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  • Denon DL-103? Versions?

    I know there are various flavors of the famous Denon DL-103 Cart but cant recall whats what and have no experience with any of them. Which is the best? Any user experience with these? Thanks in advance.
    Magnepan 1.6 QR Loudspeakers, Amherst A-2000 MOSFET 150 WPC Amp, Conrad Johnson PV-10A Modded Tube Line & Phono Stage, Electrocompaniet MC II Class A Head Amp, Shelter 501 Mark II Cart (St) , Graham Engineering 2.2 Tonearm (St) , VPI Aries-1 Turntable (St) , VPI Clamp, Denon DL-102 Cart, (M) , Luxman Tonearm (M) , Kenwood KD-500 Turntable (M) , Michell Clamp, Marantz 20B Analog FM Tuner, Teac A3300SX R2R, Pioneer SACD, Onkyo DX-6800 CD Transport, DIY 24B/192K DAC, DIY Silver Interconnects

  • #2
    There are many Denon cartridges, the most famous being the DL-103 and DL-103R. The DL-A100 anniversary model was an original spec and higher QC DL-103 but is sadly no longer available (some available on eBay sometimes). I think the Denon's are the best sounding for the money and when optimally set-up can compete sonically with cartridges several times the cost.

    I like modified versions of the DL-103 and DL-103R with replacement bodies. I recommend my modified version of course see http://www.kosmic.us/kosmic-103.html

    I also like the Charisma Audio modified version the Charisma 103. See http://www.kosmic.us/charisma-103.html

    There are many modified 103's out there. Which one is best only you can decide.

    Comment


    • #3
      That is an easy question to answer.

      The best version of the DL-103 family is the DL-103D. It is a medium compliance cartridge and most DL-103 models are low compliance cartridges. The DL-103D also comes stock with an Aluminum cantilever and a Special Elliptical stylus. Most DL-103 variants come with an Aluminum cantilever and a conical stylus.

      The DL-103D is spec'ed to have a frequency response out to 65kHz and is a great cartridge when retipped with a high end cantilever and a line contact type stylus. I have owned a DL-103D since 1979 and it is a great cartridge. I still have two of them as backup cartridges. They are good enough to be used as your prime cartridge.

      I have owned a DL-103D retipped with several different cantilever and stylus combinations. My favorite is a Boron cantilever and a VdH Type 1 stylus. That cartridge is so good it can make you forget looking at other cartridges. Seriously...it is that good.

      I love my Ortofon Windfeld Ti and my retipped DL-103D is not as good a cartridge but considering the amount of money invested, the retipped DL-103D is a giant killer. As mentioned above, most DL-103 variants are low compliance cartridges with an Aluminum cantilever and conical stylus. The difference between these models is the type of body used and the coil wiring. These cartridges can perform slightly better than the original DL-103 but the differences are not huge. I refer to these as DL-103 standard models.

      The members of the DL-103 family that are most different are the DL-103D, DL-103S and DL-103M. I have owned all of these and by far the best is the DL-103D. The DL-103S is a cartridge with a Elliptical stylus and slightly higher compliance than the standard DL-103 models. It was a short lived DL-103 model that was superseded by the DL-103D.

      The model that is hardest to explain is the DL-103M. That cartridge came with a Boron cantilever and a Special Elliptical stylus. The body was partly metal and the DL-103M had medium compliance. The DL-103M was a very low output LOMC cartridge with a high internal impedance making it a tough cartridge to match with a stepup transformer. It had a tonal character that was more comparable with the Denon DL-300 series of cartridges. It is a very good cartridge but the DL-103D has more of the DL-103 tonal character that the family is known for.

      I owned and tried a lot of the DL-103 models. I recommend the DL-103D out of that experience. If you want a great cartridge that is relatively inexpensive it is a great choice. A retipped DL-103D is not the best cartridge in the world but it is a lot of cartridge for little money. It is also very easy to love.

