledge allegiance to either side of the ongoing battle between direct drive vs belt drive turntables.

What exactly is the difference between the two? What’s the big deal?

Well, the central difference lies in the way that they are driven and the way that the turntable and its platter are spun.

A belt drive turntable works by having its motor pull the platter via a rubber belt, hence the name. A direct drive turntable, on the other hand, works in a more direct way, where the motor is in direct contact with the platter, meaning that it can stop and start pretty much instantaneously, though with the caveat that it is considerably noisier and the quality of the sound is usually less good, owing to the sonic interference of the motor added into the mix.

Each has its own benefits and drawbacks. With a more direct relationship between the motor and the turntable platter, direct drive turntables are far better for manipulation. This is why you will be far more likely to see a DJ using a direct drive turntable than a belt drive turntable, because not only can they scratch better with the former but also can rely on the turntable to stop and start near instantaneously.

Because of this closer relationship between motor and platter, the speed control tends to be more accurate, consistent, and reliable, with considerably less wow and flutter overall, maintaining a more constant speed.

Direct drive turntables were once notorious for having inferior sound quality to belt drive turntables, especially since their direct relationship between the motor and platter meant that much of the noise that the motor made would be transmitted to the platter and out through the cartridge. This is, however, somewhat a thing of the past.

1. Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB (Best Budget)

Audio-Technica is royalty when it comes to bringing some of the highest quality audiophile equipment to the masses, and this turntable is no exception. Do not let that relatively low price tag fool you – this turntable is fully capable and is going to provide the kind of USB output that will be a deal breaker for the discerning millennial ear.

Audio-Technica at-LP120XUSB Direct-Drive Turntable (Analog & USB), Black, Hi-Fidelity, plays 33 -1/3, 45, and 78 RPM Records, Convert Vinyl to Digital (AT-LP120XUSB-BK-cr) (Renewed)

Considering the price, this turntable comes with plenty of exciting features, including the ability to play all three vinyl record types and speeds, a feat seen less and less in record players these days.

Thankfully, there is a built-in preamp, meaning that getting set up and ready to play is really as easy as taking it out of the box and plugging it in – no need to buy a separate preamp and faff about unnecessarily. You can, however, turn this built-in preamp off if you would rather customize your own sound yourself; the choice really is yours!

For further customization (if you are that way inclined), then there is adjustable anti-skate control, and variable pitch control with a quartz speed lock, all crowned with an S-curved tonearm that includes a lockable resting spot. Far too often I have been transporting my turntable around and the tonearm has come loose and scraped against the platter, doing considerable damage. No longer!

Pros

  • The auto-cueing mechanism is comparatively gentle when related to a bunch of other turntables in this price range, which tend to just lump the needle onto the record player like it is nobody’s business.
  • Motor noise is kept to a considerable minimum considering the relatively low price point.
  • Sound quality is more than capable of bringing your records to life – Audio-Technica does an incredible job of constructing affordable yet vicious cartridges.
  • Construction and build quality belie the low price tag.

Cons

  • The RCA cables are attached to the turntable, and so will be difficult to replace when necessary.

2. Crosley C200 (Best Vintage)

With almost a hundred years of history under its belt, Crosley has a lot to be proud of and a lot to boast of when it comes to running a company. There are, of course, two Crosley brands – being both an audiophilia manufacturer and furniture manufacturer – but they are relatively unmatched in the area of the former (at least for nostalgiacs throughout the western world).

Crosley C200A-BK Direct-Drive Turntable with S-Shaped Tone Arm, Black

If you are working on a budget and, for some reason, do not want to put your trust in a far more reputable brand that gives more of a hoot about the sound of your records and your listener experience, then I suppose Crosley is the way to go.

There are plenty of remarkable features in this price range, besides the fact it is simply really easy to handle – perfect for beginners and avid collectors alike. The mechanisms themselves are fully manually operated, though this should not discern the beginner because it has rarely been this easy to pick up for oneself (and they will eventually have to anyhow).

The tonearm, besides being well designed to begin with, is also balanced well with hydraulic lift controls, anti-skate, height adjustment, and a lockable rest, all of which give this the feel of a turntable that has seen plenty of work, time, and effort sunk into it – far from the usual kind of fair that we are so used to seeing from Crosley.

