Denon DL 103 vs DL 103R

Seems there are a lot of folks who love the 103, but have more mixed feelings about the 103R. Denon seems to thing the 103R is an improved version, which doesn't seem to jive with the popular opinion. Anyone want to offer a few opinions on these two carts (as if you wouldn't)?

Also, how would they compare to some higher cost cartridges? I'm also reading up on the Grado Sonata Wood and the Sumiko Blackbird, recognizing that I might need a phono stage with these. Any other suggestions are welcome.

Could you clarify "recognizing that I might need a phono stage with these"

What cartridge are you currently using? Does your Rotel have a built in phono stage? If not, what phono stage are you using with your Thorens/Grace set up? Do you mean a step up device? You may need one for the Denons but not for the Grado or Sumiko.
Sorry, I was saying that I may need, or want to use an additional external stage/step-up in addition to the cartridge itself. It might not be a bad idea regardless of the phono stage in my preamp. My pre does have a phono stage, which is what I'm using now, but its MM only with very low gain and I suspect I might get better results with an external unit. My current cartridge is a Sure M97XE.
I think your Rotel RC-1070 preamp might not be enough to squeeze the most out of 103 or even 103R. You might be better of using Dynavector 10x5($400) or 20X($650) or if you want to use >Ds< a step-up is a must (about $350).
Denon 103 or(R) has a large group of folowers and I am one of them. There is a lot to learn and gain in the right set-up. Read some more threads - it is almost all there. What is not there is yours to learn. I am myself half-way there
but you learn something new every day. It is a never ending story.....but how exciting it is ?!?!

I did not hear Denons but for me Grado Sonata and Grace 707 is a no go. I had it on Thorens TD124 and it sounded like $50 NOT $500 cart . It didn't work with REga RB1000 neither (nor with Denon Da-401). Some people though liked DL-103 with Grace. Shouldn't work theoretically but according to some posts it did. Music Maker carts ( based on Grado)have a good opinion among Grace owners there is only a question of putting $1K cart on $100 arm.Regards, L
I have had a Statement Sonata (.5mv), and have a couple 103 and an R, all good choices. But i'll tell you what i will recommend is the Dynavector P75 phono stage, especially the "phono enhance" circuit. All 3 sound great thru it. I've never heard a Grado sound so open, and the Denon sisters love it too! I like the 103 the best, but all have their merits. If your mm phono stage is good, transformers are a good choice also. There are lots of folks who prefer going thru trannies.
If the Sonata is in your price range, you should also check out the sound-smithdot modified Denons
I think you're on the right track. You didn't mention the TT or arm, that could be a deciding factor also.
All the above posters offfer sound advice regarding the Denons.You being like many see the relatively cheap entry price of the 103's and think that you'll get great performance just setting it up, "WRONG" these carts need the same care and attention to detail that >$ 1k carts do ie. solid phonostage, and arm that can control it's otherwise low compliant nature and not to mention a step up that doesn't rob it of it's musicality(bandwidth),and adequate gain.
Mrjstark said it best there is a lot to learn about these carts, and it's all here,you just have to reach out and find it. I have a plain 103 and LOVE it I am still working to optimze it but it is a GREAT cart out the box.Many have found the ReGa 300 and variants to be adequate if not suitable matches for these carts.I use a Origin Live silver with very good results,I have since nuded the cartridge and placed it in a wood body,to tame the resonant nature of the plastic body.
one last point, to oversimplify the differences of the two.
I've heard it described as the 103 being more"organic" while the "R" still retaining the Denon sound err's a little on the "HI-Fi" side of things.
you are on the right track with the choices you've made thus far, but there is more work to be done

just my two pennies
So, set me straight here. Would using this cartridge require the use of both a phone stage and step-up transformer? I'm still not entirely sure what the transformer actually does.

I've also read that these cartridges can have issues with metal platers. Would that be an issue with the Thorens platter?
I had asked on a previous thread what a step-up does, and the response was that it boosts the signal to make it compatible with a MM phone stage. Couldn't I accomplish the same thing by using the cartridge with an external stage into a line input?
Yes, if the stage is itself suitable for the Denon's low output and loading.

