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Stereo...

aparently means "stable"

not "solid"

[rua not the day]
[Italian version]

Is the Dynavector XX-2 MkII both stable and solid?

Product: Dynavector XX-2 MkII moving coil pick-up cartridge
Manufacturer: Dynavector
Importer: Pear Audio; Contact: john@pearaudio.com
Price: Half Te Kaitora Rua YMMV - check with your local importer due to currency fluctuations
Availability: official local distributors and mail order
Reviewer: Mark Wheeler - TNT Britain
Reviewed: November, 2011

Introduction

The background to Dynavector cartridges was described in the Te Kaitora Rua review, published earlier, so if you haven't read it yet, pop along to that page, but y'all come back real soon, y'hear?
"Has the old scribe been drinking bourbon again?" ask plebs, stage left, quite understandably.

The TKR review promised a forthcoming comparative review of the superficially similarly specified Dynavector XX-2model, of which the price of one TKR will buy two XX-2 MkII's. Despite its nude construction, the TKR weighs in at 9.8g while the heavier looking XX-2 MkII shaves off 0.9g to tip the scales at just 8.9g so arm matching should be a breeze with its medium compliance. The laws of diminishing returns in high end audio (as in high end anything else) imply that one cannot ever be twice as good as the other, but a logarithmic, or a quadratic relationship might be possible. So is the TKR at least 1.414 times better than the XX-2 MkII?

TNT-audio's own resident cartridge aficionado, Geoff, found the original XX-2 to be so close to the flagship Dynavectors that he found it difficult to imagine how the TKR could carve out a discernible niche between them. The extra refinements of the XX-2 MkII version imply the gap is closing further. So perhaps even root two is an optimistic expectation of the diminishing returns as component prices double.
"Has the old scribe taken leave of his senses, or is that bourbon impairing his judgement?" ask plebs, stage left, quite reasonably, "Actually that bottle looks like single malt so expect phoney Scots next, especially as the UK Dynavector importer is called Burns!"

[©John_Burns]

Description & tech specs

The Dynavector XX-2 MkII shares the TKR's Pathfinder stylus, solid boron cantilever and PCOCC coil wire (although the different output impedances, 5Ω for the TKR and 6Ω for the XX-2 MkII, imply different gauge or length or both) but differs in some construction details. The XX-2 MkII is mostly shrouded in type 7075 aluminium although relatively exposed underneath compared to many MC and MM cartridges, while the naked TKR exploits the extra hardness of a tiny mounting block of titanium. The MkII version of the XX-2 gains longer Alnico 5 magnets, retaining the magnetic softening circuit of its predecessor, claimed to reduce distortion and high frequency irregularities. The blurb also promises "deep powerful bass", a claim that can be a mixed blessing as attempts to enhance bass in electro-mechanical transducers can lead to turgid qualities but Dynavector have a good record for rhythm and pace, so only listening will tell.

MANUFACTURER'S SPECIFICATIONS
Cartridge type low output moving coil
Magnet type alnico 5 with flux damper
Output Voltage 0.28mV at 1KHz, 5cm/sec stereo
Channel Separation 30 dB at 1KHz
Channel balance 1.0 dB at 1KHz
Frequency response 20 - 20,000Hz 1dB
Compliance 10 x 10-6 cm/dyn

Tracking force 1.8g - 2.2g
DC resistance R=6 ohms
Recommended load impedance >30 ohms (see text)
Cantilever 6mm X 0.3mm solid boron
Stylus PF Line contact,radius: 7 x 30 micron
Weight 8.9g

Sound Quality

"Why are TNT-audio.com running another review of this cartridge? The MkII was tested before and resident cartridge sage, Geoff, tried the MkI. There are hundreds of high end MC's, not to mention moving iron, MM and strain gauge transducers out there, so why so much attention on one manufacturer?" challenge plebs, stage left, posing the obvious question.
Of all the myriad devices TNT-audio.com authors have tested, Dynavector have delivered consistent results and are thus 'references' is the sense that listeners may refer back to their sound as a relatively constant 'control' state, along with only a handful of widely available moving magnet, moving iron, and more rarely, moving coil cartridges. Look how many audiophile forum comments rave about certain couture cartridges that are truly wonderful, if you get a good one. The thing we at TNT-audio.com like NOT to hear is any phrase including a caveat like "if you get a good one". Urban myths about magic samples of stuff being identified by a special tiny blob of paint on a hidden surface, or a hand signed note by a shamanic healer included in the rare, protected species, wood box are frankly utter b*ll*x with no supporting evidence. So this review is of a typical production sample of the Dynavector XX-2 MkII, which arrived with an individual B&K pen trace, made at a reasonably high pen speed and reasonably low paper speed; this alone is worth more than hundreds of stories about the blind becoming able to see or the deaf (reviewers) becoming able to hear after they'd encountered the mystical unobtanium wired, will-o-the-wisp bodied, pixie dust encrusted masterpieces carved from rare minerals at certain phases of the moon when there is an 'R' in the month.

