Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Between the 1960s and the CD’s short-lived conquest of recorded media, Dual turntables were a key component of many stereo systems. Duals were well constructed, sharp looking, and did a credible job of transferring sound from the record groove. For decades, Duals have been my turntable of choice, starting with the entry-level automatic 1212 in 1970 and running through to my current reference, a Dual CS5000 semi-automatic (it lifts the arm when it gets to the end of the side) that I bought used in the 1990s.

The name Dual comes from one of the firm’s early innovations. In the 1920s, they built record players with dual motors: electric for in-town use and spring-wound for use in the country.

Dual

Over the years, the company has experienced highs (developing the first automatic turntable worthy of its name in 1963, the 1009, which was followed by the 1219, 1229, and countless others) and lows (several changes of ownership in the 1980s and ’90s and bankruptcy in the 2000s). But in 2018, the firm was purchased by Dr. Josef Zellner, who had been Dual’s export manager in the 1990s. He and a crew of fellow Dual-ites (Dualities?) revived the brand with several new products, one of which, the CS 518 ($799.99, all prices USD), is the subject of this review.

Description

The CS 518 is a turntable of moderate size, measuring 17.1″ × 14.4″ × 5.7″ with its included dust cover closed. The unit has a very mid-century look: a basic black plinth made of MDF covered in matte black vinyl; the platter is die-cast aluminum with a black rubber mat; the arm and associated hardware are black and silver. It is supported by 2.4″ feet outfitted with internal elastomer damping to keep external vibrations from affecting the turntable’s performance.

The only top-side controls are a knob that turns the turntable on/off, the speed selector (33, 45, and 78), and the cueing lever. On the back panel, from left to right, are a small slide switch that activates the onboard phono preamplifier (further details below), two gold-plated RCA output jacks, and a ground/earth thumbscrew. Then, to the extreme right, there’s an input jack for the wall-wart outboard power supply. Unlike most vintage Dual turntables, the CS 518 is totally manual.

Dual

The turntable is belt-driven by a DC servo-controlled motor. Dual claims a DIN-weighted wow-and-flutter specification of less than 0.1%—a good spec that’s similar to other turntables in this price category. The tonearm uses Dual’s classic twin-gimbal mount, which maximizes tracking ability. It has an effective length of 8.7″ and features a removable head shell—a great feature if you want to experiment with multiple cartridges.

The unit is supplied with a good cartridge, the Ortofon 2M Red (retail $99), which comes with an elliptical stylus. The 2M Red is quite popular with many manufacturers, as I’ve reviewed it on turntables at this general price point from U-Turn Audio (the Orbit Special), NAD (the C 588), and most recently, the VPI Cliffwood. Once broken in, the 2M Red is a strong performer with a lively sound.

Setting up the Dual

I commend Dual for their thorough, detailed setup instructions and owner’s manual. They start by telling you how to unpack the unit, indicating the locations of small components in the box, and cautioning you against throwing away the stylus guard or the packaging itself.

Next, there’s a list of all the parts in the box, starting with (and I think this is amusing), the “record player.” From there, they cover all of the little parts—dust cover hinges, head shell with cartridge, platter w/belt, mat, tonearm counterweight, a 7″ record adaptor, the power supply and its interchangeable connectors (one for the US/North America and one for the EU), and a pair of decent interconnects with integral ground-earth wire.

Following this in the manual is a page featuring a detailed drawing of the CS 518, with all relevant parts listed, down to the nut that holds the head shell on the arm, which unlike vintage Dual arms, corresponds to the classic SME connector pattern, so it’s easy to swap cartridges.

Dual

Next are the actual steps for setting up the turntable. The manual offers advice on how to loop the flat belt around the motor pulley (a nifty system I’ve seen on some other turntables that makes the job exceptionally easy). Then there’s a section that shows you how to mount the head shell/cartridge onto the arm and tighten the nut, followed by instructions on fitting the counterweight on the rear end of the arm and balancing the arm by rotating the counterweight until the arm is parallel to the top of the plinth.

Once you have the arm balanced, the next step is to set the vertical tracking force (VTF) and the anti-skate compensation of the arm. (For those of you who are new to vinyl, anti-skate is a force applied outward against the tonearm’s natural tendency to skate inward, toward the spindle.)