      Ed

      PS. There are many DL-103 variants available with different bodies. These cartridges can have improved performance compared to the original cartridge but if you want serious performance gains you will want to consider a DL-103 model with an better cantilever and stylus. This is the thing that most compromises the DL-103 design. It is a great cartridge that is seriously handicapped by a modest cantilever and stylus. Replacing these opens up the cartridge's performance. Replacing the body helps but the cantilever and stylus is the one thing that holds back that cartridge.
      Life is analog...digital is just samples thereof.
      https://www.edsstuff.org

      Analog: VPI Prime, 3 Belt Drive, Dual Pivot, ADS, Ortofon Windfeld Ti, Liberty B2B-1, Sky 30 Trans, Stereo Squares Dust Cover
      Amp: Rogue RP-9 + Schiit Loki + Parasound A21
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      Headphones: Stax Lambda Pro, Focal Clear, Schiit Lyr 2
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      Comment


      • JCOConnell
        JCOConnell commented
        Editing a comment
        thanks for the tip (pun intended) on the DL-103D Only drawback to that one is originally came out in 1977 si
        they are getting up their in years....

      • EdAInWestOC
        EdAInWestOC commented
        Editing a comment
        The DL-103D was manufactured continuously until the 1990s.

    • #4
      This is a pretty comprehensive list:

      http://www.analogue-classics.com/html/denon_dl_103.html

      I had a DL-103R for a while, and it’s a nice sounding cartridge, high value for sure. But I much preferred (back when I had them both) The $600 Benz-Micro ACE. So for me it was a good cartridge at a nice price, but not a world-beater as some people seem to think.
      TAPE: Studer A807, A810; Revox B77 MkII; Tascam BR-20; Technics RS-1700; Pioneer RT-707, RT-909
      VINYL: Pioneer PL-50LII/Benz LP-S MR/ModWright PH 9.0; Denon DP59-L/Dynavector 20xH
      DIGITAL: Bryston SP-3, MacMini > Oppo Sonica/Pioneer N-50
      SPEAKERS: B&W Nautilus 800, Pioneer DSS-9
      AMPS: Cary SLP-05/Sunfire Signature 600, Pioneer SX-1980

      Comment


      • #5
        I have a Denon DL-103R re-bodied in Rosewood on an Alphason tonearm, on a Townshend Elite Rock turntable with an Origin Live speed controller and motor. It's a pretty low compliance cartridge and sounds very good on the bedroom system it's on, despite its simple conical stylus. I am using a phono stage that takes a Low Output Moving Coil Cartridge directly and it works well. The other turntable on that system is a B&O TX2 with a Soundsmith B&O replacement cartridge (Moving Iron) using the regular Moving Magnet input of the same phono stage. The DL-103R sounds quite better of the two, much richer sounding.

        Townshend Elite Rock w by c f, on Flickr

        Comment


        • #6
          I've had no previous experience with the Denon, but recently got a Franken cartridge built by Steve Leung, using a 103 that was installed in a wooden body, potted with some elastomer and retipped with a microridge stylus - i have very little time on it, but it's tonality was very spot on; compared to my first tier cartridges, it didn't have the nuance, but figure it's what- 1/20th the price?
          I want to give this one more time and will....

          Comment


          • Rob
            Rob commented
            Editing a comment
            your first 103? the audio snobs turn their noses the other way when you utter Denon 103 but what do they know... happy listening

        • #7
          Originally posted by EdAInWestOC View Post
          These cartridges can have improved performance compared to the original cartridge but if you want serious performance gains you will want to consider a DL-103 model with an better cantilever and stylus. This is the thing that most compromises the DL-103 design. It is a great cartridge that is seriously handicapped by a modest cantilever and stylus. Replacing these opens up the cartridge's performance. Replacing the body helps but the cantilever and stylus is the one thing that holds back that cartridge.
          Absolutely on the button here. The 103 has an honest decent generator, which is indeed let down by the cantilever and conical tip. I had a couple of 103 cartridges rebuilt by Expert Stylus Company in the UK. Both (standard 103 and a 103C1) had the ESCo sapphire cantilever and ultra low mass paratrace stylus rebuilds - that made a huge difference. No, its not as good as my Allaerts, but the rebuild cost GBP330 (USD450) and was worth every penny.

          Comment


          • Rob
            Rob commented
            Editing a comment
            Hi Doc. good advice. Wyndham rebuilt two Troikas for me with a paratrace styli and they surprised me in a positive way. Allaerts are another kettle of fish entirely, does anyone have a straight line to Jan or is he more mercurial/unreachable than ever?

