The Pioneer PL-510 is a high-quality, direct-drive, manual turntable that was released in 1976. It retailed for just under $200 and was Pioneer’s lowest priced direct drive model at the time. It featured innovative technology and thoughtful design elements to deliver great audio fidelity and ease-of-use for vinyl enthusiasts.
The faux wood vinyl covered base and two tone top give the PL-510 an elegant and minimalist look. There are only a few controls so the layout is simple and uncluttered. The vinyl covering the base does tend to peel over the years but fortunately some new veneer can really make this turntable shine.
The PL-510 has a servo-controlled direct-drive motor system. Unlike belt-drive turntables, the PL-510’s motor rotates the platter directly, eliminating speed variations caused by belt slippage. The motor uses a brushless DC design along with Hall elements to precisely control speed. This results in extremely low wow and flutter of less than 0.03%, and an outstanding signal-to-noise ratio over 68dB.
The direct-drive system provides multiple benefits beyond just speed stability. By coupling the motor directly to the platter, motor vibrations are not transferred to the playback surface. Additionally, there is no idler wheel to introduce low-frequency noise. Every component of the PL-510 was designed to minimize noise and vibration. The turntable uses special insulators made of butyl and natural rubber to dampen resonance. Both the platter and tonearm float independently on springs to isolate them from the chassis.
The PL-510 is a fully manual table so the arm will not lift or return after a record is done playing. So, no falling asleep with the record still playing.
Complementing the quiet, smooth rotating platter is the PL-510’s sensitive S-shaped tonearm. The lightweight, low-mass design allows the tonearm to accurately track warped records. An angular bearing is used at the pivot point to minimize friction and enhance tracing ability. Anti-skating and lateral balancer features further improve tracking performance.
The PL-510 doesn’t just sound good, it’s very easy to use as well. The PL-510’s controls are ergonomically arranged on a single aluminum panel for one-handed operation. This includes speed selection, fine speed adjustment, and the tonearm lift. A convenient headshell stand assists with cartridge changes, and the original plug-in aluminum headshell makes swapping easy.
Additional touches on the PL-510 include a strobe light to precisely dial in platter speeds, a rubber turntable mat to dampen resonances, and a direct-reading counterweight system to accurately set tracking force.
The Pioneer PL-510 has only a couple common issues. One is that the vinyl peels over the years and can become unsightly. The other is that the speed control potentiometers can get dirty over time and cause the speed to fluctuate. This is usually easily solved by cleaning them with DeOxit or similar electrical contact cleaner. You can see the ‘pots’ in the picture below. They are the two round, silver/brass colored, nickel sized items on the left side with the orange, yellow, brown, and green wires going to them. They usually have a small hole on the side in which cleaner can be sprayed. Then the speed control knob (on the top of the table) is worked back and forth manually until it loosens up. This will usually remedy any speed issues.
PL-510 vs PL-510A
The PL-510A is a later revision of the PL-510. The ‘A’ version has slightly better specs but is otherwise very similar. The tonearms are the same and the only obvious difference is the platter. The 510A has a slanted edge to the platter with machined strobe hash marks. The 510 has a straight edge to the platter and silk screened strobe hash marks.
There is also a PL-510S which is the same as the PL-510 but with a silver/gray colored base instead of faux wood vinyl.
It is a very good turntable, looks very nice, has a fantastic arm.
The speed adjustment pots are finicky and need cleaning or sweeping occasionally.
Best suited for low-medium compliance cartridges. It gets a whole lot of things right and nothing wrong.
So clear and focused, and with a huge soundstage.
If you’re looking for a manual turntable that is direct drive then the Pioneer PL-510 (or PL-510A) is definitely worth considering. It’s built well and since it’s manual it does not have a lot of things that can go wrong which makes it very reliable. Overall, a good choice, especially for those new to vintage turntables.