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  1. #1
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    Replacing a Denon 103. Suggestions on a tight budget?

    I've been using a Denon DL103 for around a year now and I listen quite a lot so I figure I'm getting close to time I need to be thinking about replacement. I'm mostly happy with the Denon but it can be a bit bloated on certain records and it's not the most compatible with my current arm and table, a Pro-Ject RPM-4. I use an extra heavy counterweight and a weight where I mount the cart to raise the mass so it works out pretty well, but I am willing to entertain that something else could be a better fit and can easily get rid of those if necessary.

    I have run through a few different tables and several low-ish priced MM carts over the years (Grados, Shure, Ortofons, AT carts around the hundred dollar range) before moving to Denon carts. I first tried a DL160 and then the DL103. To me, the MC carts were a big improvement so I'm very much inclined to stick with MCs, although it could just be a Denon thing since they are the only MCs I've tried. I think the 160 had better detail than the 103, but I stuck with the 103 and put the 160 on a spare table because I've been using a low-ish gain Bellari pre and thought I got better dynamics with the 103 through a Denon step up than with the 160 alone. I placed an order with Comet Supply for a Denon 301 a few months, hoping that would give me the best of both worlds, but I am about to give up on them ever delivering and at full retail those are out of my price range.

    So, any suggestions on other things to try under $200? I'd like to stick with either a high output MC or one that would be very compatible with the Denon AU300LC step up that I already have. I've considered retipping, but the long wait turns me off. I don't entirely rule it out, but I'm heavily leaning away from it. I'm open to suggestions on anything under $200?

  2. #2
    You play. I listen. Enochrome's Avatar
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    Nobody,

    I feel that I am in your price level and I too have exactly done what you have; I have a Denon DL-110 and a Denon DL-103LC. I too have wondered what else would give me equal fine results around that price range; I am still uncomfortable with spending more than 250 on a cart.

    I think you have a medium mass arm, is that true? Do you want to buy used? I think you may be able to find a used Dynavector 10x for around that much on Audiogon. Although Audiogon has been chock full of low ballers and unreasonable sellers so watch out for that.

    What about the the Audio Technica FT-7? It might be slightly heavier arms but their carts are rated at 100hz so the compliance is a little less than double of what is stated. I wish someone would do a white paper for the official compliance measurements for carts at 100hz or the japanese do measurements at 10hz.

  3. #3
    Super Moderator Site Moderator JohnMichael's Avatar
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    Check out the AT F7. I found it to be a very nice budget MC. It is a low output cartridge. The stylus is a very good elliptical that will trace the groove with low distortion.

    Audio-Technica AT-F7,Audio-Technica AT F7,Audio-Technica ATF7,Audio-Technica AT-F7 cartridge,Audio-Technica AT F7 cartridge,Audio-Technica ATF7 cartridge,Audio-Technica AT-F7 phono cartridge,Audio-Technica AT F7 phono cartridge,Audio-Technica ATF7 ph

    Tonearm mass and cartridge compliance is important to know so the resonant frequency is at the 10 Hz ideal. High enough that you avoid warp frequencies and low enough so you do not interfere with the low bass in the recording.
    JohnMichael

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  4. #4
    You play. I listen. Enochrome's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JohnMichael View Post
    Check out the AT F7. I found it to be a very nice budget MC. It is a low output cartridge. The stylus is a very good elliptical that will trace the groove with low distortion.

    Audio-Technica AT-F7,Audio-Technica AT F7,Audio-Technica ATF7,Audio-Technica AT-F7 cartridge,Audio-Technica AT F7 cartridge,Audio-Technica ATF7 cartridge,Audio-Technica AT-F7 phono cartridge,Audio-Technica AT F7 phono cartridge,Audio-Technica ATF7 ph

    Tonearm mass and cartridge compliance is important to know so the resonant frequency is at the 10 Hz ideal. High enough that you avoid warp frequencies and low enough so you do not interfere with the low bass in the recording.
    Sorry I meant AT-F7 not FT-7.

