One Of The Best-kept Secrets In Audio?

The Telefunken CS 20 turntable

By Roy Gregory

Audio is a field in which, seemingly, nobody and nothing ever dies. No matter the crime, no matter the number of bankruptcies, the customers left high and dry or the shattered credibility, individuals and companies, technologies and brands are resurrected (or resurrect themselves) with an ease that must leave Lazarus wondering what all the fuss was about. Yet even against a backdrop that includes the unlikely resurgence and rude health of single-ended triodes and mono vinyl, who could have predicted the return, rise and further rise of the direct-drive record player?

Of course, direct drive never totally went away and has always had its advocates, with Goldmund, Brinkmann and Grand Prix Audio amongst the most consistent. Meanwhile, the Technics SL-1200/1210 disco deck has persisted in thumbing its nose to the finer sensibilities of the audiophile world. The legendary Rockport Sirius III was a direct-drive record player – although its many advocates seemed able to ignore or gloss over that potentially unfortunate fact. Meanwhile, for the last decade, small companies seemed to have been cropping up all over (and with varying degrees of success) offering their own take on the direct drive turntable. But it wasn’t until Technics got serious about the high-end audio market once again, with the launch of the SL-1000R, that suddenly “direct-drive” were the words on everybody’s lips – and the technology that turntable manufacturers were scrabbling to implement. The resulting rash of direct-drive record decks range in price from the expensive to the ruinous – and in performance terms, from the “Mehhh” to the “Wow – why didn’t we think of this years ago”.

What they aren’t, is cheap. Technics entry-level SL-1500 weighs in at €1,000 while the slightly more ‘audiophile’ but OEM-sourced from Taiwan, Music Hall Stealth player tips up at $1,500 – and that’s as affordable as it gets… All of which means that for several generations of vinyl-playing audiophiles, weaned on belt-drive and well and truly indoctrinated as to its superiority, finding out what all the fuss is about – and, more importantly, whether they need to take it seriously – is a far from simple proposition. Ironically (given the history and application of the SL-1200) that direct-drive itch is an expensive one to scratch…

But, for those wanting to dabble in direct-drive, there is a surprisingly affordable, surprisingly capable and relatively easily acquired solution. Ladies and gentlemen… let me draw your attention to the un-fancied, unfashionable and virtually unknown Telefunken CS 20. And no – this isn’t some elaborate joke. In fact, the simple act of writing that line helps explain why this unheralded audio gem is to be found languishing on eBay at prices that even a teenager could afford.

So, what is the Telefunken CS 20, and why is it worth a second glance. After all, Telefunken aren’t exactly renowned as a purveyor of high-quality record players. To understand how this particular, happy audio accident came about, you need to travel back to the time when this product was current – and that means, 1980.