Denon DL-103R cartridge update

Hi everyone. I have been using the 103R on my system for the past year and would like an upgrade. It's a great cartridge, but I'm ready for more detail and dynamics. My system:Pro-ject RM6-SB, Musical Surroundings Phonomena II, Cayin integrated amp, Usher (pre Berylium) tower speakers & Morrow /XLO cables.
I listen mostly to jazz, quartet (where possible), Blue Note, Monk, Coltrane, Hancock, Rollins, Crusaders (pre 1968), Cachao, etc., standard fare but extensive.
Thanks and your suggestions are appreciated.
I went to a Benz Wood SL and haven't looked back. It is much quieter in the grove and more neutral / natural. I always felt the denon was putting emphasis on the lower to mid frequencies and was rather etched at the higher frequencies.

I went back and forth for a while between a 103R and a Benz L2 Woodbody. They both have some very favorable qualities. Despite the price difference, the Denon can hold its own in a lot of respects. I then moved on to a Benz LP.

I think in general that the Benz line has some of the positive things you like about the 103R while offering more refinement.
Upgrade the body on your 103R (to ebony or aluminum) taking into consideration that you will need to be able to balance out a 12-15 gram weight cartridge. Then send it off to Soundsmith for a ruby cantilever and line contact stylus.

You won't need to upgrade after that unless you want to upgrade your table or phono stage.
I have 6 Denon 103/103R cartridges total(one 103 and one 103R SoundSmith retip). Before that, I had Koetsu Rosewood, Shelter 501, Shelter 901, Benz Glider, Benz ACE(still have this one) as my "test" field. I tried several iterations: wood-body, nude, nude with isolator plate, on both Aluminum and Ruby cantilever.

With the stock 103/103R, except for the SoundSmith retip 103's, there was no question in my mind, they don't compare to the other expensive cartridges mentioned. The retip is definitely an improvement, but depends on the arm being use at the VTF decreases when using Ruby cantilever.

With the wood body SS retip or not, I found what I was looking for. Sold the other carts I had except for the Benz ACE, and of course the Denon's.
I also recommend replacing the stock plastic body.
I've recently started using the Midas aluminium body and I think it makes a far better cartridge than the Uwe wood bodies (I've own the ebony and the panzerholz versions).
In my system the Midas has much greater neutrality, clarity and high frequency air than the wood bodies. I'm really surprised at the improvement.
The 103R/Midas weighs about 14.5g so some arms may require heavier counterweight options.
IMO, the Midas body at $149 is a no-brainer for anyone who already owns a 103R.

I've not heard of the Midas body. That sounds like an interesting option along with the SS retip. What about Zu?. Thank you for your excellent suggestions! There is genuine expertise, wisdom and knowledge in this forum.
If you are thinking about the SS retip and Midas body, I suggest trying the Midas first.
You may find the improvements all that you require. Personally, I prefer it to my Ortofon Jubilee - but they are very different cartridges.
I have a second Midas body on the way to try with my SS retipped 103R (which currently resides in my Uwe ebony body).
I'll post my impressions of that combo - hopefully in the next couple of weeks.
I just bought a ZU Audio DL103 Grade 1 and it's one of the most dynamic cartridges I have ever heard. I have (2) Denon DL103D's and I am going to send them to SoundSmith for a retip and then onto Zu to have them potted and put into one of their bodies...
If you enjoy the Denon sound but would like more detail and dynamics then i'd suggest looking at a Denon DL304, i've had 3 or 4 over the years and they are very good with only the low output being the only potential pitfall.
You haven't specified a budget, and so you have several options at almost every price point. I love the DL-103R, especially mounted on my Thomas Schick arm. If you want to keep the "103" sound but just want more of it I suggest that you do as several of the guys above have recommended and upgrade your cartridge. Personally, I believe that the Soundsmith retip is the most bang for the buck, followed by either a UWE wood body or Midas aluminum body (depending on how you want to tune the sound). If you wanted to try something different in the Denon line, the DL-S1 is (supposedly) still available and sounds very different than the 103 line.

But other cartridges can and will take you to a different (not necessarily better) type of sound. Assuming that you want to stay in the world of "reasonably priced" MC cartridges, The Benz Ace or Glider are relative bargains, as is the Dynavector 20X2. Maybe a used Shelter 501 MkII?

The world is your oyster - just don't over cook it.
I have a "plain" 103 and was quite frustrated with setting it up. I have a Audioquest PT6 on a HMW19 MkIII.
After reading many forums on optimized setup; it became obvious to me that the arm was the problem. Not having the bucks to ante up for a SME 3009 I went to Dicks sporting goods and bought a couple of packs of lead tape.I also got a Isokinetic stabilizer.This made it much easier to mount due to the threaded plate. This also added 4 grams to the weight of the cartridge. I then applied 8 of the lead strips to the counter weight (4 grams each x 8=32grams).I also added 2 strips to the arm tube and cut 1 in half and drilled holes in them to use as a sandwich like shim for mounting(1 above the cartridge and the other above the tonearm/headshell).

