Since the early days of scratching, Stanton Magnetics has probably been best known for its cartridges and styli; its 500AL cartridge has long been the needle of choice within the professional DJ set. In recent years, Stanton has been making inroads into other areas of DJ performance, most notably with its DJ Focus — designed SK-2F mixer and its line of straight-arm turntables: the STR8 series. Starting with a low-end, belt-drive model and ending with a top-of-the-line direct-drive digital unit, the STR8 series is aimed at suiting all needs and budgets.
Recently, I was given the opportunity to put Stanton's flagship turntable, the STR8-100, through its paces. As a longtime Technics 1200MK2 user, I couldn't help but compare the STR8-100 with the time-tested leader of the turntable pack.
With a traditional turntable design that is reminiscent of the Technics layout, the STR8-100 has a solid, well-constructed feel. It is nicely designed, with a bright silver finish, curved edges, round buttons and blue LEDs — all mounted on an aluminum faceplate. Featuring the traditional Start/Stop button, circular On/Off switch and sliding pitch fader, the layout presents nothing revolutionary and should be instantly familiar and comfortable to any experienced vinyl DJ.
One of the most exciting features (aside from the straight tonearm) is the Reverse button, which spins the platter in reverse while still allowing use of the other controls. The pitch control has a user-selectable range (±8, ±15 and ±25 percent) that allows greater control of the record. The platter can be set to spin at 33, 45 and 78 rpm. Most scratch DJs probably don't spin 78s, but it's a nice option to have from a flexibility standpoint.
The STR8-100 differs from earlier-generation turntables in that it features onboard digital processing. The most interesting feature that it affords is through the somewhat mis-labeled Key Adjust button. Engaging it allows you to alter the speed of the record playback (via the pitch fader) without affecting the key of the audio output. (This is only possible on a turntable that features digital processing.) The feature works well and is particular handy if you are making severe pitch adjustments to a track that may result in Alvin and The Chipmunks — style audio on a traditional turntable. If you turn the feature off, the pitch control affects the audio in the same way as any other traditional turntable.
The specs for the STR8-100 tout its high-torque 2.2 kgf-cm, brushless DC motor. Although that is stronger than Technics' 1.5 kgf-cm motor, I found the pickup time to be slightly poorer than that of my SL-1200MK2s. It is certainly quick enough to meet the turntablist's needs; however, I found that performing certain techniques resulted in an audible drag as it came back up to speed.
The most revolutionary feature the STR8-100 has as opposed to the Technics (although not exclusive to Stanton) is the skip-proof straight tonearm. It is height-adjustable to accommodate multiple headshell sizes and, despite the hype, it really works!
The tonearm is much shorter than a traditional S-shaped tonearm. The design is aimed at keeping the cartridge as parallel to the groove as possible; the theory is that this will reduce or eliminate skipping. For that reason, the straight tonearm has piqued the turntablist market's interest.
Using an older needle and a skip-prone record, I put the STR8-100 to the test with some extreme scratch moves with a heavy hand. It is possible to skip the record, but the likelihood of skipping is significantly reduced. In my opinion, there is no replacement for practicing scratching with a gentle touch. There is no doubt, however, that straight-tonearm technology is a significant improvement upon the traditional S-shaped tonearm. You won't be disappointed.
INPUTS AND OUTPUTS
Unlike most turntables, the STR8-100 features a variety of output choices. Of most use to DJs is the ability to switch the output signal from the traditional ¼-inch output to a line-level/RCA output. This is a great feature that allows more options when hooking the STR8-100 turntable up to a variety of gear. For example, you could connect this turntable directly to a tape player and record a song with no preamp (i.e., mixer) required.
The turntable also features a digital S/PDIF output allowing you to maintain a pure digital signal path when recording. Finally, there is the nifty inclusion of a 3.5mm line input, so you can send the signal of your MP3 or portable CD player straight through.
Other than the aforementioned pickup-speed issue, my primary criticism of the Stanton STR8-100 is the location of the power switch. The circular On/Off switch on the top of the turntable is only a motor kill switch, which is helpful for performing certain advanced scratch techniques. To truly turn off the turntable's power, you need to flick a switch that is located underneath the unit, about three inches in from the top edge. Turntablists traditionally rotate their turntables 90 degrees counterclockwise (positioning the tonearm farthest away from their bodies). When the turntables are set up in the traditional turntable-mixer-turntable configuration, the mixer annoyingly hinders access to the power switch on the right-hand turntable.
As is common in the price-competitive turntable market, the Stanton STR8-100 comes without a dust cover. Given the sensitive nature of this type of equipment, this is a frustrating omission. However, if it makes the turntable more affordable, it is probably an acceptable exclusion as opposed to something that would directly impact its performance.
With a street price of $299, this full-featured turntable is a good choice if you are looking for a solidly performing straight-tonearm turntable. Its biggest competition is either the Technics SL-1200MK2 or the straight-tonearm-equipped Vestax PDX2000, both of which typically retail for $100 more. If you already own a set of Technics or equivalent-quality turntables, I wouldn't recommend throwing them away and replacing them with STR8-100s, but if you are in the market for a new turntable, they are well worth a look.
Pros: Straight tonearm significantly reduces skipping. Reverse and Key Adjust buttons expand scratch possibilities.
Cons: Comparatively slow platter pickup speed. On/Off button location.
Overall Rating (out of 5): 3.5