TEAC TN-5BB Review – Introducing Balance

Teac fit their new TN-5BB turntable package with balanced outputs. Noel Keywood explains why.

A beautifully built and finished Teac turntable” I thought to myself after unpacking. Then I turned it around and looked at its rear. Oh!

Balanced outputs. Teac’s TN-5BB turntable has a more attractive rear than name, that’s for sure – if you dream about using a bal­anced turntable.

That’s unlikely – but you should. Because for technical reasons that would fill a small book, turntables should be connected up in balanced fashion to banish hum and noise, giving a washed-clean sound. Few are.

Just looking at the big XLR sockets at rear told me straight away what Teac were thinking about when designing the TN-5BB. But this is a topic I will cover in detail later; there’s plenty more of interest.

It looks like a standard belt drive – a “drive it yourself” two speed, but the TN-5BB is a three speed with 78rpm as an option. Add in a bayonet-fixing SME-style removable headshell for quick change to 78rpm cartridge and it will appeal to die- hards able to survive seeing their 78s shatter.

More surprising was an electronic lift/lower system that worked beautifully, in dependable Teac style. Place arm over record, touch the big button up front and it lowers smoothly of its own accord. Yep, they’ve fitted a motorised lift/ lower platform and it worked so well I used it. Rather than my usually more reliable fingers.

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Better, at the end of a side the turntable detects arm run-out and triggers the lift platform to raise the arm and stop the turntable. This gives end-of-side silence: no tick-pop, tick-pop until you get off the settee. How civilised! Trouble is, moving the arm back to its rest actuated the arm movement sensor, needlessly re-starting the platter; I stopped it by switching the speed control to 0. Peculiar behaviour I thought, but then realised the speed had to be set to zero when the platter was stationary.

TEAC TN-5BB Review
Height adjustable arm and lift platform; keys are supplied. Bias is set by a small rotary dial.

Whilst this is a belt-drive turntable that looks like many others it has some strong distin­guishing features. The d.c. motor is electronically controlled so changing speed is simply a matter of turning the rotary speed selector at front from 0 to 33,45 or 78. No need to fiddle with the belt. Unusually, however, the platter has a sensor to keep speed accurate and tightly controlled, confirmed by our measurements.

TEAC TN-5BB Review
At front sits a circular lift/lower button with light touch action and small red LED to signal Up. Behind it lies a rotary speed selector

The power supply is a small external wall-wart style switch­mode delivering in 12V/ 1A. Using a low d.c. voltage from an external supply means the turntable does not have to be safety earthed to the mains, eliminating hum – a now-popular design approach. It leaves the metalwork electronically ‘floating’ and it must be earthed to the amplifier using a supplied black earth cable.

Removing the TN-5BB from its box presented an array of parts, including clear acrylic platter, belt, power supply, 45rpm adaptor, hinges for the dear acrylic dust cover and hex keys for arm adjustment. Also packed separately was the headshell with an Ortofon 2M Red moving magnet (MM) cartridge installed, avoiding the need for alignment. However, Teac do also include an alignment gauge. Similarly the counterweight must be fished out of its hiddy hole and screwed onto the rear of the arm.

More unusual than these parts were a push-on pulley cover that must be carefully aligned so the belt doesn’t scrape, and a set of packing washers to increase the height of the adjustable feet, should one or perhaps two need it. The feet on our sample were very tight and needed jiggling to free them. What you don’t get is a 45rpm depression or anywhere to store parts, an arm lock, or balanced cables. Teac supply normal phono (unbalanced) cables only.

Tracking force for the 2M Red they quote as 1.8gm in the User Manual, but Ortofon quote 1.6gm- 2gm range and I used the latter.

The Red used to be quite a bright sounding MM, one lacking traditional warmth, but Ortofon have tamed it to lessen this. What you get is detail rather than warmth.

Putting it all together made clear to me how solid and well made the TN-5BB is. The dual layer plinth comprises an MDF base with a synthetic marble top, separated by a Washi paper layer, Teac say, for best sound quality. The plinth is heavy, having a weight of 8.8kgs. Overall weight of the turntable is 10.5kg (23.2lbs) and it feels rigid, that’s for sure, needing a strong shelf or support surface. Whilst plinth depth is 350mm, taking into account lid rear overhang when open think around 400mm. Plinth width is 450mm and height without lid is 150mm, but with it at least 430mm is needed between shelves when open.

