Five Dynavector MC Cartridges shoot it out.
Cacophany? Well, OK, that’s a bit harsh – all of these sound very presentable in their own ways. But it’s amazing the variety of sonic presentations that are to be found.
This ongoing set of mini-surveys covers a range of medium-priced cartridges, mostly moving coil (mc) but a few moving magnet (mm) types as well. Both high and low output.
Retail prices of cartridges cover an amazingly wide band from just a few tens of £ up to crazy multiple £thousands. I’ll be focussing here on some costing in the region of £100 to a few £hundreds, with a few tending toward the £1k mark.
I generally prefer mc cartridges to mm’s. I usually find them more musically sophisticated and a more interesting listen. More interesting because they seem to track the dynamic changes in music better and draw me in with a more involving musical experience. But there are some exceptions, some quite big exceptions!
In my time I’ve had some quite up-market turntables and arms – a Michell Gyrodeck with Rega arm, a Voyd Point Five with SMEV arm. Lovely stuff.
But I’ve kind of rebelled against that over recent years and have fallen madly-deeply in love with Japanese direct drive turntables. They really are fine things, and the speed stability of a decent direct drive is kind of hard to live without once you have experienced it. And those Japanese decks often come with remarkably fine tonearms – usually medium mass with decent bearings, and well-suited to my preference for mc cartridges.
So, the cartridges being looked at here have all spent there time with me riding in either a Denon DP-62L, a Technics SL-1210 or a Pioneer PL-71.
I’ll start this series of surveys with Dynavector cartridges that have passed through my system.
I’ve always loved the sound of Dynavector cartridges; the speed and openness, the dynamic delicacy. Right up my street!
My first ever mc cartridge was a 23RS. (~£450). Such an exquisite object, I fell in love with it even before I installed it in my turntable. That was 30 years or more ago, probably. But I’ve owned one more recently as well, and re-discovered why I liked it so much.
Then came a 17D2 and a 17D3. (£750)
Never one to buck a trend, I continued on up to a XX1L. (£1,000)
Then I back-tracked down the range quite a ways and tried a 10X5. (£300)
All but the 10X5 are low output cartridges, generally in the region of 0.2-0.3mV.
To my ears, Dynavector carts are about midrange neutrality, delicacy, fine detail, openness and speed. They all track well and are easy to set up. Cantilevers on all but the 10X5 are short, often very short! – the 17 and 23 in the cartridge name referring to the cantilever length – 1.7mm and 2.3mm. The 10X5 is a different beast altogether and has a worryingly long and exposed stylus!
As you go up the range, from 23RS to 17D2 and 17D3 the speed, delicacy and resolution of fine detail all improve. Not really cartridges to ‘kick ass’, they nevertheless have good dynamic impact, and a lightish but taut bass end. Imaging focus is always good and also improves as you pay more.
They have ruby and diamond cantilevers, respectively (hence the r and the d in the names), to take advantage of the stiffness of the material – I feel sure that this goes a long way toward explaining the excellent transient speed and high levels of detail that these designs capture so well.
Compared to some competing designs these Dynas can sound a little ‘fragile’ and lacking in substance – Denon 103 variants come especially to mind here, which have more heft throughout the tonal spectrum.
Going on to the XX1L the presentation changes markedly. A more robust sound, but also a little bland dynamically. I kept this for a while, trying to get the best out of it in various turntables and arms, but I never really settled with it. For me it was by far the least interesting and enjoyable of the Dyna carts I have heard. Also the most expensive. Hmm.
I then moved on to, and still own, a 10X5. In some ways I like this the best of all the Dyna carts I have heard, a conclusion which surprises me greatly, as it is also the cheapest and is at the bottom of the range. There is a robustness and sense of bouncy fun to the music making that makes me smile with appreciation. No, it doesn’t have the delicacy and fine detail of the jewelled cantilever carts, although detail levels are very good. But it does have a joyously plumptious bass end, not bloomy or loose, but fullsome and taut. Image focus is excellent as well, with vocals and solo instruments standing out boldly from the musical mix. Compared to, say, a Denon 103 it does still sound a little on the fragile side.
My 10X5 is currently on loan to a friend who has just bought his first ever turntable! It sounds great in his JVC direct drive turntable (he takes my advice on these matters!!) and he and his wife are very much enjoying the ‘vinyl experience’.
Above all else, the 10X5 makes the music sound fun!
More reviews to follow on Denon, Ortofon, Decca cartridges and others …. followed by an overall summary.