Way back in the mists of time when hi-fi was as popular as mobile phones are now, serious audiophiles used turntables as their primary music source. The magazines of the day vociferously recommended that upgraders should buy the best possible design available, which invariably meant a certain single speed Scottish deck. This created a need for good but cheap partnering tonearms and cartridges, for use while bank balances recovered from the shock of making the largest single outlay short of a house and a car.
Lest we forget, moving magnet cartridges still ruled the roost, with the likes of Shure, Ortofon and Grado selling bucket loads. However, by 1978 audiophiles had an interesting alternative in the Ultimo 10X, the direct descendent of Dynavector’s £199 DV10X4 Mk II. Here was a moving coil for the price of a middling moving magnet, featuring high(ish) output allowing it to be used without a dedicated moving coil stage. This was possible thanks to its designer, Professor Noburu Tominara, being a leading expert in miniature coil winding technology. His custom-designed winding machine used ultra fine wire, giving class-leading output to mass ratios and making the 10X a practical production proposition. It went on to win the Design and Engineering Award at CES Chicago in both 1978 and 1981.
Despite the small company’s modest marketing budget, the 10X has garnered a strong following amongst impoverished audiophiles. This latest model uses a smaller, elliptical nude diamond stylus and features a higher output of 2.5mV (at 1kHz, 5cm/sec.). Compliance is quoted at 12×10-6cm/dyn and cartridge weight is a lowish 4.6g. All this makes the baby Dynavector a user-friendly proposition which works well with arms like Rega’s ubiquitous RB300. For this review I tried it in both a Rega RB600 and Linn Ekos, on a Michell GyroDec driving a Michell Dino phono stage.
Funnily enough, it sounds surprisingly similar to how I remember that old Ultimo. Whatever type of music you play, it has tremendous get-up-and-go. Interestingly, the 10X4’s power doesn’t come from an Audio Technica-style brightness and zing – in fact, this device is actually quite rich and fruity sounding. No, it has a tremendous grip on the fundamentals of any recording, meaning you never stop tapping your feet from beginning to end.
Cue up and original US pressing of Crosby, Stills, Nash’s Wooden Ships and the whole track sounds incredibly engaging. Rather than bothering with the minutiae of production details and the like, it just dives in head first and has a blast. Cue up Ortofon’s very capable, similarly priced MC25E and you’ll hear more detail, subtlety and finesse, but won’t be tapping your feet half as much. You’ll also hear a starker and colder tonality which is possibly more accurate but far less enjoyable.
Spin modern discs like Thomas Dolby/ Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Fieldwork and the DV10X4 is even more impressive. There’s tremendous power and energy in the bass for a cartridge of this price – you wouldn’t think it costs just £80 more than Goldring’s fine 1042 moving magnet. The soundstage wide and all-enveloping, although there’s little real detail at the back of the recorded acoustic. Dynamics are great at the price – although ultimately restricted like its Ortofon rival, the DV10X4 appears to give you more bang for your buck. The only real disappointment is the treble, which is perfectly listenable but rather bland – cymbals sound reasonably sweet and natural but a little too ‘generic’.
Try some rock and the Dynavector loves to boogie – it’s tremendously unselfconscious and just ‘gets down on it’ without a moment of self doubt. Feisty, gregarious and fun, any music that’s a slave to the rhythm is where this cartridge is most at home. Ask it to pick out subtle textural differences between instruments in acoustic recordings of orchestral works though, and it suddenly goes all shy. Basically, the DV10X4 isn’t really up to deep, inner groove excavation duties, but then again what cartridge is at this price?
The joy of this little transducer is its big hearted, musical nature which oh-so-adroitly conceals its failings. No, it’s not a Linn Archiv, but you wouldn’t expect it to be. Rather, it’s a hoot to play any music with, meaning you simply don’t mourn its lack of low level ambient information, spatial accuracy or textural detail. Compared to its price rivals it’s easily the most fun, making it probably the best ‘budget audiophile’ cartridge around right now. Anyone upgrading from moving magnets and who wants a taste of the high end should move heaven and earth to audition this.