Some phono stages aren't designed to provide sufficient gain for a moving coil (MC) cartridge (or they may be able provide sufficient gain, but it pushes the phono stage to the uppper end of its limits). A step-up transformer (SUT) can help in this situation.

For example, I used to own a Wright WPP-100c phono stage and a Shelter 501 mk II cartridge (MC). While technically I could get enough gain from the phono stage alone, the Wright isn't designed to work with low-output MC cartridges, and IMHO it didn't sound as good as when I used a step-up transformer along with the Wright WPP-100c phono stage. If I was using a high-output MC cartridge or a MM cartridge, a SUT may not be necessary.

Now I use an Ayre P-5xe with a Denon 103R cartridge. The Ayre phono stage is designed to work with low-output MC cartridges, so a SUT is not necessary.

This is an oversimplification, but you'll get the picture.
Grimace, some terminology might help to start with.

Preamps include a built in phono stage, otherwise it would be called a line stage.

Phono stages are separate units that can be paired with a line stage or added to a preamp line input. They perform at least two functions: RIAA compensation and some level of gain for the small level cartridge output signal. Many will provide only 35-40 dB or so gain, these will be designated MM (although they may work with high output MC cartridges). Some may provide two gain levels (low and high) and will be designated MM and MC. A very few could be high gain only and thus identified for MC.

Phono step-up devices contain only gain stages. They may be active circuits or transformer based. They do not include RIAA compensation so must be connected to a low gain phono stage when a low output cartridge (MC) is used.

If you want to try a Denon 103 or 103R, you have three choices. First would be to find a step up device (Denon introduced one about the same time as the original 103 and these can be found used for modest prices) to insert between your Rotel phono input and your tt. Second would be to get a phono stage designated for MC to insert between your Rotel line input and your tt. Third would be to replace your Rotel with a preamp that includes a MC input. I believe the 103 has 0.3 mV output and the 103R 0.4 mV if that guides you to the gain level needed.

I do not have experience with the cartridges you list so cannot comment on their differences. However, as you may have read, several hobbyists use one or the other of these Denon models, modified either for "nude" or wood bodied operation, and report they replaced cartridges costing more than the Sonata or Blackbird. Search the archives here and on Vinyl Asylum and draw your own conclusions.
Well, if I were going to go with the cartridge, in the process I would make sure that I had the appropriate phono-pre/stup-up for whatever cartridge I chose. It does seem like the step-up transformers are considerably less expensive that full phone stages. Thanks for the clarifications

In any event, based on the other comments, it sounds as if the 103 might be a bit warmer and more natural sounding, and the 103R might be a bit more detailed but clinical - or audiophile - sounding. Does that sound about right? I'd like to gain a little more defined soundstage depth.
I will say this,and others can correct me.The 103 is VERY musical,propulsive,weighty,and just plain fun to listen to.I've not heard the "R" but I cannot Imagine it being clinical like say a Clearaudio etc,,

FYI the original 103 was designed and manufactured in 1962,to a set of standards,broadcast industry etc,
The "R" vesion was introduced in 1991 to sort of improve on
those standards which could be termed more Hi-Fidelity.
not analytical I'm sure it still retains that house sound.
hope this clears things up.

I wouldn't worry about the 103R being clinical per se; just a little more in that direction from the 103.
Just to clarify things a bit: output on the 103 is .3 mV while the 103R is lower at .25 mV so ideal gain from an active phono stage is about 60 db with the 103 and 62 with the 103R. The 103 should probably be loaded around 100 ohms while the 103R should be loaded lower, probably in the 30-50 ohm range so this may be a consideration when looking at phono stages and/or transformers.

