At one time—in the 1970s and into the 1980s—Dual automatic turntables were in probably half the entry-level stereo systems in the US. But when the CD came along, and turntables became yesterday’s story, Dual went through some very rough times.
However, the initial offerings from Dual’s latest incarnation, still headquartered in Germany but with turntables built in Taiwan, were all manual units—including the CS 518, reviewed in these pages in November 2021. Recently, the company introduced the CS 429 ($799.99, all prices USD), a return to the company’s automatic roots. And a welcome return it is.
The CS 429 is a single-play automatic turntable that makes handling vinyl quite easy. It’s a three-speed unit that includes an inboard phono preamplifier. The aluminum arm is 8.7″ long and holds one of my favorite entry-level cartridges, the Ortofon 2M Red (retail is $99). The Red comes with a 0.3 mil by 0.7 mil elliptical stylus. The turntable features optical speed control and a rubber-mounted motor for decoupling to avoid vibration. The die-cast aluminum platter is fairly lightweight, less than two pounds, and features a rubber mat. The drive consists of a small DC motor and a flat rubber belt.
The all-black plinth is made of folded MDF (medium-density fiberboard), which provides some shock/vibration suppression that is aided by elastomer feet. The plinth is covered in wood grain black vinyl—rather Teutonic in its stark visage, but to someone who favors Scandinavian-modern furnishings as I do, it looks very right. The turntable is 16.75″W × 14.4″D × 5.7″H with the dust cover closed. It weighs a little over 13.5 pounds.
The only controls on top of the plinth are a large, round knob that allows you to select from 78, 45, or 33.3 rpm and two small pushbuttons, one labeled Start and the other labeled Stop. There are tiny blue LEDs that indicate whether the main power is on and what speed the turntable is set to. Next to the arm is a cue lever that raises or lowers the arm should you wish to operate the turntable manually. Besides the automatic controls, you can start the turntable the same way you would with a manual, by simply lifting the arm from its resting place and setting it on the groove. Just in front of the cue lever is a switch that selects the size of the record to be played, either 7″ or 12″. The arm is quite light, and it’s only damped downward; raise the arm too quickly and the arm can bounce around.
On the back, from left to right, are the switch to turn the inboard phono preamplifier on or off, the RCA output jacks, and a ground/earth connection. A bit farther to the right are the pushbutton mains power switch and the input for the wall-wart power supply. Said power supply is of the universal type and comes with several different plugs to work with mains supplies around the world.
It’s great to see turntable manufacturers making their products easier to set up, and Dual is no exception. As is typical, the dust cover is the first item you’ll encounter in the box, along with the owner’s manual. Remove them and the turntable itself can be lifted out with its Styrofoam packing. The sides of the Styrofoam contain pockets for the headshell/cartridge, a counterweight for the arm, two hinges for the dust cover, and an adapter for 45-rpm singles. In a small box are the wall-wart power supply, assorted power plugs that allow you to use the turntable anywhere, and a fairly basic stereo interconnect-plus-ground/earth wire combination. The platter and mat can be found at the bottom of the box.
When you remove the platter and turn it over, you’ll find the drive belt is wrapped around the inner platter. Grab the belt so that when you place the platter on the spindle, you can loop the belt over the drive pulley. This step is very important, as the turntable won’t work if you don’t complete it. Next, remove the twist tie that locks the arm to its rest.
With the arm’s safety latch engaged, attach the headshell to the arm and secure it with what the owner’s manual calls the “union nut” (there are diagrams illustrating this in the manual). Then, with its dial facing forward, screw the counterweight onto the arm. You need to remove the stylus guard from the cartridge; if you don’t, the arm won’t balance properly. Now, lower the arm lift/cue lever to free the arm. Turn the counterweight until the arm is parallel to the plinth’s surface.
Now comes a tricky part: You need to hold the counterweight in place and turn the tracking force dial on the front of the counterweight until it reads “0.” Check to see if the arm is still balanced, and if it is, turn the combined counterweight/tracking force dial until it reads 1.6 to 2.0 grams (16 to 20mN); I’d shade the tracking force to around 2.0 grams.
On the base of the arm is the anti-skating force adjustment. Turn it until the reading on its dial matches what’s on the tracking force dial—for instance, a tracking force of 2.0 should be matched by a 2.0 on the anti-skate. Anti-skating, if you’re not familiar with the term, is a force applied to the arm to keep it from pulling toward the spindle. Otherwise, skating force will create distortion and wear on the record’s inner groove.
