[ Home | Staff & Contacts | HiFi Playground | Listening tests | DIY & Tweakings | Music & Books ]

Dynavector DRT XV-1 & head amp

Top Class

[Italian version]

Product: Dynavector DRT XV-1, MC phono cartridge
Manufacturer: Dynavector - Japan
Reviewer: Geoff Husband

This is the second Dynavector review, and like the last time I'll not give a price in deference to the manufacturers wishes. But in this case it's more "if you need to ask you can't afford it" territory. Here we're well into four figures (pounds sterling) and into the stratosphere where only a handful of manufacturers try to wrest the last few shekels from audiophiles with deep pockets. The XV-1 is a hand built exotic from a manufacturer better known for pushing down the price of moving coils (MC's) - it is Dynavectors "Statement Product".


[Dynavector XV-1]For the details go to Dynavector's website, but to give the basics it's a low output moving coil cartridge. 0.3 mV is plenty for most MC stages and so the cartridge should be widely compatible.
The line-contact stylus sits at the end of a solid boron cantilever. The magnetic circuit is unconventional to say the least, but again for details see Dynavectors website.
The unconventional design is in part responsible for the cartridges appearance. This is one of those open bodied designs, though in this case much of the "works" are encased in a block of clear red resin.
This brings us to my first moan about the XV-1. Here we have a hideously expensive device that is just crying out to be wreaked... The cantilever juts out in front of the body, bare wires run along the outside and there is no stylus guard...
I pride myself on having steady hands but I heaved a sigh of relief when at the end of the review the thing was back in its box in one piece.
My SME IV was a great comfort here as all I needed to do was bolt up the cartridge, the cartridge body is threaded thank God, then all the adjustment took place at the other end...
A more conventional tonearm with a slotted headshell for alignment and one of those "undo the bolt and pray it doesn't crash to the ground" VTA adjustments would have left me ready for the cardiac ward.
Ah yes - the tonearm. You need a very good one, that should be self evident, but it also needs to be able to cope with the XV-1's weight and size. At 13.5 grms and big with it, the DRT is no sylph, its also unusually tall so all this needs to be taken into account. The SME proved ideal, I'd guess quite a few arms, especially low mass jobs, would be in trouble...

All that done I set the downforce and bias at the recommended 2 grms and ran my test record. With this I got an arm cartridge resonance of 9-10 Hz, quite low for a MC and a reflection of its weight as much as its compliance, though this caused absolutely no problems and there was no need for damping. Tracking as with most MC's was good without being spectacular, It cleared the 300Hz tone at 12 and 14 dB, buzzed slightly on the 300Hz test and lost the plot completely at 18dB. However during the month I had with the cartridge not once did it let go with music, from Nirvana to Billy Holliday from Verdi to Handel, which just goes to show - ho hum....


Before I start here's a quote from the email the president of Dynavector, Dr Tominari, sent me as he put the XV-1 in the post...

"This combination is so good out of my expectation that I spent my winter holiday listening only to old LPs by great artists of 1950 to 1970. The sound by this combination is absolutely another sound from all other phono cartridges including our products in the past. When you test, I would like to ask you for using old monaural LPs as well as normal stereo recording, and comparing the sound played-back from LP and CD using the same sources."

How refreshing that after making cartridges for 20 years a man can get genuinely excited about his latest "baby", I know hi-fi designers who don't actually listen to music, Mr Tominari is obviously of the "can't wait to get it home" variety:-)

In due deference to Mr Tominari The first slab of vinyl on the my Orb was Nina Simone's "My Baby Just Cares for Me" from 1958. This is a mono recording, but I, and a friend who dropped in couldn't believe it.
The image was huge and solid, it even had a hint of depth (no I can't explain). There was no "left-right" spread of different instruments, just a coherent whole, spread six foot wide in the centre.
It made me see what the "flat earth" mono lovers are talking about, if mono is this good who needs stereo? OK so I'm pushing a point here, but I could live happily with the result... Nina Simone was just 25 when this recording was made and she had no right to a voice with such depth and emotion. "Smokey" comes to mind but there was more to it than that, a sense of effortlessness and power under the surface. The piano sounded suitable "big", during the solo the keys hitting the stops could easily be heard.

