Another review of a tweaked Denon DL-103R ??? Oh no! Boring? Surely not! Please read it!

*First of all: I'm not affiliated with ANY of Companies mentioned in this post. Above all, I'm an enthusiast of state of the art audio analog components...*

This is my second post on Audiogon Forum and I would like to share with you, fellow audiophiles, my thoughs about a GREAT tweaked Denon DL-103R Cartridge: The "Paradox Pulse Guard R SMR Cartridge"

Being a Senior Electronic / Acoustic Engineer and worked with many Audio Companies in Germany and Japan, this led me to listen to all kind of analog components, from turntables to tonearms and cartridges since the 70's... the golden years of the analog sound!

Thanks to Siemens AG (in Germany) and Matsushita Electric (known as Panasonic) (in Japan), that I have worked for many years, I have had the opportunity to experienced all sorts of hi-end Cartridges, tonearms and turntables... for audiophile and professional purposes and although many components led me to great satisfaction, only a few them passed to my restricted test of building quality.

For tonearms, Fidelity Research (FR-66 and it's variants, made in Japan) and our own Technics EPA-100 showed perfect bearings... and Cartridges (EMT, made in Germany) among very few others that have the most perfect cantilever/stylus alignment.

For my surprise and great enjoyment, I ordered a modified Denon DL-103R (The Denon DL-103R is a venerable Cartridge in production for many years with a strict quality control), called Paradox Pulse Guard R SMR Cartridge, (from Terence Robinson), that has been tweaked to perfection.... (please go to for more details).

After removal of the original resonant plastic body, Terence mount the motor in an special aluminum body, including about 40 micro lead dampers and then finally fill all the gaps with a kind of epoxy to kill all resonances. After this, Terence do the "break in" process (for the wire and suspension of the brand new, selected DL-103R for matched channels) for about 100 hours. After that, he send the wholly cartridge to change the original aluminum cantilever/conical stylus for a Saphire cantilever/MicroRidge stylus. This is done by Andy Kim at

After years of triyng expensive Cartridges like Phasemation / Phase Tech (great cartridges!), Ikeda and many others, I mounted the Paradox Pulse Guard R SMR cartridge in the (very rigid) Ikeda IS-2T headshell in conjunction with the (also very rigid) Sorane SA-1.2 high mass tonearm and the results? OUSTANDING!

I NEVER heard piano notes with such lifelike realism! Vocals have palpable presence and the soundstage and depth above any criticism. The exceptionally perfect Saphire cantilever / MicroRidge stylus (made by Namiki, Japan) alignment (Thanks Andy and Terence, for your state of the art job) are so perfect that I ever seen only with such perfection on my EMT TSD15 (and a very few others), but the Paradox Pulse takes the sound reprodution to another level of refinement. Air between massed vocals and bass notes are to die for...This is the cartridge that satisfy me at a reasonable price, without breaking the bank!

This is Heaven & I'd die for it! The Paradox Pulse Guard R SMR Cartridge installed in the Sorane tonearm, Ikeda Headshell, through the fabulous Hashimoto HM-7 Step Up transformers, with a reflective load of 512 Ohms, took my System in another level of realism and satisfaction.

Would you like to share with me, fellow Audiogon members, your impressions and thoughs about your phono system?

 he send the wholly cartridge to change the original aluminum cantilever/conical stylus for a Saphire cantilever/MicroRidge stylus.

Are you gonna say that you never hear any better stock LOMC cartridges with MicroRidge diamond and Sapphire or Ruby cantilever, so you had to pay extra to modify your Denon designed in the 60's with modern stylus/cantilever ? 

If so, then i'm sorry to hear that you did not find yet a better cartridge than refurbished Denon. 

 What's the cost BTW?

Not sure what is the problem with other cartridges in your system if you prefer refurbished Denon 103R, I want to admit there are many advanced LOMC cartridges out there, some of them are not expensive (even those with short diamond cantilevers and MR tip like Dynavector 17D2mkII with higher compliance).  

If you like old school low compliance carts, did you try SPU Royal G mkII with Replicant 100 stylus for example ? Like the refurbished Denon it's a combination of old design with advanced profile and modern parts, but made buy the manufacturer (not a third party vendor). 

Yet another vintage LOMC cartridge is Klipsch MCZ-10 Ruby. 
But nothing can beat the Miyabi in my opinion. 



