This is a separate, dedicated file exclusively for Denon Cartridges, due to the large amount of information, both new and from the past, about these pickups. The information in this file has NOT yet been organized.
My eventual goal is to allow readers to make direct posts to this file without my assistance. I don't have the technical skills to set this up, so I will need some sort of computer expert to (voluntarily) help me.
These cartridges may be the best value in the entire audio world today. They are not only the best and cheapest of this class ("C"), but even competitive with some of the Class B models, and they cost only around $200 or even less. To beat them out you must spend around $800 for the Shelter 501 II. (One reader just wrote me that he actually prefers the Denon to the Shelter!)
If you are looking for an excellent, brand new, low-output moving coil and you donít want to spend serious money, your search has ended. These cartridges make almost all of the others look grossly overpriced. None of us have heard the new "R" series, which costs more money, and is supposed to have a more advanced coil system.
A U.S. reader recently sent me this information about Denon prices and availability within the U.S.:
"Thought you might be interested to know that you can buy these carts directly from Denon in the U.S. The number I used is 310-974-1010 (then press Option #2-"Service"); that's their office in Torrance, California:
103 $ 149.32
103DL $ 347.44
DLS1 $ 774.40
DL-110 $ 139.00
DL-160 $ 179.00
302 $ 228.80
304 $ 348.48
The 305 is discontinued. (7/03)
Since the Denon line isn't always available within the U.S. itself, there are links provided to Japanese and German websites which will sell the Denons directly to you, and at bargain prices. The Shelter line can also be purchased at the Japanese website.
Pictures and a very short (in German) "description" of the various Denon pickups can be found at this URL: http://www.vinyl-lebt.de/SME/DL103/Thumbnails.html
A couple of readers have informed me that the "R" series is superb in sound quality. The first one even feels it should be a "Class B" component. He wrote that it was "a fairly big step above the standard 103", and further stated that "the difference in sound is clearer high frequency reproduction".
The other reader also loved it, but wrote that he was very unimpressed with the body. He felt that it is easily marked and it's "impossible to mount the 103 R tight to the headshell". However, the first reader informed me that all the Denon 103 models have the same body, with the only difference being the color of the line in the front.
This same reader also shared some technical information for the two pickups.
Denon 103----40 Ohms---.30mV Output
Denon 103R--14 Ohms---.25mV Output
Unfortunately- I just heard that the 103R is about to be discontinued. Fortunately, there may already be a more expensive replacement model and with a better body. This story is now becoming "complicated", so read the information below very carefully.
This is what I have heard to date about two different models from my usually reliable source. My source's exact description is...
"Denon 103 FLS: This is the ultimate version of the 103 with a hyper-elliptical stylus and (white) ceramic body . Unfortunately it is very rare and hard to get. Recently Radio Schopper had some in offer, but they are all sold out by now."
There is also another model, which may be easier to find. His description is as follows...
"Denon 103 PRO: This a a new version of the 103, offered by Eifl/Japan. Actually it looks like a 'R'. I have no idea what the difference is. Price is quite high, $ 350 USD."
My source further wrote...
"Mr. Koji Wakabayashi says the following about the 103 PRO: 'DL-103 PRO has much better high frequency response up to 80 kHz. The user of DL-103 PRO is mainly professional people, like broadcasting station, recording studio etc.'"
Denon 304/301: These are other cartridges in the Denon line. None of us has experience with them, but a reader wrote to us:
"...The Denon 304 (...) is a very low voltage mc .18mV with (a) frequency response of 20Hz - 75kHz. I understand it has been discontinued, but I saw a 301 on a Denon web page from Japan with the same specs."
Further- A reader sent me this information concerning Denon availability in England:
"I ... decided to give the UK distributor (Hayden Laboratories) a call to see what cartridges are available here in the UK. They have told me that 4 cartridges are available from Denon; DL 103, DL 110, DL 160 and DL 304. They said that the only cartridge that they do not have at the moment is the DL 304, but they are expecting a delivery of this cartridge at the end of October, so it is still in production. All the specs for these cartridges are on the Denon.co.uk website or at originlive.com." (9/03)
Notes from another reader- Hardly a week goes by without someone confirming how special these cartridges are, as well as being great value for the money. Here is an (edited) observation from a reader:
"I have been using this cartridge for over 25 years. I started with the 103 T, which is a 103 with its own stepup transformer. It was sweet. Then I went to the 103Rs. These are definitely superior to the 103. The trick to getting these cartridges to sound "correct" is they must be used in a high mass arm. Do this and you will be rewarded with a remarkable soundstage and a certain rightness to the sound that even a layman will hear and understand... P.S. I purchase my cartridges from Hi Fi Do in Japan. They give much better prices than Koji." (11/03)
More Recent News Another reader just sent me this e-mail, along with the actual communication the Japanese company sent to him. I've edited out any personal material:
"I have tried to locate the e-mail address for HI FI DO Japan which was given as the best pricing for Denon cartridges in your most recent updates for Reference Components. They are suppose to be cheaper than Koji according to the writer's input. Is HI FI DO Japan the same as Japan Audio Trading Company? If they are the same company, the prices they quoted me were higher than they ones listed on EIFL-Koji."
