ZYX RS20 vs Denon DL103


I have currently using the DL103, would like to try out something, ZYX RS20 come to mind, I listen mostly Jazz & old pops LPs, would the ZYX better than teh DL103?

Any other suggestion? My budget is around US300-400.

Better in what respect? What do you like/dislike about the DL-103?

The Denon, to my ears, is a punchy, dynamic cartridge, impaired by its conical stylus, so that unless matched perfectly with the step up/phono stage can give a slightly sibilant "bloom".

The Zyx carts do a very good job of suppressing surface noise and are very neutral in character, although the Airy 2 and below in the range can lack bass extension. My guess is that a Zyx would work nicely in and SME arm.

I spent a good few hours last weekend listening to a Denon 103R which sounded wonderful - certainly way better than it should considering its modest price direct from Eifl in Japan.
Hi Flyingred,

Thanks for yr response. I like the DL103 so far but it kind of lacking "body" and it does pick up some surface noise. I am using AusioResearch SP15 so for the phono part is good as I can switch between 10Ohmns to 47K.

I also read some posts about ZYX that is good for Classical but not Jazz....I'm not sure how true this statement is.

My arm is Grace F545 which is a vintage arm, headshelf also from Grace.

May I suggest to load your Denon with 500 Ohms or 1k Ohms and VTF to about 2.3 grams.

I have the 103R and this setting works for me.

good luck
Hi Koalaray - lacking "body" is the one thing I wouldn't find wanting from the !03. Amandarae just beat me to the suggestion to try loading at 470 Ohms and take the VTF up to the recommended maximum of 2.5 grams.

The Zyx would give you more detail and resolution of soundstage but you would trade bass extension and, in comparison with the Denon, it is more neutral and analytical soudning.

My feeling is that a good cart should work on all kinds of music - otherwise it's limited or colored in some way!
Yes agree especially not all my LPs are Jazz, some are Pop/electornic as well. I did try to alter the load to 10K but never went down to 1K or even 500. I currently have the tracking force set to max. 2.5g. I tried it at about 2g, didn't like it so I set it back to 2.5g but then never tried 2.3g, maybe I should try it first.

I would rather find a cartridge that is musical than analytical.

Apart from ZYX, you think Grado "reference" Sontana is a good choice? it's in the same price range.
I just changed from a Grado Reference Sonata to a 103R. I was ready to sacrifice the Grado's lush midrange because I wanted a bit more upper range detail and a bit more bass. The 103R does provide the increased upper and lower ends I was looking for and it does so with engaging musicality. The big surprise was that the 103R's midrange gives very little away in musicality to the Grado! If I had a tonearm that allowed for headshell swaps I would definitely want to have both of these carts and switch between them. For now, though, the 103R is my cart of choice. Good luck.
Koalaray I've thought about this some more and am puzzled. I'm not familiar with your pre-amp but having searched online it should be doing a fine job for you so, other than trying the loading at 470 Ohms I would eliminate that as a source of the leannes.

As I said previously, I heard the 103R in a Schroeder Reference mounted on a Galibier Quattro Supreme and it sounded really awesome, so, in addition to cartridge loading, the possibilities are experimenting with lowering the VTA a little and if you can maybe try the Denon in a different arm on your table.

Two further thoughts, given the relatively high VTF and very low compliance, the Denon needs a good torquey motor driving the platter (time for a new belt?) You didn't mention your table so this might not be relevant. Finally, try experimenting with the mass/rigidity of the support that your table is standing on because this can make a huge difference.

So the bottom line is the Denon when matched with good synergy are capable of outstanding results - your challenge is to experiment systematically with all the other variables until you get more the sound you like.

I like the Grado carts (I have a Reference Gold myself) but because they track light and are higher compliance, it may not be a good match for your Grace (most of whose designs were mid to high effective mass for matching with moving coils). I personally find that it's hard to get the same sense of space and air with a moving magnet (yeah, ok, I know the Grados are moving iron).
Yes agree especially not all my LPs are Jazz, some are Pop/electornic as well. I did try to alter the load to 10K but never went down to 1K or even 500. I currently have the tracking force set to max. 2.5g. I tried it at about 2g, didn't like it so I set it back to 2.5g but then never tried 2.3g, maybe I should try it first.

