No. 26 - MM or MC board?

Hi - I am trying a ML 26 preamp w/phono stage in my system, (Denon 103R cart.). I set the gain internal switch to 58dB or 38db and cartridge gain to 100 Ohms which I beleive is the recommended load for the Denon (instruction come in Japanesse so I can´t tell).

The point is that eventhough sound level is acceptable at the 1 o´clock position in the volume knob, there is not enough dynamics compared to the line level input (CDP in this case) and far from my previous Michael Yee phono preamp signal.

Could it be that this particular No. 26 has a MM board?
The 100 ohm setting is wrong for the Danon 103r?

Thanks for sharing your experience and knowledge here.

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Hi Fernando,
I have bought the No.26 new in 1988 with a build-in MC stage.Used it with a Koetsu Black (around 0,4 mV output) and settings to highest amplification.
At first i thought this sounds best and later this was confirmed by HP in The Absolute Sound.
The mentioned settings gives little difference in sound level compared to line levels of nominal 1 V (CD players etc).
Perhaps these links help :
Gr Michel.
100 ohms is a fine place to start the loading on the phono stage for a Denon 103R.
You might do some experimenting with + or- about 20% from there, to see how you like it.

It sounds to me like the phono gain is a little bit low, based on your description of lacking dynamics. The 103R has an output of about 0.27mv, so it needs plenty of gain in the front end. Unless your linestage has about 25db of gain, then I think the available 58db setting on the Levinson is a bit too low for best performance with that cartridge.
Thanks to Michael and Twl. I will check the links provided.

I also have an unused passive stepup transformer (cotter I believe) which may plug in to see if I get a better reproduction in terms of dynamics.

Twl: If it is a MC board what I have in the 26, then it would be a 38dB gain setting, which is not in the 25dB you mention but closer to the 58dB if it is a MM board.

The higher gain is the MC board, and the lower gain is the MM board. The 38db or 58db relates to phono section gain only, and the linestage also has a gain figure(typically between 10db-20db). The phono gain and the linestage gain are added together to get total gain in the front end.

If you add in the step-up transformer, it will also be added into the front end gain. I've found that the total front end gain with the DL103R is good at about 80db total front end gain. My system has a Cotter step-up(20db), 46db phono gain, and 20db linestage gain, for a total front end gain of 86db. This worked out very well for me when I was using the DL103R in my system.

Remember, that when you use a step up transformer, you load the cartridge AT THE TRANSFORMER at half the normal amount(40-50 ohms) instead of the 100 ohms. You then use the normal 47k loading at the phono section input. The Cotter is difficult to adjust loading on(soldering jumpers), so I hope that the one you have is the "Type S" version of the Cotter Mk2 tranny.
Thanks Twl, very important advise from you that I will surely consider, specially the added load settings using the step-up.

I will let you know how it sounds with and without the step-up, taking into consideration that the current 100ohm setting is OK for the Denon if feeding directly to the No. 26.

Dear Fernando: The name of Mark Levinson was constructed around their power amplifiers not for their pre-amps and certanelly never for the phono preamp. The 26 is not a good phono preamp. My advise is that you stay aways of that ML 26.

BTW, while you insist with the 103R you will be out of the game named: " analog sound quality reproduction ". You can't do nothing about with that cartridge. Please grow-up, you can do it.

Regards and enjoy the music.
It may be noted that the early Levinson phono stages were designed by John Curl, and are still sought after by audiophiles, even after 20 years have gone by since they were made. I haven't listened to any of the late model Levinson phono stages, so I can't comment on them.

The DL103R is an excellent cartridge for the money, as long as it is on the right arm(of sufficient mass, rigidity, bearing quality). In the view of many people, this cartridge is superior to many cartridges that cost much more. I've personally heard it embarrass many cartridges that cost over $1k, but this should not be construed to assume that it is a contender for the world's best cartridge, because it is not, and at $250 it's not intended to be. But, it is a great sound for the money, and is well worth the cost. There is a certain "completeness" and "wholeness" to the sound of the 103R that is very compelling. It has a character of sound that IMO is very reminiscent of the Shelter and Koetsu cartridges. I've heard it referred to as a "baby Koetsu" and that is not far off the mark.
TWL: THis one was not Curl design.
Regards and enjoy the music.
Dear Fernando: One of the issues for to have a good quality sound reproduction analog system is to make the less possible mistakes in the audio chain.

Twl told us:**** " The DL103R is an excellent cartridge for the money..."*****, well the Dynavector XV-1 is an exellent cartridge for the money, too. That sentence don't means anything about quality sound reproduction.

