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If you’ve reached a point in your DJ career where you’re considering what’s the best turntable for you, it means you’re doing great. If you’re having doubts between Pioneer PLX-500 and Audio-Technica AT LP120, it just means you know how to reckon what’s a high-quality DJ turntable.
Both DJ turntables that we have on our agenda for today are professional, fall into the same price category (more or less), and have been used by DJs for decades.
DJ turntables are delicate and mostly used by true DJing enthusiasts. The first forms of DJing were performed on two turntables and vinyl, and the tradition has remained to this day.
In this article, I’ll try to clearly portray all the similarities and differences between the Audio-Technica AT LP120 turntable and the Pioneer PLX-500.
I’ll try and make the text suitable for both beginners and those who have been in the game for a while but want to find out more about the details hidden in these turntables’ features and specifications.
I’ll start by giving an overview of each of the abovementioned DJ turntables, so we could later compare them and try to draw a conclusion. Let’s dig in!
Pioneer PLX-500 VS Audio-Technica AT LP120 USB (Overview)
Comparing these two is a pretty delicate task since we’re talking about two DJ turntables that fall into the pretty much same category regarding price, size, and features. Certainly, there are some differences which we’ll discover as we go.
Let’s start from the outside and detect the main similarities and differences between the Audio-Technica AT LP120 and the Pioneer PLX-500.
Size & Weight
If we compare their sizes, we’ll notice that the PLX-500 is just a tiny bit taller and wider, which is invisible to the naked eye. In fact, the turntable in question is a down-sized version of the Pioneer PLX-1000, which still holds a reputation on the market.
Regarding weight, they are almost completely the same, with the Pioneer turntable weighing only 0.1 lbs more.
So, with the weight orbiting around 23.5 lbs, which feels like holding a ripe watermelon, you can imagine that they’re both light enough to carry around. This is very important to DJs who have to transport their DJ gear from one venue to another, sometimes on the same night.
Now, unlike DJ controllers, you don’t want your turntables to be as light as possible. The content inside the turntable is pretty fragile and can get damaged from all the vibrations if there is no sturdy and heavy housing to keep it safe.
Placing these two next to each other really opened my eyes. Both turntables look very similar, regarding the positioning of items on the layout. You have the aluminum platter in the middle, a slip mat beneath it, and a pitch adjuster right next to it.
At the top, they both have an S-shaped tonearm holding the stylus or needle.
Both turntables have anti-skate control, which is there to put just enough pressure on the vinyl and hold it in place, preventing it from losing its position and causing breaks in the sound. I believe that every professional turntable should have this control.
Other than the “regular” setup, these two share some other control buttons. They both have a start-stop button and pitch control, which will allow you to change the standard speed of a track, i.e. not play a song at its regular speed.
Both DJ turntables come with a dust cover, which I really find important in the whole turntable shopping experience.
Working the platter feels right for both turntables. They’re both smooth and have good touch-response. The Pioneer PLX-500 seems to be a bit firmer, or at least I believe it would be harder to make a dent in it.
In fact, the same materials have been used for the platters – die-cast aluminum. However, with the Audio-Technica, you’ll only be able to play 12” vinyl records, while with the PLX-500 you can also play 7s and 10s.
Phono Cartridge (VM)
This is the part of a turntable that plays a significant role in the overall sound output. It’s the part that actually has direct contact with the records and makes them play. It’s mounted to a headshell and transforms the vibrations, i.e. mechanical energy into electrical energy (power).
To do that, most cartridges today use magnets, and you’ve seen these in product descriptions labeled as MM cartridges, or phono cartridges. However, both the Audio-Technica AT LP120 USB and the Pioneer PLX-500 turntables pack a VM cartridge.
This is Audio-Technica’s patented model of a dual magnet cartridge, where the two magnets are aligned together by being rotated by 45 degrees to form the letter “V”. Hence, the VM cartridge.
I’m personally a fan of the VM cartridge, due to the position of the V that collects vibrations on a larger scale and produces better output. Finally, although they both have the V, I think that Audio-Technica should take the Win because at the end of the day this is their thing.