Here are the quoted prices from the letter the reader forwarded to me:
My Reply- Audiophiles should get multiple quotes on the Denon pickups before making a commitment. The retail prices of these companies may change from time to time, with no one company having a continuing monopoly on the lowest price on all the models. This advice should also be used with most other audio components when applicable. (4/04)
And this edited extract below is from another reader, who resides in Europe. It would take a dedicated website to keep up with all the changes in Denon prices and availability from around the world. I'm only posting this because the Denons continue to offer such great value in an overpriced market:
"More about Denon: the DL-304 is available in the UK at least at the Mantra Audio site:
These are three separate Denon reports from 3 different readers. I haven't verified any of these reports;
1- "I just got off the phone with Denon Direct (630-741-0660). I was trying to buy the DL-103. The story is that Japan is no longer making this cartridge. I found one at Origin Live and just ordered it. Pretty soon, the old stock will be gone. FYI"
2- "I acquired my Denon DL 103R at Audio Cubes for something like $ 270 including shipping to Oakland, California. The DL103 remains available there as does the expensive DLS1 and a couple of others. The DL103D, DL 103S, and DL 304 I found to be out of production after much investigation. http://www.audiocubes.com/index.php?manufacturers_id=13&osCsid=a0095d0999ad6 "
3- "For whatever it's worth, just saw a thread on Audio Asylum's 'Vinyl' board today; apparently the model 304 can be dead after a period of non-use (2 posters reported). Hence, be wary of buying them new and never used."
I will update the above as soon as reliable information becomes available.Top
I recieve more information from readers about the Denon cartridges than any other component. What a huge fan base! Here is an (edited) letter from a reader;
"I felt compelled to remind you of an excellent cartridge in the 103 family that you've ignored- DL-103C1. Even though this cartridge was only made during a short period of time many years ago, it's an improved version with LC-OFC wires and a "ceramic embedded epoxy" (a Japanese friend's translation) body (that's heavier at 9.7g). Unfortunately, the only reference I had was a Grado Platinum Reference, which the Denon completely outclassed. From the specs and material used, I believe this to be an excellent cartridge in 103 family."
December 2004- A reader sent me this information which may prove useful to audiophiles in the market for a new Denon cartridge;
"www.lowtherclub.com has the Denon DL103 for $230 Canadian. Seemingly in production. Also... EIFL Japan has a 103PRO which one (Vinyl Asylum) poster said was 'apparently hotrodded by a third party'."
Further (2/05)- Below is information from a reader;
"I wrote you a while back about my experience with Denon 103R cartridge. I had told you about being able to get a better deal from HIFIDO than Eifl. I noticed a reader posted a quote of $300 delivered for that cartridge (I assume to the US). I did not pay that! I got 17% off of list which was I believe at the time $249.00. Shipping was about 20 bucks. I do not know where he got those numbers. For the record I have dealt extensively with both of these companies and can tell you the HIFIdo is superior in pricing and service. If you want more info on these two co.'s feel free to read my speaker project write-ups on Jim Melhuish's website. I think the URL has changed to fullrangedriver.com. I have many write-ups there but my best two are "The Japanese Experiment" and "The 66% Solution. I am presently building a new full horn system called 'His Imperial Majesty'."
May 2006- A helpful reader sent me some good news about this cartridge line, which has provided outstanding value for years. Here it is:
"...the Denon cartridges are being reintroduced to the USA, and are now available from on line retailers such as this: http://store.acousticsounds.com/. Likely they will be available thru "bricks and mortar" stores, as well. Good to know that sometimes the marketplace works the way it should!"
Personal Note- This is even more good news for this month, especially for all those audiophiles on tight budgets, but who still demand true quality.
