Review: Denon DL-160 Cartridge

Category: Analog

Reading back issues of old hi-fi magazines, I noticed something. Two things, actually. One, cartridges were (rightfully) reviewed as components in separate multi-page reviews—unlike today, where cartridges are reviewed three, four or five at a time in giant “round-ups” in which each is given just a few cursory paragraphs. Two, back then it seemed that every manufacturer had its own house sound, and each new advance changed the character of that sound. An LP could sound profoundly different when played backing using two different cartridges, even if they were from the same manufacturer.

It would seem that those two discoveries are interrelated. Recently, in reading today’s few remaining hi-fi journals and speaking with audiophiles at record shows and in hi-fi stores, I’ve reached the conclusion that most people seem to feel that cartridges are sounding more and more alike. Sure, there are still differences, but nothing like the profound dissimilarities that I’m way too young to remember back in the 1960s and early 70s.

People must simply be listening to less vinyl. (Duh.) Or dirty vinyl. (Ick!) Because to me, there are still very noticeable differences in cartridges. And while I’ve managed to go through just three CD players in the past four years, I’ve had maybe 15 cartridges of all types. Where I’ve stuck with basically the same preamp-amp for nearly three years, I’ve auditioned moving coils and moving magnets and moving irons from Benz Micro, Denon, Dynavector, Grado, Audio-Technica, Goldring and quite a few others.

This, by the way, has been an expensive game of trial-and-error. I don’t expect any sympathy here. But these days, trying out new cartridges isn’t a matter of simply borrowing a few from your friendly dealer. Those days are long gone (though not entirely; see below). Finding the perfect cartridge—the one you want to grow old with—means buying, trying and then selling for as much as you can if you’re not satisfied. In today’s market, a near-mint Benz MC20E2 that sells for $175 new netted me just $70 on Audiogon a few weeks after my purchase. That’s just one stomach-curdling example.

So it is with great pleasure and a fair amount of relief that I can say I’m finally semi-satisfied. My favorite cartridge—the one I’m sticking with for now, the one I’m going to buy a back-up of—is actually the first cartridge I heard a few years back when auditioning my first new turntable since my paper-route days. (I’m 27.) That cartridge is…(drumroll, please)…Denon’s bargain-priced DL-160.

I’m sure a number of you are thinking I’m crazy. I get that all the time. Wherever I go, people are either unaware that Denon still makes cartridges, or skeptical, or just plain hateful of these little moving coil wonders. And yet, Denon’s cartridges seem to have a tremendous following among a certain set of people. In Europe and Asia, for example, the flagship DL-S1 is highly prized, as is the classic DL-103. On ebay, it seems like there’s always a DL-110 or DL-160 for sale. And Denon—a giant company with plenty of bean counters—is still making them, which says to me there must be some margin in it.

Why does the Denon line have such a polarizing effect on those who have experienced it? I think it has to do with the very strong character of these cartridges. Though my experience is limited to the DL-160 and it’s little brother, the DL-110, I have to say that these are the most individualistic cartridges I’ve ever tried, and probably among the most unique-sounding out there today at any price. Whether you’ll like that sound depends on your priorities.

What’s it like going from a moving magnet cartridge like a Rega, Goldring, Grado or Audio-Technica? Well, I’ll give you the perfect demonstration to try at home. Go to your tuner and dial up your favorite FM station. Don’t turn up the volume just yet. Instead, set your tuner to the “mono” position. Now listen. Okay, go back and switch from “mono” to “stereo.” Now listen again. That’s what it’s like.

Is it that other similarly-priced cartridges aren’t as airy and spacious as the DL-160? Partly, yes. Is it that the Denon is maybe just a bit artificially open? To my ears, the answer is a big yes. The aural sensation of listening to certain recordings on the Denon is like hitting the “simulated surround” button on a TV set. But once you get used to the ridiculously wide and deep soundstage, you’ll be spoiled (or ruined, depending on your way of thinking).

Part of the reason why I can’t fault the Denon for its tendency to produce a very big sound is that it is also stunningly detailed for the price. At just $180, I defy anyone to find a cartridge that digs deeper into the grooves and extracts more glorious nuance. A lot of the credit must go to the Denon’s unusually fine stylus. It stands alone in its price range, and under a microscope it is absolutely mind-boggling to look at when you consider what else is out there at this price point.

Another reason why the Denon is such a bargain: re-tipping is available! For around $120 or so, you can ship yours off to Needle Doctor (or presumably, your dealer if your dealer knows what re-tipping is) and you’ll have a new cartridge again for the price of a much lesser unit.

I first discovered the Denon while shopping for a new turntable while living on the southern New Jersey shore. Believe it or not, there is a fairly lively hi-fi scene going on down there despite its proximity to Philadelphia and its sprawling suburbs. A few years ago, after purchasing my Rotel gear, I looked at the top of my hi-fi rack and noticed an empty space where an analog rig would normally reside. I tried sticking a plant up there, but it just didn’t look right. It also seemed silly to go out and re-purchase a lifetime’s worth of LPs on CD. So, I picked up a beautiful Denon DP-47F table for what I was sure would be occasional listening only.

