The Tzar DST moving coil phono cartridge is manufactured in Russia in limited quantities and distributed in the US by Robyatt Audio. The $10,000 cartridge has some special features that make it unique in the marketplace of moving coil phono cartridge.
Manufactured by Leonid Sinitsin, the Tzar DST bears a resemblance to the Neumann cartridges of yesteryear. The Tzar DST has a solid carbon fiber cantilever instead of an aluminum tube, large magnets, and air-core coils. Coincidently, the cartridge under review, serial number 007, is the same cartridge that Michael Fremer reviewed in Stereophile’s Analog Corner #310, August, 2020. I encourage you to read Michael’s excellent review.
Where Michael used a much higher mass SAT tonearm and a step-up transformer for the Analog Corner review, today we find the DST cartridge mounted on a low-mass Acoustic Signature TA-7000 Neo tonearm. And instead of a step-up transformer, the tonearm cables are connected directly to a CH Precision P1 with X1 power supply, either to the voltage-input or current-input connections. The latter inputs are preferred.
I measured the DCR (coil resistance) at 10.0 Ohms for each channel. The cartridge output is 0.25mV with a recommended tracking force of 2.4 to 4 grams. I found 2.5 grams to offer superb sound and no audible mistracking. The recommended load is 600-2,000 Ohms, and the voltage-input on the P1 was set to 1,000 Ohms as recommended by Robin Wyatt at Robyatt Audio, the US distributor (link below). The cartridge weighs a hefty 16 grams. The DST is a large block, measuring 20mm wide x 22mm deep x 8mm tall. At the end of the record, there is about 4mm clearance between the side of the cartridge and the Origin Live Gravity One record weight.
The DST was auditioned with the help of one turntable, two tonearms, and two other moving-coil phono cartridges. An Acoustic Signature Montana Neo turntable supported both an Acoustic Signature TA-7000 Neo tonearm and an Origin Live Agile tonearm. The Agile was recently updated to the latest spec. The DST sounded better when mounted on the higher mass Origin Live tonearm. The cartridges included a ZYX UNIverse Optimum $17,000 (1 Ohm, .15 mV) and a Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum $8500.
The DST delivers a very specific center image with terrific 3-dimensional singers; never flat 2-dimensional objects. The entire sound stage had excellent – and large – dimensions. This requires very high resolution which the DST consistently delivers. The sound field is densely populated.
The often-heard lack of silence between notes can be startling. This is due to the amazing depth of every note that simply does not omit such very low-level detail, and normal harmonics continue for a very long time, often filling in with these decays the silence one might hear between notes. Music flows.
The lower registers have excellent bass power and Impact. The notes from any stringed bass instrument have outstanding tone, with octave-to-octave harmonics intact. This cartridge will take full advantage of the bass capabilities of your speakers.
The bells in “Steppin’ Out” on Joe Jackson’s Night and Day, Original Master Recording 1992, MFSL-1-080, are usually presented a bit more forward and louder in the mix. Those bells are just a bit recessed here compared to the ZYX cartridge but are more present than offered by the Koetsu cartridge. This is not a quality issue; just part of the character of these cartridges.
This cartridge has tone. The depth and completeness of every note, every sound, every harmonic, is so complete, it is as if each note has a unique story to tell. Every nuance is delivered for you to hear. I felt being absorbed by the song “Gemini” on the Alan Parsons Project LP Eye In The Sky. The spookily real sounding vocals are very communicative and highly addictive, resulting in a completely satisfying performance.
Listen to “Take Me To Your Heart” on The Nylons LP Seamless. Each voice is crystal clear and separate in space. The simple percussion has excellent dynamic power and definition. The following cut, “This Boy”, is also worth your time for both system evaluation and for genuine listening pleasure. Also listen to the band Heart, and the cut “Crazy On You”. The vocal presence of the Wilson sisters is remarkable, and the cymbals seem to ring forever.
Another example of sonic excellence is “Caroline” on Fleetwood Mac’s Tango In The Night LP. This cut has outstanding leading edge impact on drums, and the bass is crystal clear, well defined and rich. On the same album, “Tango In The Night” has spookily present vocals as well as a very large, well defined lateral soundstage. The Tzar is able to clearly deliver each instrument and voice. Stevie Nicks’ voice is instantly recognizable.
There are many examples of completely satisfying performances. On Poco’s MFSL album Legend, the opening drums are just perfect: powerful, detailed, and very truthful. On the same album, “Spellbound” demonstrates the large soundstage and presence of the vocals. Finally, on “Mountain Jam” by the Allman Brothers Band, from the Eat a Peach LP, the drums starting at the 14 minute mark deliver a truly extraordinary performance. This and the following bass solo are very 3-D and truthful.
The DST is excellent on complex arrangements, keeping each facet of the music clear and well sorted so that each performer, vocalist and instrument is easy to focus on and follow.
Phono cartridges are notorious for the set-up challenges, which include using a tonearm with compatible compliance and dialing in the best sounding loading (and gain) in the phono preamplifier. This review, as well written and informative as it is (humor), is necessarily limited by the associated gear.
This is a very high-performance phono cartridge. At this level, an equally high-performance turntable, tonearm, and phono preamplifier are required to realize the DST’s potential. The sound from the DST often felt like I was listening to a direct feed from the recording microphones, with that treasured feeling of “you are there”. The sound is somewhat warmer sounding than the ZYX cartridge, with not quite the upper treble presence. Those character traits are what you get when you use a cartridge with only 1 Ohm of DCR, denoting very minimal coils and low moving mass. The Koetsu RSP has similar midrange warmth, while the DST’s bass and treble are obviously superior.
The natural ease with which the music flows and the fade out of each note is clearly heard. This is a depth finder for low level, dense and textured sound. The Tzar DST leaves nothing unheard. The individuality and completeness of every sound is extraordinary. Voices have a special richness which imparts believability to every performance. This is enchanting presentation, very much in Virtual Reality territory. Mr. Fremer did not purchase this cartridge. But I did.
Overall Rating: 10 LPs
Link to distributor: Robyatt Audio
This review would not have been possible without the kind support of Robin Wyatt. Thank you, Robin!