A tube phono stage is the best place to start. That’s where the rubber meets the road! BTW, that Denon has a conical stylus and some say it is boring!
6 responses Add your response
I agree with noromance, except for the selection of the moving magnet cartridges. Although we are in agreement as to MM cartridges, I prefer different brands, and here is where you should not rely on someone else's taste, but carefully determine your own preference in regard to which cartridge is best for your music and taste by making comparisons.
I like and own both tubed and solid state phono preamps. They have their own sonic signatures and it’s fun to stay with one for awhile and then shift my music listening focus so that I switch over to the other version. Neither design has a corner on "most desireable,’ both types can offer wonderful sonic signatures for particular moods and interests.
Right now I’m running a vintage Pickering XV15 with a high profile stylus (1200E, 6/75 µm (.0002 x .0030 inch) through a Schiit Mani phono pre with very enjoyable results. That may change in the near future and I’ll switch over to tubes.
If your phono stage is SS then its between upgrading that and the cartridge. I don't know what it'll cost in Oz but the bargain here (and maybe even outright champ) is the Herron VTPH-2A. Not a pure tube design but you can be sure anything harsh you hear is not coming from the Herron!
But really, before buying anything you should spend some time trying out as many things as you can get for audition. At the very least it will help to ID which of your components is contributing what to the overall sound you are hearing.
It’s much easier to replace a cartridge first if you’re not happy with a sound. If your JLTi is mk4 you can send it to Joe for upgrade to MK5 (different power supply), check on his site.
I am the owner of JLTi phono stage and upgraded Zu Audio Druid MK4 speakers. The phono stage is excellent for both MM and 99% of the MC, so no problem with that. Zu audio speakers works fine with both Tube and SS amps, amazing for low power amps, even 5 watt is mothe than enough for my Zu Druis (as they are 101db). I’ve tried various tube amps with rare NOS tunes and ended up with SS ! But you have to try First Watt or Pass Labs with your Zu. Those amps are very special and unique, most of them designed for the speakers like Zu Audio. Each amp made by Nelson Pass is different. I’m using First Watt F2J current source amp with Pass Labs Aleph L 1.2 passive/active preamp (look inside), i also have First Watt B1 buffer preamp as an alternative (this is how it looks inside). I like both, in my opinion his gear is much better than any tube amp i have tried.
Find yourself a better cartridge, because your Denon 103 has conical tip you can not reproduce a good bass and good hights, this is oldschool cartridge with rolled off on both ends. No matter how good is the cartridge body made by Zu (it looks nice, but it has nothing to fo with an awful Conical tip). You have a big disadvantage in your cartridge design, not anywhere else (probably). The reason why people always invest to that Denon much more that it cost by replacing a cantilever and stylus tip for something better.
If you want to use a low compliance MC, but with much better everything you need a stylus like the modern Replicant-100 (read here). Another great low compliance cartridges are Fidelity-Research FR-7f or PMC-3 (both with Refined Contact Line diamonds).
I’ve never heard about your tonearm, but i hope the effective mass is heavy to use such a low compliance like Denon, SPU or FR ? If not, it can be a problem! You have to clearly understand what you arm designed for (low compliance, mid compliance or high compliance cartridges) to choose the cart accordingly.
If the arm is not heavy you can try an MM cartridges (mid of high compliance) like Victor X-1II (Beryllium/Shibata), Stanton SC-100 WOS (Sapphire coated alluminum cantilever with Stereohedron stylus) or Grace F14 and LEVEL II with Boron/MicroRidge styli. Once you will check them out all the pride of owing an MC will be wiped away quickly, you already have an amazing phono stage for MM.
Buying another phono stage you can only understand how good is the JLTi, i have 3 different phono stages, SUTs, Headamps etc. The JLTi is a must have, for its price it is a steal!