GET TO THE POINT >The Stanton T.120C delivers the essential features that DJs need—including switchable phono/line-level RCA outputs, two start/stop buttons and a replaceable target light—without the sticker shock of some competing models.
When I first learned that I would be reviewing a new turntable, my initial reaction was to wonder not only why any company would try to add to an already-competitive market but also what could possibly set this unit apart from the multitude of models currently available. Leave it to the folks at Stanton to surprise me with their new T.120C, which raises the bar both in terms of features and quality.
A TURNTABLE OR A TANK?
The T.120C is the heaviest turntable I have ever felt. Taking it out of the box was a bit of a workout, but knowing that weight translates into stability and lack of vibration transference in loud environments, I was impressed and encouraged by the solid feel. The platter, which is also fairly heavy, should be carefully placed onto the center spindle, and once I had it in place and made a few simple connections, I was about ready to spin some tunes. I plugged in the power cable and connected the gold-plated RCA outs from the turntable to my mixer and was pleased to see that there is no ground wire to connect, like on most other decks. In addition, you can select whether you want the RCA to output a phono or line-level signal, which would come in handy if you are running a few turntables into the same mixer and run out of phono inputs. These are some smart improvements on the standard turntable and just the beginning of the innovations presented by the T.120C.
The turntable comes complete with the standard accoutrements: cables, a headshell, a 45 rpm adapter, a slipmat and a nice cloth dust cover. I would have preferred to have a hard plastic cover to protect the tonearm, but as long as you are careful not to place anything on the turntable that shouldn't be there, this should not present much of a problem. For this review, Stanton sent me a set of its excellent 680HP cartridges, which I have been using for years and highly recommend for most uses. However, unless you already have your own set of needles, you should plan on picking some up when purchasing any new turntable, as they generally must be purchased separately. The 680HPs come preassembled onto their headshells, which is great and allows for plug-and-play setup.
To properly adjust the tonearm, you need to do a few things. First, if you don't have a preassembled or all-in-one cartridge (such as an Ortofon or Trackmaster), you will need to attach the cartridge to the headshell according to the manufacturer's instructions. Next, make sure the tonearm is clipped into its rest, carefully place the headshell onto the tonearm and lock it into place using the locking nut. The counterweight should be placed on the opposite end of the tonearm, and once it is in place, you are ready to balance it against the cartridge. Simply release the tonearm from its clip, and move the tonearm out over the platter. You want the tonearm to float so that the needle does not touch the platter, and you can rotate the counterweight back and forth to achieve this balance. Once you have it perfectly even, set the rotating black dial on the counterweight to zero; then, you need to figure out how much weight to add to get the correct pressure of the needle onto the vinyl. Every cartridge is unique, so read the instructions and find out the proper tracking force (the downward pressure required for accurate playback) for your specific model. For instance, the 680HP requires a tracking force of anywhere from 2 to 5 grams, so once I had everything balanced and the black numbered ring at zero, I rotated the entire counterweight counterclockwise until the ring was at 2.5 grams. You can use a heavier setting if you prefer, and it is definitely advisable for scratch DJs.
The final adjustment is the tonearm height, which is controlled by the large numbered black ring around the base of the tonearm assembly. Ideally, you want the arm to be parallel to the platter when the needle is placed on a record, and once you have it set, make sure to lock the height in place with the small black switch on the tonearm base. This might sound like a lot of work, but it's actually quite easy. Once you get the hang of it, you will be able to set up any turntable in minutes.
