The Grado Prestige Gold1 was ultimately a disappointing cartridge. The sound was heavily colored. Stereophile magazine used the word “thick,” and indeed, the sound coming out the speakers was undistinguished and frustratingly dull. I went back in search of a moderately priced phono cartridge. After doing some more research, I came across a couple of possibilities. The Sumiko Blue Point Special Evo III looked appealing for a low-cost moving coil cartridge. But most of the reviews I read online indicated that it could be a bit thin sounding: good for classical recordings but lacking some bass. And that’s when I looked seriously at Denon’s lineup of phono cartridges.
I had basically decided to try a low-output MC (moving coil) cartridge for all the reputed benefits I’ve heard about the sound. MM (moving magnet) cartridges produce a stronger signal but less sonically pure. The stipulation to using an MC cartridge is that you need a phono preamplifier or step-up transformer to boost the signal. The phono preamp in my system, the Pro-Ject Tube Box II, supports both MM and MC cartridges.
The Denon DL-103R, from the reviews I read online, sounded like the perfect addition to my lineup. I ended up ordering it from NeedleDoctor.com, because it would have been hard to obtain through the local hi-fi shops. A few days later the DL-103R arrived. Like the Grado, the Denon had fairly modest packaging. The Denon cartridges take a bit of care with installation. The open screw wells on either side of the cartridge make the mounting process more delicate. I would suggest getting one screw mounted at least partially, then doing the other screw. I alternated tightening between each screw and made slight adjustments to the position of the cartridge as I went along.
Immediately, from the first play, I noticed how much air there was between the instruments. It’s a very musical sound. The top end breathed life into every recording I tried, and the bass was firm and focused. Almost immediately, I could tell this was the best phono cartridge I’ve owned. I’ve always enjoyed records and listening to vinyl, but this cartridge really brings out the inherent musicality of vinyl records.
This cartridge is a delight to listen to. The more I listen to it, the more records I want to play. It’s the kind of cartridge that gets people excited about vinyl. It’s just a sound that is near impossible to get with a CD. There’s so much life and air in the music that it’s very pleasing to the ear. If I have one complaint about CDs, it’s that the sound is too discrete. When I listen to records with a decent cartridge – and the Denon DL-103R is far more than decent – than I can hear air in the recording. That is, I can hear an extended range, much higher than a CD can produce. That’s what it sounds like to me. It just sounds alive.
Over the past several weeks, I have been throwing a wide range of my records at the cartridge, and it does an impressive job with everything I’ve cared to play on it. I also noticed that it is a very quiet cartridge. In quiet passages, it is by far the smoothest cartridge I’ve tried. It seems tolerant of surface noise and deemphasized that as such. This may be a function of the MC low-output, and since this is my first MC cartridge, it’s noticeable to me how deep the silent passages are.
So I highly recommend the Denon DL-103R. It’s proven itself on my turntable. It reminds me of what I love about vinyl. If everyone could hear how good this sounds, there would be more vinyl addicts in the world. The Denon DL-103R is a very musical sounding cartridge and is an impressive bit of engineering.