Pioneer PLX 500: DJ Turntable, audiophile enhancements

Summary: Pioneer PLX 500 turntable upgrades. This project included headshell, cartridge and stylus replacement, tonearm re-wire, mods to bypass built in phono stage and installation the of RCA and ground terminal posts.

As things evolved, a new platter and phono stage was added. This project provides great upgrade path suggestions.

White Pioneer PLX 500 Turntable - stock photo

The Turntable

Due to budget and the necessity of wife approval on my selection for a turntable, I went for the Pioneer PLX 500 White. Not the greatest turntable in the world, but I love its looks, my wife is happy and it suits my tinkering needs just fine. 

First things first, the turntable. You can find a lot of information on the web on its pluses and shortfalls of the PLX 500, but there are a few things that I aught to point out. At a retail price of £299, one would be foolish to expect audiophile quality. This turntable is aimed at the hobbyist DJ and is pretty good (at its price point) for general home listening with a half decent amplifier/receiver.  Some DJs do use it for gigs, although the preference for that purpose would be its more imposing sibling, the PLX 1000. It has a phono and line out switch for those who lack a phono input on their amplifier and also a USB socket for digital recordings on a PC. The stylus is ok to listen to, but is not amazing and it needs a fairly heavy tonearm weight for DJ scratching. I have zero intention of doing that to my records. It comes with a fixed (soldered in) RCA phono cable attached, a fairly mediocre cheapo one. 

I wanted a turntable with some flexibility, i.e. a removable platter, headshell, tonearm and its balance weight. I also wanted adjustable anti-skating and pitch control. As the PLX 500 is a copy of a Technics SL 1200 series, there are some crossover parts. Hopefully that means spare parts aplenty. To my mind this all pointed to future upgrading potential - up to a point (of course).

Silver Cambridge Audio, Alva Solo, Moving Magnet, phono stage (pre-amplifier).

Add a phono stage

My first purchase was to add a Cambridge Audio, Alva Solo, Moving Magnet, phono stage (pre-amplifier) to capture the warm vinyl sound and remove any unnecessary noise.  This enabled me to switch the turntable line out to phono, bypassing the turntable's internal amplification. Once I hooked the phono stage up, the improvements in sound were obvious. More body, more warmth and more alive. 

Silver Ortofon SH-4 tonearm headshell and a Ortofon 2M blue, moving magnet cartridge/stylus.
Small image of Ortofon 2M blue cartridge
5N Pure Silver Litz headshell to tonearm wire and connector
Solder contact points of tonearm wire

Headshell, Cart and Stylus

Next steps on the journey, adding a new headshell (Ortofon SH-4), cartridge & stylus (2M blue) and new cartridge to headshell wires (5N Pure Silver Litz lead wire). This led to improvements in detail and clarity. I was now hearing elements within the music that I have never heard in 30 years of listening to the same tracks.

Large image of Pioneer PLX 500 turtable with a Prince love symbol,Rainbow Children slip mat

Raising the platter height (with slip mats)

When doing my setup, i.e. cart/stylus alignment, tonearm weight and anti-skate adjustments (tutorial coming soon), it turned out that although my tonearm height was at the lowest setting, it was not low enough. As I could not lower it any further, I instead raised the platter. Well sort of, I added slip mats. A felt mat on top of the original felt mat and a clear acrylic mat on top of that. The advantage of acrylic, apparently, is that it reduces vibration and also static. Another plus is that you can see my lovely Prince - The Rainbow Children slip mat through it!

Under tonearm view of tonearm wire exiting the tonearm
Internal view of turntable showing tonearm PCB.
Internal turntable view showing tonearm wires connected to RCA plugs

Tonearm re-wire, case mod and new sockets (RCA and ground)

I read somewhere about Technics SL 1200 replacement of RCA cables and I could not stop thinking about the possible improvements that I could get from removing the crappy one that was fixed in my turntable. I opened it up and hooked up a Van Damme pro interconnect cable using nothing more than electrical tape (left of the three pics). So I now had Van Damme interconnect cables (Silver Plated, OFC Cable) from turntable to stage and another pair stage to amp (a Yamaha v677 - AV receiver).

Improvements were minimal. So I decided to get rid of my electrical tape mod and take a plunge. This involved a tonearm rewire, soldering and drilling. 

I de-soldered the existing tonearm wire from the printed circuit board and also from the cartridge connectors using a soldering iron. I pulled the wires out with trailing cotton thread attached so that I could attach the new wires to the thread and pull them back through. Next I connected the new wires (5N Pure Silver Litz 30 AWG) to the cartridge connectors and attached the other end to RCA socket terminals (pure copper, gold plated, female panel mount), effectively by-passing the the turntable's circuit board. The tonearm ground wire (usually black) I extended to connect with the chassis' ground, to ensure that the tonearm was grounded and avoid the inevitable buzz. Next I drilled holes in the casing to accommodate the RCA sockets and also a ground post. Sockets were fixed into the casing, shrink sleeves were shrunk,  I closed everything up and prayed.

White Pioneer PLX 500 DJ turntable, playing a blue record
RCA plugs with connector cables connected
Rear view of RCA plugs.

The results

Stunning, just stunning. 3d sound from stereo speakers, even greater separation, all instruments are distinct, clean and the sound of the bass - wow! Definition, roundness... I haven't sufficient words to describe, but please believe me when I tell you that the quality is miles ahead of where I started. 

Further reading illuminated the reason for some of these gains. The turntable's internal amp has a number of capacitors, resistors etc, to remove noise, including hum from other electrical components for example the USB, Analog to digital conversion setup. Crude removal of noise may also remove sounds that you might desire, stripping away subtle nuances of sound. My pre-amp already does a pretty good job at filtering out what I don't want. Minimising connections and contacts also leads to improvements. I can now listen to the sound 'pure direct', bypassing my main amp if I choose. Often I choose to do just that, the quality is that good.

A few observations of note, the turntable is now much less forgiving of crackles and pops on the vinyl. Because I have bypassed the turntable's internal amp, I have also bypassed its on/off switch. So from cartridge, via tonearm to phono stage is always connected/live (not an issue for me). This is not a turntable in premium audiophile territory, but I am ecstatic with the enhancements that I do have and more importantly - the learning opportunities that this project has presented. The next project is to modify and upgrade my speakers. 

In-depth project step by step details will be available on the projects page (as soon as I get around to updating).

From me to you - Tesfa



More enhancements to come... (I will update this page soon)

- Funk Firm Achromat platter upgrade

- Headshell upgrade (Funk Firm Cobra)

- Brii Rodson custom turntable isolation platform added

- Michell coned feet added

- Funk Firm Houdini Cartridge Decoupler added

- Spartan 10 phonostage added


I have been asked to mention my other kit, i.e. amplifier, speakers and speaker setup. I will also add this in my next update.

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