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Dynavector XX-2 Moving Coil Cartridge

Product: XX-2 MC Cartridge
Manufacturer: Dynavector - Japan
Cost: A lot - see text...
Reviewer: Geoff Husband
Reviewed: July 2001

[Italian version]


Regular readers will have seen my review of the Dynavector DRT-1 cartridge. As objects of desire go it's high on my personal list. However it has two problems - firstly its sheer cost puts it beyond the reach of all but the most dedicated audiophile, secondly it's a big, heavy cartridge. Although my own SME IV coped admirably - having a big enough 'headshell' to physically accommodate the beast and easy height adjustment for its taller-than-usual build - it did need it's counterweight racked well back to balance the 13.5 grm mass.

[XX-2]For many vinyl addicts with high-end equipment the DRT will be a non-starter for this reason. Unipivots in particular will struggle. I recently read a review of the DRT in a British hi-fi magazine that concluded it was an awesome cartridge but did mention it was a little lightweight in the bass. Reading the text soon showed why, the poor thing was dangling on the end of a WTA arm, a superb design but obviously in trouble with the DRT - my own experience with the SME showed the DRT to have massive bass power and control.

Another interesting point about the DRT is that it bares no resemblance at all to the rest of the Dynavector range, it's a 'statement product', which stands alone and this no doubt contributes to its cost.

Enter the XX-2. This is based on the XX-1 but with the body removed and replaced by a superb cast Aluminium 'skeleton'. In fact it resembles the Dynavector Te Kiatora (TK) rather closely. This is a joint effort between Dynavector Japan and New Zealand and like the XX-2 is loosely based on a stripped down XX-1. The differences between the two seem to be the use of a titanium block as the base-plate of the TK rather than the aluminium chassis of the XX-2 (the former better suited to short runs, the latter to 'production'), the use of silver coils on the TK (both XX-2 and DRT-1 use copper) and the use of superior Alnico magnets on the XX-2. From a technical point of view it looks like the XX-2 is a 'productionised' TK at a considerably lower price. It also runs out at only 40% the cost of a DRT-1 making it much more accessible. Perhaps more important, at 8grms (the TK is 8.8grms) and of normal dimensions it is also widely compatible with any quality tonearm


I've covered much of this already, but it's a low (0.25 mv) output MC of medium compliance. The cantilever and stylus are the Boron/PF line-contact combination shared by the two other top Dynavectors. The alloy 'body' is threaded for mounting bolts and a slightly dodgy stylus guard is supplied making fitting slightly less heart stopping than with the DRT-1... This also acts as a guide when aligning the cartridge. The paint finish on the body is a perfect match for both my SME and the Orbe making it a sexy looking combination...

Once bolted up it gave an arm/cartridge resonance of 9 hz, much like the DRT and well within the acceptable bounds between audibility and record warps. It then went on to track all but the +18 dbl torture track on the HFNRR test record, and even gave a decent stab at that, this being the track that happily spat a V-15 off the record. This performance bettered the DRT and I wonder if it is a reflection of the SME being given an easier time of it rather than any fundamental difference in absolute tracking ability. Like the DRT the XX-2 NEVER showed any distress with any program material, an aspect of its performance which is simply beyond criticism.


I'm not sure whether Dynavector are going to like this...

Putting the DRT (carefully) back in its box (and breathing a sigh of relief) I bolted up the XX-2. The result? Well - no doubt it was obviously of the same family, the same stunning silky smooth female vocal, big powerful bass and an extended yet unstrained top end.

We now move on a couple of weeks and I reverse the swap, the now run-in XX-2 replaced with the DRT. Well - no doubt it was obviously of the same family, the same...etc

You can see the problem. Here we have a cartridge 40% of the cost of the 'Flagship' running it very, very close, and I've got to say I'd be happy with either (please Santa). I'd also add that you need to have a system with superb resolution to show up the differences that do exist. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

OK so in isolation, without the DRT looming over it, what does the XX-2 deliver?

