"All you need to do is find a couple of extra-long cartridge screws. Then screw both screws in until you bottom out. Carefully screw down both screws evenly and they will push the body off. If you've done this evenly, the body now is loose and you can slide it off the cantilever. Screwed down too far, the cantilever breaks off. The hole where the cantilever emerges is quite small. Try it at your own risk but the effect is well worth it if you are willing to attempt denuding the Quintet."

The resultant cartridge sounds a lot like the Zu-DL103 but with a few critical differences. First and foremost, the Quintet Black has a somewhat drier midrange with not quite the same sense of lush tonality. The Quintet also offers slightly sharper transients without ever falling into excess like some of Lyra's offerings. Continuing with the improvements, where the Zu's bass is still a little loose and undefined, the Quintet Black offers great weight and impact with superb definition from upper bass to the lowest reach. The Quintet's treble offers a little more air and shimmer without being aggressive. Imaging was amongst the very best in test, reaching far and deep into my room. One of the difference in presentation was that the stage moved back a foot or so versus the Zu-DL103 but it never felt shallower as a result. The Zu images slightly in front of the speakers, the Quintet slightly behind the speakers' front plane but otherwise depth and width felt remarkably similar. All in all, the Quintet is a little more faithful, has much better bass and delivers dynamics that are as engaging as the modified DL103. What you do give up is a little of the Zu's midrange wetness and luscious tone. But don't let me give you the impression that the Quintet sounds dry or sterile. It's just that when compared to the Zu-DL103, it's the one area where you might feel the cartridge is not quite on the same level. Be mindful that those comments apply to a denuded Quintet Black. A stock cartridge although quite excellent would likely take a step back on most those qualities.

How much of a value the Quintet Black truly is was made very obvious when the Dynavector XX2 stopped by for a day. I find the XX2 to be the sweet spot in the Dynavector line. It takes the elegance and refinement of the 20x2L but adds back a dose of fire and passion. Take the great qualities of the cheaper cartridge, add some spice and amongst the deepest most tuneful bass I have heard in my system and you have the XX2. But at twice the price, it does not offer much more than the denuded Quintet Black. Maybe a hint more resolution in the bass and certainly a little more of that midrange lushness that I felt the Quintet Black was missing but at twice the price, the improvements were quite small. I did not feel they justified the cost difference, at least not in the context of my system. One may suspect that the cheaper phono preamp I used may have been the limiting factor but I would reply that I owned the XX2 for a year and ran it through a $6'000 Esoteric E03 where it sounded very similar. It might be possible to unleash more with a far more expensive table, arm and phono preamp combination but for mere mortal systems, there is little need to spend more than the Quintet Black.

Hopefully the final verdict is fairly obvious. The Dynavector 10x5 remains my choice for those who are limited to MM cartridges because of their phono preamp. For less money, the Zu-DL103 operates at an altogether different performance level. It is my favorite of all the cartridges in this review when I want to listen for pleasure. Its unique combination of dynamics, colors, resolution and staging well overwhelm its weaknesses and at $439 it cannot be beat; so much so that it leaves this comparison with a shiny new Blue Moon award, one of the most obvious I have ever bestowed.

For review purposes and to assess higher-end phono stages from Nagra and Genesis, I will rely on the denuded Quintet Black for its very well-rounded qualities. This is one cartridge that is very hard to fault. In many ways it slightly outperforms the Zu; and more than slightly on bass performance. At over twice the price and because it needs special surgery to show its full potential, it misses the award by a hair. Because I use high-efficiency speakers with a triode amplifier, the deepest most controlled bass does not matter to me as much as having the most lifelike midrange possible. On that attribute and that only, I felt the Zu edged out the Quintet Black. On everything else, the denuded Black is indeed the hidden gem Gary Koh claimed it to be. Finally the two mid-level Dynavector cartridges fell short of the competitive set. The 20X2L lacks drive and passion. The XX2, despite edging out the Quintet Black slightly on some aspects, reaches a price level that was hard to justify for the very minimal improvements I heard. They are certainly not bad cartridges by any means and will easily find their place in systems that either need to be tempered down a bit; or for folks who value absolute accuracy over emotional engagement. Finally, the stock DL103 can only be recommended for those on a very tight budget who want to discover what a $229 MC cartridge offers over a similarly priced MM pickup. For anybody who can conjure up the extra $200, the Zu-DL103 MkII is an absolute no brainer. Grab one while they last.

Denon website
Dynavector website
Ortofon website
Zu Audio website