Question for you Denon DL-103 folks

Hi folks,

I recently bought a new Rega RP1 and I love it. This turntable is begging for a good cartridge, as it comes with the Rega Carbon (a re-branded AT), which is a passable basic cartridge but falls wayyy short of what this table can do. I’m temporarily going to swap it out for my Grado Black +, but I do not intend to use it over the long term.

I’ve been researching cartridges in the sub-$500 range, and the choices are endless. One cartridge that has captured my interest is the Denon DL-103. The reason why this cartridge appeals to me is that, based on what I’ve read, it leans a bit to the warm side, in addition to being a superb performer for the price.  I bring up "warm" because I’m using a Parasound Z-Phono, a Rotel preamp, and a Musical Fidelity power amp to run my Magnepans. The last thing I need is a bright or dry-sounding cartridge.   I also read a review where they said it worked fantastic with their Rega tonearm.  

Because I’m not planning on buying a new phono stage, or a step-up transformer, you guys can probably figure out why I’m asking for opinions/advice. My Z-Phono, which I enjoy quite a bit, has MC gain of 61db, and the minimum recommended gain for the DL-103 is 60db. Would it be risky to buy this cartridge and hope that it works with the Z-Phono? Does anybody have any input here, or recommendations for MM cartridges that are similar in sound characteristics to the DL-103? Any comments would be greatly appreciated.
Just off the top if your cart calls for 60 db of gain and your phono gives you 61 db of gain you should have an optimum match.

I experimented with a mass'd up (Uwe Ebony body) DL103 on a Rega arm. I ran mine through a Auditorium 23 SUT. A rich weighty midrange was its top virtue. The experiment lasted about a month as I got tired of the whitish highs I was getting on the Rega. I moved on to vintage MM's. My current favorite is an Ortofon M20FL. It builds on the midrange of the 103 with much improved highs (extended but natural) and a much better bass weight and heft. Very organic cart that really brings the music alive. Amazingly coherent. The one caveat with this cart is it needs a fair amount of capacitance to shine. I run mine at 350pF/47K. It doesn't look like your Phono pre has adjustable capacitance loading. You would need to be comfortable with a soldering iron. 

Not only has this cartridge displaced the 103, its also has a Shelter 501 II, a DV 17D3 and an EMT TSD 15 sitting on a shelf.
Just to be clear, SMC, you are referring to the (vintage) Moving Magnet cartridge known sometimes as "M20FL Super"?  Just wondering.  That's high praise for such an unpretentious cartridge, but I don't doubt you at all.
Yes Lewm, the M20FL Super. I believe mine (gold body) was produced around '79. I honestly wasn't expecting it to be as good as it is when I bought it. 
lewm and smc, the M20FL Super was one of the MMs touted in Raul's very long post on MM cartridges, a few years ago when Raul was still held in high esteem by most Audiogon readers. ;^)  Actually, I don't remember now if Raul was the one making favorable comments on that Ortofon or another responder?

But I'm curious Lew why you would refer to the M20FL Super as "such an unpretentious cartridge"?  Many models recommended in that post were/are available for very modest money, compared to many popular new cartridges.  And it had a modern nude, fine line stylus, so why single out the Ortofon as unpretentious?

Like several others there I ended up buying several recommended MM cartridges since many were inexpensive.  In fact I accumulated so many I've still not listened to them all, including the Ortofon.  So I'm sorry I can't offer further impressions.  However, mine has a silver body, rather than gold. 

pryso, yes, that’s where I first read about the M20FL. Raul mentioned it fairly early then moved on. It did have a group of loyal supporters despite all of the cartridge of the week bouncing around people were doing.
I’ve been using DL103R low out MC with my Linn Axis for years and think that setup is the cat’s meow in terms of overall musicality (the best I have ever had and I’ve gone through many quality budget cart setups over the years) and would have to spend a lot to do better in that regard.

Others might have more exact experience but if the DL103 maches up within reason on paper, and the tone arm is at least moderate mass, I can easily recommend to give it a try.
Instead of spending money on a cartridge I recommend you upgrade the tonearm. Audiomods or Basis tonearms are drop in replacements for the "good for the money" Rega tonearm.
Guys, thanks for the responses.  My concern was pairing a low-output MC with a budget phono stage with 61dB gain and no loading options.  I'll have to think about it before make a decision.

Jperry- the Rega Carbon is a super-basic cartridge, so I'm pretty sure that upgrading the cartridge is going to make a bigger difference than immediately buying a new tonearm.  I will note your recommendations for the long-term if I decided to yank out the RB101.
I found this statement about DENON 103 pretty useful: 

Kids, do not let kids to subscribe the popular audio-freakish myths of the records spinning people about “the extraordinary beauty” of the Denon cartridges. Yes, the myth has some reasons: many more expensive cartridges are bad, very bad for the money, but dose it make the 103 cartridges better? It dose but it does make them better only as a subject for a consumer report. Dose it make the 103 to sound better? Not really. The 103 have own quite ordinary sonic result an if they are better or worth relatively to some other cartridges then it might change only their relative value but not the absolute value (sound-wise). Pretty much the only advantage they have is a “normal” conical shape of the needle that is beneficial for playing some very few records.

The Internet is filled with the saliva drooling Morons that sing the hymns to the Denons 103 sound. Ironically most of them have no idea about a serious analog reproduction, or have no playback systems really capable to take advantages of the better cartridges or no personal cultural ability to understand or discriminate the shortcomings of the Denons 103. Yes, many of them will violently disagree with me but unfortunately (for the Denons) I stick with my visions about the Denon sound and will stick with my well-established perception of the comments of the numerous audio clowns.