For me the 103R is a big mistake for start to build an analog system ( but if you like the 250.00 sound, is up to you ). The ML 26 is another one and if you are thinking of use a step up transformer, then you are commited not only one but three mistakes on a row. So, you will have a heavy degraded sound reproduction of your beloved music.

My advise is that first than all you have to define your targets on the quality sound reproduction of your analog audio system. You have to know what you want.

Think about.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul - I would love to go for something better and more expensive, but to my ears this preamp (ML 26) sounds very nice with my current setup, at my room and with my music. This is a never-ending story of buy-sell-buy iterations.

To move to this preamp will have a marginal cost and a large sonic benefit (for the line stage side), the analog section has a nice presentation, very musical as well.

As for the cartirdge, you know I have had larger and more expensive ones (VdH, Cardas, etc..) my current financial situation asks me to look for a wise investment, the Denon has fullfilled that expectation.

Sure, next step will surely be a better preamp (First Sound, CAT to name just two) and a better cartridge (Shelter, Benz for example).

At this time, I just want to have my current setup in optimal settings.

Dear Fernando: You already have what you can. Great, no problem at all.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Fernando: Reading again your last post, I can see that you really like the ML 26 and this fact is the important point not what I think about.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Diggin´deeper in this issue, it looks like this No 26 does have a MM board. So my choices are:

1.- Install my Cotter step-up to the Denon and try from there, or

2.- Get a new MM cartridge (I read that the Music Maker cart is pretty impresive)

What do you (all) think?

If your MM board has 38db gain, even the addition of your Cotter probably will not get you quite enough gain for the DL103R. But it might be close to enough, if your linestage section has 20db or more gain.

Regarding the phono cartridge re-think, that would probably be more practical, but we'd have to know what arm and table you are using, and your budget, to make any recommendations.

A Music Maker works well in a lower mass tonearm, such as a Hadcock. It may not do quite as well in a heavier arm.
Well, I heard good news regarding Denon DL103 cartridges while in Berlin: there is a Finnish fellow who custom-winds transformers for Shindo Laboratories amongst other luminaries, and who makes a transformer specifically for the Denon. I was hoping to be the first kid on the block with one of these so I could try it out and report on it, but feel free to steal my thunder, contact for details on this wondrous beastie. It would be cheaper than buying the now pumped-up retail price of the Music Maker in North America and the associated problems of mass-matching, would allow you to contiunue with your original plan, and is apparently very reasonably-priced at something like 300 euros or so. If this transformer makes the already-excellent Denon DL103-series even better, then watch out world! And you were right Twl, this is one beaut of a cartridge.
Fernando: Twl is right: ***** " Regarding the phono cartridge re-think, that would probably be more practical, but we'd have to know what arm and table you are using, and your budget, to make any recommendations.

A Music Maker works well in a lower mass tonearm, such as a Hadcock. It may not do quite as well in a heavier arm. " *****

BTW, my advise is that before you continue doing changes and continue with your " obscure " search, try to define what are really looking for , what are your priorities on the music sound reproduction and then start to find out the right items according to your musical priorities and budget.

Fernando: which are your musical priorities ?, which are your budget ?, which are your targets?

When you answer those questions many of us could help you with our advise and experience.

If you don't do it, not only anyone can help you but you don't know what are you loking for.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Dear John: I respect your opinion about the 103. But this kind of opinion about this cartridge is the " brake " for that you or anyone else can grow-up in the quality music/sound reproduction.

While we have this kind of opinion on this cartridge in this forum all you are doing is putting a " heavy brake " not only for the Audiogoners but for the new boys on the block.

I know that people like you or Twl " died " for this cartridge ( bad for you an worst for the music ), but I never hear why and against what. I know that this cartridge is your music/sound reproduction standars, mine is the MUSIC: big difference.

I own this cartridge and I'm only keep it and stay with for remember what not to do for the music reproduction.

Regards and enjoy the music.

