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Kenwood KD-500 / KD-550 Direct-Drive Turntable Review

It’s time I wrote a piece on the legendary Kenwood KD-500 / KD-550 direct-drive turntables. These classic direct-drive decks hail from an era when things were built to last.

Indeed, if decks like the KD-500 / KD-550 with this level of bespoke engineering were to be built now, they would cost many thousands of dollars. The Technics SL-1200 is a classic example – it’s been reissued and costs literally thousands! This is just one reason I love these Kenwood decks.

I’ve written many more Kenwood KD-500/550 articles and don’t forget to check out my articles on the Kenwood KD-600 / KD-650, even better direct-drive decks from Kenwood.

Nothing new from Rega or Project can even hope to come close the level of precision you see in a deck like the KD-500. To difference between the two decks relates to the arm – the KD-500 came without an arm from the factory. The idea was that you would then fit your favourite Grace G-707, or perhaps an SME Series 2 or 3. The KD-550 came with a Kenwood tonearm that was really very nice for the asking price.

Specifications, courtesy of the Vinyl Engine:

Drive: direct-drive system
Motor: 8-pole 24 slot brushless DC servo motor
Platter: 30cm, 1.5kg aluminium alloy die-cast
Speeds: 33.33 and 45rpm
Wow and flutter: less than 0.03% WRMS
Signal to noise ratio: more than 60dB
Tonearm: static-balance type, s-shaped pipe arm, eia plug-in connector on KD-550
Effective length: 237mm
Overhang: 15mm
Tracking force range: 0 to 4g
Usable cartridge range: 5 to 12g
Dimensions: 502 x 382 x 162mm
Weight: 14.9kg

Proprietary Engineering

The deck in the pictures here is a KD-500, and therefore has a Kenwood arm. These Kenwood direct drive decks have a chassis made from Kenwood proprietary ARCB synthetic granite. The motors are a custom, high-torque design, the tonearm on the KD-550 is also a Kenwood custom design. More on this custom engineering below.

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This is a good plan view of the underside of the Kenwood KD-500 or KD-550. At the top left you see where the tonearm sits. The black thing in the middle is the underside of the servo-controlled direct drive motor. You can also see the mains transformer and power supply circuitry situated around the motor.
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Power supply transformer. This feeds a simple power supply circuit…
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…Which we see here. This is a close up of the power supply circuitry. Note that these capacitors were still good, thirty years on. I am not generally a fan of changing capacitors “for good measure” unless they are a real pain in the bum to get at.
Motor

The KD-500 / KD-550 have custom-manufactured direct-drive motors. This is a whole world of precision apart from the AC ‘clock’ motors you find in Rega or Linn decks for example. This is what the Japanese do best, well-designed, well-executed custom engineering like this. No belt-drive deck can hope to compete with the speed and pitch stability generated a direct-drive motor like the one found here. You can tell as soon as you play a record.

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This is the underside of the motor. Note the awesome synthetic granite base, with brass threaded inserts for screws and fasteners. This was a proprietary Kenwood material and one which they used in all their good gear.
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And here, with the rotor removed, to enable lubrication of the bearing.
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This is what you see when you open the lovely direct drive motor. The stator and windings, inside a steel can, bolted down to synthetic marble plinth – note the speed sensor at 1 o’clock. Kenwood describes these motors as not requiring lubrication. They didn’t, in the normal lifetime of a few years, expected at the time of design. They do now!
Chassis

Another area where the Kenwood KD-500 / KD-550 excels is the chassis or ‘plinth’. This is not a plinth made of wood or chipboard like many other decks. Instead, this plinth is made from synthetic marble, or granite, called ARCB. ARCB is a resin impregnated composite, that looks and feels like marble and a material Kenwood became famous for. Possessing excellent strength and damping properties, ARCB can also be molded into complex shapes, like the chassis you see in the images in this article.

Something like this would not even be made now due to the high costs to set up production. If it were, it would be thousands of dollars. If you look at the feature image at the top of this page, you will see the attention to detail in the heavily ribbed under-chassis, all designed to dampen and minimise resonance through the deck.

The platter on the Kenwood is nice, nothing special, just solid and weighing around 1.5kg. The whole deck weighs around 15kg which these days would put it in the massive category. Rumble is around -70dB and wow and flutter sit at around 0.03%, all very good figures even now.

You can see some specs and a few more pics of the KD-500 at the excellent The Vintage Knob.

Servicing

One thing I always do when a Kenwood KD-500 / KD-550 comes in for service is clean and lubricate the bearing and motor. These motors were designed as sealed-for-life units. It turns out though that the folks who designed the deck and wrote the service manual underestimated how long these wonderful turntables would last! These days, unserviced motors are running dry and are very much in need of a fresh dose of synthetic bearing oil. This always makes a deck run more quietly, often more quietly than when new due to improvements in lubricants since the 1970’s. .