I would rather find a cartridge that is musical than analytical.

Apart from ZYX, you think Grado "reference" Sontana is a good choice? it's in the same price range.
Hi all,

I did try to alter the Laoding from 47K all the way down to 10Ohms, I can hear little diff between 47K, 800Ohms and 100Ohms apart from a lower volume (the Gain is set at the same level). Anything lower than it is no good. The testing was done with the tracking force set at 2.3g as suggested by Amandarae. I found the sound is a bit thinner than setting it back to max. 2.5g. At 2.5g the sound is slightly thicker and shall I say more "body" per sa.

Flyingred just got me there, the belt! I actually noticed when I turn on the Pioneer TT, it's sort of slow to get up to speed, so maybe the belt has something to do with it. After all, the TT is made in the 70s.

I checked the Grace arm last night and is as parallel as the mat/platter, the only thing I'm uncertain is the anti-shaking, when I first bought the TT, it was set at 1 and I never changed as I couldn't find any info on the Grace F545 arm so not sure the factory recommended setting for that.

here is some pics taken last year, note that back end I still had the Monstercable Alpha 1 MC mounted onto the Pioneer. http://robogallery.blogspot.com

BTW, the TT is Pioneer PL-6 made in the 70s I think. The support I think is good enough for now as I have some anti-vibration thing out under the TT, I even tried to use my finger to knock the TT and I can hear no "hum" and the Denon never "skipped" the track while playing, so I guess the support is good enough for now?

One more thing to add, the TT is made in Japan so it takes 110V instead of 220V so I am using a power converter, not that that has another to do with it since TT doesn't really too cumsy about power....right?

Time to get a new belt and try out. Thanks all for yr help. Will keep you updated.

I just found this out. http://www.extremephono.com/Loading.htm

with a 47K load on my supratek Syrah, my denon 103R sounds like ass. Very thin sounding. Pushing this down to 100ohms makes it sound MUCH better. More body. I would look into upgrading turntables before upgrading cartridges. Even a Rega P3 with an Expressimo RB250 with Twl's hifi mod would be a GREAT match for that cartridge. I use the P25 - and it is able to let me just enjoy the music as opposed to analyzing what I don't like about the sound.
Koalaray, try lowering the pivot point a little if you can - usually a cart sounds best with the arm slight headshell high.

If this still doesn't give you the 'body' you want then suspect the arm wiring and the table. There have been massive improvements in resonance isolation over the last 20-30 years and I'm finding that quite modestly priced carts, like your Denon, sound fantastic in good modern arms on the latest tables.

For a low-cost, fun alternative join the 'Building a high end table at Home Despot' action by re-plinthing an old Lenco.
Good discussion and suggestions so far. I certainly agree with Flyingred's last post. If a Denon 103/103R lacks "body" and adjusting impedance, VTF and VTA haven't helped, then something is probably wrong with the TT, tonearm or both. The 103 on my Teres/TriPlanar was one of the most present, full-bodied cartridges I've heard.
That's really the reason why I bought the Denon, it's good so far and I'm happy with it, just that the little bit of body lacking so trying to improve it (get the best out of Denon). Strange enough that the Grace 545 arm seems doesn't have the anti-skate (optional arm lifter as I was told), I'm not sure the "L" shape weight next to the end of the arm is indeed the anti-skate aas there is no idication whatsoever, My guess is it could be as it has "0" to "3" marking, that's all. Referring to the Grace manual (found at vinlyengine.com) but no mentioning on the anti-skate.