The DP-47F, being direct drive and fully automatic, was well built and reliable-looking. Since it would surely be my last turntable, I figured it would be best to keep it simple. I bought a Grado Green and off I went. But after a few months, I was buying new 180gram reissues and I knew there had to be a better cartridge out there. Luckily, the same dealer who let me listen to the Denon for hours on end while CD players were flying out the door, also allowed me to borrow (you heard right: borrow) a DL-160 cartridge. It was love at first listen. So much more detail, so much more music, and so much less noise. The direct drive Denon, together with the high-output Grado, was doing its best to make sure I heard every last speck of dust in the groove. Pops and ticks thundered through my speakers with the Green, but not with the DL-160.

Flash forward to today. Fifteen or so cartridges and four turntables later, I’ve just re-installed the Denon on my Rega P2/RB250 and I’m a very happy camper. Okay, maybe I’m not a very objective camper, but I do have a case to make for the Denon and it starts with a close look at the cartridge itself.

The DL-160 arrives in a very nice presentation case that includes a so-so stylus magnifier, plenty of mounting hardware, and a balancing plate. The blue-marble plastic body disappears when mounted on a black tonearm, yet it still has a substantial presence. It’s big and square. It’s tall, too, which means Rega owners will want to pick up some spacers for precise VTA adjustment. But those square sides make aligning the body in the headshell a snap.

The Denon’s tapered aluminum cantilever might actually be considered sexy. Granted, that’s stretching it a bit, but have a look for yourself. And while you’re at it, notice the attached flip-up stylus guard. While I’m certain many audiophiles will make a case against having a stylus guard on there, it’s useful for two reasons. First, the Denon is a very light cartridge and a little extra weight is nice for certain tonearms. (The metal balancing plate will help, too.) Second, that tiny little stylus is delicate. If you live alone and want the guard off, by all means go ahead. But do you have a cleaning lady who likes to dust your turntable no matter how many times you beg her not to? Or do you have a wife or girlfriend who hasn’t quite figured out why there’s a cueing lever on the end of your tonearm when it’s so much easier to just drop the needle down? Or do you occasionally have too much wine with dinner and decide to play records when you really should be playing CDs? At times like those, the stylus guard is much appreciated and any sonic disadvantages it introduces become secondary concerns.

The Denon is a high-output moving coil design, so anyone with a moving magnet phono card can use it with ease. I’ve experimented with various settings, and found that I like it best when the phono stage in my preamp is set the MC position. (I’ve also tried it with a loaner Acurus phono stage and my own Rotel phono equalizer, but found that the MC card in my Rotel preamp is good enough for me, though I think I sacrifice a minute amount of detail by going this route.)

The Denon’s one drawback is its absurd instruction manual. It mentions aligning the cartridge using the gold vertical line on the front of the DL-160, making sure that it is parallel to the center of the headshell and with its own reflection (!?) in the vinyl record it is playing. Huh? Read it yourself and you’ll see. The instructions also suggest using the supplied overhang gauge, which I suppose might be useful to Denon table owners but no one else. While I’m usually a proponent of more detailed instructions, in this case Denon should’ve simply referred the purchaser to the dealer or turntable manual for mounting guidelines.

Once mounted, the Denon has about a 20-hour break-in period. It’s far from painful. Rather than being harsh, the Denon exhibits the same characteristics it normally has, just exaggerated. It quickly settles down.

My favorite recording to play using the Denon is Classic Records’ reissue of “Harry Belafonte Sings the Blues” (LSP-1972). Belafonte is in fine form and powerful voice on this fine record. The Denon puts his unmistakable voice dead center in the middle of a big room, with each instrument clearly defined but clearly behind Belafonte.

Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” (MFSL-017) is also a treat. Every last sound effect is right there, and the layering is preposterously perfect. Everything is in its right place, and no one instrument ever overpowers another or melts into a cacophony. It’s like listening through headphones, except rather than having two blobs of sound there is a wide and continuous soundstage.

But a MoFi or Classic 180gram will sound good even when played with a mediocre cartridge. So I shuffled through my racks to find some records I rarely played because they simply didn’t sound good. One was an Angel/Meloydia recording of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique performed by the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Gennady Rozhdestrensky (40054). For years, I’d been coming back to the Classic Records reissue of Munch’s mid-1950s performance with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and, more recently, the Paavo Jarvi recording on Telarc CD. The reason was simple: while the Rozhdestrensky performance was interesting, the Meloydia simply sounded flat. With the Denon, however, it opened up a little and became enjoyable. I heard new things, and that’s always a thrill.

I had a similar problem with the Original Jazz Classics reissue of Wes Montgomery’s “Full House,” a live recording taped in a small Berkley, CA venue called Tsubo. Though quite detailed, on this record the audience seems at time to occupy the same plane as the performers. The result is a rather one-dimensional image. Thankfully, the Denon made the space come alive, and for once, I was able to feel some of the excitement of what it must’ve been like to be crammed into a small house with the great Montgomery.

