Grado or Denon Carts?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Bill Why Man, Sep 19, 2016.

  1. Bill Why Man

    Bill Why Man Forum Resident Thread Starter

    I've been enjoying the incredible soundstage of my Denon DL-160 for years, but it's time for a replacement. It makes my starter TT (Denon DP-300F) sound like twice the machine it is. Unfortunately, it has long been out of production and very hard to find. I'm also on the lookout for a vintage Thorens TT.

    I have a modest budget—especially if I'm in the market for a Thorens—and I have pretty much finalized my cart options between a Denon DL-110 or a Grado Black with 8MZ stylus. From what I've heard, the Denon 110 is similar to the 160 as far as its 3-D soundstage and rich sound. I also love the HOMC, which in my limited experience seems a finer overall sound than any price-equivalent MM's. I know that I'm likely way off in that regard, but, once again, my experience has been limited. The Grado cart comes under a lot of criticism on this site, except when upgraded with the 8MZ. People's descriptions of it seem similar to the Denons, and there seems to be a small consensus that this is a good match for an old Thorens TT.

    Does anyone have experience with both of these carts? Or perhaps experience with these individual carts with an old Thorens TT that would be valuable? Or a nice recommendation under $250 that would pair well with either my Denon TT or, hopefully, a vintage Thorens? My Denon 160 is a great tracker, never any problems with the inner grooves, and I'd love that for my new cart, as well (who wouldn't?).

    My turntable runs through a Cambridge 540P phono preamp into a McIntosh MA-5100 integrated amp, firing out of Mordaunt-Short Carnival 2 bookshelf speakers, if this helps.

    I appreciate any helpful tips, experiences, comments, et al. Thanks!

    Kiko1974 likes this.
  2. doctor fuse

    doctor fuse Well-Known Member

    Too bad you don't live on Vancouver Island, because you could listen to my Green with 8MZ and I could listen to your Denon. Funny that I'm thinking of going from Grado to Denon and you are thinking the opposite.
    I have just noticed that the 8MZ has gone up in price to $180. It's a nice needle, but I don't know if it's that nice.
    Bill Why Man likes this.
  3. I have a Grado Blue Cartridge and recommend that over the Black. The black cart uses a 3 piece cantilever and the blue/red/silver/gold cart use a 4 piece cantilever. The body has slightly better specs and you can always swap out the stylus for better performance. I like the Grado sound but I found it has sibilance paired with my Technics SL1200. Using an AT440MLb instead. Cant comment on Dennon.
  4. ArdenHiFi

    ArdenHiFi Well-Known Member

    Grado w/ 8MZ stylus...highly overrated. In many ways, going from a Denon to a Grado would be a step backwards. Especially considering what you said that you are looking for in terms of "3-D soundstage and rich sound". In my humble opinion, Grados suck. I've tried the entire Prestige line including the DJ carts with every conceivable stylus option, the Sonata, and the Reference Platinum as well as a host of vintage models. They won't stop sounding tizzy and fuzzy in the highs and they don't sound very natural, regardless of setup, table, and tonearm. Why? Primarily because they don't track very well. Also, some of them, contrary to what many people seem to think, are quite unacceptably bright. Another thing to consider is that Grados like low mass tonearms, so not sure which vintage Thorens you're talking about, but this is a consideration. So I have another recommendation for you that I think will meet your criteria in spades and it's also part of the same family that you already know that you appreciate: Denon DL-103R.
    Daniel Thomas and bluemooze like this.
  5. PIEP

    PIEP Well-Known Member

    Firenze, Italy
    • Try a high compliance Shure M 97XE , warm sound
    • Another possibility: buy a used Shure M75 ED for 30 € / $ and put a Jico Thakker M75 ED stylus at 27 €;
    • powerful and full-bodied sound, typical Shure; total : max 65 €
    • no hum or harsh sound anymore
    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2016
    McLover, bluemooze and Bill Why Man like this.
  6. ArdenHiFi