Hi Raul. I've seen your posts regarding this cartridge and, not having heard it had nothing to add. But now that I've heard it I think it is the most musical - that's right, "musical" - MC cartridge I've heard, which in my estimation makes it the best MC I've heard, period, since, as you point out, it's the music which matters most. Don't assume that you are the only one in any forum who thinks the system should serve the music and not the other way around, it makes you look like a pompous ass: there is a thing called "benefit of the doubt", which should be extended to all until you are certain where they stand. Feel free to apologize. I am not a professional musician and while I attend concerts, both classical and others - I don't do so in order to "readjust my hearing" and keep a "standard", I only go to concerts I am actually interested in listening to. Of course, I can't help but notice how real, live music sounds, and no system sounds like real, live music. I travel a lot and get to hear Arabic, Asian, Greek, Turkish (Mesopotamian) and other live music for a good part of each year, usually in gardens under the stars, very intimate settings where I can hear everything clearly. The best we can expect is a system which is beguiling, which is musical, which stirs us and which recalls the sound of real instruments and voices. To me the Denon DL103 is detailed without being bright, it has a very beguiling and exciting rhythmic sound, and it's rich-sounding. Beautiful. Those who've seen my posts elsewhere know I don't like the sound of MCs in general, though I've owned quite a few, including state-of-the-art ones in bygone days. I stopped buying expensive MCs in the early '90s as they all seemed to be veering towards bright, thin and analytical. Perhaps things have changed (I'm sure everyone will tell me it has), but in the meantime I've rediscovered MMs. I'm mostly an MM man these days because to my ear anyway they are far more adept at preserving the rhythm and timing of the music than MCs, and are more tonally correct: they sound more like music. Maybe you hate this cartridge for the same reason I like it: it sounds like a very good MM (which I concede you might find reason to dislike). Maybe some other reason. I wonder which model you have, my own is the plain-vanilla DL103, perhaps you have another model. I can't speak for the "R" version as I've not heard it, and I wonder if the more radical stylus profile doesn't harm its excellent tonal balance, I'll know when I try it myself. In the meantime, for those interested more in music reproduction than special effects (though the Denon is quite detailed - astonishingly so for a cartridge with a spherical tip - and very dynamic) and who want an MC, I continue to recommend the Denon DL103. If in your system the Denon sounds like crap (have you heard it in other systems?), then it behoves you to warn people away, but don't then automatically accuse everyone you disagree with of being unaware of either musicality or the sound of live instruments. Just so I don't stand accused of jumping on any bandwagons (again those who know me know better), I think the AT OC9, the current fashion, is bright and shrill junk, but I will try to find a combination which works for it, since I ended up with one as a favour for a friend (you owe me Big Time buddy).

And don't worry, I always enjoy the music, as I shy away from "analytical".

Regards and relax and Don't Worry, Be Happy, 'cause when you wear a frown ;-( you bring everybody down ;-)!
I plugged in the step-up this afternoon (which by the way I learned it is not a Cotter but an Audio Innovations unit). Gain is now almost the same as for the linestageto my ears, I left the internal ML No. 26 setting at 38dB and 100 ohms impendance, I just need a long-session to hear it and take some decisions from there.

I am using a Rega rb300 mounted in a VPI JW19MkIV TNT platter, my budget could be up to the $1K border.

Johnnantais: I will surely explore the Denon trasnformer option, is it a step-up or has a full RIAA?

Raul: You know my setup !!!, you were at my place some weeks back (jejeje)

Hi Fernando. It is only a transformer, and I believe the impedance figures for the 103R is different from the plain version. You'll have to work it out with the supplier, but I foresee no great problem since the Finnish fellow custom-winds his transformers. Keep us posted as to how the Denon works out with your present transformer.
Johnnantais: I visited the web you kindly shared with us, but it is in German and just could not get into the right content regarding the trasnformer you mentioned, any hint on where to look out for it?

Dear John: Glad to read that you usually hear live music. Many people on this forum don't.
I own the 103, 103D and 103 R. No one is for my musical tastes, there are not very accurate cartridges.
BTW, I really like the MM too, they are , like you say, musical: I own 7 to 8 MM cartridges and 15 to 16 MC cartridges. No one of my MC cartridges are: bright, thin or analytical.
I like the " natural " sound of the MM. The people does not like it because after hear a decent MC cartridge you can think that the MM cartridge is a litle on the dark side, but this is not true if you knows about real music.

I'm not in favor of either cartridge type, in the right company both types sounds great.

*** " I attend concerts, both classical and others - I don't do so in order to "readjust my hearing" and keep a "standard", I only go to concerts I am actually interested in listening to. " *****

Here is a difference between you an me, because: I go to concerts, all the concerts I can. It does not matters if those concerts are interesting or not.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Fernando: My post was for you can have help for anyone in this forum.
BTW, you don't answer something very important and critical: what are your graded musical priorities ?

Regards and enjoy the music.
Hi Fernando. If you click on "Kontact", and click on "So finden Sie uns" in the menu whcih shows up, a page will come up with this address: Click on this and the usual email page pops up. Write your request for information on the transformer they sell for the Denon DL103 (and explain you have an "R" version), since they (or some) definitely do speak English, very friendly and philosophical fellows. If this fails, then I'll contact my girlfriend so she can help us out.

