Analog Corner #320: DYLP phono cartridges, SME Model 6 Classic turntable, Loricraft PRC6i record cleaning machine

What? Suddenly a new Japanese cartridge manufacturer? That's what I was thinking when Mockingbird Distribution's Phillip Holmes dropped three cartridges on me from DYLP Audio. Never heard of them—but then I'd not heard of MuTech either when Holmes sent me one of that company's $4500 RM-Kanda (now Hyabusa) moving coil cartridges, which I reviewed in the March 2019 issue's Analog Corner. If that cartridge is not on your moving coil radar, you ought to put it there.

Holmes sent three made-in-China DYLP Audio cartridges: the MC Ruby-1, the MC100 Mk II, and the Mono. All are part of the Windbell series, and all are presented well in nicely finished wood boxes with QR codes on the glossy outer packaging that you can scan to access the company's website, lpaudio.cn. Go there, and you'll see an extensive cartridge line, although the English version of the website is confusing.

The company head, Lao Peng, founded Lao Peng Vinyl in Shanghai in 2001. In 2009, he began to design and manufacture moving magnet cartridges and to perform cartridge repairs. Holmes says that Mr. Peng—Lao appears to be a prefix, not a surname—who speaks no English, doesn't like being the company's front-facing person and was hesitant to sell his products in the West.

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In 2010, the company moved to Nancheng, Dongguan, Guangdong, where Peng established Lao Peng Vinyl Studio. The company underwent various name changes and, as Dongguan Vinyl Audio Technology Co., Ltd., has been producing MC cartridges since 2011. In 2018, the company expanded and converted to what it calls "standardized factory production." Photos in a promotional PDF show a well-organized, well-lit factory with at least six workstations, each equipped with a large stereo microscope (see photo). This is anything but a backroom operation. (Holmes said that they're now in the process of moving to a larger facility.)

Cartridges are the company's main product, but it also has its own in-house diamond-stylus production facility, mainly for spherical styli, although they produce other profiles, including a "tri-angle tapered" stylus, which Holmes equates, speculatively, to a "budget Shibata."

The company's products are just starting to be imported to America (footnote 1). Holmes told me he only received his large cartridge order after "pushing and nagging" Peng for more than five years. I almost hesitated to add that quote, but Peng can't read English, so why not?

Holmes added that the Chinese are now hip to "direct distribution," so rather than acting as a distributor, Holmes's Mockingbird will act more like a partner, and he'll get a smaller percentage.

On eBay, I found a model called the DYLP Audio NATURE WOOD MC priced at $2899. Apparently, the three cartridges reviewed here are near the bottom of the company's product line.

The NATURE Ruby-1 MC
DYLP Audio manufactures two versions of the wood-bodied Ruby-1 MC. One features a genuine Swiss-made Gyger FG II stylus, the other a Gyger FG S. The FG II profile is 6µm × 70µm elliptical. The FG S is a 5µm × 70µm trapezoidal, which more closely resembles a cutting stylus. Both are fitted by DYLP with ruby cantilevers.

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I received the FG II version, which costs $1200. The FG S costs $1700. That's beyond reasonable, assuming that everything checks out. Output is 0.4mV. Channel imbalance is specified at <0.5dB, frequency response at 5–55kHz (±2dB), and channel separation at >28dB. The internal impedance is said to be 16 ohms, and the recommended tracking force is indicated to be, variously, 2.2gm and 2.4gm, with a range of 1.9–2.8gm. The FG II weighs 8.4gm.

There was little to be gained, I felt, by mounting a $1200 cartridge on either the OMA K3 Schröder or the Acoustic Signature TA-7000 NEO arms. However, an $8995 SME 6 "Classic" model was in for review (see below). That's what I used to audition these cartridges.