Motor Type & Torque
It’s what’s on the inside that matters, so let’s take a look at the “brains” underneath the rugged design. The Pioneer PLX-500 is a direct drive turntable, just like the Audio-Technica AT LP120 USB.
This is a good option because the alternative would be a belt-drive turntable, which is not the best choice for a DJ. The difference is that direct drive means that the engine is placed right beneath the platter and rotates it directly.
A belt-driven turntable means that the engine is driven by a belt in order to produce enough power to rotate the platter. Because of that, the direct-drive will have your track played way earlier than the belt-driven motor.
Owning a belt drive is fun and you could really enjoy vinyl records on it. But it’s definitely not recommended for disc jockeys and especially not to hip hop DJs that scratch a lot. That kind of scratching would sound like a nightmare.
Torque, on the other hand, is solid with both. However, I’m not sure if I could say that these DJ turntables have impressive torque. What I could say is that both the Audio-Technica and the PLX-500 have pretty high torque for the price.
Both manufacturers have reported having a torque of >1.6 kg/cm, which is usually the measurement you’d see on product descriptions. This has to do with the resistance of the engine when you physically move the platter, and with the starting time of a track.
A high torque power like this will start playing your track in one second.
The higher the torque, the faster it will play a song. Also, the higher it is, the more resistance it will provide when you manipulate the vinyl with your fingers. You should always make sure that it doesn’t go below >1 kg/cm.
Controls & Features
So far I mostly talked about the build quality, appearance, and technical specs that comprise the two turntables – Audio-Technica AT LP120 and Pioneer PLX-500. But let’s look at all the things you could do with them, i.e. what controls they offer.
Sometimes, you want your track to play faster or slower, based on your mood and the vibes you get from the crowd. That’s exactly why you have a pitch adjuster which you can manually bring up and down and thus slow down or speed up a track.
However, using the pitch control means that you can automatically speed or slow down a track using the fader. Also, the AT LP120 has a pitch lock control which works with a touch of a button and will lock the song’s tempo at its starting point.
Here’s where the Audio-Technica proves to be the better option, as it offers a rotation adjustment range of +/- 8% and 16%. That’s how much you can manipulate the track’s speed. On the other hand, the Pioneer PLX-500 will only offer you to go up or down by 8%.
3 Speeds (33, 45, 78)
Both the Audio-Technica and the Pioneer support the three standard vinyl record speeds – 33, 45, 78 RPM (revolutions per minute). Let’s make this clearer.
RPM shows us how fast a record is spinning on the deck. More RPM means faster spinning and in most cases means better sound quality. The usual long vinyl records that reach 12” in diameter spin at 45 revolutions per minute.
The singles, or often called 7s because they have a 7-inch diameter, spin at 33 RPM. Songs with the last speed are rarely (if ever) used in DJing since they mostly contain old jazz songs, and they play at 78 RPM.
Anyway, if you opt for the Audio-Technica AT LP120, you will only be able to play 12” records, whereas Pioneer PLX-500 will support all formats. If this sounds like a big drawback for Audio-Technica, let me remind you that this is the record size you probably work with anyway.
Let’s just quickly distinguish between manual and automatic operation. The Audio-Technica AT LP120 is a manual DJ turntable, which means that you’ll have to physically lift the tonearm and place it on the vinyl to start spinning.
As for the Pioneer PLX-500 turntable, that one’s automatic so it’ll do the tonearm lifting for you.
There are DJs who are so into turntablism that they don’t want to do anything with digital files or computers. However, most of those, myself included, like to take the more semi-digital approach, or DVS (Digital Vinyl System).
DJs have enormous music libraries that they use to create their mixes. Surely they won’t flip records every time they want to play another song. Plus, it’s 2021, so using DJ software is not heresy anymore.
So, with the DVS system, you have the ability to connect your mixer to your computer and use DJ software. This will allow you to use an analog turntable, and still play digital files which you will manipulate through your laptop. Now let’s see what Software you can use with the Audio-Technica and Pioneer DJ turntables.
