Nov 262017

Audio MusiKraft aluminum cartridge shell with a set of maple “tonewood” inserts.

When I left you in the “Third Tune” post, I had settled in on the maple “tonewood” inserts as having the tonality that was the most complementary to my main music listening system (below).

System photo November 2017.

System photo November 2017.

The maple set of tuning inserts was the first of the four sets of tonewood tuning inserts that I thought portrayed the tonality of muted trumpet realistically in my system, and that was without engaging and/or tensioning the tuning screws.

Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103 with a set of maple tonewood tuning inserts.

After I signed off writing for the evening, I experimented with the front & rear tuning screws and was able to improve a little bit more upon the overall tone in The Alternate Blues, giving an even more natural and realistic horn, bass, guitar, drums, and piano tone.

Black walnut set of tuning inserts during the oil treatment process.

This Sunday morning I thought I’d try experimenting with a set of oil-treated black walnut tonewood inserts that I had prepared previously, and hear how they performed.

I picked the black walnut for oil-treatment first because it was my least favorite of the four sets of tonewood sets of inserts I listened to, and I wanted to hear what oil treatment could do for them.

Based on Guy’s recommendation, here’s the oil-treatment process I performed on the black walnut tuning inserts:

  1. I spread one pass of the supplied oil onto the front side of each piece of black walnut in the set.
  2. I waited for 1 hour, and then I removed the excess oil from the set of black walnut tuning inserts with a soft cotton polishing cloth.
  3. I then let the set of black walnut tuning inserts sit for 4 hours.
  4. Then I spread oil on all of the sides of the set of black walnut tuning inserts so that they were immersed in oil.
  5. I let the set of black walnut tuning inserts sit for one hour, and then I removed the excess oil with a cotton cloth.
  6. I repeat the step 5 oiling procedure two more times.
  7. Then I let the black walnut inserts sit for 24 hours.
  8. After 24 hours I remove the excess oil with a cotton cloth.

I dismounted the Audio MusiKraft cartridge with the maple tonewood inserts from my Thorens TD-124 turntable, and thought I’d try to get some closeup photos of it for you to look at so you could get a better feel for what the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103 is all about.

Audio MusiKraft aluminum cartridge shell with a set of maple “tonewood” inserts.

On the top of the cartridge shell (above) you can see the four corner screws that secure the top plate of the cartridge shell to the main body of the cartridge shell.

The top plate clamps the Denon DL-103 firmly in place inside the main body of the cartridge shell.

The 5 threaded inserts you see on each side of the top plate are for the headshell screws that secure the cartridge to the headshell.

Having 5 threaded inserts for headshell screws means you can more accurately position the cartridge in the headshell.

AM Denon DL-103 with maple inserts.

At the front of the cartridge you can see the micro-tuning screw that can be used to tension the front pole piece that secures the pole in place. It’s a little hard to see, but towards the bottom of the cartridge photo you can see the rear pole piece that secures the other end of the pole in place.

Also, at the back side of the cartridge (towards the bottom of the photo) you can see one of the two micro-tuning screws that can be used to tension the inner Denon DL-103 chassis.

Nude Denon DL-103 side view.

The side view above gives a good view of the pole piece that secures the pole in place. The skinny rod you see sticking out is the cantilever.

Here’s the diagram from the Denon DL-103 owner’s manual that identifies the internal parts of the cartridge.

Nude DL-103 top view.

Below is a nice view where you can see the front and rear pole pieces that hold the pole securely in place.

Nude Denon DL-103 angle view.

Nude Denon bottom view.

Below is a photo of the Audio MusiKraft main body of the cartridge shell.

Aluminum cartridge shell top view.

Above you can see the main body of the Audio MusiKraft aluminum cartridge shell. At each of the 4 corners are the threaded inserts that the top-plate screws thread into.

The inner shelf that you see is what the inner chassis of the Denon DL-103 rests on, and when you screw the top-plate down it firmly clamps the Denon DL-103 in place.

The two pin-holes you see are the alignment receptacles for the two pins in the top plate that allow for precise alignment.

On the top of the shell you can see the micro-tuning screw for tensioning the front pole piece, and at the bottom you can see the two micro-tuning screws for tensioning the Denon’s inner chassis.

Aluminum cartridge shell side view.

In the photo above you can see the receptacles for the tonewood tuning inserts. If you look closely you’ll see there’s a shelf machined into the shell that the tonewood insert rests on. It’s a reasonably tight fit and the tonewood inserts snap in place.