Dear Chakster,

Thanks for the comments. This Cartridge, object of the discussion is NOT a refurbished one. The vendor sell me a Brand New DL-103R and made all modifications, like changed the plastic resonant body for an aluminum body and the other modifications described in the text. This is a completely redesign of the venerable DL-103R. It changed the already good DL-103R in a ultimate cartridge. I have had the SPU Royal G (and many other SPU's) and also the Dynavector 17D2 with MR stylus, but these cartridges never competed with the Paradox Pulse R SMR cartridge in terms of purity of piano tones or vocals. Believe me, this modified cartridge made my ears smiling!
*Note to prospective Audiogon posters*

If you want me to take your post seriously, please do not write a review as if you are 16 years old and touched someone else's naughty bits for the first time. A review containing a sentence like "This is Heaven & I'd die for it!" labels you (to me) as a promoter or over-the-top fanboy.

I appreciate and enjoy user reviews. I learn a lot from all of you. But please provide me with an objective report of what you are reviewing; or at least pretend to.

Thanks for listening.

Dear @ultima700 : No surprise with the venerable 103 ( I own it. ) that through several years now it was taked to be marketed under other " names ".

The more famous an expensive cartridge with 103 motor is this one that L.Walker him self promoted along its great and expensive TT Walker Proscinium:

Yes, outperforms many today cartridges over 4K. I listened mounted in that Walker TT through a ffirst rate room/system.

Thank's to share your experiences with.

Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,
Dear @br3098 : Very sorry to bother you with my review.

We live in a healthy democracy. (at least me, living in Brazil, and people living in the US and many other Countries).

So, if you feel offensive and uncomfortable with this thread, please "unfollow" it.


Dear @rauliruegas :Thank you very much for sharing your thoughs with us.

It's not surprisingly that a Cartridge like the DENON DL-103 survives for more than 50 years. And the quality control for it (and the variants) remain in a such high standard.

And thanks for the link posted. I will investigate further this costly tweaked 103.


Rebuild is correct word, right? There are so many companies that rebuild 103 for big $$$, but not Denon in Japan for some reason. It’s a good business model to buy something very cheap and sell it for much higher price with new cantilever and new cartridge body, sometimes only with new cartridge body (like those 103 from Zu Audio) or only with new cantilever (every re-tipper can do that).

Did you try all Denon cartridges? What about DL-1000 or DL-S1 ?

Why 103?
Dear @chakster : Thanks for the message sent. 

As I explanned in the review, I worked many years for several Audio Companies and this led me to audition hundreds of Cartridges. Among them, the 103 Series and the EMT 15 Series shared some of the most natural midrange and vocals with "palpable" presence. I have had the Denon DL-1000 and DL-S1 but both of them was surpassed by the Audio-Technica AT50ANV (the three cartridges shared the " basic design of non-magnetic core MC type cartridge"). Although these cartridges sports a kind of "natural sound" not found in conventional MC cartridges, they suffer from extreme low voltage output with a severe lack in dynamics, for my personal tastes.
My Best Regards,
@ultima700  Jose, I am not offended and no need to "unfollow." I apologize if I touched a nerve but I stand behind what wrote. Objectivity is one of the keys to believability. Again, IMO.

Ultimate, reading your description of its construction I was most struck by the notion that your modified Denon must be very heavy, since the DL103 is already in the heavy category to begin with. What does it weigh, and what is the effective mass of your tonearm/cartridge? Two more points: aluminum is certainly not nonresonant compared to plastic, and Namiki is one of only two companies that manufacture pretty much every cantilever/stylus in use in the world. So nothing unique about the Namiki bits, although I’m sure they work fine. Aluminum re-body on DL103 is also not new, I think.
$1100 for a tweaked $450 cart, and you'll need a phono amp with sufficient gain or additional step up/IC's- guess I'm not trying it anytime soon.

There are enough $1K, good sounding carts on the market.
Dear @lewm8 : Thanks for your inquiry.

I use the SORANE SA-1.2 high mass tonearm. The Denon 103 and 103R sounds better in massive tonearms. The Sorane is a very high quality tonearm made by IT Industries, who produces the IKEDA Tonearms, all hand made in Japan. This modified Denon DL-103R is massive and the weight is about 16 grams. I use the highest rigidity IKEDA IS-2T headshell that weighs 20 grams. The results are outstanding.
I had talked to Terence regarding his cartridge and decided to get the modified Zu Audio 103 Mk II instead after I found out that Andy Kim did the install for the saphhire/microridge stylus (he held my ZYX hostage even though he broke the stylus and retipped it without my permission and did such a bad job, I'm having it re-retipped). I got the grade 2 premium version and paid $1100 for it.  Same concept, Zu Audio added mass to it and isolated the cartridge.  The weight of the Zu Audio modded 103 cartridge is14 gm.

