Vinyl records haven been rendered commercially dead many times: first by the compact cassette, then your CD, and lastly by the advent of digital downloads. It has caused many a lazy journalist to declare a vinyl revival whenever the buying sprees of wannabe DJs and hipsters gently spike the sales figures.
Yes, vinyl records don’t sell in anything just like the numbers they did within their heyday, nonetheless they never went away either, specifically for the hardcore collectors and audiophiles that prize the presentation-the packaging and sonic performance respectively-that only records can offer. That’s not to say that there’s a whole lot of music on vinyl, much of which might never be available in virtually any other format.
Another recent uptick in vinyl record sales means there are a great number of new turntables appearing at the less expensive end of the marketplace, completely from cheap and cheerful (and best avoided) suitcase-style affairs from Crossley, to bamboo-coated curios just like the “Stir it Up” from House of Marley. Technics reintroduced its legendary SL-1200 too, but even the least expensive version costs a considerable £1500.
Instead, DJs are leaning towards cheaper “tribute” decks just like the Pioneer PLX-500, which borrow liberally from the Technics SL-1200. But Pioneer can be marketing the PLX-500 for home hi-fi use, a location where direct-drive DJ decks (where in fact the spinning platter is attached right to the motor) have traditionally been sidelined towards fussier belt-driven turntables (where in fact the platter is driven by a rubber belt mounted on the motor).
Initially, maybe glimpsed in a darkened club, the PLX-500 could easily be recognised incorrectly as a classic Technics turntable. The PLX-500 is a slimmed-down version of the PLX-1000 that Pioneer introduced 2 yrs ago, and is truly a rebrand of a copy. It’s designed for Pioneer by the Taiwan ODM consultant Hanpin, which manufactures an enormous selection of cheap and cheerful turntables. Hanpin turntables tend to be rebranded by companies that no more have the expertise or resources to create them in-house.
Predicated on a Hanpin DJ-3560, the PLX-500 is a close cosmetic copy of the Technics, filled with always-on speed strobe light in the left corner, pitch-control slider to the proper, and distinctive S-shaped tonearm.
Pioneer says it specified some internal tweaks to the off-the-shelf model though, including more direct audio tracks wiring from tonearm to output lead and a relocated mains transformer. Indeed, the PLX-500 is a lot a lot more than just an ornamental shelf filler. It feels solidly built and, as I came across, is with the capacity of surprisingly decent sound, especially considering its £300 price.
Build and setup
The PLX-500 requires minimal setup. The platter and thin felt mat are located on the spindle, the tonearm headshell (moving-magnet cartridge ready-mounted) is mounted on the finish of the tonearm with a full-turn of the locking collar, as the counterweight is twisted onto the arm behind the pivot.
The S-shaped arm is static-balanced, requiring the weight to be wound on its coarse thread before arm settles accurately horizontally. The downforce dial may then be rotated to learn “0” at the 12 o’clock position, and the mandatory tracking weight dialled in. The instructions advise a variety of tracking weight for the included cartridge from 3g to 4g, and used I came across 3.4 g sounded best. Anti-skating force (that ought to be disabled if you are using the PLX-500 for scratch DJ’ing purposes) is defined from a tiny dial on the tonearm mount, taking the same value as tracking force.
Two cables hook up to the deck-power from a detachable figure-8 mains lead, and music output to amplifier with a (sadly) hardwired signal cable with two phono plugs. Because of an integral phono pre-amp, the PLX-500 could be linked directly to a typical line-level input on any amplifier. That is clearly a real boon for first-time buyers, however the best email address details are still found with an improved quality phono stage within an amplifier or standalone unit. A switch behind turntable allows users to change between your phono or line-level outputs. There’s a good USB port fitted at the trunk, for direct link with a PC. The record is digitised using the equalised analogue output through a simple internal 16/44.1 AD converter. Pioneer offers its Rekordbox software for recording and mixing, or almost always there is the open-source favourite Audacity.
Contained in the package is a phono adaptor cable, which useful allowing you to connect to a PC analogue input (2x female phono to 3.5 mm stereo mini-jack plug), USB 2.0 cable (Type A to Type B), spindle adaptor for 7-inch jukebox singles, and an optional 4g headshell weight for use with lightweight pick-up cartridges. Two colour options can be found, black or white.
The PLX-500’s construction quality is inevitably below the Technics and even Pioneer’s own PLX-1000, losing from the die-cast metal chassis of the decks, nonetheless it still weighs a lot more than 10kg (22lbs) and with component parts finished to an excellent standard. It’s powered by an enormous high-torque DC motor, with 1.6kg/cm of starting torque, an eight-pole and three-phase brushless design, coupled with an electric brake for rapid stops. The motor only must spin a light aluminium platter (765g) and 1.5mm thick compressed felt mat; contrast this with the venerable Linn Sondek LP12, a belt-drive turntable with a platter assembly that weighs over 3.6kg.
Unlike many belt-driven models, there is no separate sub-chassis to isolate the platter and stylus from motor vibration or outside movement, but just like the Technics I could attest that the Pioneer is highly resistant to footfall interference. The solid plinth can be an ABS plastic and MDF combination, with gently rubber-sprung feet below for a few critical environmental isolation, each which is height adjustable.
The arm lift/lower lever might not exactly have the silky damped feel of a high-end tonearm, nonetheless it is effective enough for accurate cueing. Tonearm height, just like the Technics, is adjustable by 6mm from a rotating base dial, but even at its lowest setting the arm is much too high. For critical listening, instead of DJ use, this stylus rake angle (SRA) setup is important to find the best performance. To create the tonearm level correctly-bringing the cartridge top parallel to the record surface-it would have to drop by an additional 8mm. A straightforward fix is to improve the record height instead with several Funk Firm Achromat platter mats.
The pickup cartridge is among the most crucial elements of an archive player, even though the unbranded unit (which resembles an resembling an Audio-Technica AT3600L) suited to the PLX-500 is capable enough, it evidently runs on the budget moving-magnet (MM) design. The MM type suits the low-mass and compliant tonearm well, and the bigger output allows less costly phono amplifiers. It really is upgraded later to an improved design easily enough with some care in fitting, although the required alignment protractor (typically a printed sheet of card) is missing from the box.