The Dynavector Karat DV17DX moving coil cartridge at Totally Wired

The Dynavector Karat DV17DX moving coil cartridge.

The new Dynavector DV 17DX is unique in both the Dynavector range and the greater world of moving coil cartridges. The visceral impact of the new Dynavector DV17DX is like nothing else I’ve heard – and this is in a year where revelatory components seem to be coming our way every few months. Out of all the cartridges that I could have selected, the Dynavector is my personal choice and one that I think you’d really enjoy. Read on and find out why.

Restore your faith in Analogue

Dynavector DV 17DX moving coild cartridge – NZ$2,700 including GST(for exchange/retip options read on)

The announcement of the new DV17DX (and entry level upgrade DV10X5mk2) dropped into the email inbox a few weeks ago. The idea of spending NZ$2700 on a cartridge initially seemed extravagant – but looking at this in the context of other recent product arrivals that have all clustered around a similar amount, it started to make sense.

The DV17DX is the latest expression in Dynavector’s long running ‘Karat’ range. The name stems from the use of synthetic gem stone cantilevers – originally ruby and diamond – the sound from all of these models is nothing short of astonishing – if you’d care to read through the various reviews we’ve linked to at the end of this article you’ll find out why.

But enough history – in the here and now, is there still a place for analogue and what some might see as audio jewellery? The short answer is an emphatic ‘yes’ and I’ll try to put this in context for you. Let’s first look at the design of the DV17DX

At its heart is an exceptionally short solid diamond cantilever – a fraction of the length of any conventional design and far more rigid than any metal tube. The Micro Ridge stylus is fitted to the end of the 1.7mm cantilever. There are plenty of engineering and design challenges to this approach (if there weren’t every cartridge would be a Dynavector copy) but the benefits of speed, an exceptionally broad frequency response right up to 100kHz and overall sound quality, has made the DV17D of each generation an audio classic.

My initial plan for this review was to do a comparison between the new DV 17DX and my own Dynavector DV-20X2 low output moving coil. But with just two sides of the first LP played it became obvious that there is no competition.

Having owned 3 Dynavector moving coil cartridges over the past 12 or so years (and set up many more for clients) I thought I had a good handle on what all of these cartridges do. Stepping from the earlier DV10X4, to the 20XH and then to the low output version of the 20MK2 provided a logical and almost predictable progression in performance – at each step I heard more music coming from the records, better sound staging, intelligibility and a reduction in surface noise and distortion. The overall tonal balance and presentation remained consistent.

I’ve enjoyed around 6 years of constant use from the DV 20X2 so it has become a reference point. But with recent turntable setups, it was becoming obvious that it is due for replacement. I was tossing up between the DV XX2 and DV 17D3 and given what I’ve heard with recent setups would have been happy with either. But the announcement of the new 17DX sealed the proverbial deal.

There are two major changes that set the new DX above the earlier D3 model – and I suggest that these have made for the most significant upgrade in the long running history of this design.

After exhaustive listening and technical research Dynavector have chosen to machine the body out of solid brass – yes, it looks the same but the physical mass of the cartridge has gone from an unusually light 5.8 grams up to 11 grams which is more in line with other Dynavector models.

The magnet within the body of the cartridge has also been changed to Sumarium Colbalt – this may also factor in slightly to the weight. More importantly these magnets have lower magnetic resistance and higher coercivity than the neodymium magnets previously used.

In electrical engineering and materials science, the coercivity, also called the magnetic coercivity, coercive field or coercive force, is a measure of the ability of a ferromagnetic material to withstand an external magnetic field without becoming demagnetized.

The compliance ie the ease with which the cantilever can move remains around 50% higher than other Dynavector models (15mm/N vs 10mm/N). This places if firmly in the mid-ground of designs allowing for broad compatibility with tonearm mass.

The extra mass of the cartridge over the previous model means that the total effective mass of the cartridge and tonearm together is now higher which is a huge plus in terms of matching and tracking ability. So the new DV17DX is not just a greatly improved model – it will now work it’s magic on many more turntables.

Dynavector Karat DV17DX moving coil cartridge at Totally Wired

The Sound.

This is the cartridge to restore your faith in analogue. The lucidity and speed for which the DV17 series are rightly famed are obvious from the first moments – you’ll be floored by the immediacy and impact. The improvements that come in the first few sides of playing are even more surprising.

