Vestax has ruled the high-end DJ mixer market for several years, and not the company has set its sights on conquering the the DJ turntable market. The Technics SL-1200MKII has remained the industry standard for more than two decades; Vestax's new PDX-d3S MKII may be the first turntable to seriously challenge the SL-1200's dominance.
The PDX-d3S MKII's secret weapon is its Anti-Skipping Tone arm System (ASTS). The tone arm's short, straight design eliminates the need for antiskating adjustment and enables the needle to remain firmly seated in the record's groove, even during hard scratching. ASTS is the flagship feature of Vestax's new line of turntables, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it wasn't just a marketing gimmick-The design really works. The S-shaped tone arm on an SL-1200 tends to cause the needle to wobble during scratching, but the needle on the PDX-d3S remains steady even during the most vigorous vinyl workouts. It didn't take much time to be blown away by this feature. I put the Vestax through a rigorous amount of testing, even hauling out an old, well-worn needle that used to skip frequently. The needle didn't skip on the Vestax, no matter how sloppy my technique was.
SCRATCH OR MIX?Although the ASTS is mainly of interest to the turntablist-style DJ, the PDX-d3S MKII offers plenty of other useful features for all other DJ applications. Vestax has obviously paid close attention to how DJs use their turntables, and the company has added many functions and features that address oversights and omissions in other turntable designs. The user-configurable, quartz-locked, digitally controlled pitch control features a traditional sliding pitch fader and an accompanying button that can be used to adjust the range to plus/minus 3, 6, or 12 percent. A large red LED shows the current pitch setting in 0.1 percent increments. A small four-way joystick called the Stick Controller is useful for making temporary pitch adjustments in plus/minus 1, 2, 3, or 6 percent increments (up and down) or plus/minus 50 percent (left to right). The adjustment applies only as long as you hold the joystick; when you let go, it returns to the center position. The joystick's smaller increments were especially handy for "nudging" a drifting beat mix back into sync, but I found the plus/minus 50 percent adjustment too extreme to be of any practical use.
The control panel also features a motor off button that kills the motor, causing the platter to slowly wind down to a stop. The quartz-lock switch instantly returns the turntable to standard pitch. There is also a reverse button that should open up many new mixing and scratching possibilities, allowing the turntable to play in reverse with all of the pitch-control functions still available.
Phono-level RCA output jacks are supplied instead of hard-wired output cables, as found on the SL-1200. This makes it much easier to replace the cables when they become damaged. The turntable can also control the settings on several other PDX-d3S MKII units via an optional sync cable.
DRASTIC PLASTICAlthough the turntable is solidly built, Vestax cut corners in some of the less crucial areas of the unit's design. The tone arm rest is made of plastic, and the rest on our demo unit was broken during shipping. The turntable cabinet is made of hard-coated, woodlike, medium-density fiberboard, and it does not feel as robust as the Technics' die-cast aluminum housing. The PDX-d3S MKII weighs less than an SL-1200, but although the reduced weight may be attractive to mobile jocks, the lighter construction may not stand up to the abuse delivered by a DJ on the go.
Also, the Vestax unit lacks the dense rubber antivibration material featured on the SL-1200's underside, which helps eliminate rumble and feedback in loud club settings. The platter is lighter, yet the turntable's startup time is marginally slower than my 10-year-old 1200's. No plastic dust cover is provided, which means you'll need to purchase one if you want to keep the turntable dust-free when it's not in use. One final criticism: the PDX-d3S costs more than the already expensive Technics, which may prevent more conservative DJs from straying from their tried-and-true SL-1200s.
TURNABOUTDespite being a longtime, die-hard SL-1200 user, I was very impressed with this turntable. Overall, the PDX-d3S is a joy to use. Its pitch-control features represent a significant advance over the traditional Technics-style analog fader, and the ASTS is truly amazing. Although it was hard to test the turntable's robustness in the brief time I spent with it, the features alone hint that it will be around for some time. Vestax is heading in the right direction, and although it wasn't the first to market some of the features found on the PDX-d3S, it has created a total package that represents an evolutionary step for DJ turntables. A
VESTAX PDX-d3S MKII digitally controlled turntable $839
PROS: The Anti-Skipping Tone arm System (ASTS) provides reliable, nonskip tracking. User-definable pitch fade/bend controls. Phono-level RCA output jacks.
CONS: Slightly slower startup speed. Expensive.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 4
Contact: tel. (954) 926-6622; fax (954) 926-3304; e-mail email@example.com; Web www.vestaxdj.com