TEAC TN-5BB Review
A bayonet fixing detachable headshell, fitted with Ortofon 2M Red MM cartridge.
TEAC TN-5BB Review
A machined single-step brass pulley drives the belt.
TEAC TN-5BB Review
The platter spindle is captive, with a tapered brass bush for the platter.
TEAC TN-5BB Review
Teac supply a neat cover for the motor pulley. It must be aligned to avoid the belt.

The arm is developed by Japanese company SAEC. It uses knife edge bearings for vertical movement, but ball races for lateral (like old SMEs such as the 3009). The arm is an alloy tube that felt and sounded undamped and a bit ringy to me, but its S shape de­tunes the first bending mode to keep structural resonances in check, measurement showed. Its height can be adjusted, and height of the cue platform too.


First peculiarity. In their literature Teac say only that balanced connection is for MC cartridges. And that’s it – there’s no elaboration. Since an MM cartridge is fitted and conventional phono leads supplied, initially I used it how anyone might, unbalanced into our Creek Voyage i20 amplifier driving Martin Logan ESL-X hybrid electrostatic loudspeakers.

TEAC TN-5BB Review
To stop the platter speed (at rear) must be turned to zero.

But musing on this I could not help feeling users might wonder why the XLR sockets can’t be used with the cartridge fitted, or even what they are for. And what about changing over from MM, that the kids use, to dad’s precious MC? Change the leads as well?

Turns out, after checking the earthing system with a meter, you can connect it up balanced with the cartridge supplied or any other MM. It connects the cartridge screening can to one signal line (Left ground, green) but this is no disaster – and apart from this you get fully balanced working with MM that will eliminate hum, buzz, ground currents et al.Well, that’s the theory. Trouble is only one phono stage offers balanced connection for MM, Pro-Ject’s Phono Box RS2. Teac’s PE-505 does not – likely why Teac don’t mention using MM balanced. More on this later.

TEAC TN-5BB Review
The rear counterweight is rotated to apply tracking force.

To review this turntable I realised that the budget 2M Red could usefully be upgraded to 2M Black with its better stylus, and also that it should be connected to our Phono Box RS2 to provide balanced working.Then, for MC, I had to change over to Teac’s PE- 505. Running a balanced turntable unbalanced is rather missing the point, after all.

With the Ortofon 2M Red fitted, connected up with the phono cables supplied, I got much the sound expected from previous experience.This is now a cartridge accurate in tonal balance, meaning it lacks the warmth of old MMs, being more open and revealing. Yet without high-end spit from the stylus, ticks and pops don’t fly out like bullets, making treasured old LPs playable.

I can’t say “detailed” because the elliptical stylus sounded slightly blurred, and this demanded a change to the 2M Black stylus with its Shibata profile. At this point I found our Black stylus did not comfortably fit this Red unit, so the whole cartridge was changed. It brought an immediate and significant improvement, the 2M Black with Shibata stylus imposing focus and solidity to the Trondheim Soloists behind Marianne Thorsen, playing Mozart violin concertos. Not only were strings less mellifluous – individual violins rather than a blob of them – but the performance seemingly came to life.

Next it was time to switch to MM balanced working. Before doing this, turning volume to maximum with unbalanced there was a slight buzz at full volume even though the earthing was perfect. Moving to balanced with the Pro-Ject Phono Box RS2 one channel went silent but the other still had a very slight buzz, if much reduced.This came from the screening can connected to the right channel (green) ground I found by removing the stylus assembly and touching it. So the can does pick up external noise, but it was barely audible and balanced with MM was slightly quieter and better.

At full volume (which introduced massive gain from the Creek) I noticed two other issues. The arm was slightly microphonia lifting it put handling noises through the ‘speakers, and the phono sockets (now unused) were ’live’.Touching either of them put a massive buzz through the speakers, because they are fully floating and connected to the XLR lines. Not ideal, but as the Left channel remained totally silent at full volume these floating sockets were not injecting hum or buzz, unlike the floating screening can. Note that I’m talking about very low levels of buzz here, inaudible at normal listening levels.