With VTF set to 2.4gm and the arm slightly above parallel to the record surface, I measured approximately 93° SRA. Off to a good start. With the headshell parallel to the record surface, I measured channel separation within 2dB, at 29dB (L–R) and 27dB (R–L). With a little tweaking, I was easily able to get it within 1dB, which means that this is a well-constructed MC cartridge and value-priced considering the ruby/Gyger combo. It tracked the Ortofon test record's 70µm band without distortion but encountered difficulties at 80µm. That's acceptable MC trackability in my opinion, not a problem when playing music.

I ran the SME 6 output into the ridiculously good $1500 Hegel V10 phono stage (an EISA Award winner). For a company that exists mostly in the digital world, Hegel hit the nail on the noggin with its first analog product.

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Grant Green's Idle Moments (LP, Blue Note Classic Vinyl 3579910), played through this relatively modest front-end into—well, you know what else is here—produced a seriously pleasing, warm yet reasonably detailed picture. Bob Cranshaw's bass was "kiss your face" warm but not excessively zaftig. Bobby Hutcherson's vibes rang nicely front and center, and Joe Henderson's sax had a lush yet reedy signature. This recently reissued Blue Note Classic– series title is a "must have" jazz title.

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Ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro, who made the rounds at CES a few years ago playing live in a half-dozen or so rooms (remember that?), recently released Jake & Friends (MTR76511), a double LP featuring 16 duets with high-value pals including Jimmy Buffett, Bette Midler, Jack Johnson, Sonny Landreth, Jon Anderson, Willie Nelson, Vince Gill, and Kenny Loggins. Nice bunch of friends. The word "delightful" comes to mind, as does "sweet, relaxing respite from a world gone crazy." It's a well-recorded set with minimal studio gimmickry and dross. It almost sounds like microphone-to-ProTools direct. ProTools has gotten much better sounding.

The Ruby-1's relaxed, warm, but pleasingly detailed delivery of this fun, well-recorded bit of sunshine was enjoyable. The picture was generously sized, with nicely focused images. Satisfying attack and generous sustain and decay produced the kind of sonics that can keep you listening for hours. The stylus sailed smoothly through the grooves, handling vocal sibilants well. Yes, Jake's uke sounded slightly soft, surrounded by more warmth than necessary, but on "All You Need Is Love," damned if Ziggy Marley wasn't right in the room. The combination of a stiff ruby cantilever, a Gyger stylus, and a wood body produced an attractive combination of warmth, detail, and speed.

The Ruby-1 FG II faces stiff competition—not a compliance joke—from similarly priced cartridges such as the Hana ML, but it's up for the challenge.

The $350 Windbell MC100 Mk II
The cartridge body was too wide for the SME headshell, so I substituted a Technics headshell that doesn't have side flaps. Out of the box, this modestly priced cartridge, which outputs 0.3mV and tracks at 1.8gm, sounded lively and kept a firm, exciting grip on the music's rhythmic thrust. It tracked the Ortofon test record's 70µm band cleanly, but not the 80µm band. Not an issue unless you mainly listen to test tones.

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The MC100 Mk II presented the Shimabukuro record on a flatter, somewhat narrower stage, but the bass was tighter (if somewhat less extended) and transients were presented nimbly and cleanly though definitely somewhat softened. The Sonny Landreth track "Sonny Days Ahead," which kind of slid by during the Ruby-1 listen, surprised me by jumping out and grabbing my attention. This cartridge produced more sonic fun and delivered more adrenalin than I was expecting.

Going back to the Grant Green record, the recording's spatial qualities were somewhat flattened and detail articulation was somewhat lessened, but there was a pleasing "snap" to Al Harewood's drums, and while Cranshaw's bass was less well-articulated, it seemed to have more weight.

Slightly softer attack (Hutcherson's vibes didn't quite have the full bell tone), less generous sustain, and definitely a bit of decay stinginess—but none of that interfered with what sounded like a flat and honest timbral presentation. Even though it's an MC, the sound reminded me of what MM lovers love and claim MCs don't provide: linearity.