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Carefully clean the bearing well to remove the oily residue left after 30 years of operation.
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The spindle should be cleaned with a lint-free cloth and be spotless afterwards. Note the slotted frequency generator (FG) disc attached to the top of the rotor. This passes through the speed sensor mentioned early and generates a signal, the frequency of which changes as speed of rotation changes. The speed servo circuitry senses any deviation from the correct speed and corrects for this. Imagine a turntable without this ingenious feature? None of the belt-drive decks out there can hope to match the speed accuracy of direct drive decks like these.

I should also mention the Kenwood KD-600/650 direct-drive turntables. These are even better, synthetic marble decks from Kenwood. I own one of these and can confirm it is a superb deck. Mine came with a gorgeous SME Series 3 tonearm which I rewired with silver.

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My KD-600, in for service and minus her arm. The servicing procedure is a real pain. You have to get two oscilloscope probes in under the deck, whilst it is running, hence the edge support from underneath!
In Use & Sound Quality

The Kenwood KD-500 and KD-550 are a delight to use. Being fully manual decks, you get to enjoy raising and lowering the arm yourself, cueing the lead-in groove and returning the arm to rest at the end of a record.

You get simple push-buttons for speed selection and there’s a handy strobe to help you sync the speed. This is not a quartz-locked deck, rather the speed is referenced to the mains frequency of 50 or 60Hz, depending on where you live.

Because of the massive chassis and compliant feet, the deck is good at isolating itself from external noise and vibration. Even so, you should always mount a deck on a dedicated shelf, preferably wall-mounted.

This is a very good sounding turntable, with nothing strange to report. It simply gets out of the ways and plays a record properly, exactly what you want and exactly what cheap modern decks find it really hard to do! With the right arm, or the Kenwood arm in the KD-550, bass is deep and controlled. Midrange and treble are smooth and unfatiging and soundstaging is excellent. Pitch stability is of course also excellent.

The Bottom Line

This part is easy. If you want a fully manual deck with huge bang for the buck and cool retro looks, look no further than the Kenwood KD-500 or KD-550. Don’t forget, you’ll find more KD-500/550 articles here.

Kenwood KD-500/550

Kenwood KD-500/550
8.6

Chassis / Motor

9/10

    Tonearm

    8/10

      Build / Finish

      9/10

        Upgradeability

        10/10

          Sound Quality

          9/10

            Pros

            • Excellent chassis & platter
            • Choice of tonearm (KD-500)
            • Excellent speed stability and pitch accuracy
            • Strobe speed indicator
            • Excellent bang-per-buck

            Cons

            • Lids crack easily
            • Not as good as 600/650

            25 thoughts on “Kenwood KD-500 / KD-550 Direct-Drive Turntable Review”

            1. Ah, no problem. So you have lots of good options including the legendary SME 3009, the Jelco SA-750D I’ve reviewed elsewhere on my site or even a Rega arm. You’ve just got to make a suitable armboard and you are good to go!

            2. Hi Charles, lots of options there so it’s probably best if you give me a call to discuss your options and budget in more detail. Details on my homepage! Regards, Mike

            3. Just bought this Kenwood without arm and cartridge. I want to better my Thorens TD 320. What arm do you advice?

            4. Replacement capacitors are easy to find and definitely the way to go initially. Beyond that, you need test equipment and the knowledge to use it. You could test each of the stator windings for continuity, but you might be best to take her in to somebody who fixes electronics in your area and who knows turntables.

            5. Thanks for the reply, Mike. The rotor initially wants to move when I turn the power switch on, but it’s not a sustainable motion. Replacing the capacitors may be do-able if I can find replacements. The situation seems more hopeful if the caps are more likely to be the culprit than a motor that’s died. I see no visible evidence of overheating on any of the components or in the motor. Is there any way to read-out the stator windings and, if so, what values should it read? Thanks in advance.

            6. Hi LC, thanks for writing. Unfortunately the only advice I can give here is that someone knowledgable needs to look at the old girl to determine what might be wrong. It could be a case of some dead capacitors after this amount of time without power. They usually need to be reformed, rather than have full mains voltage applied immediately after such a long storage time. Given that she is dead now though, she will need some proper attention, unless you feel capable of removing and replacing all the electrolytic capacitors and seeing if that fixes the issue.

