Just a thought and it may be way off. BUT the Sumiko Celebration is about $2000.00, was a bit cheaper when I bought it, and just checked on it's price, and it was turned using the SME V. I know it's a latter model and may not work well but it is a start, read some reviews and see what you think.
Some say cartridges need "break in" time just like speakers, your first sentence states "new" so maybe that is an issue. Also maybe the Denon "likes" a different loading than your old cart, try different loadings that may sweeten things up a bit. And most importantly of all - keep it fun -frustration is for the birds :-)
For my system with my Verity Fidelio Encores, my Well Tempered Amadeus is fitted with a Dynavector xx2, and the result is excellent. If I recall correctly that cartridge sells for ~ $1850.
First, the AC-2 is quite a decent cartridge (and usually costs more used than a 103R does new). Second, pbnaudio pointed out that the 103R may take some settling in (a lot of people say that about that cart).
As to changing your cart until you KNOW the speakers are limiting improvement, if you spent $1000 on a used cartridge which was really great, you might find that other links in the chain before your speakers were limiting things far more than your speakers were.
The problem is your tonearm the SMEiii is a low mass arm for high compliance cartridges - a total mismatch for the Denon. I would strongly recommend upgrading both the arm and cartridge - something like a Rega RB1000 arm plus Shelter 501 would meet your budget and far outway a $2000 cartridge in the SME. Alternately you could go to a high compliance cartridge like a Grado - the more expensive low output versions will have more speed.
add Lyra Argo to your list. IMHO imaging champion on the price range you've mentioned.
>>This can get plenty frustration, as the cartridge is probably, I say definitely, every bit as important as your speakers
Not a chance.
Actually, the table and/or tonearm are more important than the cartridge.
I agree with Dover - there's probably no point installing a modern high end MC cartridge on that old low-mass SME arm - it wants to see a high compliance cartridge and today's moving coils are primarily medium to low compliance. You need to upgrade the arm - I'd go for a used SME309, Rega or Origin Live arm with whichever Dynavector cartridge then falls into your budget.
Well here are my thought so far;
1.0 The change from the 103R to the AC-2 in the same table is night and day in clarity. The SAME set-up on both. I'd be hard pressed to say that the T.table and tonearm is the "major" culprit. Minor, yes, major, no. I am not hearing minor nuances in sound. It's like a pair of JBL L36's verses Advents. The room, stands, speaker wire, or electronics won't swap what you prefer to hear.
The extremes of audio are fun, because they are so nuance that you can always feel right about, with the changes being so small as to be less significant overall. But if I change my speaker or cartridge...my wife will KNOW from the change in the fundamental nature of the stereo's sound. Has she ever heard wire, stands, line cords, platter mats, amplifiers...no, the nuances are too small.
Yes, a heavier arm is better for the MC pick-ups, but an AC-2 is not what I would call very "low" complinace. Yes, the DENON 103r is (about 1/3 as compliant). One of the major factors in all this is indeed the compliance of the cartridge more closely matching tonearm's range. So, I am looking to keep thing at or near the AC-2. I 100% agree that that detail isn't probably a detail.
The series III arm can be set-up to be more "massive" with additional counter weights and paddle sizes to get it to the "OK" range.
But to say a T.table outweighs a cartridge is like saying speaker stands outweight the speaker. They are important, but in no way have I EVER heard a magic T.table and tone arm make a mediocer cartridge sound good. SLIGHTLY better, but not a big jump to anywhere. Is the track more important than the runner?
2.0 True, MC cartridges break in some. What I hear is far from "break-in". The basic 103r signature is simply unacceptable long term. The sound is far and away from breaking in to even come remotely close to the AC-2.
3.0 I sold hi-fi for seven years through school, and I NEVER NEVER heard a great piece of gear sound WORSE than a so-so piece of gear that was benefitted by being stuck on a better turntable or wired better, or you name it. Yes, we tried, being dirt poor, to make a "super" system out of cheap designed gear. The better stuff stayed better, and the so-so stuff got better but was never great. A crappy piece of gear doesn't turn like magic with the right cable, platter cover, stand, line cord ETC. Improve, yes (sometimes) but there are no leaps in sound that eclipse the mechanics at each end.
