Dual CS 429
Dual has recently made a spectacular comeback. The legendary turntable manufacturer, which not long ago we used to associate only with vintage gear, suddenly came back into the game. First, a high-end model Primus Maximus was presented to the world, which can be interpreted as a kind of manifesto, a showcase of technical capabilities, and perhaps an announcement of the following models, which will be its simpler and cheaper counterparts. However, if we are looking for a budget turntable, we should instead not look at the devices occupying top positions in the catalog. I know, at first glance, all the inexpensive models available on the market seem similar. Still, it is enough to look at a few key components such as a cartridge, tonearm, drive, and rear panel equipment to already have an idea of which one is built solidly and which one just looks nice in pictures. If you take the time to do this, you will realize that Dual is not only a company with a history dating back to 1900 and an object of sigh for audiophiles who remember the 1970s, but also a company that offers some of the most interesting and best-equipped budget turntables. Will the automatic CS 429 be further proof of this thesis?
In the time of the vinyl boom, not all customers bother with such details as the type of drive, the possibility of arm adjustment, or the quality of the factory-installed cartridge. They are buying a turntable that is easy to use, works seamlessly with their system, and - this is more important now than ever - is available so that after confirming the purchase on the webshop, it can be at our doorstep the next day. You would not believe how many times friends have told me, of course extremely excited, that they just bought a turntable for €500, deciding on some horrible oddity or a model with a cartridge of absolutely embarrassing quality, and then wrote that they were happy because first of all, they managed to assemble it, secondly - it works, and thirdly - it somehow sounds different. Sure, it sounds different if the needle is not much different from the ones you use to stitch holes in your pants, barely penetrating the groove...
It's challenging to explain to people accustomed to listening to music from a smartphone what playing with vinyl is all about. Still, I encourage even beginners to put some thought into choosing their equipment because it will pay off in the future. Hearing a good (and not just any) sound will make them want to grow their record collection and expand their knowledge of turntables. When they finally want to upgrade their system, they will be happy to discover that their machine is better than they thought it would be and that it allows for a lot of modifications and will not go soft even with much more expensive speakers, amplifier, and phono stage. As you can guess, finding such a turntable is not easy, especially if you want to fit into a very tight budget. But it is still possible. One of the sources that made an extremely good impression on me was the Dual CS 418. It is time for a kind of continuation of that test. This time I had the opportunity to play with the Dual CS 429 automatic model, and since I already knew what I would be dealing with, I prepared myself accordingly and decided to get more out of this inexpensive design than the manufacturer anticipated.
Design and functionality
Before we get into unpacking, assembling, and setting up the equipment described here, we need to clarify one thing that has caused quite a bit of controversy. Like the CS 418, the CS 429 is manufactured in China, as evidenced by the markings on the packaging and on the base of the turntable itself. Some people felt disappointed by this fact. They hoped that the German company would have time to build a huge factory in St. Georgen, hire and train dozens of employees, and begin large-scale expansion within a few years after its formal reactivation. Not sure why, looking at the low prices of the CS 418 and CS 518 models, they didn't figure it couldn't look that way. Dual had its greatest triumphs in the 1960s and 1970s, producing beautiful turntables until the late 1980s and early 1990s. It has been precisely thirty years since the company was taken over by Schneider Rundfunkwerke AG, when times were callous for it until it was reactivated. Such a gap cannot be made up overnight, even if you have a well-thought-out plan, good intentions, some money to invest, and many friends who share your vision and want to help make it happen.
The Germans have realized that the Dual brand has a positive connotation, but it may take years to rebuild the factories or even dig out the old designs and rebuild them using modern materials. Meanwhile, music lovers worldwide are buying up turntables on the spot without even discussing with the seller where they were made. Most of them do not care at all. Many electronics manufacturers began to order turntables from factories in the Far East, which led to the fact that today we can buy at least a dozen, if not several dozen budget turntables, which differ only in details and the emblem placed on the base. Whether we like it or not, China has long since become the world's factory. Europeans and Americans like to think that high-quality goods are made only in China, and maybe it is so when we talk about furniture, wines, suits, or exclusive watches. Still, in modern technologies, East Asia is leading and probably will remain so for a long time.