July 2006 This interesting information was received by a reader from New Zealand. It's concerned with what we thought was a Denon 103 model, but that none of us has direct experience with (my bold):
"...with respect to the 103PRO, it's offered by EIFL, but is manufactured by Hiphonic, being rebuilt in the process. Hiphonic obscure the DENON name where possible, by over-labelling. It can no longer be represented as a DENON, but only as a 103PRO.
It's based on a stock 103, not a 103R. A felt pen is used to change the colour of the datum line from white to red.
I have used a 103R , and a pair of 103PRO's, the first of which was well down in one channel output.
Whereas I never, ever got the 103R tracking or alignment to my satisfaction, the 103PRO has proved to be a delight in every regard, in my context, of course.
The 103R's are readily available. I don't see them being discontinued. A very high end German magazine just ran a major review on the 103's, and enthused over them."
Personal Note- It appears we have one more cartridge for those audiophiles who require and appreciate excellence, while refusing to pay the unjustified prices of most high performance cartridges.
DENON DL-103 CARTRIDGE- A reader just informed me that a seller on eBay has 9 of these cartridges, and is selling them for $ 148 each, and that price includes shipping. The seller is located in Spain. The seller's name is: tubefive
This letter is from a generous reader living in Europe. I've left it unedited, outside of his name. Sorry, I don't have the time to do the normal "cleaning up" (capitals, punctuation, grammar, spelling etc).
"I've been reading your surveys and especially the denon page. and i have some comments to offer in regard to the dl-103
- cartridges from the early 60s, especially those made for studio use, all have VERY stiff suspension. interestingly enough, the tonearms of that period all hat detacheable headshells and (take the old SME 3009/12 I series) fairly loose bearings. now think what happens if you couple a stiff suspension cartridge to a 3012 -- the cartridge produces TONS of (not so minuscule compared to newer designs) vibrations that shake the bejeesus out of the toneram. but the energy is not travelling down the tonearm in full throttle because the detacheable headshell brakes up the vibes. the remaining vibes get damped again in the loose bearings of the tonearm.
now mount that same 103 in a one-piece high-precision-bearing tonearm of modern construction eg a sme V similar with suuuuper tight bearings and a one piece tonearm. and if you're a fan of precision, you tighten the screws nicely on that 103 so it really couples well to the tonearm. and then you listen to the cartridge and find it washed out and and annd and. bullshit. the 103 was not built for this kind of arms. period. it shakes rattles and rolls and all those vibrations are transmitted thru the tonearm into the precision bearings and into the armboard and into the platter....
i've had i dunno how many cartridges in my 50 years and the dl-103 with spherical stylus is one of those that have ALWAYS been in my cartridge drawer.
it sounds GREAT in a sme 3012 or 3009 or in a FR-64s or ... you get the drift. it sounds less than great in a sme V, linn ekos, rega etc.
there is a SIMPLE trick to tame the 103 and make it sound MUCH better in modern arms. the trick is twofold: a--dont tighten the screws too much. the less tightly the 103 is coupled to a one-piece tonearm, the cleaner the highs and the better the focus. b-- take two 20 mm long pieces of copper wire Ý approx 0.8 mm. strip off the insulation. straighten the naked wire. loosen the cartridge screws. place the wire pieces *across* the cartridge between the tonearm and the cartridge. realign and retighten the screws. and wow... the effect is fairly big. if you use nylon (!!) screws on the cartridge, the soft copper dampens the energy being picked up in the groove by that hard suspension...
-- build quality of the 103 is astonishing. i've looked at lots of them under the microscope. the stylus is always VERY precisely aligned. (something you really really can't say of VdH carts. i can supply plenty of pictures to prove my point...)
-- the dl-103r sounds more HiFi-ish and less "organic" than the 103. no wonder, it's a VERY different cartridge with 40 ohms instead of 10. that "r" suffix is misleading and making the people think it's more or less the same cartridge just with better wire. bullshit. imagine you take two otherwise identical cartridges, one with a 10 ohm generator and one with a 40 ohm generator. don't you think they'd sound MUCH different?? the resonance points are much different because the 10 ohm winding will control the stylus/cantilever/coil assembly much better than the 40 ohm winding... (to make things even worse, people that sould know better go and replace the aluminum cantilever with a boron rod. yes, of course, it's VdH...read here:
that aluminum cantilever did dampen some vibrations. replace that relatively soft aluminum with a stiff boron rod, and you have even more energy transmitted to the tonearm...)
--- even though denon recommends to use a step-up x.former, i had better experience with good head amps with the 103. don't ask me why, but this is something i repeatedly noticed until i realized that 3 ohm carts NEED a high-grade step-up x.former whereas medium z carts like the 103 sound better with active amplification. and high-z MC carts like the benz ruby series definitely sound better into a head amp.