4.0 A speaker or cartridge (yes, with the the tone arm) is a hugely mechanical device limited predominantly by its built-in mechanics. You can't change that. About all you can do is provide a basis to allow what is there to be the best it can be (tonearm). But, most of what you hear is built-in to the cartridge (especially sonic timber, which is as much a material puzzle as mechanics, they tend to go with one another).
My Quatros "broke-in" over time, but trust me, they NEVER sounded like my 1979 B&W 801's. I don't care what I do to either speaker, they are not going to marry the same sound, ever. Oh you can do things to make either better, but far from the same.
A good cartridge will sound better on an ideal set-up, but it will still sound basically very good on what I have today. The bath water doesn't make the baby.
Let me 'splain this to you Rower. This is nothing new and it's not rocket science.
An average cartridge on a great table/tonearm will outperform a great cartridge on an average table/tonearm all day, all night, today, tomorrow, and forever. Knowledgable audio folks know this and have lived it.
With some experience, you'll be there too.
The cartridge is fine but it's not a good match for your tonearm, and the tonearm isn't a good match to the Denon 103R. The SME III is too light by a wide margin. You had prior success with the 103D because it is more than twice as compliant as the 103/103R, and works well in the lower-mass arms that were common during its period of manufacture. You have to keep in mind that just because a Denon cartridge is labelled a "103" does not mean its compliance and dynamic characteristics will be identical between variants. 103/103R, 103D, 103M, 103S all have distinctly different compliance, cantilever, output and diamond shape specs, for example.
The 103R will come to life in tonearms with effective mass of, on the light side 12g (you will want to add a supplemental mass shim when you mount the cart) to roughly 20g. In the proper tonearm, a 103R will give your speakers plenty to resolve.
>>Yes, a heavier arm is better for the MC pick-ups, but an AC-2 is not what I would call very "low" complinace. Yes, the DENON 103r is (about 1/3 as compliant). One of the major factors in all this is indeed the compliance of the cartridge more closely matching tonearm's range. So, I am looking to keep thing at or near the AC-2. I 100% agree that that detail isn't probably a detail.<<
Denon compliance ratings are measured at 100 Hz. The standard spec for most cartridges is to measure compliance at 10 Hz. Accuphase, IIRC measures at 10 Hz. To reconcile the difference, a 100 Hz compliance rating should be multiplied by 1.8. There's some argument whether the multiplier should be 2.0, 1.5, etc. 1.8 works about right, in my experience. So the Denon 103R compliance rating of 5 is not "1/3 as compliant" as the Accuphase. It's more like 15 for the AC2 vs. 9 for the 103R. The 103D works out to 21.6 on an apples to apples basis.
Even the AC2 is not really in its sweet spot in the SME III, but the combination gets into the working zone, whereas the 103R motor is just not being worked in that arm. A 103D would be deep in its zone so my suggestion is to go back to that, if you aren't going to upgrade the tonearm. Another route: you have a good dynamic match for a Denon DL-S1 or a DL304. A DL-S1 is right at the threshold of your price range and will easily best many or most cartridges at the top of it. However, my better advice is to upgrade the arm, for more reasons than changing effective mass.
As others have stated, the compliance mismatch between effective weight of the arm and the Denon103R, the fact that the Denon 103R was not broken in and the AC-2 was broken in would make a big difference, and the fact that the AC-2 was probably a better cart in the first place, all contribute to the result you got.
However, as a few others have stated, and as I tried to state 'diplomatically' in my first response, a semi-decent cart will take you a LONG way. Audiofeil has it right - a great table/arm+ halfway decent cart will sound better than the world's best cart on a not-so-good table/arm setup. If it doesn't, then you know you have other problems in the system.
This is not so much a baby and bathwater situation as it is a situation of asking "who would you rather have in your living room? Audiofeil in a really expensive diamond-studded bikini? or Miranda Kerr in a bikini covered with mud?"