About lowering the pivot, will try that. By the way, what should be the "best" height for the tone arm? I know it should be in parallel but is there good technique to set the arm height? The overhang and other angle is set pretty much as spec'd, the only thing is the anti-skate and the arm height to make it "perfect".

ps: I did try loading 100Ohm last night and........maybe I still need more serious listening to compare with 800 & 47Kohms. Have to find a "test" LP though.

Thanks everyone who helped me so far.
There is no precise measurement for VTA/pivot height - it's done by ear. You lower the arm at the pivot in steps of 1 mm (approx) and listen to some music - full orchestral is good but I've also done it with Dire Straits. Keep going until you lose all the brightness and it sounds kind of horrible and mushy with indistinct bass. You know then that you've gone too far.

The trick then is to take the pivot up in small steps until the "soundstage snaps into focus." It's like focusing the lens of a camera or binoculars - you get the high frequencies back on violins, cymbals, vocals and you get the best imaging/placement in the soundstage. Go any higher and it gets over-bright, losing bass definition and lacks body!

Some purists would advocate that you re-set VTA for every LP you play. I'm usually happy with an optimized setting.

Anti-skate being off won't account for the lack of body. Not having anti-skate isn't the end of the world either - you might find that you can't cue a cut at the end of an album side and you might have to adjust the balance to compensate for one channel being louder than the other but if the spindle to pivot and overhang are spot-on you will be unlucky if you hear mistracking at the end of sides.

The usual advice is to set the anti-skate to half the VTF. I've experimented with mine on my Expressimo and it doesn't make a huge difference playing music, however I can reduce the distortion on the inner cut of HFS75.

The DL-103, with a conical stylus, will never be a great end of side tracker, however because the stylus is symmetrical it's much more tolerant of offset angle errors than an elyptical design.

Good luck I hope tweaking VTF gets you the sound you want.
Keep at it Koalaray, "richness" defines the Denon, along with slam and PRaT: it places musicality at the top of its list of priorities by a country mile, worth getting right. Good luck.

I had reset the VTF to 2.4g (I think anyway with my eyesight) and lowered the arm a little bit, I think is around 2mm and the sub counter weight to be less than 0.5 (for those who seen my pic) in my previous post. I tried with Sanata LP & some Jazz LP.....it sounds wonderful.

By the way, I also changed the belf as well and the platter is not moving as it should be, thanks Flyingred.

Yosh, yes I confirmed with the shop that my G545 is the basic model thus no anti-skate "is required/available".

Right now I think the TT sounds slightly better than b4, wider soundstage and more focus, thanks for everyone who helped me on this.

ps: the sound was so good that my cat jumped onto the TT last night while playing.............@_@
I'm trying to find out what Denon model turntable was made back around the late 70's early 80's that had a granite finished base to it ????

Any takers on this knowledge ??

What is the effective mass for your Schroeder Reference?
I am thinking about getting the 103R myself for my VPI 12.5 arm (11.5g effective mass). Lots of people seem to recommand high mass tonearms for the 103R. Thought about getting Airy 2, but too expensive for me.

I just bought a R20, and since I have been using a 103r for about a year and a half, I should be able to give you some comparisons soon. I'll let you know what I think after some long listening over the weekend.
I got a Yatra a few weeks ago, and tho it'not fully broken in, it was a big improvement over my Benz Glider. Now I need a phono pre with more gain , however, as at max volume it still is a bit below tha loudness level I like.

My Schroeder Reference won't be here for a few months yet. I have ordered jacaranda which is 15gm effective mass. I heard the 103R in Thom Mackris's ebony Reference which is higher. I have used a 103 in an Expressimo Rega (12gm) and it works fine in that.
Mehran sent my R20, and it gets here today. Gonna be a fun weekend!

I am looking forward to hearing your comparison between the 103r and the ZYX R20. Let us know as soon as you have anything to share.
Joe, I second Cello's/Larry's interest in the comparisons....
Well guys, a little bad news. I broke a stinking cartridge clip while swapping in the ZYX. Since I sold my spare tonearm, it looks like it will be another week before I can get the clips to get it repaired. And what really pisses me off is I was sober when I went to change them! That's about to change since I'm stuck with the cd player for the next week.

