Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Visit with the Dynavector 10X5 phono cartridge

I've been less than happy with my main system lately - it has been a tad dry, a bit flat sounding and not really as good as could be expected for the money. I thought of buying some new speakers, blaming my woes on the UREI 813A studio monitors. Perhaps a set of Magnepans? or Martin-Logans? would be the trick to get my stereo to really sing.

As chance would have it, I began discussing my audio problems with one of my good friends. The same guy who got me into this crazy hobby in the first place. He is running an Ortofon 2M Bronze and has been having a really hard time getting it to sound good on his system. I run the inferior 2M Blue and a light bulb went off in my head - perhaps the rest of my stereo was actually outpacing my cartridge. Part of the game of building a good stereo is juggling components and perhaps my Threshold FET-10/PC phono stage was just showing the weakness of my analog front end.

So with the idea of buying a new cart in my head, I began agonizing over which one to get. There are many choices in the ~$500 price range so I researched, read and came to the conclusion of buying a Dynavector DV-10X5. It has a high enough output where I wouldn't have to switch in my head amp and it is known to work well with the Rega RB300 tonearm. At $395 I wasn't expecting much but I was hoping for a bit better performance than my old cartridge.

Installing the 10X5 was an exercise in frustration - the top aluminum plate may not be one hundred percent lined up with the end of the plastic body. The design of the cartridge also makes it hard to see the needle lining up on protractor. Luckily my friend came over and helped me set it up as I'm fairly klutzy with my big hands. We dialed in the tracking force at 2.1gs, fired up the Threshold S/500 amplifier and gave it a listen.

Even without any break-in, the Dynavector 10X5 shows itself to be a great performer. Music has color, vibrancy, dynamics and is now oh so much more fun to listen to. Listening to Supertramp's "Crime of the Century" revealed snarling guitars, deep rich bass and a wonderfully extended but clean treble. Instruments now had air around them and vocals had more definition. We listened to a few more discs - original pressings of Steely Dan, John Lee Hooker and Dire Straits - and reveled in the pure enjoyment of music. The 10X5 punches above it's price point with a quick detailed sound that doesn't get annoying. It is strange how the music sounds so fast but still has a warm natural rhythm and flow. From memory the overall sound reminds me of the original $99 Sumiko Blue Point of yore, but the 10X5 definitely has stronger bass and a more full bodied presence.

And for another point - part of building a great stereo system is understanding how the rest of your components match up together. A different sound may not always be a better sound - I'm sure buying a pair of Magnepans may have changed my system in many ways but still my UREI speakers continue to improve in sound as the rest of my system improves. They really are that revealing and any of their naysayers are probably hearing a deficiency somewhere else in their signal chain. The UREIs were just telling me the truth all along which is in the end is unsurprising considering what they were designed for.

I ended up trading my Ortofon 2M Blue away as I no longer had any need for it. Mind you, the 2M Blue isn't a bad cartridge - it just wasn't a good match for the rest of my system. In another, more budget system, the 2M Blue would be a star.

As for my next purchase, I see a Dynavector DV-20X in my future. But before that I'll concentrate on buying records, upgrading my cables and perhaps getting a better tonearm. Stay tuned!

preamp: Threshold FET-10/HL
phono preamp: Threshold FET-10/PC
amplifier: Threshold S/500
analog: VPI HW19 MkIII - Rega RB300 with Incognito wiring
speakers: UREI 813A loudspeakers
speaker cable: Canare Quad
Interconnects: Cardas Crosslink and Belden 89259