POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 33
as reviewed by Mike Peshkin
Receiving the Dynavector phonostage for review has to be among the more exciting things I've done as a reviewer. I've been enamored with the sound of my Dyna 20XL for a few years; I even replaced my first one with the newest version.
Getting the chance to give a listen to a product from a company you greatly admire can have its problems; your bias is set. I already decided it would sound good long before I connected it up to the Anthem preamp's AUX input, and it did.
But I needed to morph into reviewer mode rather than cheerleader. Mike Pranka had told me that it wouldn't need an inordinate amount of break-in time, but it would definitely improve with a goodly amount of music played through it. I felt it was a bit more dramatic than that; good from the get-go and gooder as the go got on (Am I great at destroying the King's English, or what?).
I had my worries of course with synergy being something of a concern. Would my Silver Dragon interconnects be a good match? That wouldn't be much of a problem since I have at least three other phono cables. Would the Anthem preamplifier be a good match? As for the cartridge I use, the Anthem is designed with the Dyna line of cartridges in the mind and skill of its creators; I felt it would sound good with what it was to be fed.
One of my greatest fears is the near inability to return something I've reviewed. That already happened with another phono stage I'd reviewed for PFO (Issue 20); that was a painful experience. I didn't want that unit to leave my side …or at least my turntable's side.
I assumed, since this is a solid-state unit, that it would sound quite a bit different than the tubed Eastern Electric Minimax. And since I love tubes, I had some doubts that I wouldn't like it as much as I do the MiniMax. I say and think some really stupid things sometimes. Does the Dynavector sound like the Minimax? Yes, about as much as a zebra looks like a thoroughbred. Both are phonostages. That's where any similarity ends.
Am I disheartened, disappointed, or upset that the two have very different sound signatures? I'm not interested in answering the question for myself, but I will of course answer it for you. I'll simply say at this point of my review that I would happily live with either of them.
"Now Mike," I can hear you saying, "If they sound different, how could you want both equally?"
The answer is simply that I enjoyed the sound of records with either of them. The Minimax errs towards being a bit warm, but I love a warm sound. The Dynavector doesn't err much at all; it shows music through a more transparent window. The overall sound is dramatically different.
Listening to music with the Minimax, you are given an omniscient viewpoint of the venue. Beautifully lifelike, you watch the performers creating their music. Michelangelo's beautifully delineated reality. There's neither painting nor sculpture with the Dynaco, you're simply (SIMPLY?) sitting in the room with the performers. Live recordings place you in a non-existent seat. You're not in the first row, the third, nor twentieth. I suppose the best way to describe it would be with our binaural hearing; I was sitting in a chair, hanging in the air where the fill mike would normally be hung.
But even that doesn't quite describe what I heard. Playing recordings with a lot of spatial information gave me the impression that the rear and side walls had been removed. I asked Mike Pranka, the Dyna distributor, to get over to my house pronto and repair those walls. He only asked what materials he needed. He knew …he knew. At that point, I hadn't listened to the piece that shocked me, the one where I could see the limits of the room, the back and side walls, the proscenium arch - I was in that room (Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra with Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra RCA LSC-1934 9s/8s)!
But that was one of the Eastern Electric's strongest points; it did a superb job of transporting me to the recording site. The Dyna flew me to Chicago and placed me in Orchestra Hall. Not a huge difference, but definitely significant. The Eastern Electric's delivery made listening to almost any type of music a beautiful experience; quite real with the right music, but definitely different. The Dynavector P-75 was somehow more real, revealing details I hadn't noticed with the Eastern Electric.
Although I notice those points, report on those points, whether they are reproduced is not very important to me. There are electronics that have great sonic virtues. Those units, with the right material and good speakers can put singer in your room so believably so that you are amazed. When you open your eyes they aren't there. Some of them make me want to dance all over the room, but some leave me cold, the music falling flat on its face.
The Dynavector makes me want to dance. I was tapping my feet so much while I played some of my blues LPs that my leg muscles got sore. I was blown away by the power that came from my speakers; the sense I was listening to real music, not electronically reproduced music. If you have ever been in a room with any instrument while it is being played, you can sense the sound pressure waves against your body. I don't feel that too often with music. That reality, that presence, is lost through lesser electronics. Of course, a good amount of that feeling comes from the speakers: if they lack the ability to produce that feel, those sounds, you just aren't going to hear it. Of course! But it has to be sent to those speakers from a recording. That recording has to be reproduced properly by all the electronics in the chain—especially the phonostage. The Dyna delivers that feeling.