Cartridge shell front view.

Above is a front view of the aluminum cartridge shell, with the micro-tuning screw in the middle.

Back view of the aluminum cartridge shell.

Here’s a back view of the aluminum cartridge shell, and it gives you a good view of the machined-in shelf that the Denon DL-103 rests on, and the top-plate clamps the Denon firmly in place.

Aluminum cartridge shell bottom view.

Above is a bottom view of the aluminum cartridge shell with the tuning screws engaged.

Aluminum cartridge shell top view with tuning screws engaged.

Aluminum cartridge shell top angle view with tuning screws engaged.

Aluminum cartridge shell top-plate bottom view. Note the alignment pins.

Aluminum cartridge shell top plate bottom angle view with a good view of the alignment pins.

Aluminum cartridge shell top plate angle view of the top. Note the machined in shelf in the tonewood receptacle.

Ok, I hope I didn’t overdo it too much with the shell photos, but I wanted to give you a feel for the level of quality and attention to detail that goes into the Audio MusiKraft aluminum cartridge shell.

It’s an impressive design with an impeccable instrument-quality level of machining – it’s a work of art!

Aluminum cartridge shell top plate with oiled black walnut tuning insert installed.

Aluminum cartridge shell with oiled black walnut inserts installed.

Aluminum cartridge shell with oiled black walnut inserts installed – view 2.

Aluminum cartridge shell with oiled black walnut inserts installed – view 3.

Aluminum cartridge shell with oiled black walnut inserts and the Denon DL-103 installed.

Aluminum cartridge shell with oiled black walnut inserts and Denon DL-103 installed.

Aluminum cartridge shell with oiled black walnut inserts and Denon DL-103 with top plate installed and screws ready to be tightened.

Aluminum cartridge shell with oiled black walnut inserts and Denon DL-103 with top plate installed and tightened down.

Now the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103 with its oiled black walnut tuning inserts in place is ready to mount on my Schick tonearm for a little listening!

Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103 with oiled black walnut tuning inserts in place.

Oiling the black walnut tuning inserts significantly changed their sound and musicality for the better.

On The Alternate Blues the muted trumpet was piercing and unpleasant with the black walnut inserts in their un-oiled state, and they were my least favorite among the four set of tonewood tuning inserts Guy sent me.

Following the oiling process they were very nearly the match for my favorite maple tonewood tuning inserts.

Engaging the micro-tuning screws so that they just touch the surface of the pole piece, and the inner cartridge chassis in the rear, improved tonality further.

Tensioning the micro-tuning screw an eighth-turn on the pole piece, and a quarter turn on the rear chassis micro-turning screws, improved natural tonality further … to the point where I thought the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103 was sounding at least as good as the untreated maple tonewood tuning inserts, and maybe better.

That’s quite a change in performance as a result of the oiling process!

Encouraged by the results I decide I wanted to try the same thing with the lime tonewood tuning inserts, but with a little twist of my own design on the treatment of the wood.

I noticed that on the Audio MusiKraft website that when you order tonewood tuning sets you can order them as untreated, oiled (+$4 USD), treated with white shellac (+$4 USD), treated with bees wax (+$10 USD), or lacquered (+$20 USD).

I have a blend of beeswax, lemon oil, and other natural oils, that’s based on an 18th century cabinetmaker’s recipe for conditioning, preserving, and protecting fine wood furniture. As you can see in the photo below, it’s kind of thick and goopy.

When I used the blend on my Westminster Royal SE loudspeakers they not only looked & smelled great, they actually sounded better after I treated their cabinets with it.

Lime tonewood inserts being treated with beeswax mixture.

So I thought I’d give it a try on lime tonewood tuning inserts and then give it a listen.

It’ll probably be next weekend before I’ll have a chance to try out the beeswax & oil treatment and report back

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

 Posted by at 12:56 pm

  12 Responses to “Fourth Tune: A Tunable Adventure with the Audio MusiKraft Denon DL-103 Phono Cartridge! Update.”

  1. Jeff what do you lose with the Denon 103 versus Denon 103R given the diameter of the spherical styus versus the smaller elliptical stylus on the 103R.? Seems to me that you have to give up some of the high frequencies on the LP with the 103. Am I wrong? If this is true do you know what the cut off is for high frequencies with the 103 in comparison with the 103R. Reason for my question is that I am considering replacing my Shelter 90X ( needs a retip if I don’t replace it ) with a Denon 103 or 103R with the Audio Kraft frame. I still have to verify that this combination will work with my Basis Vector 4 tone arm ( cartridge weight may be an issue ). Thanks in advance for your assistance. Joe Fagan

    • Hi Joe,

      I prefer the musicality of the classic Denon DL-103 to the newer DL-103R (and I prefer spherical styli in general).