While speed and the ability to reproduce very high frequencies suggest a bright sound, the new DV17DX is an absolute smoothie – the better tracking (due in increased weight and moderate compliance) deliver an openness and ease in the top end which balances out the enhanced lucidity and impact.

The reproduction of percussive elements of music – each drum strike, bass lines and a whole pile of synth based sounds are delivered with astonishing power and control. This cartridge digs deep and when there is bass to be heard, it’s visceral and intense.

The mid-range is vivid – vocals are richly presented and push out from the speaker. Nick Cave’s mixture of menace and heartbreak takes on a whole new life. Carolijn has literally held his hand while he sung to her and this cartridge takes her right back to that moment.

The new Dynavector DV17DX is the full front row experience – immersive and involving to the point that you’ll forget about the idea of casual listening or background music (digital can deal with that). Every LP playing becomes an event in itself as the DV17DX grabs you, shakes you around and leaves you thinking WTF was that? As much as I’ve loved my old DV20X2 it just sounds anaemic and flat by comparison – a good part of that will have been leaving replacement too long but there is no way I remember being this taken by any other new cartridge.

These changes have taken the 17DX up a step in the Dynavector hierarchy – the previous 17D3 was an increment above the DV20X2 and gave an slight change in flavour for a relatively small cost difference. They still share the same stylus but outside of that are completely different technologies. The new 17DX now sits above the XX2 in price and for me, it’s well ahead in performance for the music and presentation I like.

The XX2 may be a little  more subtle, have the same Pathfinder stylus as the Te Kaitora Rua and many other design points which might make it a safer choice for some. On the other hand, the 17DX is more broadly compatible by virtue of it’s higher compliance and I feel the technical advantages of the short diamond cantilever make what might be a slightly less advanced stylus profile perform, at a higher level.

Setup and system

I used to get needlessly paranoid about setting up the 17Ds – but the short cantilever is far less exposed than any conventional longer unit – after all who hasn’t bent at least one stylus in their lifetime – the longer it is the more likely you are to catch it on a sleeve or cleaning cloth and those metal tubes bend so easily.

Now I have one for myself I can see it’s a lot better in this regard – For many clients I’ll be doing the fit and setup any way. Should you want to do this yourself the shorter cantilever does test your eyesight a little if you have to set alignment (those of us in Well Tempered world are as smug as EV owners in this regard.) But you really only have to do this once and a setup tool like the recently re-released Musical Fidelity Geodisc makes this a whole lot easier and more accurate.

The actual mounting of the cartridge is dead easy with the allen head fixing bolts provided going straight into threaded holes in the body. And the securely fitted stylus guard ensures no accidents. As with any cartridge, it’s also sensible to fit this cover on for protection when children of any age are around.

VTA setting (effectively making sure the arm tube is parallel to the record surface) is critical to getting the most out of this cartridge as I’ve found it to be quite sensitive to this – The shortness of the cantilever combined with the styles profile makes it very easy to tell when you have it ‘right’. There really is only one way to do this and that’s by listening.

Rega Owners should take particular note of the new DV17DX – this is one of the few cartridges that is exactly the right size to fit the Rega arms without requiring any extra shims or washers to be fitted. And it sounds great! The height of the cartridge – including the stylus tip is precisely 15.8mm so it fits perfectly, (the rest of the Dynavector range are around 18.7mm so require adjustment of the tonearm height to perform at their best).

The match of mass, physical size and compliance is spot on not just for the Rega but also Linn and many other popular tonearms.

The recommended 1.8 to 2 grams tracking force is fairly standard and I tend to just go to the higher value by habit.

For all our initial listening we’ve used the new little Dynavector P75Mk4 phono stage set to PE mode and note that the 32 ohm impedance of the 17DX is rather higher than other models in the range so this should be checked when setting up. There was more than enough gain running from this into the analogue inputs of the NuPrime DAC-10.

The Well Tempered Versalex is what we’d see as a close to ideal platform for the Dynavector and  is not too far from my own Amadeus GT on which the DV20X2 resides so we were able to make valid comparisons without the need to physically swop cartridges backward and forwards. Cables are various KLEI models.

Speaker-wise, I’m still in awe of the new Monitor Audio Studio stand mount speakers. The combination of the Platinum level ribbon tweeter and two small but seriously high tech bass mid-drivers really show off what the cartridge is putting out. The only real extravagance in our system are the NuPrime Evolution One power amplifiers – but hey, why not live a little.

