American Audio is one of the brands under which the American DJ group of companies sells professional audio and DJ equipment and lighting. Although American DJ has been a key player in the club DJ and lighting market for many years, it has never made inroads into the selective vinyl-turntablist market; in this market niche, only a few key brands dominate. With the release of the HTD 4.5 turntable, American Audio steps up with a full-featured, high-torque turntable that will compete with the likes of Technics, Vestax, Numark and Stanton for the turntablist's dollar.
As a die-hard Technics 1200MK2 jock, I always approach a new turntable with eager anticipation and some trepidation. I have tried many different turntables, and although many of them incorporate new and tempting features, I always return to my tried-and-true Technics 1200s, primarily for their build quality and reliability.
After using the American Audio HTD 4.5s for a number of weeks, I am impressed by its structure and features, and I feel confident that it would stand up to regular abuse on the road. The base is made of a dense rubber that is excellent at absorbing unwanted vibrations. The top is made of a high-quality metal with a nifty metallic-enamel black finish that almost sparkles. At 29 pounds, it is a solid beast, which bodes well for its robustness during transportation and repeated setup. Surprisingly, for a new scratch-DJ turntable, the HTD 4.5 features a traditional S-shape tonearm; almost every other turntable in this market now comes with a straight tonearm, which is the newest fad in the turntablist world.
The HTD 4.5's cable hookups are located in a recessed channel at the back of the turntable. They are hard to access, but once hooked up, the cables are neatly tucked out of the way. As is common with most new turntable models, the RCA and ground cables are no longer hard-wired into the turntable. Instead, the unit has a pair of external RCA connectors and a ground connector to which you can attach the included audio cable. The cable is of high quality and neatly integrates the ground wire into the RCA cable. That one less cable to lose or damage is a testament to American Audio's attention to detail: Anyone who frequently transports a pair of Technics knows how easy it is to cut the skinny ground cable while closing the lid of a turntable flight case.
The HTD 4.5 gets its name from the 4.5 kg/cm of rotational torque that its direct-drive motor boasts. This is three times that of the Technics 1200 and the highest torque I have seen on any DJ turntable. The result is a superfast pickup time. If you hold the platter still with your hand, you can feel the strength of the motor pulling. The HTD 4.5 features separate Brake and Start control knobs that let you change the pickup and braking speed of the platter. At its fastest setting, the Start control causes the turntable to start almost instantly. Set it to the slowest setting, and it takes a full one-and-a-half platter rotations to get up to speed.
The Brake control probably has the greatest value, as you can create varied skidlike sound effects by stopping the platter while it plays a sound. At its highest setting, the platter stops immediately; no wind-down sound is even heard. This setting is almost too abrupt, so I backed it off a little because I like the little skid sound. When set to its slowest setting, the platter consistently stops one-and-a-half rotations after the button is pressed. The braking mechanism is electronically controlled, and the platter almost pushes itself the full one-and-a-half rotations even if you try to stop it sooner. This takes a little getting used to.
To test the HTD 4.5's real-world pickup and brake times, I played a locked tone from a battle-break album and experimented with various settings. With the startup time at its quickest, the platter was up to full speed in roughly a 16th to an eighth of a turn — impressive when compared with the full turn that my Technics 1200s require. Braking was equally impressive: It essentially stopped on a dime, within a 16th of a turn or less when set to the quickest setting. Adjustments such as these give you greater control of your DJ performances because you can tweak the settings to better meet your needs. They are a great feature of the HTD 4.5!
The HTD 4.5 also features two Stop/Start buttons: one in the traditional position and one in the top-left corner. This is becoming a standard on many turntables because battle-style DJs invariably rotate the turntable 90 degrees counterclockwise to move the tonearm away from their hands. With this additional button, a Start/Stop button now resides nearest the crossfader whether the turntable is on the left- or right-hand side of the mixer.
PITCH AND SPEED
The pitch fader feels a bit cheaper than those on some other high-end turntables. Both the pitch fader and the platter sit completely above the turntable surface, unlike those of the Technics (which has the pitch fader and platter located in slightly recessed areas). Although this is unusual visually, it makes it easier to grab the pitch fader during scratches that involve a great deal of pitch manipulation.
The pitch control has three range settings: ±10, ±20 and ±50 percent. The fader resolution seems very precise, and having this range of pitch control is definitely a bonus for DJs who are familiar with the traditional ±8 percent of other turntables. One problem that plagues other turntables is a lag in the pitch control's responsiveness, in which changing the pitch setting results in a slight delay before the turntable responds. That is quite frustrating for turntablists and severely limits their ability to perform advanced pitch-fader scratches. Thankfully, this is not the case with the HTD 4.5, which has a quick response during pitch adjustments, probably due to the high-torque motor.
