What turntable and TONEARM brands sound best with the Denon DL103 and DL 103R? MC's

Need some recommendation for turntables with TONEARMS that provide the best sound quality with either the Denon DL103R ( retail $379) or Denon DL103 ( retail $229) MC's cartridges.

Is there a major difference in sound quality between the two LOMC's??

Thank you, SJ

The first question, as usual, is what is your budget? These low compliance carts require a high mass tonearm for best results. An idler-drive table, 12" heavy arm and DL-103 is the very definition of synergy.
Thomas Schick "12 tonearm made for Denon 103 if you’re looking for new tonearms for reasonable price.

About 103 vs 103R: the difference is stylus tip and coil wire, the "R" is superior compared to 103, but if you want even better look for higher compliance vintage 103D which does not require heavy tonearm to perform at its best.

Cartridge does not require a specific turntable, good cartridge works on any good turntable. Dedon made fantastic direct drive turntables, most of the Japanese broadcast studios equipped with direct drive like Technics Sp10mk2 etc. Denon 103 was made for broadcast use along with DL-107 (MM alternative of DL-103).  

p.s. you can easily google all info about denon variations and tonearm matching, this is not an exotic item with no info about it, tons of information online. 

@sunnyjim Are you giving up on the U-Turn already? We didn't get a post of your evaluation of it as you promised. Thought your plan was to use the Ortofon 2M then replace it with a Denon 110? Did you try those and decide to back up the plan a step or two?
Is your budget still $1100?
Audio Technica ATP-12T can be had for not a lot of money and works
very well with the DL103.
For more money the AT 1503 and Fidelity Research FR64s.

Thanks to all who have responded

To fjn04, I have not decided to make a U-Turn....yet

To Spencer, I not giving up on the  U-Turntable, but  keeping the bullpen warmed up is my style ( maybe a bad one).  This turntable quest has had its "price limit" up and downs since it first begun I should take my own advice: "that you get what you pay for" (almost all of the time), and if you keep pushing the envelope, it will break on through to the other side. I think Jim Morrison said that..

Nevertheless, I  actually like the looks and sound of the turntable. It is quiet, spins smoothly, and appear stable with low wow and flutter. However, receiving the TT with a bad motor (that produced a hum during play) right of the box was not a incentive to keep it. However, UT replaced the motor and installation was easy, the hum seems to have disappeared or has been significantly reduced to be almost inaudible.

Caveats: The belt supplied with the TT is very difficult to install around the pulley and  the acrylic platter which seems fairly well made for a TT in this price range. The supplied RCA phono cables look antiques packed with 1970 era tape decks, and will be replaced soon.

Sound quality using the Ortofon 2M Red cartridge is good to very good. The soundstage is wide, but depth is just average. Imaging is better than  above average, and not furry around the edges of voices or instruments with.an acceptable amount of  air around the instruments.

The cartridge/ tonearm interface work well enough to produce good tight bass with little to no overhang. Clarity  overall is good, but gets less so in the upper mids  and lower treble range.

I have used 2M Red cartridge before on a Rega P3-24 TT which I sold 4 years ago when the downsize devil popped up again. Therefore, I can again identify the limitation of the 2M Red, even in the U-Turn tonearm which is probably  not equal to Rega's 301b arm on the P3-24 table.

Overall, I would recommend this table to budget-minded audio system builders, which I said to myself during yesterday's  LP listening session. I think I can push the performance and sound quality envelope  of the TT with the Denon DL-110 which I mentioned before. Based on a few reviews of the Denon DL-103 and DL103R, the DL-110 is less of a hassle to install and calibrate, and  lighter than the bigger brothers at 8.5gms each.  Cheers, SJ  


Do you get a chance to listen to many others' systems, hobbyists and/or dealers? If you can describe other rigs that met your needs better, that might put it in perspective. 
If you plan to change tables because you love the sound of 103R or 103, well tell us about the rig that it impressed you on. 
I still think that is a cart before the horse approach and you should choose table(& arm in this price range) as most important and costly, then get a cart that suits the table/arm. Cheers,
The fact that Ortofon 2M Red is very popular and the Ortofon is one of the biggest manufacturer today, it doesn’t make this cartridge any better even compared to their own (vintage) M20 FL Super. 

