You should hear the DL-103R. I have been using one for 4 days now on a Sonneteer USB phonostage. It is even better.
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The 103 is a good cartridge for the money. But no more. The Datas (Channel separation...) are more or less sub average. It was never made for higher specs.
It is used very often in DIY rigs which can't show any difference anyway, the main goal is, it pushes the signal that it makes your feet whipping and that's it.
One reason why so many like it (I have a modified 103R) is based that so many other cartridges are overpriced, limited in their abilities and not worth their money. Compared to that, the Denon 103 is the exit to keep the fun alive.
Some components can be exposed as a weak link when used with components in a higher class. I felt the 103 did not embarrassed itselt in my system, if anything, other components may have helped the 103 sound better than it should.
I was not overly critical in my evaluation of this cart, it just sounds much better than I expected. It's like going into a movie not expecting much, and thinking it's great afterwards when it's actually just good.
Yes a very good cartridge for the money.
I think the other giant killer cartridge is the Stanton 681EEE.Which I prefer to the Denon 103.I think the Stanton beats it for imaging depth and detail but the Denon is similar in its musicality and engagement-which is something very many MC cartridges regardless of price fail to deliver.
Actually the channel separation is about average (same as a top of the line Koetsu) and is only one spec of a composite of parameters that make up its performance. Ive had a 103 and 103d (along with many others) since the late '70s. I was generally underwhelmed until I got the right match of step up and phono pre. This brought the performance up to the level of much pricier carts. I recently had the 103D retipped with a contact line at Sound Smith. It now rivals my multibuck carts and is my favorite for some recordings. I just purchased a backup as I never want to be without this cart in rotation (so to speak).
Nude is not the way to go. The cartridge needs a good body, either aluminum or wood, and, as others have said, it is deserving of a quality high mass arm (25 grams seems to be a sweet spot in my experience) and a high quality phono stage.
For those looking to experiment on the cheap there is an ebay seller doing aluminum bodies for $50 but you need a tonearm that is capable of balancing out a heavy cartridge, as in 13-17 grams total weight. Wood is going to be more expensive (around $150).
My current cartridge is an ebony bodied 103R with the $250 line contact retip by Soundsmith. Peter Lederman also potted the cartridge for me (as Zu does) for an additional charge of $75. A pretty good cartridge for about $800 all in and this type of modified Denon has been compared favorably with cartridges into the $5K range.
A straight 103 in an aluminum body with a Soundsmith retip should be an absolute giant killer for about $500 if matched with the right peripheral equipment (tonearm and phono stage).
Another important thing to consider is that the choice of step up will greatly effect the character of this cart. Whether active or passive experiments with loading,gain, etc. will allow you to get it to sing the way you want it to. I had to try a variety of sut's and active stages to get the sound I liked. Not cheap and time consuming but worth it in the end.
I take reviews of carts in particular with a grain of salt unless I get a good vibe that things have been set up properly.
A lesser cart set up well might outperform a better cart set up less than optimally.
The Denon + a little know how makes the most deadly and cost effective combination! Then you are in a position to try and beat it and determine how much it will cost and if even worthwhile.
The Denon DL-103 is a cartridge that does a lot of thing right...especially for the money.
The cartridge has a very respectable generator assembly that has been the focus of upgraders for decades. Its chief weakness is the aluminum cantilever and conical stylus that it comes with. Body replacement is also another area that can realize sonic improvement.
The high frequency response of the stock DL-103/103R gets a bit congested and lacks the high speed definition of higher priced competition. Fortunately you can fix this and send the cartridge off for a retip.
I have used a DL-103D since 1979 and waited way too long to try a quality retip version of the cartridge. The DL-103D is arguably the TOTL of the DL-103 series. It came with an aluminum cantilever and "special elliptical" stylus. The DL-103D is also a much more compliant cartridge than the DL-103/103R.
Stock out of the box the DL-103D is a much more resolving than the 103/103R. It has a reputation for bass slam and great dynamic range and its reputation is well deserved.
As good as the DL-103D was stock, the retipped version of that cartridge is much, much better. I have had a 103D retipped by VDH (boron cantilever and VDH type 1 stylus) and SoundSmith (ruby cantilever and optimized contact line stylus). The SoundSmith option was the equal of the VDH option and less expensive.
The first time you hear a retipped DL-103/103R/103D you will notice the relaxed, high definition sound that didn't exist before. They still sound like the great musical thing that it was before it left for retipping but now it is a measure better.
It is definately a strong contender for a cartridge that can make you forget about searching for better sound. Yeah better is out there but for a significant price.
I am not subject to swapping out equipment very often. Once I find gear that pleases me I tend to stay put. I suppose that makes me a non-audiophile but I am passionate about sound quality. Its just that I learned a long time ago that first time impressions can be misleading and expensive.
