Product: Dynavector DV-20x2 Moving-coil Cartridge
Manufacturer: Dynavector - Japan
Cost, approx: approx 900 Euro (YMMV)
Reviewer: Geoff Husband - TNT France
Reviewed: January, 2015
It's funny how things turn out sometimes. A couple of months ago I had the Pro-Ject Signature turntable here on review. It looked very promising but a couple of aspects had me a little concerned about the cartridge I would use. The speed control and on/off were mounted bizarrely right below the stylus when at rest. As the Dynavector XV-1t I would usually use has the most hideously exposed cantilever I decided that its life expectancy would be somewhat reduced if I used it. Tests involve thousands of cuing and uncuing actions and with a cartridge worth as much as a new small car I wasn't going to risk it. That left me with three other alternatives. The Music Maker Classic, the Dynavector DV17 D3 and an Ortofon Vigor (badge engineered MC3 turbo I believe though it could be an X5).
More snags... The arm turned out to be pretty high mass at 20 grms and its design incorporated more vertical drag than I was happy with (that a cartridge will see as extra resistance to add to the effective mass). The Vigor coped OK though ideally happier on a lower-mass arm, but it was really a pretty cheap cartridge to nail onto a 10,000 Euro turntable. The Music Maker hated the arm, tracked badly, skipped and was the miss-match you'd expect given its highish compliance. The Dynavector worked OK but the 'draggy' arm and high mass were going to put that tiny, 1.7mm long cantilever under a lot of strain. To review the turntable with cartridges which I know weren't ideal was pointless so I hunted for alternative. Pro-Ject recommended a couple of manufacturers but they didn't want to play.
So I emailed Dynavector.
I've made no secret of the fact that Dynavector have helped with review cartridges before and have left some for me to 'look after' after review this despite the fact that I've told the truth about their products when I've reviewed them. But they've been a friend to TNT in that they deliver whenever they say they will and don't ask favours*. Other manufacturers take note...
Quickly looking at their site I picked out the Dynavector D20X2-L. Why? Because at something approaching 1000 Euro I thought it a good price match for the Pro-Ject it also had a well protected stylus! But most of all 16 years ago (OMG!) I had reviewed its predecessor the D20-L - . So not only was I able to use it for the turntable review but also afterwards give it a full review and try to see what had changed in all that time.
How it performed with the Pro-Ject you can see here needless to say it didn't hold that turntable back...
So when the new DV20x2-L (L = low output 0.3 mV, there is also an 'H' for MM inputs) came I naturally compared it to the cartridge I had tested in my youth;-)
The first thing to note that the X2 version is nearly twice the price of the original. Even accounting for the 16 years that's quite a hike. It follows a pattern from many other manufacturers, but pushes the DV20x2 out of the budget Moving-Coil (MC) market into a more serious level. The original I'd praised for its value, but what now?
The thing is that the x2 is much, much more than a simple update. The body is a completely different form, the front being open but the sides protecting the stylus. The body is tapped for cartridge bolts (a criticism of the original) and the elliptical stylus has given way to a Micro-Ridge. In fact apart from the use of a hardened alloy tube for the cantilever the two cartridges appear quite different. Perhaps the 'motor' is essentially the same but the output is slightly up (from 0.25 mV) and Dynavector have used their proprietary 'magnetic flux damping' and 'softened magnetism' both of which were limited to models above the DV20 in the last incarnation.
The way Dynavector have chosen to retain the same name for a quite different cartridge is intriguing and not something many manufacturers would do in a world where 'New! Improved!' is shouted from the rooftops. But whatever the improved specification goes a long way to justifying any price increase and means that on paper at least the DV-20x2 remains very competitive.
Dynavector's range includes two very unusual cartridges, both of which I've tested and have here for comparison. The hideously expensive DRT-1t has many unusual features, and the 17D is a real oddball with its tiny diamond cantilever and small body in contrast the DV-20x2 is pretty conventional slotting in between the entry level DV 10x5 and the 17D. At 10 grms, medium compliance, standard geometry and decent output this is a widely compatible cartridge suitable for any quality system given a good moving-coil input.
Setting up is as easy as it gets with a cartridge my only complaint being Dynavector's rather poor stylus 'guard' which is more likely to damage rather than protect a cartridge. In fact the only cartridge I've ever broken died precisely because I wiped the cantilever off with the guard... Dynavector are far from the only company than needs to think about this apart from the Shure V15 most just lull you into a false sense of security at best...
But otherwise yes the body is nicely square, the cantilever, despite being protected by the body to a certain extent, is perfectly visible and of course it'll fit just about anything.
I used the Audiomods arm once I'd sent home the Pro-Ject and the match was perfect (even better than the Pro-Ject) with arm/cart resonance around 12 Hz and working well with either of the Audiomods counterweights I settled on the heavier purely because I preferred the look... Tracking ability was also good not a strong point of the original at least when measured, though it was rarely an issue in the real-world.
Having been rather surprised at how different the X2 is to the original I was very pleased that the sound the fundamental nature of the cartridge - remained. All that I liked about the original DV 20 was still there the bouncy bass, the quick feet, the lack of harshness and the 'fun' of it. It's a really nice cartridge to listen to, it's not demanding, it doesn't make you keep moving your head to see if you can hear some nuance, or see deeper into a sound stage - it just gets on with making good music and I like that. Where it differs most is in the extended high end, detail and soundstaging. The old cartridge was a bit laid back and smooth but with a 'tinkle' on top. It lacked some of the leading edge and detail of the Ortofon Supreme for example and the midrange was a little shy. No longer! Here the top end was further extended but also more of a level with a more prominent mid-range. In the bass the leading edge of notes (which in fact are usually in the mid-range) were more prominent. I also think that surface noise was lower though here we're pushing my 16 year-old memory and notes!
