- Lively, detailed and exciting sound
- Solid build
- Decent upgradeability
- Captive cabling
- Slight lack of bass
- Slightly brash appearance
What is the Numark TT250USB?
The Numark TT250USB is a direct drive turntable aimed squarely at the budding DJ and to this end it comes with a selection of features that are firmly designed to help it function ‘in da club.’ However, it also has all the features that you might reasonably expect a home turntable to have on it as well. Given that the Numark is yours for £220/$330, this asks some interesting questions about whether it is an idealstarter deck for home use as well.
The thinking is solid enough. Some home audio brands make turntables from a relatively similar price – £250/$375 or so – but when you start to look at the relative features that the Numark offers, they can look somewhat parsimonious by comparison. Of course, there are some understandable misgivings about cheap pro audio turntables – there is a reason why mint condition 12 inch copies of many seminal club records are so expensive – so does the Numark deliver at a domestic level as well as a semi pro one. It’s time to fire up this wheel of steel and see what it can do.
The TT250 sits toward the upper echelons of the Numark range and takes the form of a direct drive unsuspended turntable with electric speed control. This is fairly conventional in terms of what you should expect from a DJ deck but the ability to select speed via a button rather than moving a belt on a pulley is quite a deluxe option at the price. This is mated to an S-shaped tonearm that uses a separate headshell. Like a number of affordable turntables, the Numark has a phono stage built into the chassis which means you don’t have to budget for one as part of your initial buy in.
This means that the TT250USB is – on paper at least – staggering value for money. The closest turntable that AVForums has looked at in terms of specification is the Audio Technica AT-LP5 which also combines direct drive, electronic speed adjustment and a detachable headshell type tonearm (J shaped rather than S shaped in this instance) with an internal phono stage. To be completely clear, the Audio Technica has some finishing touches and construction options that aid it over the Numark but the TT250USB is over £100/$150 cheaper than the Audio Technica.
Neither is this down to the Numark being stipped to the bone anywhere else either. The TT250USB comes with a lid supplied as part of the asking price and as might be expected of a deck aimed at the DJ, it has a selection of features for them as well. The platter is marked to strobe at given speeds and a red running light that will confirm that the speed is correct. This is mated to a +/- 10% pitch control that has a recess at 0% to allow you to easily return it the ‘correct’ speed.
Impressively, Numark isn’t done there. The speed selection is separate to the start/stop control for simplified operation and there is a cueing light which can be popped up via a button just in front of the platter. If you wanted to install the TT250USB in a booth at a club, there’s no reason why it won’t do the job in spec terms at least.
There are some other interesting features as well. The tonearm looks to be able to handle the same sort of selection of cartridges as other affordable models. The counterweight has both the mass and the range of movement to allow for the arm to be set to track at the weight required. Much more unusual is that the whole arm can be rasied and lowered through six positions to give it more clearance. This is presumably for cartridges like the Ortofon Concorde which slots directly into the headshell socket and has a fairly high clearance. It will also allow for the arm to be set to better work with other cartridges though, which is decidedly unusual at the price.
The cartridge that Numark supplies with the TT250USB is called the Groovetool and is fairly conventional in appearance and design. There is a slightly worrisome shortage of information on what settings are advised for it and the design won’t be as robust as some slightly more expensive pro carts but it looks and feels acceptable for the asking price. After a little experimentation, I found it tracked most happily at a whisker over 2 grams.
The final feature that may be of interest on the Numark is a USB output that enables the TT250USB to send a 44.1kHz signal to a computer for encoding. Given that the Numark should technically be one of a pair and thus can’t send a complete mix from its USB connection, I’m not sure what the pro uses of it are but if you wanted to do a quick transcode of a record, it is in a position to get the job done.
Taken at face value, there’s a lot to like about the Numark. The design isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination – the captive leads feel cheap and due to being captive, can’t really be changed and the chassis isn’t really the sort of inert and non resonant monster that a true DJ great ought to possess. The main point that you have to keep dragging yourself back to though is that the Numark is available for £220/$330 and nothing available for anything near this price convincingly addresses these criticisms in a meaningful way.
The Numark is designed to look and feel like a DJ deck and as a result is lacks some of the minimalist elegance that some home audio rivals can achieve at the price. You can’t really have a platter with strobe marks, a light for it and the other supporting hardware without the end result coming across as a little fussy but for all this, the Numark is a fairly good looking piece of kit. It looks like it means business and has a basic sense of purpose that I rather like.
