Dual CS 418
Dual is one of the brands most respected by audiophiles. It has produced so many great turntables that it's hard to count them all and a well-preserved Dual turntable, especially if we are talking about high-end models, is an excellent investment. After a restoration, such a source can be connected to any stereo system, even an expensive one, without complexes. Not only will it look great, but with the correct cartridge, it should also sound so good that owners of new turntables will feel embarrassed. Until recently, Dual's turntables could only be purchased on the second-hand market, but fortunately, the company has risen like a phoenix from the ashes, releasing several interesting and affordable turntables. I was most interested in the CS 418, a classic manual turntable with a built-in phono stage, belt drive, easy-to-use tonearm, and Ortofon 2M Red cartridge. And the price - €499 for a brand new Dual? I had to see what's what.
Dual's beginnings can be traced back to 1900 when brothers Christian and Joseph Steidinger began manufacturing watches and turntable parts. Ten years later, the Gebrüder Steidinger company adopted the Dual name and began manufacturing power supplies to allow turntables to operate using mains electricity. It was not long before Dual started making its own turntables. After the war, it became the largest manufacturer of this type of equipment in Europe, employing over 3,000 people in several factories. In 1949, the company released its first changer for records spinning at 78 pm, the Model 1000. The Germans stuck to their usual numbering scheme, introducing successive products with a four-digit symbol beginning with a one. 1009 and 1019 became very popular on the American market, and six years later, the 1219 model was introduced, which was the first Dual turntable with a 30-cm platter. The story didn't end with turntables, as Dual expanded to offer customers complete hi-fi systems with amplifiers, tuners, cassette players, and speakers. In 1973 the company absorbed one of its rivals, Perpetuum-Ebner. Remarkably it is still in business today, offering audiophiles highly original, high-end turntables. Its headquarters is located in St. Georgen - the birthplace of the Steidinger brothers.
Dual's problems began in the early 1980s when the Japanese competition conquered the audio market. Customers found them to be better and longer-lasting than they had previously thought. For several years Dual kept losing money, so in 1981 it was declared bankrupt. The company was taken over by a French electronics manufacturer Thomson-Brandt, which owned the Nordmende, Telefunken, and Saba brands. The parent company had no intention of investing in the factory in St. Georgen, first reducing the number of employees and then, in 1993, closing it for good. Unsurprisingly, those were the days of the Compact Disc domination, and no turntable manufacturer was doing well. For the next decade, Dual functioned solely as a trademark. Later the logo started appearing on products that had little to do with the manufacture founded by the Steidinger brothers. In 2007 the brand's next owner, DGC, licensed the production and sale of turntables under the Dual brand to Alfred Fehrenbacher. Yes, yes, you guessed it - in St. Georgen.
In 2018, DGC was acquired by Josef Zellner, resulting in Dual's products being showcased at the Berlin IFA a year later. In 2020, the new owner embarked on the next phase of Dual's reactivation, changing the company name from DGC GmbH to Dual GmbH and releasing the Primus Maximus turntable, designed and manufactured in Germany. Today Dual is headquartered in Landsberg am Lech, Bavaria. The company has its own research and development center in Kiefersfelden and even a museum, helped by Alfred Langer - an audiophile, collector, and turntable specialist who manufactures both complete units and OEM parts under his own name. Everything indicates that Dual's reactivation is little more than a bold idea. Still, the flagship Primus Maximus looks like one of Alfred Langer's turntables, and with a price tag of eight thousand euros and a production run limited to a hundred units, it hasn't made a stir in the marketplace. The sales of vinyl records are growing steadily. Still, it's no secret that the demand is driven by young music lovers who can spend a maximum of a thousand euros rather than audiophiles looking for a phono stage priced like a new car. Josef Zellner did not buy the Dual to kill it off. The best solution seems to be to develop the German headquarters to produce hi-end models for demanding clients and, on the other hand - introduce affordable turntables, which may not be highly original but will meet the needs of the customers driving the vinyl boom.
