Affordable Japanese LOMCs--Recommendations?

What do you have, what do you like, and why do you like it?

Sample Candidates:

Denon DL-103, DL-103R, DL-301 II, DL-304

Audio Technica OC9 ML/II, AT33EV, OC9 ML/III

I have now or very recently had the 103, 304, OC9/2 and 33EV. I find the 304 and 33 to be very neutral cartridges capable of giving a very good sound. The 103 is a little more bass heavy but may be preferred according to your taste. The OC9 is also quite good, I just think the 33 is better. Again, others may disagree. Cartridges seem to be the most contentious components on this forum; I consider myself to be middle of the road in my attitude. I personally like LOMCs better but if you like MMs I would not argue with you. I don't say that the ones I use are as good as the multi thousand $ ones, but they are good enough for me and when I hear the more expensive ones I am not tempted to buy them. In the last year and a half or so I have seriously upgraded my Phono, Preamp, Speakers and Amp and the cartridges have sounded better each time. Remember, the cartridge is on the far end of the system and EVERYTHING between it and the speaker will affect how it sounds.
I think any of the above will give you a good sound and the choice would depend on system and taste. The better your playback system the better they will sound.
Thanks Stan.

What if I narrowed it down to the DL103R and DL301 II? Pros & cons?

I have a Jolida JD 9A tubed phono stage coming in soon. It's highly configurable in resistance and gain for a wide range of cartridge matching. A little more bass in my system wouldn't be a bad thing. Current cart is an Audio Technica AT150MLX.
You picked two I haven't used; what arm are you using? The 103 series like more mass than the others listed.
These comments just prove that 'colored' sound is alive and well in audio land.
03-08-11: Stanwal
You picked two I haven't used; what arm are you using? The 103 series like more mass than the others listed.
I have a Technics SL1210M5G. The stock tonearm (with Technics headshell) has an effective mass of 12.5g, but I use an LPGear ZuPreme headshell, moving effective mass up to 19g (with cart mounting hardware). I could add another 5g with heavy screws and a headshell weight. I also have the KAB tonearm fluid damper, which reduces the amplitude of the cartridge/arm resonant peak.

I'm wondering if the DL103R is worth the extra trouble over the DL301 II, as the 301 would drop right in and also track at a lower VTF.
I have owned two sample of the 301 and still own a 103 and a 103D, and the choice depends totally on the effective mass of your tonearm. If it is over 11 grams 103, under 11 grams 301.
Buconero 117, hit and run comments do not indicate superior knowledge, just a snarky attitude. Johnny, as I haven't used them I can't advise but I have had good luck with all the Denon's I have used so you can't go far wrong.
I am watching this thread because I just snaped off the cantilever of my 103r :(... So I am now looking for a replacement. I am considering the AT OC9ml III/II or the Denon DL-S1 or perhaps another 103r as it is a very good cartridge given its' price point.I am also possibly considering the Benz ACE. I ran my 103r through a Bob's Devices Cinemag SUT and V-LPS Phono stage. I am looking at replacing the Phono with a Herron Audio VTPH-2 .

Thanks Chuck
03-08-11: Buconero117
These comments just prove that 'colored' sound is alive and well in audio land.
Your comments prove that douchebaggery is alive and well in audio land.
"Douchebaggery"! Why sir, I resemble that remark.
03-08-11: Viridian
I have owned two sample of the 301 and still own a 103 and a 103D, and the choice depends totally on the effective mass of your tonearm. If it is over 11 grams 103, under 11 grams 301.
How do the tonal balances and behaviors of the 103 and 301 compare? For example, if I went for the 301 II what would I be giving up compared to the 103R?
Hi Johnny

I have the DL103 ,103R and the OC9MLII.

If it were me I'd send the 103R to Soundsmith and just grab a straight 103 to keep you going unti it gets back.
If you like the 103 series sound I think you'll find the OC9 just too lean - I sure did (mine's sitting in a box right now)

I've been tempted to try the 301 or 304 but my 103s have very low hours and I'm happy enough with the sound to bother right now

Hope this is of any value to you
Johnny, they sound different, but I don't know if there is much giving up to be done. The 103 has a very full midbass and an extended and prominent deeper bass, but only in a high mass arm. This conceit is very finely balanced by a very nicely developed midrange, with good dimensionality, and bit of a push in the presence region to offset the bass somewhat. The problem is that it is like talking about sex. You never really get it, because the greatest strength of the 103 is how well it melds all of it's elements and how hard the seams are to hear. No doubt, others will feel differently.

