Oct 082017

It’s been quite a while since I’ve given my Denon DL-103 MC phonograph cartridge a good listen, so I thought I’d get the Denon out, mount it up, and play some music.

Denon DL-103

The arrival of the hot-rodded Denon DL-103 from Audio MusiKraft, which I’ve been listening to for a while now, got me to thinking about my well-loved ol’ Denon DL-103.

The idea of the Audio MusiKraft hot-rodded & tunable Denon D-103 really intrigues me, as the concept of being able to voice the cartridge to match my tastes and system aligns exactly with my audio adventures of late.

Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103.

For me, being able to voice a component is central to achieving musical satisfaction in a given hifi system.

Whether it’s fine tuning the voicing of electronics or crossovers with resistors and capacitors, or using cabling to dial in the exact sound & musicality I’m after, through custom headshell leads, interconnects, speaker cables, or internal loudspeaker wiring, being able to voice a component is powerful.

Stock Denon DL-103

But I digress, as what I really wanted to do was give my stock Denon DL-103 a good listen to serve as a baseline for the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103, which I’ll be writing an article about for Positive Feedback in the not too distant future.

To compare the two Denon cartridges on equal footing, I decided I wanted to use identical headshells and headshell leads.

I bought two Audio-Technica AT-HS1 headshells, and because I already had two sets of Art of Tone 22GA headshell leads built, I pressed them into service.

To connect my Auditorium 23 SUT to my vintage McIntosh MX110Z I used a shielded pair of Duelund DCA20GA interconnects.

Johnny Cash’s Solitary Man.

Then I put on my Johnny Cash Solitary Man LP, and let the needle drop on side one, which starts with Tom Petty’s song “I Won’t Back Down”.

The combination of the Denon DL-103 with the Audio-Technica AT-HS1 headshell, the Art of Tone headshell leads, Auditorium 23 SUT, and the shielded Duelund DCA20GA interconnects, more than matched my musical & sonic tastes on Solitary Man, it was bloody brilliant!

I was thrilled to hear Johnny Cash and Tom Petty sing “I Won’t Back Down” (godspeed Tom Petty), and I marveled at the overall natural tonality, the richness of their voices, the realistic timbre, as well as the superb presentation of tempos, melodies, and dynamics.

Natural, rich, colorful, truth of timbre, and exciting to listen to, the stock Denon DL-103 is a formidable phono cartridge, and when properly setup, its combination of musicality & sonics can go toe-to-toe with just about anything, regardless of price. The fact that the Denon DL-103 is so affordable (~$299 USD) is icing on the cake.

Stock Denon DL-103.

One album doesn’t make for a baseline of comparison, so I’ve got lots more listening to do, but starting off with such superb musicality and sonics with so little effort is a real treat!

I’ll have a lot more to say as I get more listening time in, so stay tuned for further impressions.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and may the tone be with you!

 Posted by at 1:11 pm

  8 Responses to “Revisiting an old friend: The Denon DL-103 MC Phonograph Cartridge”

  1. Doesn’t The Denon 103 give the lie to the cost of the mega expensive cartridges?

    • Hi Ira,

      Well … not really … the Denon DL-103 is a great cartridge but …

      For example, I think my Ortofon SPU Classic GM MkII bests the Denon musically & sonically, and it sells for about $1000 USD.

      I also think the Miyabi cartridges I reviewed way back when at 6Moons bested the Denon, and back then they were about $5K.

      A really good custom MC like the Sumile does show the Denon DL-103 its heels pretty significantly, both musically & sonically.

      However, what the Denon DL-103 does do is give the listener a big slice of rewarding musicality & sonics for a much lower price. It’s a bargain, and if you’re not comparing it directly to expensive cartridges you’ll probably never care, because it does what it does so well.

      The Denon’s modest price point is due to its long-term mass production and long ago recouped costs, which keeps its price very low for such a fine cartridge, compared to similarly performing cartridges that are of more recent design and lower volume production.

      Custom MC cartridges are another story, as a custom cartridge hand-built to ultra-high tolerances can be amazing, but the additional cost for that performance is very high.

      Anyways, that’s my 2 cents on the topic.

      All the best,


  2. Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for the reply. Now that you mentioned it, I’m using a Miyabi Standard and after years of use and retipping I still love the darn thing. Question: How much better is the Sumile than the Miyabi? If at all.

    Best Wishes,


    • Hi Ira,

      Haruo Takeda really designed some beautiful cartridges under the Miyabi Lab banner, and I like them a lot, but my impressions are that the Sumile is in another league altogether, and both musically & sonically it is an amazing performer.

      However, the Sumile is a very expensive proposition because of its very low impedance, as it really needs to be paired with an equally expensive SUT to get the maximum performance from it that it is capable of.

      But back to the context of our discussion on the Denon DL-103 and affordability, while the reality is that the Denon DL-103 doesn’t invalidate other fine (and usually expensive) phono cartridges, in the same way that a Subaru WRX doesn’t invalidate a Porsche Carrera or another fine automobile like an Aston Martin, I am just glad that there are a number of high-performing phono cartridge choices at various price points that are capable of providing a lifetime of satisfying musical immersion for listeners that have various levels of budget to invest in audio.

      Personally, I am equally glad that there’s people pushing the outer limits of performance in expensive phono cartridges as I am that there’s really high-performing budget production choices like the Denon DL-103, or even fine performing vintage phono cartridges to choose from, and I think the presence of them all makes our world a little better and more interesting place to live in.

      Kind regards,


  3. Hi Jeff,
    I ve this question in my mind for a while.

    While listening to a MONO record, should it sound better, regarding soundstage, when using only one center speaker instead of two speakers?


    • Hi Dan,

      Good question. I haven’t actually tried mono with a single speaker yet, but it’s been something I’ve wanted to do for a while now. I suspect mono with one speaker is going to be better, but the jury will remain out until I can actually give it a try.

      Kind regards,


  4. Jeff,

    I always had the suspicion that my Denon DA 304 tonearm carrying the Denon 103 wasn’t quite set parallel for the assumed correct VTA. I decided the other day to rectify this and carefully measured, and as my suspicions proved correct subsequently adjusted the arm from a previous slight tail up position to parallel. Listening to a few sides the difference was immediately apparent, bass increased and I gave it a bit of time to register the shift. However, with the increased bass a near smearing was also present. Out of curiosity I searched VTA and Denon 103, the results seemed to corroborate what I was hearing. That is to my ears at least the preferred vta or arm level is more tail up. Maybe this does not hold true for your re-housed 103, but I was curious if you had noticed this on the stock item?

    Enjoying the reading of your adventures, Regards

    • Hi Trent,

      I usually setup my Denon DL-103 so it is near parallel, but slightly tail up. That seems to provide a nice overall balance.

      Kind regards,


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