Any analogue addict worth his record collection will remember the old Ultimo 10X, a high output moving coil designed and manufactured by Dynavector of Japan. Back in the late nineteen seventies it was one of the most musical budget pickups around, and had the added benefit of not requiring a costly step up transformer. The trouble was that for many people back then, pukka moving coils had to be low output or they just weren’t The Real McCoy. There was some sense in this, because most attempts at high output designs were unsuccessful – higher output voltages often made for sonically costly compromises, and/or tracking issues.
Dynavector was the exception that proved the rule. The founder, Professor Noburu Tominara of Tokyo university was a leading expert in miniature coil winding technology. He designed a winding machine that used ultra fine wire, giving a class-leading output-to-mass ratio. To this day it has proved central to Dynavector’s success. Of course, using masses of wire to achieve high output is always going to compromise performance, but it also eliminates another potentially more serious pitfall later in the replay chain – the active moving coil phono stage.
Trouble is, decent moving coil phono preamps are complex beasts that cost real money to do properly. Although a mid-price integrated might have an MC facility, it’s unlikely to be up to the job, so why not bypass it altogether and go for a decent high output moving coil? Put this way, the DV-20X H makes a strong case for itself before you’ve even got it out of the box. Construction is good, with a body of milled aluminium alloy and a hard aluminium pipe cantilever fitted with an elliptical nude diamond stylus. In a Michell Orbe/Origin Live RB250, the Dynavector tracked extremely securely at the bottom of its 1.8-2.2g range, while its 8.6g total mass proved no trouble for the Rega counterweight.
As soon as its stylus hit the groove, it struck me how different it was to most moving coils. Audio-Technicas have always had a very exciting sound but can be tonally thin and hard, while Ortofons are more refined but sometimes bland (or dare I say it, Scandinavian). The Dynavector however treads between these extremes very deftly. It has a deep, rich musical sound that we all love; in fact it does everything a good moving magnet does, but better. Then it starts doing the clever stuff moving coils are famous for too, like crisp, clean treble, strong soundstaging, tight imaging and real dynamics.
For example, The Crusaders’ Street Life kicked off with a powerful sounding Randy Crawford between my speakers. The DV-20X H projected her voice positively forward into the room and pulled the accompanying keyboards right back. Saxophones had a deliciously deep, breathy quality to them and the drum kit was super tight and delightfully punchy. An unusually upfront and unselfconscious performance. Moving to The Prodigy’s One Love, the Dynavector was better still. It dived into the spirit of the music and boogied. Again, imaging was uncommonly big and bold, bass kicked like it was going out of fashion and that frantic percussion thumped from the mix like a mad thing. Big fun, and not a million miles from the old Decca London Export.
The way the DV20 followed the groove meant that jazz was also a treat – that and its succulently rich, silky tone. Classical music was probably where the Dynavector was least successful. It wasn’t bad – far from it – but seemed just a tad too coloured and unsubtle to resolve every last nuance of an orchestra in the way that more expensive coils do so well. In absolute terms, there’s a fair deal of low level detail and precision missing, alongside a truly three dimensional soundstage. Overall however, this is a deeply impressive cartridge for its price, which was £295 when first launched. Just because Dynavectors remain something of an enigma in the United Kingdom, don’t assume they aren’t any good – the DV20X-H Black proves the reverse.