What is "rich mans" DL-103?

Hi there

I have lived with several top cartiridges like Transfiguration Esprit, Transfiguration Temper and DRT XV-1s. Some time ago I decided to give the XV-1s a rest and mounted a DL-103 (nuded on a Cartridgeman Isolator). Although the XV-1s is a beautiful performer, I have fallen for the DL's body, energy and musical impact. Of course I miss the delicacy of the top cartridges, so I wonder, is there a rich mans DL-103 that has the quality of the 103 and add some detail, top end and finesse.
My guess is Kondo IO but that is just a guess.


Hm, good question. I had such a conversation with one of my audiophile friends about my modified 103R (I like it -sometimes-). He is a record collector and was totally upset. He told me"..well, you know, that cartridge is like a table dancer. great, really great to look at, in the first moment, but don't start a serious discussion..."
I told him, I don't like serious discussion the whole day ... etc.... :).

Well, for those moments with discussions I use Takeda Miyabi.
I have moments where I enjoy my DL-103 which I purchased as a replacement, but it definitely does not make me forget the Virtuoso that I sent in to have repaired. The level of delicacy and overall enjoyment that the Virtuoso provides is above and beyond. True, the Denon has more impact and perhaps even more detail, but it isn't nearly as enjoyable to listen to. I guess that doesn't really answer your question, because the Virtuoso sounds nothing like the DL-103; but if you're looking for a cart that provides hours of blissful enjoyment, I'd recommend it.
In my opinion Shelter top of the range have meat & bones with finesse. Just my 2 cents
There is an easy answer to your question. The Denon DL-S1 is the top end Denon effort. In my opinion, it is one of the best I have heard and is the 103 with lots more. It is easy to research and for the price, I can't believe there is much out there with more enjoyment.
Is the DL-S1 a newer model? HAdn't heard of it before.

It appears to have very low output and significantly higher output impedance than the 103, but also higher compliance.

I was just listening and enjoying the 103R in my system last night and thinking "can it get any better than this?" Maybe a bit more sparkle on the top end. But if it can, does it really matter?
Why don't you send it to the soundsmith for a level 2 or level 3 cantilever upgrade? I sent in a 103 and a 103r and I am very, very happy. All of the strengths of the 103, and extra, air, and detail..... I mounted the 103, and haven't even bothered looking at the 103r yet..... I'm enjoying the 103 too much. BTW I went for the level 2 job.
That's where I sent my Virtuoso to get repaired. Sent it out this past Saturday actually. Too bad there is a 10 week turnaround right now, but it should be worth the wait. I went for the level 2 upgrade as well. If I like the results, I may eventually send in the DL-103 as well for a level 2 upgrade.
Ortofon SPU. Body, energy and musical impact galore. It is the 103 on steroids.
Hxt1 has the right idea. I have Soundsmith's OC (optimized contour) line contact stylus assembly (ruby cantilever) on my DL-103 and it is truly awesome. Costs $350 and worth every penny. Good luck, Dave
Denon 304
03-17-09: Ad010685
In my opinion Shelter top of the range have meat & bones with finesse.
Certainly agree, although it might help to know which tonearm is being used.
Viridian, which SPU? GM w/elliptical stylus? New or old? I've been told so much contradictory information on the SPU cartridges that I don't know where to begin. Some say the new SPUs suck and others love them.

Btw, I would go along with the suggestion to retip the 103/R and/or ditch the plastic body (Zu or wood shell in place). My conical Zu 103/R and my conical, wood body 103/R are both superb on a 12" tonearm.
What about the Zu-103?

As for the DL-S1, it's available here, here, and for $100 less, here.
Having owned one, I feel the Zu-103 rather fundamentally changes the sound of the cartridge - yes it cleans up the sound of the 103, but also removes some fundamental aspects of its soul. Personally, I didn't care for it all that much, but many would vehemently disagree. I've never heard the Soundsmith-ed 103, but would guess it to be very good based upon other Soundsmith work I've heard. The Voice is a particularly fine sounding cartridge.

In a similar price range as the 103R, I'd recommend trying an Audio Technica AT-33PTG. Certainly a different flavor, but with a similar musicality to the 103, and a bit more of the hi-fi stuff done right. The usual disclaimers apply.

