Dynavector DV-20XH Cartridge
Review By Phil Gold
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"Try this one, you're gonna like it."
Vince, the Canadian distributor for Dynavector, pressed me into giving this high output moving coil cartridge a good work out. Since I was in the process of reviewing a number of phono preamps at the time, the timing was fortuitous. Vince was convinced this cartridge was a killer, and would suit my taste for a lively up-front presentation. I was surprised that he would be pressing a cartridge onto me that first saw the light of day in 1999. But yes, I would try it, and yes I would like it too!
The world is not brimming with high output moving coil cartridges these days, and Dynavector makes two of them; the budget DV-10X5 and this one, the DV-20XH, which is also available in a low output version, the DV-20XL. Unlike the DV-10X5, the DV-20X's feature a solid aluminum alloy body for rigidity and to enable a secure fitting to the headshell. The cantilever is a 6mm length hard aluminum pipe cantilever paired with a perfect elliptical nude diamond stylus. This cartridge looks serious in its all black finish and imposing height. It mated well with the Ittok arm on my Linn Sondek LP12, and tracked securely at 2.15 grams.
The output level of 2.8mV suited all the moving magnet stages I played it through, with especially good results through the inexpensive Pro-Ject Tube Box and better still through my new in-house reference, the Graham Slee Era Gold V.
Right up front let me tell you this is not the most neutral of cartridges. The midrange is a little recessed, while the frequency extremes are quite extended, especially up top. Often this would lead to listening fatigue but not in this case. The treble while clear, detailed and open is also smooth and natural and superior in all these aspects to my Koetsu Black. The bass has good tonality and pitch definition, but is not as fulsome or dynamic as the Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood. Least satisfying is the presence region, which while competitive with other moving magnet cartridges does take a back seat to most low output moving coils. The quality is there, but the quantity isn't, at least in my setup. In fact this cartridge seems quite the opposite to the Koetsu, which is brilliant in the middle but reticent in the highs and lows. In a system such as mine, which has a wide and well-balanced bandwidth, the effect is bright and lively and the cartridge infuses life into some dim recordings. But if you have speakers that are rolled off on top, or tube amplification with a glorious midrange but hard pressed outside the presence band, this cartridge could act as a tone control, effectively flattening the system's frequency response.
The DV-20XH is quite at home in classical music, and does a fine job locating the various instruments in their own acoustic space, with plenty of detail and color. The texture of the instruments is well exposed, although dynamics are a little shy. The Beaux Arts Trio's big box of
Haydn Trios [Philips 6768077] sound clear, warm and vital. Turning to a more complex work, Klemperer's
Eroica from the complete Beethoven Symphonies [Angel AEW 34469], a much more difficult recording to do justice to, climaxes are handled with ease, deep bass is tuneful but the recording still sounds thin and shallow. The width of the soundstage is exemplary, and the music is thrilling, but the Koetsu brings more of the gravitas and presence to this recording and gets my vote on balance.
Surface noise is sometimes a problem with this cartridge, but those other more annoying extraneous sound effects, ticks and hum, are dialed well back. Transient response is excellent, and this combined with the extended treble and strong bass underpinnings serve jazz recordings well. "So What" on Miles Davis'
Kind of Blue [CBS 62066] is not as well served in the bass as the CD but the cymbals come through light and clear and low level detail is well resolved. The horn is amazing, so sweet, while the piano tone is more natural than usual.
I always pull out Thelma Houston's I've Got the Music in Me [Sheffield Lab-2] to get the full measure of a cartridge. The Dynavector plays this more cleanly than the Koetsu, resolving top to bottom, percussion exemplary and deep bass strong. The music really swings and there is a delicious rasp to the brass. This cartridge stops and starts on a dime.
There you have it, a consistent performance across all types of music. Strong detail, lightening reflexes, extended and tuneful, but with a slightly recessed midrange, this cartridge is effortlessly musical. Yes you can get more detail, you can certainly get more depth to the image and there are warmer and more full-bodied cartridges out there, but we are talking about a $550 investment here, and you will be hard pressed to do better at the price. Further, its sins are of omission rather than commission
-- there is no mistracking or distortion or coloration evident to my ears.
A word or two about the output level. Accepted wisdom has it that low output moving coils are always better than high output moving coils, or any moving magnet cartridges. This cartridge and the excellent Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood (a moving magnet design) both stand up well against all but a few low output moving coil designs. It is difficult and expensive to produce high quality phono preamps for low output cartridges, precise loading can be problematic, and hum can be an issue. You may save quite a bit of money by matching this cartridge to a phono stage such as the Era Gold V, or an amplifier such as the YBA Integré, which features an excellent phono stage suitable for high output cartridges only.
So Vince, thanks for sending this one my way. It exceeds my expectations for this price point, and I understand now why it is still on the market years after its
introduction -- why fix what ain't broke? I recommend it strongly, especially for tube lovers.
Type: Moving magnet (MM) cartridge
Output Voltage: 2.8mV at 1kHz, 5 cm/sec.
Channel Separation: 25 dB at 1kHz
Channel balance: 1dB at 1kHz
Frequency Response: 20Hz to 20kHz (±2dB)
Compliance: 12 x 10-6 cm/dyn
Tracking Force: 1.8 to 2.2 grams
DC Resistance: 150 ohms / 5 ohms
Recommended Load Resistance: >1Kohms / >30 ohms
Cantilever: 6mm length, hard aluminum pipe
Stylus: Perfect elliptical
Weight: 8.6 grams
Price: $550 USD ($840 CDN)
Dynavector Systems Ltd
United States Distributor
4600 McPherson AV
St. Louis, MO 63108
Voice: (314) 454-9966
Fax: (314) 454-9965
Tri-Cell Enterprises Inc.
176 Monsheen Dr.
Voice: (905) 265-7870
Fax: (905) 265-7868