Disclosure: I have never seen Audiofeil in any kind of bikini but I know how I'd answer anyway.
The Audio Technica AT33 line would be ideal for a low mass arm.
Let me know if you want to sell your Ac-2. Bob
I all ready had added mass with the 103R (black top plate on the tonearm head). It didn't even touch the sound quality issue I hear with it. Yes, the bass got tighter, ut the mids on up are just not what the Quatros are capable of.
There are no super "serious" issues with my set-up, except the 103r cartridge seems much less "open" sounding in general than the AC-2. I don't think that the equipment will allow even a 100% exact set-up on a 103r to match the AC2 in midrange detail.
But the reviews are 30:1 that says the 103r is a great deal on most speakers, so I took a gamble that I could fake it till I make it on the set-up. No, not 100% extraction of performance, but 80% or so. Nope, didn't do it. Some is imdeed the 103r, and some is indeed my tonearm.
I've mixeda and matched equipment for 30 years, and I've never seen a so-so product eclipse a better one unless the match was simply so gross as to not be worth doing. The 103R with a 25G weight, large paddle, max mass in the counter balancer, and 2.2 grams tracking force isnt miles away from where the 104r needs to be. Exact, no. Terrible, no. My problem was how good the AC-2 is, and I never knew it. My bad.
The compliance measurement is interesting as it doesn't seem to be very linear with frequency or how would you get..."It's more like 15 for the AC2 vs. 9 for the 103R. The 103D works out to 21.6 on an apples to apples basis." I'm sure you meabt 1.66 or so, right? or is it that gossly non lineaer? Something is amiss?
Any way you slice it, the AC-2 is still really good sounding on a SME type III at 2.0 grams. The stylus rack angle (what people thing VTA is,usually around 16-20 degrees, but it isn't) is set to 92 degrees, or close to it "playing" it by ear.
But, I do agree that the 103r is out for all the reasons I "hear" and you "measure". So, I took what everyone said, and went where no one said to go;
Soundsmith The Voice Ebony Phono Cartridge
Compliance: - Select - High Medium
Loading: - Select - 100pf 400pf
$2,199.00$2,199.00 Soundsmith Aida Phono
This cartridge is smack in the sweet spot for my SME series III tonearm, and price range. Has anyone used this cartridge, and subjectively what was the general sound? Forward, bright, soft, ETC? The two reviews I've read are fovarable. Renmember, I looked at MC designs because the MM amd MI designs were sort of left behind a little more than MC for various reasons, mostly emotional)and some mechanical.
I bough the Quatros for the same reason I tried the 103r, sounding good isn't always throwing money at the problem. A decent design doesn't have to cost a lot. And, a MC isn't always better than a good MM or MI design. The soundsmith seems to be a well done moving iron design that falls right into the best my tonearm can offer. I think, on paper, you all would agree with this decision so far? So you all nudged me in the right direction, but I never really heard what product was in that direction. Still haven't.
So, I was hoping that a voice would have enunciated that this somewhatt rare cartridge exists. I admit, I never heard of it till a friend suggested a GRADO on steroids! It is essentially a GRADO type design basis, and one that seems historically good.
Is the ebony that much better than the AIDA?
Best, to all that have chimed in.
You didn't add enough mass using one of those headshell plates, to put the 103R in its operating range. In fact you wouldn't want to add at the headshell all the mass necessary to load your light tonearm to the effective mass needed for that cartridge.
>>But the reviews are 30:1 that says the 103r is a great deal on most speakers, so I took a gamble that I could fake it till I make it on the set-up. No, not 100% extraction of performance, but 80% or so. Nope, didn't do it. Some is imdeed the 103r, and some is indeed my tonearm.<<
The 103R *is* a great cartridge, period. It's not the only great cartridge, but it's one, and that's apparent on any at least reasonably good speaker. You can't fake its setup, however. Your tonearm is so mismatched to the 103R that you can't get 80% or 60% or even 40% sonic performance the 103R is capable of. The pairing doesn't work for either instrument, regardless of loudspeakers you listen to.