Now you’re ready for the connections on the back of the CS 429. The unit comes with an inboard phono stage for amplifiers that don’t have a phono input. It’s switchable so it can be removed from the signal path. Insert the interconnect plugs into their respective, color-coded jacks and tighten the screw that holds the ground/earth wire on. Connect the power supply first to the turntable and then to the mains. Push in the push-on/push-off power button, and tiny blue LEDs should light up on the control panel on the top of the turntable. Connect the turntable to the inputs on your preamplifier and you’re ready to play records.
This is the easy part. Place a record on the platter and select the speed. Make certain the rear-mounted power switch is on, select the record size, and push Start. Again, if you wish to start the unit manually, raise the arm with the cue lever, place the stylus over the record’s lead-in groove, and use the cue to lower the arm. If you want to stop playing before the side is done, just use the cue lever and move the arm back to its rest position or automate the effort by depressing the Stop button.
My listening tests were done with the Dual’s inboard phono stage disengaged (see separate section below on the inboard). First up was pianist Oscar Peterson with his unnamed trio members on bass and drums and their rendition of Neal Hefti’s “Li’l Darlin’” from Return Engagement: Oscar Peterson (Verve V3HB-8842). Of particular note is the incredible bass line that dances underneath Peterson’s piano; this is a tour de force. The performance is closely miked and the piano is slightly overdriving the microphone(s), leading to some distortion on the recording. The Dual placed the piano dead center, with the bass to the left and drums to the right, just as they all should be. Peterson was a dexterous pianist and some of his licks are pretty complicated. There’s even an instance of one of Peterson’s trademarks: he often grunted or growled while he was playing, and that came through quite well over the CS 429—I’ve always found this aspect of the recording charming. The Dual reproduced Return Engagement with aplomb and a good sense of space around the instruments.
If you want to give your system a workout, get a copy of Saint-Saëns’s Symphony No. 3, “Organ”; play the last three segments of the second movement (maestoso, allegro, molto allegro) and listen to the organ strut its stuff. It is said the last note of the work includes the organ’s 64′ pipe, whose fundamental frequency is 16Hz; all we hear is the harmonic at 32Hz. The version I chose is from Telarc (10051) with the Philadelphia Orchestra under long-time conductor Eugene Ormandy and organist Michael Murray. It was recorded in a church and the quality is exceptional. In those three sections, the strings mostly play in the background, with the brass and the organ carrying the load. Over the CS 429, this recording sounded simply outstanding. The orchestra stretched completely across the soundstage and the organ appeared, as it would in the church, above the orchestra. So the recording offers not only width and depth but also height, and the Dual reproduced it all. Frankly, I was stunned at how good it sounded.
In the early days of stereo, a lot of “sound spectacular” records were released to demonstrate its aural wonders. Some of them had steam locomotives hurtling across your room. Others were based on groupings of instruments, like one I found called Bongos/Flutes/Guitars (Command RS 812 SD) by Los Admiradores. The album features those three instruments plus many more. On “How High the Moon,” the three featured instruments start in the left channel then move to the right. The liner notes explain everything you should hear, be it the sounds of two different bongos or the blending of trumpet and baritone sax supplemented by an alto flute on the right. It’s a lot of fun, and I have to say, the Dual turntable and Ortofon cartridge delivered a tasty performance. The liveliness of the 2M Red showed off the flute and guitar while the rapid notes of the xylophone were crisp and clear. If you run across one of these discs in a used vinyl store—many on the Command label—pick it up, take it home, and enjoy.
Any search engine result for “blue-eyed soul” should feature a picture of Steve Winwood. He joined the Spencer Davis Group at age 14 and wrote and sang their biggest hit, “Gimme Some Lovin’.” Winwood was also a member of 1960s powerhouse rock bands Traffic, Blind Faith, and Ginger Baker’s Air Force. In 1988, he released the song I considerhis own powerhouse, “Roll with It,” from the album of the same name (Virgin 7 90946-1). Winwood shows his versatility on this track, creating most of the instrumentation on a Fairlight CMI—an early digital synthesizer, audio sampler, and workstation—including drums, bass, guitar, piano, and Hammond organ. His reedy, high-pitched voice commanded center stage while the piano and organ were arrayed around him. The drums were center to left, the horns center to right. The tasty bass line was down front—and man, did it cook. The only downside I found with the CS 429/2M Red was that Winwood’s vocals had a certain raspiness, as if there was a bit of distortion. But otherwise, I was tapping my feet to the beat. The turntable/cartridge combo moved well with the tempo and kept pace with the music. Most commendable.
