I’ve really been looking forward to listening to and experimenting with the voicing of the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103 tunable phonograph cartridge from Guy Pelletier.
The idea behind the Audio MusiKraft tunable Denon DL-103 is that it offers a Denon DL-103 enthusiast, like myself, the potential of an almost unlimited amount of voicing options through the choice of three different cartridge shell materials (aluminum, aluminum-lithium, or magnesium), the ability to install a variety of wood species inserts into the cartridge shell, and by adjusting the three micro-tuning screws in the cartridge shell (shown below).
Guy can help you choose which cartridge shell material to choose based on the current sound of your system and the sound you desire of it, as each different shell material lends a different tonal signature to the overall sound you will experience. Ditto for the wood inserts.
Given that my primary music system changes continually as a reviewer, I asked Guy to pick a shell material that would serve as a flexible starting point from which I can try a number of voicing options as I go.
Guy sent me the entry level aluminum cartridge shell version, and I’ll tell you what, it’s beautifully made, and has the feel of a precision instrument.
Hopefully, I’ll have time to try the Audio MusiKraft tunable Denon DL-103 in number of different contexts, like with the Thomas Schick and Woody SPU tonearms mounted on my Garrard 301, or the Thomas Schick tonearm mounted on my Artisan Fidelity Thorens TD124 Statement turntable, which incidentally all sound completely different from each other.
Guy suggests starting one’s listening with the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103 without any wood inserts in the cartridge shell, and no applied tension on the three micro-tuning screws.
As the listener gets more familiar with the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103’s performance, Guy suggests experimenting with adjusting the tension of the three micro-tuning screws to hear how that affects voicing, and finding what you prefer.
After getting familiar with the three micro-turning screws’ affects on voicing, then Guy suggests trying different species of wood inserts to see how that affects voicing, and what you prefer.
Finally, after picking the preferred combination of micro-tuning screw tensioning and wood inserts, Guy suggests finalizing the voicing with the oil dampening treatment of the wood inserts.
I’ve been listening to the Audio MusiKraft tunable Denon DL-103 on my Artisan Fidelity Thorens TD124 Statement turntable for about a week now, as Guy suggested, without any tension on the three micro-tuning screws or wood inserts.
For a step-up transformer, I’m using my Auditorium 23 SUT designed for Denon DL-103, and I’m using shielded Duelund DCA20GA interconnects from the A23 SUT to my vintage McIntosh MX110Z preamplifier.
The resulting combination is extremely satisfying, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of my listening, with the music sounding tonally colorful, timbrally natural, and very engaging from a beat and melody standpoint.
If I were to stop right there, I’d say the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103 is a brilliant match in my system, even without adjustment, and I could easily be satisfied with its musical & sonic performance for the long haul.
Of course, you know I’m not going to stop there, as I’m just getting started with exploring the voicing possibilities the Audio MusiKraft tunable Denon DL-103 offers, but it’s always a good start when you like what you’re hearing from the get-go.
This morning I got up early (like usual), and played my Collings Waterloo guitar (far right, above) for awhile, working on my fingerstyle playing.
Then I wanted to work on some crosspicking and bass lines, which got me to thinking about Doc Watson, and led me to get out my 1995 Analogue Productions test pressing of Doc and Merle Watson’s Sittin’ Here Pickin’ the Blues, which is a mighty fine record!
If you don’t have a copy of Sittin’ Here and Pickin’ the Blues, I urge you to get a copy, I think you’ll find it to be wonderful. You’ll get to hear Doc Watson playing guitar, singing, and playing harmonica, joined by Merle Watson playing guitar & slide guitar, with T. Michael Coleman playing bass & singing harmony, with Sam Bush playing fiddle & mandolin, and Joe Smothers singing background vocals on “Sittin’ Here Pickin’ the Blues”.
The music is wonderful, and the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103 makes it sound that way, wonderful, with beautiful tone color, a beautiful overall tonal balance, a realistic timbral signature, as well as really highlighting their technique as they play.
Ok, I’m going to take a break and have a little bit of lunch, and then I’ll be back and tell you how the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103 compares to my stock Denon DL-103.
I grilled a tasty burger on the BBQ while enjoying the Fall colors, and had a glass of very nice Church & State “State of the Union” Pinot Gris, that Chris picked up in Victoria, B.C., which made for a very nice lunch – thanks, Chris!
Let’s see, before I go much further, in case you haven’t read through the earlier blog posts, I should say that I used identical headshells and headshell leads to make comparisons between the stock Denon DL-103 and the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103.
I used two Audio-Technica AT-HS1 headshells, and two sets of Art of Tone 22GA headshell leads that I built up earlier, in an effort to level the playing field.
My Thomas Schick headshell is vastly better than the Audio-Technica AT-HS1 headshells I’m using for comparison, but I only had one Schick headshell available, and its got the very spendy Murasakino “Sumile” phonograph cartridge mounted to it at the moment.
Maybe when I wrap up the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103 review, I’ll describe the fully voiced Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103’s performance with the Thomas Schick headshell to give you a better idea of its ultimate level of performance.
