REVIEW: DYNAVECTOR P75 MK4 PHONO PREAMPLIFIER
For over a decade Dynavector phono preamplifiers have been a natural, significant step up from entry-level brands. For many vinyl-loving audiophiles, further upgrades might be considered unnecessary, unless owners are prepared to pay a heck of a lot more.
A small, unassuming looking box that can hold its own even in relatively big-budget hi-fi systems, the popularity of Dynavector's P75 phono preamplifiers is understandable.
Even former owners glaze over in fond reminiscence at the mention of P75s, and the couple I spoke to were very keen to hear how the new Mk4 version sounds.
Dynavector is a Japanese company, well known for their moving coil cartridges which range from the affordable through to the seriously high end. Some, like the DV10X5 and the DV20X2, are somewhat iconic for the simple reason that they sound fantastic and for relatively little money.
Dynavector also has a base in Australia where they design and build solid-state amplifiers and phono stages. As mentioned the P75 is now up to Mk4, and claims improvements over the previous versions such as better noise rejection, higher quality components and better amplifier stage design.
I’m well familiar with the Mk3, having spent time with it a few years back and I recall that it came somewhat close in sound quality to the Trichord Dino+ I was running at the time, so I couldn’t wait to unbox this new version.
In its attractive aluminium chassis, the P75 Mk4 is slightly larger than its predecessors but still retains that small footprint appeal. It has rounded edges and a black glass face – on which the DV symbol lights up in red when powered on – flanked by silver for its front panel.
At the back it has two sets of gold-plated RCA plugs for input and output, a ground screw and input for a wall-wart type power plug with an on/off switch.
Two pairs of screws can be removed from the back with the supplied tool and the backplate with the circuit board attached slides right out. It’s a tidy and attractive affair on the inside, but most importantly you’ll notice the sets of jumper pins which are there for you – yes, you – to adjust, according to your cartridge specifications.
This is where the fun begins because the P75 Mk4 is designed to be used with almost any cartridge, be it a low, medium or high output moving coil (0.2mV, 1.0mV and 2.0mV respectively) or moving magnet or moving iron.
You get to choose the setting for your type of cartridge as well as setting gain and resistance loading, while extra capacitance can be added for MM.
You can also have your choice of capacitor and resistor soldered onto the board for your own custom loading. The gain and loading options for low output MC are 60 or 63dB at 30, 60, 100, 220 or 470 Ohm, medium output 56dB at 470 Ohm and high output MC/MM 40 or 46 dB at 47k Ohm.
Capacitance options for MM are 100, 200 and 300pF. The default factory setting is for low output MC cartridges where the gain is set at 63dB and resistance loading at 100 Ohm.
This is all explained with detailed diagrams in the Owner’s Manual. My recently purchased +1 reading glasses came in very handy when swapping jumpers, but otherwise, it’s straightforward.
Also, of note is the low output MC Phono Enhancer Mode (PE Mode – also present in previous versions) which is set according to your cartridges DC coil resistance or impedance.
Upon powering up the P75 Mk4, I immediately noticed how quiet it is. There was no noticeable ground hum or any extra noise or hiss coming from the speakers. This is because Dynavector has introduced a new power supply, free from mains frequency components and which it claims is “ultra-low noise” and wholly isolated from the input power. Any hum you do notice is most likely emanating from the tonearm or interconnect cables.
When I received the review unit, I was about to head out of town for a few days visiting a friend and fellow audio/vinyl enthusiast, so I decided to take it with me. Thus, the first system employed to test the P75 Mk4 consisted of a Well Tempered ‘Amadeus’ GTA turntable fitted with an Ortofon 2M Black MM cartridge and a Naim Nait 5i amplifier driving Monitor Audio Bronze 6 floor standing speakers.
The Dynavector replaced a very nice-performing Well Tempered MM phono stage, though we swapped the two in and out as we listened throughout three blissful vinyl and beer-fuelled days.
While this wasn’t a system that I was entirely familiar with sonically, I thought the exercise would be interesting nonetheless and would suffice until I could get home to my system.
The WT phono stage is an excellent little unit, delivering an engaging flow of music with a quick and peppy manner. Whether spinning Bowie, Lorde, Sabbath or Arctic Monkeys, it continued to charm in that way which makes you want to keep listening all night long.
After a good warm-up listening session, we decided to swap over to the P75 Mk4, having made the necessary internal adjustments to best match the 2M Black moving magnet.
As the needle dropped on record after record, we noticed a marked increase in gain over the WT, a widened soundstage, and bass had a noticeably improved definition.
Music sprang from a dead quiet space with excellent clarity and rhythmic urgency, and I found the time, and the cold beer, went too fast as we sat, enthralled. Due to the novelty of being in an unfamiliar environment (room and system), I couldn’t definitively say the Dynavector was significantly better than the Well Tempered (which is, in fact, superb) but I could tell it was at least expanding on its strengths.