---don't dismiss the spherical stylus... did you know that denon used the 103 with spherical stylus to track quadro (4 channel stereo) LPs in the 70s. the 103 with spherical stylus is flat up to 45, 50 khz! a couple of years ago a swiss hifi magazine ran a multipart article by reto luigi andreoli (builder of the magic diamond cartridges) in which he presents a handful of very logical facts why all other stylus forms *have* to (and do) produce more distortion and tracking errors than spherical stylii. i found a pdf of the article for download on
an interesting graph shows a comparison done by decca in the 60s. they measured the distortion of elliptical vs. spherical stylii when tracking an LP. of course they knew the drawbacks of spherical stylii and expected the elliptical version to have less distortion, especially in the inner grooves. to their big astonishent the results proved the opposite: the spherical stylii not only distorted *less* than the elliptical variety but fared considerably better especially in the inner grooves! andreolis' thought-provoking thesis polarizes, but so far i haven't found a weak spot in his rationale. reader's usually react either irritated ("this can't be true because it's against all i read in magazines, so it must be wrong!") or with "hmm, that actually makes sense. could it be that we do not hear more details or room information but instead more artefacts (although nice sounding ones) produced by the shibata-, replicant-, vdh- or whatno-cut of non-spherical stylii?
ok, that's it. had to let off some steam... ;-))"
I just received this news from a helpful reader. I advise audiophiles who are looking for a Denon to react quickly, because a "few Denons" usually don't last that long.
"I run a Denon DL110 high output MC cartridge on my Rega Planar 3 and I love it. I don't have much to compare it with as it replaced a Linn K5, which itself replaced the Ortofon OM10, which shipped with the predecessor to my Planar 3- a Projekt 0.5- but I will say that I'm really happy with it, and I won't be upgrading anytime soon. I guess I'm pretty easy to please.
Anyway, I just wanted...to say that http://www.needledoctor.com has a few Denon MC cartridges (2 derivatives of the 103), the 304, the S1, the 160 and my beloved 110."
I received this relatively lengthy letter from a veteran reader. It covers a wide range of audio subjects. There is no editing, but the bold is mine:
"I was going over the phono cartridge recommendations in your website. The Denon cartridges intrigued me, especially at the prices I could get them for. My old Grado Signature 8MR was due for replacement. It cost $200 new, and in 2007 inflated dollars that would be at least $300 now. I wanted to spend LESS and still get a better cartridge across the board. I studied the new Benz Micro MC20E2 and the low output model had too low output for my C-J EV-1, the high output version had higher tracking force than the Denon DL160. The Denon DL110 had a 1.0 x1.4 mil stylus, while the DL160 had a 0.7x1.0 mil stylus that Jerry Raskin raved about and said it was the equal of MC carts that sold for twice as much. At $180 it was just under half the price of a Dynavector DV10x5, which was on my wish list. A similar quality stylus for half the price. Hmmmmm.....I could not refuse. I ordered one and two days later UPS had it to me.
One thing I noticed was the VERY strong magnet of the DL160. I touched a screwdriver to the body and knew I had better be careful. It has a stylus guard, so that helps. I soon had it in my Audioquest PT-6 tonearm in my slightly modified VPI HW-19 Jr. It's a darker colored marble blue than the photos depict it, and it looks quite handsome, and rather small (short) and light for a blocky styled MC cart at 4.8 grams. Proper overhang was achieved with the cart just slightly forward of the middle of the headshell mounting grooves. I lowerd the arm a bit to get it level and it was time to set the tracking force. About 4 pennies gives you the correct arm height.
CAUTION!!! I tried setting the tracking force with a Shure SF2 stylus gauge and the cartridge went clear down to it's body without lifting the gauge at 1.6 gram. I figured I had a blown suspension, but a tickle with the stylus cleaning brush indicated plenty of bounce in the suspension. THEN I REMEMBERED THE STRONG MAGNETS. It was being sucked into the stylus gauge by its own magnetism as the SF2 is made of steel. I backed off the anti-skating and used the "zero balance" method to set the tracking force. You then just set the counterweight scale to zero and dial in the amount of tracking force. The PT-6 is very accurate with that method when I checked it against my SF2 gauge when the Grado was mounted. The SF2 is more convenient, but at least I know the PT-6 gets you within 0.1 gram if you are halfway careful. Very heavy or light carts will throw off the PT-6 scale a bit as the coujnterweight has fixed movement, but a cartridge in the 4 to 7 gram range should get you very close, which the DL160 does.