In the next section, they detail how to put the dust cover on its hinges and how to connect the turntable to an integrated amplifier or preamplifier. As noted, the CS 518 includes an onboard phono stage for integrated amplifiers or receivers that don’t contain their own phono preamp. First, you engage the preamp with the small switch on the back of the unit, then connect the turntable to a line-level input. Or you can simply switch it off if your equipment has its own phono stage. Then insert the better-than-average interconnects into the appropriate RCA jacks. Finally, they show how to install the proper plug into the power supply and connect the power supply to the turntable.

Dual

The last two pages cover how to work with the cartridge, how to start the unit and set its rotation speed, and how to clean the stylus, records, and the turntable itself. Finally, there are some troubleshooting tips in case you encounter difficulties.

There are a few simpler, more plug ’n’ play turntables available. But the clarity and thoroughness of the Dual owner’s manual and instructions are far and away the best I’ve seen—and they make the process a breeze.

Operation

Operation is simple: turn on the motor by selecting the proper speed and (if it’s not already there) raise the arm via the cue lever, move the arm over the disc’s lead-in groove, and lower it. It’s important to note that the cue system for the CS 518 is not especially well damped, and the arm is light, so it’s easy to bounce the stylus off the record surface if you’re not careful. I will say, however, that cueing is accurate.

Listening

I own about 700 LPs, some of them really old. I’ve always had a turntable because many of them have never been released in another format. I listened to some of them in the process of conducting this review.

I started with ABBA: The Album (Atlantic PR300) to help break in the stylus of the 2M Red and then decided to actually listen to it. I particularly liked the sound of “Take a Chance on Me,” not so much for its high-fidelity aspects (it doesn’t have many), but for the production values and the way the producers placed everyone across the soundstage. The Dual and 2M Red did a fine job of reproducing what is, frankly, a very busy recording. The two guys, who mostly sing a staccato backing part, were placed on the far left and right, respectively, their voices showing up just outside the planes described by the side panels of the speakers. The two women were right in the middle, with their overdubbed fillips slightly to their left and right. The drums were right behind the women while the rest of the instruments—guitars, keyboards, etc.—were spread out between the speakers. The Dual’s imaging prowess locked these images in place.

Dual

Billy Joel’s third album, Streetlife Serenade (Columbia PC 38146), contains a song, “The Entertainer,” that shows the dark side of being a rock star. As far as I’m concerned, it is the album’s tour-de-force performance. It begins with a quiet intensity, with just Joel’s rapid vocals and a strummed 12-string guitar, both located dead center on the soundstage. By the end, the synthesizer, banjo, electric guitars, bangin’ drums, and a strong bassline have come in. The whole work becomes more and more frantic as Joel lays out all his frustrations. I think the most powerful lyrics are.

It was a beautiful song but it ran too long;
If you’re gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit,
So they cut it down to 3:05.

The lyrics refer to “Piano Man,” which was edited from the LP’s 3:41 to 3:11 on the single; however, the single shows the song’s length as “3:05.” But enough background.

What about the sound? In a word, excellent. The 2M Red and Dual brought out all the detail contained in the groove (and there’s a bunch of it) very convincingly. The soundstage was exceptionally broad, and there was good front-to-back depth. The drums, in particular, were a driving force throughout, and they came through my speakers with a terrific thwack when called for. The synthesizer generally wandered back and forth in front of me, just as it should. This is a great cut, and I enjoyed the way the Dual reproduced it.

Dual

If you’ve read some of my other reviews, you probably know that I’m a huge Mel Tormé fan. In 1978, he recorded an album with the drummer Buddy Rich (Together Again—For the First Time, Gryphon G-903) with an unnamed big band backing. They did a great recording of “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” that brings out all the richness and vocal dexterity of Tormé’s performance and highlights Rich’s exceptional drumming. The recording engineer miked Mel and the band rather closely. The Dual brought out all the force of Rich’s drumming and the interesting characteristic that the band—which was heavy on brass—was as tight as one of Rich’s drumheads. Mel, with Buddy positioned just behind him, was nicely centered on the soundstage, and the band was clustered around them—this setup is probably very similar to the way the ensemble would have appeared live. While not the greatest recording technically, the musicianship is top-notch and the Dual’s excellent soundstage focus brought it out without sounding too harsh.

Think what you will about disco but the genre’s songs were usually produced within an inch of their lives. “On the Radio” by Donna Summer (from her Greatest Hits Volumes I & II, Casablanca NBLP-2-7191) is heavy on electronic instruments—synthesizers doing keyboards, an entire sax section, bass and, of course, the bass drum beat at 120 beats per minute in the uptempo sections. Summer had a rather brittle-sounding voice, perfect for cutting through the general hubbub of the backing instrumentation. She’s absolutely centered on the soundstage and well out front. As you might expect, the drums are right behind her, with sharp attacks and releases. The Dual/2M Red combination reproduced Summer precisely placed on the soundstage, with the other instruments grouped closely around her. The combo also reproduced all the sounds that are on the disc, and even handled a couple of minor scratches with aplomb.