Design and functionality
I found confirmation of that theory in the press release announcing the CS 418 and CS 518 models, which said that Dual is rebuilding its reputation and creating the conditions for further growth. The Germans may have had a beautiful, high-end Primus Maximus turntable in their catalog. Still, they realized that they could not conquer the world with high-end equipment and decided to start from scratch, building their inventory from the bottom up instead of the top down. The new models are belt-driven, and the CS 518 is also equipped with a more advanced gimbal arm mount. The CS 618 also has a direct drive. Audiophiles may complain that these are not the same turntables as before, but we should be happy that the brand has finally found an owner who knows what to do with it. The CS 418 will certainly be of interest to customers who are not fully familiar with audio equipment, who may not even be familiar with a brand like Dual, but who are looking for an elegant, functional, easy-to-use, and affordable turntable that will allow them to get started with vinyl. And if CS 418, CS 518, and CS 618 start selling well, perhaps the next step is to launch a turntable built from the ground up in Germany, but costing a little less than €8900.
In the photos provided by the manufacturer and distributor, I noticed several details that prove that CS 418 was not made in St. Georgen, nor in Landsberg am Lech, nor in Kiefersfelden, nor in any other Black Forest or Bavarian town where life revolves slowly around a baroque church with a high tower and a market square surrounded by colorful houses, the streets are clean and the people are smiling. I immediately noticed elements that I have seen many times before in budget turntables. An aluminum platter with a characteristic belt mounting, a cover on plastic hinges, an arm with a screw-on headshell and anti-skating adjustment in the form of a small knob, a rubber mat with concentric rings, a plug adapter with an interchangeable tip for different types of sockets. These details reminded me of other budget machines like Onkyo CP-1050, Reloop Turn 3, TEAC TN-400BT, ELAC Miracord 50, Audio-Technica AT-LPW40WN, and Thorens TD 402 DD. The models listed above do not look identical, so it can be assumed that we are dealing here with a more clever form of emblem engineering, in which a Chinese factory manufactures turntables for various entities while offering the possibility of personalizing their appearance and functionality and even using one of several types of drive. A confirmation can be found on a sticker placed on Dual's rear panel, where among inscriptions in German, it reads "Made in China." But what is wrong with that? For €499, the Germans can make at most the tonearm or platter, but a complete turntable? I'm not sure. For that kind of price, it doesn't matter all that much, especially for a music lover who would like to buy a nice and well-equipped turntable but will not spend more than €500. Dual's explanation for this is that there is no point in re-designing components that are already available and work well, such as knobs, buttons, dust covers, and their mounts. It makes more sense to work on the parts that have the most significant impact on the sound, particularly the tonearm, motor, bearing, and platter. In these areas, Dual wants to go its own way.
If we are operating in the lowest price range and we have long since eliminated dreams of high-end equipment, there is no shortage of similar turntables on the market. Many other models made probably in the same factory will fit into that budget, but also the original Pro-Ject RPM 1 Carbon with the same cartridge as the Dual. Why should we choose it? I think that some people will like the design. The Germans managed to hit the classic, even slightly vintage style. The CS 418 has great proportions. Its base is neither too thin nor too bloated. Everything fits together. I would say that the CS 418 is an exemplary example of a simple, inexpensive turntable - perhaps the prettiest I have ever encountered. If an oak or walnut finish were available in addition to the black veneer version, I would fall in love with this turntable. In my opinion, all the 'extra' equipment is also just right. For example, there's no USB port, because what for? To rip vinyl to MP3? Sorry, but this does not make any sense. Whoever wants to listen to files will indeed find them on the Internet or turn on Spotify or TIDAL. Only one analog interconnect can be connected to the CS 418, with the user deciding beforehand whether or not to use the built-in phono stage. The speed control knob works quite nicely. The tonearm is easy to use. Basically, everything looks normal. The CS 418 also has the advantage that it can be assembled and ready for use in a few minutes, a dozen at most for someone who hasn't done anything like this before.