I know it's really no big deal, but being caught unprepared sucks. I could have sworn I had some clips around here somewhere. Oh well, time to hit the bottle!


Just solder the cartridge pins to the tonearm wires. It'll probably sound better!

Sorry to hear about that, it must be maddeningly frustrating.
Hi Doug,

You have no idea how close I was to doing that!

Well, I called Parts Connexion today, and should have what I need by tomorrow. Getting there!
It's up and running now. So far I've gone through the first three Led Zep Classic reissues, figuring that oughta help it break in. After #4 I'm going to throw on some vocal and acoustic stuff.

I'd have to say I'm impressed with it out of the box. I really like the 103r, but this just has a "liitle more" of everything. But damn this thing is light. I played hell getting the counterweight up far enough so it would track at 1.8 (actually 1.78, close as I could get it).

Don't worry, I'll post more as I get a few hours on it. I do want to do some direct A/B with the Denon.

And big thanks to Vicki at Parts Connexion for getting my order to me in less than 24 hours. Great service!!!
You might want to consider using the Cardas Frequency Sweep / Burn in LP. It does great things for break-in (using the burn in side) and the Frequency sweep side is a great system conditioner that does wonderful things for the sonics when used once a month or so (cartridge/system dependant for how often to use it). Acoustic Sound has it now available for less than $ 25.00.

1.78g is probably too light. It's certainly too light for the higher end ZYX's, and AFAIK the suspensions are similar. I fear mis-tracking on dynamic passages, if not now then certainly when cooler weather arrives.

1.90g is about right in the summer and I'd probably want to start a new cartridge off a touch heavier than that. In winter you'll probably want to be closer to 2.00g.

You either need a lighter counterweight or a headshell weight. The fancy ZYX's have an optional headshell weight that adds about 4g. It is useful on all but the heaviest tonearms. In addition to giving you a more useable VTF range, increasing the system eff. mass should improve bass and dynamics a bit, sort of like the HIFI mod does.

I have it, but I had a need for some music first! I will run the Cardas lp sometime this week. Remember, I kept the copy from our Wally adventure.


Now I know why you all consider the base an essential element for a ZYX. And, I will try 1.90. I wanted to get it set up and running first and then dial it in over the next few days. I still need to optimize VTA too.

I also have the HFN Test LP that will be used to help getting it dialed in. The main problem I see is doing an A/B comparison. After all of this setup, there is no way to do a valid comparison without buying another arm and swapping them out. So I figure I've got about 1000 hours listening to the 103r, and I'm just going to use albums I know VERY well.

Once again, I'll keep all posted how it goes.


A reasonable VTA reference point on a ZYX can be eyeballed as follows:

- View the cartridge from the side
- Spot the slight ridge in the acrylic that runs the full length of the body, 1-2mm above the bottom of the cartridge
- That ridge should be level with the record surface

Of course you need to have dialed in VTF too, since that affects VTA.

Eventually you can fine tune VTA by ear, to whatever degree of craziness you prefer. You'll probably want 50-100 hours on it before bothering though. Sonic changes due to break-in may swamp most VTA-related effects.

BTW, try running the de-mag sweeps on the Cardas record. It made a substantial improvement on a silver coiled ZYX I tested recently. OTOH it has little effect on my copper coiled one, so YMMV. It can't hurt though.

BTW #2, how do you use the HFN record for dialing in a cartridge? I find it about 95% useless for that purpose.

To heck with all this. Play more music!
What's happening with the ZYX RS20 ? Is it broken in now and what do you think of it compared to the 103r ?
Yes ,inquiring minds want to know!
Hi guys,

Been AWOL for a while with some things that have been happening here. Very, VERY busy. It is well broken in now, and hopefully I'll be able to post my thoughts on it in the next day or two.

