The Evolution of Record Players: From Early Beginnings to Modern times — Part Three

5 min readNov 16, 2022

The past two decades have been a major turning point for the music industry worldwide. With the rise of digital media, music has gone from being consumed through physical means such as cassette tapes, vinyl records, or CDs to being compressed into a virtual audio file called an MP3. This revolution has changed the way people consume music, making it more convenient and easy to access.

RIO 100 — Diamond Multimedia

The audio equipment industry found itself in the exact same position as the recording industry when new digital consumption technology came out. So they tried to keep up with the market by coming up with new, attractive ways to consume audio.

MP3 players for DJs

The MP3 format was created in the mid-90’s and quickly gained popularity due to its compression standard that allowed for high-quality audio playback without taking up significant storage space on devices.

The first portable MP3 players were developed by Korean and North American manufacturers and quickly became popular due to their affordability and portability. Today, there are many different types of MP3 players available on the market, with various features and price points to meet the needs of different consumers.

Pioneer CDJ-200

It is evident that professional audio equipment manufacturers who were leading the market at the time, such as Pioneer and Denon, scrambled to find ways to incorporate the new format into their equipment aimed at clubs. Pioneer, who had already released several groundbreaking peripherals for home use, such as the first DVD player, and also dominated the DJ equipment market, quickly introduced the first MP3-compatible CDJ model, the CDJ-200.

And the development of the models didn’t stop there; while the CDJ-200 only read MP3 recorded on CD, its later models added USB compatibility, making it easier for DJs to use a USB stick for storing and playing their tunes.

With advancing technology, the way we consumed music changed rapidly. By the end of the first decade of the 2000s, MP3 was no longer just an alternative- it became the primary way to listen to music. Vinyl became a collector’s item and CDs went virtually extinct.

Enjoying your favourite music became extremely easy: all you had to do was press a button on your computer or phone and let the music play.

Digital controllers for DJs

At the same time, some manufacturers saw that the passion for music and the new technologies for digital software opened a gap in the audio equipment market. So, in 2004, Hercules launched the first DJing controller on the market, which incorporated a two-channel mixer and a pair of jogs. This allowed DJs to control the selection and tempo of the tracks selected by DJs in conjunction with digital software.

Hercules DJ Console mk1

Also wanting to jump on board, iconic brand Vestax launched its digital controller designed specifically for DJing soon after. Later, new models and brands emerged and gained significant market leadership, with Native Instruments’ Traktor and Pioneer’s new DDJ controller series coming out on top.

When digital controllers arrived, it didn’t take long before they started making waves in the DJing scene. They were easier to use and more practical than CDJs, making the hobby more accessible to a whole new group of music lovers. In addition to that, the lower price point made them more accessible to a lot of people.

Along with the equipment, new software for DJing was also being developed. This allowed DJs to perform without the use of external hardware. Applications like Traktor, Serato, and Virtual DJ became more accessible to those interested in learning how to mix records, all of it made possible by the ubiquity of personal computers, laptops, and even smartphones and tablets compatible with music software.

Vestax VCM-100

The Sync-button

Despite the fact that digital controllers offer portability and practicality, they have not been able to dethrone the lineage standard of the old and classic CDJs and record players. Even though they are easy and accessible to use, the tradition of equipment that allows the DJ more direct manipulation and contact with the music itself, continues to be synonymous with quality, prestige, and mastery of the craft.

The debate around digital controllers and the use of the “sync” button is still very much alive among DJing professionals. This tool allows the DJ to focus less on beat-matching and more on the mix itself, which can be beneficial at first. However, if this feature is used from the beginning of the learning process, it can create a dependency and make it more difficult to learn essential skills. The main issue is not the technology itself, but the order in which the art is learned (through CDJs or digital controllers).

Pioneer CDJ-3000

Final Thoughts

Digital controllers aren’t just functional instruments, but also serious tools for creative expression. The technology can be a great asset in the process of learning how to DJ and developing interesting new skills. Which is why many renowned artists have begun to use digital controllers in their performances to create highly innovative performances.

The further technology progresses, the more the three formats — record players, CDJs, and controllers — become compatible. Pioneer’s latest model, the CDJ-3000, allows complete integration with its Rekordbox software, and eliminates the need for Compact Discs, while Reloop’s most recent turntable models feature integration with digital software, and can even act as MIDI controllers.

There is no doubt that technology is always changing and evolving. It is hard to predict what the next big transformation will be, but it is safe to say that when it arrives, looking at the technological progressions of the past, it will undoubtedly revolutionize the current standard.

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