The problem with tone arms is that they tend to work better with specific cartridges. If you said that you were going to be using the Grado, I would suggest an SMElll, also known as an SME 3009 Series 3. But that won't cut the mustard with the Denon 103. The effective mass of the Series 3 is only about 5 grams. Just won't work. The Rega and 3009 are both in the 9 gram range, with the 3009 improved being around 6 grams. I know that many report using Denon's in Rega arms, but it is not optimal. That's why the Zu Denon cartridges, which are designed on the Rega arms, add so much weight at the headshell, to get the effective mass where it belongs with this cartridge, at around 15 grams. Which, funny enough is right where the SME 3012 sits, and with a bit of careful shopping, I imagine that you could get one for right around $1000.00. The Ortofon arms would be another alternative that are historically correct and high mass if using low compliance cartridges, 103, EMT, Ortofon SPU, etc. Then again, I think that you have to really be sure of cartridge choice before taking the plunge.
Following are the average effective mass ratings for the SME 3009 series.
As you can see there are quite a few versions and I did not even include the 3009 series III (very low mass).
SME 3009 Series II Improved (fixed headshell) 6.5g
SME 3009 Series II S2 Improved (detachable headshell) 9.5g
SME 3009 Series II (detachable headshell) 12.5g
SME 3009R (detachable headshell) 12.7g
The heavier 12.5g series II is often referred to as the "non-improved" for identification purposes.
Here's the chart that I always use, excellent because it not only includes the 3012s but also some useful hints on how to tell the difference between the arms:
I know it isn't camp these days, but an Audio-Technica 1005 MK11 will give you exactly the effective mass that you need for the Denon 103. It really isn't a bad tonearm.
I have the SME 3009 Series II Improved, and I wouldn't even consider it for the Denon. I wouldn't use any of the others, either.
Another candidate within the price range is the Stax UA7. It has very nice bearings and an effective mass of 16 grams. You can fix that with a heavy headshell.
...just some random thoughts
This is a note that when you do calculations for the resonant frequency match for the Denon 103 use the value of 12(13) cus compliance for the Denon 103 and not 5 cus.That 5 cus figure is based on a different table than the one most manufacturers use(Denon's fault).When Hi-Fi News tested the Denon 103 in their lab years ago in a review, they found the actual compliance figure to be about 12 cus.This is the figure you should use in calculations.Thus a Denon 103 with the improved SME would yield a resonant frequency of about 11.5 Hz.Does not guarantee it will sound good though,many matches that should not work do and vice-versa.
Much food for thought, thank you all. It is apparent that the cartridge comes first and that the Denon 103 is more demanding than I first thought. Since I will most likely use my Grado Statement Sonata 1 for at least a short while, does anyone have anything to say about the SME (preferably non improved) 3009 arms in general vs the Rega models? From what I can see, the SME arms look easier to adjust than the Rega's. I also like the SME's 2 knife edges vs the Rega, which appears to be bearing supported on only one side.
All the bells and whistles aside, how do Rega arms (with upgrades if necessary) stack up against the SME 3009? Has anyone listened and compared?
The Rega RB300 is actually supported by bearings on both sides.That being said there is spring in the weight adjustment side that does vibrate.However,I remember Jean Nantais of Lenco idler fame giving the Rega RB300 the thumbs up as the real deal.He always rewired his arms though.One with an original tungsten weight is the one to go for.The Lenco idler wheel and Garrard 301 are probably very suited to this arm.
I have used most of the SME arms and use to be a dealer and also used the Rega. All are good but have different applications. If I wanted an SME I would get a used 309, they often appear used in your price range and will handle a wide range of cartridges. The new SMEs , forget the number, begin at $995 and look good. If I got a Rega I would get a VTA adjustor to begin with, they are a pain without it. VPI makes a good one [dealer disclaimer] and Riggle makes a very good one I have thought about for my Jelco 750. This arm is also one you might consider as the detachable headshell means you can tune the mass to a considerable degree. They are $500 without arm cable, a real bargain. You can adjust the VTA on them, the Riggle lets you do it while playing.
Stan, did you see that Jelco has a 12" arm available for around $600.00? That one really intrigues me, does anyone out there have any experience with this yet?
It looks good but wouldn't fit the tables I am using. Also after using the 12" VPI, which is a very good arm, I am not sure if I really want the added hassle of a 12". But the Jelco should be a real bargain; they have made arms for other companies that sold for top dollar and the 750 series looks just as good. The made the Koetsu arm and the Grado arm for example and I think Raven offers the arms as a option on their tables. If not them then another of the expensive German tables.
My 2 cents:
Instead of fixating on the inexpensive Denon (with it's special requirements) look for a tonearm that will work with a wide range of cartridges in your price range.
Dekay-I only considered "that" Denon because it always seemed to come up in discussions as though it were a "gold standard cartridge" of sorts. Since that's not such a great concern to me anymore, at least for the moment, I am still looking for a tonearm that will mate well with the Garrard 301 and allow me to use my Grado Sonata. Admittedly having little experience in this matter, it seems VTA adjustment and tonearm height will be a factor given the 301 chassis sits so high above the plinth, (roughly 14mm by my estimate), and the platter even higher. My guess is that a raised armboard would be the preferred method of roughing the height, with the final adjustment being done by the tonearm.
With Grados, I had luck with the Morch UP-4, the SME series lll and, of all things, the Grace 747. Presumably the Grado arm would be an ideal match, and perhaps arms like the Forumula 4 and the Hadcocks that Bill Feil sells.
OK, I understand.
I've considered the Denon as well, but the added expense of a suitable phono preamp, plus a synergistic arm, always makes me reconsider.
My 3009 non-improved (12.5g) works quite well with a Grado Prestige (Silver), but so did a Thorens TP13 once I got it dialed in.
Your Grado is 1.5g heavier than the Silver, which should not be a problem considering the amount of adjustment left on my counter weight.
If you wan't to squeeze more peformance from an old SME better factor in another $200+ for a rewire and rubber replacment.
I researched some of the best (IMO) vintage arms I would use -w- a 301 and they have gone up considerably in price over that past 3-4 years (way over $1K now).
Rega arms do not have the best bearings. They are relatively soft SME has knife edge bearings...a better choice.
The Rega RB300 is a terrific value and an excellent arm; I have had over 25 years of flawless perfomance from one I use with an AR-ES1. It has two downsides you need to be aware of (1) it does not have VTA adjustment and you have to use spacers to get the correct height (2) The tone arm wire and connector are basic quality and you will get improved performance by replacing them.
The arm must be chosen with the cartridge you are going to use in mind.The rega is good but modified by origin live it becomes a great arm. I used one on a lenco. A great add is the vtaf of Pete Riggle,it adds air and details and the result is amazing.
For 'just under $1000' I would look for: Micro Seiki MA-505, Technics EPA 100 or 500 and Lustre GST 801. Those can compete with the best 'modern' tonearms.
If you like the Rega you should look at the Audiomods arm. It is a great bargain.