I recently picked up a copy of Bruce Springsteen’s newest triumph, “The Rising” (C2 86600). Until now, I hadn’t heard it on anything but a Rega Elys, and though the performance and songwriting were obviously impeccable, it never moved me. As the music swelled, instruments wilted and collapsed into murky heaps. But when I dropped the needle of the Denon onto the same records, I was moved. I wish everyone could hear “The Rising” like this; it’s a very important record.

From old favorites like Peter Gabriel’s “So” (GHS 24088) to new audiophile classics like Lori Lieberman’s “A Thousand Dreams” (Pope Music; no catalog number) the Denon paints an enthralling musical picture that envelops the listener in crisp waves of music that lap gently along the shore during quiet passages, and crash thunderously against the breakers when things get lively.

Is the Denon a bigger-than-life performer? You bet. Is that bad? It depends. I’m of the opinion that whatever moves you is what you should be listening to, both in program material and equipment. The Denon moves me. Every note is clear as Evian ice crystals, each voice present and towering, and every pluck of the guitar string or nudge of piano wire so effortlessly crystalline that the hairs stand up on the back of my neck again and again.

The Denon wants to go-go-go, much like a Ferrari in city gridlock. It chafes at the bit like a thoroughbred, and when unleashed on the music, it runs full speed ahead and only stops when it unlocks ever last bit of hidden detail from even the most haphazardly-recorded LP. The nimble stylus tracks tough-to-navigate grooves like an F355 Spyder hugs curves. (It also digs deep into damaged grooves to reveal previously untouched areas where music is still retrievable. Try it for yourself on a record you thought was unplayable, then burn it quickly to CD.)

In the end, the Denon is the most dynamic, clear, detailed and involving cartridge I’ve ever owned. Its athletic tracking ability, combined with a cavernous soundstage and chillingly realistic nuance, makes it a winner in my book.

Of course, the same qualities that make me embrace it will be exactly what many people will despise about it. That’s perfectly understandable. I’ll be the first to admit that the Denon sacrifices absolute musical truth in favor of one bravo performance after another. However, in the case of some lifeless recordings, this is not a bad thing unless you like self-torture. A little white musical lie is sometimes just what the doctor ordered.

Which brings me back to where I started: discussing the differences between cartridges. My feeling is that we should be thankful there are cartridges still out there with such strong character. Music is a very personal thing, and analog even more so. Why torture yourself trying to acquire a taste for absolute musical accuracy when it’s so much more fun to pursue the sound you like?

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve liked other cartridges, too. The Audio-Technica 440ML is the greatest $99 cartridge in analog today, with a natural sound, sophisticated dual-moving magnet design and a competition-crushing MicroLine stylus. The Benz Micro MC20E2 is another bargain at $175, with effortless musicality but without the Denon’s fine stylus. And the Grado Green, at just $60, has probably opened more minds to quality analog than any other cartridge. But of all the cartridges I’ve tried, the Denon is the one that packs the most musical punch for the buck.

I’m already bracing myself for the follow-up posts on this one. But like I said, this is MY favorite cartridge—I’m not saying it should be yours. But if you’re a speed-and-detail freak like me who likes your music clear as frosty mountain air and utterly grain-free, then you’re not going to get any closer to your ideal cartridge than this for $180.

Associated gear
Rega P2 turntable
Denon DL-160 moving coil cartridge
Rotel RC-980 preamplifier with MM/MC phono stage
Rotel RA-970 amplifier
Rotel RQ-970BX phono stage
Sony SCD-CE775 SACD player
Phillips AM/FM tuner
Realistic laserdisc player
RCA DVD player
Apex Digital 27” TV
ProAc Tablette 2000 loudspeakers
Paradigm speaker stands
AudioQuest CV-6 biwire speaker cables
Various Audioquest/VampireWire/Kimber/Monster interconnects
Monster Power HTS 2500 Power Center
Record Doctor II record cleaning machine/Disc Doctor record brushes
StudioTech HF series racks
Audioquest MC cartridge demagnetizer

Similar products
Benz Micro MC20e2, Dynavector 10x4, Audio-Technica 440ML, Denon DL-110
What? You can't see the reflection of the gold line in your record? You have to put on your glasses! Seriously, that was a very enjoyable review. Thank you. I am also a Denon cartridge owner and lover(DL103). What I think is really cool about your review is that you actually had numerous other cartridges to compare to it in the relatively low-priced range that few people review or take very seriously. That's a shame because probably more cartridges are sold in this price range than any other, and many TT users could benefit from info like this. If I were getting into a budget analog system, and needed some info on a sub-$200 cartridge, I'd email you for your advice(although we already have it from your review!). This is a critical area of analog, because many users will decide whether to continue with analog, based on their early experiences. If their initial foray is pleasant, they are likely to continue upward. If not, they will just give it up. I applaud you for your work in this area, and for sharing it with us all here.
I too am a Denon lover...the DL-103D, my second in 20 years.
This cartridge may not reproduce the ultimate
high-frequency extension (though it's pretty decent) nor
the thundering lows of the bottom octave (how much of that
will you find on vinyl?), but its TRUE TO THE MUSIC.
Female vocals, jazz ensembles, orchestral music...they
flow from the stylus. It can even rock when called upon...
just listen to Classic Records Led Zeppelin I. I think
this is not only a classic cartridge, but a veritable
high-end bargain. Forget the "high-priced spread"... I'll
stick with my 103D.

