DENON DL-304. Is it the bargain sound or not?

Hello to everyone!
I leave in Greece and it is the first time to write as a member of Audiogon.
First of all I would like to clarify that I am glad to join with your great company!
I like the “analog” site of music, so I have a couple of questions to do.

My current system is:Preamplifier: Onkyo P-304, Power Amplifier: Onkyo M-504, Loudspeakers: Scandyna Blueroom – Minipods, Subwoofer: Blueroom Bass Station, Turntable: Technics SL-1210 MK2, Cartridge: Denon DL-304. The problem is that the sound is very “bright” when I play music with my turntable. I mean that in many discs, the high frequencies are more aggressive than they should be.
I have a friend that has a different set up, with a Luxman Pre C-3 and Power Amp M-3, a Victor TT-81 turntable, with UA-7045 tonearm and B&W 803 Matrix loudspeakers.

When we put the Denon DL-304 cartridge to Victor turntable, the results where exactly the same. The vinyl that we test the sound is “Chuck Mangione - Children of Sanchez “.

I think that the “problem” is Denon, so my question is: “Can you suggest me what I can do? Is it the best way to replace the cartridge with another and with witch? Is there any other solution without replacing it?”

A friend of mine proposed me the Audio – Technica AT-150MLX cartridge for better results. If I replace the Denon with AT, do I have better results or worse? Is there any cartridge with better sound than Denon in that budget of money?

Thanks in advance for your help!
It would be worse in my opinion. I have had several 304s and never found them bright. On the other hand 2 of my friends have the Technics table and I find them bright. The AT 150 has a reputation for being agressive on the top end so I would look for something softer in sound. I have used a Denon 103; you could look at it or the 103R. But first I would check the tracking angle you are using; try running with the arm lower in the back; also track at the top of the recommended range, it usually works better. But it is hard to decide just which componet is contributing what without having others to subustute in that system.
What settings are you using on the phono inputs?
In your present situation, I would go for one of the Grados, either the silver or red.

08-08-11: Stanwal
It would be worse in my opinion. I have had several 304s and never found them bright. On the other hand 2 of my friends have the Technics table and I find them bright. The AT 150 has a reputation for being aggressive on the top end so I would look for something softer in sound.
My first attempt at responding to this turned into an eye-glazing manual on vibration control for the Technics.

The succinct version is: the SL12x0 and AT150MLX can be a transparent, dynamic, linear, organic-sounding combination IF you damp the vibrations and resonances in the Technics. Wrap the tonearm with Teflon pipe thread tape, upgrade the mat and headshell, throw out the stock feet and use Vibrapod Cones and Isolators under the turntable instead. Platform it on a thick cutting board and isolate it from below with silicone gel pads or more Vibrapods.

If you do all this, the Technics should be smooth and linear whether you choose an AT150MLX or Denon. I use an AT150MLX to good effect. You'll have a linear enough platform to evaluate downstream cabling and components for further improvements.
My Technics sits in hokey pucks as an "isolation" solution.

You can see also the technical specs of my Onkyo preamplifier:
08-09-11: Delamostre1
My Technics sits in hokey pucks as an "isolation" solution.
That's a good start, and I see you have the thicker mat and a clamp. but here's what I'm talking about:

My Technics isolation setup

Everything you see underneath the turntable noticeably improved the sound quality. Getting RID of the Technics feet improved the sound as did adding the Vibrapod products. I'd used a smaller cutting board for the first 3 years, but replacing it with the massive cutting board made a big difference. Also note the wrapping around the tonearm.

The sorbothane mat (not visible under the LP), tonearm wrap, LPGear headshell, the isolation footers and the butcher block removed the harshness, brightness, and glare, replacing it with linearity. a lower noise floor, and with that, more inner detail and better dynamics.
Try a 1:36 SUT, unloaded, and tail down on the cart with the manufacturer's recommended VTF. I have been using 304's for 4 years now. I have 65 lbs platter on my Garrard 301 and 55 lbs. platter on my Thorens 124.
Yes, I agree. I think loading is the problem. The MC input impedance on your preamp is 220 ohms. I guess somewhere between 40 and 100 ohms would do it for you if you don't have a transformer. You could make up some loading plugs and try different values. 49 ohms would net you 40. 183 ohms would get 100. Loading plugs are hooked up as a parallel load, usually with a Y adapter. You can figure out the values here:

The 304 is a good cartridge, just a little tricky to get dialed in. Once you figure out the load you can solder the parallel resistors right to the input jacks inside your preamp.
Amandarae and Fleib,

You have my curiosity up--just how good *is* the DL304? I've contemplated that cartridge myself.
Hi Fleib!!!
I think that it is the most interesting solution i "ve ever heard until today!!