I have switched from Glider, which has Boron cantilever to Denon with alliuminium, and yes, the "high definition" of high freq as you say is a way better on Glider, but body and musicality and everything else comes life with Denon DL-103. And denon has aliuminium cantilever. I know that there are more variables involved but somehow I believe that aliuminium sort of blends everything together the right way, and boron, beeing more precise - kinda separates music in parts. What do you think? Since you were using retipped denons, your further input about musicality (on original and retipped) would be very interesting. No ANY MINUSES of retipped Denon vs Original? Really?
Also, I have noticed that SUT clears the high freq by big margin (I have heard Denon 300 SUT, not expensive unit). But I currently use Graham Slee AMP3 with SPU-1, i like the way this little magic phono stage throws me the DEEP WIDE 3D picture of music from LPs.
>I have had a 103D retipped by VDH (boron cantilever and >VDH type 1 stylus)
I have had a 103 for about 4 months now. I do a lot of record playing. It has taken me quite a bit of experimenting but I feel like I have got the setup right now.That said it sounds fantastic. It fleshes out individual voices,has great slam, dynamics great frequency extremes.All for $150.00!
I use a DIY SUT that I made with Behringer (German)microphone trannys. I use the 30-1 ratio which gives me a load of 60 ohms. This seems to be a very good combination.
As for the set up. I have a Audioquest PT-6 arm which is a medium mass arm.I use 20 weight RC car shock oil for dampening.I also have a Isokinetic stabilizer on the cartridge. This is merely a piece of aluminum plate that is glued to the top of the cartridge and has two tapped holes which make mounting a dream.A side effect is that it adds 4grams of weight to the cartridge. This makes it so that the counterweight of the arm to be out quite a ways(almost to the extreme of the threads). I have found that by adding some lead to the counterweight allowed for it to not be so far out. This improved the tracking. I also have two copper wires between the "headshell" and the cartridge.This also helped by absorbing the vibration frequency being sent up the arm by the very low compliance cantilever.
I originally had to have the tonearm up higher than normal but since the lead and wire mod, I have the VTA down to level and the cartridge seriously sings!
Lots of work, but definitely worth it.
This cartridge makes the obscene prices others are fetching seem silly. Denon should re engineer this beauty for modern tone arms and kill the Lyras,Benz,ZYX,Dynavectors overpriced marvels. Mind you, I am sure that Denon made their R&D money back 40 years ago.
Can anyone recommend the best arms for this cartridge.I admit that I can't even think about the big dollar Triplaners or Phantoms.It sounds like maybe a Jelco with a removable head shell might be optimum,since that is what the original design incorporated. Or perhaps a air bearing MG-1?
An early series Micro MA 505 arm works quite well. I think used they are going to be in the same price range as an RB600.
Personally, I like my Denons 103 carts on a Yamamoto ebony headshell but that is because I have not rebodied them. I expect that if I rebodied my 103R in a wooden body, I would love it in my MA505 using a silicon carbide headshell (wish someone still made those)...
I don't believe in a this or that type on mentality. You can get a very resolving cartridge with great musicality. Its just that this is what seperates the special cartridges.
A retipped DL-103D/103R/103 on the correct tonearm has a very musical nature with the resolution that a lot of us seek. It is a very heavily tweaked cartridge for a very good reason. It works.
You should not expect the resulting product to be the best cartridge in the world or anything like that but you will get something special. Its one of those cartridges that get the musicality and resolution right. And those are rare.
I have some digital samples of cuts from some LPs on my website http://www.edsstuff.org. You will find the downloadable selections about halfway down the page.
IIRC they are all 320KB MP3s but it shoudl gve you an idea what a retipped DL-103D sounds like.
I just tried tweaking my Audioquest PT-6 for the Denon. I found lead tape in the golf shop at Dick's. Stuck two on the arm and reset the VTF with my digital scale. Big improvement and was able to move the counterweight in.Sooooooo, I tried it again with 4 this time and big improvement. So of course I tried it with 6 and now the weight is in the sweet spot. It is also now accurate again with the twist indicator.
As for the sound. It is in a different universe from before.
I had always heard how amazing these 103s could be,and I heard glimpses of the greatness. But now it is set in stone and across all frequencies.
Further to my ealier post.
I was wrong.The 103 is a lot better than I thought.
I bought an SME 3009 Seies II improved tonearm and this arm works beautifully with this cartridge.
I am now getting the big vibrant sound people have mentioned.
I came across a post by Thorsten Loersch advising people to try this arm and cartridge combination if they want to experience the full potential of the 103.He is absolutely correct.His explanation that modern rigid arms are not suited to the 103 but that an arm like the knife edge bearing and detachable headshell of the SME which can let go of resonances does seem to make sense.
The good news is that you do not have to pay very much for a SME Series II improved tonearm.So this further enhaces the chance of getting really good sound for a relatively small price.What you save could be well spent on a good phono amp.The Dynavector DV75 works well in my system.