Having the stylus fully "scrunched" by the magnets didn't seem to affect the suspension. I noticed that Denon recommends the DL110 and DL160 for DJ use!!! Quite unusual for a MC cartridge that I always considered delicate. Now, on to some listening. My Nautilus half speed version of Heart's Steamboat Annie is warped, and would cause my Grado 8MR to skip and jump out of the groove. The DL160 got a bit flustered, and had a bit of harshness in a spot or two, but it tracked the album. None of that "Grado dance" was evident. Pumping of the woofers was also less. I then checked for hum, as the Grado had lots near the spindle. HARDLY ANY HUM INCREASE, and the level was higher than I ever would listen at. BTW, Jerry Raskin also measures 2.2mV output in the DL160, quite a bit more than the 1.6mV claimed by Denon. I have gain to burn as well, and only slightly less output than the 8MR.
It was sounding GOOD, damned good, and it wasn't even broken in yet! I pulled out a couple of albums I was VERY familiar with, Fleetwood Mac's Rumours and my EMI Angel copy of Ravel's Bolero by Lorin Maazel and the New Philharmonia Orchestra. I was hearing clearer timbres and more tonal colors than I had ever heard through the Signature 8MR. There was more dynamic contrast. I turned it up to see if it would wimp out and mistrack in the Bolero finale. It stayed clear as a bell, with wonderful dynamic punch. The heat sinks on the C-J MF-2250 were the hottest I had ever felt them in 5 years of ownership, and the music never got harsh. Stevie Nicks vocals were clear as a bell on Rumours, and McVie's electric bass was tight as a tick and better than I ever heard it before. I have a Spector bass, so I know what a good bass guitar sounds like. The DL160 has good bass, and great bass for a $180 moving coil that isn't even broken in yet.
At $180, the DL160 isn't going to get a lot of respect from high dollar audiophiles. It has a flip-up stylus guard (a good feature considering the gonzo magnets) and is even marketed to DJ's, although the DL110 is the true DJ cartridge. That should mean it's a tough songbird, and that's a big plus for a newbie. There are few DL160 reviews on the internet. The Benz Micro MC20E2 is going to get most of the ink in the $200 high output moving coil price range. It's a Benz, pure and simple. BUT....the DL160 looks more expensive in that beautiful dark blue marble finish, and believe me it sounds a lot more expensive than what I paid. Kenny at the Needle Doctor had a definite soft spot for the baby Benz (he also sounded young and impressionable, and that perked up my old fart antennae), but I read a review that said it had some harshness in vocals. PhonoPhono of Berlin touts the DL160 as the best entry level MC for opera and classical music. I can vouch for the clear vocals and great tonal colors on classical music. One of the main things I look for in classical music is the tonal colors of instruments, and the DL160 spanked my Grado 8MR and banished it to backup duty forever. Maybe not quite like a redheaded stepchild, but the Grado is definitely out of date. I wish I had one of the $300 Grado Platinum Reference cartridges to test out Jerry Raskin's claim that the DL160 is built as well as cartridges that sell for twice the price.
But then again, that's a strange thing about Denon. They sell nothing less than $140 and nothing over $1000. They refuse to sell low priced junk, and they refuse to rip off audiophiles with jacked up prices for their top cartridges. That's why I wanted to try the DL160, and I think it would be a very safe bet to include it in your entry level cartridge suggestions. Don't let the deceptive $180 price tag keep you from saving some money. It would be a good cheap backup for anybody with a fancy MC that will someday need retipping. At least it's an excellent match for an HW-19 Jr. with a PT-6 tonearm (which can be picked up for $500 used).
I'll probably REALLY be enthusiastic when it finally breaks in. I was fully expecting a very pleasant cartridge, given Denon's reputation, but was pleasantly surprised by the very engaging performance that sucks me in. It really wakes me up and makes me listen without getting harsh like a lot of highly detailed equipment does. It sort of has a quality similar to MODERN Conrad-Johnson solid or hybrid state. That's high praise, because C-J solid state has languished very long in the shadow of their hollow state pricier stuff. My MF-2250 will spank an MV-55 or MV-75 on a fairly low efficiency speaker like my Vandersteens. It's considerably better than I remembered the Counterpoint SA100 my brother had. Those amps are no better than a B&K 202+ on Vandersteen 2Ci speakers, which we BOTH owned at the time, and my brother had a better digital front end, and also a B&K preamp, as did I. The modern C-J stuff just spanks old B&K and Counterpoint across the board, and I thought they were darned good as well (my dealer was a Counterpoint dealer, so I heard their better stuff). And they were for the price. $5700 retail (not what I paid) for my C-J stack of amps is probably more than the B&K and Counterpoint equivalents put together, but the parts quality in the C-J amps is way better and allows the advanced zero-feedback operation with great stability.