I agree with Palasr. I had a 103R and found that an AT33PTG was better in just about every respect. This was on an unmodified Ittok.
I have a Denon DL-103R and also added an aftermarket aluminium body to it recently to see if i can take it further but i now prefer the Audio Techinca AT-33PTG over both in my system.I concur with Palasr too and think it's great value direct from Japan.

But i'm waiting for a Thomas Schick arm for the Denon 103R and may be that will swing things around a bit later.
Is the Audio Technica AT-33PTG low compliance like the 103R and thereby requiring a heavier mass tonearm?

If not it might be hard to do an apples and apples comparison between the two using the same table/tonearm.

If teh AT is higher compliance, tehn it might work better inherently in a lower mass tonearm, right?

I just want to point out that the tonearm used is a factor in how a particular cart sounds. They need to be matched properly to do valid comparisons of cartridges alone.
To answer the original post, the Magic Diamond appears to be a close relative of the 103.
What's a "Magic Diamond." I must have missed something. Dave
I've heard a 103 based cartridge which is 5k retail. Some say, the sound of it is great.
Its funny that "delicate" is a term used to describe high end carts in general.

I would argue the same term applies to the sound of some high end digital as well, like DCS.

Does that mean that really "rich mans" high end stuff is inherently delicate? Most music in real life is not inherently "delicate", so why should this necessarily be an attribute of super high end components? Maybe because "delicate" is more appealing to some than realistic?
I would suggest a plain 103-R. I agree with Palasr - I nuded my R, mounted it on a walnut base. I did not notice a grand improvement as such, so for cantilever safety, I put the housing back on - this time with a careful application of super glue in and around the seam and used an 'accelerant' to dry it. It sounds way better, go figure. And it blows away the plain 103 I just bought.
103R + wood body + Soundsmith retip. I'm 2/3 of the way there and eventually one of the two 103R's I have here will go to Soundsmith.

Although I haven't heard it, the description of the Zu is not surprising to me. I would expect that it excels at detail retreival but is a bit clinical in light of the aluminum body. Kind of like hard metal footers "harden" the sound with components.

The wood bodies (especially clavellin vs. ebony in my experience) give you lots of detail with power/extension at both frequency extremes but really retain the soul of the cartridge & sound.

I'm interested to find out what the Soundsmith retip will do-have heard nothing but positives about it.
Hi there.

Thank you all for the replies and good suggestions. I have a gut feeling that the way to go for me is the SPU. Right now I have a TW Raven AC with Graham Phantom, so that combo is out of the question. But I have a Thorens TD 124 with Ortofon arm on the shelf waiting for a plinth, so there I have the right arm and table to try one out and listen if that is the way to go.


" Right now I have a TW Raven AC with Graham Phantom,so that combo is out of the question".Is the Ortofon SPU not a good match with the Phantom.
The Zu 103R in my system is far from clinical. It is fantastic and on par with my wood body 103R. I might even like it better. Perhaps the potting has something to do with it. My wood bodied 103R is not potted.
Theo, if you get a SPU, please come back to this thread or start a new thread and tell us your experiences. I have been thinking of a SPU but have only heard it in a very high end system (all Shindo - Garrard, Latour, Giscours, Cortese). Thanks, Paul

SPU comes integrated in a "G" or "A" style headshell so it don't fit the Graham. One could use the SPU N which will fit, but it has very low compliance and should have a heavier tonearm.

Plinko: When I try the SPU, I will come back to this thread.


the Magic Diamond is a high ticket cart, evidently based on the 103, that has been Lloyd Walker's reference for a number of years.

reality is, in fact, infinitely "delicate", although not exclusively so. Yes? Perhaps a better word might be "subtle".
Thanks. That's a new one on me.
I think "delicate" is often quite desirable actually. If the real thing is "delicate", then it should be reproduced that way, but I'm not sure reality is always necessarily "delicate" or even "subtle". It may not be as pleasant or perhaps even as perfect to listen to, but a lot of live music is definitely not "delicate" nor "subtle".

So if a cart always sound "delicate" or "subtle" that may be a pleasant and even desirable thing, but not necessarily "real".

