A review of the Deft2 Cartridge.Deft 2 – The Journey continues
I was excited to have the opportunity to test the Deft2 thanks to the generosity of B50 and his “bicycle” idea. The Deft2 arrived in the post in what might be called a bombproof package (great packing b50). As I unpacked it and gave it a first look I was pleased to see that the stylus had parallel sides making it an easy job to align. One negative is that the stylus, already noted by the first reviewer is quite loose in the cartridge body
but more about that later.
Let me say before you read on that in the world of audiphools I am a rank beginner. I've had vinyl for many years but was content with various AR MM carts including the C77. Last year I got back into vinyl exchanging my Rega/AR TT for a new Michell Gyro, initially with a good S/H Goldring Eroica and a few months ago I bought the Benz Micro Ace Med MC cart. This review therefore is a bit apple and pears as I do not have much in the way of low cost carts to compare the little Deft2 with. Nevertheless I hope my review will give readers some idea of how it sounds and performs. Just don't expect real technical stuff, it's all about my personal perception of the music.Lets get on with it...
I removed my Benz Ace medium MC from the SME 309 headshell and quickly installed the Deft2. One nice touch is the semi-captive nuts, a tiny slot on one side of the nut makes it grab the screw a little and can be tightened easily by hand before a gentle nip up with a suitable screwdriver. Click on image to view full size
After connecting the leads to the rear of the cartridge I mounted the headshell back on the 309 arm and began the alignment. I used the SME protractor for a quick alignment, balanced and set the arm at a VTF of 1.7gm and checked the alignment using the HFNN test record protractor. This was the first cart I had aligned using a new 8 X Loupe I had bought after reading and seeing VE member Pat's post on the “linen tester” and as one who is no longer a youngster I found it a great help. After re-checking the VTF it was ready to play. Click on image to view full size
First record was the HFNN test LP. I checked the Bias tracks and the Deft2 sailed through all but the last one at 18dB, but to it's credit only one side display any distortion, and the Benz does not track it without distortion either. I don't entirely place my trust in test records so to finish off I played my favourite test track “Your Latest Trick” from the Dire Straits Brothers in Arms LP. I know this track so well that I can hear any difference in carts, but my main aim here was to set the Bias. I always use this track and the Guru listening method to set the Bias, and even though some members have stated they cannot hear any difference, to me it is very noticeable when you hit the “sweet spot” on the Bias setting which unsurprisingly was around 1.75.Let's hear some music...
By this time I was itching to hear some music without having to think about the technicalities. I have a number of LP's I like to play with a new cart, some based on the recommendations I found on the TNT audio web site. First up was Bob Marley's “Uprising” LP and the track "The Real Situation". I chose this because there are drums and a real heavy bass beat interacting and makes for a difficult tracking test, in fact one reviewer in TNT found that his Goldring cart leaped out of the groove! The Deft tracked beautifully with a tight and coherent bass and if you like reggae it will have you toe tapping before too long.
One thing was bugging me from the start and that was the loose stylus fit. The suggestions to use Bluetack were too much to resist! I rolled out a tiny sausage shape until it was about the thickness of a sewing needle. Taking two pieces I applied them to the sides of the stylus and slid it back on to the cart, rechecking the VTF. The difference was clearly audible and widened the soundstage and depth a little.
The picture below shows the stylus with Bluetack after removal. One could perhaps get a better result by carefully placing a strip at the front edge, but I was concerned that it might contaminate the cantilever so limited it's use to the sides.
NOTE: Stylus had the guard fitted to protect it while taking photos. Click on image to view full size
Next up was another favourite artist (warning some may find this part disturbing and may like to scroll to the next Para
) Leonard Cohen's “I'm your Man” LP, and the track “Everybody Knows”. Cohen's voice was as good as I have heard it on any cart, but with the Deft2 it had a sort of slight huskiness, not distorted and not unpleasant, but just different. I can't work out why but could it be that the stylus shape goes much deeper than any others I have tried and I'm hearing the true voice on the recording? The background instruments and singers were all there in a nice identifiable soundstage but a little subdued compared to the Benz. At this point I was quite amazed at how good this budget cart sounded, but I tried to suppress the feel good factor and think in a neutral manner.