$250-300 Stanton 881 (with Stereohedron stylus) will put it in a shame for less money. I already posted here about this case, it was direct replacement for my local friend. After hearing Stanton 881s mkII in his system his new Ortofon 2M Red was removed and he said he’s gonna sell it as it was a day and night in sound compared to Stanton 881 Stereohedron. I’m a big fan of stanton cartridges and my own Stanton CS-100 WOS is my favorite MM.

To sbank,  No, I have not checked out audio other dealer, or hobbyist's w  analog set-up that impressed me.  But, your last point is well taken and good advice. Unfortunately, I have not visited many audio shops since I left Honolulu, Hawaii in 2014 which were convenient to travel to. Los Angeles county where I currently live is a huge place. Most, if not all the decent high-end audio shops are in the western half the county where there are many rich communities like Santa Monica and West Hollywood, just to name a few. 

So for the time being or maybe permanently, I will stick with the U-Turn TT, and 1)  am replacing the antique phono cables that came with the table with  Audio Sensibility Impact SE phono cables recommented by a member in another threads  2) after evaluating the new phono cable, will eventually replace the 2M Red cartridge with something.....probably the Denon DL-110 HOMC. or possibly the Stanton 881  MM  recommended by .chkster  (see above)

To chkster,  (see above your comment). Thanks for the recommendation, I will check it out. I have not owned a Stanton cartridge( 681EE). since 1973 when I replaced  the Shure cartridge on Garrard SL-95B turntable. I still have the small metal embossed box with the Stanton logo that came with the cartridge  Very handy!.  It stored mounting screws, and later was used to store B&W speaker jumpers, and at times, partially  unfinished  little "doobies" misnamed "roaches"  Shame on me.  But I was living in San Francisco and the Sky, (or better) the "The High" was limit .... LOL ...... SJ.   


@sunnyjim Are you familiar with the LA & Orange County Audio Society? It's probably the largest audio club in the country. You'd be well served to attend some events, meet some local audiofools and go listen to their turntables. Then you will in a better position to make some of these decisions without relying only on the writings of others. Cheers,

To sbank,  Yes, I am familiar with that Audio Society but have not attended  any of their meetings. Occasionally, they have them at  different audio shops in Pasadena which is not far from where I lived in L.A. Metro area.

BTW, I meant to ask you about a comment you made about the "Spin Clean" record cleaning machine. I think you said it would work better than cleaning LP's with a MF liquid clearer and brush. I have seen it, and  is reasonably priced even for the Deluxe model. 

However, I never paid much attention to record machine cleaners because I had a "Record Doctor" unit about 15 years ago that really did not offer much cleaning.  Do you have a "Spin Clean" system or know of people who owned them??     Thanks, SJ 

Just get a turntable with a Jelco 750 9", 10" or 12" whatever you desire. This is absolutely the best value in audio these days.  Perfect match for low compliance MC carts.   If the Polytable is out of your budget, get a vintage DD for it.  I have one mounted to a Technics 1210mk2 and it is superb.  I have also mounted one on a Kenwood KD500.  These combos should make you forget about the U-turn.

Fully agree on the Jelco arms they are a fantastic value, and work very well with the DL103 too.

Good Listening


I agree with the Jelco 750's synergism with the Denon DL 103 and even the 301II. I have 2 turntables [18 cartridges] on which  many cartridges work quite well, not to mention the ease of changing cart's with the Jelco's detachable headshell Jelco tonearms, are my favorites with my 2 Denons, plus they come with 2 counterweights to accomodate less compiant and more compliant phono cartridges and are comparatively inexpensive.
I love the last three posts and earlier on suggested a Technics 1200 with mods to the OP. The Jelco arm being a perfect example of such upgrade. The audiomods arm is another interesting design that I haven't had a chance to hear but looks worthy of further investigation. 

@sunnyjim Yes, I know people with the Spin Clean who like it. It's not going to do the job like an Ultrasonic, or similar, but it looks like the lowest cost non-DIY way to take your cleaning to the next level. 
Many are upgrading their rcm these days, and used VPI 16.5s are plentiful(I sold mine a few months ago too). They are a notch above the Spin Clean and built to last, but at a high cost. Cheers,
@ Chekster: About 103 vs 103R: the difference is stylus tip

NO! The Stylus and cantilever are the same. The difference is just coil material and output impedance.
NO! The Stylus and cantilever are the same. The difference is just coil material and output impedance.

