Since my early days of audio madness, I’ve relied on Dual turntables, most of them automatic. Automatics are turntables that independently lift the arm and set it down on the lead-in groove, pick the arm up at the end of the side, return it to its rest position, and shut off the motor when done. So I was pleased to see that Dual had added a new automatic model to its lineup, the CS 329 ($499.99, all prices USD), a little brother to the more sophisticated CS 429 ($799.99) I reviewed back in October.
The CS 329 is a single-play automatic turntable that makes listening to vinyl quite simple. It offers two speeds, 33 and 45 rpm, and includes an inboard phono preamplifier. It has rather striking and very modern looks: an all-black plinth, arm mechanism, and platter mat, with a dark, smoky hard plastic dust cover. My initial impression was that this would have been Darth Vader’s turntable if he’d had a stereo on the Death Star. The turntable was designed in Germany but manufactured in China.
The straight, black aluminum arm is 8.7″ long and equipped with a pre-mounted Audio-Technica AT91 cartridge, one of A-T’s entry-level offerings ($40 if purchased separately). Unlike the cartridges supplied on most of the turntables we review on SoundStage! Access, this one features a 0.6 mil conical stylus instead of a more desirable elliptical tip. Ellipticals are able to extract more information from the groove than conicals and tend to treat records more gently. The arm lacks a lock to ensure it can’t move from rest, which I see as a drawback, especially for households with young children.
The platter is driven by a small DC motor and a flat rubber belt. Dual claims DIN-weighted wow and flutter of 0.12%, a fairly typical level for this sort of deck. The platter is lightweight, made of die-cast aluminum that weighs less than 700 grams, and topped with a rubber mat. If you tap it with your fingernail, the platter does ring, which is not desirable, but the rubber mat will help ameliorate this.
The all-black plinth is a combination of MDF (medium-density fiberboard) and plastic. Vibration and shock protection are supplied by 62mm elastomer feet. The turntable is 16.75″W × 14.6″D × 5.2″H with the dust cover closed and weighs about 11 pounds.
Controls are mostly located on the right top and front of the plinth. On top is the record size selector (7″ or 12″). The Start and Stop buttons reside on the lower right front of the unit and are activated with a light press. Speed is selected using a switch on the left front of the turntable. There’s also a manual cue control below the arm, which is damped when the arm is lowered.
On the back, from left to right, are the switch to turn on or off the inboard phono preamplifier, the RCA output, and ground/earth wire. A bit farther to the right is the input for the wall-wart power supply. Said power supply is of the universal type and comes with several different plugs for compatibility with mains supplies from around the world.
Turntable manufacturers have greatly simplified the setup of their decks in recent years, and the CS 329 is no exception. Dual makes setup about as simple as possible: the company presets tracking and anti-skate forces permanently at the factory, so none of the fussing (and often fighting) that can go into balancing the arm and applying the proper forces is necessary.
The owner’s manual contains a complete, if small, diagram of how everything fits into the box, which is helpful if the unit has to be repacked. The first item you’ll encounter is the owner’s manual, followed by the heavy plastic dust cover. Once these are removed, the unit itself lifts out, cushioned by two Styrofoam forms. Below these forms are the rubber platter mat and the platter itself. A small cardboard container holds the power supply, the various power supply plugs for different mains connections, the dust cover hinges, and a 45-rpm adaptor.
The dust cover has easy-to-install hinges that slot into receptacles on the cover and the plinth. However, despite being constructed of heavy plastic, over time, the cover may be subject to cracking if it’s handled roughly.
A red ribbon attached to the platter helps the user loop the drive belt over the motor pulley. It’s one of the more efficient systems I’ve encountered for addressing this. Once that step is completed, put the rubber mat on the platter and unwind the twist tie that holds the arm in place during shipment. Insert the interconnects and the ground/earth wire into the turntable and your amplifier, connect the power supply, and you’re all set.
This is the easy part. Place a record on the platter and select the disc size. Set the speed and push Start. You can also 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. The platter will begin to rotate as soon as the arm is moved from its resting point. If you want to stop play before the end of the side, use the cue lever to raise and move the arm back to its rest position, or automate the effort by depressing the Stop button. One note on the cueing device: it’s damped on the way down but not on the way up, so there’s a slight chance the arm may bounce a bit if you handle the cue lever too aggressively when you’re using it to raise the arm manually.