Dire Straits made a return with “Ride Across The Water” from Brothers in Arms. Another good track to test bass response and timing. The Deft2 handled this one well but not as well as my Benz, it just seemed a bit muddled at times.
Another favourite Joe Jackson's “Be My Number Two” from the brilliantly recorded “Body and Soul” album. Piano sounded natural and I got to hear the halls ambiance, something for which this recording is renowned. The Deft2 gave a good account of itself on this track with Joe's voice sounding as it should.
A live album from the much underrated Paul Brady followed. The track “Crazy Dreams” is a favourite one of mine and because it is live you get to hear the audience at times during the song. This came through clearly and in the same place in the soundstage as with previous carts. Paul's voice is quite high pitched and on a bright hi fi system becomes very tiring (his CD's sound awful to me even on my balanced system). The Deft2 showed no sign of being over bright, however like the Cohen track it just sounded a bit “different”. His voice was there in the same spot on the stage but slightly closer to the listener, and the percussion a little bit less clear.
Now to a favourite – Sara K's – Waterfalls album. I've raved enough about this one on VE so I'll say no more except to say that three tracks were played and all were impressive, solid tight bass and good reproduction of her very dynamic voice and guitar.
Suzanne Vega – Solitude Standing
Another favourite artist. Not only do I love her voice but her music blends a raft of percussion effects, guitar and harmonising voices in a way that is perfect to test carts. On “Language” and “Calypso” the Deft gave a good account of itself, separating the subtle percussion effects but not as cleanly as my more expensive cartridge. At this stage I had run out of time and removed the Deft2 and carefully packed it up for the next leg of the journey.
This cartridge in my opinion represents great value. I am just sorry I cannot compare it with similar priced more budget carts, however I will stick my neck out and say that it's extremely close to my memory of the Goldring Eroica's performance. The detail and handling of microdynamics in complicated passages of music was remarkable from such a modestly priced cart. If I had never heard a cartridge at the Benz Ace level then I could happily live with a Deft2. At 4X or 5 X the price the Benz has a more detailed overall sound that I like, and on replacing it I heard that clearly on some of the tracks tested. That said I am amazed at the performance of the little Deft2, it could easily reside on my system and provide enjoyable music for a long time, and in my humble opinion I'd say it provides 80% of the Benz performance. The slight differences I noticed on some voices were not objectionable and may actually sound better to some other listeners, it's just hard to tell which his more true to the artist. If I had several carts maybe I would find others that have a common sound to those voices, but would that confirm they were reproducing the original accurately?
The cart provides a very detailed and enjoyable sound, not bright or harsh in my opinion, but neutral. It was certainly not let down by it's tracking ability either. During the sessions I played a bit with the VTF which has a wide range 1.25 – 2.5 GM but settled for 1.8 as it sounded “right” to me.
I have added about 3 Hrs to the cart so I guess it is getting close to run in. I just regret that time restraints preventing me from listening more to this cart and being able to compare it with other similarly priced carts would have been more informative for the readers.
I am however looking forward to the next reviewers findings as he has tested many similar priced carts and provided us with much information.
Once again a big thank you to B50 for the opportunity to listen to the Deft2.
Michell Gyro SE
SME 309 arm
Project Tube Box Phono Stage
Chord Chameleon Interconnects
Mystere KT 88 Amp
Triangle Antal SpeakersAddendum
B50 requested info on the loading of the Phono stage.
The Deft2 played through the Project Tube box at the standard 40dB gain and 47K loading. I would have liked to have had my new phono project up and running with a wide variation of cartridge loading but sadly it is dismantled for modification.
With respect to varying the VTF I did not have enough time to make many fine tunings to the VTF but my impression with the 309 arm and Gyro was that 1.8 gms sounded best. I did not find that other settings were dramatically different, though I did not get above 2 gms due to time constraints.