Hi again Raul, glad to know you like MMs as well, have to continue to disagree with you on the subject of the Denon however, since accuracy should take a back-seat to musicality anyway. But to my ear, these are very tonally and rhythmically accurate MC cartridges (admittedly the imaging is not laser-etched), and their beguiling sound can only be described as poetic. My favourite MC to date. I will soon be sending a Kiseki Purpleheart Sapphire cartridge I have for a rebuild (I love vintage stuff), a beautiful cartridge, but not as compelling as the Denon. Serious money I save for trips to perfumed gardens in Asia Minor to hear Mesopotamian beauties with incredible voices sing under the stars accompanied by zithers, not for megabuck equipment. We all have our priorities.

Regards, and continue to enjoy the music!
Fernando: Don't do more mistakes. Stay away from step up transforme, this stage is a heavy degradation for the fragil signal that comes from the cartridge. It does not matters if is a " dedicated " one.

Think on this: when you use a step up transformer you need additional conectors and cables that do a degradation to the signal but not only this, when the signal goes inside the SUT has to pass for several wire metres on the transformers that do an additional degradation to the signal and other kind of degradations due to inherents problems in any SUT.

I already told you: what do you want? what are your graded musical priorities for analog sound reproduction ?

Till you answer these questions you will be inside of that " dark search " and you can't be satisfied ever. I think, that you have to build ( like anyone else ) you audio system with a foundation in those questions. If not, it is probable that you will waist to many time and a lot of money for nothing.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Interesting findings !

I listend for about an hour the "new" setup (withthe step-up in the chain and settings above mentioned). It delivered a quite different presentation compared with my previous Michael Yee Phono Stage (that handled MC with no problems).

Here I listen the same sonic presentation of the Denon (tonal palette, liquidity, etc..), but also a bit less of resolution and impact that I think belongs to either the cartridge itself or that there is an extra fine-tuning that should be performed (twl-HELP).

John: I will re-visit the page with your instructions, will let you know.

Raul: I like music to wash-me-out, I like to listen to musicaqnd forget of the gear at all, to talk about the artisits and composers while listening to music instead of bashing the sound, and yes.. I hear almost al kind of music.

Thanks all for sharing your knowledge, I am moving faster.


BTW: DO you like the Krell MC cartridge?, I have an interesting offer to buy a just-retipped unit.
Fernando, when using a step-up transformer, the output of the transformer is designed to be plugged into the active phono section with a 47k ohm loading(the Levinson phono input should be loaded at 47k ohms).

The actual cartridge loading then is to be set at the transformer inputs, by way of a switch, or plugging in resistors, or whatever method your unit uses for loading.

Loading a cartridge at the transformer requires you to use about 1/2 the normal specified loading impedance, due to the ratio of the transformer windings.
When used with a transformer, the DL103R likes a load between 30 ohms and 40 ohms, but you can try some loadings a bit outside that range if you want, to suit personal taste. I use 40 ohms on my Cotter transformer with a DL103R.

The characteristics of using a transformer as a step-up device define how the input and output loading is done, so you must use a load of 47k ohm on the Levinson phono input, and between 30 ohms and 40 ohms(approximately) on the transformer input loading. If you deviate much from this formula, you will be affecting the sonic performance of the cartridge, and the way it should be loaded for best sound and internal damping characteristics of the cartridge motor.

While I understand Raul's point about transformers, I also have used many myself, and find that good ones can sound excellent as part of the analog chain. If you already have this unit and can put it to good use, it will serve to save you some money and give additional flexibility to which cartridges you can choose for your system.
Johnnantais, I'm happy that you have had the opportunity to try out the DL103 cartridge, and that you liked it.

I also liked it, but when I tried the DL103R, it sounded much better(to my ears, in my system). I think it is well worth the extra money spent.

I bet it sounds great on your various Lenco projects!

One day, I promise you that I will try a Grado woody on a Hadcock, just because you recommended it.
Twl - Thanks, I will perform this change settings this same afternoon and let your know.

Thanks for the compliment Tom, and yes, the Denon certainly sounds great on the Lenco, if I were going to make absolutely sure the Lenco would hit new ears with irresistable impact, I would suggest the Lenco/Rega/Denon DL103 combination, which works so synergistically together (and for roughly the price of a Grado Sonata!). As to the Hadcock/Grado, I've been remiss and haven't even tried it yet, having it mounted on other low-mass tonearms for the moment to such great effect I was not moved to finally mount the Hadcock. But now that you remind me...