Anyway, the DL160 was auditioned on good gear, some of it well above your entry level recommendations. Other folks should have a similar experience as I did. Denon is a big company, and they have a scale of operation that allows them to offer value for money IF they choose to do so, moreso than many smaller high end companies that must outsource production. Evidently, THEY CHOSE TO DO SO. Ha! Lucky me. Now, I'm going to get some beer and veg out in front of my DL160 for the rest of the evening."
A reader sent me his tests results with the Denon DL160 and two Shure test records. My bold:
"I decided to break out my Shure test records and see how the Denon DL160 acquitted itself. I wasn't noticing any mistracking or obvious weaknesses in listening tests. My personal opinion with my gear in my listening environment and my personal biases is that the DL160 is more analytical than my old Grado Signature 8MR. Bad recordings sound worse than I remember, and good recordings sound better when using the DL160. It's a better analytical tool for determining the quality of a recording. Some Telarc digital recordings sounded more dry and uninvolving than I remembered them with the 8MR. Well recorded analog recordings such as Sheffield Labs or Nautilus Half Speed Mastered discs seemed more complex and detailed with the DL160. It has ease and clarity in the treble the 8MR never had. Good pop/rock recordings have more dynamic life, and I heard new details in recordings I had listened to 100 times or more. This is repeated over and over in my favorite recordings in good condition. It wasn't something I strained to hear. Many times I also caught myself saying what a crappy recording this album is. I could see a music lover preferring the 8MR for allowing him to enjoy a greater number of his albums. I prefer the more accurate and analytical sound of the DL160. It's nice to be free of the "Grado dance" and "Grado hum" as well.
The Shure TTR-101 and TTR-110 are the test records usually most quoted in phono cartridge reviews, so my tests can be more directly related to what others have experienced. My C-J EV-1 phono amp is rated to be within +/- 0.25dB of the RIAA curve and has about 300 hours on the tubes. I used my HW-19 turntable with PT-6 tonearm. On the TTR-101 record, channel balance seemed exactly the same. It was hard to determine as my first order Vandersteen speakers produce strong lobing closeup and I moved the sound level meter around and took the highest reading in each case. The test tones are rather short in duration. Based on the accuracy of the EV-1 and my readings, I would say the balance was well within the 1dB stated by Denon, and probably half of that figure. The most telling clue is when the speaker says the sound should come from between the speakers, and it comes from exactly the center. I had noticed the fine channel balance in my music listening earlier, so I was not surprised to find the DL160 has a very close channel balance. The DL160 passed every test on the TTR-101, so I had to move on to the TTR-110 to find it's weakness.
Actually, there was only one track on the TTR-110 that the DL160 very definitely failed with no question about it. That was the sibilance test at level 5. At level 4, breakup was occurring on one of the three strong sibilants, but the other two sibilants seemed OK. All sibilants were failed on level 5. My Grado 8MR also failed every sibilant at level 5, and I remember it failing some on level 4 as well. I've yet to find any cartridges that did better on the sibilance test. I can't remember how the Grado passed the violin test, but I do remember it doing OK. The fact is that the DL160 tracks better in actual playing due to its lack of dancing around on record warps as the Grado was so prone to do. It's also obvious that there is the lack of 60 Hz hum when the cartridge is in the inner grooves and near the spindle. The HW-19 is not what you want if you like unshielded Grado cartridges.
On the violin test, there was possibly a failure at level 5. I went back and listened to the track again and adjusted the gain downward on each level so that all levels were about the same loudness. It's a known fact that the 2Ci loudspeaker can harden up at loud volumes, due to first order crossover slopes sending too much energy to the midrange and tweeter. The cartridge now passed level 5 to my ears. I went back and repeated the musical bell test and sibilant test in a similar manner to make sure the cartridge and not the loudspeaker was hardening up. The bell test was again passed at all levels and the sibilant test just started to fail at level 4 as before. A buzzing closet door in my listening room had to be opened to pass the bass drum test. I will leave it open in further listening sessions when playing music loudly. Bass drum at level 5 was passed with no trouble whatsoever, and the DL160 is great for hard driving rock music.
