Riding High with the Dynavector DRT XV-1t

by Marc Mickelson | May 22, 2012

riting audio reviews (and running an audio-review website) can have its moments -- in between days, weeks and months on the publishing treadmill. My most recent "moment" happened without a hint that it was coming. I needed to send my Dynavector XV-1s cartridge back to its maker in Japan to be inspected, as its body was riding low, unnervingly close to the record surface. The "moment" came after the cartridge was mailed to Mike Pranka, Dynavector's US distributor, who would forward it to Japan. About two weeks after I sent the cartridge, Mike e-mailed me to propose something that would make any sane owner of an XV-1s blurt out "Yes!" without a moment of thought: "Let me know if you'd like to give a '1t demo unit a listen." "A '1t" referred to Dynavector's top-of-the-line DRT XV-1t cartridge, which I had heard a few times at shows -- as part of unknown systems in unfamiliar rooms, an entirely inadequate situation for evaluating a $9250 phono cartridge. I'm always mystified when someone claims to hear past the rest of a demo system to glorify a CD player or preamp -- an illogical assertion to be sure.

When the cartridge arrived, I was anxious to mount it (hold your giggles) but held my breath as I removed it from its wooden box and cautiously affixed it to the headshell of my Tri-Planar tonearm. The '1s and '1t share a feature that seems meant to raise caution, just like bright colors on a jungle frog's back. Its cantilever juts off the front like a diving board, making it all the easier to snap off with a ham-handed move. I've been fortunate with my '1s, mounting and unmounting it several times without incident, but such successes breed confidence in the foolhardy. I took it slow and had the '1t playing, if not precisely dialed in, within an hour.

The '1t retains many of the design specifics of the '1s, including powerful Alnico magnets, a boron cantilever and a line-contact stylus that is so tiny it almost looks like it's missing. The main differences are the shape of the '1t's armature -- which is square -- the 16-micron coil windings, and the cartridge's body, which is fashioned from bamboo and then sealed in Urushi lacquer, which gives it a blood-red hue and surely changes its resonance properties. Outwardly, all of these fall under the category of refinements, given that the '1s and '1t have so much in common -- the similarities between the two are easy to see. The '1t has slightly higher output, 0.35mV versus 0.30 for the '1s, and it's half a gram lighter. The '1t's higher internal impedance requires higher loading, but other than that, it's a drop-in replacement for -- or should I say, a cautiously handled alternative to -- the '1s.

Paul Bolin, who also owns an XV-1s, hit it on the head when he described it as being halfway between a Clearaudio and a Koetsu, and the '1t resides on this same plane. That's a quick way of saying that there is no obvious tonal variation from one cartridge to the other, the '1t retaining the fundamental balance and "Dynavectorness" that are the '1s's greatest assets. Still, the '1t showed slightly more sparkle in the treble -- not a shift toward that region, but better capturing of fine detail. Bass tautness and impact were also better, the '1t sounding more visceral and defined down low. Most notable was the way it spread and layered the soundstage -- in discrete vectors defined by the musicians and singers that occupied them -- and unraveled each recording, not analytically parsing the music but illuminating it and better differentiating each recording. "It's truthful, beautiful and seductive all at once," I wrote Mike Pranka after an especially long listen, and that sums up the appeal of Dynavector cartridges to begin with.

I don't have to ask rhetorically if the '1t is better than the '1s. It is, the only pain with the gain being the difference in price -- the XV-1s is currently $5450. The more important question, and the one I'll ask, is: Are the gains worth the extra money? I'm not going to cop out by saying "That's up to you and your bank account, blah, blah, blah." When you consider what $3800 can buy in terms of sonic improvement -- often different, not definitively better -- the '1t makes its case clearly and unambiguously.

The greatest obstacle to purchase may be getting to hear the '1t. I would guess there aren't many dealers with it mounted and ready for demonstration. But if you are a '1s owner who is considering the '1t as a replacement or upgrade, you can be assured that everything you like about your cartridge is retained and there are meaningful sonic embellishments as well. The '1t is both the same and better.

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