This review is actually two reviews as the DV-P-75 is actually three different phonostages, or more if you wish to count the many ways it can be configured. The unit's small size amazed me, but again and again one finds in their life that good things come in small packages. A great example would be my wife …tiny! Moving magnet and moving coil cartridges—high and low output and damn near anything in between—can be played through this little jewel. It sounded great with the Dynavector 20XL. I already told you that, and when I switched to a hand made Sao Win SMC-10, well that too sounded pretty darned good, until I made a big mistake. More about that later.
Record after record revealed that this tiny thing, with a wall-wart power supply, could dig more information than the Anthem's phonostage was capable of doing. Rosin falling off the strings type info; delineating the size of the recording venue; creating sonic replicas of the walls of the studios and orchestral halls; layering the stage so each instrument and even its player were illuminated. Three dimensional stuff! Doing this without pulling me from the music. Making me laugh and cry at all the appropriate places in any given performance is important to me after all!
I was so stunned by Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra with Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (RCA LSC-1934 9s/8s) performance. Everything about it was so perfect that I whooped and hollered until my wife came downstairs and said, "Shut the hell up!" She did, and Barb doesn't talk like that very often! I had been arrested for creating a household nuisance, and I have to say that angering my wife, though difficult, is nothing anyone would ever want to do.
She beat me up one time! When we were first married, about 34 years ago, I was about 6'3" tall and weighed about 225 lbs. Barb is about 5'2" (wearing high heels) and weighs about 125 (she's gonna kill me for revealing that!). I was washing some dishes and at the same time arguing with Barb about something; it obviously wasn't important or I'd recall. I picked up a coffee cup to wash and the handle fell off having been obviously cracked sometime prior to that moment. I turned and while we were still arguing, tossed the cup at the kitchen garbage can and missed. The cup shattered and Barb screamed, "You don't have to break the dishes!" She flew across the room and began beating on my chest. I began to laugh, NEVER a smart thing to do because her fists felt like moths banging against a light bulb. "It was broken, it was already broken!" I put my arms around her, hugging her and saying again, "It was broken." That was the end of our argument but a great story to tell about "The time my wife beat me." She hates for me to tell that story …I love telling it!
Would Bartok like that story? I don't know but his heart and soul were in the room with me while that record was playing. Reiner and the Chicago Symphony did such a fabulous job conveying every nuance, every note of the Concerto for Orchestra. I don't recall ever hearing a hall that way; I was in that room and saw the four walls! Trying to keep the reviewer hat firmly on my head and having the music listener's hat replace it every other second made things a bit difficult. I was thrilled. But, as I do far too often with gear that trips my trigger, I'm gushing.
I had listened to the Bartok LP the day before with the Anthem, just before I put the P-75 into the system. I was thrilled then with the sound and music being fabulously, passionately portrayed through the system's everyday configuration. This was different! Every bit as good, but different; more of that three-dimensional thing that adds reality to the passion.
That's how I felt with every record I played. Gorgeous, but so different than my Anthem, or even the Anthem with the Minimax in place of the Dyna. A bit leaner, faster; perhaps a bit more nimble, able to separate each instrument so that I heard each member of the string section, rather than a wall of strings.
One thing I've always hated is an in-your-face presentation. That feeling of listen or I'll bust your chops sound is not to my liking. Poor speaker placement is usually the culprit. Poor speakers (I don't listen to crappy sounding speakers) can push the music down your throat.
I heard a CD player once that was seemingly designed to make you feel you were in the first row or first table. But I like the third row in a small café, slightly closer than a third of the way toward the rear (from the front?) of an auditorium. I don't like having Peter O'Toole's spittle flying into my face (a real experience when we watched him play Uncle Vanya.
My Anthem, and the rest of the system, places me in the third row for most performances. Occasionally I've found myself in the center of a room. At all times though, a realistic soundstage must be part of the musical experience during playback. Not because of the sound being important, but the entire idea is to approach the illusion of actually being there when the recording was made.
The P-75 does that quite easily. I currently have a pair of mini-monitors that sound exquisite—string tones were gorgeous. The soundstage is enormous when appropriate, perfectly small when that is appropriate. They, along with the Dynavector phonostage, made me want to junk my entire system. More detail than I normally hear and presented in a manner that definitely is not shoved down my throat.
