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Dynavector 10x4 Mk.II Phono Cartridge
Something Ive always had to deal with is how reviews of $1,000+ phono cartridges in audio mags make me feel. Well, Ill be honest: like a bottom feeder. I mean, its not easy reading some big-shot reviewer guy rhapsodize about the latest $3000 offering from small Euro or Japanese companies. It makes me feel like those common folk who gather at movie premiers to catch a glimpse of some beloved actor/actress arriving at the theater by limo with some svelte companion. Years back I used to assure myself that "Hey, theyre not worth the money. Nothing is that good, right?" Then I got to hear a couple, and boy did all hell break loose psychologically. Its sort of like thinking your Pacific-Rim-made cheap acoustic guitar is really cool, and then you hit your first open-G chord on a American hand-made acoustic (think Martin, Taylor, Santa Cruz) and the room begins to swirl and the sales guy is laughing that loud maniacal laugh. You feel like Ray Milland in the film Lost Weekend. Youre hooked and now its a money thing. I understand, friend; Ive been there too.
Yet, in my mind, as much as Ive lusted after the big-money cartridges, a couple of issues have nagged at my inner audio weenie. The first is that many of the expensive cartridges Ive heard, while delivering tons of the "audiophile" thrills and chills, are often, how shall we say this...boring! What I mean here is: Yes, youre getting tons of sonic detail, but the music seems frozen in a way that I find much of digital-audio reproduction. The second is that cartridges in many ways are like us humans and most things of the corporeal world finite. So in a way its hard for most of us to justify spending big money on something that if you spin vinyl anything close to the rate I do (about 15 hours worth a week) were talking about two to three years of optimal performance. Cartridge life spans are impacted by things including whether you clean your LPs and stylus and human clumsiness. These factors as well as your table/arm setup all figure in the equation. However, there are some positive factors resulting from all this activity in the high-priced cartridge sector.
One good thing about the whole analog resurgence is that most companies that have stuck with the cartridge game have applied lessons from making expensive nearly state-of-the-art transducers to the less expensive spread where most of us playespecially the handful of cartridge manufactures that maintain a full line at various price points, such as Dynavector Systems of Japan. Dynavector has been manufacturing cartridges since 1975 and are cited with developing the high-output moving-coil cartridge. In fact, they manufacture a whole line of low- and high-output moving-coil pickups ranging from the $3000 Te Kaitora to the $200 50x. Dynavector also pioneered the use of diamond and synthetic-ruby cantilevers on cartridges. In fact, their Ruby moving coil, which caused a bit of a splash in the 80s, used the latter. The 10x4 Mk II is the next-to-bottom of the current line and the cartridge well be focusing on here.
The 10x4 Mk II retails for $325 and is a high-output moving-coil (2.0 millivolt) cartridge with a rated frequency response of 20Hz-20kHz +2dB, and 25dB (1kHz) channel separation. Loading is 47k ohms, which combined with the cartridges high output (for an MC, that is) means it will work just dandy into most phono stages designed for moving-magnet cartridges. Theres been a good bit of debate among analog cognoscenti about the merits of high-output MCs, which are often viewed as the poor cousins of low-output moving-coil cartridges. In fact, one school advocates "go low or go moving magnet," which tend to have outputs in the 3.5- to 5.0-millivolt range on the average. Dynavectors view, however, is that a well-designed high-output MC will be superior to just about any moving-magnet cartridge in overall performance. All of this makes sense if you truly believe the axiom that "It aint what it is...but how it is," which I tend to subscribe to myself. The 10x4 Mk IIs cantilever is straight aluminum pipe and the stylus is a nude elliptical diamond. Recommended tracking is between 1.5 and 1.9 grams. Now that Ive hopefully satisfied the "spec" conscious among you, Ill move on. Besides, to paraphrase the great Mr. Ellington: Specs dont mean a thing if it aint got that Swing!
Whos on the table with Dyna?
Listening was done on my venerable Linn LP-12/Cirkus/Valhalla/ Ittok LVII arm combo. The record player squats on a Sound Organization wall shelf. Preamps used were the "tubetastic" CJ PV10a and "solidstasty" Exposure 17, both of which have fine phono stages. Hey, dont you just love it when reviewers make up words so they dont feel redundant when describing their systems? Amplification was the Exposure 18 Super cracking the whip on my Spendor 2/3 speakers. Cabling was via the houses of Kimber and Linn.
Mounting the 10x4 Mk II was fairly straightforward but with a few caveats and criticisms of what I feel is very fine cartridge. The supplied hardware is a bit on chintzy side. The screws and bolts are rather flimsy, and I had to dip into my reserve of spares and leftovers. Also, the two sets of supplied screws werent long enough to do proper mounting (at least) on my Ittok arm even though two lengths are provided. Some of this is arm dependent, I know, as the preferred mounting on Linn arms is with the bolts facing up instead of down. Also, hex bolts would be preferable to the slot-head screws provided.
The mounting holes are half-moon slots on flanges as opposed to fully enclosed holes. This made the initial mounting somewhat difficult, and you have to keep finger pressure until youre pretty sure the cartridge is well secured by the mounting screws and bolts. This was somewhat frustrating, so be patient. I found myself lusting for the threaded mounting holes on the more expensive Dynavector cartridges. On the whole these are minor beefs, and I realize that a $325 cartridge has to have some compromises. Still, I think these are points the potential user should be aware of.
