This solid direct-drive deck clearly wears its DJ credentials on its sleeve but should also appeal to vinyl lovers who need a solid sound solution, says Andy Jones…
£299 – www.pioneerdj.com
For those of a certain age, the name Pioneer might conjure memories of hi-fi systems, in-car CD players, or even Laser Disc. Cooler cats now just think ‘DJ-ing’ as the company has enjoyed great success with their CD DJ-ing solutions, mixers and controllers.
Pioneer’s new PLX-500 direct-drive (as opposed to belt-driven) turntable clearly has DJs in mind. It even shares some of its looks and sensibilities with that most treasured of decks, the Technics SL-1200.
That said, this attractively priced, incredibly robust deck also offers serious performance for home use, including USB recording and a ‘line level’ output.
The latter means that you can simply plug the PLX-500 into any ‘CD’ or ‘aux’ input on an amplifier/PC, rather than needing one with a built-in ‘phono’ stage or to buy a stand-alone ‘pre-amp’.
‘Got yourself a new set of CDJs?’ the courier asked on delivering the PLX-500, demonstrating the ubiquity of the Pioneer name in CD circles and that he wasn’t expecting such a heavy package to be ‘just’ a turntable. At 10.7kg, the PLX-500 is certainly ‘DJ-weight’ and made for rugged road use – its substantial, solid construction also means long-lasting pleasure and vibration-free playback at home.
You get a choice of white or black colours. I was slightly disappointed that we were sent the latter but grew to like it a lot during our test period.
Out of the box, the PLX-500 comes with a quality ‘silver edition’ PC-HS01-S headshell/cartridge/stylus, an adapter for 45s, audio and USB leads, a slipmat and a dust cover with a neat ‘jacket stand’ to display your cover art. The tone arm has a standard ‘mounting collar’ so you can easily upgrade or use a different headshell/cartridge setup, which is a big bonus.
Recording your vinyl is achieved via the rekordbox DJ software supplied – although there’s nothing to stop you using other programmes. That opens up a world of audio file (as opposed to audiophile) DJ-ing using other Pioneer equipment, such as their rekordbox DVS software.
Excellent instructions are supplied so it’s easy to add the counter-weight to the rear of the arm, attach the headshell/cartridge and add the platter and slipmat.
The correct adjustments for the tone arm/cartridge-tracking weight and the anti-skating control are also explained. The suggested tracking weight is 3-4g and I found 3.5g to be perfect. Then you’re good to go!
In addition to the 33/45 speed buttons, there’s a strobe light and pitch slider, meaning you’ll always be playing vinyl at exactly the right speed or can easily beat-match when DJing. Unusually, press the 33 and 45 buttons together means 78 playback is possible, although you’d really need a specialist mono headshell/cartridge to do your shellac sonic justice.
So I’m set with my test discs and the new BBC Radiophonic Workshop 21 album – a mono and stereo disc with all sorts of burbles and whistles to put the Pioneer through its paces.
Making adjustments to the recommended changes the overall tone so I stick with the suggested setup and my standard playback rig, and I’m surprised at the PLX-500’s sonic depths and heights.
The frenetic, speaker-testing frequencies supplied by the BBC really push the PLX-500 but its low end output is nice and tight, and unphased by the pressure. The mids and highs hold up well and you can pick out every detail.
On to more mellow vocal material and the response is also impeccable, with the vocal and guitars shining through particularly well.
The bass response is especially pleasing and unmuddied across a range of genres. This kind of quality reminds you why you like vinyl – you’re hearing analogue sound as it was meant to be.
The sound isn’t fighting for your attention, as with so much heavily-processed digital music. Here you’re simply in partnership with the music and can really enjoy the experience!
Pioneer PX-500 – Conclusion
What a surprise for just £299! You could probably get that back by selling the weighty PLX-500 for scrap metal, but don’t as you’ll be missing out on one of the best value, most robust and versatile turntables around