Things were indeed off to a good start, so you can be sure I was looking forward to getting the Dynavector home and trying it out in a familiar system with my MC cartridge.
Fast forward a day or two, and I was back in my room with the P75 Mk4 set up and ready to go. I run a custom Lenco L75 idler drive turntable in a heavy hardwood plinth with a cocobolo wood Analog Instruments ‘Apparition 12’ 12-inch tonearm, fitted with an EMT TSD15n moving coil cartridge.
This normally feeds into an Auditorium23 step-up transformer (the Denon version) on to a Fi ‘Yph’ valve MM phono stage. My speakers are Reference 3A Veenas which are currently driven by my trusty Unison Research ‘Unico’ SE valve hybrid integrated amplifier.
In this system, the P75 Mk4 proved to be as enjoyable as it had previously, with its speedy rhythmic nature, striking dynamics and big, bold presentation.
Dropping the needle on ‘Warpigs’ from Black Sabbath’s 1970 Paranoid LP (the excellent Rhino Records reissue) I was given a well-organised delivery when it comes to imaging and frequency response.
Bill Ward’s skilfully frenetic drumming energised the room with remarkable impact, and Ozzy’s vocal soared above the speakers uninhibited by the duelling bass and electric guitar attack.
Elsewhere, on Odetta’s ‘Hit or Miss’ from her 1970 Odetta Sings LP (2017 Music On Vinyl reissue) the bass and drums drove forth with powerful clarity and dexterity while the singer’s expressive vocal hung in the centre, rich, warm and clear. This album never really got much love, but I think it’s brilliant, serving as an excellent reference when auditioning hi-fi gear.
Having a low output cartridge, meant I had three basic options – standard low output MC (for which I kept the recommended default setting of 100 Ohm with 63dB gain because to my ears it’s a good match for the EMT), Phono Enhancer (PE) Mode and MM with the A23 SUT in place.
In PE Mode you ignore the recommended load resistance for your cartridge and set it by the cartridge impedance. In other words, rather than feeding it voltage, the pre-amp uses the current generated by the cartridge coil, giving it a direct, unimpeded path down the tonearm cable to the phono stage, where voltage can now be applied.
There are three settings in PE Mode: low 4 – 10 Ohms, medium 10 – 20 Ohms and high 20 – 50 ohms. The EMT TSD15n is in the higher range with an impedance of 24 Ohms, so the jumper went accordingly into the high setting.
Compared to the standard MC setting, PE Mode seemed to be a little more vibrant and “present” with a somehow more natural flow of music. There was a bit more gain, and the midrange especially appeared to have more body, but most noticeable was a slight lift in detail retrieval.
I would suggest results might vary here, depending on the make and model of the cartridge being used, and Dynavector warns that some cartridges might not be suitable at all; though it is still worth a try (an obvious choice would be a Dynavector MC cartridge).
The A23 SUT typically gives more expansion, body and in-the-room-ness which I tend to favour, though I would happily live with the PE setting if a SUT weren’t an option.
It also compared favourably to the Fi phono stage despite lacking the nostalgic glow and richness provided by the tubes. I’d say the Fi/SUT combination has a better grasp on timbres and low-level details, but it isn’t a huge leap.
Spinning my Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 2014 reissue of Grateful Dead’s 1970 album American Beauty, bass had a lovely rich and organic quality, and there was a good sense of layering and depth to the presentation.
Acoustic guitar, and particularly the mandolin on ‘Ripple’ sparkled in an almost palpable manner, tempered by an excellent timbral portrayal. Instruments and vocals were nicely separated and airy which helped towards achieving that sense of natural ease.
Likewise, the infectiously groovy ‘Truckin’’ filled the space in front of me with thrumming bass, excellent imaging and clear, realistic vocals. To my ears this clarity and separation, while unmistakably excellent in the MC setting, was more pronounced in Phono Enhancer Mode.
With the SUT in place, the soundstage was not as spread out wall-to-wall but extended out into the room more. Bass seemed chunkier with a touch more depth and the drumming more rhythmic.
I felt overall that I got more of a sense of body and tonal character yet, ultimately, the differences between the three options weren’t as jaw-dropping as one might expect, though undoubtedly significant enough that I could have a preference.
The Dynavector P75 Mk4 is a versatile wee phono stage which invites experimentation, giving worthy results for your efforts. It is clean and natural sounding, diving deep into the music and extracting plenty of detail and character.
Listening to records with the P75 Mk4 in place, it’s hard to get up and go to bed. At this price, it would almost be silly not to buy one, and, even if it was a few hundred dollars more, I reckon most people would still consider it a bargain.
For more information visit Dynavector.
Having been mauled by the hi-fi bug in his twenties, Andrew has been writing about it for a few years now. His passion is for vinyl and its associated rituals, but digital music comes a close second. Music is a big part of his life and if he’s not listening to an album, he’s wondering which one to buy next. He enjoys writing about his adventures and hopes for many more to come.
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