Once the hard work was done I began throwing LPs on the table to begin the arduous task of cartridge break-in. I didnt do any serious listening until after 30 hours of play, but I was amazed how the 10x4 Mk II began to sound pretty listenable after an hour or so. After about two hours, my initial impressions had the Dynavector confounding my long-held opinion of cheap moving-coil cartridges. That is, it doesnt sound anything like someone trying to make LPs resemble the worst aspects of digital sound. During the review period, tracking was set at 1.9 grams, which gave the most optimal sound in my system.
After the break-in, one of the first LPs I listened to was Ernest Ranglins Below the Bassline [Island Jamaican Jazz 524299-1]. Ranglin is a legendary Jamaican session guitarist. This album features him combining jazz with a reggae rhythm and feel and is one of my fave records of the last few years. Its also very well recorded and will show if a cartridge can deliver the goods in terms of bass. The 10x4 Mk II had me "rankin" in my listening chair. Ira Colemans bass lines had me almost "sproutin dreads mon!" Needless to say, the bass was full and punchy with plenty of timbre.
All this bottom-end information would be meaningless if the 10x4 Mk II didnt deliver in other areas. The Dynavector rendered instrumental timbres in a very natural way, which means that its strong in the midrange where, as we all know, lots of musical information residesespecially in comparison to my regular cartridge, the Audio-Technica ML150. The ML150 is very detailed, but compared to the 10x4 Mk II, things just seem to lie there. The best way to describe this is that the 10x4 Mk II presents the music in a more emotionally involving way. However, my initial assumption was that the Dynavector was truncating detail to a degree to accomplish this.
One test of this for me was to throw on one of the LPs from my Complete 1959 Charles Mingus CBS Sessions [Mosaic Q143]. On these recordings, Mingus was using a small group (seven players) to create the effect of a big band. The often fast tempos, unison and contrapuntal riffing of the horns can test the composure of a less-than-competent cartridge. On the track "Better Git it in Your Soul," the Dynavector maintained all the separate threads and sense of space in the recording. What was an exciting kick for me was hearing Dannie Richmonds incredible drumming anew and Minguss yells and grunts pushing tenor sax player Brooker Ervins solo to amazing heights. The score: Dynavector 3, Mr. T 0. Sometimes its great to be wrong.
OK, I said, the Dynavectors red body glaring at me defiantly, its time for the "Cash" test. No, by that I dont mean throwing more money at my system. (I needed to clarify this as were audiodweebs and I know how we think!) I mean Johnny Cash, folks. I threw on his most recent album, Unchained [Def American 43097-1]. Listening to the cut "Rusty Cage," I heard JCs voice have a presence that was full and, in fact, seemed to project more strongly from my speakers than I was used to. The 10x4 Mk II seems to do a very good job overall of presenting both voices and instruments as (almost) three-dimensional. For me, this is an area of sonic reproduction that I value heavily. In fact, this allows me to suspend my disbelief that its a recording Im listening to far more than hall ambience or soundstage depth.
This is not to say that the Dynavector didnt do a convincing job in these areas as well. There was plenty of width and depth to satisfy all but the most voracious soundstage and imaging fan. However, what makes or breaks a new component for me is if it allows me to hear old favorites from a new angle. I threw Richard Thompsons Hand of Kindness [Hannibal 1313] on the platter. This is one of my favorite rock LPs, but in terms of recording quality it wouldnt be called demo materialnot that I care because in terms of writing and performance, RT was at a peak. What was interesting was that on the cut "Devonside," the 10x4 Mk II allowed me to hear even better Dave Peggs bass lines and the great accordion work of John Kirkpatrick. Thompsons lyrics and singing took on greater clarity as well. What this means overall is that the music took on more meaning. The Dynavector showed me that while I had always revered Hand of Kindness musically, I had underestimated the quality of the recording, not just because the cartridge extracted more detail per se, but based on the way it presented the information in the grooves.
The best way to describe this is that many cartridges will throw the details out at you. In fact, my A-T ML150 excels at thismaybe in some ways slightly better than the 10x4 Mk II. I would also say that this is an area where many digital sources reign high in the hi-fi world. What the Dynavector does is extract the details off recordings in a way that I find more musically fulfilling.
Two of the classical pieces I listened to were excellent recent LP remasters: Bruno Walter conducting Brahms Fourth Symphony [Classics MS6114] and Kersetz conducting Dvoraks Ninth Symphony [SuperAnalogue 9114]. Both showed that even though the 10x4 Mk II is a budget cartridge, it can handle even the big symphonic stuff that makes life rough for many inexpensive cartridges. The orchestral textures unfolded in a realistic manner that, along with a vivid portrayal of the musical dynamics, left me no option but to listen to both these LPs all the way through.
Overall I would rate the 10x4 MK II as an excellent tracker. Surface noise was rendered insignificant for the most part and the occasional loud pop or tick was dispatched quickly enough to please even most folks who are accustomed to digitals low noise levels. But hey, if this kind of stuff really makes you crazy, then youre probably not even reading this review anyway. Suffice it to say that on todays quality arms and tables with a supply of clean vinyl in decent condition, you can look forward to some smooth sailing.
By now I think youve figured out that I enjoyed my time with the Dynavector 10x4 Mk II. I think it offers a level of musicality and record enjoyment that far exceed its retail price. Is it a cartridge for all seasons and all systems? Thats a tough call, and I dont think a conscientious reviewer should make such claims, especially in light of the wide array of tastes, systems and ancillaries out there on this wild ride we call high-end audio. Those who value musical thrills over hi-fi and are budget-oriented need to give the 10x4 Mk II a serious listen. Yet I wouldnt be surprised if those of you with more analytical tastes are won over by this cartridges abilities as well. I would even venture to say that those of you inclined to spend more money may find that the Dynavector 10x4 Mk II convinces you its fine to spend less.
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