There followed a long session, concentrating on female vocal. The XV-1 was so warm and natural it flattered and seduced, it even made Nancy Griffiths listenable. Ricky Lee Jones coo'd and simpered, laughed and snarled, her first (wonderful) album showing the XV-1's prowess in imaging, detail retrieval and of course Jones's love affair with snappy bass.
During this an astonishing thing happened. Just for a fleeting instant a head was singing. I'm not talking the usual "holographic" imaging beloved of hi-fi writers, but an actual human head, solid and decapitated, two feet in front of the speakers... Then it was gone. A couple of tracks later there it was again - then gone... It was eery and left me quite shaken, nothing like this has happened before.
My system, and perhaps more importantly, room isn't really set up for image freaks but there was something magical here. Try as I might I couldn't repeat the exercise, it was transient.
Here was a capability that my system just hinted at. I've heard several cartridges, and systems for that matter, throw etherial images on a big sound-stage. This sort of imaging, beloved of many, leaves me cold, I've never heard such whispy, hazy images in real life. The XV-1 places solid realistic images in a big bold soundstage.

Later I put on the blazing, raw grunge of Nirvana. I was greated with the bass power of the Shure V15 but with a frightening realism elsewhere. Dire Straits' "MTV" provided further proof of the DV-1's dynamic abilities the drum/keyboard crescendo at the end of the intro was massive with the soundstage staying absolutely rock solid as the transients crashed out rather than collapsing to the centre as so often happens.
Here the single biggest difference between the XV-1and lesser cartridges was that the more complex, more 'wall or sound' or more massive the sound the bigger the lead. Whereas things become a bit compressed and blurred with the Dynavector 20/V15/Ortofon Supreme etc, it seems as if the XV-1 just shifts up a gear and takes everything that's thrown at it with something bordering on contempt.
It has a rock like solidity and made every other cartridge I had to hand sound forced and artificial in comparison. Perhaps it was this composure with every kind of music and every disc, no matter what, that I will remember from the test cartridge.

This performance worked right across the disc, end of side distortion being heard on only very worn records, and here other cartridges faired worse. Surface noise, already low on my system, became insignificant on all but the most abused discs. This ability to make the most of second hand recordings does offset the price somewhat as the "car boot sale" purchases produce real fidelity.


At one and the same time this has been one of the most sublime and frustrating items I have ever had in my system. My own system has a warm balance which I counter with a bright cartridge, the slightly warm DRT rather overdid things at times (not the DV-1's fault), but there was no doubt at any time that my system was barely scratching at the surface of the DV-1's capabilities. My front end of Orb/SME IV was certainly up to the job as were my Audion valve amps (I had another hi-end job on test at the time to compare with), speakers? the IPL S3MTL's though good were too warm, the Cabasse Sloops a better balance, but I found myself cursing a room that crippled the last degree of imaging.
To get the best from such a set-up you need a divorce, lose the kids and start structural modifications to produce the perfect listening room. In my case the arrival of a big red velvet curtain and speakers half way up the room nearly produced the desired effect (divorce etc), but in the end I decided to stop trying to force the issue and listen to what the cartridge could do in my flawed environment...

One other serious drawback for me was the way it matched with CD. My own player is a Micromega Solo, hardly entry level, yet it sounded thin, weak and harsh in comparison. The huge solid soundstage left the Solo sounding very much like hi-fi rather than music. During the test period of one month I doubt if I listened to more than half a dozen Cd's.
If you run a two-source system you're going to find it very, very difficult to find a CD player that will match the powerful natural bass, the lack of distortion, the 'you are there' imaging and the detailed sound that the DV-1 produces. In this I fear the DV-1 requires commitment to a vinyl front end, leaving the CD for "background music" or for those moments when too much wine means risking wiping over a grands worth of diamond off a sliver of Boron...