An individual pen trace simply demonstrates that a device meets some minimum standards of accuracy in a way that offers simple reassurance that contradicts florid anecdotes. Setting up by the book, after appropriate running in the set up was checked then confirmed by ear. Tracking force variations initially seem remarkably forgiving, allowing some fine tuning of balance by ear. Tail down a bit arm alignment was fine, tail up a bit (+2mm making tiny effects on VTA/SRA) is a renders high treble slightly chaotic as if the transient and phase performance is slightly affected. Otherwise, vertical alignment changes were inaudible despite this being an extended line contact stylus. Setting up the Dynavector XX-2 MkII cartridge is relatively straightforward, especially compared with the anxiety provoking nude designs like Dynavector's own TKR. The parallel sided boxy shape helps too.

On the subject of consistency and repeatability, the comparisons between the Dynavector Te Kaitora Rua and the XX-2 MkII were made using phono stages ranging from the transformer coupled Canor TP 306 VR+) to the current amplifying AQvox

On hitting the groove, surface noise is neutral. Pops and clicks recover fast, like the TKR stablemate and on musical programme this recovery ensures no momentary loss of musical information immediately following burned in dust or minor groove damage. The extra bodywork does not seem to have any detrimental effect on this aspect of the comparative performances.

The Dynavector XX-2 MkII forgives worn old recordings (hence some on the list below) and drags out maximum musical value where its available. So far, so flat earth fantasy, but is it just a leveller and enhancer? Truly great audiophile recordings do show their mettle a little, but the differences are more obvious with the TKR. Music lovers with some dodgy old record fair bootlegs will love the XX-2 MkII while lovers of 180g virgin vinyl reissues will better exploit the TKR. Neither cartridge applies lithium levelling to the emotional range, but neither offers the bipolar extremes of the edge of ecstasy or the decay into doom Decca experience.

Dynavector XX-2 MkII

[Dynavector XX-2 dimensions]

The Dynavector XX-2 MkII will make a synergistic partnership with pacey arms like the Naim Aro or the Hadcock 242SE while synergy with the Te Kaitora Rua will be closer with arms like the SME magnesium tubed models or upmarket Rega derivatives like the Mitchell Tecnoarm. Experimenting with several arms and headshells supports this hypothesis, but installation of the nylon washers recommended by the UK importers, Pear Audio, merely reduces the effects of arm differences and draws these two cartridges' perceptual performance envelopes closer. If that doesn't get a nomination for Pseud's Corner, nothing in these pages ever will.

Given the 20% tracking force tolerance these two cartridges have, which really is borne out in practice, and the predictable changes in balance wrought by downforce variation, it is entirely feasible to run the TKR heavy (about 2g- 2.05g) or the XX-2 MkII light (about 1.8g-1.83g) to get the tonal balance more equal. It's a faff, because arm height needs slight adjustment to keep SRA (Stylus Rake Angle) equal. Then, with the tonal balance variable more equalised, it might be expected that more revealing comparisons between the two can be made. However, despite the downforce tolerance neither cartridge is at its best anywhere away from 1.85g - 1.95g. While performance is adequate anywhere from about 1.80g-2.05g, the sweet spot is hit for either cartridge as soon as it's within that one tenth of a gram envelope.

The choice between the Dynavector TKR and it's XX-2 MkII stablemate is therefore not one of absolute quality between two steps in the ascending staircase of one manufacturer's range. Both appear to be manufactured to the same fine tolerances, with the same fundamental design philosophy, but with slightly different sets of priorities for excecution and presentation. I shared this opinion with UK importer John Burns in the early stages of the review period, wondering whether the Well Tempered arm (the popular Flat Earth partner for Dynavector cartridges in the UK) would further reduce such differences between the TKR and the XX-2 MkII. John emailed me this reply, "I found your comment about the two cartridges needing/liking different arms intriguing. They are very similar in many respects, albeit the TKR is the Corsa version with lightened pistons titanium con rods and fuel injection over carburetors...! But both have the same suspension and therefore require similar handling especially important in arm designs that have a measurable arm/cartridge resonance. The WT damps this right out, I'll never forget Paul Messenger's face just after he had measured a WTR with XV1 and produced a graph without that bump!"