To engage the 50 percent setting, you have to press both the 10 and 20 percent buttons simultaneously. I understand that manufacturing and real estate constraints can limit the number of buttons placed on a turntable, but it would be nice if there were a separate button for the 50 percent setting. Quick adjustments while scratching are considerably harder when you have to press two buttons instead of one.
The HTD 4.5 also features 33, 45 and 78 rpm settings. Similar to the pitch-range setting, the 78 rpm setting is engaged by pressing both the 33 and 45 rpm buttons simultaneously. This is less of a concern, as 78 rpm is an infrequently used setting. I do appreciate its inclusion, though, as more options can only lead to more creativity.
To test the turntable's responsiveness, I performed the following extreme test on the high-torque motor: I played a locked tone set to 33 rpm and -50 percent pitch (the slowest the turntable will spin). I then simultaneously pressed the Quartz Lock button and the 33 and 45 rpm buttons, with the goal being to instantly change the turntable to 78 rpm with a 0 percent pitch adjust. The turntable spun up to speed within roughly an eighth of a turn! Disengaging the Quartz Lock and pressing just the 33 rpm button (thus setting it back to 33 rpm, -50 percent) resulted in a speed adjustment again within an eighth of a turn. This is impressive and further attests to the motor's strength and the turntable's build quality.
START AND BRAKE
All of the buttons are a nice size and easy enough for anyone to press. The buttons are coated in a dense rubber that feels slip-resistant when compared with a regular metal button. The turntable also includes a removable light that plugs into a single RCA-jack-style connector and is quite bright. The HTD 4.5 also features a Reverse button that allows the turntable to play in reverse with the same range of controls. The speed with which it changes direction is also impressive, a result that I also attribute to the extra torque of the direct-drive motor.
My main complaint with the HTD 4.5's controls is with the Start and Brake knobs: They are small dials that are recessed a little into the top of the turntable. The designers may have envisioned that they would be adjusted once to match the DJs preference, as opposed to being adjusted on the fly during a scratch performance. Manufacturers who know the turntablist market should know that scratch DJs are continually pushing their equipment to the limit and will want on-the-fly control of every setting.
The metal S-shape tonearm is similar to that of other high-quality turntables. It features the traditional height and antiskate adjusts. It appears to be well-made with little “play” in the moving parts, which is important for scratch DJs, as cheap or loose tonearm components are a big cause of skipping.
As mentioned previously, it surprises me that a turntable aimed at the scratch-DJ market does not feature a straight-arm tonearm, because this is the latest feature that scratch DJs seem to want. Although it may hurt a few sales from those looking exclusively at straight-arm turntables, I ultimately believe that the tonearm type should not matter. What is most important is the turntable's skip resistance. I have been impressed with the tracking ability of straight-arm turntables, but I do not believe that they are essential. (Admittedly, many scratch DJs may think differently.)
I performed some rigorous scratches while testing this turntable and found that it had excellent skip resistance — it even felt superior to my dialed-in Technics 1200s! This is somewhat of a subjective judgment, however, as the biggest causes of skipping with high-quality turntables are cartridge and needle choice and the settings that the DJ controls (tracking weight, tonearm height, cartridge/headshell position and antiskate), as well as how light a hand you have when scratching. Simply put, I had no problems with skipping. I was also impressed with the platter's sturdiness. Even when thumping my hand on it fairly heavily, the needle tracked well. Excessive vibration in this area is another common cause of skipping.
WHEELS KEEP ON TURNIN'
While researching this turntable, I made a curious discovery: Stanton, one of the key players in the turntablist market, has recently announced its new ST-150 (and the STR8-150, the straight-arm version). In looking at product shots of the ST-150, I noted that it looked identical to the HTD 4.5. A little more investigation uncovered that they are indeed the same turntable (other than the color and the manufacturer's label). In all likelihood, all of these turntables were designed by a third-party audio manufacturer and are licensed by both Stanton and American Audio.
Nevertheless, this turntable impresses me greatly overall, and I urge any DJ who is looking for a new turntable to consider the American Audio HTD 4.5 as a viable option, especially if you are looking for a turntable with more advanced features than the standard Technics 1200MK2. At the very least, be sure to demo it at your local DJ-equipment store to see how it performs for you. The toughest hurdle for American Audio may be penetrating the acceptance of the vinyl-turntablist market.
HTD 4.5 > $499.95
Pros: Awesome high-torque motor, pitch-range settings, build quality.
Cons: Small Start and Brake controls.