This rather good performance tells me why the DL160 is rated highly for opera and symphonic classical music. Very good localization of singers is always heard, and their voices almost never show breakups on sibilants and complex choruses stay clear. Same goes for loud passages in classical symphonic music. Instrument timbres stay true. Instruments and voices are easily separated. The DL160 is very stable for a budget cartridge and seems to never get really flustered no matter what is going on. The high gain and low hum levels provides a quieter background than I was used to hearing with the 8MR. That may be one reason my bad recordings sound so bad now. The grunge is coming through with more clarity. Master tape print through echoes and other recording artifacts are everywhere in abundance now.
I haven't heard them yet, but a DL160 should give a Grado Reference Platinum or Sonata some real competition, seeing as how it outclasses my Signature 8MR is practically every important way. Somebody with a Dynavector DV10x5 should also do a comparison against the DL160. Their true output voltages are very nearly the same, as well as many other parameters. Same goes for the Benz MC20E2 high output version. I would not recommend the DL160 to those who want all their recordings to be pleasant sounding, as you are going to hear the bad just as much as the good. It might be the ticket for those with laid back electronics that need some clarity injected. Those with less than very good solid state amps mgiht really prefer something like a Grado. Vinyl that was recorded on early digital tape consoles may enthuse you about as much as your CD's if you use the DL160. The dryness of digital vinyl is now clear to me much more than before. I now see a reason to own a turntable with two tonearm and cartridge setups, since you can't always get a good recording of a good performance. Something to consider if I upgrade my turntable.
All testing and listening has been done at the recomended 1.6 gram tracking weight, as I saw no need to play around with that. I dialed in the exact amount of antiskating force needed to prevent inward movement of the tonearm on the TTR-101 test record. Room temperature was a bit above the 20 degree Centigrade that the 1.6 gram tracking force is recommended for. Turntable is well leveled and the tonearm tube is parallel with the disc when actually playing. Test records are treated with LAST record preservative and have seen very few passes of a stylus. Sound Level meter was the common Radio Shack model. Amps had been warmed up for at least two hours.
Maybe parts of this review can be excerpted on the Denon cartridge page. The Denon DL160 is a very significant budget cartridge given its performance to price ratio. One of the best audio purchases I ever made. Going to a low output MC cartridge involves a lot of tweaking that most audiophiles don't want to mess with, including me. I hope the medium and high output MC cartridges keep improving. I have renewed interest in my vinyl collection." 9/07
Here's some very interesting information from a reader about the famous and popular Denon 103 series of cartridges. There's some minor editing and my bold:
"I have used the 103D version for over 25 years, my first was looked after by the late-lamented Garrott Brothers. A new cantilever once, several styli, including their own microscanner. I am still proud of their compliments on the even wear pattern on all my styli! They came to expect it.
The latest is a VDH, type 1 tip, with a boron cantilever. Under a stereo microscope it is very well aligned, at least as good as the original 103D. Both versions track at 1.4gm! The 103D version of the 103 along with the 103S, suitably updated, and even at VDH prices is an absolute bargain. Not just because they sound as good or better than a similarly rebuilt 103C, but because their dynamic compliance substantailly extends the range of suitable arms, right into the 'damped low-mass' range. Both were more than able to decode CD4 vinyl, when we tested for this at Duratone.
Trackability!? - I was a long-term user of a Garrotted Shure V15/III, finding that 47K/450pf total with styroseals caps worked very well. The first MC I used was the original Ortofon SL15(e). It tracked almost as well as the Shure at just over 1.2!!!! So much for MCs all needing high TF's. Very high output off a SUT." (10/08)
Here is a letter from a new reader, but he's also one of my former customers from Toronto. A lot of what's below is new to me, especially the Denon "body replacement". There's some minor editing and my bold:
"My system is almost finished...it makes me very happy and I really enjoy music through it. My system is as follows:
Roksan Xerxes/Zeta/UWE Denon 103,
NEC CD Rom & Valab nos dac,
Mapletree Audio 4ASE preamp,
Poinz 6v6 (7C5 military version) mono blocks using magnequest opt (see link),
Altec 19's (horns) with V-cap, Vitamin Q 196p's and Mill's resistors, and modded cabinets (these are incredible speakers when used with proper caps and high quality ancillary components),
PS Audio Power Plant and various DIY interconnects and speaker cables.
The Uwe Ebony body replacement takes the 103 to new heights. It is easily the equal of the Koetsu Black, and more accurate in terms of bass response and treble. The UWE is cheap @ $ 150US, but requires some surgery skills on the part of the end user. I find the stock 103 to be a bit bright, with rolled off bass and a slightly forward midrange. The Uwe brings out a smoother frequency response, while retaining a more convincing cohesiveness, with the midrange less forward. The cartridge is more listenable, more detailed and more accurate in my opinion.