The 17D made an interesting comparison it's more expensive than the DV-20 but not excessively so, about 30% more, so almost competitors. What the 17D does more than anything is speed and holding things separate when things get complex. In fact few cartridges get close at any price, and it is incredibly even right across the range. In these respects it is ahead of the DV20, and it's imagery too is just that bit more defined and focussed. But it is less widely compatible and dare I say it just not quite so much fun as the DV20;-) It's that punchy, bouncing along exuberance that makes the DV 20 so appealing and so on many records I find myself leaning towards the cheaper alternative.
Now in comparison with the DRT-1t (which is widely regarded as a contender for best-in-the-World) you'd expect a much bigger shift and in some respects that's what you get. But the interesting thing is that unlike the original version actually sounds very like the DRT-1t. As with that much more expensive cartridge the '20' is very even right from the very lowest notes through the midband to the top end. When comparing to one of the best at any price it doesn't embarrass itself, nor does any one attribute just out at you.
Of course there are differences. The 'Grosse Caisse' in the intro to Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue' (RPO 8008) is there, but the weight isn't quite the same and you have the feeling that the skin is stroked rather than struck. As the swooping clarinet comes in the sound is suitably bell-like and the rise in pitch evenly handled the DRT giving a little more ring to the sound. The piano on this piece (and all this happens in the first minute or so) is incredibly percussive and fast and of course the piano has a complex of harmonics that build the timbre of the instrument here the DV 20 came close to the DRT and then handled the crash of the cymbals with much the same attack and sheen of it's big brother but the decay was a little shy. The muted trumped had more 'quack' and the DRT held the pin-point positions of the orchestra where the 20 was more unfocussed in comparison, but that's not a fault that grates as it's much what you hear live. The DRT gave more of the Henry Wood hall which is lovely and I can imagine that in a room/system more optimised for imaging that this might well split the two further apart and it is here that the real super-cartridges shine.
I guess the hoary old clichι of their being a veil between you and the music really does work in this case overall the DV-20 sounds like the DRT with a curtain hung between you and the speakers. Everything just a big less etched, defined and with blurring of big orchestral climaxes but in each case just a small step back. Sitting in front of the fire I could quite happily listen to either.
But as I say the fundamental presentation of the music was very similar and very natural. As for 'Natural', the best test for this is the human voice because we are all so familiar with it. Last night I was listening to 'Sg Pepper' and thinking how simple and stripped bare the production was - McCartney/Lennon could have been in the room. And yes I was listening to the DV 20x2... Many records are so messed about with it's hard to know what you are actually meant to hear, but discs like this, or some I recorded by friends leave no-where to hide.
One of the little games I play with myself is to ask could I live with this? Now to refine that question, what I'm really asking is that despite 'better' things being available, would I, if those better things disappeared miss them horribly or be quite happy with what was left. It's not as easy as you think, but over the last two months I've had two turntable systems sitting next to each other and plugged in the Dr Feickert Blackbird / SME V12 / Dynavector DRT-1t and the AS Solid** / Audiomods / DV 20x2. The former totals about four times the cost of the latter. Is it better? Well yes it is, in fact it's slightly better in pretty much every respect. However because of the way the turntables are positioned the AS is a little easier to get to and I have found myself using it as much as the more expensive rig. Psychologists will tell you that this is putting a 'cost' to a preference and although the cost is small (having to stand slightly awkwardly to change discs) the result of this experiment must be that the preference is small too.
Part of this is down to the Audiomod being a giant-killer*** of Jackobean proportions but it also shows how even, fun and simply competent the DV 20x2 is. More than this is the level at which I'm 'gilding the lily' the DV 20x2 is good enough to do the things I value in a cartridge well enough for me to forget the hifi and listen to the music. Considering the real-world price and the sort of competition its up against that's high praise.
When I started all this, little did I know that just a month later Todd Bromgard was reviewing the same cartridge (Todd's review here). I studiously avoided reading his review until I had completed this and so you get two completely different looks at a cartridge. Hopefully we won't contradict each other (and if so hey! That's the nature of hifi) and also it's nice to have a joint reference between two reviewers. I always liked it when Thorsten used the same turntable as me;-)
* - I'm not wealthy and if I didn't have 'loaner' cartridges to hand I would simply use a relatively cheap cartridge for reviews. Reviewing requires fitting and removing cartridges (always dangerous) loads of cuing, fiddling with alignment, fitting to perhaps dodgy arms and so-on. Would I use my own precious £1000 cartridge for this for my unpaid work for TNT? No. So companies like Dynavector help make my reviews valid and interesting however the day any company asks for a review to be changed the kit goes back. The only quid pro quo is that inevitably their component gets mentioned in reviews of other stuff so there is publicity involved I guess. I'm happy with this to my knowledge all other reviewers do the same but most don't tell you about it.
** - I've modified the turntable slightly by using a different motor unit as the original became increasingly noisy
*** - By giant-killer, I mean it can go head-to-head with the SME V12, a Triplanar, Artemiz etc and sound in the same class. The DV 20 is not a giant-killer to do that it would have to be as good as the DRT and it isn't. Don't worry if I do find a 1000 Euro cartridge that matches it I'll let you know.
© Copyright 2015 Geoff Husband - Geoff@tnt-audio.com - www.tnt-audio.com