To continue Dual's reactivation process and perhaps one day open a great factory in Germany, the company needs to start making money. In the end, it may look like many European loudspeaker manufacturers where 70-80% of the catalog comes from the Far East and the remaining 20-30% are high-end models made in their home country. Of course, some companies produce inexpensive turntables in Europe. I am thinking here mainly of Pro-Ject and Rega. But they have such an advantage over Dual that they have never had an extended downtime in their history. The key to Pro-Ject's success was, after all, the bold idea to reactivate the SEV Litovel factory, previously owned by the state-owned joint-stock company TESLA (but it would be excellent if they decided to go back to that name today...). Dual has a longer and more interesting history and is still seen as a trustworthy brand - a manufacturer of innovative and long-lasting equipment. Its new owner, Josef Zellner, has set the goal of maintaining that reputation, regardless of where the factory is located. And it has to be said that he is doing an outstanding job.
So let's look at what you get for your money and how the CS 429 compares to the competition. The CS 429 is not an exact copy of the CS 418. Most notably different are the drive train components, including the externally visible part of the motor, the housing around the platter bearing, the extra hole near the arm elevator, and the two extra buttons next to the speed selector knob. All of this is there to make our lives a little easier, and the mechanics lurking behind it are probably very similar, if not identical. Generally, it is difficult to find a turntable on a reasonable budget that on one hand, is entirely or at least partially automatic but, on the other hand, does not look like a cheap toy. The described model is an exception. The main difference from the CS 418 is, of course, the way we operate the tonearm. Place a record on the turntable's platter, start it up, select the desired speed, unlock the tonearm, lower the lever and press the "start" button. The tonearm will then lift and move to the beginning of the record and return to its initial position when playback is complete. Unlike the manual models, there is a small lever for selecting the size of the disc - 30 or 17 cm. I don't know how many potential customers own singles, but the CS 429 is prepared for it if that were to happen.
The Dual's automatic drive works very well, and I'm sure many people these days will find it a fascinating gadget, much like the self-moving knobs and sliders on some 1980s cars. And is it a thing worth paying extra for? I do not know, but the difference to the "418" is so tiny that I will not be surprised by those who choose the described model and will not be discouraged by the fact that such a turntable also needs to be assembled and set up first, and the mere presence of buttons and automatic arm raising, moving and lowering system does not mean that the user has nothing to do here. It is enough if we want to listen to one of the tracks again or skip the first two. It happens, right? Here we will be helped by the elevator, which is the same as in fully manual models. Moreover, many customers will opt for the described model for a more prosaic reason. The CS 418 in most stores is available only on order, while the CS 429 can be bought immediately. It's not surprising, as the CS 418 is one of the best budget turntables on the market, and all Dual turntables announced so far have sold out very quickly. The CS 429 will probably do the same, and perhaps soon, we will see a note underneath it in online stores saying "ask about availability" or "awaiting delivery".
The CS 429 comes with an adjustable tonearm, complete with a screw-on headshell, which will allow for easy cartridge replacement in the future. However, it is worth noting that a very decent Ortofon 2M Red cartridge is installed in the factory. Many manufacturers of budget turntables install the cheapest cartridges available on the market, assuming that whoever wants something better will buy it. Still, it makes no sense because an inexperienced user will probably break his first cartridge anyway. Dual takes this seriously. Knowing that this one element determines the quality of the sound of the whole machine, the Germans must have hidden this section from the watchful eye of the accountant. Savings were reallocated to places where, from a technical point of view, it does not really matter. As sales manager Lothar Mertens explained to me, designing simple components from scratch, such as feet or a dust cover with hinges, would be completely unreasonable for an inexpensive machine, but when it comes to the motor, tonearm, platter, or other components on which sound quality really depends is another story. So Dual's budget machines may at first glance look a little different from their rivals, but on closer inspection, the differences are substantial and concern things audiophiles should care about most.