Here I'm going to put personal prejudice to the fore and say I don't like cartridges, no matter how good, how exciting or realistic, that take you into a piece of music, then shatter the illusion as they mistrack, or sound fuzzy, or shriek. Some people are happy to live on the edge of their seats for the dynamics of a Decca - I'm just not one of them. I want all the fireworks AND the feeling there's nothing between you and the mastertape. In this respect the XX-2 delivers in spades, as already noted it never, ever lets go, no crackles, no spit, no sweat ...

We've all had the experience of getting a CD loving friend and showing him/her what good ol' vinyl can do, then the cartridge lets go a touch at the end of side - damn! And we all know that some of the finest tracks are to be found at the end of record sides, a deliberate ploy to allow a pause for reflection after an emotional workout. It's also worth noting that many of these 'end-of-sides' are at the end of side one. How do CD fans cope with 'Misty Mountain Hop' crashing out 3 seconds after 'Stairway to Heaven' has finished, or 'Cherish' boogying out after the heart rending 'Promise to try', 'Beat it' after 'Thriller', 'Money' after 'The Great Gig in the Sky'? The list is endless...

I digress... With the XX-2 such worries can be laid to rest - the fidelity at the end of side matching that of the outer tracks.

And this control continues no matter what a disc throws at it - big orchestral climaxes, 1812 type stuff is handled effortlessly, the explosive drumming on Dire Straits MTV all are just grist to the mill.

Reading this it might point towards a 'slugged' easy listening sound, never letting go but not scaling the heights, but nothing could be further from the truth. Complex rhythms like Los Lobos' 'Be Still' boogie effortless. Climaxes retain their dynamics, solo guitar its leading edges and so on. The cymbal in 'Take Five' is big and shiny.

Ultimately, like the DRT it's a big meaty sounding cartridge, full and luscious, sumptuous and powerful. Voices have their own natural body and occupy realistic acoustics. There are other cartridges which sound more airy, packed with filigree detail but none in my experience sound as real and solid as the top Dynavectors.

Which neatly brings me back to the comparison I started earlier. With the XX-2 offering very similar sound quality how does the DRT justify its existence?

It's simply better... For 90% of the time I'd be pushed to tell them apart, then something will come along to show the XX-2 who's boss. Nina Simone singing 'My Baby Just Cares For Me', in mono, in 1958, puts her in the room with the DRT, a solid, beautiful presence, you can almost hear her smile as she sings "My baby don't care for high flown places". With the XX-2 it's just that bit more distant. When an orchestra starts to let rip there's an extra layer with the DRT, not that the XX-2 compresses it's just the DRT is better. Lastly the ability of the DRT-1 to conjure up a big realistic acoustic is slightly diminished.

But for the rest of the time, and particularly with the sort of music I usually listen to, and given the limitations of my system the difference is negligible.

To my mind the cartridge that is in danger is the Te Kiatora, unless those silver coils give it a different tonality there really isn't the space between the XX-2 and DRT to slot in another cartridge, the XX-2 is just too good.


The XX-2 is a stunning cartridge. It's far from a cheap or even mid market cartridge but for 40% of the cost it gives 90% of the fidelity of the DRT and a similar presention. It'll fit any quality arm and gives a totally unflappable performance. If you play a lot of CD's its power in the bass may make it difficult to system match with a CD player, for example my own AT33e would be much closer. If your system is slow and bass heavy a more incisive cartridge might be better, but to be honest any well-balanced system will love it. Yes, if money is no object and you have the system to do it justice the DRT is worth the extra - perhaps, but for the rest of us the XX-2 is just too close to ignore.

Read the review of the XX-2 mkII cartridge

Systems used

  • Vinyl: Michell Orbe SME IV/Dynavector XV-1

  • CD-players: Micromega Solo.

  • preamp: Audion Premier2,

  • power amp: Audion ETPP EL34 Monoblocks.

  • Cables: FFRC, LAB47 and Cabasse speaker cables. DIY silver interconnects.

  • Speakers: IPLS3mtl's, Cabasse Sloops, IPLM3's.

    Test records used... - Killers

© Copyright 2001 Geoff Husband - www.tnt-audio.com

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