Sorry, my mistake.
It's Denon 103D that comes with more refined elliptical stylus tip. 
Personally i would avoid any cartridge with conical tip, i was so disappointed with new conical Ortofon SPU Classic GM mk2 that i bought based on review. Later i realized it's definitely not my kind of sound. Same with MM alternative of DL103, which is DL-107, made for NHK Japan as their official studio broadcast cartridge. Good cartridge (maybe even better than 103), but their super-duper polished conical tip does not sound as good as shibata imo. 

To the 3 responders who recommended the Jelco tonearms..

 1) Is there a major audible difference between  the models: Jelco 750

     and Jelco 250? 

  2)  If so, can you describe the difference?

  3)  Unfortunately, I am not a DIY guy, and am not sure I need to push

      the analog envelope that far, but I believe what you say about the  

      sonic benefits of a quality separate tonearm..

      If I decide to  improve upon the U-Turn table. I will just sell it and look

      for a better table with included arm.    Thanks, SJ 

The 750 is supposed to be better but I can't say how much better.  The 750 has a reservoir for damping fluid, the 250 does not.  The 250 is more suitable for high compliance carts than the 750.
There are TT manufacturers that will sell you a turntable with a Jelco.  Avid, GEM Polytable and Edwards Audio come to mind.  Avoid Edwards, I had a bad experience and they are overpriced for what they are.
I use a Technics SL-1210MKII with a 9” Jelco 750 arm. The set-up is used with a Denon DL-103r which was modified with a hardwood body. The 103r replaced a stock DL-103. The 103r is slightly warmer and has a fuller presentation than the 103.

I performed the arm change out and cartridge modifications myself. It was fairly easy, thanks to a few Youtube videos and forums like this.

Take a look at the SOTA turntables web page, they will sell you a new TT and you select an arm from their menu. Yes, they carry the Jelco 750. I’ve never heard any other Jelco’s arms so I won’t comment.

Good Luck!
My dealer carries Jelco, and says the 750's superiority over the 250 is easily heard. The price difference is relatively small, which should make the choice easy for most.
I've seen the 103 used in an EMT 997 banana and at the other extreme an Infinity black widow.. I think you can use the little beast in anything. Personally I use my 1966 version in both my Grace 747 and met SME 3009 with excellent results.  Those arms are mounted to a Dual 1229 and Garrard 301 respectively.

Also used the 301 when I had my LP12 and Ittok arm again with no issues.

I’ve seen the 103 used in an EMT 997 banana and at the other extreme an Infinity black widow..
OMG, Black Widow tonearm decerve much better cartridge than oldschool conical DL103 MC that cause total missmatch with this super lightweight tonearm designed for lightweight and extremely high compliance MM/MI cartridges up to 30-40cu and higher. DL103 is definitely not for lightweight tonearm if it means something for you, this is not universal cartridge for any tonearm at all, the compliance is just 8cu @100Hz and tonearm must be heavy, this is so obvious. If the original poster ask what is the best match for DL103 then it is tonearm with very high effective mass! If nobody cares why asking? 

You are absolutely correct. You should use a high mass arm. But I personally know of someone who has been using the 103 in a Black Widow for something like 30 years now and it sounds excellent. 

Further my Grace 747, while not as high a compliance as the Black Widow also works nicely.  Doesn't mean it's right, but it does work. 

I also suffer from Black Widow envy, it's a jewel of an arm for those that have never seen one. 


I use a Gray Research 208 tonearm with the 103r. One needs to hear what this 60 year old tonearm does that the latest tonearms Dont. 
Gray Research brand later became Grace, but why do you need Denon DL-103 if you have ART-9? 
I dont have the ART-9 anymore. The DL-103r has been my reference from the day one. I use it as my fallback cartridge and also to judge the performance of other cartridges that come and go. In the stock form the 103r cannot be my main cartridge though.
If you like Denon mods, do you also like SPU sound ?
There is only one SPU with the most advanced stylus in the world - the Ortofon Replicant 100 (does not require any mods btw). 
I generally like Ortofon carts. I don't have experience with SPU though. I wonder how far a modded 103r can go. 
A case in point for the Jelco 750 for compatibility with a wide variety of cartridges is its fluid damping. The fluid damper reduces the amplitude of resonances, whether they are from warps, off-center holes, or less-than-ideal arm/cartridge resonant frequencies. I put a KAB fluid damper on my Technics SL1210 M5G and suddenly it could track hideously warped records without jumping the groove. It reduced woofer pumping significantly, and with that, improved bass clarity (and overall clarity) and dynamics. I have also been able to install a range of cartridges with different weights, compliance ratings, tracking forces, and mounted to head shells ranging from 7 to 14g.