The Valab dac uses the same chip as the 47 labs dac, but uses 8 chips in parallel. The dac is not unlike the Uwe 103 in presentation; smoother and at the same time more detailed than anything I have tried. I have tried the following in my system: Audiosector nos DAC, Cairn Fog, PS Audio Superlink, Cambridge Audio budget player. The Valab goes for $ 150US shipped. There was a fellow I was in contact with who sold his Audio Note 2.1 and a Pink Triangle dac for the Valab. The Valab has a very relaxed presentation and is uncanny at unraveling music. The other bonus here is that it has both RCA and USB hook-ups, so that one could use a laptop as a transport. You can go to Ebay and search Valab. However, you have to email the guy directly as he is always out of stock and at $150 they go fast. The company is based in Taiwan, and I have a feeling that he builds them in his living room.
On a side note, the Poinz amp that I am using is really superb and I would be willing to bet that you would really like it. It is very transparent and very detailed with incredible frequency extremes. it is limited in power though at 12 watts a channel. If you would like more info on it, I can provide you with other links." (11/08)
A reader recently sent me some Denon "news", which may be of interest for the many Denon enthusiasts out there. There's some minor editing and my bold:
"...Thought I'd share some recent info. My background is that I have been using a Denon 103 on a Rega Planar and also on a couple of lovely old Dual idler wheel drive TTs (1209, 1219). The 103 is a superb cartridge.
Recently the exchange rate has been moving in favour of the Australian dollar and by shopping carefully I was able to purchase a DL304 and a DL103SA. The latter is an anniversary edition limited to 2000 world wide. It is an improved version of the DL103R -- totally different body, and comes in a beautiful walnut box. And it is expensive in the UK and Japan, $700 to $800 US. However, Galen Carol Audio in the US has them at a very reasonable price.
Looking at the Yahoo Japan auction site this evening, I noticed that there was an even newer version of the DL103 on the market which hasn't made it to the West as yet. A DL103SLS. It has a white body. From what I could tell using Google Translate, the body is made from ceramic. The cost is around 37,000 yen in Japan-- roughly US$400.
I haven't played the DL103SA yet, but I now have the DL304 in my system. It is a wonderful cartridge. Still has the great Denon sound but more of everything: more detail in the music, more sound staging, much more 3D sound. Much better at capturing the upper range, and better definition on the bass' nice and chunky as I like it. For what I paid for it, it is exceptionally value for money. (Mantra Audio in the UK is selling it at a great price.)
As you mentioned on your site, it pays to shop around for the Denons. I posted my recent research on prices at my blog:" (3/10)
A reader sent me some Denon "bad news", which I hope doesn't turn out to be true. There's some minor editing and my bold:
"I was reading the Denon cartridge file of your website and wanted to make you aware that the DL-160 is no longer available."Top
These are the links to all the Denon cartridge dealers I am aware of at this time. I don't know their present status, so updates from readers and dealers are welcome. Please don't ask me for other (secret) names because I don't know of any. If I am missing a company, even if it has no* Internet presence, please contact me ASAP and share your knowledge, so I can list them here.
Audio Cubes II (Japanese exporter of high quality cartridges-Denon, Dynavector, Koetsu etc.)
EIFL-Koji (Shelter and Denon Cartridges-From Japan)
Origin Live (Denon Cartridges, Rega Tonearms-Modified, Phono Accessories)
PhonoPhono (A German source for the Denon DL103 cartridge and other phono components)
Supersonido (A Spanish retailer who sells Denon 103 cartridges)
Sound HiFi (Denon Cartridges)
Needle Doctor (Wide variety of Cartridges, including Denon) NEW 09/12
*I obviously will require an address and telephone number in such an instance.
Another reader has sent me an alternative (and surprising) supplier for the Denon cartridges. Some minor editing and my bold:
"...Thought you might be interested to note the following Denon links:
Although not always the case with all products, it IS possible for Amazon to ship these internationally (Ä7.30 for the UK), and as they come from Amazon, there is some piece of mind on the shipping, ie if it doesn't arrive, Amazon WILL do something about it." (04/11)
Another link below is strictly for Denon information:
Denon Specifications (For a Variety of Phono Components)
REFERENCE PHONO CARTRIDGES
THE REFERENCE COMPONENTS
THE RECENT FILE
The Supreme Recordings
If you have a question, or want personal advice and/or consultation:
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