A few days before I began this review, I received my new reference turntable, the Music Hall Stealth, which comes equipped with an Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge. I immediately set it up and started breaking in the cantilever mount. There were other strong contenders, the Pro-Ject X1, Thorens TD 402 DD, and Dual CS 518 among them. The Stealth was my final choice due to its exceptional musicality, extremely quiet direct-drive motor, easily adjustable vertical tracking angle, auto-stop feature, and interchangeable headshell.
The very next day, a review sample of the Dual CS 618Q arrived. Had that turntable been available earlier in the year, it would have supplanted the CS 518 on my shortlist. The CS 618Q has several attractive features, including direct drive, auto-stop, and interchangeable headshell. And it comes with the 2M Blue, a cartridge I have enjoyed on other ’tables. As with all current Dual turntables, the CS 618Q was designed in Germany but is manufactured in Taiwan.
All the Dual turntables I’ve reviewed recently have been visions in black—attractive in their own Teutonic way. The same could be said of the CS 618Q, which is available in three finishes. Priced at $1099.99 (all prices in USD), the standard version has a black vinyl-clad plinth. For $1299.99, Dual offers the CS 618Q with either a gloss-black or walnut-veneer plinth. My review sample had the walnut finish, and I loved the look of it. The plinth is made from MDF, which offers some heft, and sits on four 62mm feet that contain elastomer dampers to minimize the effects of external vibration. The arm, control switch, platter, and mat are black, providing a nice counterpoint to the walnut finish.
The aluminum tonearm has an effective length of 8.76″, and it’s perched on a twin-gimbal mount situated on four pivot ball bearings. As Joe Yerardi, director of business development of American Audio & Video, Dual’s US distributor, explained to me, “A twin-gimbal system offers optimal tonearm guidance and the best tracking. The tonearm center position is between four ‘pivot’ ball bearings. They have the lowest bearing friction, can be adjusted to an optimal precision and have the lowest resistance.” The aluminum arm is of the static-balance variety (more on that in the Setup section). The 1.45-pound die-cast aluminum platter has rubber damping inserts to minimize ringing.
The only electrical control on the top of the plinth is the rotary switch that powers the unit on and off and selects the speed. When the turntable is off, a small LED glows purple; it changes to blue when the unit is operating. The CS 618Q has three speeds: 33⅓, 45, and 78 rpm. The unit’s sole mechanical control is a lever that operates the damped arm lift. A union nut anchors the removable head shell to the arm.
On the back panel of the turntable, from left to right, are a switch to enable/disable its onboard phono preamplifier, a pair of RCA output jacks, and a thumbscrew for a ground/earth wire. Further to the right are the auto-stop on/off switch and input for the 12V wall-wart power supply. The power supply is a universal type and comes with several connectors, so the CS 618Q should work almost anywhere.
The CS 618Q measures 17″W × 6″H × 14″D and weighs 15.4 pounds. Included is a heavy, clear plastic dust cover that fits into plastic hinges, the standard Dual setup. The turntable comes with an exceptional five-year limited warranty.
Setup and operation
The dual-language owner’s manual (German and English) offers terse unpacking instructions, but it provides detailed directions for installing the platter, mat, and headshell; fitting the counterweight to the arm; balancing the arm; and setting tracking and antiskate forces.
Earlier, I mentioned that the CS 618Q has a static-balance arm, which means the arm setup must follow a specific sequence of steps: After the counterweight is screwed on, the arm must be balanced by moving the counterweight incrementally back and forth until it’s parallel to the plinth surface. When that’s done, put the arm back in its rest and secure it, hold the counterweight in place, and turn the marked dial to read “0” straight up. Now, rotate the counterweight and dial together to the desired tracking force of 1.75gm (17.5mN). Then turn the antiskate dial to the right of the arm gimbal to the same reading as the tracking force.
There are just a few final steps. Set the switch for the onboard phono preamp to LINE if your amplifier doesn’t have a phono preamp stage of its own or PHONO if your amp has a built-in phono preamp. Attach the interconnects and ground/earth wire to their respective connectors, plug the power input plug into its spot on the back panel, and then plug the power supply into the AC mains outlet.
Playing records is simple. Place a record on the platter, select the speed, raise the arm with the lift lever, and move the stylus over the lead-in groove. Then lower the arm and listen. If you have enabled the auto-stop feature, at the end of the side, the arm will automatically lift and the platter will stop rotating. You must return the arm to its rest position manually, but with this feature, the stylus won’t experience wear from resting in a rotating lead-out groove. However, the lead-out grooves on some of the records I played were too far from the spindle to trigger the 618Q’s auto-stop feature.