      The R always sounds a little hyped-up and audiophile’ish to me, compared to the DL-103’s more natural musicality.

      I’m not sure about the high-frequencies, you’d probably need to check the owner’s manuals for the two to find out for sure.

      However, if you like what your Shelter 90X is doing in your system I think I’d retip it and keep it.

      The AM DL-103 is affordable enough that you could always get one too and have some fun playing tunable cartridge games.

      Everything being equal, multiple cartridges are more fun than just one!

      Kind regards,


      • Hi Joe, Jeff,

        Thanks Jeff!

        Joe, if you contact me through email I could send you different pictures of frequency response charts that we accumulated. From there, you could draw yourself an opinion on the sensitivity variations.

        It would be a pleasure to help you further regarding your question on the match with the Audio MusiKraft carts if you provide me the manufacturer’s tonearm specs as I haven’t found any on th internet.

        In general, our cartridges vary from 10.0g to 12.1g depending on the alloy and wood inserts used.

        Kind Regards,

        Guy Pelletier
        Audio MusiKraft

        • Hi Joe and Jeff,

          Both the Denon DL-103 and DL-103R have a spherical shape stylus tip. None of those two models have an elliptical stylus.

          Claude Lemaire

          • Regarding the 103 vs 103R’s sound, I would add that having compared both on the same system, I tend to agree with Jeff’s sonic findings, which does not imply that one is better than the other, but simply that we seem to share similar sonic tastes. The general concessus on the web seems to be that the 103R has more top end detail than the 103, which some listeners tend to like while others find a bit exagerated. I’ve noticed that generally people who have systems similar to Jeff–idler wheel tables, tube amps, vintage or horn speakers and the like–tend to gravitate more towards the classic 103 whereas the 103R seems to be favored in more modern mainstream ‘audiophile’ systems.

            One of the big advantages of a spherical stylus tip is the ‘non-fussyness’ of cart alignment when compared to an elliptical or even worse or critical when working with more exotic shapes such as Shibata, Micro-ridge, Super Fine Line, etc. to get the best out of them and also to reduce uneven record wear. Keep in mind also that any pivoting tonearm–the shorter the most problematic–will only be ‘perfectly’ aligned in only 2 stops along the ‘true cutting tangent line’ and ‘misaligned’ the rest of its course; which again favors a spherical in my opinion. Also a spherical tip generally is more ‘forgiving’ for vinyl defects such as ticks and pops in my experience.

            The choice of the 103 vs 103R regarding high frequency level and/or tonal balance will depend on the rest of your system, your sonic tastes–if you are more a ‘tone rules’ or ‘detail freak’ guy respectively. Note that the 103R will tend to emphasize not only hi-hat harmonics for example but also vinyl surface noise floor, record wear and ticks. If your records are mainly in perfect condition, this may not be so much a factor than somebody who buys lots of ‘pre-owned’ LPs. I noticed also that the 103R is a bit more receding in the upper mid region vs the 103 being more upfront changing the presence or drama in presentation. Note that these observations are between stock ‘non-mod’ versions but that these will still transpire to a certain degree after a ‘mod’ such as the Audio MusiKraft shells.

            Finally, regardless of the model chosen, the Audio MusiKraft mod will improve the high frequencies be it in lesser distortion, more linear extension, purity, and natural airiness having witness the before and after’ mod in controlled conditions and also in more relaxed settings.

            I hope this clears up some of your queries.

            Claude Lemaire

          • One last point I forgot to mention is that whatever you choose–103 or 103R–you will not be ‘stuck’ with a fixed sound–be it treble or other any other sonic parameters–that you would be with a ‘stock’ Denon. As Jeff as so well written or explained in his evaluation of the Audio MusiKraft cart, is that you can voice or fine-tune the sonic qualities and quantities to your liking via the many wood inserts and/or micro-tuning screws. That is the beauty of this unique design.