Why are motoring (and photography) analogies so popular in audio? Is it because we're a blokey lot, equally at home with a pot-pourri of mineral grease and camshafts as we are with joss sticks and prog rock. I have to disagree with John, despite his greater experience, with respect to the arms I tried carrying these two cartridges. Perhaps the Well Tempered Arm's well known ability to control the fundamental resonance (arm/cartridge mass bouncing on cartridge compliance) eliminates the bass character difference between the XX-2 MkII and the TKR, revealing quality differences no longer masked by character differences demonstrated in other arms. In rigid tubed, gimbal bearinged supercharged Regas or SMEs the XX-2 MKII may be too much (hence the recommendation for nylon washers between cartridge and headshell/platform) but in fleet of foot arms like the Hadcock or Naim Aro the balance of virtues will work magnificently. In those more bombastic gimbal beaeing beams the Te Kaitora Rua will always outperform the XX-2 MKII as it will for greater retrieval of vocal nuances in any setting.

Conclusions

Back in the day, when everyone ran a Karma, Troika or Asak T in their Sondek mounted Ittok, your old scribe suspected there was less difference between Karma and Troika than there was between samples of either. The difference between the Dynavector XX-2 MkII and the Dynavector Te Kaitora Rua review is just as subtle but more profound in character. Both are superb moving coil cartridges. Neither will disappoint.

The subtle vocal nuances presented by the TKR are spectacular and unmatched by the XX-2 MkII, especially male vocals. If only a vinyl recording of the Arvo Pärt composition O Adoni (from Beatus) were available, it could be sublime with a mix of all valve amplification fed by the Dynavector Te Kaitora Rua and that recording alone alone would justify the Te Kaitora Rua price. The top end clarity and transparency of the TKR justifies its four figure pricetag (regardless of major currency) and avoids the tinkly colorations of many rival MC cartridges that emphasise midrange beauty by euphonic colouration.

On the other hand, the presentation by the Dynavector XX-2 MkII, of funky bass lines will add a spring to the step of flat earthers the world over. The darker tonal balance of the XX-2 MkII and its low frequency alacrity may compensate for less explicit midrange and less transparent treble than the TKR. At its price point, the XX-2 MkII should find favour with Flat Earthers looking for an alternative to the Arkiva and a significant step up from the Audio Technicas still favoured in those circles. It is also a safer proposition for those sharing their turntable with other family members.

For one high end cartridge range to offer these equally valid alternatives rather than simply offering the usual increases in refinement with increases in price, is unusual. That there are more alternatives above and below them in the range (the diamond cantilever DV17 remains the closest current MC alternative to Decca speed) is testament to more design imagination than usual in one range designed by one man presumably pursuing consistent priorities. Human nature tends to keep doing more of the same every time a new challenge is offered but Dynavector's Dr Tominari has presented audiophiles with diverse solutions to the 'Dispersion Theory' problems he identified 40 years ago in his paper, Analytical Methods in Vibrations.

Your old scribe bought the sample Dynavector XX-2 MkII to add to the armory of cartridge references available. Unlike other review sources, TNT-audio are explicit about our relationships with the industry and therefore it is important to note that a discount was offered as the item has already done some miles as a review sample. Since buying this sample it has remained mounted on the Hadcock/Orbe SE as it's consistent presentation has never drawn attention to itself in the manner of the hot-rod Decca, and its funky bass has suited the current playlist better than the others in the cartridge drawer at Old Scribe Towers.

Music enjoyed during this review

  • Amon Duul II: Live in London, a MkII band to try a MkII cartridge
  • Colliseum, II: Wardance, another Mk II band to test a MkII cartridge
  • Miles Davis: Tutu
  • Little Feat: The Last Record Album, remains the ultimate test of midrange articulation under extreme bass assault
  • Caravan: In The Land of Grey and Pink,
  • Alice Cooper: Billion Dollar Babies,
  • Cat Mother: The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away, Jimi Hendrix project
  • Latin Quarter: Modern Times, ambience and sibilance timing and tip resonance torture trax
  • Latin Quarter: America for Beginners, 45rpm later version without the weird eq
  • Robert Cray: Strong Persuader,
  • Cream: Disreali Gears,
  • Jimi Hendrix: West Coast Seattle Boy, the subtitle "THE Jimi Hendrix Anthology" is inaccurate as there have been many other anthologies of one sort or another, and the "previously unreleased" claim applies to only about half the tracks (it's difficult to remember which slabs of vinyl were official releases and a good listing is to be found here).

and the Manger sampler, Musik wie von einem anderen Stern
a superlative collection of fine natural sounding recordings

© Copyright 2011 Mark, The Old Scribe - www.tnt-audio.com

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