>>The 103R with a 25G weight, large paddle, max mass in the counter balancer, and 2.2 grams tracking force isnt miles away from where the 104r needs to be.<<
This is a misunderstanding of the issues. It *is* miles away. Your SME III has an effective mass of just 5 grams. A Denon 103R just begins to sound good in a 12 grams eff mass Rega tonearm, where even there additional mass at the headshell improves the sound. The 103R is commonly used in tonearms having effective mass in the range of 20 - 25 grams. Your arm isn't even close. The Zu103 modification of the 103 adds 5.5g of mass to the 103/103R total mass, reaching 14g. If you add a gram's worth of bolts, putting THAT 15g block in your tonearm will still leave the combination in borderline operating range. In the SME III, the 103R *will* absolutely sound dull, undynamic and have funky bass.
>>The compliance measurement is interesting as it doesn't seem to be very linear with frequency or how would you get..."It's more like 15 for the AC2 vs. 9 for the 103R. The 103D works out to 21.6 on an apples to apples basis." I'm sure you meabt 1.66 or so, right? or is it that gossly non lineaer? Something is amiss?<<
No, I didn't mean "1.66." The 103/103R have compliance rating of 5 x10-6cm/Dyne at 100 Hz. The AC-2 has a compliance rating of 15 x10-6cm/Dyne at 10 Hz. To reconcile Denon's non-standard 100 Hz rating with Accuphase's standard 10 Hz rating, multiply the Denon spec by 1.8. The 103R normalized compliance spec becomes 9 x10-6cm/Dyne. The higher compliance 103D is normalized to 21.6 x10-6cm/Dyne, which is why you liked the D but not the R.
I have no idea what you mean by "...doesn't seem very linear by frequency..." Again, you have a tonearm with effective mass of just 5 grams. The AC-2 is serviceable but borderline with it. The 103R is wholly mismatched. You haven't listened to an AC-2 vs. 103R comparison. You've listened to a semi-optimal-but-serviceable AC-2/SMEIII pairing compared to a completely non-optimal 103R/SMEIII combination that puts the 103R outside its operating range. I'm only using data to explain sonic results that would have been entirely predictable. None of us in this thread would even suggest you can get good sound out of a 103R with *any* 5 grams effective mass tonearm. This isn't a quality issue about either component. It's a matching issue. That a 103D sounded good in your tonearm is irrelevent to whether a lower compliance 103R will work.
>>So, I took what everyone said, and went where no one said to go;
Soundsmith The Voice Ebony Phono Cartridge
Compliance: - Select - High Medium
Loading: - Select - 100pf 400pf
$2,199.00$2,199.00 Soundsmith Aida Phono<<
You may or may not like the Soundsmith, but at least you'll be giving it a fair shot by choosing the high compliance option for good matching to your tonearm. Some of us in this thread think you can do much better by not being constrained by your low mass tonearm and its various design compromises that probably seemed like good ideas at the time to SME.
Personally, I would not spend $2,200 on a cartridge for your front-end. Especially not when you can spend just roughly $500 on the excellent Denon DL304 or $1000 on the Denon DLS1, both of which have a normalized compliance rating of about 25 x10-6cm/Dyne, which will work fine in your 5 grams effective mass tonearm.
All that said, the AC-2 is a fine cartridge. I owned both AC-1 and AC-2 back in the 1980s, alongside the Denon 103D. I preferred the 103D overall but the AC cartridges were better in some respects. If you love the AC-2 and are committed to your SME III, send the Accuphase to Soundsmith for a rehab and be happy.
Constraint is relative. To go with a heavy arm just puts the constraints somewhere else, and my wallet, too, as I'd have to buy two components verses one.
I listened to a well broken-in 103R on a heavy arm, and it was better, but it still had a more opaque midrange sound like music was coming off a flat plate. Highes were noticably not as open, either. I stuck my so-so AC-2 set-up T.table in and the world opened up again. I'm sorry guys, but the 103r is OK, but not much better than the price in my listening. I have no beef with DENON, but the AC-2 is still WAY better sounding even in my tone arm. Sure, it cost more. But we're talking SOUND right now. I can do much better, even with my tone arm, than the 103r...or even my AC-2. I would not settle for the 103R even with a heavier arm!