Technics SP-10 MKII/ SME IV / Lehmann Black Cube SE
Mark Levinson 37/360/26/27.5
Magnepan 1.6QR / Rel Strata III
Harmonic Technology Pro-Silway II
Nordost Silver Shadow
Alphacore Goertz MI2
Hi guys,
Just stumbled on this (looking for a Lehmann review, actually). I am happily occupying the entry-level area, with a P2/RB200/DL160 even running ProAcs (Studio 150)... this is scary ;-)

Anyway, looking for an outboard phono stage, and while I've been happy running it into MM stages, I wonder how much potential I am missing in a better impedance-matching MC stage? Can any of you comment?
I am seeking for a new cartridge for my Linn Ciorkus/ Akito II arm ans I am hesitating between the AT OC9, Dynavector DVX5 and Sumiko blue point special but I just resded your advice on Deno 160.
I had a Koetsu Black ( broken after 2 years) a Dybnavecto Ruby Karat ( also broken after two and moire years) and I don't want to waste money on cartridges anymore. The Dyna was quite different from the Koetsu , very pristine and light against full bodied and auhoritative.

The rest of my system: Spectral amplification and Quad ESL 63 speakers with MIT cables.
Just helped a friend of mine restore and refurbish a old Rega table with the Lustre tone arm to which a Denon DL 160 was mounted to. There are unknown hours on the cartridge, but the stylus looks very good indeed and the cantilever is nice and straight.

These Denon DL 110 and DL 160 are just superlative by any standard in their price range and above. Highly undervalued.

You just cannot go wrong with either Denon cartridge. is there better. Sure there is. But with that being said,how much will you actually hear? Thats the real question.

If you truly have the so called golden ear, then move on to the exalted brands. But for a very wide majority of us these Denon DL 110 and DL 160 is most anyone will ever need from a high output moving coil. In my opinion after 47 years of doing this these Denons are as good as it gets in this arena. In my opinion they better the Sumiko Blue Point and Dynavector 10x5 and at far less cost. And I am a
big fan of Dynavector, not their 10x5 though. The Dynavector 17DMKII is another story though and is not a fair comparison for this thread at near four times the price of the Denons.

So if superb analog sonics are on your menu and you don't want to break the bank, get one of these Denons and enjoy the music, for they are special indeed.
I just received a brand new DL-110 from Needle THIRD DL-110, and before that, I had two DL-160s. If you value a wide and deep soundstage, plenty of air and aliveness, easy setup and amazing tracking, then these deserve a look. Some people hate 'em, but I can't say enough about them. They are classics.
i have had one of these up and running for just about a month now, having taken the leap in part based on this review. i'm totally enthralled with this cartridge--a big, bold yet detailed sound that is totally musically involving in my system. i sold a much more expensive cartridge before buying the DL-160, and am happier with the denon! a classic, yes--i couldn't agree more.
After refurbishing the vintage Rega with Lustre Arm and Denon DL 160 the current owner opted to get a new in the box DL 160. We did not have any idea exactly hold old the current DL 160 was, although a visually inspection found no discernible wear on the diamond, the cantilever was nice and straight and the suspension was very good. Plus the fact it sounded very right indeed.

However he wanted to get a new Denon DL 160 just to make sure there was no undetectable defect. After all put a lot of TLC in the vintage Rega.

So a few days later a new Denon DL 160 arrived and off I went with the protractors and such to set up the new Denon DL 160 for him.

Here is where it gets interesting. The new Denon DL 160 sonically is vastly superior to the one that came on the table. Usually the sonics between cartridges of the same manufacturer and model number are the same and at the very least in the same vein. Not taking in consideration a worn out cartridge,which the older DL 160 was not. After 47 years of doing this, this was a new experience for me, with two cartridges of the same value, but years apart in manufacture.

While the vintage DL 160 was very good indeed and found it to have that great signature. The new DL 160 was clearly superior and open up more of the sound stage,channel separation was wider and the depth was enhanced as well. Also did not take as much gain on the preamp for same level of playback volume.

Denon has never made an announcement that they have improved the Denon DL 160, but this appears they certainly have and a very worthwhile one at that. Both the DL110 and DL160 broke onto the audio scene in 1982 or so and have been with us ever since, thankfully.

Maybe the difference is perhaps the one he got out of Japan as a home market item is a little different than the export Denons. Just don't know at this point.

In many ways this like a Ferrari 355 vs a newer Ferrari 360 both are fabulous but the 360 has the latest technology.

So I have ordered a new DL 160, but not from Japan, but here in the U.S. and it will interesting to compare a home market DL 160 to the U.S. version.