    John Michael is that what you have? I think I remember you getting one a while back. If so, what do you like about it?

  5. #5
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    I'm a bit too distrustful of my fellow man to buy a used stylus so that's out. And, as I have been pondering this I feel like I am more or less reconsidering my vinyl options altogether and going in a bit of a different direction. I've been using two tables, a Project RPM-4 for normal listening and then a refurbished Dual 1009SK for 78s and occasionally listening when dozing off and taking advantage of the auto shut off. Was planning on something for the Project. However, during this thinking I've been switching around what carts I have and seeing what I like best and it really turns out that I prefer the sound of my Dual over the Project (not talking bad about the Project or making any absolute claims, just a personal preference which takes the aesthetics of my old house and the 50s/60s furnishings that make up most of it into account as well as sound quality) and I'm getting plenty of output with the 160 through the Bellari as long as I keep it turned up, which from what I have read is a good rather than bad thing and I'm not hearing any problem from having it all the way up.

    So...right now, I'm using just the Dual with the 160 in one headshell and an Ortofon 78 stylus in another and switching them out as needed. I've also just Ebayed a quite nice looking original wood base for the Dual that I plan on modifying a bit. (I found that I got rid on resonance and such with the current cheap plastic base by placing a towel underneath to absorb sound rather than get it reflected off the glass it sits on through the open bottom and back into the machine so I plan on putting a bottom on it and coating the inside with some dampening spray. May do a few other thing, but still thinking on all that) Since the 160 is discontinued I'm just going to get a 110 as a replacement as the 160 is fairly long in the tooth as well. I do like the increased high end detail I get with the 160 over the 103 and hope the 110 is similar in this regard. Gonna hold for a bit and see how this all pans out before putting the Project and the Step Up for sale, but that feels like the direction I am headed.

    So I guess I've come to a conclusion of sorts even if it is sidestepping the original issue I started with. But I do appreciate the input and the opportunity to ramble on here. Thanks.

  6. #6
    Retro Modernist 02audionoob's Avatar
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    I feel like the answer with many of the old Dual turntables is a Shure thing...


  7. #7
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    If I was going MM I'd go that direction as I have often liked Shure carts in the past when I was doing MMs, preferred them to the ATs and Ortofons I used at various times. In fact, just for kicks, I already tried out an M91ED on it and it sounded quite nice, but just seemed a bit muted compared to the Denon. But yeah, Dual and Shure is a pretty classic combo.

  8. #8
    Retro Modernist 02audionoob's Avatar
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    As far as I know, there aren't too many MC cartridges that have the right mass and compliance to work best with the Dual tonearms. Maybe Ortofon or Audio Technica could work for you. This Shure I have doesn't sound muted to me. I've heard plenty of muted Shure cartridges, including the ubiquitous M97XE, but these finer styli seem to really change the character of the sound for the better. I'll send you digital file if you're interested.

  9. #9
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    I appreciate the offer, but I think I'm OK for now. Actually finding an affordable original stylus for some of the finer Shure carts seems a tall order. I am curious about the Shures with the jico stylus that I've read people talk about, saying they retain the strength of the Shures with added detail. That does sound awfully tempting. I've always liked Shures I've heard mostly for the way they handle bass. Maybe someday.

  10. #10
    Super Moderator Site Moderator JohnMichael's Avatar
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    Have you checked out Soundsmith? They have a $150 retip using a nude elliptical stylus. I am not sure if your 103 is the model with the spherical stylus but a nude elliptical may kick up the performance. Between the lower tip mass and better groove tracing of the elliptical a hot rodded Denon might be the answer.
    JohnMichael

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    Digital Sony SCD-XA5400ES SACD/cd, Marantz SA 8001

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  11. #11
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    Yeah, I was considering that. I may order a 110 for now and ship the 103 off for a re-tip for down the road. Sounds like there are really long waits for those, but I could just send it off when I get something else and whenever it is done it's done. Then again I may just pass as I did get better results from the 160 than the 103 on the Dual. The 103 was really dead sounding; I'm assuming because of compliance issues, although it didn't really have a totally fair shot since I do think the stylus is getting worn a bit so that could have played a part as well. Curious how the re-tip would change things, but not sure if I am curious enough to mail something off and wait months and pay money to find out. Definitely will be pondering this at some point and will hang on to the 103 just in case I take this route eventually.