          • topoxforddoc
            topoxforddoc commented
            Editing a comment
            Rob, thanks. Last time I had my Allaerts checked and retyped, I contacted Jan by email. He replied fairly promptly

        • #8
          price will be critical for me, could someone provide the street prices of all the carts mentioned so far?
          Magnepan 1.6 QR Loudspeakers, Amherst A-2000 MOSFET 150 WPC Amp, Conrad Johnson PV-10A Modded Tube Line & Phono Stage, Electrocompaniet MC II Class A Head Amp, Shelter 501 Mark II Cart (St) , Graham Engineering 2.2 Tonearm (St) , VPI Aries-1 Turntable (St) , VPI Clamp, Denon DL-102 Cart, (M) , Luxman Tonearm (M) , Kenwood KD-500 Turntable (M) , Michell Clamp, Marantz 20B Analog FM Tuner, Teac A3300SX R2R, Pioneer SACD, Onkyo DX-6800 CD Transport, DIY 24B/192K DAC, DIY Silver Interconnects

          Comment


          • #9
            A Denon DL-103R costs around $290 brand new. I cut the plastic body off it with an Exacto Knife and epoxied the naked cartridge into a $50-60 Rosewood pre-made body I bought from an ebay vendor in Germany. After the initial 300 playing hours that the conical stylus is good for I will have it re-tipped with an elliptical stylus which will cost around $150.

            The regular Denon DL-103 has 40 ohms internal impedance and is not always a good match with some step-up transformers, which many people buying the Hana cartridges find out. The Hana EL is basically a redesign of the basic DL-103 with an elliptical stylus but the same challenging 40 ohm internal impedance.

            The DL-103R is only 14 ohms internal impedance and IME easier to match with most step-ups and phono stages.

            There are a few phono stages and step-ups out there that will match the 40 ohms internal impedance just fine though, so it can depend on what you have.

            The math is pretty straight forward for step-up transformers. The internal impedance of the Moving Coil cartridge sees the typical 47K input impedance of a MM phono stage by dividing its typical 47K by the square of the turns ratio of the step-up transformer, and then the regular 10X rule of thumb applies. For example, if the MC step-up is a 20:1 ratio it would look like 47000/20/20 = 117 ohms. This would not be very suitable for a 40 ohm internal impedance cartridge as it is only about 3X the internal impedance of the cartridge, yet would be fine for typical LOMC cartridges with low internal impedance like a ZYX, Lyra, or Koetsu.

            OTOH, if the step-up only has a 10:1 ratio then 47000/10/10 = 470 ohms, which would be suitable for a 40 ohm internal impedance MC cartridge.

            There are a couple of step-up transformers out there like a Denon model and a Fidelity Research model that have multiple taps with one suited for a 40 ohm internal impedance MC cartridge - the DL-103 has been around that long and was the studio standard in Japan years ago.

            Hope this helps! Chris

            Comment


            • #10
              Originally posted by JCOConnell View Post
              price will be critical for me, could someone provide the street prices of all the carts mentioned so far?
              If you're interested, I could let you have my spare ESCo rebuilt standard 103 with the sapphire cantilever upgrade and ultra low mass paratrace tip. I had two of these rebuilt - a 103C1, which I am using, and a standard 103, which is unused and unmounted (still in the ESCo jewel box). This would be GBP400 (approx USD520-550) plus shipping (likely quite modest from the UK- if it comes without full insurance).

              Charlie

              Comment


              • #11
                Originally posted by topoxforddoc View Post

                If you're interested, I could let you have my spare ESCo rebuilt standard 103 with the sapphire cantilever upgrade and ultra low mass paratrace tip. I had two of these rebuilt - a 103C1, which I am using, and a standard 103, which is unused and unmounted (still in the ESCo jewel box). This would be GBP400 (approx USD520-550) plus shipping (likely quite modest from the UK- if it comes without full insurance).