Pros

  • The sound response from this turntable is pretty damn good, considering the price range and especially considering how dismally disappointing Crosley has been time and time again.
  • Despite the fully manual operation, this turntable is easy to set up and look after over time, encouraging this at an early stage for beginners so that they might take these skills on with them.
  • The construction is robust and seems as though it could take a beating.
  • The design is, of course, vintage as heck, aligned very much with Crosley’s own interests to saturate the nostalgiac market as much as it is physically able.

Cons

  • The RCA cables that the turntable comes with are a little short for my liking.

3. Audio-Technica AT-LP5X (Best Sleek)

Another offering from Audio-Technica on this list should not really come as a surprise, especially considering how much of a name they have made for themselves throughout the western world over the past half-century.

Audio-Technica AT-LP5X Fully Manual Direct-Drive Turntable

Audio Technica’s journey as an audiophile manufacturer began in earnest at the turn of the 1960s. It was then that Hideo Matsushita – curator of Tokyo’s Bridgestone Museum of Art – would host listening concerts at his place of work where music lovers could experience vinyl listening in the highest possible fidelity with a quality cartridge.

Moved by the positive reactions these listening parties received and, in turn, stirred by the fact that not all could access these record players, Matsushita founded Audio Technica in 1962 so that he might bring this vision of high-quality audio for everyone to some sort of fruition, developing some of the most important audio equipment along the way – and all for the masses.

The Bluetooth capabilities of this turntable really set it apart from the rest, lying in a price range where this kind of multimedia interconnectivity is not necessarily a given.

So, for the discerning millennial ear who is not quite ready to delve properly into the world of audiophilia and vinyl record collecting, they still have the option to connect wirelessly, lest they actually make a real physical connection with something!

Pros

  • Comes with a rubber slip mat included, saving you the hassle of going and buying one yourself.
  • The motor can stop and start at an ideally fast pace, fostering a relationship between the motor and the platter that is precise and sharp.
  • The built-in phono preamp and USB output make this a truly modern affair, bridging the gap between old and new that is often perceived to be cavernous.
  • Audio-Technica, as ever, brings the goods when it comes to cartridge manufacture.
  • All of this, alongside a solid construction and design that would not be out of place in many home environments.

Cons

  • The platter is host to some imperfections which means it rotates with a slight wobbling, though this does not seem to affect the sound.

4. Audio-Technica AT-LP1240-USBXP (Best Plinth)

What more can we say about this iconic and world-renowned brand that has not already been uttered profusely in this article? They are big, bad, and brutal deliverers of audiophilia’s mission statement of sonic destruction for the masses everywhere.

Audio-Technica ATLP1240USBXP Direct-Drive Professional DJ Turntable (USB & Analog), Black, Selectable 33 -1/3, 45, and 78 RPM Speeds, High-torque, Multipole Motor, Convert Vinyl to Digital

This particular turntable was designed with DJs and manipulators of sound in mind, for you can easily switch between digital and analog formats with little to no rigmarole in between.

The multipole 3-phase motor is perfectly suited for repeated use in the most adverse conditions that might come about as a result of use by a professional. This motor can provide compatibility with all three of the main record speeds and sizes (7 inch, 10 inch, and 12 inch – 33 1/3, 45, and 78 rpm), with consistent speeds and near-immediate startup.

Cueing up songs for play will never be an issue here, it being so fluid as to be almost effortless – and, for the budding and aspiring experimental music DJ, there is even an option to play the records in reverse!

The phono cartridge is more than capable, but if you are more digitally minded then the USB output is going to do a stellar job of converting those analog signals into mp3s and WAVs.

Pros

  • The operation is so fluid as to be effortless, easily customized, and adjustable to the individual whims of each user.
  • The platter is made of a robust aluminum polymer that is then dampened to further ensure that any extraneous vibrations from outside or from within the motor itself are quelled.
  • The design and craftsmanship are really something to behold.
  • And, as you ought to expect from Audio-Technica, the sound response is really impressive, with deep, balanced, and measured responses throughout the frequency spectrum.

Cons

  • Despite all the money, this turntable does not even come with a dust cover attached, so you will have to buy one yourself seeing as direct drives can be quite susceptible to it.
  • The USB output, though capable, could do with some improving in terms of ease of use and fidelity of the final result.

