Dual MTR-40 Direct Drive USB Turntable Review

Some time ago I published an article entitled ‘The original Technics 1200, a history and review’. In that review I made mention of the super OEM, ‘Technics Clone’ turntables that have appeared on the market in recent years. Shortly after publishing that review a reader contacted to see if anyone could identify his turntable which, while it looked suspiciously like a Technics, had a few peculiarities, not least its black plastic casework and an unusual control layout. Having established that the deck was in fact a clone, I decided to see about obtaining a Technics clone for review as a matter of curiosity. Lo and behold I should come across a missed press release in my inbox announcing the relaunch of the legendary turntable brand Dual in the UK. Among the 3 products launching at the beginning of January was the MTR-40, a product which looked like it might be exactly what I was looking for – a Technics clone – though with the unusual layout and other peculiarities described.

Spend more than half a second with a real Technics and it is obvious that the two decks have nothing in common. Where the Technics is based upon a heavy triple layer chassis with a resin compound inner plinth and a heavy rubber bass, the Dual is entirely made from a lightweight black plastic. The Technics platter is substantial, heavily rubber damped and sporting a giant magnet on its underside. the Duals is a lightweight undamped aluminium plate, though it does feature the classic Technics strobe dots around its rim. The Technics controls offer up a gentle but satisfying ‘click’ and a large degree of movement when pressed, while those of the Dual offer little travel and a plasticky feel. Oh, and the speed controls are in the wrong place, though you do get a popup target light and they did at least get the position of the pitch control right, even if it does wobble from side-to-side.

Though there are no identifiable markings in sight, I believe the Dual is a customised OEM version of the Hanpin Electron DJ-U1160. It offers a quartz locked direct drive system based around an eight position, twin-phase brushless DC motor with electronic braking. Platter start and brake time is rated at less than 1 second to and from 33.3RPM, while speed changes between 33 and 45RPM are also rated to within a second. Wow and flutter is rated at 0.15%, with the signal to noise ratio rated at >60dB.

The S shaped tonearm tube is a close replica of the Technics design, though that’s where the similarities end. The bearings are insubstantial with large amounts of play in all directions, the lift/lower device is entirely different, and there’s no height adjustment. Many clones go as far as to replicate the shape and size of the Technics armboard, so much so that the arms are often interchangeable with the real thing. That’s not the case here. The arm does at least feature a standard headshell connector though, and the MTR-40 is supplied with a very convincing replica of a Technics headshell, the only difference being that the finger lift on the real thing is perhaps a millimetre longer. Had a stock headshell not been readily available, I wouldn’t have spotted the difference.

The usual counterweight is provided, as is an anti-skate dial, the latter with a calibrated scale between 1-4 grams. The anti-skate dial appears to do very little; balancing the arm and allowing it to swing back to the rest while increasing the anti-skate has little affect on the speed of the arm. The counterweight includes the usual calibrated dial to set tracking force, which seems to be reasonably accurate.

The deck is supplied with an unmarked Audio-Technica AT3600L cartridge. The lack of markings makes it difficult to tell whether the cartridge is a replica or the real thing. It sounds fine though, and upgraded styli such as the LP Gear CF3600LE elliptical upgrade fit it just fine. It tracks at around 3.5 grams, and features a .7 mil bonded spherical stylus mounted to an aluminium cantilever.

The MTR-40 features a built-in switchable moving magnet phono stage with RCA and USB outputs on the back. The USB output supports sampling rates of 44.1kHz and 48kHz both at 16 bit, and is USB 1.1 compliant. Power is via a fixed cable and an internal power supply. The casing has no internal damping, resulting in the deck’s mechanical noises (the slight chugging of the motor as it gets up to speed and the transformer hum) being amplified. Fortunately neither seem to be particularly audible through the speakers when playing a record.

As you would expect, the MTR-40 is supplied partially disassembled with the platter, counterweight and headshell removed for shipping. In the box you’ll also find a thick felt platter mat, some documentation, a software CD, RCA and USB cables and a plastic adapter for records with missing centres. Setting up the deck is a simple matter of siting it on a level surface, installing the platter and headshell and setting the tracking force and anti-skate. If your surface isn’t entirely level, the feet of the MTR-40 are designed much like those of the Technics and are fully adjustable. They also feature a similar springy isolation system, meaning that the MTR-40 will work well on almost any surface, even in close proximity to speakers.

My first impression of the MTR-40 was of an average plastic turntable with a low quality arm. It’s safe to say that its performance was unexpected. It offers a well balanced sound, acceptable tracking performance, great dimensionality, good detail levels and a lower than average noise floor. Its lows aren’t the lowest, nor are its highs the highest but its performance is musical and thoroughly enjoyable. I span ‘Sad Old Red’ from Simply Red’s ‘Picture Book’ (Elektra, EKT27) and the dual produced a wide stereo image with an articulate bass line and sharp, lifelike highs.

End of side distortion was noticeable but wasn’t a major issue. The stereo image does lose a little stability as the stylus tracks the inner-most grooves of the disc. I didn’t determine whether this was related to cartridge alignment or the lacking bias compensation. I suspect the latter, as spherical styli are extremely forgiving of poor alignment and the cartridge overhang appeared spot on.

I transferred a couple of records using the USB output which worked exactly as expected and produced excellent recordings. After a bit of editing including removal of the odd pop and crackle, I was left with clean, high quality transfers. The MTR-40 is supplied with Audacity, a popular and free recording and editing application which makes restoration easy. Plenty of alternatives are available; I used Apple’s Logic Pro X, but there are applications dedicated to the transfer of vinyl such as Alpine Soft’s Vinyl Studio or Acoustica’s Spin It Again.

The MTR-40 certainly offers many welcome features, though the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The direct drive system is effective, but it’s let down by a lightweight, resonant, plasticky plinth. The detachable headshell and adjustable tonearm weight are nice additions, but the rest of the arm isn’t up to par with flimsy bearings and an anti-skate dial that does very little, if anything.

In fairness, the MTR-40 offers a surprisingly good performance despite these shortcomings. However, other similar models at this price such as Audio-Technica’s AT-LP120 or the many budget models from Pro-Ject, Rega and others offer far better build quality and are kinder to your vinyl. I don’t see that tonearm lasting many scratching sessions either, meaning the MTR-40 falls somewhat short as a DJ deck too. There’s a lot of competition at this price, and the Dual MTR-40 can’t compete with the best.

By Ashley

I founded Audio Appraisal a few years ago and continue to regularly update it with fresh content. An avid vinyl collector and coffee addict, I can often be found at a workbench tinkering with a faulty electronic device, tweaking a turntable to extract the last bit of detail from those tiny grooves in the plastic stuff, or relaxing in front of the hi-fi with a good album. A musician, occasional producer and sound engineer, other hobbies include software programming, web development, long walks and occasional DIY. Follow @ashleycox2

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