At the 33⅓ rpm setting, the RPM app on my smartphone registered actual speed as 33.36 rpm (+0.09%); wow was ±0.12%. At the 45 rpm setting, the reported speed was 45.05 rpm (+0.12%) and wow was ±0.08%. These are among the best figures I’ve seen the RPM app present since I started using it for my reviews. Remember, however, these are approximations.
I began the review with my usual listening setup: the Dual turntable was connected to the Phono 1 input of my APT Holman preamp so I could determine the best load capacitance, which as it turned out, was the usual 100pF. The APT fed my NAD C 275BEE power amplifier, which, in turn, powered my Acoustic Energy Radiance 3 speakers and Advent subwoofer. So for most of my listening, I was using the phono stage in the APT Holman preamp, not the one in the Dual ’table. I’ll have more to say about that later in this review.
It had been some time since I’d listened to Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain performed by the Cleveland Orchestra under Lorin Maazel (Telarc 10042). When the work premiered in 1898, one critic called it “as hideous a thing as we have ever heard.” Today, it’s a Halloween classical standard. The recording is among the best I’ve ever heard of any piece. The work has many crescendos and diminuendos, with lots of staccato notes from the brass and violins. The 618Q reproduced the work in all its spooky glory with fast attacks and sonorous sustains over the entire frequency range of the orchestra—an outstanding performance.
One of my favorite jazz numbers is “Birdland” from The Best of The Manhattan Transfer (Atlantic SD 19319). ManTran performs this number with vocalese lyrics by Jon Hendricks, and each singer represents an instrument on the original Weather Report recording: Janis Siegel handles most of the synthesizer parts; Tim Hauser, the electric bass; Alan Paul, the saxes; and Cheryl Bentyne, the rest of the synths. The engineer had a great time moving the singers all around the soundstage, which is fairly wide but not especially deep. Siegel’s part involves a lot of rapid-paced words, which the 618Q resolved beautifully. It sounded so good, I ended up listening to the song twice.
Back in the late 1960s, a number of groups came on the scene that blended the brass section of a big band with a standard rock’n’roll quartet, fusing them into something called “jazz rock.” The two most successful such groups were Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago. But there was another lesser-known group, Cold Blood, which was better described as an “R&B horn band.” The singer was a 4′ 11″ stick of dynamite, Lydia Pense, and the group’s only charting single was “You Got Me Hummin’,” from their eponymous first LP (San Francisco Records SD 200). The song was written by David Porter and Isaac Hayes for Sam and Dave, but Cold Blood’s version was more popular. This is a bass-heavy tune with a dexterous bass player doing runs all over the fretboard, right in the front of the soundstage. Pense’s strong and gritty voice is also well out front, with the brass somewhat behind and stretched from hard left to hard right. This is another piece with a lot of brass attacks that have to be precisely rendered for the track to sound its best. Played on the CS 618Q, they were.
Next up was Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” from Anthology: Marvin Gaye, a three-LP set (Motown M9 791A3). This Motown classic starts with one set of drums doing a steady one-two beat on the right and the organ on the left. A sudden burst of strings leads to Gaye’s entrance about a half-octave above his usual range. Gaye’s angst about his cheating lover is evident on a good system, and the 618Q delivered. The strings of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra appear at strategic spots on the left, and the backup singers, The Andantes, are clustered around Gaye. The 618Q put an edge I hadn’t heard before on Gaye’s gritty midrange singing, but it fit very nicely with the gist of the song. Nicely done!
“The Entertainer” (from Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits, Volume I & Volume II, Mobile Fidelity MFSL 3-418) is one of Billy Joel’s best songs, and it’s greatly underappreciated. It’s based on Joel’s anger over Columbia Records’ decision to cut “Piano Man” from 5:37 on the album to “3:05” on the single release (it’s actually 3:08 but “3:05” fits the rhyme here). While Joel’s piano starts out powerfully (he has incredibly strong fingers), it’s the synthesizer that takes the bows. On the 618Q, the synth enveloped Joel’s voice like someone holding a baby chick. While the piano starts off in the middle of the stage, it suddenly moves to the mid-left halfway through. The song starts with vibrant energy and continues to build to the last verse. Ron Tutt’s drumming is intense throughout, and through the Dual, it had a satisfying rumble. This cut sounded as good as I’ve ever heard it.
I hadn’t listened to Kim Carnes’s hit “Bette Davis Eyes” (from Mistaken Identity, EMI America SO-17052) since the Stealth and 618Q appeared in my house. As it’s masterfully recorded, I thought I’d put it on. Here again, the synthesizer lovingly envelopes the singer. Carnes’s raspy voice seemed to hang above the instruments, including the synth, well out in front of everything else. I mean really out front. The soundstage filled the entire distance between my speakers. The 618 Q/2M Blue combo delivered a kick drum thump heavy enough to knock you off your chair if you have the volume well up. I heard detail I hadn’t heard before. Couldn’t be happier with the result!