One of my clients has urged me to try and quantify the levels of improvement we are finding when reviewing components. What I can tell you is that the sound we get from the combination of the DV17DX and P75MK4 – just under NZ$4000 together – is proving to be unequivocally better than our previous reference of the DV20X2 and Pure Audio Vinyl Phono stage (NZ$5700 combined). While some of this is the P75MK4 playing catch-up to the Pure Audio, it’s clear the cartridge is responsible for the greater part of not just the performance gain but also a dramatic improvement in real value for money.

As a combination, the two new Dynavector products are remarkable – this is not some random synergy – they are purposefully matched and the end result is greater than just the sum of parts.

Don’t get me wrong – the Pure Audio is an awesome phono stage and when introduced it absolutely bettered the Dynavector P75MK3 in every regard. For many systems it will still be the ultimate.

But the comparatively low cost of the new P75MK4 allows you to go further with cartridge choice than you may have otherwise and when you use this to select the DV17DX (or even Te Kaitora Rua) you’ll end up with something very, very special.

It’s also worth noting that the physical properties of the DV17DX make it viable on many turntable models that cost a lot less than the Well Tempered Versalex we are using – both the entry level Well Tempered model – the recently upgraded Simplex 2 and Consonance Wax Engine are ideal platforms.

In years past we subscribed to the Linn dogma that proscribed a hierarchy where the turntable was the primary source of sound quality, followed by the tonearm, cartridge and finally phono stage. It’s obvious now that things have changed – you can have a truely high end analogue system at a remarkably affordable level.

Stylus care and lifetime expectations.

All Dynavector cartridges come with a small but high quality stylus cleaning brush which is normally used dry – vibrating cleaners and fluids are not recommended. The use of the stylus cleaning brush combined with a simple record cleaning routine will ensure consistently good sound for the life of the stylus.

There is far too much mis-information on cartridge and stylus lifetimes, especially on audio forums. The simple act of playing a record results in wear of the stylus and it doesn’t matter what breed of cartridge or cost is involved, the consensus from the people that actually design and manufacture cartridges is that at around 1000-1500 playing hours performance does inevitably start to degrade.

Assuming you play maybe 4 – 6 albums a week, the stylus will give you around 5 years use before performance starts to fall away. So really, the cost of ownership and lifetime is about the same as an iPhone – it’s just that you’ll enjoy your Dynavector MC a whole lot more!

As with almost all moving coil cartridges the the stylus and cartridge assembly are one so Dynavector operate a discounted new for old exchange program when it comes to replacement time.

For anyone with the earlier DV-17DX3, there is a $400 discount on a new 17DX bringing the price down to $2300 including GST.

For and old DV20 X a $300 credit applies and likelwise for the 10X series it’s $200.

Contact us for details on any other older Dynavector models and we can help you out.

In all of these exchanges you get an absolutely brand new cartridge – including all new packaging and fittings. It is neither economic or sensible to look for a so called ‘retip’ or rebuild option on these cartidges as both the performance and long term reliability falls short of new.

Conclusion.

Combined with the Dynavector P75MK4 phono stage, the new DV 17DX moving coil cartridge is easily the best sound we have ever enjoyed at home – the sound gives us everything that we love about analogue – there’s seemingly endless detail that we’ve never heard before on our records, both new and old. The bass performance is exceptional – fast and with real impact while the treble is extended but never harsh. Vocal performance is to die for. The sound staging is rock solid and literally in your lap. This is like the very best live front row performance. We’ve enjoyed our DV20X2 but this new cartridge is vastly better. Recommended with enthusiasm

John Ransley.

Dynavector DV-17DX product page

Dynavector DV 17DX, Well Tempered Versalex, P75mk4 phono stage, KLEI cables at Totall Wired
The review system – Dynavector DV 17DX, Well Tempered Versalex, P75mk4 phono stage.

Reviews – the DV 17D – versions 1-3.

‘Our Verdict – If you want to know what we mean by pace and timing, then listen to this cartridge For

    One of the most thrilling-sounding cartridges on the market

    Great build quality

The 17D3 gets very close to the results achieved with MCs at twice the price. Some may prefer a richer balance, but few could resist the allure of the speed on offer which is truly world-class.