I suppose one way to look at it is if "real" could always be made to be "delicate", that might not be a bad thing.
I was running a Dynavector XX-2 and tried the Zu. Sold the Dyna and never looked back. The Dyna had slightly sweater highs, but overall the Zu was better to my ears, and tracked better. I had siblance on a few albums I could never get dialed out, but with the Zu there's not a hint of it. For $400 it's a steal and I'm not so paranoid about someone bumping into my TT anymore either.
I am enjoying my zu 103r very much, I just added the rim drive to my tt which made a gigantic improvement to my setup, but nonetheless it's the zu that's playing and it's great.
Upon listening to ela, just sounds so damn live it's shocking! I am not regretting any decisions on which components I gathered.
Next move will be to put back the atma-sphere m60's to use.
Unrelated and boring: Can someone explain the sonic difference between the 103 and 103r?

I recently mounted a Uwe wood body (Panzerholz)103 on my spacedeck. Very impressed. This is in direct comparison to a Virtuoso Wood MM. I prefer the Uwe/103, which has less speed and clarity then the Virtuoso. But it has, ..how do you say in English.. "tonal density"? .. not objectively better, just more fluid, less cd-like or mechanical.

I normally listen to a (currently damaged) Zyx Airy3SB. Denon is tonally opaque, thick and clunky in comparison. To my ears, the refined qualities, or "delicate" aspect of the Zyx has to do with successful reproduction of minute tonal shadings and dynamic subtelties. Rather then an intellectual/audiophile wow! response I get from other cartridges/systems with hyper detail, the Zyx nuance results in a deeper emotional connection to the performance. On topic: I heard an EMT that is perhaps the sound you're looking for... of course that was an all EMT TT/pre & cartridge..
Queg, I'm now running a Soundsmith-retipped (Optimized Contour Line Contact stylus assembly) DL-103 in a Uwe PanzerHolz body and it sounds fantastic. A thorough-going refinement of the Denon DL-103, it accentuates all the finer qualities of this cart and adds new levels of dynamics and openness on my "hybrid" JMW arm (10.5 base, 10.5 armtube, 12.7 pivot point assembly).

I'm familiar with one Zyx Airy 3 and am frankly puzzled at the popularity of this cart. Sparkly highs, good bass, but a recessed midrange. Didn't do much for several audiobuddies and me, as heard on an awesome system and compared with a Cardas Heart and Koetsu Black and Rosewood carts. Frankly I'd rather have my modded DL-103. Obviously your mileage varies! Dave
Benz LP= Body, Warmth, Bass, Frequency Extremes only a Microline can generate
I am surprised nobody suggesting Zu DL-103 or better yet the Zu DL-103R grade 2. On my audiomeca Romance (Romeo arm) TT direct-wired Cardas to S&B Tx103 (copper) direct to MM Gryphon PS1 phono board (soon to try a Whest Audio TWO Dual Mono) it rivals all I have heard excepting a selected Clearaudio Outsider Reference Wood. Period.

A friend owns a Brinkmann Balance with Breuer (orig.) arm (Clearaudio silver wiring) into a Blue Amp 42 phono and a van den Hul Colibri cartridge. He dropped his jaw when he heard mine (and that was without the S&B TX103 step-up)! I don't know if they are still available but maybe AudioFeil could help you further.
05-23-09: Hatehifi
I am surprised nobody suggesting Zu DL-103...
I did. 12th response to the OP.
Hey Johnnyb53, [I'm a '53er and Johnny B was my nick name almost too long... Simply John now],

So you did mention the Zu. Sorry I flew past it. Strange that it hasn't been heralded as much as I think it deserves. Same thing goes for the Whest (or Gryphon, for that matter) phono gear.

I'm auditioning the new Well Tempered Amadeus (I hope soon) and if it betters my Romance by a fair margin, I'll purchase it. That my Zu-Dl103R grade 2 (bought here from Sean Casey / Zu in a 5-piece Dutch Auction - greetings fellow winners!) and S&B TX103 is 'staying' with me - 'bet your bottom dollar! Maybe I put in my will to be buried with but no, pass as heirlooms to my oldest son...

Cheers folks!
I am with Stanwal suggest on the DL304.
This is taking both carts stock, no mods to the 103.
The 304 improves on being able to decipher complex threads on large orchestral stuff. It is a little bit less thick in the midrange but the oomph is still there. But they are very close in that respect. Load both the 304 and 103 at 40ohms using a SUT and the midrange is very familiar with no congestion issues.

Go there or upgrade the 103 with all it's word, retip, and potting tricks.