The $325 Windbell MC100 Mono
The MC100 Mono is built into the same body as the MC100 Mk II, so it wouldn't fit into the SME headshell, either. The MC100 Mono is equipped with a spherical stylus, presumably 0.7 mil. It outputs 0.3mV and tracks at 1.9gm. This mono cartridge is said to have more than 25dB of channel separation! (A misprint, obviously.) The coil windings make it appear to not be a "strapped" stereo cartridge.

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The first mono record I played was a test pressing from Erroll Garner's box set, Liberation in Swing: Centennial Collection (Mack Avenue 673203118713). This is a beautifully realized tribute containing the pianist's 12 releases on the Octave Records label (not PS Audio's new Octave Records) as well as a previously unreleased 1959 Boston Symphony Hall concert (on 3 mono LPs). The recording was Plangent processed.

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Some jazz snobs look down upon Erroll, with his grunts and right-hand mannerisms, but the energy, vitality, and fun in his playing have a unique charm. Plus, he wrote the classic, "Misty." The MC100 Mono showed off the transient clarity and overall transparency the Plangent Process produces.

Mono recordings produced in great symphonic spaces often exhibit preternatural three-dimensionality. This Symphony Hall recording is a good example. When the audience applauds, it's in 3D space, well be hind the piano. The picture is transient-fast, transparent, and like the artist, just plain fun. Kelly Martin's cymbals ring as you'd hope to hear them live. The piano never got tinkly or lost its proper woody sound.


Footnote 1: DYLP Audio/Heijao Audio. US distributor: Mockingbird Distribution Van Alstyne, TX 75214. Tel: (214) 668-2509. Web: mockingbirddistribution.com
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COMMENTS
Jack L's picture

Hi

Surprised to note from a tonarm alignment expert saying "way too much work" in playing vinyl.

I do streaming too when I find bit tired at nite after my day work. I conveniently watch my favourite classical music performances on my 4KHD TV & HD sound hooked up to my audio system via YouTube.

CD? Noooo. I prefer streaming for better HD sound supplemented by HD vision.

Yes, vinyl sota takes more effort & energy to get it going. But it is more enjoyable & engaging. It worths the "too much work" involved to spend my days-off leisure hours.

Lisening is beleiving

Jack L

Jonti's picture

...that was a joke. :)

Jack L's picture

Hi

Hopefully so. It did not read like joking to me though !

Jack L

mcrushing's picture

Hi, Michael. Given the mentioned drawbacks, I've never invested in a 'lips' vacuum machine, but also never managed to justify the expense of a string or ultrasonic machine (the P6i here costs about 80% what I paid for my turntable).

I'm wondering if the humminguru ultrasonic machine is on your radar. At $400ish, it seems perhaps too good to be true considering competing ultrasonics run $2-3k and up. But might it compete with vacuum machines in that price class?

Jack L's picture

Hi

May I ask why you want to spend yr hard-earned money for a record cleaning machine ?

Is it due to the static noise on playing a LP ?

Jack L

mcrushing's picture

Hey, Jack.

No, static isn't much of a problem for me.

Genuinely dirty records are. My collection, like many, is a mixed bag. I've got a lot of new releases, reissues, audiophile pressings and VG to NM records from conscientious dealers. If that were all I had, a RCM might not deliver a ton of ROI. But one of my favorite aspects of collecting is digging garages, antique stores, basements, storage sales, etc. Over the years, I've pulled some pretty rare and sought-after records that no amount of solution or MoFi brushing could save. Fortunately, a hifi dealer in my area occasionally lets me use his KL Audio machine. (I'm grateful for the arrangement – He's never been anything but happy to do it, I've never tried to test the limits of his generosity.)

I can't say I've listened critically to records cleaned by the various methods (that's Mikey's job). But I can tell you with 100% certainty that the KL freaking *works*. I've seen it turn a dangerously unplayable record into a solid G+, and reveal what I thought was a G+ to be a VG+. Does that justify a $4k machine? No. But a $400 machine? I'd like to find out.

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