There Goes Rhymin’ Simon (Columbia KC 32280) is Paul Simon’s Southern adventure, and most of the tunes were recorded with the famous Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama. These legendary session musicians backed Simon instrumentally on “Loves Me Like a Rock,” with backup vocals from the Dixie Hummingbirds, a similarly famous Gospel group. But as much as the rhythm section adds to this track, the song really belongs to Simon and the Hummingbirds. As you might imagine, Simon is out front, but barely. The Hummingbirds surround him with their sweet harmonies. Played on the CS 618Q, everything about the song sounded coherent with excellent pacing and all elements blending beautifully into a complete experience.
Comparison: Dual onboard phono preamplifier vs. APT Holman phono stage
Back in 1980, a new artist, Christopher Cross, had a monster hit with “Ride Like the Wind,” from his eponymous debut album (Warner Bros. BSK-3383). I used it here because there’s a lot going on—the sound of a windstorm, Michael McDonald singing backup, what sounds like a full symphony orchestra, a fuzz guitar, great percussion, and other noteworthy elements.
Running the Dual through the APT Holman’s phono section, detail retrieval was good and the orchestra (all synthesized) sounded full-bodied. The soundstage was wide, but not particularly deep, with Cross, McDonald, and the percussion (plus a fuzz guitar at the end of the track) jammed on top of each other in the middle. The kick drum was not particularly sharp but everything else sounded quite good.
I was very surprised by what I heard when I switched on the Dual’s built-in preamp and connected the ’table to one of the line inputs on my preamp. The width and depth of the soundstage were similar. But the highs had a shimmer that was missing on the APT and the kick drum had more slam. Midrange sounds were similar through the two phono stages, but at the extremes the Dual’s phono stage edged out the APT’s. This exercise confirmed that the CS 618Q’s built-in phono preamp is worthy of the turntable and its supplied cartridge.
Comparison: Dual CS 618Q vs. Music Hall Stealth
Because I used the APT Holman phono section for this comparison, and the CS 618Q and Stealth both come with an Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge, any sonic differences should be due to the turntables themselves.
For this comparison, I played “Artistry in Rhythm” from Lush Interlude by Stan Kenton and his Orchestra (Creative World ST-1005). In the 1940s and ’50s, Kenton’s bands were what musicians from other big bands listened to after hours. Kenton’s band played jazz, not big band music, and that’s what these musicians wanted to hear. “Artistry in Rhythm” was Kenton’s most famous composition and the band’s theme song. This version slows the tempo and adds a full string section to Kenton’s normally brass-heavy arrangement.
On the Dual 618Q, I liked the rhythm I heard as well as the coherence—everything fit together nicely. This recording is not awash with bass, but what there was came through nicely, and the strings were bright and unified. Overall, I thought the tune sounded good on the 618Q.
However, as soon as this cut started playing on the Stealth, I noticed a fuller, more robust sound—a stronger bass line, sharper attacks on the drums and percussion, and more extended high frequencies. The strings had a sheen that suited the arrangement. On this track, I preferred the Music Hall Stealth, but at $1649, it costs 50% more than the 618Q. The Dual did a more than creditable job.
If you’ve read my other reviews, you know that I was a loyal Dual user for decades. I thought Dual ’tables offered the greatest value for the money and produced fine sound. The CS 618Q not only carries on that tradition, it ups the ante. I spent several weeks with this elegant ’table and really enjoyed the experience. Yes, the CS 618Q is among the most expensive turntables I’ve reviewed, but I believe it’s worth the money. If you listen primarily to vinyl and have a good collection, you should audition the Dual CS 618Q because it rivals, and in some cases surpasses, other equally priced or more expensive turntables on the market.
. . . Thom Moon
- Speakers: Acoustic Energy Radiance 3; Advent ASW-1200 subwoofer.
- Amplifier: NAD C 275BEE.
- Preamplifier: APT Holman.
- Analog source: Music Hall Audio Stealth turntable with Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge.
- Analog interconnects: manufacturer supplied on Dual and Music Hall; Wireworld Luna 8 (preamp to amp).
- Speaker cables: Acoustic Research 14-gauge terminated in banana plugs.
Dual CS 618Q turntable with Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge
Price: $1099.99 in standard black vinyl finish; $1299.99 for optional gloss-black and walnut-veneer finishes.
Warranty: Five years, parts and labor.
Dual Deutschland GmbH
Phone: 08191 915777-0
American Audio & Video
4325 Executive Dr., Suite 300
Southaven, MS 38672
21000 Trans-Canada Hwy
Baie-D’Urfe, Quebec, Canada H9X 4B7
Phone: (800) 567-3275