After getting all of my connections and adjustments sorted out, I pressed the power button located on the back of the deck and flipped on the rotary power switch for the motor, which resides in the familiar spot, next to the platter, and houses the strobe light. The separate power switches seem a little redundant to me and a bit inconvenient if you are going to flush-mount the turntable in a coffin or a nightclub DJ booth. However, attaching your gear to a power strip and using that for your global on/off rather than using the switches on each individual piece in your rig can easily circumvent this minor problem. I was pleased to see that the T.120C has blue lights, which I prefer to green and red. Another great feature is the plug-in target light that illuminates the surface of the record. The light attaches to the deck with a standard RCA plug and rotates freely so that you can point the light in any direction. Other turntable manufacturers, take notice: This is a brilliant idea that should become an industry standard. I have had to replace the target light on other models, and it is not only a major hassle but also very time-consuming. With the Stanton unit, if your light burns out, all you need to do is plug in a new one — outstanding!
I have used a lot of different turntables in my 10 years of DJing, and for me to even consider trying to play on any given deck, it must be a direct-drive model, as is the T.120C. In fact, Stanton claims to have the highest-torque motor in the industry, which makes for lightning-fast starts and stops. The unit has knobs that allow you to select both the start and brake rates; to adjust these, press on the recessed pots, causing them to pop up, and then turn them the selected amount. When you're happy with your setting, press the pots back down to recess them. This is a great feature that allows for a lot of custom control. I found that having the start and brake both set at their fastest settings works best for my playing style, but you might want to experiment with different settings, as you can do some cool spin-up and -down tricks on slower settings, which go all the way up to six seconds.
If you are a scratch DJ, the T.120C has some special features designed with you in mind. When you turn the deck sideways, the traditional start/stop button is now located on your bottom-right corner. On this model, there is an additional start/stop button that is now located in the bottom-left corner, which means that regardless of which hand you are scratching with, you have convenient access to the start/stop button. The unit also has a reverse button, which some might find useful for various tricks and effects. The start and brake controls function identically both forward and backward. You can also play records at 78 rpm in addition to the standard 33 and 45 rpm settings, which allows for even more options and variety.
If you are a house DJ, it is of critical importance to have an accurate pitch fader that has a carefully measured response to minute adjustments; without it, it is difficult to tightly beat-match your mixes. After a few test mixes, I found that the T.120C has a nice feel, and after a little getting used to, it was fairly easy to keep my mixes on track. The pitch fader is tight and smooth, and a blue LED, rather than the annoying detent that is present on some other units, indicates when you are at the zero pitch mark. You can select three different pitch modes: ±8, 25 or 50 percent, which allows for some crazy pitching tricks for the avant-garde turntablist. Pitch buttons are also located just beneath the fader, so you can make slight momentary adjustments if your tempo is just slightly off and you don't want to ride the pitch fader. I wish this were standard for all decks, because it is quite useful and a tremendous help when trying to keep a mix together during a long period of time. Overall, the pitch section of the T.120C has the most comprehensive features and complete functionality of any turntable I have ever used.
MORE THAN STANDARD FARE
Typically, I judge the performance of every new turntable against the industry-standard Technics SL-1200MK2. As a professional club DJ, I rarely go into a venue and play on anything else, so for me, the comparison is automatic and unavoidable. In this regard, the T.120C performed better than any deck I have ever played on, and it is quite similar to the 1200 in the feel of the platter and the pitch control. The T.120C also has nearly identical dimensions to the 1200, so it will fit in your DJ coffin perfectly. Well done, Stanton!
Although the T.120C comes with a curved tonearm, Stanton does offer a straight-arm model (the T.120), depending on your preference. If the T.120C sounds appealing, you might also want to check out the ST.150, which includes a 680HP cartridge, key correction and a S/PDIF digital output for direct connection into your computer soundcard or CD recorder. With its new line of turntables, Stanton has definitely upped the ante in the market, presenting a significant challenge to the continued dominance of the 1200 in the world of professional DJing. For those seeking a deck with state-of-the-art features, rock-solid construction and a well-thought-out design — all at a reasonable price — this might be just the turntable to take you to the next level.
T.120C > $399
Pros: High-torque motor. Adjustable start and brake times. User-replaceable light. Sturdy construction.
Cons: Redundant power buttons.