NAD 5120

NAD 5120It was something of a surprise, to be frank. When NAD introduced its 5120 turntable in 1981, the brand’s stock was very high – the 3020 amplifier was unassailable and they couldn’t make enough of them. Typically, it would find itself partnered with a Dual CS-505 turntable and a pair of KEF Codas, and used this way it made a very nice noise indeed. NAD however, naturally wanted a piece of that market and for this precise reason the new 5120 turntable was born…

Selling for £109.95 in the UK on launch, it stunned everyone – albeit not for the right reason. Whereas the 3020 amplifier had been a little innovative but not too wide of the mark, the 5120 really was far out. Not only was it engineered it quite an unusual way, with obvious cost-cutting, it was clearly the ugliest turntable on sale at the time. A sea of plastic, it sported an ugly grey plinth of odd proportions that half-enclosed the deck and made using it a far less pleasurable experience than a Dual.

In hindsight though, the 5120 wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it was at the time. For starters, it had an independently sprung subchassis – which for a cheap, light turntable can only be a good thing. Indeed, it was unheard of at the price – and more expensive to make than a non-sprung Rega, for example. Its suspension used leaf springs as opposed to the more conventional coil springs, so needed no set-up. The fact that it was made behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia, gave it the ‘bouncing Czech’ soubriquet…

The platter was a wafer-thin 1.5kg alloy affair with a thick rubber mat. It was driven by slow speed synchronous motor via the plastic subplatter , with 33 and 45RPM speeds. All this seemed pretty conventional though compared to the tonearm which was basically a piece of veroboard (or circuitboard), with four contact pins at the bearing end which meant you could interchange the arm assembly (rather than the headshell)! The floppy arm went against the orthodoxy of the day but was very interesting and NAD designers had obviously thought hard about how best to do it given the price constraints. The counterweight was underslung below the arm end stub, in line with the cartridge, and the weight itself was isolated to reduce resonance. An Ortofon OM10 was fitted as standard, which was a perfectly decent budget cartridge.

The deck has aged surprisingly well. The suspension can get stiff , and those plastic side panels are easily scratched, but otherwise little goes wrong – and belts are still available. It sounds unexpectedly good too – not quite Rega Planar 2 territory but not far off. Indeed, it’s fair to say that it sounds way better than you’d expect it sound given its plug-ugly looks! It’s smooth, reasonably speed-stable and has a surprisingly large and spacious soundstage. It certainly doesn’t disgrace itself next to a Dual CS505.

It finished its life in 1986 selling for £129, with a different and more conventional tonearm [pictured]. It was changed because the original was putting customers off – for aesthetic reasons rather than sonic. These days, used NAD 5120 turntables sell for pennies – £30 should get you a minter. They are unloveable, yet seriously under rated as a record playing device. They’re ideal for a second (or third) turntable however, and will really make that bedroom system sing!

4 comments

  1. Graeme White

    I’m still using one – the original flat-arm NAD 5120. With a new belt, a little adjustment and a couple of hours head-scratching arm setup time it sounds very good indeed. It certainly earns the nickname “bouncing check” however, though its amazingly resistant to vibration once it’s going. Cost me c 60 pounds all told.

  2. Marko Konečný

    It was not only built in former Czechoslovakia, in the same company as Pro-ject now builds one third of all world’s present turntable production. It was also designed there, first as an enthusiasts club hi-fi DIY, having also that flat tonearm made of cuprexit – a local name for pertinax. That may explain the strange looks.
    Also it is worth mentioning it had an oil dumped counterweight on both types of tonearms used.

  3. Good review, but it’s far prettier than the prosaic Dual 505 with that ugly plastic tray plinth and sled headshell affair. The NAD is full of interesting design features, not just the Flat arm with it’s anti-resonance adjustment , but a full inverted 3 point suspension, identical main and arm bearings (not seen since the AR XA). The Lid is also interesting being a folded piece of polycarbonate rather than the conventional box section. It doesn’t behave like the “big resonant ear” of every other lid

    designed by Jiří Janda

  4. Peter Redert

    Amazing smart piece of gear. The engineering is unusual, yet highly effective. I own one in near mint condition, having both tone arms, flat and tube. Fitted with Ortofon OM10, which to me is most suitable cart for it (eventual upgrade to OM20 is feasible). Been spending quite some time reinstalling the counter weights due to damping fluid that got spilled al over. Degreasing, refilling with Silicon oil and replacing the vertical damping adjustment pins since those got stuck and their screw head snaps off easily. Setting the counter weight damping/resonance finetuning took some time. It sounds fabulous. Can compare to Dual 505 easily, since have various of those, including OM10 fitted ones.

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