Denon 103R or 304?

I have been presented with an opportunity to purchase either a DL-103R or (for $30 more) a DL-304. Either will be mounted on a tweaked RB300 tonearm. I welcome all suggestions and let it be known that this will be my first MC experience.

I have done two evenings worth of research on both cartridges and according to all the data the differences between the two aren't huge. I am leaning towards the 304 however.

The differences are pretty huge actually. I believe they are at totally different ends of the compliance spectrum. The 103R is going to work better on a high mass arm and the 304 is going to work better on a low mass arm. The Rega is more of a medium mass arm which you cannot turn in to a low mass arm. Some tweaking, however, might allow you to slightly increase the mass on the RB300, so, in my opinion, you would be better off with the 103R. You might want to check or post at the Vinyl Asylum at to see if there are users of the 103R or 103 there with the RB300. A lot of 103/103R users report good results with medium mass tonearms (I am one of them), but I've also just been experimenting with increasing the mass of my Premiere FT3 with the 103R in the past few days with promising results.
Thanks for the info. I completely forgot about the effects of tonearm mass. I'll definately take your advice and head over to the other forums to hear what others have to offer.
Actually, the 304 has a compliance of 14, definitely medium compliance, and should be a great match for the RB300. I own a 103R and can vouch that it needs a high mass arm to sound its best. You can mod the RB300 to work pretty well with the 103R and it will sound terrific. The 304 is twice the price at retail, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's better. It'll be interesting to hear from people who've heard both.

For $30 you get an eliptical or fine line stylus, vs the conical on the 103. Also, the 304 will have better compliance with your arm as pointed out. From my research, the 304 seems a little more analytical. However, there is not much info on the 304. I too have considered the 304. I'm skeptical about the conical stylus, mainly due to surface noise issues. I have become accustomed to little or no surface noise, after using eliptical and fine line styli, and do not want to take a step backward concerning the issue.
The Denon 103 works spectacularly well with an RB300 tonearm. There are many many such users. One of the great synergies out there.
OK. I've decided on the 304. I'm currently running a Goldring 1042 into a Parasound Zphono, a stereophile Class C recommendation and well worth the $150. The concern I have is that all the reviews out there give the MC input a big thumbs down. So, I'll be mating the 304 with my DIY tube preamp which is tube rectified and used a 6SL7 and a pair of 6SN7's. I'm off to eBay to look for a quality pair of Step-Ups to increase the gain of my preamp. The preamp was designed for a MM cartridge.

Thank you for all those who shared their input.

Can anyone give empirical comparisons of the DL-304 vs. a 103r mounted in an aluminum body with the Soundsmith $250 ruby cantilever/contact line diamond?

As you can read from the Vinyl Asylum link above, I have had my SoundSmith top tier $350.00 Modified Zu/Denon DL-103r for about 2 weeks. The sound is amazing through the Bob's Devices Signature CineMag based SUT played through a Cullen Circuits Modified PS Audio GCPH phono stage. [You can read about my reference system in the member’s profile once you get to Vinyl Asylum.]

I am a dyed in the wool Koetsu crazy, but this SoundSmith Modified Zu is a Koetsu killer.

Get one if you can! You will be amazed.

Christopher – my Vinyl Asylum pen name is “Seadog”
When both in stock form, the DL304 is a better cartridge but when the 103R is installed in an aluminium body with a heavy arm, then the 103R will become the winner.
what Kcc123 said. but with just minimal mods the 103 starts to overtake the 304. put the same amount of money into the 103 as you would pay for the 304 and you have a much better cartridge in the 103.
The Denon 300 series does have a decidedly different sound than the 103 series. Personally I prefer my SS retipped DL-103D to any of the 300 series but that is my preference.

Compliance wise both cartridges will work with the RB300. I have run a DL-103R in my modded RB-300 without any issues.

The issue I don't see anyone addressing is that the DL-304 is a very low output MC cartridge (0.18mv). The Parasound ZPhono is supposedly OK with cartridges down to 0.15mv but I would be asking what the S/N would be with the DL-304.

It could be perfectly OK but if you end up with too much background noise it will kind of spoil the party.

The medium mass Linn Basik tonearm on my Linn Axis is a surprisingly good match for the 103R. I go with the 103R assuming your tonearm is similar mass.
I'd go for the 304. I've owned both in a modified RB250 and the 304 is CLEARLY far superior in every aspect, BUT the real consideration is this...

DL -103R = 0.25mV
DL -304 = 0.18mV

Unless you have a REALLY quiet phonostage with bags of gain forget the 304...seriously

I use my 304 with the whestTWO and it is great, ultra quiet with PLENTY of gain with a great soundstage and great musical resolution.
I must agree with Ed - the 100 and 300 series have a very different sound. Having lived with a 103D for over 10 years, I was devastated when I couldn't replace it. Unfortunately, the suspension also ages in these cartridges, so a retip/retube frequently wont fix the aging problem. I listened to the 103 and, while the family resemblance in sound was definitely there, I couldn't live with the limitations of the spherical stylus. So I defected to Linn/Lyra cartridges and have gotten used to them!
Interesting. I would not sneeze at that .18mV spec unless I knew I had a good solution in place. I found getting the 103R running smooth and quiet again when I changed pre-amps to be more of a challenge than I ever anticipated.
I started using Denon cartridges since the seventies, of which include the 110, 103, 103D, 103R, 301, 303 and 304. My favorite cartridges among them are the 103R and 304, though they sound very different to each other. The 304 also sounds different to the older 303 as well.
Sktn77a, well why didn't you just get the 103 retipped?
Expert Stylus in the UK can retip and replace the suspension...great way to go surely.

I found the 103R too 'hifi' whereas the 304 more open and musical, both very different IMHO.
I didn't get the 103D retipped because back then (20 years ago) retipping services were unreliable. Even today, I'm not sure a cartridge can be rebuilt to sound the same as the original.
A retipped DL-103D sounds better than a stock version. I've owned and used a DL-103D since 1979 and didn't get it retipped for the same reason that you have related.

I was wrong...very wrong. Anyone can post something like this but please believe me that this is the absolute truth. If you want to check out the links to some 320kb MP3s I have some posted on my website about half way down the page. It can be found at