From the customer's point of view, it is also essential that the CS 429 is a complete product, i.e., a source that can be taken out of the box, set up, connected to an amplifier or receiver, and immediately start its adventure with black records. German turntable is equipped with a built-in phono preamplifier to ensure it works even if we don't have an appropriate input. With a single toggle switch, we can also bypass it, and then the signal will be output directly from the cartridge. There is even an RCA interconnect included. It is ugly because it is ugly, but it is there. Audiophiles will surely replace it with something better. Still, you know how it is when you go to the store or order something online - excitedly open the box, gently take out the equipment, read the manual, put everything into place, can't wait to fire up your new purchase, and there is one cable missing. Everything took so long that it's already 8 pm, stores are closed, and the missing cable hasn't appeared despite a second or third sweep of the drawer. Eh, how many times have I had that... Usually, when connecting some TV or soundbar. That is why I am glad that Dual's designers have thought about everything. As for the little things not included in the kit, I would only recommend getting a decent vinyl brush if you're a vinyl beginner. For other accessories, time will surely come.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the sound quality of a turntable depends primarily on the cartridge. I don't want to oversimplify the subject, because designers and owners of technically advanced machines with a powerful platter driven by a sophisticated motor and a unipivot tonearm made of materials used in the aerospace industry will have something to say about this. Yes, I myself have participated in auditions that clearly showed that simply changing the mat between the platter and the record can take the sound to another level. But now we are talking about a budget source and although even in this price range you can find turntables with completely different tonearms, bases, platters, and motors, at the end of the day the cartridge does 80-90% of the job in terms of sound quality. All the rest can be treated as a purely mechanical basis that allows the needle to make proper contact with the record, maintain the platter's rotation, isolate the whole thing from vibrations, and so on. Of course, this "and so on" is a myriad of components without which proper operation of such a device would be impossible, but since in this paragraph we are only concerned with sound, let's just say that the CS 429 sounds like a good turntable with an Ortofon 2M Red and a decent phono stage. Basically, at this point, I could repeat everything I wrote about CS 418.
The CS 429 in its default configuration made a very good impression on me, combining smoothness, smoothness, and a bit of warmth - the qualities that music lovers associate with analog media - with good dynamics, transparency, and stereophony, the things I always miss most when testing inexpensive turntables equipped with a poor, cheap cartridge. Unfortunately, while the first set of sonic attributes inherent in vinyl listening is present even in such machines, using a low-end cartridge effectively eliminates any chance of getting the latter. The sound is neutral, with a tendency to warm up and add weight to the presentation, but this is not associated with strong deviations in the frequency response. We have bass, midrange, and treble - everything in perfect order, and the turntable's only contribution to music is making the sound slightly thicker, especially in the mid-bass range. The treble could be more detailed, but I would not say that during listening it was lacking in the quantitative sense. This can be interpreted as another element of that softened, pleasant character. All this makes the CS 429 a turntable that I would strongly recommend to owners of systems with a slightly brightened, sharpened sound, and to people listening mainly to classical music, quiet jazz, prog rock, less vigorous electronics, and ambient.
As with other reasonably priced turntables fitted with a reasonable cartridge, the Dual's initial sound quality may turn out to be higher than you would expect based on price alone. If you think that the Ortofon 2M Red is nothing more than a decent starter cartridge, I would advise you to do some experimenting and consider whether it's worth investing in other components first, "wearing out" the cartridge to the end. With such a set you can really enjoy music for more than a few days. Without great sacrifices the CS 429 allows us to see what is most important in vinyl - devoid of artificial sharpening, naturally smooth, colorful, multi-layered, and three-dimensional sound. In the atmosphere of relaxation, this exceptional depth also begins to appear. Of course, as usual, much depends on the quality of the recording. But if you think that it's the record and not the turntable that does all the work and creates that extraordinary atmosphere, unfortunately, it's not so. If you overdo it with savings, you'll have to imagine the magic of analog sound as you listen to a clumsy conglomeration of sounds that barely resemble music. The Dual CS 429 rises high above that level. It's just a very decent turntable. Cheap? Yes, it is. Lightweight? Compared to hi-end mass-loaders - certainly. But if I were to answer the question of whether it can play or not, I would say without hesitation - it can.
Not it's time for what I like most in turntable testing - improvements. Not every model I review deserves this treatment, but in this case, I knew from the beginning that listening to it with an Ortofon 2M Red and built-in phono stage would be just the beginning. Because the cartridge pre-installed in the CS 429 is really good, I first bypassed the phono stage and used the inexpensive Cambridge Audio CP2 priced at €299 (now, sadly, it's no longer available). The quality of the CS 429's onboard phono stage can be compared to what many manufacturers put into their amplifiers and receivers. It's not bad, but it could be better. I was convinced during the first few minutes of listening to the Cambridge CP2 that I don't have to spend a fortune to make it happen. Many vinyl lovers could happily use this set not for a week, not for a month, but even for a few years, without a sudden need for further changes in the system. Do you know people who buy new records almost every week, go to Ikea once every six months to buy a new Kallax, and for several years have been stubbornly using one of the cheapest turntables available on the market, not even considering replacement of the cartridge or buying a better phono stage? I do, and my heart breaks when I think that Dual CS 429 would be much better.