Paste this into your browser for a review here comparing both:

While the standard 103 has its fans, research I did before buying a 103R indicated that the majority of those with experience with both cartridges preferred the R and felt it to be worth the extra money. It is anything but hi-fi-ish or analytical. In any event, I'm sure they are both very good cartridges, but remember that they deserve a very good phono stage as well which is something many people don't consider because of the low price of the Denons. The general concensus at this time is that if you stick one of Uwe's wood bodies on the Denons they are capable of embarassing much more expensive and exotic cartridges. The aluminum bodied Zu 103 at $399 seems to be another interesting alternative.
Grimace, you missed a point when you said "It does seem like the step-up transformers are considerably less expensive that full phone stages." As I tried to explain, a full phono stage includes both RIAA compensation and at least one gain stage. A step up transformer is only a gain stage so it cannot function by itself, it must feed a phone stage with the RIAA compensation. That is why they are (sometimes) less expensive.

Also, thanks Hdm for the correction on the 103R output.
OK. Seems there's more to using this cartridge than I would have thought. Am I understanding that there are phono stages that will work directly with this cartridge? Does anyone have any suggestions for a phono stage that would work with this cartridge without a SUT? I'd like to keep my purchases to no more than two items if possible.
Grimace, to operate either Denon straight into a phono stage, it should provide at least 60 dB of gain. Many will do so. And not to get you sidetracked here but offering adjustable loading would be important too. At the very least you will want to bring the load down from the standard 47K ohms to 100 or even less.

Now, a different consideration. I just checked your system and see you will be using a Grace 707 arm. If I remember correctly, this is a low mass arm so will not match well (resonance frequency) with either Denon cartridge.

To simplify your life (minimal purchases) I would suggest you research cartridges with 1.0 mV output or higher that are compatible (high compliance) with your 707 arm and that fall within your budget. This could be either a high output MC or a MM. Learn the proper set up procedure (archive search here and Vinyl Asylum) and go for it. After listening and learning about differences in SRA and VTF, see how well you are enjoying your system. Then, if need be you can begin to consider improvements. Good luck.
ditto Pryso. Not to confuse you but bear in mind that cartridge output specs can be referenced two ways, for example a .8mV@3.54cm/sec is the same as 1.13mV@5cm/sec. They don't always tell you which reference they use so a little research on what the standard is for that company is in order. As a further example, the Medium output MCs from Benz are .8mV@3.54cm/sec. This would be sufficient output for your phono stage and their compliance of 15 would be a minimum for that arm. The Denon 103 and 103R have a very low compliance of 5. Most MCs are going be a marginal match for that arm compliance-wise.
OK. This is getting off into stuff I know nothing about, but its a good thing you're telling me. Can you explain "compliance" a little more?

I also have a weight issue with the G707. The Shure, at 6 grams, has the counterweight spun pretty far out back. Any further and it would be bouncing off the cover when the needle reaches the dead wax. I am discovering that this arm has its limitations.
Compliance is the resistance to deflection from the centered resting position, or stiffness, of the cantilever which is the tiny "arm" that the stylus itself is attached to. The cantilever hinges on a donut of rubber and has the magnet or coil assembly attached to the internal end. It is the movement of this assembly in relation to the fixed coils or magnets that generates the signal. In the case of a MM or moving magnet cartridge, a small magnet is attached to the end of the cantilever and the coils are fixed in the body of the cartridge, thus the name, moving magnet. Moving magnet type cartridges usually are more compliant, or more flexible, in the neighborhood of 15-30, to make up for the higher mass of the magnets. Moving coil cartridges typically are less compliant, or stiffer, 5-15, to stabilize the lower mass of the coils. The relationship of arm mass to cartridge compliance involves balancing the effective mass of the arm with the cartridge weight and compliance such that the resonant frequency of the arm/cartridge system is lower than the lowest musical information but higher than the frequency where foot falls and record warps factor in. That frequency range is from 8-12 hz. In order to ensure an appropriate resonant frequency, the effective arm mass, typically between 6 and 18 grams, plus the cartridge weight, typically between 4 and 13 grams, plus the weight of the mounting hardware, about 1/2 gram, multiplied by the compliance, needs to be between 174 and 400. I'm not sure what the effective mass of the Grace 707 is but is definitely on the very low end. I'm guessing the resonant frequency of the Grace/Denon combo would be about 20hz, not good.