Interestingly, Dual decided to equip this model with a pretty good cartridge. I know that Ortofon 2M Red is not a luxury, but I have seen much poorer cartridges in turntables with a €500-700 price tag. The ELAC Miracord 50 comes with an Audio-Technica AT91 cartridge, which you can buy for €35, and the Thorens TD 402 DD comes with an Audio-Technica AT-VM95E, which costs €59. No vinyl lover needs to be explained that the cartridge is the element, which has a massive influence on the sound quality, and in the first case, it accounts for just over 4% of the price of the turntable, and in the second - 7%. The Ortofon 2M Red, meanwhile, costs €95 and ends up in the Dual priced at €499, which is 19%. Not bad! The Dual can probably only be threatened by the Reloop Turn 3, equipped with the same cartridge. Reloop is slightly cheaper, but I don't know if I would not take the Dual just for the looks and the pleasure of owning the legendary brand's gear.
From the point of view of the average consumer, it's also extremely important that the CS 418 is a complete product - a source that can be taken out of the box, set up, connected to an amplifier or receiver, and begin the adventure with black records immediately, even today, and if we like it and want to improve our system, we can always change the cartridge or buy an external phono preamplifier. Thanks to the detachable headshell changing a cartridge is relatively easy, and bypassing the built-in phono stage requires switching a single knob. Well, you can do all that in the future. You can even play with mats, clamps, and other accessories, but there is absolutely no obligation to do that right away. As for the little things that are not included, I would recommend getting a decent vinyl brush because even new records can get pretty dusty. As it turns out, the CS 418 is, above all, a nice budget turntable to start with but also an excellent base to build something much better. If, however, we are thinking about the future from the very beginning, it is worth considering the CS 518. The price difference is considerable, but the tonearm used in the more expensive model looks cool. The CS 418 seems to be a great package, so let's see what it offers in terms of sound.
Due to the presence of the Ortofon 2M Red at the end of the Dual's tonearm, its sound reminded me of what I remembered from listening to the Reloop Turn 3. The Dual also sounded even, pleasant, natural, and with the smooth, analog character typical of good turntables. As with tube amps that have "something" about them, you could immediately sense that this "something" was present. Of course, in the Dual's sound, we can find only a foretaste of some elements available in mid-range and high-end turntables, but there is a lot of potential in this sound. It's like a mix of analog fruits that wants to be squeezed harder and harder. It turned out that this can be quite effectively realized by connecting an external phono stage. It might seem that the Cambridge Audio CP2 I used is not yet good enough and will give a big improvement over the Dual's built-in preamp, but appearances are deceiving - sometimes you do not need to spend a lot of money to hear a big difference. If you have an amplifier or receiver with a phono input, it cannot be ruled out that this option will also perform better than the phono stage in the CS 418.
It would be best if you also thought about a decent interconnect. RCA sockets are more convenient and look more elegant than a cable hanging down behind the gear. Let's remember that such cable transmits a weak signal, susceptible to all sorts of interference. Of course, the Dual had to include sockets. Otherwise, the user would not be able to use the built-in preamplifier, but omitting it means, in my opinion, that we have to pay a few hundred bucks for a good phono interconnect. But rest assured, it will be worth it. As for the cartridge, even with the factory-mounted Ortofon, the Dual sounded much better than I expected. The sound quality here is high enough to enjoy music for more than fifteen minutes without thinking about changing the cartridge. Still, it's good to see that we'll have that option when the urge comes to raise the bar.
The sound of the CS 418 is mostly about correct tonal balance, decent dynamics, excellent transparency for this price range (I do not mean here that the Dual emphasizes brightness and detail but rather on the fact that many turntables of that price range sound bland, dark and buff), but also a touch of pleasant roundness and a perceptible tendency to warm up and add weight to the presentation. Is it possible to squeeze more out of a €499 source? Not out of the question, but it certainly requires more effort and hard work than purchasing, assembling, and connecting the Dual. If we spent all that money on a DAC, connected it to a computer (which is a bit cheating as no one gives away computers for free and no DAC can play without a data source), and played DSD files, we should get a similar sound, but a bit technical, grayish, definitely less saturated. With the Dual and well-released vinyl, you can be sure that the listening experience will draw you in. Or a little, or a lot - it depends on many other factors, such as the quality of other components in the system.