            Claude Lemaire

  2. Fantastic pictures of the nude DL103. I’ve never seen such detail of the DL103 before. Thank you!

  3. To All thank you for your thoughtful posts. Previously I have been more in the detail camp but lately I have been trying to learn more about the music and less about the sound. My system probably does not resemble the typical system for readers of this blog. I have currently Shelter 90X cartridge, Vector Arm, Basis 2100 TT, AVC Transformer based “pre amp” , Odyssey Kismet Power Amp driving a Magnepan 3.7 and a Marchand XM-9 crossover ( 60 Hz 24 db )feeding a pair of Bryston 7BST amps which drive a set of Magnepan Tympani III Bass Panels. XLO Type 5 speaker cables, ( previously VH Audio 28 awg DIY silver unshielded interconnects ) now Duelund 20 awg and 16 awg unshielded interconnects. Still trying to evaluate the differences between the silver and the Duelund interconnects. As I mainly listen to LPs many from thrift stores I am sensitive to record noise so I appreciate comments regarding spherical styli having less surface noise and being less fussy about set up as I am 74 yo and the Basis Vector Arm does not make it easy to set up a cartridge. However, despite the Shelters elliptical sylus I rarely have any surface noise even with my elliptical stylus. As I assume that Art Dudley would fit in with most of the readers of Jeffsplace I am curious that when John Atkinson measured Arts Listening Room with his system and found what seemed to me a rather dramatic roll off of the upper midrange through the treble This makes me wonder if this frequency response is how one achieves the musical tone ( for want of a better term ) and that a spherical stylus like the Denon 103 will move a system in this direction.
    Apologies in advance if I have offended anyone with my ignorance regarding tone in music. I am familiar with the definition of musical tone but I am not sure if I recognize it when I hear it. For Claude Basis is not very forthcoming about the specs of their Vector arm other than it is 9″ long, medium mass and unipivot in design.

    • Howdy Joe,

      No worries, you haven’t offended anyone by your comments about tone in music, and in fact “tone” can have quite a number of meanings in music and hifi depending on the context within which it is used.

      Musical tone has the qualities of duration, pitch, loudness, and timbre, for example.

      I might say, “That vintage guitar has great tone” when I’m describing its overall tonal properties in terms of general musicality, and its timbral textures.

      Or I might say, “Miles Davis has great tone” when playing his Martin Committee trumpet, but what I’m really saying is Miles’ superb technique on the trumpet gets great musical expression out of it.

      I might also say, “That component really gives insight into tone color”. Tone color is the chordal variations that result from adding additional pitches to three tone triads, such as major & minor 6ths, major & minor 7ths, dominant 7ths with flat or sharp fives or nines, major & minor & dominant 9ths, 11th, augmented 11th, 13th, etc., that give different styles of music their ‘sound’ and the emotional feel. Some gear tends to homogenize tone color more than it should which tends to make the music less expressive and interesting.

      To confuse matters a little, people also tend to use the same words to talk about things that have different meanings (homonyms). For example, some people will refer to instruments with different timbre as having different tone color, as well as the way I’ve used it to describe the musical “color” of adding notes to three tone triads that gives various styles of music their signature sound.

      Anyways, if you search on “tone in music”, “vintage tone”, “timbre”, and so forth, here at my blog, you’ll come across lots of posts that discuss tone in music that I think will be helpful.

      Thanks for your comment, Joe, and as I like to say, “May the tone be with you!”

      Kind regards,


    • Joe, although I concur with everything Jeff explained regarding the tone subject–especially the sentence “people also tend to use the same words to talk about things that have different meanings”–I do tend to also agree with your hypothesis above that in the most generalized sens, ‘tone lovers’ tend to like slighthly gentle ‘descending’ slopes as frequency increases, leaving the bass and low mids–the ‘power range’ of an orchestra–dominate a bit or ‘left in charge’ of the whole spectrum so to speak; thus giving priority of the ‘meat and force’ of the musical envelope over the ‘mosquito-esque details’ that I find musically distractive from the musician’s melodic message when passed a certain threshold. Which is not to say I don’t value top end information or even overtones passed 15kHz but in my personal bias, the total frequency balance has to be extended yet spot on in relative levels. And I believe that Art and perhaos Jeff also if I deduce correctly based on their respective gear; e.g. Garrard, Thorens,EMT, Denon, MacIntosh, Altec, Tannoy, and even Shelter’s like you own.

      All the best,

      Claude Lemaire

      • A very nice description, Claude.

        Also, thanks for including the links, I was very impressed with your writing, and I shall be looking to your reviews for inspiration for new music!

        Kind regards,


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