Of KAB’s fluid damper for the Technics TTs, Kevin writes:

All tonearms vibrate at the arm cartridge resonant frequency. This causes the speakers to motion in and out modulating the soundstage. Fluid damping stabilizes this behavior and brings greater stability to the soundstage. Your amplifiers are also over reacting to this very low frequency signal and that can cause even more problems.

It would be better if we could call this behavior "Dynamic Rigidity" for that better describes what is happening. Functionally when a tonearm reacts to the resonant frequency it produces a peak of output energy. This is seen as woofer pumping which is essentially the stylus over reacting to a small warp in the records surface. Fluid damping stops the stylus from over reacting. That is what is "damped". It all occurs at frequencies below 10 hz and has no impact whatsoever on audible dynamics. In otherwords, do not confuse damping of resonance with damping of dynamics they are not related in any way.

Above 10 Hz the arm is seen to be even more rigid at any single point in time and as a result the stylus traces the groove with even more precision. The biggest sonic effect is to make the sound stage more "Still". This can be subtle to some, overwhelming to others. It all depends on your listening priorities.

More info is available at https://kabusa.com/damping.htm.
On the subject of Denon, I'm liking my Charisma (wood body) 103 quite a bit. I have it mounted on an Amadeus, running through an A23 T2 SUT. Not a Shill-ster....just a happy camper!
pani writes:
... I wonder how far a modded 103r can go.

Since Zu Audio’s potted aluminum-bodied Zu-103r is currently out of stock, the DL-103r can probably go this far with Audio Musikraft's modding kits. Art Dudley gave the Audio Musikraft mods a pretty enthusiastic review in a recent Stereophile issue.
As far as i know the original SPU and Denon low compliance cartridges have similar signature sound, but the SPU is even better, because the SPU already perfectly integrated with its own headshell. I’m not a fan of that signature sound at all, mainly because of the conical stylus sound is not involved compared to cartridges with more advanced stylus tip.

People who invest money to modify their stock DL-130 or 103r change the housing, there are many kind of different housing for the DL103 available. The next step is replacing of the stock alluminum cantilever and conical tip to something better. Denon owners are happy with SoundSmith Ruby cantilever with contact line stylus. The investment in step-1 and step-2 is not cheap.

When the owners are serious about cartridge/tonearm matching they use heavy tonearm with their low compliacne Denon, but the refurbished Denon with SoundSmith cantilevers/tip is (probably) no more a low compliance!? And most likely the heavy tonearm for rebuilded DL103 is not a perfect match.

But i wonder, why not try a stock cartridge with perfectly matched headshell like Ortofon SPU if the signature sound of Denon & SPU is what folks like. Ortofon people are smart, they made the SPU Royal GM mk2 with modern Ortofon Replicant 100 stylus (similar to Fritz Gyger Stylus) for those who looking for detailed sound without that typical roll of in both registers (with conical tip). They made also stand alone version of this cartridge called royal N to use with any SME type headshell.

The ortofon SPU design is the most ellegant, the Royal SPU GM mk2 with Ortofon Replicant 100 stylus can be a pain in the ass in alignment, tonearm must be very good to set-up VTA, SRA, Anti-Staking. It’s a low compliance cartridge to use on heavy tonearm like the normal SPU or Denon. Tracking force is 2.5-3.5 g. (still lover than with normal SPU).

I remember i was not impressed by the SPU Classic GM mk2 with conical tip, but the SPU Spirit LTD with elliptical tip and improved coil was much better, but still not as good as the other MM/MC cartridges with MicroRidge tip. Taking in count all this i think that SPU Royal GM mk2 with Ortofon Replicant 100 stylus tip must be the best in SPU series. Sadly i already sold my Schick "12 tonearm, it was a geat arm for SPU and Denon.

But i still have Lustre GST 801 with all additional counterweights. This tonearm is perfect for low compliance MC cartridges, but also great for mid compliance MM. 
I run my (modified) DL103R in a FR 64 S arm.  A very good match to my ears.