Turntable scratching with vinyl records is one of those old-school things a DJ can do that never gets old and has long been accepted as an art form in its own right. It requires skill, practice and talent, but having the right equipment is also a crucial part of the equation. And one of the small but crucial pieces you need to get right is your record needle (AKA stylus) since it will directly influence your sound.
But before we can look into what the best DJ needles for scratching out there actually are, let’s talk about what makes a good scratching needle. And before even that let’s check out some dank-ass scratching to get us in the mood!
Scratching Needles & That High Quality Sound
First of all, you need high quality sound. It’s quite probable that you already know that different needles can sound quite different and that’s often due to their frequency characteristics.
Some needles are flat which means that they have a relatively even output throughout the whole audible sound spectrum, while others might emphasize different parts of it. Despite the fact that a flat frequency range is usually considered to be of higher quality, deciding what is best is actually a matter of taste.
At the end of the day, DJs are artists and choosing your palette is your personal prerogative. Just be mindful of the options. The frequency range might be a matter of choice, but as far as the output levels are concerned, you usually want something capable of higher volumes for your scratching needs.
Moving on to the more practical aspects of selecting your next scratching needle, we need to look at what it needs to do. Scratching is actually one of the most demanding things a DJ can do with their turntables and your stylus need to be able to handle that well.
An essential part of that is being able to handle backspins with flying colors. Some needles might be great for playing vinyl and mixing, but if they don’t sound properly on the backspin, they are just not cut out for this. Besides that, nothing will hinder your performance as groove jumping and bad cut and tear handling. Your needle should be responsible for as few unwanted sound artifacts as possible which should preferably be none.
For our DJ scratching needles, we also need to look into durability, serviceability and price. As mentioned already, scratching is a demanding activity for both for your needles and your records. So you need a needle that would provide reasonable durability for both itself and your valuable vinyl.
Some needles might last longer, but wear your grooves faster while others might act the opposite way. It’s up to you to decide what is more important and which one you are willing to change more often. Additionally some needles are easier to bend while carrying around, setting up or operating than others, so their maintenance would be more difficult and they would be less reliable. And of course there is the price factor which doesn’t really require deeper examination.
So we know basically what we’re talking about, now let’s look at some of the best models available on the market.
Many DJs consider this their go-to scratching needle and it surely has it’s merits and is a product that has been held in high regard since the 90s. These needles sound nice, track well and don’t wear out your records too much. It’s an industry standard already and hits all the right spots for a huge number of DJs. Additionally, it has a really loud output, it’s stable in the grove, perfect on the backspin and robust in general.
Here’s how the Shure M44-7 sounds in action…classic.
If you have to look for any shortcomings you might find that the spherical head might miss some of the finest details, especially at the highest frequencies, but that’s a pretty common trade-off when dealing with scratching needles and pretty much a non-issue in that context. Additionally, this is not a very expensive needle and proves to be great value for money.
Now this is another classic product from Shure with a bit of a cult following that might be a great asset to any DJ. And on top of this, it looks cool and is one of the most recognizable cartages out there. It sounds great, tracks well, preserves your records and can handle the backspins, but it’s more of an all-rounder than a specialist and its output levels are actually lower.
So if you want a versatile needle that can handle scratching as well as other things, the Whitelabel might be what you need, but if you want a needle that excels at it, you would be better of with something else.
This is a great needle that’s geared towards scratching in particular. This is a very stable needle with a very nicely colored frequency range with a midrange accent that some DJs really love. As a needle that has been designed specifically for that purpose, it handles backspins with perfection, stays in the groove and its slim design allows the DJ to see more of their vinyl which might actually be a killer feature. And, besides being functional, the looks of this needle are unique, memorable and attractive.
Here’s a quick overview by one of the best DJ’s ever to rock out with the vinyl, DJ Q-Bert himself…
Ortofon’s Scratch series has a few other models like the enigmatic Concorde and they are all great, but also cost a bit more than the rest. Additionally, they might put a little bit more wear on your records than the M44-7s and their stylus is easier to bend while carrying around. Still, if you are willing to spent a bit more, this might be the best option available.
Thanks for reading!