TIME to break in a Denon 103R


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Can anyone offer their experience on how many hours it takes to fully break in a Denon 103R cartridge ?
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Thanks,
Larry
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cello
Wow,Larry! Slumming or just having fun with the 103R? :)

I seem to remember it taking 50+ hours. It sounds very steely for a while.

Which arm are you using it on?
My 103R was "steely" as Dan described, a bit "tight" and aggressive, although still very impressive, right out of the box. I noticed a major improvement at between 10 and 15 hours, almost like a light had been switched on. It became considerably more "relaxed" at that point and really got the ebb and flow of the music more. From there, I would say improvements were much more subtle. I would agree with Dan also that at around 50 hours give or take you should be fully broken in.
My Denon DL-103D took about 75 hours to fully break in after it was retipped, for what it's worth.
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Dan,
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The Denon 103R actually belongs to a friend who does not go on Audiogon that often. We were guessing at how long his new 103R would take to break in and I decided to ask the cognoscenti on Audiogon to share their experiences.
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I have been wanting to get one for educational / back-up purposes. I have always heard that it is one of the best values in cartridges.
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I was expecting some sort of flack for my post....thanks for not disappointing me (I was more expecting it to be Raul or Dr. Deacon).
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Rgds,
Larry
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I really like the 103R, even though mine developed some kind of issue where it will issue a pop from the left channel, maybe twice per LP side. What do you want from a $240 cartridge? I've thought about replacing it, but I'd probably go with the lower priced ZYX based on what I've heard.

"cognoscenti" ? Does that mean a**hole? Now, that I can identify with! :)

Best,

Dan
Larry, I'm still interested in what arm your friend is using.
Could the 1203 be the best VALUE of all time?Some might say the Shure is at $300 but is no longer being sld.But it's the one I suggest to anybody who is not an audiophile.Really cheap I'd go for Grado but the 103R is such a venerable product it's reassuring it's till there.
Chazzbo
Hey Larry, I just installed a new 103 (couldn't swing the extra $90 for the R) on a DIY TT project two days ago. I agree with HDM that after about 15 hours, four of which were run on the Cardas burn in disc, the 103 REALLY smoothed out and started to sing. It may be one of the biggest bangs for your audio buck today. This project is putting out some serious sound. Let us know how your 103R sounds over time.
Larry,

Sorry to be so slow, you cheapskate!

I like the 103/103R too. IMO it is one of the great bargains in cartridges. Lots of honest music for a very reasonable price. You have to spend several times more to do much better.
Doug, your answer dissapoints me. How can you recommend a cartridge that uses a 16.5u round stylus? That will destroy anyone's record collection--unless they are 1950's hard mono records. Maybe for a high end kiddie phonograph a radial tip would work...

At the very least a stylus tip should be elliptical. At the very least.
Psychicanimal,

Your post is the first time I've heard that theory. Can you elaborate? Something to do with a small contact patch and resultant high psi's? Or... ?

Doug
This theory has been thrashed about on AA and totally debunked. There are perhaps hundreds of users of the 103R, many of them very knowledgeable vinyl-philes, and I've never heard of any reports of vinyl damage due to its use.
It's not theory--it's simple physics: P = F/S. The better the stylus, the larger the contact area, the deeper it will go into the record groove. From eliptical, to hiper eliptical, to Shibata (Audio Tecnica), Stereohedron (Stanton) and Fritz Geiger (Ortofon) shapes.

Come on, those cartridges were designed for radio stations back in the early 60's and the records back then (thick hard and mostly mono). There's someone in eBay who had the nerve to advertise the Pickering XV-15 as an audiophile product because it had been used in Swedish radio! I *do* have one of those--it was in my Father's fully automatic Garrard rim drive.

One of the first things I learned when I started audio (I was 14, 1977) was to use the best tip shape I could afford. That's why I still have VG++ albums from that era, in spite of drugs, rock and roll and my Tecnics DD.