But the experiments did not end there. Since it went so well, I decided to remove the cartridge from my own turntable - the Clearaudio Concept. The MM cartridge used in it bears the same name. Later the Concept V2 model was introduced, which costs €299. Quite a leap compared to Ortofon, which you can currently buy for €149. As we could have guessed, it was confirmed in practice. The sound became more neutral, a bit cooler, but more dynamic, precise, and lively. What can I say, fifteen minutes of work (thanks to the detachable headshell installing a new cartridge in the Dual is child's play) and I achieved a sound not much different from what the Clearaudio turntable offers. This quick cartridge transplant proved once again that from an audiophile's point of view this is the most important component of an analog circuit. The conclusion is simple - the CS 429 is a very nice turntable, with which you can achieve a lot without investing in accessories, but if one day you decide to install a high-end cartridge in it and bypass the built-in phono stage, handing this task over to an external box, you will immediately enter a higher level of black record listening. Just bear in mind that there's no going back.
Build quality and technical parameters
The Dual CS 429 is an automatic turntable based on the well-received CS 418 model. The automatic control system is supposed to provide maximum convenience, although it should be noted here that the user still has a lot to say and do, both when assembling and setting up the machine and during its normal operation. The automation will actually only help us position the tonearm near the outer edge of the disc and lower it, then raise it and move it over the cantilever when playback is complete. Before we can do that, however, we need to unlock the arm by pulling back the small safety buckle, lowering the small lever on the right side, and selecting the disc size. We also have to install the headshell with cartridge, counterweight, platter, mat, and dust cover ourselves. Although the components responsible for the proper operation of the automatic systems do not inspire confidence at first glance, everything works smoothly and relatively quietly. Seeing the plastic gears, I was apprehensive, but it's actually a really nice addition to the turntable, which even in fully manual form was very successful. The CS 429 received a fully adjustable tonearm. This allows you to change the cartridge and easily change the amount of pressure and adjust the anti-skating. The knob for adjustment of the latter is located in a different place than on the CS 418, which was probably dictated by the need to connect components for automatic tonearm operation. The turntable features precise optical speed control, and an internal rubber damping structure decouples the tonearm and platter from external vibrations and interference. As befits a plug-and-play device, the CS 429 also features a built-in preamp. A number of important features are, of course, borrowed from the CS 418, including an MDF plinth with internal absorbers, elastomer feet, and a removable dust cover. The platter is die-cast aluminum to which the manufacturer adds a heavy rubber mat dampening unwanted resonances. The whole is supported by a solid bearing with a hardened steel pin in a brass sleeve. According to the manufacturer, a belt drive is used in the new model for lower rocking and shaking. The aluminum frame is suspended on a ball bearing. Despite the presence of an automatic system, all functions can also be operated manually.
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.
An affordable turntable that is ready to go out of the box, offering really good sound, and can later become a great base for further upgrades is the dream of many vinyl lovers. And although the choice is huge, it's still not easy to fulfill. In many models available on the market all you get for a start is a very poor cartridge, so you can forget about discovering the magic of analog sound unless you immediately buy a better one. Of course, if the tonearm and phono stage used in it will be able to "handle" such a modification. If we don't want to go below a certain level of quality, we quickly realize that we are no longer talking about turntables for €500-100, but ones costing €1000-2000. The CS 429 can give a lot of joy even in its factory configuration, and with a better cartridge and an external phono stage, it can get dangerously close to the machines from a different price category, such as Clearaudio Concept. It seems that Dual, although it relaunched only a few years ago, still knows how to make great turntables. After the CS 418, the CS 429 is another model from this brand that showed much more than I expected. If you've been looking for a source like this and can't spend more, I recommend you take an interest in it while it's not too late yet.
Speed settings: 33/45/78 rpm
Wow & Flutter: < ±0,08%
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: 6.2 kg