Report to follow later.
I'll be interested to hear the follow-up on this one. Many of us often think about using older cartridges on our turntables, especially discontinued carts, and we have no way of knowing how a moving coil design is affected by age. I can offer this: I recently compared a 20-year-old moving iron B&O MMC3 to a brand new SoundSmith SMMC4 and, even though the MMC3 was in perfect condition, I preferred the sound of the SMMC4. Despite the fact that the MMC3 has a line contact stylus and the SMMC4 a plain eliptical, the SMMC4 sounded clear but less detailed. Does age impact the coils (oxidation?) and result in a kind of haze? I guess the only way to find out would be to cut open a 20-year-old cartridge and compare its innards to a brand new one. If anyone is brave (or rich) enough, that would make for an enlightening report.
my guess is that more than likely the older 160 was stored in less than optimal conditions and was affected somehow, but the notion that denon continually refines and optimizes these products in some way is a good one! the potential effects of time and environment has always steered me away from older cartridges.
Okay here is where we are at for now. Have the customer Rega here with the Lustre arm. Retrieved from storage the Rega Planar 3 with RB 300 tone arm. Both are mounted with current versions of the Denon DL 160. One is the home market Japanese version in the Lustre Arm, the other is the export U.S. version in the RB 300 Arm.

To get as level a playing field as possible using two of the Music Hall Phono Pack phono preamps. These are connected to a Forte F44 preamp. This preamp has a remote selection and volume control. So switching back and forth between the two tables will be quite quick and easy for spot on differences if any. Interconnects are the Audioquest Sidewinder RCAs. From the tone arm cables to RCA are the standard Rega variety. Wish I had two of the same higher end phono preamps, but I don't and it would be unfair to use my reference phono preamp against the Music Hall. Although the Music Hall is very good in its own right.

So in a few days should have some meaningfull information and will list the variety of LPs used and the results.
Good news is that there is no difference I can hear between a Japanese home market DL 160 or the export version to the U.S. Both have that great Denon signature and when fully have enough time on the stylus and suspension really come to life. How Denon can continue to offer this stellar cartridge for $180.00 is a mystery to me.

Another surprise was that the two Rega tables one with the Lustre Arm and the other with the RB 300 arm, that the sonics were on par with each other. Was expecting the RB 300 to be somewhat better than the earlier Lustre Arm, but that was not the case. On some material the RB 300 had the edge and vice versa

The older Denon DL 160 was no match for the newer versions,although it indeed appeared to be in very good condition. I guess the best way to explain the difference as looking through a glass window. Then one day someone cleans the glass and all of a sudden the view becomes much clearer and pleasing and all the time prior you thought you had a pleasing view. Same holds true of the older DL 160 when compared to a newer DL 160.

Using the Sumiko Fluxbuster did not improve the sonics of the older Denon, so apparently that is not the issue.

I would say if your Denon DL 160 has a few miles on it, then it should be replaced. I usually change cartridges out after about 300 hours or when the sonics fall off.

Well over 75 LPs were used in the Denon evaluation,far to many to list here. But to me it is clear the the Denon DL 160 is one amazing high output moving coil. No it is by no means the last word in moving coils. However with that being said to do better sonically than the Denon DL 160 one will have to get into the $400.00 plus range and up of moving coils. One can get easily spoiled not only from a cost point of view but to the sonics as well. The Denon in short,plays music with total authority without being over analytical. In my opinion one of audios great budget products and one does not have to make an excuse for it. For the Denon DL 160 has few peers in its price/performance category. Most likely the reason this item has had contiuned production from 1982,it just is very difficult to do better when all is considered better and apparently by the world wide audio market, most users agree, or the Denon DL 160 would have been discontinued long ago. Very apparent it has that loyal world wide support of the audio community and that alone speaks volumes to the testament of the Denon DL 160.

I have no problem in using the Denon DL 160 as the daily driver for all my LP playback. For really critical listening of pristine and audiophile LPs I turn to the Denon 304 or Dynavector 20.

Hope this has been somewhat enlightening, it was a lot of work, but a lot of fun as well.

Thanks for a very well written review of the DL-160. I am using mine on a Technics SL-1200mk2 and I find it a very good muatch. I prefer it over the other budget carts I have: Shure M97xE and Grado Prestige Blue.


- Harald

First, thanks for all the reviews, on the 'gon and on Positive Feedback, of affordable cartridges. I'm a student these days, so I'm currently working on a beer budget--although I usually drink beer that some would consider "fancy".

Second, do you have a clear preference for the either 110 or the 160? I'm planning to purchase one or the other in the near future, and am not sure which I would prefer. Common sense says the 160: trackability is a major concern of mine, since I listen to a lot of orchestral and other classical music. Beyond that, I'm more interested in musicality than pinpoint imaging or an overemphasis on detail. In other words, I want something that allows me to just enjoy the music, for extended listening sessions, without thinking much about the "sound".