The 301 is more modern and extracts more detail, without throwing it at you. It's more even, with a more compact image, with sharper edge detail, and greater extension into the upper treble. The midrange is quite good without as much dimensionality, but greater eveness and uniformity. The lower midrange is less zaftig and the bass leaner, though not lean, and a bit faster sounding. Again, only in a sympathetic arm. Loading on my transformer was 40 ohms for the 103, and 3 ohms on the 301. Is that what you are looking for?
Thanks Mr. Viridian, that's exactly what I'm trying to find out--what are the differences in personalities of the two cartridges. The subjective descriptions of the 103R do sound pretty attractive, but I have a Technics SL1210 and currently the effective mass is about 19g. I could probably bump it up to 24g with a headshell weight and heavy screws. The 301 II should drop right in without much arm tweaking, and it tracks lighter, so that's a plus for me too.

The $64 question is which one would ultimately give me more musical satisfaction. I like my MM AT150MLX but I wouldn't mind a little more bass fullness. If the DL301 II has better bass response I'd probably be happy with that.

I'm getting a new preamp in today (Jolida JD 9A). It has some impedance and capacitance loading DIP switches, but the impedance choices are 100, 300, 1000 and 47K ohm, so I guess I'd have to use 100 ohm for either cart.

It sounds like the 103R slightly tweaks up the bass and midrange. That always works for rock and pop, often for jazz, but not so much for classical. However, I also get the sense from the descriptions that the 103R's dimensionality and musical cohesiveness is the stronger feature and any frequency emphasis is minor by comparison.

Sound about right?
Johnny, no loading with a transformer and an active stage are totally different animals. With your active phono preamp 100 might work for the 103, but 300 or 1K might work better with the 301. The beauty of your phono stage is that you have several choices and it is easy to try them all! That's what makes it a hobby.

The truth is, if you are flush, you could buy both and probably lose very, very little money when you go to sell the one that you don't like.

I don't consider the 103s frequency tailoring minor at all, and I am sorry if I gave that impression. As Buco says, it is a coloration, and all colorations are serious and really wear on some people at some times. It is consonant with the fabric of the music, however, which makes some people prefer it to a more literal presentation. Youz pays your money and makes youz choices, douchebaggery, indeed!
Well, I just replaced my entry-level Cambridge 640P with a tube-driven Jolida JD 9A phono stage. I replaced the stock Chinese 12AX7's with mil-spec NOS Sylvania Gold Tube 5751's equipped with Herbie's Teflon HAL-O tube dampers.

The increased musicality and resolution of this unit shows me that my AT150MLX is even better than I thought. The midrange is very alive and transparent, and it tracks the high frequencies and very high overtones with great speed and aplomb. There was a very noticeable difference on how brushwork sounded on the snare drum and cymbals. So now I think I need to let the system settle in as is for awhile to determine if I really need a new cartridge yet, or if I just needed a better phono stage.

Concerning the cartridges, however, If the DL103R plays some tricks with the frequency response curve (or could it the plastic body resonating?), I'd probably lean toward the 301 II.
Just to update this thread I purchased a Benz Micro Wood SL. It is much quieter in the groove than my 103r ever was and much more acurate. I am not looking back ...


I recently purchased a AT33ML/OCC with 200 hours or so from a member. Frankly, it sounds wonderful with excellent detail, neutral mids deep soundstage and good bass response. It has a mid-hall sound I prefer with excellent inner resolution and seems to be a favorite among Japanese audiophiles, I can see why as it seems suited for warm
(not euphonic ) rich tube sound. The cartridge is mounted on an SAEC 308N tonearm/Scheu Premier MkII turntable via a heavily customized Scott 222C. I imagine with SET amps it will perform some nice miracles. One of my audio friends said he thought it sounds better than the Clearaudio Sigma Gold I had previously, I don't know if I agree with that statement as further adjusting and listening is required.