When I checked the rotation speed with the RPM app, the CS 329 registered an average of 33.87 rpm for 33.3 (+1.9%) and 45.86 for 45 (+1.88%). As a result of the increased speed, records might sound a bit livelier.
The preset tracking force registered 1.92 grams (19.2mN). That’s very slightly less than A-T’s recommended 2.0 grams (20mN), but this should have little-to-no effect on tracking capability.
I performed one last test to check the unit’s resistance to shock and vibration: I applied several solid knuckle knocks to the surface the turntable was resting on. The CS 329 was somewhat disturbed by these, but resisted them better than many other turntables I’ve reviewed.
I was most impressed by the smoothness and silence of the automatic mechanism and the near absence of drag on the motor—there was no significant slowing of the platter while the arm was moving to or from the lead-in groove, unlike automatics of yore. Well done, Dual!
Mendelssohn, in my not-so-humble opinion, is a greatly underappreciated composer. In his short life (1809–1847), he composed nearly every type of music—symphonies, concertos, overtures, chamber and choral works, and even incidental music for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, from which we get the famous “Wedding March” (aka “Here Comes the Bride”). He also returned Bach to the spotlight. One of his finest symphonies is No. 4, the “Italian,” which he wrote during a long visit to Italy. My recording is by the New Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch (Philips SAL 3727). I was impressed with the performance of the CS 329 and its Audio-Technica cartridge while playing this record. This recording doesn’t have a lot of low-bass information, but what’s there was solidly presented. The soundstage was broad and deep, as one might hear it in a concert hall. The strings—the major carriers of the melodies—sounded most sweet and played as one. In all, I was satisfied with the reproduction, although the cartridge was a bit sensitive to pops and clicks on the disc.
Often, it’s the little details that catch your attention in a song. Gordon Lightfoot’s rendition of “Me and Bobby McGee,” from his If You Could Read My Mind album (Reprise RS 6392), contains just this kind of detail: rhythmic knee slaps. They start just after the guitar intro and continue throughout the song, increasing very slightly in amplitude until close to the end of the track, when they become quite noticeable, at times having a metallic clang as a result of the engineer opening the spring reverb channel. But they’re so detailed that they’re practically etched into the recording. And they show up on both channels throughout the track. I could hear them clearly reproduced over the Dual. Lightfoot and his baritone voice were placed dead center (his guitar just to the left of center), with Ry Cooder’s bottleneck guitar to the left and backing guitarist Red Shea’s fine fingerpicking on the right. The soundstage depth was good, given the spare instrumentation, and the stage extended from speaker to speaker. The CS 329 turned in a fine performance with this music.
I hadn’t played Mel Tormé in a while, so I selected “Sunday in New York” from his Songs of New York (Atlantic 7 80078-1). This is a fine recording in which Mel is backed by a really excellent big band. The most noticeable aspects of the playback over the Dual were the sibilant “s” sounds (there are a lot of these) and the odd arrangement of the backing band. All the brass and the drums were placed on the right; all the winds and bass were on the left; Mel was pretty much by himself in the middle, so it wasn’t possible to determine the depth of the soundstage. Otherwise, the instruments all sounded much the way they should, although the upper notes of the brass instruments were emphasized a bit. Not bad, but I’d hoped for better.
My hometown, Dayton, Ohio, is best known in recent years as the home of “Dayton Funk,” a style typified by the Ohio Players, Heatwave, and Lakeside. But it’s also the hometown of jazz greats Bud Shank and Roy Meriwether, the group Guided by Voices, and a number of one-hit/no-hit wonders like The McCoys (“Hang on Sloopy”), The Mark V, folk duo Jonathan & Leigh, and Green Lyte Sunday. This last no-hit group was headed by multi-talented Michael Losekamp, keyboardist for two-hit wonder band The Cyrkle (“Red Rubber Ball” and “Turn-Down Day”). Green Lyte Sunday was fronted by singer Susan Darby, who had a voice that could purr or shout, depending on the song’s requirements. They cut an eponymous album for RCA Victor in 1970 (RCA LSP-4327) with a great yacht-rock-style version of Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning” that I listened to in this review. Darby was portrayed by the Dual right in front, but this is another album in which the backing instruments are pretty much either hard left or hard right, so it was difficult to determine depth. What was easy to hear was the skilled flute solo in the bridge, tonally correct and placed just to the right of Darby, slightly behind and above. The soundstage was reasonably wide. The “s” sounds were a bit too sibilant; I think this was due to the cartridge. I investigated this later in the review period, when I compared the CS 329 against my own turntable. However, as I listened to this track, the response was full range and quite enjoyable.