  12. #12
    Linear Guy
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    The few and the many

    there are a bunch of carts around that fit into your 200.00 range but few are better than the 103. Your indifference to it is normal. The problem is, you are accustomed to its very good attributes, which you will miss greatly if you go too cheap on a replacement. I recommend the Denon 110. its about 139.000 and available. Its a damn good cart for the money. Quite different from the 103 in that it has a forward presentation. With the 110 you will get slam and detail,

    Another weird choice is Nakaogka. I tried one of their P mount OEM carts and it was shockingly good, makes me wonder about the rest of their carts.

  13. #13
    You play. I listen. Enochrome's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by daviethek View Post
    there are a bunch of carts around that fit into your 200.00 range but few are better than the 103. Your indifference to it is normal. The problem is, you are accustomed to its very good attributes, which you will miss greatly if you go too cheap on a replacement. I recommend the Denon 110. its about 139.000 and available. Its a damn good cart for the money. Quite different from the 103 in that it has a forward presentation. With the 110 you will get slam and detail,

    Another weird choice is Nakaogka. I tried one of their P mount OEM carts and it was shockingly good, makes me wonder about the rest of their carts.
    Nobody,

    I have had all the carts mentioned except for the Shure. I really like the DL-110 it can play hot but can be tamed. It has crazy detail, more dynamics than the 103, and has lots of extension. What it lacks that the 103 has is instrumental timber and cohesiveness. Ironically my 103 tracked better than the 110 (it passed the Shure test record on both sides).

    You cannot go wrong with either, you are in good hands.

    In regards to mismatch with compliance, the 110 is actually more like 15 dynamic compliance. With a 15 compliance and a if you want to add a 3 gram weight you will be in the safety zone.

    I had a Nagaoka mp-30 and sold it cause I liked the 110 better. I still want to own a Nagaoka again, but since you own a 103 you won't be missing much, because the Nagaoka has the same characteristics as the 103, except the 103 has more air.

  14. #14
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    Yeah, I went ahead and ordered a 110 which should hold me over for another year or so. Still might send the 103 off when I have some extra cash lying around as I am really curious about that retip notion. But, needed to just get something in for now as what I have are getting on and I don't like the idea of accidentally damaging a record with a worn stylus. Probably not a huge danger in the condition they are in, but I have heard a change in sound and can tell they are due for replacement so would rather not take chances.

  15. #15
    Forum Regular hifitommy's Avatar
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    comet supply

    Comet® Supply — Discount Business and Consumer Equipment and Supplies

    it seems they lost their contact with denon and no longer supply them. unfortunately, that was probably inevitable.
    ...regards...tr

  16. #16
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    Yeah, I had a 301 on order from them for months and finally cancelled and thus restarted the decision of which cart to try. Comet pricing put the 301 in my range, but prices elsewhere were not. They said they'd email me if/when they got some in, said they would have some in Feb, but from what I have seen them telling others it seems they always seem to be getting some the next month...

  17. #17
    Forum Regular hifitommy's Avatar
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    denon is NOT found in a search of their site now.
    ...regards...tr

  18. #18
    You play. I listen. Enochrome's Avatar
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    Nobody,

    I was writing before about how you can tame the highs of the 110 that some people feel can be bright at times. Here is the link on the process.

    I will post some pics of mine when I get home. It cost me 10 dollars from Radio Shack. It did tame the highs and allowed the midrange to be more apparent, but at times it can be too mellow depending on your phono stage. What is your phono stage?

  19. #19
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    Bellari VP530. Overall my system leans to the warm, mellow side so a little extra fire ain't likely to be a problem. I'll give it a listen and see how it sounds and decide if I need to take any steps from there. Thanks for the link just in case.