There are many Denons. Some of them are horrible and some of them not necessary horrible. However, none of them are really great. Generally the Denons are $200-$300 worth cartridges and it is remarkably well portrays their place in the cartridges hierarchy. There are well more expensive cartridges and way more capable sonically. Denons cost $200-$300, and if we conditionally accept a rule (juts for a sake of the illustration) that a price has any relativity to sound then Denons sound exactly at the $200-$300 mark.

Yes, there are many Denons....

The simplest and the less expansive of them is DL103. This is plane-vanilla ultra-low-compliance cartridge with gray, no extreme, no colors…. natural sound. It stiff like hell and unit you have well over 35g of effective mass in your arm then better do not even touch this needle. Have you seen many 35g arms? My experience indicates that if a person was smart enough to abandon to use the junky-light arms then he will not wast a good heavy arm for a primitive sounding needles as DL103. Do you know what I mean? I’m hearing that the DL103 admirers scream that 103 is not a monochromic cartridge. Well, it is. What you, boys call colors and “quality” in 103 is a constant attack of the notes ten times sharpener then it should be. And please do not tell me the kindergarten stories about the using the correct arms and the correct lodging of the cartridges….

DL103R in an “evolved” version of the DL103 with “better” extremes. Once again: yes and no. DL103R has all negative quality of the DL103, including the high tracking force (did you see many arms that allow to modify the horizontal tracing force: the eventual way to get anything out of the rigid 103R?) In addition to it the DL103R has too aggressive HF that you will not be able to subdue with any imaginable cartridge loading, damping or arms selection. The DL103R is even more poisoned and more “#” then 103. If you have a full-range, single speaker driver (courtesy to Lowther, Fostex, Supravox, Jordan, Reps LES, AER, PHY-HP and other wishful thinking) that sound originally like my Cat when I step on her tail, then you may probably to preach about the “magnificent” HF of the 103R.   However, any people with ears, brain and the tweeters would be laughing. The 103R should be avoided as well due to its high amusicality, artificially accelerated HF and insultingly sharp and fasten rolling of a note to it’s pitch... not to mention that none of the Denons ever produced any more or less serifs upper bass (that is super critical) without even mentioning any mod or lower bass, that is just impertinent.

Denon 103D. This cartridge had normal eliptical tracking and the normal compliance that allows playing it without any “tricks” with the “conventual” arms and without wasting the good old heavy arms for the mediocre sounding cartridges. It is better then the 103/103R… but it still sounding like “nothing”. I mean literally. When you remove from the 103 the stiffness of the suspension that converts each classical vocalist into a screamer, then the King turned out to be a quite naked: the 103D sound like the rest of the Denons only more lush and liquid, less problematic but still tonally too generic, none-discriminative, dynamically too gray and so on….

Denon 103M. The same as the 103D only 3 time less output and 3 time more vivid sound. However, it is still 3 times less “interesting” then it necessary. It is challenged humidity-wise and it has very questionable dynamics that was not able to recuperate even using the most advanced dynamic recovering methods that have in my disposal.

The Denon of 102, the mono cartridge has too “confusing sound” and not good as well, despite of the cries of the Sakuma-like and the custom curve to cure the “strange” response imperfection.

Denon 103C. I have not had it. It is a conical stylus that is great for some old records but will it sound different then Denon 103D? I doubt. It will mechanically read the certain records better but the electrically it should sound the same.

There is at least dozen of other versions of the 103 cartages, some of them are very slightly different form others and another’s are just pure marketing BS. I did not have all of them what among what I have I feel let me make some conclusion.

So, where is the famous Denons “superb” sound? I did not see any. All that I have heard so far were the stories told me by the people with aluminum woofers, uranium tweeters and who told me that Denons are wonderful to position the audio-moron’s perpetual girlfriend Patricia Barber at 43 inches dorm the corner oh her piano. I do not listen the Patricia Barber and I do not care where she stays, in particularly (when the Barber’s voice and her piano were recorded in opposite absolute phase (as usually they do).

There is one Denon Cartridge out there that might be different but I never had: it is the Denon DL-S1. I do not know how about this $700 needle but… am I at liberty to have some prejudices?

Romy the Cat

I have been using a denon 103r for about 5 months as my emt tsd-15 was being rebuilt in Germany.  This is probably my least favorite cartridge of the ones that I have used in my system.  My use of it was on a well tempered amadeus II into the Auditorium SUT designed for this cartridge and then into a Shindo Auriges MM.  In direct comparison to my EMT I found it had limited dynamics and was somewhat flat sounding.  I also like the benz glider HO and and clearaudio maestro better than the denon as well but these were used on different tables and systems so it is not really a direct observation but drawing on memory.  I also very much liked the ZYX Airy-3.  
I have found Denon Cartridges to be cost effective and always excellent since 1972. Currently using an D100 anniversary model and a D103R. For the price you can't go wrong. I also have a Delos a Dynavector diamond and an EVO sumico. I keep going back to the Denon in some system consistently.
I still have a 103r in the stable. 61db and 100-125 ohms should be fine. At around $225, it's good value and a nice place to start. It likes a little extra mass.
I don't think it will work well with a rega arm. You need a high effective mass arm for them to shine.