Suddenly the Denon came into it's sweet spot.Very dynamic,no mistracking, with detail,nuance and a very lovely tone.
I like it better than many of the $1000-$2000 cartridges I have heard.

My friends call it Frankenstein, but I don't really care.

cheap and easy way to make your old denon work in a modern arm.

I agree that a Schick would be a perfect mate for the Denon, but my Frankenstein only cost me about $30.00 with $20.00 of it coming from the stabilizer.

email me if you want more details.

Excellent feedback. Thank you. From what I've been reading lately it seems that much must be spent to make a noticable improvement in quality over the sound of the Denon. I'm either going Soundsmith or Midas for sure. What about Nagaoka? I've heard great things about these MM cartridges. I was thinking of the MP200 or MP300 as a back cartridge.
Best wishes.
I have had a couple of retips done by Peter.. and they as a near majority will tell you, they are much better carts as a result. The Denon (i also have a SS retipped 103r) seems made for it: It seems to retain its trademark cohesivness, even with the added detail, very well.

My recommendation is to just send it off and to be patient with the lead time; it can vary based on how busy they are and to just enjoy a "hold-the-fort" cart while you wait.

While mine was under the knife, I have Peter pot it and put one of their fairly new wood bodies on it.. it's early in the going really, but so far, on my Lenco, Schick, Yamamoto combination: it's completely kicking butt to my ears.

Go for it! ;)

Thanks for the great advice. I've learned that when it comes to analog money doesn't always resolve inherent resonance problems. I thought about placing some kind of blu-tack / silicone/ brass / rubber tape above the cartride, but wasn't sure about the most effective material. I'm going to get the Isokinetic plate and place a damping material between the plate and headshell, reset the VTA, etc. I'll report results. Marchomeslice-then I'm sending my other 103R to Soundsmith.
You won't be sorry. His work is excellent and IMO, a great value for what you'll have, when all is said n' done. I can only speak for a Shelter 501 and the 103R, with the mid level retip: ruby canti, nude contact line stylus. As long is there is no inherent issue with the cart (generator, coils, suspension, etc.) it will come back and compete with carts costing much more than the total invested and more than that, just be a great sounding all-arounder.

As far as your plans to "heavy up" a medium weight arm for it. I kind've went that route, although really only heavied up an Orsonic headshell with an added weight & added some tak to both arm tube & counterweight, with an SME 3009. I ran the 103R stock with this and while it worked reasonably well, it was no match for using a medium/low-to-low compliance cart like the 103R, on an arm that weighs in at around 15g. No disrespect intended to Emorrisiv and his tweaks; but IMO, you won't get the most out of your cartridge if you add all of what amounts to, a lot of external damping to the arm tube, shell, etc. Your arm has in all likelihood, already been damped internally and while some tak helped tame some slight buzziness of the stock cart's, crap plastic housing, a nicely machined aluminum body or certain wood bodies, really make the Denons sing. Ymmv and all that :)

Marc: no disrespect taken. I am always interested in hearing other people's ideas and experiences.

I intend to try the 103 with a different body like a UWE. But I have to tell you, that adding the weight to the arm was a huge improvement.Not just in dampening resonance, but in getting the cantilever movement under control. Instead of bouncing around and causing problems, it is now much smoother and mistracking is no longer a issue at all. This is how the original design was intended: radio stations using big transcription tables and arms that are heavy and yes slower. The resonance is definitely a factor too, but not all. btw all things resonate;the question is, what frequency? By adding all the lead,I have changed that frequency to a much lower level. Kind of like putting a bigger string in a guitar, or piano.

I would be interested to hear from folks that have tried the aftermarket bodies; which one is the one I want? Wood, aluminum?
Also, how scary was the removal of the plastic?

great string.

E, i'm glad you're loving your 103 and have had success with it on a heavied-up, medium weight arm. Sounds like you've hit upon the right weight combination, to put you in the cart resonance "green zone" or whatever we'll call an optimal range. All systems vary, as do the ears of the listeners and all that. My time with my new SS woody 103r/Schick/Yama shell is so limited at this point, I should reserve opinions for a bit anyway; but right out of the gate, the music just seems to naturally jump out of my speakers and the bass seems so much better and more natural, that I am becoming rapidly sold on A) using the Denons, retipped and otherwise, on a longer arm and b) tracking even the SS retips very close to the upper end of the stock 103 range (2.6g for me right now) and than I will adjust the force down, only if I think i'm missing any "sparkle" or detail, in the future. So far everything below, say, 2k kz is so much more solid. The SS, Peter L., has clarified with many of us in occasional posts, that azimuth is a citical adjustment with his special (i.e. not spherical or eliptical) retips. And if you can't totally nail down the proper azimuth, that it's better from both a sonics and record wear standpoint, to track them heavier out of the gate. Frequent poster here and on the AA, "Blake" sort've preaches this and i'm now onboard with the concept. I think a lot of folks likely run them with too little force on them; hey, to each their own. Sorry for the tangent into VTF for the Denons. Just passing on what's working for me in a big way right now.