In my opinion, the CS 418 is an excellent turntable to start with. A proposition for the music lover who would like to enter the world of analog recordings or return to it after many years of break. Even for someone who does not quite know how to handle it all. How to set the tonearm, clean the cartridge, and take care of the vinyl. With the Dual, we do not have to worry if we still miss a thousand dollar cartridge and a two thousand dollar external phono state. We can collect more records, find good online stores, visit a few antique stores, dig out something interesting, buy a nice mat, read about better turntables and cartridges, their parameters, different methods of setting up the tonearm. If you get the hang of it, sooner or later, you will get to the next level.
Build quality and technical parameters
The Dual CS 418 is an analog turntable equipped with a factory-fitted Ortofon 2M Red cartridge and a built-in phono preamp. The phono stage can be disconnected at the touch of a button, and the RCA output is straight from the cartridge. The turntable base is constructed of MDF and covered with black vinyl veneer. Inside the feet, there are elastomer vibration absorbers. A removable dust cover is included. The platter is die-cast aluminum with a thick rubber vibration damping mat. The entire component sits on a hardened steel spool in a brass sleeve and is driven through a rubber belt by a low-vibration DC motor. The simple aluminum arm has been given a ball-bearing gimbal and adjustable pressure and anti-skating. Pressure is adjusted with a counterweight applied to the arm from behind. Thanks to a convenient ring with a scale, the operation is quite easy. The easiest way is to balance the arm so that it stays horizontal when released, mark this position as zero by rotating the ring, and then rotate the whole counterweight until you see the value recommended by the cartridge manufacturer (in this case, it is 1.8 g). The anti-skating adjustment mechanism is convenient to use, although many users have doubts about its effectiveness, arguing that weight on the line would be better. I will not comment on that because, in the Clearaudio Concept turntable that I use privately, the anti-skating force is affected even by whether the cable coming out from under the arm turns left or right behind the rack.
Audiovector QR5, Equilibrium Nano, Marantz HD-DAC1, Auralic Aries G1, Auralic Vega G1, Hegel H20, Unison Research Triode 25, Sennheiser HD 600, Cambridge Audio CP2, Clearaudio Concept, Cardas Clear Reflection, Albedo Geo, Equilibrium Pure Ultimate, Tellurium Q Ultra Blue, Enerr One 6S DCB, Enerr Tablette 6S, Enerr Transcenda Ultra, Enerr Transcenda Ultimate, Norstone Esse.
Looking at the photos provided by the manufacturer, I could conclude that the CS 418 does not have much in common with either the legendary turntables from the 1970s or the hi-end Primus Maximus model. On the other hand, any reasonable manufacturer today wants to make the best budget turntable because this is what the customers are looking for. They are not as interested in the logo, nor in the factory's location, as in the quality of manufacture, equipment, appearance, ease of use, and affordable price. The CS 418 is an outstanding proposition for them. A turntable that will work well both as a vinyl "starter pack" and an excellent base for creating something better. For some people, it will be a complete, fully sufficient source that does not require any further modifications. Others will treat it as a sum of many elements, each of which can be replaced at some point. Either way, I liked it. I can even say that the CS 418 became my favorite among inexpensive turntables. And I think that it will quickly enable this legendary company to develop further.
Speed settings: 33/45/78 rpm
Wow & Flutter: < ±0,1%
Tonearm's effective length: 221.5 mm
Offset Angle: 25,6°
Overhang: 19 mm
Stylus Pressure Range: 0-4 g
Cartridge Weight Range: 5-9 g
Factory-installed pick-up: Ortofon 2M Red
Platter: Aluminium die-cast, 305 mm
Mat: Rubber, 2.5 mm
Feet: Elastomer, 62 mm
Connection: RCA socket
Dimensions (H/W/D): 14.5/43.5/36.7 cm
Weight: 5.9 kg