                Charlie
                No, but thanks for your offer. Ir just occurred to me, if Im going to retip a Denon 103 wjy not consider retip my Shelter 501 mkII. I found a guy on ebay retipping them for only $175 elliptical $275 line contact.
                Magnepan 1.6 QR Loudspeakers, Amherst A-2000 MOSFET 150 WPC Amp, Conrad Johnson PV-10A Modded Tube Line & Phono Stage, Electrocompaniet MC II Class A Head Amp, Shelter 501 Mark II Cart (St) , Graham Engineering 2.2 Tonearm (St) , VPI Aries-1 Turntable (St) , VPI Clamp, Denon DL-102 Cart, (M) , Luxman Tonearm (M) , Kenwood KD-500 Turntable (M) , Michell Clamp, Marantz 20B Analog FM Tuner, Teac A3300SX R2R, Pioneer SACD, Onkyo DX-6800 CD Transport, DIY 24B/192K DAC, DIY Silver Interconnects

                Comment


                • EdAInWestOC
                  EdAInWestOC commented
                  Editing a comment
                  The Shelter 501II is certainly a fine cartridge but the Denon DL-103 retipping industry has existed for several decades now. You can find them with a wide range of cartridge and cantilever choices. Personally I would avoid budget retippers. There is nothing so critical as the proper mounting of the cantilever and stylus and this is not the place to shop for a bargain if you want top quality performance.

                  You can get a bargain but you can also end up on the other end of the result range. I prefer to pay a little more to help ensure the results.

                  You can find a good used Denon DL-103D, which was manufactured continuously starting in the 1970s until the 1990s, and send it off to several high quality retippers. My favorite choices are VdH, SoundSmith and Expert Stylus. If you are based in the USA, SoundSmith is a hard act to beat.

                  The retipping choices are as wide as the number and types of cantilevers and styli. One of the very best retipping jobs I ever got was through VdH with a boron cantilever and VdH Type 1 stylus. That takes extra time due to the shipping time and cost.

                  If you want another top quality retipping choice here in the USA, SoundSmith offers top quality retipping work. I believe the award for the largest number of retipping choices goes to Expert Stylus in the UK. The choices for stylus and cantilever is so large it is hard to describe. If you want a different retipping choice this is the company to contact.

                  There are also people who sell cartridges that are already retipped. There are a wide range of products to choose from but I hesitate to recommend any one of these. I prefer to choose who retips my cartridges because that is so critical to the cartridge's performance.

                  Also remember the tonearm you will be using for the cartridge. Nothing is so critical to the performance of the analog system as the proper matching of the cartridge and tonearm. I recommend the DL-103D due to its outstanding performance and its medium compliance. The 103D will work well with a larger number of tonearms than the lower compliance 103 and 103R. Using those two cartridges usually requires additional mass at the tonearm headshell and that can sometimes effect the tracking ability.

                  The Denon DL-103D was designed to work properly with medium effective mass tonearms, which makes it a great choice for more tonearms than I can list. The 103D also performs better than the 103 and 103R. It is the hot rod of the DL-103 line with great tracking ability and a level of bass slam that has to be heard to appreciate. Like I said in a prior post I own two and I intend to hold onto them.

                  You may notice there are few DL-103D cartridge available for sale on the used market. It is not because there were few of these made. Not at all. The 103D was manufactured starting in 1979 up until the 1990s, so there are a lot of them around. I cannot say why there are so few available for sale but you can draw your own conclusions. Yes, it is speculation, but I measure the quality of used gear by the number of items for sale on the used market.

                  If its good quality gear not a lot of them will be available.

                  Ed

              • #12
                Originally posted by JCOConnell View Post

                No, but thanks for your offer. Ir just occurred to me, if Im going to retip a Denon 103 wjy not consider retip my Shelter 501 mkII. I found a guy on ebay retipping them for only $175 elliptical $275 line contact.
                That's absolutely fine. I would just be careful about where you send your cartridge for retipping or rebuilding. On your side of the Pond, one of the first names on my list would be Soundsmith.

                Comment


                • jonathanb
                  jonathanb commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Soundsmith does excellent work but has quote a backlog of repair work. Steve Leung at VAS also does superb work with much quicker turn times.

              • #13
                When it comes to cart rebuilds I would highly recommend shopping based on reputation. The variable between economy and best is usually more about waiting than cost....
                Regards,

                Erik
                http://solypsa.com
                North American distributor for:
                Sensitive Sound MC Cartridges
                STST Turntables + Tonearms


                Available for in home setup and calibration of fine turntable systems

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