  20. #20
    You play. I listen. Enochrome's Avatar
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    Good call. I don't think it is necessary for you since you have the Bellari. Enjoy the cart!
    Post impressions.

  21. #21
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    Well, got the DL 110 last night and have played it for several hours already, pretty much straight from 5 through 11 and then for a couple hours this morning. Initial impressions are very positive. It was a bit bright but not overly so the first couple sides but quickly settled down. Even straight off it wasn't harsh. It does resemble the DL 160 just without quite that last bit of sparkle up top. Still very similar sounding carts and the 110 is actually tracking a bit better for me. Overall I am very pleased with this cart on this table. I installed the plate that came with it that ads a bit of mass to the headshell, but it's certainly not a particularly heavy weight, nothing dramatic. Noticeably lighter than the weight I had previously used with the 103 on a couple different arms, which I believe was 3 grams. I was planning on trying with and then without to see how things go, but that can wait. I'm pleased enough to not mess. I'd like to do the math to see what should be best in theory if I could actually find the effective mass of the 1009sk arm listed online somewhere. But anyway, totally happy with the cart and would recommend it in a heartbeat to anyone looking for a cart under $150. Matching it to the Dual table is no problem.

    With the price difference I picked up a handful of other goodies and pieced together a quickie isolation shelf that is working remarkably well. With the spring suspension of the Dual on a suspended wood floor, walking across the room could be tricky. Well, the quickie isolation shelf solved the problem and now I can stomp around all I want. Just sat down 4 sorbothane hemispheres flat side up, placed a granite tile on top of those, placed a sheet of thin sorbothane the same size as the tile over that, then placed a second granite tile on top of the whole thing. Placed the table on that and footfalls and resultant skipping are a thing of the past. Did not expect this to work nearly as well as it did, but I am quite happy with it and it is fairly compact and not too attention getting.

    Next project will include a new nice wood base that I will be putting a bottom piece on to cover the opening, coating the interior with some damping spray and installing some spikes to the bottom. Also, while the shelf works wonders, I'm also considering following through with my plan to mass load the floor under the table to see if it helps anything. (This was the idea I actually expected to work to cure the footfalls instead of the shelf, and now that I was geared up for it and already dug through the basement to locate several large boxes of heavy clay tile I figure I may as well, couldn't hurt.)

  22. #22
    You play. I listen. Enochrome's Avatar
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    Congrats!! I really like that cart and I am glad you chose it.

    Here is a thread on Audio Karma about your deck and the 110 together.

    They somewhat confirm what I think is that the 110 is a medium compliance cart. They do mention that the 1009 arm is actually one of the heavier "low mass" arms around ( maybe to be considered a light medium mass). I think adding the weight was a good call.

    Nice! I tracked mine on the heavier side, 2 grams, when I had it matched with a lighter arm than my Jelco, which I track at 1.85

  23. #23
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    Yeah, I read a few things around saying that while they called the arms on the old Dual table low mass, that was in comparison to the heavy arms that were commonly in use at that time. So I think medium mass by today's standards is more likely. Still wish I had actual measurements, but everything seems to be working together quite well so I'm willing to let it go and just enjoy.

    Thanks for that link; looks like some interesting discussions over there.

  24. #24
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    NOTHING will beat the Dennon 103 with the Auditorium 23 tranny for under $3,000!!!

  25. #25
    Vinyl Fundamentalist Forums Moderator poppachubby's Avatar
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    Late to the party...

    I have come to the conclusion that the 103 with wood body mod and Soundsmith retip is one of the best values going. I heard one on a Rossner and Sohn KLM15 table...glorious. The mod can be done by oneself, many tutorials on youtube.

    Glad you're enjoying your 110 though nobody. A cart is a tough proposition for someone like you. You listen to tons of vinyl so you deserve the best, but of course you burn through them crazy fast, so cost must be considered.

    Frankly I think you should consider the Shure with JICO stylus. If the sound is to your liking, for about $150 you can grab a new stylus every year or so without exceeding your budget.

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