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Frederic Beudot
Financial Interests: click here
Digital Source: Esoteric X-03SE
Analog Source: Acoustic Solid Classic Wood, AS WTB211, Grado Reference Sonata 1, Denon DL103,Clearaudio Nano, Esoteric E03, Nagra BPS [on loan]
Pre-amplifier: Wyred 4 Sound STP SE
Amplifier: Genesis Reference 360, Yamamoto A08s, First Watt F5, Gryphon Diablo [on loan]
Speakers: FJ OMs, Rogers LS 3/5a, Zu Essence
Cables: Zu Varial, ASI Liveline interconnects & speaker cables
Power Cords: Zu Mother, ASI Liveline power
Powerline conditioning: Isotek Nova [on loan]
Sundry accessories: Isolpads under electronics, ASI resonators and sugar cubes, ASI Heartsong racks
Room size: 21' x 13’ x 7.5'
Review component retail: $850

In the fall of last year I started on a personal journey all too long postponed - finding a replacement for my Denon DL103 cartridge of choice. Despite all its qualities the $229 Denon was starting to show its limits when coupled to the ultra-revealing Esoteric E03 phono preamplifier. The dynamic qualities of the Denon were never in doubt and actually explain why I delayed looking for an upgrade so long. Art Dudley probably said it best when he wrote that the DL103 lifts the music from the groove like no other cartridge. It does indeed have the ability to make you want to sing, dance or air guitar like very few others.

That said even true fans of the Denon can't deny that its treble is significantly shortened and lacking in sparkle. Its bass lacks in resolution and tightness and the upper midrange is not the most elegant conceivable.

But what this also says is that a list of audiophile attributes never begins to describe a component. In this case enjoyment provided by the DL103 far exceeds the sum of its parts thanks to very clever voicing and the already mentioned dynamic qualities it imparts to any music.

Once my mind was made up to upgrade the DL103, I hit the Internet like any other audiophile would to build a short list of cartridges I might try and listen to before making a choice. If you've ever tried to audition cartridges at audio dealerships you already know how rare it is to find a collaborative dealer. Even rarer is finding one with a table, arm and phono preamplifier close to yours especially since in my case an Acoustic Solid deck is rather rare in the US (it would have been easier if I owned a VPI). That said I was able to listen to most of my candidates. Some actually spent a few hours in my own system - not long enough to pen a review but certainly enough to know whether I wanted to spend money on them or not.

Based on the title of the review my final choice is clear already. The Dynavector 20X-2 in the end was the pickup that came closest to my expectations but more on this a little later. First let me say a few words on the other contestants and why they didn't make my final cut.

The most obvious choice for the happy Denon DL103 owner in search of improved performance would be to move up in Denon's line starting with the $379 DL103R. For the money this brings an audible improvement in treble resolution and to a lesser extent bass resolution but to my ears the upper midrange lack of refinement remains. Since I was on a more comprehensive upgrade path I wanted greater improvements. In Denon's catalogue the $949 DL-S1 might have been the ticket but I was unable to learn much about it nor hear it anywhere. This might have been a missed opportunity but I don't spend close to a grand on a mere phantom.