The DENON is quiet (conical stylus tracks way less of the record surface), however. And the bass was always nice. It just lacks clarity and dynamics in the midrange and open extension on top.
I liked my old 103D mostly because it was running DQ-10's and it's been years since I listened to one. What I do know, is that the AC-2 kicked it out of bed A to B compared on that same system and arm, which is WHY I have the AC-2 today. I was hoping that the "improved" 103r would narrow the gap. I think with what I have heard now, I'd say that the stock 103r is WORSE than a stock 103D. The Quatros are much less forgiving than the DQ-10, too.
"Keep in mind that Denon publishes their dynamic compliance specs relative to 100Hz. The actual compliance at 10Hz would be considerable higher than the spec at 100Hz. Its this little discrepancy that explains why the 103 and 103R perform better than expected in lower mass arms. The actual compliance at 10Hz is something more like 10-11 X 10-6 cm/Dyne for the 103/103R from; http://www.audioasylum.com/audio/vinyl/messages/47/473022.html
My old lit for my 103D shows 12x10-6 cm/Dyne on the 103D @ 100Hz so taking your 1.8 times that is ineed about 21.6 cm / Dyne compared to my Accupase at 15 x 10-6 cm/Dyne. Also, to get 103R's working, most get the conical stylus replaced, too. Even Soundsmith reworks the 103r's stylus and suspension. I sure do not hear, or agree with the statement that the 103r, "perform better than expected" on low mass arms..I think you can agree with that.
So much for the 103D or 103r, I'm wanting better than that, it is out there, and the AC-2 says so even at 15 x 10-6 cm/ Dyne on my arm. THAT I hear everyday.
So I have yet to hear a PEEP about what to do other than fan boy the 103r or make it work. I don't WANT to "make" the 103r work. I've hear it (I have one to sell). If you think that's the end all to your knowledge, fine. I already know that there is better out there if my AC-2 is strutting it stuff like it is. I want to hear about THOSE options!
I am a long time AC2 owner, and understand your objection. The 103r is a good cartridge, needs alot of break-in on the suspension, needs a heavy arm, but brother - it will not sound like the AC2, which sounds alive in comparison.
Looking at the Nakatsuka design family, it starts with your ac2, then onto Monster alpha's, and then the present day Zyx's. Happy hunting.
>> I have no beef with DENON, but the AC-2 is still WAY better sounding even in my tone arm.<<
Aboslutely. The AC-2 is at least a serviceable dynamic match to your SME III. The 103R is not.
>>The DENON is quiet (conical stylus tracks way less of the record surface), however. And the bass was always nice. It just lacks clarity and dynamics in the midrange and open extension on top.<<
The 103R is guaranteed to lack clarity and dynamics, and sound dull on top in a very low mass tonearm. Don't use it that way.
>>I liked my old 103D....I was hoping that the "improved" 103r would narrow the gap. I think with what I have heard now, I'd say that the stock 103r is WORSE than a stock 103D.<<
The 103R is an improvement on the plain 103, primarily as a materials and build quality evolution. The earlier 103D was however a *design* evolution from the 103. It was product of an R&D spur for lower mass tonearms taking hold during the '70s, which began with the 103S and culminated with the 103D. Some might say this evolutionary stub ended with the 103M, the last of the high-compliance 103s, but it was different in enough ways to be its own peculiarity. In any case, the 103D is in the realm of latitude to be usable with your arm and sound good. And overall, those of us deeply familiar with it consider the 103D superior to the 103R by a significant margin. A 103R *is not* as good as a 103D, nor should it be perceived as an intended improvement over 103D.