But, that was with the Dynavector cartridge. I took all of the notes above before switching cartridges tot eh Win SMC-10. I listened at the same setting and enjoyed that sound even though the cartridge wasn't fully broken in. Then I changed to the PE - phono enhancer—mode. This is for the sound freaks. Never sounding non-musical, with this setting the hand-built Win SMC-10 did sound a bit more clinical. There wasn't any time, with my 20X or the SMC-10, that the music was not enjoyable. I just enjoyed listening to music more with the settings Mike Pranka had set for the DV 20XL: they fit the needs of the SMC just fine.
You must remember, the SMC-10 needs about 100 hours of break-in and most of the notes I took concerning the sound of the P-75 with that cartridge were done between (about) 10 to 40 hours. So take what I write with reservation.
The Dyna and the SMC-10 were great in the usual MC mode. The Dyna sang beautifully. The SMC did too, those periods in its break-in when it was behaving. I liked what I heard in the PE mode, never loved it.
I was blown away listening to a Joni Mitchell record I'd heard about eighty skillion times. Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (Asylum BB-701) is one of Joni's many albums that make me sit in awe; to revel in her vocal control and intonation. The P-75 made her sound even more articulate. The Dyna 20XL and the P-75 seemed like a combination made for Joni's voice. A beautiful listening experience that made me once again understand why I like listening to her music as much as I do.
I play Van Morrison and Joni really often as it's a way to get Barb into the room and sit beside me. No Guru, no Method, No Teacher (Mercury Polygram 830077-M-1, a promo copy) and Moondance (German 180 gm. #1058) are two of her very favorite Van the Man LPs. So many times I have had the feeling that various recordings somehow miss capturing Morrison's chest. I really have no idea how tall Van is, but the few times I've seen him I got the feeling (especially in The Last Waltz; what a superb music documentary!) that whatever sized man he is, he has a powerful chest. With the P-75, I still didn't hear what I expected, but I believe I just expect too much. He's not an operatically trained singer (or if he is, he was wise to stay with Rock music). The P-75 reveals the truth.
When I changed the Dyna for the SMC-10 I still heard the truth, but I still wasn't convinced that the PE mode made any huge difference. Couple that with the fact that I couldn't get the SMC-10 to track really rough passages, such as Ray Brown's bass notes toward the last third of side one on Soular Energy (Pure Audiophile PA-002). On the other hand, the DV-20XL breezes through with aplomb. I even put a glob of blu-tak on the headshell, reset the weight to 1.95 grams where it had been before I'd put that record on, and even though I'd improved the arm/cartridge resonance as tested on the Hi Fi test disc, it still didn't track it.
But what magic when I played everything else! The P-75 allowed anything that cartridge dug out of the grooves to be clearly and cleanly heard. Whether I played a Stan Getz LP, or especially the reissue of the Mercury Firebird Suite, the sound was pure and musical. Yet I always felt that I was missing the warmth of my tubes. When I disconnected the P-75 and turned from Aux to Phono, the first thing I said was, "That's the sound I miss!"
But then I found the magic pill to cure the Win cartridge's shortcomings. It was short! I hadn't noticed the arm-lift was merely a hair's width below the arm. Difficult passages must have allowed the cartridge and arm to drop low enough so that the arm contacted the lift. I'd never thought to check until I tried to play an LP and heard nothing! Apparently the rain we'd had, breaking a rather long drought, swelled the soft material on the top of the arm lift, lifting the arm high enough so the stylus cleared the record completely.
I'd gone nuts adjusting and readjusting every parameter but never checked the height of that &%^$#$%* lift. Since it's relatively easy to connect the Dynavector P-75, I listened to a few more LPs with the settings in PE mode. It's easy to change things for any cartridges' needs: just a matter of pulling and replacing little jumpers. I used a tweezers, but someone with more nimble fingers than this ham-fisted nerd might do fine with their own fingers. The instructions are easy to follow (after all, I could do it, so Bo-Bo the chimpanzee should be able to do it, too!).
The PE mode vs. the normal settings for your MC cartridge will give you a bit more detail, nothing earth-shattering, but it is a significant improvement. I heard nothing tonally that made me stop thinking about wine, women, and the songs I was listening to, but that clarity of detail, especially with hearing lyrics more easily, was definitely improved.
So many of my audio buddies love their moving magnet cartridges, I respect their opinions, so…I would have liked to listen to the unit set up for moving magnet cartridges, but I'm not a glutton for punishment and even if I was, the Win had given me all the punishment anyone could ever deserve. If your cartridge meets the parameters needed to use the PE mode, USE IT! If you love detail and want that detail within the music, then you have to listen to this phonostage. If you want detail and don't care about the music, don't bother, go elsewhere. Mike Peshkin