It is also easy to setup and use. The Groovetool comes fitted to the headshell and while my innate OCD compelled me to make a very slight alignment adjustment, it was good enough. Everything else, slots, pops and slides into place in a perfectly logical way. Nothing here would be intimidating for a first timer and you don’t have the faff of fitting a belt either. Once bolted together, the design of the Numark is such that it’s unlikely to drift out of setup again.
Nothing here would be intimidating for a first timer and you don’t have the faff of fitting a belt either
How was the it tested?
As the phono stage of the Numark can’t be bypassed, the TT250USB was connected directly to an RCA input on a Naim Supernait 2 which was in turn connected to a pair of Neat Momentum 4i floorstanders. The Naim was connected to an Isotek Evo 3 Sigmas mains condtioner while the Numark was connected to an Evo 3 Aquarius supply that is usually used for AV duties but took the strain on account of the Sigmas having all its sockets in use. Everything was placed on a Quadraspire QAVX rack and the test material used was vinyl.
Before any discussion is made of the absolute audio performance of the Numark, it is important to make mention that contrary to my initial concerns, you can set it up and have it behave in a way that is completely in keeping with a similarly priced home deck. It will track happily and consistently at 2 grams and the arm moves in a manner that is completely confidence inspiring. I’m quite happy to admit to a degree of fear in this regard and it might be down to habitually using more expensive equipment but some pro audio equipment is only truly functional running at weights that are bit uncomfortable in terms of record wear.
With this out of the way, the equally good news is that the Numark puts in a convincing if not perfect performance. Straight out-of-the-box with everything brand new, the presentation is on the bright side and a quick listen to Revenge by the Eurythmics is prone to sounding a little hot across the upper registers with something of a sibilance issue on some notes and phrases. This calms down after a few hours but the Numark is never going to be the sort of device that produces the sort of warm, syrupy sound that apparently some vinyl converts are after.
Instead, the performance is consistently lively and exciting. With there being plenty of treble energy, the Numark finds enough of the information in the grooves and manages to present it in a fairly logical and clear way. Compared to the Audio Technica LP5, it doesn’t have the same ability to open out a record and large scale music never has quite the same imposing sense of scale to it but the TT250USB never sounds congested or overly confused.
And more importantly, it really grooves when you want it to. A nostalgic blast of the Shamen’s En-Tact sees the Numark in its element. There is a real sense of energy to the performance and the rock solid pitch stability endowed by the direct drive makes it a fine partner for music of this nature. By the same token, the bass response – even with the heavyweight pairing of the Supernait 2 and Neats at its disposal – is never truly seismic but there is plenty of detail on offer and it manages to sound quick and well defined.
The good news doesn’t end there either. The fact that the phono stage can’t be bypassed will limit the absolute upgrade stretch that can be applied to the Numark but it does a far better job than you might reasonably expect at the price. Gain levels are good and the extraneous noise it generates at the same time is very low indeed – in fact the Numark is slightly quieter than either the Audio Technica andProject Essential phono USB based on some crude level checks run at the time that those units passed through. As a piece of hardware, the internal stage is likely to be good enough to support a cartridge update, if you wanted to, which would likely cure some of the top end sharpness that can still creep in with poorer recordings.
I had originally planned to try the Numark with a different cartridge and Henley Designs, the UK distributor for Ortofon has kindly supplied a 2M Red for this purpose and future reviews but in this case, it hasn’t proved practical. The wiring in the headshell to the Groovetool cartridge is very tightly arranged indeed and having given it a quick prod, I’m not completely sure it would be possible to put everything back the way it was afterwards which is something that AVForums prides itself on doing with review samples so I decided against it. Best results would probably be gained by swapping the cartridge and the headshell over as a pair – this would add between £10/$15 and £20/$30 to the costs but give you a clean sheet to work with.
This isn’t the only area where the Numark could be improved after purchase either. The felt mat could be substituted for something a little nicer and putting a little extra isolation under the unit would also be beneficial. There are affordable models that possibly have a little more stretch in their basic design but that the Numark has any scope for aftermarket improvements is impressive in itself.
Importantly, it really grooves when you want it to
My entire time with the Numark TT250USB has been a surprisingly encouraging one. This is not a perfect turntable by any stretch of the imagination. The top end can be a little aggressive, it doesn’t have enormous bass and it is a stretch to call it pretty but the basic performance that this unit offers is really rather good for the modest outlay. What makes the Numark worthy of note is that for sustained periods of time, it did a fine job of conveying the benefits of vinyl – a fluid natural and engaging sound that is easy and enjoyable to listen to. Judged by what it costs, what you get and what it does, the Numark is a veritable bargain and entirely worthy of recommendation.