Dual

I wanted a good female vocal after listening to all those guys, and I picked “Love Alive” by Heart, from their Little Queen album (Portrait 3-34799). It starts with Ann Wilson and two finger-picked acoustic guitars. Later, the rest of the band enters in full force. The Wilsons, Ann (singer) and Nancy (lead guitar), are performing next to each other. The bass is off to the right, the drums just right of center. This is a beautiful recording sonically and the Dual/Ortofon combination placed the images of these performers precisely on the soundstage, beautifully reproducing the sonic power of the recording.

Comparisons

We’ll have two comparisons this time—one with the Dual’s onboard phono stage versus my Simaudio Moon 110LP v2 and a second between the Dual/Ortofon 2M Red and my vintage Dual CS5000/Sumiko Oyster Moonstone.

The music for both comparisons was “Getaway” from Earth, Wind & Fire’s Greatest Hits (Columbia/ARC PC 35647). For the Battle of the Duals, I went through my usual procedure: I played the song first on my CS5000, then I switched turntables as quickly as possible to play it on the CS 518. The biggest difference I found was that the CS 518 produced brighter, more sparkling sound than the CS5000. This made the staccato brass stand out more from the general hubbub of the rest of the arrangement. Both of the Duals also illuminated one thing I haven’t noticed being reproduced on other turntables I’ve recently reviewed: how precisely the drums are presented on the soundstage. Over both Duals, the snare was to the drummer’s left, the cymbals right in the center, and the tom-tom to the right. This is an exceptional recording, and it was exceptionally reproduced by both turntables.

How did the CS 518’s onboard phono stage sound next to my Simaudio Moon 110LP v2 (which currently retails at $530)? Well, it was different but good. Interestingly to me, the 110LP v2 produced a somewhat fuller, rounder sound than the CS 518’s stage. The CS 518, when coupled with the brighter sound of the 2M Red cartridge, presented a more lively reproduction of “Getaway.” If you don’t have a phono stage already, the CS 518’s won’t disappoint. It seems to dig out all the info in the groove but offers it with a little extra pizzazz.

Conclusion

I admit to having something of a bias in favor of Dual turntables. However, I found this Dual to be better sounding than any turntable I’ve previously owned from the brand. No, it’s not as convenient as my CS5000 (I like that unit’s end-of-side pickup), but I must admit, the CS 518 sounded better. Dual has done a superb job selecting a cartridge that matches the turntable’s character very well, the Ortofon 2M Red, which I’ve come to like more and more. Be advised: the 2M Red needs to be used for at least ten hours before you critically listen to it. Once the cantilever is broken in, it has a lively sound and is particularly great with transients.

Dual

The CS 518 is not inexpensive, but the workmanship and the sound it produces make it easily worth the $800 asking price. It’s easy to set up, it offers fine sound quality, it’s well constructed, and it looks good doing its part. If you’re in the market for a turntable in this price range—say the Rega Planar 2, or one of the Audio-Technica, Music Hall, or Pro-Ject turntables—give the Dual CS 518 a very close look. I’m betting you won’t regret it.

. . . Thom Moon
thom@soundstagenetwork.com

Associated Equipment

  • Analog source: Dual CS5000 turntable with Sumiko Oyster Moonstone cartridge.
  • Phono stage: Simaudio Moon 110LP v2.
  • Preamplifier: Linn Majik-1P.
  • Power amplifier: NAD C 275BEE.
  • Speakers: Acoustic Energy Radiance 3, Advent ASW-1200 subwoofer.
  • Phono cables: Dual (captive with CS5000 turntable).
  • Interconnects: Straight Wire Chorus, Dayton Audio.
  • Speaker cables: Acoustic Research (14-gauge) terminated with Dayton Audio banana plugs.

Dual CS 518 Turntable with Ortofon 2M Red Cartridge
Price: $799.99.
Warranty: Five years, parts and labor.

Dual GMBH
Graf-Zeppelin-Strasse 7
86899 Landsburg am Lech, Germany

American Audio & Video
4325 Executive Dr., Suite 300
Southaven, MS 38672

Phone: (866) 916-4667

Website: www.americanaudiovideo.com