Could you be more specific in order to arrange the test?
DB electronics still make their kit which containes a selection of resistors and 2 Y connectors. Good for those who don't like to solder.
Hi everyone again!
I have done just what Fleib says. I have construct 8 pairs of RCA connectors, with resistances as parallel load with Y adapters for the two channels of my preamp.
The results dissapointed me.
The most "closer" sound for my taste was with 76 Ohms & 93 Ohms plugs.
Comparing with the previous situation (directly connected to my preamp) there was a better balance in high frequencies and a litle bit more bass. The middles become worse and nothing was comparable with my other turntable combination (Lenco L-75 with Denon DL-160).
I suppose that Technics SL-1200 MK2 with Denon DL-304 combination, was not make any better results from the other turntable, on the contrary... it was MUCH worse!
So.. after my last attempt to change the sound, the conclusion is that i must change the Denon DL-304, because i don't have any possibility for better matching, with my Onkyo's P-304 preamplifier MC phono stage...
Hi Delamostrel,
I really can't account for the difference between the tables. I suspect you'll have to do some mods to get great performance from a LOMC like the 304. I used it on an Alphason 100S and a Kenwood 770d. Getting it dialed in was tricky and the loading is unusual to say the least. I think you might have to use some resistors closer to 50 ohms. Getting the tonal balance right is only part of the problem. Maybe the 1200 in its present form just isn't a good match for the 304. The posters above offered a glimpse of the improvements used on this table. If you search, you'll find a ton of info on this subject if you want to pursue it. KAB is a good place to start.

In the mean time I think you'll get better results with a medium compliance MM/MI cartridge. They are more forgiving of arm resonance and many other arm/table considerations. Often the MM phono stages are cleaner and better sounding in a preamp like your 304. I don't know this specifically about this model, but it might be much better. Having the coils move puts demands on the arm and supporting structure that a moving magnet does not. If you still have the DL-160, maybe that would work better I don't know. There are some nice sounding high output carts you could get also.

I know of someone who uses a DL-S1 on a 1200. I don't know what mods he's done to the table. Apparently he's getting great results loading at 30 ohms. I think he has a high end preamp, I'm not sure. I don't have an immediate solution for you. I hope this sheds some light.
Thanks very much Fleib for your answers!
Today my Denon DL-304 was gone! A guy that take it, he will put it in a Pioneer PL-L1, with a hi-end preamplifier.

I agree with you that my preamp will better support the MM cartridges.
So.. wich model do you think is better for my case?
I have several cartridges in my mind such as Nagakoka MP-500, Audio-Technica AT-150 MLX, or Grado Gold.
Do you have any other syggestions to do for me? My budget is up to $600 but it would be prefered to look for lower prices.

Thanks again for your great support all of you!!!!
Hi Del,
That was quick. The MP-500 is said to be better than an MP-50. I haven't heard it but the 50 is a nice cart. The 500 is probably fuller sounding than the 150MLX. The 150 is a very good cart, but you might have to load it down like the 304. This would be resistors somewhere between 100K and 300K. It's hard to predict results. It's very dependant on system and taste. The Ortofon 2M Black is held in high regard. Here it's around $660. If you're thinking of a Grado it might be worth it to consider a Sonata. It's said to be a nice improvement over lesser models. It's $600. You could get a nice Clearaudio for that money too. The AT7V is relatively inexpensive and would be a terrific value. It's sweeter sounding than the 150MLX. It might not be quite as detailed. In Europe I believe it's around $200. At LpGear on the net, it's $129.

If you want to save money you should consider a used MM. Most have a user replaceable stylus. As long as it's working properly, a new stylus will make it sound as new. A caution about buying a vintage cart - sometimes a new stylus is unavailable. You should check this out before buying. There are many nice models of current and older models that come up for sale. You could pose the question on the long "Who needs a MM" thread. I'm sure you'll get some good recommendations.
I get great results on my SL1210M5G with an Audio Technica AT150MLX. I use KAB's fluid damper and LP Gear's ZuPreme headshell. It's very extended and linear, and extracts more detail from the groove than I ever thought possible at this price. Pretty easy load on a MM preamp if you can keep the capacitance between 100 and 200 pF, preferably (IME) 150.
Fleib & Johnnyb53, thanks both of you for your interesting and for your answers.
I must test some of these cartridges in my system, to have a conclusion. Most of all I am considering to test the Grado, Clearaudio & AT.