Hello Joe,I will have my R20 this Thur.looking forward to hearing your thoughts! Mine will be replacing a Clearaudio Arum Beta S/with a bent cantilever,,,,Hopefully learned a lesson LOL!!! Ray
OK, I've got a couple of minutes here so I'll get started on my feelings about these two cartridges.

First off, I've listened to a lot of cartridges, and I still think the Denon 103r is one of the best out there, regardless of cost. It has been my main cartridge. Bash all you want, but this is MY OPINION, and I like it. If it was a POS cartridge, I'm sure you would never see one on a Schroeder.

I now have a couple of hundred hours on the RS20. The first 50 I just played it with a ballpark setup. I noticed it started to get smoother about then, and started the looking for the ideal setup. I found at about 100 hours it settled in, and hasn't changed too much after that. Neither has the setup. The setup it critical, and I should have tried harder in the beginning. But I wanted to hear music, not screw around with setting up the cartridge. More on this in a minute.

This is a very neutral cartridge, and very fast, tight, and detailed. Almost zero inner groove problems. It picks up detail and nueance, reproducing them without any bloom or artifacts. It's dynamics just ran circles around the 103r, and that is not easy. Amazingly quiet (will check crosstalk when I can get the Wally tool) on acoustic and vocal music. Can handle the most powerful bass. Rocks the House with Zepplin. Makes you think your in a smoky room listening to Coltrane. Plays at low volume so well some times you just don't want to turn it up. I guess the best way to put it is it just plays MUSIC extremely well.

I'm sure all have read Doug's reviews of the higher end ZYXs. If you haven't, you should. Being "in control" translates from those lofty cartridges to the lowly RS20. I'm not nutso particular about setup, because I am basically lazy. The Denon sounds great without a ton of dial in. Sure you can make it sound a lot better, but the sweet spot is a hell of a lot easier to find than the ZYX's. But the RS20 made me keep tweaking, adjusting and fiddling like no other. Because once you find the sweet spot, you will be amazed, and forget all about this being an $800 (retail) cartridge.

So what it boils down to, and the point of this is: How does it compare to the Denon 103r. Setup goes to Denon for ease. They are both also very quiet. Aside form this the edge goes to the ZYX, all the way. So is it better? YES, for me, in my system.


BTW #2, how do you use the HFN record for dialing in a cartridge? I find it about 95% useless for that purpose.
Like this. A little more than 1/2 way down, under Test Record Time.

EDIT: Just found this, for those of you who do not share my feelings on the Denon 103r: [url=http://www.audioasylum.com/scripts/t.pl?f=vinyl&m=448012]Denon[/url]
Thanks Jphii,Im going to start installing my RS20 in a few min. ill report back later!Ray

Thanks for the comparison. I haven't heard the RS20 but I remember Chris Brady saying it knocked his socks off for an $800 cartridge.

FWIW, I think the 103/103R are simply killer for the money, we're in the same camp on that one. Everything you described about the RS20 sounds familiar. It's apparent the RS20 shares the ZYX family sound with its more expensive kin.

One thing you and I both found surprising: dynamics. The 103's make you think, "Wow, that's pretty dynamic sound." ZYX dynamics are different, you think, "Wow, that's a pretty dynamic sax - or bass guitar, or whatever."

Nice observation about its ability to play musically at low levels. That's a very special quality that alot of components simply do not share. It was the first thing we noticed about the first ZYX we heard.

Of course we agree on the differences in setup. ZYX's are not plug 'n' play. VTF, VTA and impedance are all critical and the sweet zone for each is tiny. Glad you were able to find them and enjoy.

Thanks for the link to Steve's setup page.


Remember, just in case Doug and I didn't make it clear:


I really think I missed a lot of detail by not doing it before the 50 hour mark.

I think you'll like it!