I don't follow your comment about the weight of the Shure and the position of the counter weight. The Shure at 6 grams is on the light side of average. This would put your counter weight closer to the pivot, not further out. Have you mounted the cartridge properly and is your arm intact and put together correctly? How are you measuring the tracking force?
In simple terms regarding compliance, low compliance (stiff suspension) cartridges like the Denon should normally be matched with high mass (heavier) arms. Conversely, high compliance (springy suspension) cartridges should be matched with low mass (lighter) arms. Fortunately, medium matches with medium.

I'm sorry if later posts sounded inconsistent with my first advice but I did not originally realize you would be using the 707. For that reason, I changed direction on you. Don't worry, we all have a learning curve.

But I am bothered by your statement that you're trying to adjust VTF (vertical tracking force) at 6 grams and your counterweight is far back on it's stub. First off, 6 grams is very heavy - a typical range would be 1.0 to 2.0 g., or 2.5 at most, with modern cartridges. Second, moving your counterweight toward the back will lighten the tracking force (remember childhood experience on a teeter-totter). I believe something is drastically wrong from your description. I suggest before asking any more questions you research cartridge set up on the A'gon, Vinyl Asylum, and Vinyl Engine. Again, good luck.
I was assuming you the 6 grams was referring to the weight of the cartridge, not the VTF. Is that correct?
In case you are confused, VTF for the Shure M97xE should be set for 1.25 grams. Cartridge weight is 6.6 grams.
Right, sorry if that wasn't clear. As stated by Pryso, the M97xe weighs about 6 grams, with effective tracking force recommended (in the package anyway) at 1.25 - 2.0g with the brush down. I'd been running it a little heavy at about 2.75g with the brush down. I've borrowed a scale from a fellow A-Goner a couple of times to test this, as well as a setup disk for proper angle. I did the VTA visually. The problem I have with the counterweight is that in order to get the tracking force down below 2g as recommended, I have to really turn the counterweight out pretty far to the point where its hitting the cover when the needle hits the dead wax. This is why I've been running it heavy. This does seem odd though, as I don't think I've ever seen a cartridge that was lighter than 6g. I suppose it’s possible that this kit was meant to be played with the lid open, or the folks at Thorens weren’t paying attention when they selected the arm (this is a 160 Super and this is the factory installed arm). Later 707's had an additional ring weight that mounted over the main counter weight, which would be helpful here, but my particular arm doesn't have this item.

In any event, the frequency response is rated at 20 – 22,000 Hz. If I’m understanding ‘compliance’ based on the description, it sounds as though the MM stylus/magnet piece moves further and has greater flexibility, which in my mind would make it slower and les detailed because more energy was being expended in the movement itself as opposed to transmitting what’s in the grove. On the other hand, the greater movement might also able to generate greater current, thereby allowing for generally higher outputs? Just guessing.

The other problem I have if I take the tracking force down below 2g is that the tracking bounces out of the grove with almost any footfall, even with the sprung TT (the springs are in good condition and adjusted properly).

SO, I guess the question really is, given my tone arm, warts and all, what would be a good cartridge? Sounds like I’ve got to go with a low mass unit and that D103 is not my puppy.

Phew! And I though I was asking a simple question.
2.75g is not "a little heavy." It is grossly overweight. In any case, sounds like the later addition of that extra ring weight is the ticket. Perhaps you could improvise something to that effect. This may well serve you regardless of what cartridge you spring for.

Your interpretation of the MM compliancy issue is incorrect. The amount the cantilever moves is dependent on the groove, not the compliancy. The high compliancy of a MM is offset by the higher mass of the magnet. This high moving mass is what makes MMs not as detailed as their MC brethren. The coils on a MC are much lower mass than the magnets of the MM thus making them less sluggish. In addition, low output MCs use less coils with less mass, making them even more responsive and thusly more refined. This is why people go to great lengths to accommodate the very low outputs of these cartridges. There are, of course, other mitigating factors. The ring magnets of the Transfiguration carts, for instance, very closely coupled to very small, low impedance coils, have quite healthy outputs, thus providing the best of both worlds.

It sounds like from your tracking issues that you may need to address your table mounting. A good wall mount shelf could help.
Sorry Grimace, here we go again. You apparently failed to understand what I wrote or I failed to state it clearly.