For reference, I've used a Rega Elys in the past, and I currently use a Shure M97xE. The latter satisfies in many respects, but seems to lack a bit in low level information retrieval--I'm talking realism here, not hi-fi detail, although on paper the distinction gets a little fuzzy.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

Great review of the Denon DL-160, which rings true in every respect.
I am a fastidious listener, in that I'm not only interested in musicality, but also loves to pinpoint where the instruments are within the stage, listens attentively for notes decay, the finer nuances on a vocalist (down to swallowing saliva), etc.
You get the point...
I have my DL-160 mounted on a Project RPM4 (got here from a BIC 940 and a Denon DP-47F). Thanks to the Denon table w/a Denon DL-60 cartridge I started dusting off my old vinyl. As I got more demanding I bought the Project and mounted the DL-160. WOW!, what a revelation! They made me become a rabid analog enthusiast. The DL-160 has in many cases beat the CD playback of the same recording in blind tests, providing a more organic and musical sound than the CD.
I just purchased a brand new Rega P5 w/the RB700 arm, and I'm planning to mount the Denon DL-160 on the Rega arm w/a spacer. I'm also getting an Antique Sound Labs AQ-1001 DT tube integrated amp (50W pentode/29W triode) to plug the Rega into through the CREEK DH9 for the phono amp section.
Don't worry about relatively low power in the amp, a Velodyne HGS-18 sub will come to the aid of my Dali Grands floorstanders anytime.
I'll be happy to come back and report how this collection of analog-tube-solid state performs together. I'm licking my chops with anticipation.
Thank again for a fine review, and helping us to jump in (or jump back) into the wanderful world of analog.
Eager trader do try the JA Michell Tecno counter weight,really brings the the Rega tone arm to a much higher level. May want to try some other Rega upgrades such as the Iron Audio Acrylic Platter which is vastly superior to the glass platter.

Just a thought enjoy that Rega and welcome back to vinyl.
Funny that you mention that Ferrari, because that's one of my next purchases. In addition, in spite of Rega's belief, I do believe in clamps, and have order the JA Michell clamp for Rega for my P5.
As indicated in my previous thread, I just purchased an Antique Sound Labs AQ-1001 DT, which is my first foray into tubes. Last night was my first test drive, using a Project RPM4 turntable with my trusty Denon DL-160. It's just short of incredible the amount of detail, texture and air I've been missing all this years. Just about every sound was oozing out of the speakers and taking its place in the soundstage effortlessly. A very musical experience indeed. No listening fatigue whatsoever.
What the DL-160 will do when paired with a decent quality tube amp is nothing but amazing in my opinion.
The DL-160 powered by good solid state gear (ie B&K in my case) has a character an musicality all its own. Tubes take our little miracle performer to a much higher level.
What's the consensus on running the dennon through the phono input (sensitivity 2.5mv) of a HK preamp. I've heard that actual output of the dennon 110 160 is closer to 2mv.

How does age affect performance? In this case NOS 20 years! DL-160
The HK input should be fine. In fact, you should treat the DL-160 like a moving magnet in most cases. For instance, if you have a phono pre with only an MM/MC switch, you should always use the MM setting as its high output will likely overload the MC setting.

NOS is tricky. Tne stylus is probably fine but the cartridge's suspension could well be shot. It's mostly rubber that's prone to dry rot. The potential to damage your records is there, so unless you are confident that the cartridge has been stored in a low heat / average humidity environment, then I'd just pop $180 for a new one instead of risking priceless vinyl.
More questions for Ekobesky. (for now)
Is the compliance of the dl-160, (or dl-110 for that matter,) suitable for use on a Thorens TD-320 which I believe comes with a TP-16 MK IV arm which has a mass of 12.5 grams.
You had an interesting review of the Sure 97 cart. Would that be a more appropriate match?
accoring to the

The dl-160 might eke in but the dl-110 is not compliant BUT i run my dl-110 on an 11gm rb250[OEM1] amr which is technically not compliant but it works very nice there.
i have a dl-160 on an rb-250 going to the phono section in my nad 1020- which has a capasitance loading switch for 100p, 220p or 320p. does anyone know what setting it's supposed to be set at for the dl-160?
Another DL-160 convert. I have been using a DL-160 for 3 months and it is great. It is mounted in a Sumiko shell on my Technics SL-1210 table. This is my first MC and it is still blowing me away. For one thing, surface noise is all but gone. But there is more - much more. Some of my listening is full symphony classical music. The 160 produces a real life (not bigger than life) dynamic range that I have never heard from a sound system before. And I know from real life dynamics of orchestras having spent nearly 20 years make my living playing in them.

The sound stage is broad and deep, but more important the instruments are place exactly where they should be. Mid range detail and bass authority (not excess quantity) are there. There is attack and clarity up and down the spectrum.

The 160 produces small ensemble jazz as though you were sitting at the bar at the Half Note or Strykers (does that date me a touch?). But there is no cover charge.

As Ed says, this cartridge may not be for the faint of heart. If your wife is always telling you to turn it down, look elsewhere. But if you'd like to hear her ask "is that really one of those Lps or what ever you call them - it sounds like a CD?" - give the 160 a try.

Other relevant equipment:

Mapleshape platform, heavyfeet, isoblocks under the 1210
Parasound Zphono preamp
Rotel RA-1062 int. amp.
MIT avt1 interconnects and speaker cables
B&W 604s
Mapleshade MKII power strip and assorted MIT and AQ power cords
The Denon DL-160 is amazing. PERIOD. I wanted a cartridge that opened up my soundstage, but that also tracked very well. I read reviews for months, and finally bought a Denon DL-160 instead of other High Output MC's.

