It is simply a good cartridge. Not a champ in Detail but great in the Midrange.
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Jeff, my experience mirrors yours. I had sworn by my Transfiguration Temper Supreme, and then Orpheus, for 12 years, marvelling at it's detail and neutrality. I then got a bit fed up of the experience of retipping every 18-24 months, and took a chance at a Zu modded 103 at half the cost of the retipping. Well! Loss of some detail and soundstaging, but a big increase in dynamics and good edge of your seat excitement. In my system, it can occas. veer into being a little 'hot', but my system compensates well for this.
I'm currently sending both the Orpheus and Zu 103 to the Expert Stylus company in Surrey, England for Paratrace stylus retpping/white sapphire cantilever upgrades. In due course I will a-b both, and get a definitive comarison of the Zu 103 versus the rest.
If you love your 103, consider Expert Stylus in UK or Soundsmith in US for cost effective mods to boost it's performance even further.
Denon DL103R is the fist cart I've owned in 35 years that I cannot find a fault with. Just very solid and musical in every way. BEing a low output MC, you do have to pay attention to some special setup considerations, but once you do and get it set up right, it's just rock solid, musical and fun to listen to.
My observations regarding dl103R and classical are consistent with Schubert's comment. Does other forms of music equally well also. My search for the perfect cart for me ended with the DL103R. I recommend building a vinyl rig around it for anyone seeking vinyl magic and near perfection on a budget. There are good reasons for it being around for as long as it has apparently. A true gem!
It's also possible that the cart just clicks with your arm better than the Shelter. Arm-cart compatibility is a big thing, just as speaker-room compatibility. When you find a pair of speakers that just work in your room, it's like a revelation. Sounds like you might have something like that going on. Enjoy and don't screw with it too much!
I was using a VDH retipped Crown Jewel (aka Shelter 501) when I got my first 103R - and much preferred the Denon for its involvement and superior tone and texture and presence.
With this cartridge I find myself appreciating the music itself and how its being played - rather than the hifi qualities.
That said, the SoundSmith retip can greatly improve the top end (especially) and clarity in general. Focus, separation, recovery of ambiance and other soundstage dimension/details are also much improved. The stock 103R is a very good tracker, but the line contact retip tracking is significantly better. The musical qualities of the stock cartridge are essentially retained, though of course it does sound different.
Tobes, I very much like what I am hearing you say re the Soundsmith retip. After some consideration, and living in England, I made the practical decision to send my retip/cantilever upgrade of my Zu Denon 103 (and Transfiguration Orpheus) to the Expert Stylus Cartridge company just 20 miles from me, rather than across the Atlantic to Soundsmith. They have fantastic positive feedback, and I am very much looking forward to the big shoot out btwn the Zu 103 and Orpheus (which is 4x the price). I suspect the Zu may lose on points, but there'll be no definitive KO. Maybe there'll be a shock win for the Pretender!
Spirit, at some stage I will send a 103R to Expert Stylus so I can compare with the SoundSmith version. The different stylus shape will certainly have an impact on the sound. I've heard some say the 'Paratrace' stylus (similar to VDH's profile?) used by ESC is superior and sounds 'better'....but I've never read a controlled comparison. Since line contacts are fussy beasts to optimise, it would be easy for one to be slightly less well aligned for geometry/azimuth etc and the 'win' would go to the other.
Plenty of users with the ESC version and, like you say, it has great feedback. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.
10-08-12: SchubertI have a DL-160, which is the 110's big brother, with a finer stylus and better cantilever. Given how my $325 Audio Technica AT150MLX leaves the DL-160 in the dust, I find it hard to believe that the DL110 is not too far behind the DL-103R.
Don't get me wrong: The DL-160/110 is a good cartridge; it's quite nice especially for the money with a warm rich sound and excellent tonal balance. But if it can't approach the AT150MLX, I don't see how it could be in the ballpark with the DL103R.
I am setting up a second system, and am interested in the 103. I own the A23 (Denon 103) Step UP Transformer, which I occasionally use in my main system.
The thing is, getting a compatible TT/ Tonearm setup that will work. I believe the 103 likes a heavier arm, at least medium mass...? Any suggestions here?
My price range is around 2K for BOTH table and Tonearm.
Assuming one already has the suitable phono section for a low output MC cart like the 103R, my 80's vintage Linn Axis table with stock Linn Basik tonearm does amazingly well with the 103R. 103R + used Linn Axis in good condition if you can find one comes in well under $1000 and is very hard to fault IMHO.
I believe the 103 likes a heavier arm, at least medium mass...?
If you run the DL103's factory specs (e.g., dynamic compliance of 5) for arm/cartridge resonance, you'd need a tonearm with an effective mass of 30g or so. Apparently this is not the case and Denon's compliance spec may have been derived from a different methodology than others. Although I have no direct experience with the DL103 series, I have an audiobuddy who has used one quite successfully on tonearms with an effective mass of 12g. This forum also has plenty of confirmations that the DL103 series works very well with medium-mass tonearms.
12g is a very mainstream effective tonearm mass, shared by the Rega RB30x series and even the tonearm on the Technics SL12x0 series.
" I have an audiobuddy who has used one quite successfully on tonearms with an effective mass of 12g."
Thats more like what the Linn Basik on my Axis turntable is as well (medium mass), from what I recall when I went through the process of trying to match 103R to my Linn Axis. It seemed on the low mass end for good results, but lo and behold, it worked out very well, though I have wondered what a more high mass tonearm might sound like.
Thanks All,The Jelco looks interesting. It reminds me of the Ortofon 212 arm, but for less money. The thing is, finding a current production table w/ the Jelco, and a dealer for them. I didn't see much online. The Amadeus is in my main system, so I could always mount the 103 on it, and try it in my new setup. Trying that first, would make sense. I think so highly of he Amadeus, that the SIMPLEX crossed my mind already. it just comes in under budget too. I think the arm is shorter than the Amadeus, so I will do some homework on that. Besides the Simplex, there is a Technics SL 1210 w/ a Jelco for sale here, but not so sure about going w/ the SL 1210. One of the Rega models with their heavier arms, is apparently also a good match.
If you use a tonearm with a removable headshell, you could swap in a heavier headshell to increase the effective mass. E.g., I have a Technics SL1210M5G. The stock tonearm eff. mass is 12g with the stock extremely light 7.5g headshell. The LPGear ZuPreme headshell weighs about 14 g, so that increases eff. mass to 18.5.
Another approach would be to get the Zu103, which with its solid aluminum body weighs quite a bit more than the stock DL103/103R.
I spoke with a dealer for Denon cartridges, and they suggest a Rega table, or a VPI Traveler. These, along w/ the WT Simplex, are all within budget. Beyond that, it would seem like I am dealing with tables not in current production, to mount a med/high mass arm. Not sure I want to go there, so I will likely go forward with one of the above.