Once upon a time, Technics were the only name in town for pro DJs. This was largely thanks to Technics revolutionising turntable technology with a design that was so good, it changed little from the 1970s versions right up to the day the last model rolled off the production lines in 2010. The SL1200 and its various models are still the number one choice for many DJs.
Times have changed though, and while the original Technics design still holds its own today, there is a new generation of turntables available that are more than ready to give the SL1200 some stiff competition when it comes to features and new technology. One such contender to the crown is the Stanton STR8.150, which uses its relative youth, compared with the old king, to its advantage — thanks to some rather clever tricks up its sleeve. The STR8.150 is a heavyweight contender in every sense of the word. Not only is this turntable packed to the gills with professional features, but it also weighs an absolute tonne.
Unpacking this beast from its packaging is a tricky affair, especially if a trip to the chiropractor is to be avoided. This weight bears testament to the build quality of the STR8.150, as well as being one of the key components used to provide the fantastic anti-feedback performance this turntable boasts. The design of the STR8.150 is strikingly similar to the Technics SL1200, and Stanton have chosen to improve upon the features of the Technics design rather than go for a revolutionary re-invention of the wheels of steel. This is a sensible approach, made possible thanks to the patents on the SL1200 reaching their 25 year limit — allowing other companies to use these same designs without fear of legal retribution.
While the platter and motor look identical to the SL1200, the motor is in fact much more powerful and gives 4.5kg of torque. This helps speed up the stop/start time as well as improving cueing performance, but the familiar strobe speed dots on the side of the turntable are there and also provide that right amount of grip needed to slow the platter down when nudging a track back into time in the mix. The platter’s performance is fantastic and the extra torque is immediately noticeable in a pleasing way, making mixing more accurate and scratching a joy as well as making it all but impossible to stop the platter moving during the course of normal mixing and scratching.
A straight tone-arm is one of the most noticeable departures from the original SL1200 design and is also where the STR8.150 gets its name from. Another welcome departure from tradition is the fact that the STR8.150 comes complete with a high-quality cartridge and needle, which is something of a rarity when it comes to professional level turntables.
The cartridges supplied are Stanton’s 680HP, complete with a headshell that features a nifty two gram weight that can be screwed on or off. The tone-arm height adjustment and anti-skate adjustment also borrow heavily from the SL1200 design and work just as well as the original thanks to their lovely build quality. The control surface of the STR8.150 is uncluttered and mirrors the Technics design, with a few notable additions.
The pitch-fader is selectable between eight, 25 and 50% via a large button at the bottom of the fader, and while the action of the fader is very smooth — fantastic for making fine pitch adjustments — it does have a little wobble on the shaft, and the plastic fader cap feels a little cheap. The start and brake speed of the platter are adjustable via two small knobs, a vast improvement over the SL1200 which required partial dismantling of the turntable to make these adjustments, and a reverse button found next to these is also a handy feature — perfect for checking vinyl for satanic messages recorded backwards onto tracks.
The Key Lock button is perhaps the most revolutionary feature to be found on the STR8.150, a function that is made possible by the fact that this is a digital turntable bringing a feature normally reserved for CD players and Digital Vinyl Systems such as Traktor into vinyl DJs' hands. The overall build quality of the STR8.150 is excellent, and all of its features come together to provide great all-round performance. The heavy weight of the unit combined with the well designed feet and properly engineered tone-arm give fantastic anti-skip performance, especially when scratching, and the sound quality is also fantastic.
There is an extra stop/start button placed at the top left of the control surface for battle-style placement of the turntable, and the needle illumination light is replaceable in a matter of seconds. The digital functions of this turntable further add to its desirability, with phono-style output connectors that offer switchable phono or line level output via the back panel, as well as a co-axial digital output — making this the perfect turntable for converting vinyl to digital formats. While the STR8.150 gets it just right when it comes to features and performance, it is by no means perfect, with a few components letting down the otherwise excellent build quality.
The pitch-fader feels a little wobbly and lacks the smooth and firm feeling that Technics aficionados love so well, the buttons are plastic, and the action is a little loose. While these are minor niggles, they do detract from the professional finish on an otherwise excellent turntable. The other big problem that the STR8.150 faces is the fact that it is not a Technics SL1200, and while this newer contender to the throne’s performance is as good as — if not better than — the SL1200, it does feel different enough to make it an issue when playing gigs, as Technics turntables are still the most likely to be found in DJ booths the world over.
Overall, the STR8.150 is a fantastically designed and very well-made turntable that will perform like a star, but because of the difference in feel to the Technics it will only suit a niche market of DJs who will not find this an issue — scratch DJs taking their equipment with them to gigs (or lucky enough to be able to demand them on the rider), bedroom DJs, and the most dedicated mobile DJs who are willing to put up with their huge weight for their great performance. While the STR8.150 is superior to a Technics SL1200 on paper, the fact is that most DJs — especially those new to the game — will pick the old skool master simply because they want their turntables at home to have the same performance and feel as the ones they will be using to rock the dancefloor in a DJ booth.