Moving from a MM cartridge to this Cartridge might be one of the most rewarding musical events you can experience when you are starting out. I have been living in this Digital world chasing a sound I could not find. I bought the speakers, amp, cd player, turntable, ect... But only the turntable source brought real life sound to my system.

Spend $10,000 or more for a digital dream that chases this same sound experience or you can purchase a high quality turntable and DL-160 for under $2000. Hunting for albums is a fun hobby in itself, so having extra cash for the "Hot stamps" is an added bonus.

Vinyl forever!

I've been a big Denon fan, having owned 3 103D, a 301, a 301 mk2, and a 103. I recently purchased a 160 for my bedroom system where I do a lot of PC work. My bedroom gear is average, but good (Yamaha AX-592 integrated, SL-1200 Mk5, Paradigm mini monitor.

I went to the local pro music shop to buy a headshell (the only place in my town that sells analog gear, it seems) and picked up a Stanton shell for 11 USD. I installed the 160 keeping the 2g weight on the headshell to add a bit of mass, balanced the arm, and set the tracking in the middle range-1.75g.

Right out of the box the distinctive Denon sound emerged. Smooth midrange and bass, and non aggressive highs. I would rate the sound as smooth as my V-15xMR, but more detailed.

The overall quality is, I think, better than my Ortofon Super OM-20. And it is more balanced than my AT 440 ML which can sound sharp.

I'd say that for $180.00 this is a very respectable cartridge, and is worthy of the Denon name. One thing I noticed was the complete absence of hum, or hiss even with the volume turned all the way up (with the stylus off the record, of course). I have only listened to a couple of records so far, but am pleased. Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage (Teldec DMM remaster) is playing now. Freddie Hubbards horn tracks with all the nuances of the V-15 MR or the AT ML stylus, but, again, with a detailed and smooth midrange and bass missing from the former two cartridges.

Again, for the price the Denon seems hard to beat.
I'm looking for a replacement cartridge for my old favourite (ADC XLM III). The Denon DL 160 looks as if it will be well suited for my current system. Could you please give me some idea of how many millimetres you needed to raise your Rega RB300 arm on the P2 to allow for the correct VTA?
If you use the small spacer,that is included with the DL 160,this puts the DL 160 VTA correct without using the Rega tone arm spacers with the Rega RB 300 tone arm.

Follow the Denon installation directions and place the small Denon spacer on top of the cartridge, This also gives a little weight to this cartridge as well.
Thanks for the very prompt response. The stage is now set for an easy cartridge update!
I have just bought a DL-160 but on reading the instructions I am told that it should not be used with metal deck! I have a Thorens TD280 deck which has a metal platter covered by a thick rubber mat. Do you think this will be an OK combination?
to test take a refrigerator magnet and see if it is attracted to the platter. If not, all is well. If so, a carbon mat may fix the issue.
Hi all,
I got a Denon DL-160 about 2 month ago and it's one hell of great cartridge it is on a Thorens TD166mkII with a Rega RB250 rewired and Heavyweight I had been using a Clearaudio Aurum Beta S MM cartridge but now with the Denon I feel it's involving the bass is better the highs are clear and clean and the music sounds more real I just wish I would of gotten the Denon before I got the Clearaudio I'd could have saved $500.00 as the Denon to is more musical and a better cartridge.Robert
Can anyone write what is compliance of DL 160 and is it possible to match with Pro Ject Xpression?
Compliance of the DL 160 is x 10-6cm/Dyne. Would have to know the effective mass of the project tone arm to see if it is a good match.

Note:*Denon publishes their dynamic compliance specifications relative to 100Hz . The actual compliance at 10Hz will be higher.
Dynamic compliance of the DL160 is 10 x 10-6cm/Dyne

You can find info for nearly any cartridge here at Cartridge Database.

Also on Cartridge Database, you'll find links to a tonearm database, and a cartridge evaluator tool.

According to the evaluator, your Project 9c tonearm should work with the Denon 160.
If it's true that actual compliance at 10Hz will be higher then 10 x 10-6cm/dyne Project 9c tonearm should work .Thanx
I have a DL-160 and just bought a used MF X-LPSv.3 phono preamp. I am trying to determine if this combo works better using the MM or MC side of the preamp. On the MM side the gain seems low and the sound muted. On the MC side I think the sound opens up better, but the gain with some Lps is pretty high.

Any thoughts? Please post here or email me directly at


I just threw my DL-160 on my Rega P5 after I got tired of the Grado Platinum's hum problem. The 160 does not have nearly the same dynamics or bass as the Platinum, but it has great detail and a wonderful soundstage. I am very happy with the 160.........for now at least.
09-13-09: Jbergan
I just threw my DL-160 on my Rega P5 after I got tired of the Grado Platinum's hum problem. The 160 does not have nearly the same dynamics or bass as the Platinum, but it has great detail and a wonderful soundstage. I am very happy with the 160.........for now at least.