I can understand Raul's reasoning on the subject of transformers, but must admit that the fact a world-class transformer designer has seen fit to make one especially for the Denon DL103 makes me want to try one out (and I'm aware that the subect of transformers versus active devices generates as much controversy as the tubes vs solid-state debate!). Let's remember that the electronic genius Matti Ottala (or Otala) was a Finn, and that several world-class speakers are also made in Finland. For such a small country (population 5.5 million) it is very productive in terms of audio equipment! Kippis! So far though, I've always used active step-up devices, which transmit natural dynamics very well, if you want to consider alternatives Fernando, am working on restoring/tweaking an older model I have now. Does anyone make a simple active step-up anymore?
Jean, when using that DL103 on the Rega tonearm, you simply must try my DIY HiFi mod with the 7/16 ounce bullet shaped fishing weights on the ends of the bearing axle nuts. You can just Blu-Tack them on for testing purposes, if you want.

You'll really love the difference in dynamics and impact that it makes, when the lateral effective mass of the Rega arm gets up into the preferred mass range for the DL103. I originally designed the HiFi mod when using a DL103 and DL103R, and believe me it makes a helluva difference for the better. I think you'll flip at how much improvement a couple of well-placed weights can make.

I've had mine on my arm for over 2 years now, and at least 50 others with OL or Rega arms are using this mod, and I have NEVER had a single complaint about it. However, I have gotten many emails with over-the-top raves about how they never believed that it would make so much difference.

I strongly suggest trying it, because you are not really hearing what that cartridge can do yet. It only costs pennies to do, and is done in 2 minutes.

This is a "for real" improvement of pretty large magnitude. If you use the Blu-Tack, you can easily remove the weights if you want to use a high compliance cartridge on the arm. The lateral effective mass with the HiFi mod installed is too much for high compliance cartridges and causes mismatch, but with low compliance cartridges like a DL103, it is a match made in heaven.

See the photo of my analog rig here, with the HiFi mod installed on my OL Silver tonearm. The HiFi mod is the pair of bullet-shaped things sticking out on each side of the bearing housing.
Notice the DL103 mounted on the tonearm.

Let me know how you like it.
Tom, I would have tried your cool free mod long ago, but I haven't had the Rega mounted since last Spring, what with the low-mass and other tonearms I've been playing with over the last year. Now that it's up again (thanks to the Denon), I'll be trying it out very soon.
But I Do !!! (own a RegaRB300)

Twl, send the mod please !!!! (email me to learn more about it).

I performed the chenges in the ML 26 (sensitivity and impedance), That´s More Like It !!!!!!.... just incredible for the price !!

Thanks Twl, you saved me many hours of trial and error with so much different setting combinations (I owe you a fine Mezcal bottle jejeje).

I will nevertheless try to get my hands on that Denon SUT that John recommended .

One final question: When I touch the AI SUT it hums... it does have an earth screw but have not earth the unit yet, is this necceesary? (The RB300 wires does not have an earth cable as you know)

John - I got this SUT some years backfrom a friend who bought it in the UK, this was a pretty expensive unitandit is built like a little tank, very heavy and pure silver windings, I just love it´s sound, and was stored for more than 6 years since I had since then active phono preamps that handled MC signal with no problems whatsoever.

In any case, one of the things I like from this hobby is to try different things and listen them in my system.


Fernando, I'm glad I was able to help you out.
I'd really love to share that bottle of Mezcal with you!
The best Mezcal I ever had was at a beach near Puerta Vallarta called Las Animus(not sure of the spelling), where the local people were selling home-made Mezcal bottled in old Coke bottles and corked! Truly spectacular, but the border agents took the ones from me that I tried to bring back.

Regarding the HiFi mod, I don't sell them anymore, but you can make one from the instructions that I provided in the original thread on this subject here:
It is simple and quick to do, and works very well with low compliance cartridges when using them on a Rega tonearm.

Basically, you take a pair of bullet shaped fishing weights which weigh about 12 grams each, and drill a small depth into the big end, so that they fit over the bearing axle nuts. Then you can Blu-Tack them(or other temporary fixing) to the bearing axle nuts, and you are done and ready to play. A hot-link to the photo of a completed installation is in my previous post. Cost is about one dollar.
If you have specific questions, you can email me.
Dear Tom: I think that what you get on P. Vallarta was a kind of Tequila.

The city of Oaxaca ( México ) is the house of Mezcal, and like you say: truly spectacular, too.

regards and enjoy the music.
Twl: Thanks for sharing the mod plans with me, I will read the instructions. Send me by mail your shipping address so I can send the Mezcal, you won´t beleive this one, since it is a 12 year old, vintage Mezcal to be served straight as a good Cognac!