Zu Audio Modded Denon 103's


I bought a Zu Audio DL 103 Mk II cartridge - Grade 2 Prime cartridge for $1099 as a spare as my other cartridge was being repaired/inspected. At the time (September 2020), the cartridge sounded pretty good - this was my first modded DL 103. However, just as the cartridge was breaking in (~ 35 hours), I accidently hit my tonearm and sent it towards the platter and unfortunately snapped the cantilever right off. After a few cuss words, I realized there wasn't much I could do except send it in for a retip. So the next day, I sent it to VAS Audio to get it retipped. When Steve examined the cartridge, he told me that the right terminal of the cartridge was damaged internally and that due to the make of the cartridge (epoxy filled) that repairing it would be an issue. I then reached out to Zu Audio who confirmed that repair was not possible (after I sent the cartridge back to them) and the best they could do was offer me 20% off on a new cartridge. I definitely wasn't going to go down that route again - I tried to get the 20% discount on other Zu products, but was told that the offer was only good for cartridges. So, worst $1100 ever spent. I know accidents like this are isolated incidents, but it does happen. So those of you that are looking into the Zu modded Denon's - keep this in mind.


Since I didn't have another spare cartridge, Steve did send me one of his modded Denon's with a wooden body and elliptical stylus. The VAS cartridge sounded warmer and better than the Zu cartridge and at half the price. To those that are in the market for modded 103's there are tons of options out there - I would recommend giving VAS audio a try before pursuing the more expensive Zu Audio or other cartridges that use epoxy as fillers to add mass. This way if something goes wrong, at least there is the option to repair the cartridge.

rdk777
Sorry to hear of your bad experience. Indeed a non-repairable cart isn't a great idea.

The VAS gets a lot of praise and for the money...
Ana Mighty Sound take the bones of the 103 and build something special but thats another story.
Thanks @solypsa.  Good to know.  I'll have to keep Ana Mighty Sound in mind next time I'm in the market for one.  I've also had great results retipping 103's - like I said lotsa options out there that offer better flexibility.
I accidently hit my tonearm and sent it towards the platter and unfortunately snapped the cantilever right off.


Zu Audio is not a cartridge manufacturer, they got their cartridges from DENON, they are not a re-tipping company. You broke the cartridge by yourself and you paid for your mistake, why do you want Zu Audio to take responsibility if you destroy your cartridge by yourself ? This is an MC cartridge, once the cantilever is bent you’re done, it’s over. You could ask Zu before you bought their version of Denon, I asked and they told me they do not re-tip.

Why do you think Zu Audio must give you 20% discount? Even for your broken cartridge their 20% discount for a new one is a compliment! They don’t owe you anything, why do you pretend for 20% discount for their speakers or cables? It’s ridiculous.

I agree the price is crazy for Denon, you could buy superior cartridge for the same price with better cantilever and better stylus tip, many modern cartridges available (ART-9 for example) or MM and MI with user replaceable stylus. If you want the cheapest rebuild go for SoundSmith cartridges. Or just find a decent MM cartridge and spare styli you can change by yourself.

As I long time Zu Audio speakers owner I just say it's a pleasure to deal with Zu Audio. Their return policy is the best in the world, but only for products made by Zu Audio. Not for Japanese made Denon cartridge. 



@chakster -  I think you misunderstood my post.  The fact that it was epoxy filled, it could not be fixed.  If the wires on a regular cartridge get damaged internally, it can be fixed - at least that's what I was told. Usually a broken cantilever/stylus can be retipped, but in this case, it would be hard to do - even Zu said so.  I realize that its my fault and no one owes me anything, but I just wanted to point out a potential design flaw. I also think you make Zu to be more than they are similar to your vintage cartridges that no one else can find but you. 
There is a difference between stuff made by Zu, in the USA their return policy is the best you can imagine, you can return everything for full refund. You can return $10 000 speakers or $700 cables for full refund if you don’t like them for whatever reason. This is Zu and their customer support (I think it’s great). I bought speakers, drivers, upgrade kits, cables so many times from them.

But you can’t return Denon modified by Zu (using epoxy and new cartridge body) and damaged by yourself. You can return it if there is a factory defect detected on arrival during first listening session.

I bought Denon DL-103D last month NOS (sealed in the box), it’s better cartridge than 103 and 103R, without any modification the 103D comes with Elliptical tip and the price is about $400-500.

I didn’t say anything about vintage cartridges in your thread prior to this post about my 103D, but actually you bought a vintage DL-103 designed in the 60’s for radio broadcast (still in production without any upgrades, except for new Zu body for over $1k).

At ~ $1k there are many new carts available direct from the manufacturers. This is what I said.


Yes - I agree there are many better choices for ~ $1k cartridges.  For half the price, there are also great retipping options for the 103.  
Try Andy Kim - http://www.phonocartridgeretipping.com/

I bought a turntable with a Zu Audio DL- 103 (not the Mark II). It had a problem in one channel and i sent it to Andy. He repaired it and put a new cantilever and stylus on it and now it's one of my best cartridges. He said the epoxy makes it really hard to work on but he did it and turned it around very quickly. He charged me accordingly, but it was worth it.
Well if he can do it - why can't Zu? It's their cartridge.