As far as the OP's search: I think he would love a redone 103R for his listening tastes. In the interim, to hold the fort, something like a Dyna, ZYX or maybe a Jico tipped Shure V15 would give you a lot of snap n' sizzle, but don't write off a redone 103R, they do seem to kick serious butt in the dynamics department when implemented properly. There's a reason that a lot of folks run replinthed classic decks, long tonearms and Denon 103 cartridges; mainly: yards n' yards of Jazz n' Classical LPs (not that the other categories aren't likewise well served), but if they're getting it done extremely well with these combos on the Classical material, they ain't getting short changed in the dynamics department.

Go for the Denon redo, there is no real downside!
I should add the caveat to the OP, that IMO, your tonearm and budget to procure and better match for the Denons, should play a large role in your choice.

Just curious but what are you folks seeing for output channel imbalance on your 103r's? Mine was R .29mv and the L was .33mv. I was curious if this is pretty normal. I suspect the Zu audio modded units as well as the units from SS are tighter (Sorted for performance); at least my guess.

Thanks Chuck
04-09-11: Mofimadness
I have (2) Denon DL103D's and I am going to send them to SoundSmith for a retip and then onto Zu to have them potted and put into one of their bodies...
I also have a pristine 103D. It would be interesting to hear about a comparison after upgrading one and keeping the other stock?

Do you know of anyone else ever upgrading the body or stylus on the 103D?
Chuck: I have two 103R's here both within .01 mV on L/R channels. One is .31 on R and .32 on left and the other is .29 R and .30 L.

Thanks.......I think with the upgrades (retip, wood body) from SS it would be a very good cartridge. Especially if you get one with that good of a channel imbalance.

Mine is also imbalanced, left 0,4 and right 0,37 mV (compare this to official numbers : 0,3 Mv !! - some 33% more output!). And I am positive I can hear this (slight music shift to the left). Still this is minor problem, because music just pops out from speakers - how amazing is this stock 103 denon!

>Just curious but what are you folks seeing for output >channel imbalance on your 103r's? Mine was R .29mv and >the L was .33mv.
I thought I heard the same thing. So I sold mine for trade bait instead of trying to have it retiped.Certainly a great cartridge for the money though.

Are you sure that the speakers are the equidistant from each ear? In a high resolution stereo, even a small disparity in timing can sound like a shift in L to R balance. The HF extension of vinyl reveals this more than CD. Try moving the louder speaker an inch further from the listening position and see what happens.
Certainly makes sense. But I didn't I want to put money into a cartridge with that much of a channel disparity.

Dgarretson good to hear from you hope things are going well.

I recently nuded a new 103 and just had a look at the little graph report. It states 3.9 for both chanels. Nice. My other 103s doe have a small imbalance but I can't tell when listening .. And I try. ;.)
anyone have a spare 103 stylus guard? I accidentally stepped on mine and I want to try a wood body. Kind of afraid to do it without the guard.

Do not use the guard when removing the body. It will only get in your way. Easy does it, slow and steady, and you will be ok.
Thanks Gadfly
05-10-11: Gadfly
Do not use the guard when removing the body. It will only get in your way. Easy does it, slow and steady, and you will be ok.

I've nuded a few 103R's and have always kept the stylus guard in place while cutting the glue points. This way you can place the cartridge cantilever down on a bench while you cut the glue points in the seams. Some firm pressure is required when cutting and it would be near impossible to damage the cantilever with the guard in place. I strongly recommend using the stylus guard while cutting.

Once the 3 glue points have been cut - and you can move the plastic shell freely - then remove the guard so you can observe the cantilever position while you carefully pull away the plastic shell.

Emorrisv, I live in Australia but if no-one more local to you can supply a stylus guard, drop me a message and I'll post one to you.
Hey, I have an extra one as well. I am in New Jersey, if that is any closer. I thought it would be better to leave it off but Tobes makes a good point.
A big thanks to Gadfly for the stylus guard. I received it in the mail today and in less than 10 minutes had a naked 103.

I put the Isokinetic stablizer (just a simple aluminum plate) on it and mounted it on my arm. Set up the VTF, overhang, etc and say back for a listen.

At first I wasn't sure that I could tell much difference, but after listening to more of my standard lps I have come to find that it is much better than with the plastic body.

It seems more detailed while maintaining the tone and body.

I am seriously thinking of not putting any body UWE, Midas or whatever. This thing sings!

Anyone that has tried this please chime in.

I think the conical stylus is better without a body. It not the most resolving cut so the less resonace the better.

When or if you upgrade the stylus then adding a wood body realy enhances the sound. It adds something.
one quick way what the difference might be heard, as a test, is to place some masking tape on the sides of the cart. You will see how that damping rids it of some unwelcome resonance.
Gadfly you have made me a very happy man. Thanks so much for the guard. This thing nude is so good. Much more resolving. The high frequencies are much cleaner and extended.
I can't thank you enough for making it possible.

btw with the stabilizer it looks a lot like a VDH colibri.