Yes hit North America big time in 1972 with the tune “Roundabout,” from their Fragile album (Atlantic SD 7211). It starts off with a sample of keyboardist Rick Wakeman’s piano played backwards and a chord strummed on an acoustic guitar. From there, mayhem breaks out as instrumentation includes piano, Mellotron (an early electronic keyboard), organ and synthesizer, electric and acoustic guitars (multiples), drums and percussion plus Jon Anderson’s vocals. Playing the tune for the first time in quite a while, I noticed a muted cowbell buried deep in the left channel—a good sign of the Dual’s ability to extract information from the record. There was a panoply of sounds zooming around the listening room with this one, and it was reproduced in excellent fashion by the Dual/Ortofon combination, although, as on the Winwood track, there was a slight edge to Anderson’s high-pitched voice on his louder notes. But overall, the listening was fantastic.
Linda Ronstadt has probably made hits out of more covers than anyone else. “Hurt So Bad,” from her Mad Love album (Asylum 5E-510), was a hit for Little Anthony and the Imperials in the ’50s, and in her version, she sings with what sounds like real pain in her voice. Lead guitarist Dan Dugmore carries that pain forward with a screaming solo that drenches the guitar in echo. The Dual presented Ronstadt squarely in the center, with the guitar spread across the entire stage; the drums were just off to the right and the bass was also centered. The nuance offered by the Dual and Ortofon was quite exceptional. This is an outstanding recording, and the Dual presented it fully.
Inboard phono stage
I next swapped in the included Dual phono stage, bypassing the phono preamp in my APT Holman.
In 1977, flügelhorn player Chuck Mangione had a surprise hit with an instrumental called “Feels So Good,” from the album of the same name (A&M SP-4658). He recorded it with his six-person group, which featured piano, bass, drums, percussion, guitars, and several wind instruments. As with other A&M recordings of the era, it sounds fabulous, even though Mangione was a wee bit sloppy in his playing at times. Of course, he’s in the middle of the stage, initially accompanied only by an acoustic guitar. But as the tune is established, he’s joined by drums and a “wah-wah” guitar on the right, and bass and percussion on the left. The soundstage produced by the Dual/Ortofon combo was very broad, but it didn’t have a lot of depth. Compared to my APT, I found the Dual’s phono stage most satisfactory, having a very lively presentation, broad frequency response, and crisp transients. If you have an amplifier without a built-in phono preamp, the one Dual supplies will take care of your needs nicely. My APT was a touch fuller sounding, but the two were very close.
Comparison: Dual CS 5000 vs. Dual CS 429
In this comparison, both turntables were fitted with an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge, and both were connected to my APT Holman preamplifier with its built-in phono stage. So the only variables were the turntables themselves. Vintage CS 5000s are available used in good shape for about $500.
I again sampled Steve Winwood’s “Roll with It” and “Roundabout” from Yes, and experienced that nascent edge on both tunes on both ’tables. They were so close on first listen that it was difficult to call a winner. Over time, though, I found I liked the CS 429’s performance with these tunes a tad better than that of the CS 5000. The CS 429’s presentation of both songs had more presence and slightly more slam in the bass and drums. These characteristics put the CS 429 over the top for me.
As mentioned in previous reviews, I’ve used Dual turntables for most of my audio life. I’ve always thought it unlikely that a Dual would come along to top my CS 5000, but I have to say, the CS 429 acquits itself pretty brilliantly. This is a turntable I wouldn’t mind having in my system. The automatic feature is welcome and works perfectly, and the Ortofon 2M Red cartridge is a great match for the turntable. Of course, it’s not especially inexpensive at $800, but I found it a worthy effort by the Dual folks. If an automatic turntable appeals to you, I recommend that you check out the Dual CS 429. It’s surely a winner.
. . . Thom Moon
- Analog source: Dual CS 5000 turntable with Ortofon 2M Red cartridge.
- Preamplifier: APT Holman.
- Power amplifier: NAD C 275BEE.
- Speakers: Acoustic Energy Radiance 3, Advent ASW-1200 subwoofer.
- Interconnects: captive on Dual CS 5000; Dual-supplied on the Dual CS 429; Wireworld Luna 8 (preamp to amplifier).
- Speaker cables: Acoustic Research 14 gauge terminated in banana plugs.
Dual CS 429 Turntable with Ortofon 2M Red Cartridge
Warranty: Five years, parts and labor.
Phone: +49 8191 915777 43
American Audio & Video
4325 Executive Dr., Suite 300
Southaven, MS 38672
Phone: (866) 916-4667
21000 autoroute Transcanadienne
Baie-D’Urfé, Québec H9X 4B7
Phone: (800) 567-3275