So onto MC. I strapped in our Ortofon Cadenza Bronze. Switching to MC on the RS2 and turning volume to maximum there was no buzz at all, just very slight residual hiss. Playing the Trondheim Soloists again I was greeted by an even purer sound, one with more depth and body to it, as you’d hope from a high quality MC. Now the TN-5BB was really motoring – I was getting a lovely sound. Swapping over to Teac’s PE-505, connected balanced through Chord Company Epic cables, again there was no buzz at full volume and the sound brightened slightly because it has a lighter hue than the RS2.

Good speed stability came as a sense of pitch confidence; notes were rock stable, never wavering or sounding watery. This was an obvious strength of the Teac: the electronic timing of synth in Alison Goldfrapp’s Lovely to CU (Supernature) was delivered with a tight grip. Rolling drum work in Sing, Sing, Sing, from the Syd Lawrence Orchestra (Big Band Spectacular) strode along to perfection.

TEAC’s SAEC arm lacked the low frequency definition of structurally more rigid designs – from Rega and SME for example. Hand drums and percussion in Hugh Masekela’s Uptownship (Hope) weren’t as separated and solid as I know them from our SME309 and my SME3 12, but then these arms cost more than the Teac in its entirety. At the price it did a good job.

And as the LPs passed by I found the turntable a delight to use. Put arm over LR, press the big button up front (which has a light action) and walk away. When the music ends the arm lifts and all falls silent.


Beautifully built and finished Teac’s TN-5BB turntable was visually attractive, leveraging every little feature of these complex contraptions for maximum advantage – even its feet look good! The only thing missing was a flashing stroboscope. I found it lovely to use as well, the motorised arm lift/lower engineered to perfection, the plinth solid and steady.

With the budget Ortofon 2M Red moving magnet cartridge fitted it gave a balanced and entertaining sound from vinyl, free of old-worlde problems like watery musical pitch

TEAC TN-5BB Review
Supplied phono cable and earth lead. Hex keys for arm adjustment and washers for the feet.
TEAC TN-5BB Review
At rear are balanced XLR outputs and isolated (balanced) phono socket outputs. The earth terminal grounds the arm, as do the XLRs via Pin1.

or sharp ticks and pops. Upgrading to better cartridges showed it was able to reveal quality improvements, especially when the balanced outputs were used. The arm tube could

usefully have been less lively, but at the price it was acceptable. This is a fine turntable, able to deliver great sound in easy and convenient fashion. So highly recommended.


The 3150Hz test tone of a DIN 45-545 test disc was reproduced as 3152Hz on our Wow&Flutter meter – close to perfect. Wander around nominal was small at 3Hz, making basic speed both correct and very stable. As a result variation values were very low for a belt drive, wow measuring 0.1% and flutter 0.05%. Total W&F (European DIN weighted) came in at just 0.06%, falling to 0.04% with Japanese JIS weighting (as Teac will measure it). This is a very speed stable turntable, within a whisker of Direct Drive. Our analysis shows relatively low variance at 33rpm (0.55Hz), with low harmonics and flutter to right – a fine result.

TEAC TN-5BB Review
TEAC TN-5BB Review

The arm had a strong first bending mode at 100Hz and a third-order related harmonic peak at 300Hz, our analysis made with a Bruel&Kjaer accelerometer on the headshell shows.

The turntable measured very well but the arm was mediocre, due to main bending mode resonances in the light, undamped alloy tube. NK

TEAC TN-5BB Review

Moving magnet cartridges can be connected up balanced, as shown in our dia­gram of the Teac. Whether the screening can, earthed to the left (green pin) channel, pro­duces slight hum or buzz depends upon surrounding conditions. The turntable must be kept away from other mains powered equipment and also away from (or outside of) a ring-main induction loop or lighting circuit with dimmers. These set up fields that can be heard as buzz, even when earthing arrangements are correct.

Moving Coil (MC) cartridges have few coil turns, making them far less sensitive to outside electromagnetic fields, and they don’t have screening cans. The body, if metal, is earthed to the arm, not to Left ground (green).

The phono sockets float electrically on the Teac; they are not earthed.

OUTSTANDINGamongst the best
VALUEkeenly priced


10 Total Score
Recommended TEAC TN-5BB Review

An elegant turntable package with good sound, one that's upgradable.

  • build quality and finish
  • ease of use
  • balanced connection
  • lively arm tube
  • budget cartridge
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Product NameTeac tn-5bb Belt Drive Turntable with Balanced XLR Output
Weight20 lb

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