            7. Great article, great turntable. I recently unboxed mine which had been in storage for 20+ years, hoping it would still work. It did initially, but the strobe indicated it was having a problem keeping a steady speed. Thinking it might “loosen up” with time, I left it running overnight. The next morning I got up and noticed an odor that reminded me of the old adhesive medical tape commonly used years ago. It didn’t have the usual electrically “somethings burning” smell. I realized to my chagrin that the motor was no longer spinning. I have checked the voltages per the schematic (U.S. version with L01-1171-15 transformer) and didn’t find anything amiss as far as I can tell. The output to the motor between terminals 12 and 13 reads 18.3vdc. A quick check of the internet shows part are going to be hard to come by. If it’s the motor, I’m probably the proud owner of a formerly working KD-500 with Grace 707 arm. You seem to be the most knowledgeable person I’ve run across on the subject, but shipping the turntable to and from Australia would probably be cost prohibitive. Any ideas or suggestions?

            8. Hi Mike, great to read this article. I have a UK ‘Trio KD500’ version, as you may know they were rebadged in the UK because Kenwood was a well known brand of food mixer. I bought it new in 77/78 when I was working in a hi-fi shop, at a staff discount price, and fitted it with a SME 3009 arm. I never gave up on vinyl so it’s been in use for almost 40 years and never been serviced. It still works and sounds great through my contemporary Technics SU8600 amp and JBL L36 speakers. I must confess I am astounded at the quality and reliability of this great turntable, my amp has just had to have some transistors replaced and the speakers have been reconed once but the deck just keeps going. I play a lot of records, it must have clocked up at least 5,000 hours use, maybe twice that. How wonderful to buy a piece of equipment as a young man that has given me so much musical pleasure and may well see me out, I am in awe of the Kenwood designers, engineers and assemblers. Your piece explains a lot, best regards, Mick

            9. Hi Hal, I suggest you get a copy of the service manual if you plan on doing any work like this. The mechanism should be fairly self-explanatory once you open her up, but a manual is invaluable when performing any sort of work like this. Regards, Mike

            10. Hi Mike,
              I finally managed to hook a Kenwood KD 3070 turntable to match my Kenwood amp.
              The unit is in top shape both visually and technically but it needs some attention regarding the too quick arm return even on the lowest speed setting.
              I understand there is a spinning wheel in an oil pan involved that slows down the arm return motion.
              I have ordered the 100,000 wt silicone oil that should be in the pan but have no idea how to get the oil into the pan. Is there a procedure that you could recommend?
              Or perhaps it is obvious once i get under the hood?
              Many thanks,
              Hal

            11. I’m an original owner of a KD-500, hoping to return it to service after 15 years of storage. What is a brand name of a suitable “synthetic bearing oil”

            12. Hi Hal, it’s a good idea to always try to have the very best source components you can afford. If you are looking for a Kenwood then it makes sense to try to find a KD-500/550 or 600/650. You can then keep this as other parts of your setup change. There are other Kenwood decks of course, so much depends on your budget. Regards, Mike.

            13. Hi Mike,
              Thanks for your advise. Much appreciated by this ignoramus.
              I have this notion (probably foolish) to find a Kenwood turntable that will match up in relative performance and cost with my Kenwood KR-A4080 receiver/amplifier.
              Which Kenwood turntables should I search for?

              many regards,
              Hal
              Victoria, Canada

            14. Hi Hal, certainly not as good a deck. What you really want is a KD-600 or 650 – these are both awesome decks and considerably better than the 500. Regards, Mike.

            15. Hi,
              Where would you put the KD-3070 in the Kenwood lineup?
              I missed out on a KD-500 recently but now a 3070 popped up for sale in my area
              Thanks
              Hal

            16. Hi Jim, I briefly stopped in Santa Fe on my trip from NYC to San Diego, wonderful train trip. I’m not sure what procedure you are referring to but the deck needs service. If you are handy on the tools, you could try opening her up and cleaning the speed controls and associated trim pots on the control board, but there may be other problems causing the speed woes. Perhaps there is someone local you can take it to?

            17. Hi from Santa Fe, NM USA

              Have a KD-500 that no longer spins accurately fluctuates between 1/2 speed and 3/4 with pitch control turned all the way up. If I follow the procedure above would that fix it or should I be looking to do something else?

              thanks

            18. Hi Rifat, the KD-500 is quite different from the Technics in many ways actually. There are no issues with the motor that I have encountered and I have serviced many of them. In fact the motor is excellent and maintains very accurate speed!

            19. The model is well designed. But it is much similar to Technics SL 1200. Besides, I believe it has some issues with the motor. The motor is not upto the expectation mark and can not maintain accurate speed.

            20. The model is well designed. But it is much similar to Technics SL 1200. Besides, I believe it has some issues with the motor. The motor is not upto the expectation mark and can not maintain accurate speed.

            Thanks for reading, leave a comment and let me know what you think!