As an aside, Duelund DCA26GA, Art of Tone 22GA, and vintage Western Electric WE24GA (from Yazaki-san) represent my winner’s podium of high-performance & high-musicality headshell leads. They’re all fantastic headshell leads with that vivacious tinned-copper “vintage tone” going for them, and better ordinary headshell leads in every way, and I recommend you give all three a listen if you get the chance.
Ok, let me get back on topic, which is listening to Doc and Merle Watson’s Sittin’ Here Pickin’ the Blues with the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103, and my stock Denon DL-103.
Please consider these to be very preliminary first listening impressions.
The stock Denon DL-103 sounded just like you would expect it to, being musically vivid, with lots of natural detail articulation that really brought Merle’s slide guitar to life, lots of interesting overtones present, nice rosiny fiddle tone, a really articulate sense of “touch” to Doc’s guitar playing, and an overall exciting presentation to music.
The stock Denon DL-103 emphasizes the higher frequencies more, is more forward, and has a leaner tonal balance, than does the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103. The stock Denon DL-103 also has an excellent portrayal of tempos, rhythm, melody, and beat that makes it exciting and fun to listen to, making the music sound lively and energetic.
It’s pretty obvious switching back and forth between the stock Denon DL-103 and the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103, that the Audio MusiKraft’s aluminum cartridge shell puts it in a different league from the stock Denon’s plastic cartridge shell.
Doc’s vocals were more present and dynamic, in fact the presence of all the musicians in the room increased considerably, and there was a much greater sense of space, depth, and layering to soundstage.
There was also more nuance and detail present, and a better articulation of the musicians playing their instruments
The tonal balance of the instruments sounded more natural top-to-bottom. The tonal balance in the high-frequencies was far superior, and was presented as much more musically natural and realistic. The high-frequencies of the stock Denon DL-103 sound somewhat distorted in comparison to the smoothly detailed and natural presentation of the Audio MusiKraft.
The Audio MusiKraft aluminum cartridge shell gave more even response from the low to high-frequencies, with a richer and more realistic presentation of bass lines.
Images had more body with a greater sense of space around them, and the whole of the string tone was represented rather than just the leading edge of the treble, which gives the music a more organic and realistic feel.
The stock Denon DL-103 weighs 8.5 grams, and the weight of the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103 is 11.38 grams.
The extra mass and rigidity of the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103 aluminum cartridge shell is immediately audible, and it improves upon the musicality & sonics of my stock Denon DL-103 with its plastic cartridge shell rather dramatically.
So those are some very preliminary impressions of the stock versus the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103.
It was pretty much a no contest situation, with Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103 being better in every way musically & sonically than the stock Denon DL-103. That’s quite a compliment actually, as the stock Denon DL-103 is a very fine phonograph cartridge that I like quite a lot.
Before the sun goes down tonight, I think I’ll try the same thing with the Schick tonearm on my Garrard 301, so stay tuned for more impressions tonight!
I didn’t get a chance tonight to try both my stock Denon DL-103 and the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103 on my Garrard 301, but I was able to get some listening time in with the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103.
I mounted the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103 on the Schick tonearm on my Garrard 301, and used the same Auditorium 23 SUT and shielded Duelund DCA20GA interconnect to connect the SUT to my vintage McIntosh MX110Z preamplifier.
The setup was slightly different for the Schick tonearm, as Pete Riggle rewired my second Schick tonearm with the same wire setup he uses for the Woody SPU when we were comparing the two tonearms way back when. It turned out that the tonearm wiring Pete uses in the Woody SPU tonearms sounded almost identical to the wire Thomas Schick uses in his tonearms, so it was pretty much a draw on the tonearm wire front.
I listened to Doc and Merle’s Sittin’ Here Pickin’ the Blues again, and I was reminded how different the same setup can sound on two different turntables, but I was very pleased with how the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103 performed on both.
The Thorens TD124 sounds more laid back, warmer, and less resolving than the Garrard 301, but is very musical and enjoyable to listen to music with. The Garrard has more “drive” in the way it portrays beat, rhythm, and tempos, and is more resolving of harmonies, different instrumental lines, and musical nuance. The Garrard is the more dynamic of the two turntables, and it infuses melody lines with vibrancy as a result.
I must say that I wouldn’t want to do without either the Thorens TD124 or the Garrard 301, they are both wonderful turntables with completely different personalities.
I suppose by analogy that the Garrard 301 is the turntable you want to have playing when you are dancing with your girlfriend in front of the loudspeakers, but the Thorens TD124 is the one you want to have playing when you’re smooching with your sweetie on the couch.
The two turntables have completely different musical and sonic personalities, but they’re both very compelling and enjoyable to listen to music with, and the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103 performed beautifully on both of them.
I’ve run out of steam to talk more about audio tonight, but I am very pleased with how my listening adventures with the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103 have started out.
The Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103 is an impressive phono cartridge even without using its voicing options, so if you’re thinking about pulling the trigger and buying one, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet.
Much more to come!
As always, thanks for stopping by, and may the tone be with you!