Which Software Do I Have To Download?
You can use the DVS system and make recordings of your mixes with the LP120 turntable using any software you want. However, the company suggests that you use Audacity for the best results.
On the other hand, the Pioneer PLX-500 turntable works best with the Rekordbox DJ software. Of course, you’re not limited to it, but it’s a natural choice when you own Pioneer hardware.
Connectivity is pretty important to people because you want to be sure that everything will work properly once you buy it. The most important question is: “Does the turntable have a USB connection?”
That’s where we have good news for you. The Pioneer turntable has a USB output which will allow you to easily connect your turntable to your Mac or Windows. Moreover, it includes an RCA output, so you can connect the turntable to your stereo system.
The Audio-Technica also offers USB connectivity, meaning that you can connect the turntable to your laptop using a USB cable. In addition, the AT LP120 turntable comes with a dual RCA output cable.
That’s not all. The Audio-Technica turntable packs a pre-amp, which will enable you to connect it directly to your stereo system, even if it has no phono input. However, I’d say that each turntable is pretty well equipped when it comes to connectivity, USB cables, outputs, and so on.
Pioneer PLX-500 VS Audio-Technica AT PL120: Summary
Reading comparison reviews can be overwhelming which is why I tend to make the summaries or conclusions as clear as possible. Now that we’ve exhausted all the features worth discussing regarding the two DJ turntables, how about we review what we learned?
First off, I hope I made it easier for you to understand what to look for when purchasing a turntable, in general. Secondly, I also hope that you managed to spot and understand the subtle differences between the Audio-Technica AT PL120 USB and Pioneer PLX-500.
As I said at the beginning of this article, these two turntables are so similar that only small differences can make you choose one over the other. They fall in a similar price range, although the PLX-500 can be a bit more expensive depending on where you buy it from.
The only thing that I might give to the Pioneer turntable as a clear advantage is perhaps the build quality, which seems to be sturdier. However, this might be my subjective opinion. It would be best if you get a feel of them using your own hands and eyes.
Anyway, let’s make a list of features that you must look for when buying a DJ turntable.
- Direct drive – you don’t want a belt-driven turntable for DJing;
- It should be able to support the three standard tempos: 33, 45, 78 revolutions per minute;
- Rugged platter, make sure it’s not easy to leave a dent in or damage;
- Start-stop button;
- Magnetic or phono cartridge;
- Torque over 1.0 kg/cm;
- USB connectivity is a must if you want to use a DVS system;
Whatever you do, make sure you do a lot of googling before you make your mind up. Remember, for a regular DJ setup, you will need two turntables.
Let’s take a look at a comparison table to get a better idea of all the features and specifications of the two turntables.
|Audio-Technica AT PL120 USB||Pioneer DJ PLX-500|
|No. of speeds||3 (33, 45, 78)||3 (33, 45, 78)|
|Stereo phono pre-amplifier||Yes||Yes|
|Pitch range||+/- 8, 16%||+/- 8%|
|Platter||Die-cast aluminum||Die-cast aluminum|
|S-shaped tone arm||Yes||Yes|
|Phono cartridge (VM)||Yes||Yes|
|Torque||> 1.6 kg/cm||> 1.6 kg/cm|
Pioneer PLX-500 VS Audio-Technica AT PL120: FAQ
Does Pioneer PLX-500 Need A Pre-Amp?
No. The Pioneer PLX-500 Dj turntable has a built-in phono pre-amp, so you won’t have the need for an external pre-amp.
Is The Pioneer PLX-500 Good For Scratching?
Yes. To figure out whether a turntable is good for scratching or not, you need to see the torque. This particular turntable is labeled with a > 1.6 kg/cm which means that it provides high resistance to the motor when the platters are physically manipulated.
In other words, the Pioneer PLX-500 is suitable for scratching thanks to its high torque.
Do You Need Speakers With A Turntable?
Turntables need speakers in order to play the sound output they provide. Due to this, most turntables also need an external amplifier, except for those that have them built-in. However, sound quality is higher with those using an external, standalone amplifier.