Here's just a small example of what I mean... At the moment I am blundering around trying to make a cheap hi-efficiency speaker for TNT readers with shallow pockets and low powered valve amps. I've just put together a 45 lt. ported box with an Audax "full-range" unit in it.
Wiring this to my CD player produced the sort of sound that makes you want to put lead in your ears. I'd given up on the project altogether but as an afterthought I tried it using the Dynavector. Now putting five grands worth of front end through a three grand amp and on to a pair of bodged speakers with a 22 pound driver in each might not seem the most sensible thing in the world, but the result was music.
OK the speakers were still dreadful, but the lack of any distortion from the Dynavector made them produce sounds that made me decide to carry on the experiment (watch this space...).
After this experience I desperately tried to get hold of a pair of quality "full-range" drivers so that I could answer the question that was beginning to form in my head" is this THE cartridge for Lowther users?..." - that smooth, meaty balance and lack of distortion must be tailor made, no speaker could be too revealing... I failed, but something tells me that well heeled Lowther (or similar speaker) users might find this the answer to their prayers... Likewise those who bemoan the demise of Linn's Troika, finding it's replacement the Arkiv too gutless, may be beating a path to Dynavectors door.

For the rest of us (providing we have the cash) the DV-1 offers a warm, powerful, detailed and totally unflappable cartridge. It got me closer to the live event than any cartridge or CD player I've heard. Here it will be sorely missed and probably never affordable, if you have the cash I envy you.

[PHA 100]And to rub salt into the wound, there's a matching head-amp!

The DV-PHA-100 is Dynavectors answer to getting the output of the DV-1 up to a standard MM input as found on most valve stages. Once again the theory of the device is on the Dynavector site, but as with the DV-1 it's an unconventional device as it relies on amplifying the current produced by the cartridge rather than the voltage. The reason according to Dynavector is that this reduces magnetic distorion in MC's.

Built in a classy brushed alloy box with an outboard power supply the result was as you'd expect - superb. The combination stripped a little of the warmth from the DV-1 and left the signal from the cartridge unsullied.
My Audion pre has quite a sensitive phono stage for a valve amp allowing reasonable volume without a step-up. So I had the chance to try the DV-1 direct into the pre, through my own Audion step-up transformer and finally through the DV-PHA-100. Direct was excellent but obviously volume was limited, an inadvertent switch to CD input could prove disastrous.
The step-up transformer provided the gain and a slight warming of the sound, though it has to be said that it was excellent all round. The Dynavector head-amp produced, as I said, a slightly more open and less warm view of events. To be honest I could happily live with either (both are expensive...) though with the DV-1 the Dynavector stage won by a nose.


If you're going to shell out for the DV-1 and need a step-up then the Dynavector stage has to be the first port of call...

Manufacturer's comment

Thank you so much of for your mail. It is my great pleasure to know that XV-1 was so highly appreciated by your careful test listening.
After reading the draft, I found your impression of XV-1 is just coincident to what I have experienced.
All valuable master works by famous artists in the history except the historical musicians achievement recorded on records in the past are being carefully preserved in museums or so.
It is very sad to see the great works recorded on LPs are regarded as obsolete and ignored by modern audio people who are always declaring to pursuit the sound of next generation (Sony, Pioneer, Philips, Panasonic, JVC etc. )

However they never mind the situation that they were not able to recover the music from records even by their so-called HiFi.
At the moment majority of music loving audio users are now beginning to give up their desire to enjoy music through HiFi regardless of low or high end.
This was the main reason of my development of SuperStereo. After SuperStereo, somewhat compressed image reproduced by phono cartridges or thin, weak and dusty sound of CD was my hint to develop new cartridge. This is mentioned in your draft.
Dr. N. Tominari -- Dynavector Japan - President

© Copyright 2000 Geoff Husband - http://www.tnt-audio.com

How to print this article

[ Home | Staff & Contacts | HiFi Playground | Listening tests | DIY & Tweakings | Music & Books ]