I accidently hit my tonearm and sent it towards the platter and unfortunately snapped the cantilever right off...

I sent it to VAS Audio... When Steve examined the cartridge, he told me that the right terminal of the cartridge was damaged ...

Why do you want Zu Audio to rebuild a cartridge damaged by you (not only externally, but internally too) ? 

It’s not their business to fix broken cartridges for others.

Beand New DL103 cost only $260

Well if he can do it - why can't Zu? It's their cartridge.
They say there are no dumb questions... but I wonder how much of the thread you actually read.
  • Zu doesn't make cartridges
  • Zu doesn't re-tip cartridges
Also, I didn't say that Andy "could", only that he was able to fix mine.  He might not be able to fix the damaged terminal in yours.

I own a Denon/ZU DL103, level 2 cartridge series 1 cartridge which I paid $550.00 back in 2010.  This was their best at the time.  I have been using it ever since, having it on 3 different turntables.  In 2016, I sent it to Andy @ The Needle Clinic and he installed a new cantilever and stylus (I bent it) for $200.00.  Best $200.00 I ever spent.  Still sounding great. 
I've seen those Zu cartridges and never could figure out why they were so much more than other DL-103 carts.
The only advantage that I ever saw was they supposedly buy batches of the DL-103 and select the best ones after testing to modify.
The fact that they can't repair a stupid expensive DL-103 that they modified is nuts. Why buy from them at all if they can't stand behind what they do.
For half the price you can have Steve at VAS build you a super DL-103 that he can service in the future. For the asking price of the Zu cart, there are a lot of better alternatives.
I just went to the Zu website to see what mods they actually do. They select a carefully matched (channel balanced) cart and stick it in a $100 machined aluminum body, fill it with epoxy so it's irreparable and charge you a small fortune! Stock cantilever and stylus! All this for $1100 bucks!
BillWojo
I've seen those Zu cartridges and never could figure out why they were so much more than other DL-103 carts.
I wouldn't buy one. The only reason I have one is because it came with a turntable I bought. I have to say though after Andy Kim worked his magic on it it's pretty sweet.

Zu does modify the Denon 103 and brands their name them for a premium (~ 367% in this case). Well I guess that clears them of any maintenance type issues that one may encounter. While that seems to be okay with most people, I (along with @billwojo) have a hard time accepting that – but it is what it is. Again, my point is that this is a design flaw that has to do with the epoxy potting used in the Zu modded cartridges. My cartridge probably winded up in a landfill – I never got it back and never asked. 

I have indicated that my experience is an isolated incident, but it can happen. Had I known about the issues with epoxy potted cartridges, I may have gone down a different path or just settled for the standard grade. It’s quite a zinger to lose $1100 just like that. I’ve learned and have a microridge retipped 103R (by VAS) with excellent results. I will likely not have to throw away the cartridge should one of the channels go bad. There are better choices out there for 103’s and other cartridges in the ~$1k range.


Cartridges are a disposable item, you should only spend what you can afford to throw away.

Secondly, a lot of these modified Denons are a joke. All they do is put a new body over the top, but at the end of the day the cartridge is still connected to the tonearm via the flimsy plastic base under that shiny flashy new body shell. I mean you could just as easily glue some flooby dust to the standard cartridge.

Or you could nude the cartridge yourself - just cut an aluminium/spz/magnesium/titanium plate, whatever your poison, drill 2 holes to match the headshell, pull the body off the cartridge and epoxy or superglue the guts to the plate

Cant make silk out of a pigs ear though.
Zu does modify the Denon 103 and brands their name them for a premium (~ 367% in this case). Well I guess that clears them of any maintenance type issues that one may encounter. While that seems to be okay with most people...
Even companies that actually make cartridges don't always re-tip them.  Why would you expect a company that doesn't make cartridges to have the skill set or the parts to be able to re-tip a cartridge?  Why didn't you contact Zu first if you thought they would re-tip it?  You sent it to VAS because you already knew that.  You realize that modifying other manufacturer's products usually voids a warranty?  Not that you breaking the cantilever would be a warranty issue.

It sucks that you're out a thousand bucks because of your carelessness, but why are you all mad at Zu about your mistake?  It's not that I'm "OK" with Zu not being able to do "maintenance" on the cartridge, it's more like why not be mad at the person that broke the cartridge?

Personally I wouldn't buy a Zu Denon because of many of the issues brought up in this thread - the cost, the epoxy in the body, and the fact that they don't actually make it.  They do have a lot of fans and I really like mine after it was re-tipped by Andy Kim, but you're taking a risk the moment you buy something that is "modified".



Buy Zu Audio speakers and cables, some of them are excellent (Made in Utah, USA). Best customer support from the manufacturer, great return policy (full refund guaranteed for their own stuff).

Regarding cartridges: just shop elsewhere, buy from the manufacturer (or dealer) and ask for return policy before you pay for it.

In high-end business many companies use the same business model. You can buy cheap cartridge generator from one company in a new fancy body from another company for x4 price.