Doug, stylus shape is so important that the cartridge I use is a DJ cartridge to which Kevin (KAB Electroacoustics) grafts a NOS Stereohedron stylus. Trackabilitty and musicality are excellent, along with the midrange of a $1500 MC. My Ortofon X5 MC has become the spare cartridge...

One's record collection would do a LOT better with a Shure M97. For real.

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Dan,
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My friend is using a Rega B300 with an Incognito Wire Upgrade on a P3 table.
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Rgds,
Larry
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Steve,
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Glad to hear that your Lenco project is rolling along. I am really looking forward to see how it all ends up.
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Have you ever heard any comments/ feedback on the sonic difference between the 103 and the 103R ?
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Rgds,
Larry
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Dan (OFCBAH),
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"Cognoscenti" - those in the know, a Connoisseur.
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Does that moniker fit you (your wife's opinion not required here) ?
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Rgds,
Larry
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Psychicanimal,
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Interesting post and also the first time I have heard a comment that the 103 would cause record damage.
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Can anyone else weigh in here to confirm / dispel Psychicanimal’s Theory ?
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Rgds,
Larry
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Psychic et al:

http://db.audioasylum.com/cgi/m.mpl?forum=vinyl&n=549172&highlight=conical+spherical+thorsten&r=&session=

The Denon is no more likely to cause wear than any other cartridge properly aligned. Given equal improper alignment, other stylus profiles are more likely to do much greater damage.
Larry, I though the idea was to shorten my moniker? :)

p=f/s, yep. So a surface area of 1.6 u will actually result in a lower pressure. But that is not the real story which is not necessarily total surface are but rather where the contact surface area is in the groove. I agree that there is a big difference in sound between riding higher in the groove vs. getting down deeper to the surfaces at the bottom of the groove walls. That is a completely different issue to claims of vinyl damage.
Larry,

Tell your friend that for a Denon 103 (or 103R) on a Rega, Twl's HIFI mod is an absolute must.

$5 and 30 minutes will turn his $400 arm into a $1000 one. I've done it. It works.

http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?eanlg&1032024188&read&keyw&zzstrange+tonearm+tweak
Given equal improper alignment, other stylus profiles are more likely to do much greater damage.
True, I am very careful when I set up the Fritz Geiger stylus. Could become a flying knife down in the grooves. Trackability must also be factored in the wear equation, and that's a forgotten term amongst vinylphiles! Very few cartridges nowadays have excellent tracking, especially most of the 'audiophile' MC's. Mistracking with a spherical tip is very destructive. Please remember.

I remember when someone well respected here got into vinyl and brought over a Goldring cartridge for me to set it up. He had had arguments with me for me stating my opinion without his asking, so this time I just listened. The TT was a cheap ($30), s-shaped tonearm, 80's model. He had bought the cartridge because it was TWL's pick (what a riot!). OK, I installed it. I knew it would become a flying knife...

First, between the mid-late 60's and at least the 1980's virtually all records where cut using a tracing simulator in the lathe, which pre-distorts the signal to compensate the distortion of the spherical stylus. Playing them with any other stylus shape will not cancel the pre-distortion. Even without pre-distortion on the LP spherical stylii are much less sensitive to issues of VTA/SRA and misalignment, which leads us to the next point.
You know, this is a first for me. I suspected those 60's & 70's records sounded funny. Thorsten does make a case, indeed. My whole approach to basing my digital rig on a belt drive transport and making it sound as close to vinyl as possible also makes a case, too. So does the KAB modded 1200. All I would have to do is switch the stylus on the KAB modded Groovemaster when playing older records. Yes, I would be using a spherical DJ stylus, my friends!

KAB sells three versions of the Ortofon Concorde, the top model having a Fritz Geiger stylus. I've been to Kevin's house and heard his setup. All that have dealt with him know his analog knowledge is way up there--and he's a 60's guy, believe me. Unfortunately this time, he has a strict policy of not posting in audio forums.