The bass is taut and extremely articulate and we genuinely don’t think that there are many sub-£1,000 cartridges that can touch it in terms of sheer musicality and resolution of detail.

In fact, all you need is a turntable that can take the energy.’

https://www.techradar.com/au/reviews/audio-visual/hi-fi-and-audio/hi-fi-accessories/dynavector-karat-17d3-690207/review

‘The 17D3! A silky smooth sounding cartridge with fabulous dynamic range, amazingly extended highs and tonal accuracy that will give you chills!

The karat has now clearly established itself as a high end reference cartridge for many reviews and audiophiles alike.. Now available in new model with 10% higher output

Dynavector cartridges are known for their resolution and tonality and the 17D3 is no exception. Unflappable, the 17D3 maintains it’s composure on even the most complex and demanding of recordings. The secret is in the design; the 17D3’s body damps resonance, the ultra-short cantilever reduces resonance, even the internal magnetic structure of the 17D3 has been engineered with the goal of eliminating resonance!

If you want to make a great cartridge, simply reducing resonance won’t get you there. To make a great cartridge, you must use premium materials as well, such as a solid diamond cantilever. Yes, you read that right, the 17D3 has a diamond cantilever. A diamond cantilever doesn’t have the high-frequency resonance problems that plague most metal cantilevers, lending itself to smoother treble reproduction, with silky-sweet high frequencies without any sharpness or metallic ringing. Diamond’s tensile strength also means that the cantilever can be made very short, lending an amazing sense of immediacy to virtually any type of music. Although the 17D3’s chassis is virtually non-resonant, the 17D3 is a very light-weight cartridge, coming in at just under 5.5Gms and although it’s a low-output cartridge, the 17D3 will work with virtually any phono pre-amp with at least 60dB of gain!’

http://www.analogueseduction.net/dynavector/dynavectorkarat-17d3-mc-cartridge.html

‘This is the third generation of a twenty-year-old design that I have always regarded as one of the best. I wrote five years ago that the 17D2 “has a luscious, gorgeous midrange, superb dynamics, and overall neutrality from the midbass through the highs that translates into…high accuracy and glorious musicality.” This essentially holds except that the 17D2 rolls off a little above 10kHz and below 100Hz, and its bass, while excellent, is sometimes plummy, the combined effect being to make the whole subtly midrange-dominant. This is not true of the 17D3, which sounds ruler-flat top to bottom and which thus makes the midrange less luscious as such. Those who love the 17D2 for its special qualities won’t get an identical sound with the new one. That said, they’ll still get all the life and liveliness of past Karats, the transparency, the superb tracking, the crackling musicality. Only by direct comparison to the Ortofon—which costs almost twice as much—does it yield a little in the way of ultimate control, resolution, and imaging precision. While it doesn’t excavate all the inner detail that the Ortofon does in the last act of the Bernstein Carmen [DG], it throws a sensationally wide and deep soundstage—with very persuasive layering—that transported me to the scene of this red-blooded opera. Like the Ortofon, the 17D3 is very much a Yang cartridge, brilliance and clarity abounding, and it has no peers in the price/performance sweepstakes. But be warned that, also like the Ortofon, it will sound edgy if any part of your system tends that way. The 17D3’s performance is so disproportionate to its relatively low price that it deserves the best associated equipment you can afford.’

http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/four-movingcoil-cartridges-ortofon-dynavector-benz-clearaudio/

‘Well, my friends, I had to re-examine my old taste of how I like to listen to the music. And with this golden small thing, I found a new lovely way. Just imagine this: If the reproduced music material had been scaled from some expletory bits which sometimes we like and sometimes we don’t, such as rich harmonics (which, actually we are not sure if we get anytime the correct amount of them and this is a problem, of course) and leave the program free of any of them, what might be our expectation?

There is a 3D-style focusing on the music scene, a totally noise-free music drama ambience and unparalleled dynamics. The bass region was like a crash of thunder piercing the loaded sky and then kicking mother earth without warning. This cartridge is the best rocker I’ve ever met. Voices have breathless start and a sharp edge, not any adding effects to put you in confusion. I always flirted with this kind of midrange, so I found the DV-Karat a lovely partner. The midrnage also is reproduced with an extraordinary bevy of dynamic expressions.’

http://www.enjoythemusic.com/magazine/equipment/1001/dynavector.htm