>>I sure do not hear, or agree with the statement that the 103r, "perform better than expected" on low mass arms..I think you can agree with that.<<
That audioasylum poster is knowledgeable and experienced. His reference to 103R usability with "lower mass" tonearms isn't the same as saying "low mass," as in your 5g eff mass SME III. You have to understand his context is posting into a group populated by many who contend you need a minimum 20g eff mass tonearm to properly use a 103/103R. Ed is making the point that there's more latitude than that. It will work with a 12g Rega arm, for example, but that's medium mass. Your 5g SME is too far out of range to be included in Ed's reference.
>>So I have yet to hear a PEEP about what to do other than fan boy the 103r or make it work. I don't WANT to "make" the 103r work.<<
I've given you two specific suggestions that will work well in your arm, and give you the essential assets of your AC-2 and Denon tone density: the higher compliance Denon DL-304 and DL-S1. The DL-S1 plays in the bigs. You might also try an Ortofon Cadenza Black. If you get open-minded about upgrading your tonearm to at least a medium mass, modern-bearings device, ala a Rega RB1000 or similar, the 47 Labs MC Bee should nail the sound you seek - just not in your SME III.
Who knew that more than 35 years later, Ivor Tiefenbrun's sales shtick would still rule the analog world? I've never found that the turntable is more important than the cartridge, and I've long known that toe-tapping or "following the tune" has absolutely nothing to do with audio quality. Perhaps never in the history of marketing has such an insipid claim had a longer life. But the man did build a nice turntable.
Couldn't agree with you more on that "following the tune" BS!!!
I'm no fan of Linn tables. Nor is "toe tapping" any sort of serious sonic parameter in my book. But my experience is that Ivor got the order of precedence right.
The functions of a table and arm are to (a) spin the LP at a precise velocity despite constantly varying loads; (b) provide a mobile yet stable, suitably mass-matched platform for the cartridge; (c) manage stray resonance energies coming from the cartridge; and (d) isolate the cartridge from external resonances. These tasks are fiendishly difficult. Performing them well is not inexpensive and the inadequacies of a cheap table/arm will compromise the performance of any cartridge. Even worse, the more revealing the cartridge the more noticeable the inadequacies of a rig become.
I've owned 6-7 inexpensive rigs and two pretty good ones ($6K/$11K). I've tried 18-20 cartridges, from $75 MMs to LOMC's costing up to $8K.
Without exception, the good table/arm with any cheap cartridge hugely outperformed any cheap table/arm with a good cartridge. So I'm with Audiofeil and 213cobra.
I'm with what my AC-2 does on my SME III, it kicks butt on Quatro Wood signature II's!. And probably with a 50-50 set-up, even.
Sure, a pefect set-up is nice, but then again, why on earth do we listen to records with the turntable in the same darn room! You shake, so does the tone arm, and it is defenseless against that. I'd say that that out weights about ANYTHING that the record grove is doing to the inertia in the tone arm or visa versa. A tone arm is designed to stabilize what the stulus is doing in the groove. It sure wasn't made to defeat the kind of bass the Quatros put out. And in light of this, the SME III with the AC-2 sounds crisp and tight (it shouldn't!) somehow.
I've looked at tone arms and that is a messy situation. I can blindly "buy" a tonearm, but you can't "shop" for the right tonearms as there is precious little data to support what they are intended to run well based on their mass and adjustment ranges. Some Sweet spot (there is indeed one) on cartridge weight and compliance would be nice. But nope, just useless data relative to what arm to match with what cartridge. Why should you have to guru shop for a tonearm? The operational data is certainly there, somewhere. it should be easier to find. I can't even tell SME III is really meant to do, and with what.
For now, I'll keep my Ariston RD II s and SME III and set my sights on more compliant cartridges.
What I settled on is a Benz Micro Ruby 3 factory new re-tip for $1,750.00. This cartridge sounds wonderful and works just fine on my SME III tonearm. So, it is a far cry from the Denon 103R and matches(if not smoother sounding than)my AC-2 Accuphase.
One product I didn't get a change to hear is "The Voice" brand cartridges. Any comments on those? I may send my second arm to be rewired by them and get a moving iron version as a back-up if I get a chance to listen to one. And yes, this design should be the best match (on paper) for my tonearm.