Turntable/Phono Stage: Acoustic Solid 'Solid One' - German Mass Turntable, three Arm/Cartridge combo's mounted, custom LCR equalised Phonostage with E810F & D3a
So, I see Thorsten's point. He uses three arms (bet not all three cartridges have a spherical stylus). The KAB modded 1200 makes even more $en$e as time goes on...

And so, I've learned something new today. If my record collection is older, a spherical will most likely give good results. However, the cartridge must be an excellent tracker. Got to choose the moving magnet great trackers, Stanton 881S, Shure V15 V, Ortofon Concorde, Stanton Trackmaster.

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Larry, tell your friend that for a Denon 103 (or 103R) on a Rega, Twl's HIFI mod is an absolute must.
Trackability, my dearest Doug, trackability. Let's start playing those MC's on the Shure test records. I have the III, IV and V records. Wish I had purchased a V15 V and other classics before they were discontinued...

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50 hours sounds about right, though it will start sounding sweet maybe 20 hours in.

Btw, don't dismiss the 103R as just a backup cartridge or value option. (See my other post under the Zyx thread about amortization of R&D costs.) It's an incredible cartridge, full stop.

The only problem is that it's so cheap that people are apt to use it with less-than-stellar turntables, arms or - especially - phono stages that don't even get it close to its full potential. The Rega is never gonna get the best out of the 103R, even with Twl's Hi-Fi mod. It won't happen because the Rega, while a decent arm (at best), doesn't even come close to the magic of a 103R in the nice heavy arms for which it was designed.

And then we're talking LOMC... there's no particularly cheap way to step up volume from 3 microvolts to full listening level. We're talking absolutely top-quality step-up transformers (no R&D amortization gonna bring the cost down here, since the materials are just expensive and getting more so) or better yet, high high quality all-tube active phono amplification, which is just expensive, full stop. Certainly when compared to $250.

Don't let the price tag of the 103R full you. It deserves the absolute best and will deliver some of the best you've ever heard.

Patrick
I have no experience with the "R" version of the venerable Denon, but the plain 103 takes about 50 hours to fully burn-in, though reported hours vary from 20 hours to 100 hours, probably a synergy thing going on here. And I agree with Patrickamory on the subject of the Denon anyway: it is one of the finest MCs or cartridges of any stripe available, period, full stop, the end. It's bass, sense of rhythm and timing, palpability, vivacity and most of all gestalt/"organic wholeness" is right up there with the very best, if not better. Can you spell "M-U-S-I-C"? Detail isn't everything. As for the theory that a conical tip precludes detail, one has to hear a Denon on a top-flight 'table to hear what it can REALLY do, which, due to price, is a very rare occurence. Though it may not be state of the art, one would never guess in a blind test that one was hearing a conical tip, and it easily bests most if not all MMs in this category in my experience, and I'm a very serious self-avowed MM-man. All kinds of theories/myths out there which are just waiting to be verified by experiment ;-). So play that baby on something serious if you have the chance, and it appears you do, Larry, and trust your ears, you'll have an instructive blast!
Hey Johnnantais, there's something I mostly agree with you on. And also what Patrickamory is saying. I've had the venerable V15VxMR and a Benz Glider against the 103R. Both of these MC's track as well as the Shure. The combination of 103R/Vector was easily my choice over the Glider on a Graham 2.2. Now maybe it wasn't the absolute best with micro-dynamics, buth the 103R on a Vector was very musical but also had much better detail, quite surprising detail and bass. I can understand why Thom Mackris used a 103R for so long when traveling around. I think this also is in parallel with what Physicanimal is saying regarding trackability. The arm really does have a great impact on how this cartridge performs. (Well, duh, Dan.) I've gone back to an RB 300 recently as a temp solution until new toys arrive, but I can readily see where the Rega is lacking after having some much better arms to listen with. Still, one could do alot worse.