About the solution of vintage carts that Fleib mentioned, I think that is a better solution to buy one of these. The older tech of those MM carts may be better than the newest ones. I suppose that a Shure V15 or a Technics EPC-100C Mk3 are very nice solutions.
The point is, as you mention, the condition of the needle. May be the better way to have a new needle is Jico with SAS technology.
I have a Shure M91ED cartridge with an original NOS needle, that I bought it a week ago. The sound compared to Denon DL-160, has some "points".
This cart plays better in low & middle frequencies, but is disappointing at highs. Do you think is a good start, to buy a SAS replacement needle from Jico for M91ED? Is this a better solution, or I must buy a new one from those you mentioned, to have better results from the combination of Shure M91ED – Jico SAS?
The biggest mistake for those loading a cartridge down is to rely on using resistors to load the cart but does not account for the gain. The transformed impedance of the SUT's affects the gain needed for the cartridge to match well. That is the reason why said 1:36 SUT!!! if you have a 1:10(14 db) SUT and you keep on lowering the load down by means of resistors, you are in for a very big disappointment, guaranteed. You can look at it electrically thru analyzing a voltage divider circuit behaving on AC signal. Realize that as soon as the load of the cart equals to that of it's internal impedance, the output it can generate is halved!

But of course, you do not have to worry about that now.
Many threads mention a thick slab of butcher block wood to help the sound of the table.

I was wondering if a slab of solid granite (like a leftover from a kitch counter project) would do the trick?

Or is there something inherently wrong with stone/granite that precludes it from reducing vibration and providing better damping?
I had a slab of black granite under my VPI Scout turntable. Tended to make the sound bright and thin. Solid maple (butcherblock) 2 to 3 inches thick is better. You will get a warmer and richer sound, very musical. I had a Grado Gold and didn't care too much for it. I actually liked a Shure m97e something or other and it was much more involving in my system. I am now using a ZU/Denon DL103 moving coil cartridge that blows away anything under 500.00. I ended up putting the slab of granite under my tube preamp, made a slight difference for the better.

May be your preamp has great matching with Denon DL-103.
In my situation with Onkyo P-304 preamp, i don't think that i have any chance to hear Denon carts...

So my final selection will be under 3 different products.
Audio Technica AT-150MLX, Grado Gold, Ortofon black.

Does anyone have any opinion, about those three diamonds?
I have experience with a 1970's predecessor to the Grado Gold and have been using an AT150MLX for the past three years. I have no experience with the Ortofon Black or other carts with Shibata stylii.

I will say that the diamond on the AT150MLX is extremely fine and well cut. It's a micro-line diamond, and the few other carts with micro-line stylii are much more expensive (~$2K) moving coil cartridges. It's similar if not identical to the micro-ridge stylus of the late lamented Shure V15VxMR.

The diamond on the AT150MLX seems to have a knack for sitting in a quiet unworn part of the groove (I have lots of used LPs). Being so precisely cut, the stylus rewards you with careful setup and easily reveals differences in VTA, overhang, and VTF.

The AT150MLX impressed me as a legitimate entry in the world of high end. It has a quickness, trackability, and resolution level I've never heard at that price or below. I can listen to very expensive rigs at my local high end stores, come home and spin up something with the AT150MLX and not feel like I'm missing much if anything.

I'd say it's at least the equal of the Rega Exact.
I would advise the Grado for your preamp.
The 304, as well as most modern MC carts, are not a good match for your preamp.

In any case, I have found the 304 difficult to set-up properly with a number of preamps and phono stages.

The 103R has been a whole different story, very easy to set up and easily matching phono stages or Sowter step up transformers.

I guess the more expensive 304 is more picky in its companions!
Thanks both of you for your answers!

Psam, the Grado gold I think that is a very good cart, but I suppose that is not properly shielded. I agree with you for 304, it is very difficult to match with my preamp and with more of other companies.

Johnnyb53, the Rega Exact has an output of 7,2mV vs AT that has 4mV! Although it has almost the double price of Audio Technica 150 MLX and better output, the AT kills Rega??
Wow! I think i should be run to buy it immediately! :-)

I will put it first in my list and I suppose that will be my final choice!

Johnnyb53, the Rega Exact has an output of 7,2mV vs AT that has 4mV! Although it has almost the double price of Audio Technica 150 MLX and better output, the AT kills Rega??
I'm not sure what the limitations are on your phono stage, but my AT150MLX has worked very well into the MM phono input of an Onkyo A-9555 integrated amp, the Cambridge Audio 640P, and my current phono stage, the Jolida JD-9A. The main setup limitation with the AT150MLX is that you keep the capacitive load including phono cable at 100-200 pF, preferably 150.

As to comparing it to the Rega Exact, I've heard the Exact several times at my local Rega dealer on a P3, P5, and P7. I've gone from that showroom immediately to my house 4 miles away and played the same LPs on my rig, and yes, the AT150MLX can extract an equivalent level of detail, fullness of body, and musicality, and track as well or better than the Exact. I don't think the Grado Gold is in the same league.
Hi John!!
In the below links you can see the specs of my phono stage Onkyo P-304 preamplifier:

I suppose that the phono input has 180pf (as shown from the schematic diagram)

My Technics turntable SL-1210 MK2 has the factory original cablew. This turntable is the last of Technics product production. The manufacture date is "October 2010), so the cables are from the last factory modification.

Can you help me to find the final capacitance, including cables & phono stage?

Thank you very much for your great support!!!