Review: Dynavector Karat 17D3 Cartridge

Category: Analog

Wish you were here? I was there! The Dynavector Karat 17D3 in on of those low profile gems with the ability to take you an away to another place and time.
Whilst visiting a local audio/video expo in September this year I got acquainted with this little cartridge at one of the exhibitors. I must admit that before the expo I was not aware of the existence of this model. I did probably see it somewhere before but never really noticed it. The feature that made me take notice was that extremely short cantilever.
Walking into one of the lecture rooms at the hotel I was greeted by an eclectic mix of multi-media hardware from the latest plasma displays to super advanced remote controls.
At the back of the room there was a lone turntable spinning a copy of “Brothers in arms” from Dire Straits. I strolled over, not being particularly interested in the latest Blu-ray technology, to the analogue setup. On closer inspection of the turntable I noticed this peculiar little cartridge that seemed to plough into the vinyl record with its bull-nose shaped front. Peering in from the side I could barely notice the cantilever.
I quickly whizzed myself to the local Dynavector agent and enquired about the “Karat”. On the way I “Googled” the make and model on my PDA and took a glance at the specifications and it is there where I noticed that the unit featured a 1.7mm diamond cantilever. I have seen sapphire and ruby cantilevers before but not one made from diamond. This was getting interesting.
Being in the market for a new MC cartridge I could not resist the Karat and the price it was offered for. Could this be true? Why would such a presumed advanced cartridge be offered as a “mid-line” item? It makes good sense that an extremely short, inflexible cantilever will make the worlds difference in vinyl record playback. Elementary my dear Watson!

The Karat is beautifully presented in a sturdy little box with instructions (though written in the best worst Japanese English!). Two sets of screws and head-shell leads are included.
After carefully popping the sturdy protector on over the delicate protruding cantilever assembly I proceeded to remove it from its protective “jewel-box”. Threaded mounting holes made attaching the unit to my RB300 arm a breeze but the alignment was a bit of a nightmare due to the very short cantilever. Locating the tiny piece of sculpted stone is a trick all by itself. Strong lighting is required and so is a good set of eyes!
It took a while for the unit to run in but the wait was worth the while. The most prominent audio feature of the cartridge is its absolute focus. This is due to the brilliant little cantilever made from diamond. Diamond is the hardest natural material known to man and is used in a variety of applications in the modern world. From dies forming wire strands to tweeter domes. It is inflexible thus making it durable. Diamond is the preferred material for styli so why not for cantilevers?
The extremely fast and focused sound can be attributed to the inflexible cantilever that allows for maximum energy transfer from the stylus to the generator assembly.

Comparing the 1.7 mm diamond cantilever to an average 8 mm aluminum or boron cantilever is like comparing a baseball bat to a fishing pole. The average cantilever has the natural ability to flex to a certain degree. This flexing smears the signal picked up from the record grooves.
The Karat is the real deal. It is what analogue is all about. Raw emotion extracted, taking you back to the original performance as intended by the recording engineer. This cartridge can be brutally unforgiving as it doesn’t serve the signal with a sugar coated glossy layer. Its sound is not romantic like most wooden bodied cartridges available today. On the other hand its bass response is steadfast and controlled but not clinical. Midrange can be a bit “forward” at times but this could purely be the way the mastering engineer intended it. All the focus until now has been on the amazing cantilever but the most vital part, the stylus is no exception. A 0.06 mm2 micron Micro Ridge stylus is fitted inside a laser drilled recess on the tip of the cantilever. Using laser drilling and processing enables Dynavector to produce cartridges with precisely aligned styli and other vital components.
Output is a low 0.3 mV but it won’t be a problem for a high quality phono pre-amplifier. The minute signals are generated by a set of single coils wound on the armature with 12 micron copper wire.
It is the accepted norm that all components in an audio system are equally important but the cartridge is a touch more important in my opinion. It is responsible for converting the mechanical modulations (the waves in the records’ groove) into electrical signals. If something goes wrong there it cannot be corrected later in the chain. The error simply gets amplified and replayed through the speakers as distortion in various forms.

The Dynavector Karat is a phenomenal cartridge. It is finished to the highest standards as expected from such a high-spec Japanese company. It delivers in the auditory department with very good pace and pin-point tonal accuracy. It has exceeded all my expectations - which were quite high to be honest! Would I recommend the Karat? Sure I would as I believe you won’t get a better price/performance ratio anywhere. It does not have to stand back for any so-called high-end cartridges available today.

Somebody once said that a cartridge like this is a gift from the Japanese.

Dewald Visser, October 2008

Contact your local Dynavector dealer for more details.

Associated gear
Technics SP-10 mkII turntable motor
Rega RB300 tone-arm with minor modifications to wiring & counter-weight
E.A.R/Yoshino 834 P Signature phono amplifier with Mullard tubes
Valve Audio Exclame 100 hybrid amplifier with a NOS Siemens tube
B&W Preference 6 loudspeakers
Equipment support by a custom Lerange Premium Rack and cables by Nordost & Van Den Hul.

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I agree with you. The 17 D3 is the bomb!
I have not tried many carts, Denon 103s I'm familiar with. But with a little more $ , the Dyna seems to open the window. More musical, relaxed, dynamic.
I use it with a Rega RB300 on my Lenco L75.
Thanks for the review.
Thank you Oregon - a pleasure. Last night I listened to Holts Planet Suite on CBS Masterworks! Magical!
Mine is used with a Nottingham 294 'table and arm, C-J CT 5 pre amp, Marsh 400 amp, Dunlavy SC IV speakers and a Musical Surroundings Nova Phenomena phono pre amp at 60 db gain and 475 ohm loading. After 50 years of fooling with this stuff I've found a cartridge to stay with. Neutral top to bottom, doesn't emphasize any part of the sound spectrum and is clear, clear, clear. Havent played any record that I thought the sound of which was edited by this cartridge-it just reports.
I love the Dynavector Karat 17D2 so much that while changing tables now owning the VPI Classic now that I never even worry about upgrading the cartridge and always sounds right to me. I want to get the D3 but the D2 was a really a great value used on Audiogon. My next will be none other than the Karat D3.

does anyone have any suggestion as to when and how to go about retipping these particular cartridges? i mean is it best to buy new and send back to Dynavector or simply buy as low as possible and pitch them for another? how do you track the wear or hours of the Karat?