I have a Kuzma Stabi R table and the 4P tonearm.  The cartridge has not yet been broken in and I'm enjoying it quite a bit - more like pleasantly surprised.  Both my carts, the ZYX Universe II X and Ortofon Anna are being retipped (talk about bad timing), but I don't miss them as much as I thought I would.  The same Zu Audio modded cartrige made it to Class B Stereophile list for 2020 - fwiw.  I'm not saying that the Zu Audio cartridge is as good as the Universe II X or the Anna, but based on its price  tag, it punches way above that. If saving money was my top priority, I would definitely chose the Zu Audio modded 103 over the more expensive (> $5k) cartridges, now that I know.  I needed a cartridge fast, and that was the reason I made the purchase.  

Terence is using the same concept as Zu, but in addition,  also replaced the original cantilever/stylus with the sapphire/microridge combo as some have said that the 103's weakness is it's conical stylus. For the price I paid for the Zu with the original 103 cantilever/stylus, Terence is offering a retipped 103R cartridge with sapphire/microridge stylus and his shell (Paradox Pulse Guard). His ad is USAM is at -
Give Terence a call, if you have any questions - he can probably do a better job of explaining his cartridge better than I can.

There's  also another company called Musikraft that does also modifies the 103, but is more expensive (starting at $1959). Their version made it to Class A Stereophile list in 2020. They also do not modify the original stylus/cantilever of the 103.  To me, the $1959 was harder to swallow, although their technology seems to do more and might try it out in the future sometime. Their website is


Why not just buy used MIYAJIMA SHILABE instead ?
A used Shibata life-span is much longed than new conical tip anyway 

Your expertise in cartridges is way above mine. I'll keep the Shilabe in mind, but a lot of it depends on timing, condition etc., if we're talking used.


chakster, why do you seem so bent on getting ultima700 to recant his praise or replace the cartridge?   The guy likes it, I'm happy that he's happy.  Also the product he describes is NOT a rebuild or retrofit or whatever gets done to carts that need some love, this is more like AMG.  They get brand new cars at various stages of completion from MB, finish them how they want then sell them to the very well heeled buyers. It's not a used car or a car souped up by its' owner. It's a brand new AMG-Mercedes and owners will tell you they are the "same" car as the regular model but different as night and day.  I think this is what utopia700 wants to tell us about.
The general opinion appears to be that the Denon DL103 ’motor’ is good enough to use as a foundation for cartridges with ’higher aspirations’. Its basic performance is held back by an old fashioned aluminum cantilever / conical stylus arrangement and basic plastic body. Replace those and you supposedly step into another league.

I’ve never heard any of these ’redesigns’ so I can’t comment. But I do know that the ’as is’ factory version of the 103 sounds pretty awful, not unlike the basic version of the Ortofon SPU. Both are ancient designs with very limited performance. I do have experience with some of the higher level SPUs (Reference Gold and the A85, A90 and A95 Anniversary models), which are ’night and day’ different from the old ’Classic’ SPU with conical tip. I don’t have an interest myself, but I assume the same ’trick’ can be done with the basic 103.

The cartridge being touted here has a Micro Ridge stylus shape.

@lewm  My comment about Miyajima was addressed to @rdk777 who's using Zu Audio Denon cartridge with original conical tip. 

After the fact, I realized your post could be taken to be a comment on the Zu version.  Sorry.
Raul speaks the truth.

The problem with many DL103 and 103R rebuilds is that they frequently throw the baby out with the bath water. Whenever you change a design with something as dramatic as a cantilever and stylus replacement, you run the risk of upsetting the balance.

This should come at no surprise. As a result, the ideal rebuild is as much due to serendipity as it is to quality of workmanship and parts.

For example, I’d recommend Soundsmith for a ZYX, Benz, Ortofon or Dynavector rebuild. I’d hesitate to recommend them for some other brands, only because the cartridge’s character would change too much. This is true of every quality rebuilder, and Soundsmith absolutely qualifies as such.

One of my very picky customers reports outstanding results with his Andy Kim DL103R rebuild.

I have much respect for both the DL103 and the 103R - especially at their price point. In standard form, they have a very balanced presentation, with a slightly truncated treble (missing a bit of delicacy and nuance) and are a bit noisy in the groove when compared with a much more ambitious stylus profile.

I recently re-visited my 103R and blogged about it over here:

As I mention in the above blog post, it’s incumbent on you to treat any cartridge as if it were a top tier one. Don’t take shortcuts when setting it up. Confirmation bias tends to result in people giving less attention to the setup of a $400 cartridge than to a $4K one.

... Thom @ Galibier Design

Dear @ultima700 : No surprise with the venerable 103 ( I own it. ) that through several years now it was taked to be marketed under other " names ".

The more famous an expensive cartridge with 103 motor is this one that L.Walker him self promoted along its great and expensive TT Walker Proscinium:

Yes, outperforms many today cartridges over 4K. I listened mounted in that Walker TT through a ffirst rate room/system.

Thank’s to share your experiences with.

Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,