Joe ,I ended up spending a few hours set up time ,i believe i have it very close,,the RS20 sounded very good ,but seemed to sweeten up a bit after about 20hrs,,VERY quiet,very good tracking too,very well balanced from top to bottom,i think its very forgiving of less than perfect LPs too,seems to be a good match with my Scout and Acoustech PH1P,,,
Hi Guys,

Yes it's me again, Koala! I think I just about to get the R20 but r u guys using the Low (.24) or High (.48) output version? I guess their "High" output really doesn't make too much diff compare to other low MC output.

Back to my initial question that I had the Denon DL103 and audio-Technica At33ML and Benz Micro MC-Silver.

To be the Benz Micro MC-Silver sounded worse (maybe not yet broken in) but sound very harsh and hi-fi.

DL103 - oh well you heard enough of this one but compare to AT33ML which I quite like it, AT33ML has a wider soundstage but somewhat thinner in the mid which DL103 is famous for.

I am still thinking whether I should go for RS20 or 30, the price diff is around US100. I can get a very good deal here in HK believe it or not, RS20 just around US390. But one strange thing is the RS20 case seems to be smaller than RS10 & 30 so not sure the one I saw is in fact an older model, I really don't no. I can get the RS30 for around US500.

You are welcome to email me directly on Zyx or Denon. rlui0212@hotmail.com

I couldn't wait so I just got it, it's the original (first) version of RS20, yes there is no RS20-02 at the end, maybe that's why is cheaper but still the price here is just cheaper for every model. But I'm not sure the current RS20-02 spec still warrant though.
Got it. http://www.hifi.com.sg/products/cartridge/zyx/rs.htm

The spec is exactly the same as the "02" version except the weight with the old model is 4.2g instead of 5gm. Humm a bit lightweight. Anyway will let u know how it sounds very soon.
Hello Koalaray,I have the high output version of the RS20,when will you recieve yours?I have only owned 3 cart. so i dont have a lot to compare the RS20 too,but im truly enjoying it!!Looking forward to hearing how you like yours,,,Ray
Hi Raytheprinter,

Mine is the High output, I was going to get the low output version (0.24mV) but they ran out of stock so I took the High output (0.48mV) which is really kind of Low output for other brand. I have an audio-tachnica AT33ML which is a low output (0.5mV) too.

I put the cartridge onto a Yamamoto HS-1A headshell made of African Black Ebony, that thing look amazingly stylist!. But I had hard time setting it up since the RS20 weight just 4.2g (old version, not RS20-02), had to put a longer screw and a bit blu-tap to make it 18g otherwsie I have problem balancing my arm. By the time I done all that, feed the cats & birds it was like 10pm already and I took 2 LP to try it out, Art Pepper - Going Home and George Winston
- Country.

I was impressed! The cartridge is dead silent compare to Benz Micro MC-Silver which I don't really like, it's a bit hi-fi and liveness, mabye that's the lowest model. The RS20 soundstage already comparable to my fully rrun-in AT33ML and the mid is slighly less than DL103 but DL103 is really made for the mids so to speak. I fully agree with other posters up there saying the RS20 is already very good in low volume, it was indeed when I listen to George WInston's Country, I can heard Mark Marshall's guitar in the background which I didn't relaised it was there as he played in low volume mixed with the drum. I was really amazed. I'm sure the RS20 will improve pretty much after 50-100hrs, I'm happy.

I was actually thinking of getting Benz Micro Gliber but due to budget constraint, I opted for ZYX instead as I used the Monstercable Aplha2 before but I broken the diamond and is quite $$$ to get it retip. I'm not sure how good Gliber is but there are some rave reviews on the Gliber, it may be in a diff league compare to RS20, I don't know.

here is my current stock:
- MonsterCable Aplha 2 (broken diamond)
- benz micro MC-Silver (High output)
- Denon Dl103 (original version)
- ZYX RS20 High output

TT - Pioneer PL-60 w/i Grace 545 arm.
Pre-am - AudioResearch SP15
Power amp - McInotsh 275 CE
I also experience some lead in skipping when I lowered the cartridge, maybe I set the VTF too low (currently already 1.9g, maybe I try 2 tonight and see if that work, No such probem with other cartridges though.