Back in the late 1970s, many of us radio types went to see a box-office bomb called FM. It was some screenwriter’s wet dream about what working at a progressive rock station was all about: hot- and cold-running groupies, drugs, and DJs playing whatever they wanted (yeah, right). We laughed a lot at the absurdity of the plot, but the soundtrack was fine, with live performances by Linda Ronstadt and Jimmy Buffett, and lots of hits. In fact, Steely Dan’s theme song won the Grammy for Best Engineered Album (Non-Classical), and despite the movie’s poor box office performance and lousy reviews, the soundtrack sold more than a million copies. One of the tunes was the Doobie Brothers’ “It Keeps You Runnin’” (FM, MCA 2–12000). It’s an interesting recording. Everything but the bass (which is mixed loud) is drenched in echo. The synthesizer extends all the way from the left to just right of center on the soundstage. The guitar is off to the right, and the drums are, well, interesting: the traps are placed on the right while the snare and tom-tom are left of center. All were reproduced superbly by the Dual. A lot of depth came through as well: the guitar and the backing singers were located well behind Michael McDonald’s voice, which is dead center. I thought the CS 329 presented it all quite well, despite the fact the LP was warped.
APT Holman vs. CS 329 inboard phono stage
Toto apparently had 72 tracks to work with in the studio when they recorded “Rosanna” (Toto IV, Columbia FC 37728), but when I listen to the cut, I find myself thinking, “Only 72?” During the bridge, for instance, you can hear the drums and bass, a screaming electric guitar, and at least six different synthesizer sounds all going at once, along with a sundry assortment of other instruments. Amazing!
In any event, I used this song in the comparison detailed below to see how the Dual’s inboard phono preamp stacked up against my APT Holman. In short, pretty well. The Dual’s stage sounded a mite muffled compared to the APT, but it was certainly more than acceptable. With the APT, I got a more full-bodied, slightly more detailed sound. The Dual phono stage is a good addition to the CS 329, though, as it sounds fantastic when you consider that the combined price of the turntable and cartridge doesn’t break five hundred bucks. It’s almost a throw-in, but it sure doesn’t sound like one.
Comparison: Dual CS 5000 and Ortofon 2M Red vs. Dual CS 329 and Audio-Technica AT91
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned much about musical detail with the Dual. That’s because the lack of it may be the weak point of the CS 329’s performance. I played “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes, from her Mistaken Identity LP (EMI America SO 17052). Now, I’ll admit, the 2M Red offers a pretty bright presentation, which I find enjoyable with pop music records. The AT91, on the other hand, has a darker sound; the drums and bass sounded muffled and Ms. Carnes’s voice wasn’t quite as prominent. The sibilance I noticed on the Tormé and Green Lyte Sunday cuts was not objectionable in this test. If you haven’t experienced something superior, the CS 329 and AT91 put out a good, if not exceptional, sound.
Obviously, as I’ve mentioned—probably to excess—I like automatic turntables, and I like Duals. In my time with the CS 329, I found it perfectly competent. It handled records smoothly and superbly, and the automatic features operated very gently and reliably. The built-in phono preamp is quite decent and will perform well for someone whose integrated amplifier or preamplifier lacks its own stage.
I do wish the unit had adjustable tracking and anti-skating, but that would fly in the face of the turntable’s design concept—a no muss, no fuss setup. I also wish it had an arm lock, but that probably would have required a much more complicated automatic system, one that could sense the arm was shut down and turn off the motor before any damage was done. And I’m not sold on the AT91 cartridge, but that’s probably due to my own prejudice in relation to conical styli.
Bottom line: the Dual CS 329 is a turntable that anyone can set up in minutes, play records on from dawn till midnight, and thoroughly enjoy in the process. It’s certainly worth a good, long look if you’re in the market for an automatic turntable that costs around $500.
. . . 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 and CS 329; Wireworld Luna 8 (preamp to amplifier).
- Speaker cables: Acoustic Research 14-gauge terminated in banana plugs.
Dual CS 329 Turntable with Audio-Technica AT91 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