5. Pioneer PLX-1000 (Best)

Finally, crowning this whole tower towards hifi audio fidelity, we have this supreme offering from Pioneer. Since the direct drive turntable in the abstract has come to be of use far more to DJs than the average record collector, Pioneer has taken this a step further with everything they have created, and this right here is no exception.

Pioneer DJ PLX-1000 Professional Turntable

Another established and heralded manufacturer, Pioneer have been around since 1930, always known for producing only the highest quality record players and audio equipment.

This was obviously designed with DJs and artists in mind, exhibited in the sheer range of styles that the cartridge can accommodate – dance music is only the start with this deck, though it is, of course, something that it excels at.

If you want to keep it relaxed and easy, then that is A-okay. But for those who are looking to be as precise as possible, there is an adjustable strobe light on the side to ensure that these decks are playing at the exact right speed (and that you have not leaned too hard on the pitch adjustment control).

Pros

  • Despite being incredibly well made and designed with professional DJs in mind, this unit is user friendly and welcoming of beginners who might be wanting to learn a thing or two about the trade.
  • The sound response from the cartridge and everything else is pretty excellent, and the fact that you can so readily change the cartridge makes for an incredibly customizable and transportative user experience.
  • Precise operating, with the choice between both manual and automatic transmission.
  • Operates as a decent turntable for an aspiring DJ, one that will get them through many sets before combusting or needing a look at.

Cons

  • The tonearm might arrive loose, but other than that the setup is pretty common sense.

Final Tones

So, there you have it!

Hopefully, this array of some of the best direct drive turntables has been of use to you in finding your own. Who knows, perhaps the next piece of kit in your DJ arsenal is here arrayed, just waiting for you to cop it up and set it to work.

FAQs Best Direct Drive Turntables

Is direct drive turntable better?

Direct drive turntables are certainly better at some things than belt drive turntables. The reason DJs so often call upon the former instead of the latter is because of the ‘direct’ relationship between the motor and the platter, allowing for near-instant stopping and starting, perfect for scratching and other kinds of manipulation.

What is the highest quality turntable?

This will depend on your purposes and preferences. For DJs looking for a direct drive turntable, you can’t really go wrong with anything by Pioneer. For belt-driven turntables, your best bet is probably a vintage model by the likes of Marantz. Heck, even there more contemporary models still do bits to any and all kinds of music that they come into contact with.

Why is direct-drive better than belt-drive?

I would not say that either is inherently better than the other. Sure, direct drive turntables are certainly better at some things than belt drive turntables. The reason DJs so often call upon the former instead of the latter is because of the ‘direct’ relationship between the motor and the platter, allowing for near-instant stopping and starting, perfect for scratching and other kinds of manipulation. They have their own drawbacks, though, including a dip in audio fidelity as a result of the proximity of the noisy motor to the platter transmitted through to the cartridge.

Why do DJs use direct-drive turntables?

In as much as you can try to do anything, you can, though they are far from ideal. Owing to their inherent construction and status as belt-drive turntables, the turntable platter is pulled along with a rubber belt that is powered by the motor. Since the motor is not directly communicating with the turntable platter as in a direct drive turntable, there will be a lag between any movement on the platter and its eventual outcome. Just stop a record with your finger and then watch it attempt to get back up to speed as quickly as possible. The direct drive turntables relationship between motor and platter is far more direct, hence the title and their status in the arsenal of many DJs.

What’s the difference between direct-drive and fully automatic turntables?

The difference lies in the way that they are driven and the way that the turntable and its platter are spun. A fully automatic turntable tends to work by having its motor pull the platter via a rubber belt. A direct drive turntable, on the other hand, works in a more direct way, where the motor is in direct contact with the platter, meaning that it can stop and start pretty much instantaneously, though with the caveat that it is considerably noisier and the quality of the sound is usually less good, owing to the sonic interference of the motor added into the mix.

Published
Categorized as Guides

By Robert Halvari

My name is Robert Halvari - audio engineer and a total audiophile. I love vinyl because it has that natural character which brings music to life. I've been using and testing vinyl record players for around 15 years and I'm sharing my love and knowledge of vinyl by publishing all I know at Notes On Vinyl

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