Provided your phono stage is up to the job, or you don't mind using an appropriate step-up transformer, the perfect compromise between the Grado Platinum and Denon DL-160 might be the DL-103 or DL-103R. They both have the same 'Denon sound' that you enjoy, including exceptional detail and soundstaging, together with much a much more dramatic presentation and excellent dynamics.
Very nice review. I just picked up a used P3 (RB300 arm) and I'm strongly considering the DL160 as my first cartridge. I'm also looking at a Rega Elys2 (2nd hand, apparently unopened) for about the same price and having a tough time deciding. The DL-160 sounds very tempting...
I installed the the DL-160 mounted in a Sumiko headshell on my Technics 1200MK2. It replaced a Audio Technica I've been using for years. The improvement is phenomenal. Very detailed spacious sound. Very tight bass. I've read that there is a 20 hour or so break in period however the sound after several LP's is very satisfying. First thing I played was the MSFL Genesis, A Trick Of The Tail. WOW! I'm going through an Adcom 565 pre-amp and I've noticed that I have to increase the volume control about double (compared to the AT cartridge) to achieve the same DB level. I still have plenty of volume control available so it's not really an issue. I'm loving this cartridge!
Kudos to Ed on his original thoughts. Your listening acuity for someone only 27 simply amazed this twice-that age audio nut. I recently acquired a Dl-160 to use in a Rega P5/ARC PH-3 set-up. In common with all vinyl junkies, I've enjoyed the charms of so many satisfying carts from Grado Sigs to Shure V15s to Blue Point Specials to a current A-T 150MLX. IMHO, the Denon is a superb example of a too-inexpensive-to-be-much-good product that snobs sneer at. I can find no faults that end my record sessions prematurely. Two thumbs up to Ed and Denon!
Okay, so earlier, it was mentioned that the DL-160 manual cautioned against using this cartridge with metal turntables. Then it was suggested that one should see if an ordinary magnet was attracted to the turntable's platter as a way of determining if it was safe to use the DL-160. In my case (a stock Thorens TD-166 MkII), the metal platter seems non-metalic, but the top plate of the turntable is definitely magnetic. Is it safe to use a DL-160 with this 'table? Thanks!
Just got mine at 1/3 off open box. Playing Alan Parsons I- Robot right now and sound is sweet and bass is deep. Running Boston VRM-60 speakers with Anthem MCA-5 amp @ 190W per channel through Sony ES Receiver 2CH Analog Direct. Phono stage is Musical Fidelity V-LPS, using MC setting. Table is Thorens TD-160 Mk1. Big improvement over AT-120E cartridge that came on the TT. Considered AT-440MLA, but very glad I bought the Denon.
Thanks, Mmr24. My DL-160 is on the way from an A-gon member, brand-new. Hope I can mount it properly without destroying it! I'll post my thoughts after I've used it a while.
Well, I'm officially in the DL-160 fan club! I installed it in a spare wand for my stock Thorens TD-166 MkII over the weekend. Compared to my Ortofon OM-30 Super, I am getting more detail, less etch and grit, better channel separation, equally reliable tracking, better extension both on the bottom and on the top, great decay trails, and a smoother, more musical presentation. A genuine hifi bargain, and the output is a great match for the phono section of my Conrad-Johnson PV-11 preamp.
Thank you Ekobesky, for taking the time long ago to write your review. Just received a 160 slightly used and mounted it in my mongrel system; Luxman table, 6V6 PP integrated tube amp with only Magnetic and Old LP choices for inputs.

WTH, I mounted it, an art in itself, taking time and using intuition brings rewards. I didn't use the plate, the Luxman arm is so light I wanted to let it dance.

At first it was so brassy sounding, not quite sibilant, then I sort of adapted to that and noticed detail, but it sounded waif-thin and starved on the bottom. 50 year old 12AX7's might have something to do with it? Saw your note about using it on MC...hmmm...unboxed a dusty Proton 930, hear the rusty hinges of the crypt opening...checked the back, yup, MC.

Tried it again, going back through the tube amp outputs for fair comparison, since the Proton's power side wouldn't stand a chance. Nothing I've heard in SS gets to me like those 6V6...not all tubes have that palpable soul, but those beat-up Westinghouse's...oooooh, yeah!

Same record, original pressing of Kind of Blue which hasn't been cued up for 35 years... much scarred around the edges, but with lots of quiet parts in the middle.

Better! Louder. Richer. More dulcet detail. Yet the pops are dampened more. Quieter.

Get-to-know-able instead of immediately-resellable. My first MC, so just comparing to the OM-10 that preceded it, and the half-dozen MM's that came before that, Grado, Empire, AT, etc.

Maybe it's too open for good taste, but as I sit here typing and listening I keep being drawn in and noticing sublime little passages and bits of instrumental timbre that make me happy. And there are moments when I can smell the studio somehow. It's imaginary, but it's also what I live for with listening, some sense of where it came from, of mood and mistakes and cigarets burning next to the saxophone stand.

I'm sure my Radio Shack interconnects and original TT wires and so forth are heresy or risible to many here. But within what I can reach this is an interesting step upward, motivation to track down the hum in the power supply of that old Boulevard, it matters more now.