Back on the subject of surface area and the conical shape. I seem to recall some pictures posted somewhere on this subject, and I do see this under magnification. If you look at the 103R stylus head-on it does have a conical shape. If you look at the stylus from the side, it more resembles a ax head. Like if you take a cone and stretch it along one axis that is parallel to the groove. This shape results in ample surface contact area even though it is not very deep in the groove. From what I understand about the development of this cartridge, it makes sense. Much like Psychicanimal has posted, many others have confirmed that the 103R does seem to play LP's that are not in the best of condition better than some other cartridges. I think it does pretty good on LP's that are in great condition as well.
This is getting good...
Can anybody offer their experiences on how long it takes a group of audiophiles to agree on whether a cartridge is any good?

I've heard anywhere from 5 years to 100 years or more. ;-)
Actually, Doug, there are several issues at once here, besides breaking in (an unavoidable process). Record wear, trackability, stylus shape, the inadequacies of the analog medium and the cash outlay necessary for making low output MC's (and other low output designs, like some moving iron cartridges). Something good should come out of this.

I recently found an Audio Tecnica AT-15S cartridge I was given by my father's friend who introduced me to high end when I was 14 years old. Also found a Shure V15 III he sold me for $30. I wonder if this $400 MM AT cartridge is essentially the same:

http://www.needledoctor.com/s.nl/it.A/id.3822/.f?sc=7&category=578

Perhaps John N. can shed some light...

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Psychicanimal, the vintage Audio Technicas sound nothing like the new family sound of overdamped bass and leaning-towards-the-bright current crop (which has advantages in too-warm or flabby systems however): they are rich, smoooooth and very very musical. The first of these superb vintage cartridges is likely the AT13 with various tips (Shibata/stereohedron, hyper-elliptical, elliptical, conical), moving through the AT-14, AT15 and then the AT20, each of which is superb, with the '20 likely being the best of the bunch. They still have a "neutral" flavour as compared with other vintage MMs like the ADCs. All of these are worth seeking out and trying, if one is into MMs. They also had a "TK" line (TK-9, TK-7, TK-5) which sounds rich and excellent. I haven't heard the latest '150, but I assume anyway it will have the current traditional A-T sound.

Hi Dan, while in Berlin recently I discovered an elliptical-tipped Denon DL-103 which I bought along with a new plain 103. I'll be comparing the two to see what pluses and minuses there are relative to each other, since there is some buzz that the conical tip is in fact responsible for its great sense of gestalt/organic wholeness. Phonophono in Berlin sells these retipped by a German fellow and orderable for 147 euros (!) from www.phonophono.de, though it isn't on their website (you'll have to ask for it specifically in an e-mail or phonecall). They are apparently modified from trade-ins by a man they call The Needle Man (apparently not many names for cartridge builder/modifiers). They claim this Denon DL-103"E" is greatly superior to the "R" version, to add to the confusion ;-)! In the meantime, I continue to be a great admirer of the plain DL-103. If the elliptical tip adds without subtracting I'll be one mesmerized fellow!
Thanks for your help, John. My father's friend was a freak when it came to spending cartridges. I think he went astray when he jumped on the low output MC wagon and sold his Technics SP-10 for a SOTA vacuum. Earlier this year he admitted to me switching to the SOTA was a mistake. The cartridge he gave me is an AT-15S. I found a supplier of NOS Audio Technica stylus and they have the AT-S15 replacements.

As for the conical/distortion cancelling issue, I will give it a shot. Got this Pickering XSV/3000 body on eBay and will buy a NOS eliptical stylus from KAB. I never liked the idea of using my Shibata/Fritz Geiger tips with 60's records anyway. If this works out, then I can have KAB prepare an eliptical or conical stylus for my modded Groovemaster.

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&ih=006&item=160006556787&rd=1&sspagename=STRK%3AMEWN%3AIT&rd=1

I think it's time for a new thread...

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