Moving your counterweight further back will REDUCE your tracking force. If you must move it back to increase your measured force, something is drastically wrong. And your lightweight 6.6 gram cartridge makes this more the case. If anything, with your set up it would seem you could not get close to the recommended tracking weight with your counterweight all the way forward (closest to the pivot point).

Next, published frequency response of a cartridge (never believable anyway) has nothing to do with compliance and resonant frequency. even though both may be stated in Hz. The resonant frequency should be below the lowest frequency on a record but not so low as potential rumble with your turntable. This is why the 7 or 8 Hz to 12 Hz range is often recommended, it falls between these critical areas.

So, at this point before you: a) take further steps to set your VTF (BTW your Shure instructions should tell you to measure with the brush up but compensate the force accordingly), b) consider installing your Grace arm on your Thorens, or c) begin shopping for a cartridge other than your Shure, STOP and do more research on cartridge installation and adjustments. I recommended some sources previously. Please, I hope I do not offend you (I'm trying to help) but your replies indicate you do not have basic understanding about the workings of tables/arms/cartridges. Further questions at this point are not productive until you gain a better grasp of these relationships. Some other choices to Google are Laura Dearborn and Robert Harley who have written very good introductions such as you need.

Again, good luck with this, Don't get discouraged because eventually you will be rewarded with understanding and then some great music.

I think Grimace made it clear that he was having difficulty getting the VTF light enough which is why he had the counter weight so far back. The extra counterweight ring would certainly help in his stated predicament. It appears that he has, perhaps, done his homework sufficiently to set the cartridge, although double checking couldn't hurt. It looks like you and I may be cross posting due to the delay in the posting process. ;-)
Notwithstanding the fact that the 103/103R will not be a good match with the Grace as others have mentioned, there is also, as others have alluded to, something seriously wrong with the setup on Grimace's table.

It would be pretty unlikely that an extracounterweight would be necessary to balance a cartridge that weighs 6 grams; typically extra counterweights are necessary to balance heavier cartridges (as in the plus 8-10 gram category).

Crazy as it sounds, the first thing I would check is to make sure the counterweight is on the right way. Take it off, turn it around and re-install it on the arm, balance the arm to zero and re-set the tracking force and see what happens. Short of that, it might be worth taking the taking the table to someone who really knows table/arm setup to get this thing right. It's pretty likely that Grimace will be much happier when he gets this resolved, possibly to the point of not wanting to do an upgrade as it sounds like something is seriously out of whack with the setup at the moment.
Piedpiper, even if we end up cross posting, we are both trying to help Grimace set up to enjoy music. Anyway, I believe Hdm's last post offered a good summary.

It is apparent that Grimace has a real problem -

"The problem I have with the counterweight is that in order to get the tracking force down below 2g as recommended, I have to really turn the counterweight out pretty far to the point where its hitting the cover"

Moving the counterweight all the way to the rear of the stub, or adding extra weight, does not make sense to me either with a 6.6 gram cartridge. Perhaps getting the friend he borrowed the stylus force gage from to look at his set up could save further posting here.
Yes, there must be a cross in the postings. I put one up early this morning that said, "It's enough to make you reach for a CD." It apparently never made it.

Yeah, I've been through that arm a dozen times and I've always had this same tracking force issue. I even have the cartridge set back a tad in the headshell (although still aligned) to try to compensate for he weight issue. I did re-adjust the weight again last night and am now running it at 1.75g with the brush down, which is within range. I checked the arm too. Without really jamming it, there is no play in the pivit point and this is a fixed head-shell, so I really don't know what to say about it. I may have to look into finding someone who knows something about this arm to take a look at it. It does seem odd that the weight issue would be so pronounced in such a fairly common tonearm.

I suppose its possible the scale is out of whack, but I doubt it. It seems to work fine for its owner. Its a technics SH-50P1. Its a paid to ge the stylus onto the little pin point, but otherwise it seems to be in order. Perhaps I should start a thread just on the arm, since it seems that this issue should be sorted out before addressing the type of cartridge I'm using.