    ArdenHiFi Well-Known Member

    Considering what he said he's after and what he's listening to now, this recommendation is a little left of center, don't you think? If he's been listening to a Denon DL-160 for years and loving it, the Shure M97xE is going to sound like a bowl of porridge with a shoe horn and some wires sticking out of it. I like the M97xE, but there's no way it's going to please a Denon fan. Not even close.
  7. action pact

    action pact Music Omnivore

    Grado: Proudly sucking in Brooklyn NY for more than 60 years. :rolleyes:
    rebellovw, ZenMango, John and 3 others like this.
  8. ArdenHiFi

    ArdenHiFi Well-Known Member

    It's the McDonald's formula. Take an idea. Implement it. Refine it so that it's just barely good enough to get by. Take some pretty marketing pictures. Then do it over and over and over and over and over again. Don't change a thing. Every once in a while, introduce a new product. Keep the prices low. It's mediocrity in it's purest form. People love mediocrity. It sells.
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  9. action pact

    action pact Music Omnivore

    rebellovw and gslasor like this.
  10. Rolltide

    Rolltide Forum Resident

    Vallejo, CA
    I'd need to hear a high end Grado cartridge before fully deciding what I feel about them.

    I have a black and an 8MZ, I consider both to sound like standard budget-friendly MM cartridges at their respective price points. Nothing bad to report, but nothing "OMG Grado magic!" either.
  11. Jeffczar

    Jeffczar Well-Known Member

    Milwaukee, WI
    Experience with both but the Denons are one of my go to carts and have been for years. I admit I have not heard the 160 but have a 110 which I understand is quite similar. Also have a 103 which I like to rotate in from time to time.

    Now the Shure/Jico route is a great option. I have the SAS stylus I bought just to try it out in an old M91. It's a fantastic combo by any and all measures. Absolutely can't go wrong. They have the JICO stylus for the M91,95,97 and the Vseries.
    I'll throw another one in on this same road, LP gear Audio Technica AT95 with the shibata talus. For under $200 nothing can even get remotely close to this. You would have to get into the $500 and up range for the kind of performance I'm getting out of this one on my Rega p5. I actually bought a spare stylus and also one of the VL stylus types from them as well. It's probably my favorite cartridge along with the Denon. I've been in vinyl for a long time and am old enough to have bought a V15 type 4 brand new and have heard quite a few carts over the years. I think for the money, the LP gear shibata AT95 and the Denon DL110 are the best I've heard. They aren't perfect of course but in the right arm and set up properly they avoid doing anything wrong. No glaring flaws and in no category are they worse than very good to excellent. I think they are in that category of if you want something that will strike you as better in a significant way, you're talking about tripling the cost for those minimal gains.
    Old Rusty and Bill Why Man like this.
  12. sfrost

    sfrost Forum Resident

    Get the Denon 160 retiped if you like the sound, no more expensive than a new DL110. The Grado is very good but it may hum on the Thorens table, besides the Denon is better either way.
  13. Jack Flannery

    Jack Flannery Forum Resident

    Houston, TX
    Statement Sonata on my #1 TT. yeah, it's horrible. Which is why it stays there.
    HiFi Guy, rebellovw, John and 4 others like this.
  14. I've had the Shure M97xE for a couple of years, by no means a bad cartridge in my set up (Kenwood KD7010), but I bought the Denon DL110 a year ago, and it's night and day. The Denon just seems to give a clearer presentation of the whole sound spectrum, really sweet and clear vocals, tight bass, gorgeous top-end. Serious quality for the money and they are now down in price where I live (Tokyo), so I'll be picking up another while the going is good. (My only niggle is that the Shibata tip seems to attract a fair bit of debris if a record is anything less than pristine). Worth every penny.
    I've never used Grado cartridges so I can't comment on a comparison.
    Shiver likes this.
  15. dmckean

    dmckean Forum Resident

    San Diego, CA, USA
    I seriously doubt you'd be happy with a Grado after coming from a DL-160. It's too bad you don't have LOMC capability or I'd recommend you up your budget and try the DL-301 mkII.

    Maybe consider the Nagaoka MP-150?
    Bill Why Man likes this.
  16. action pact

    action pact Music Omnivore

    I happily went from a DL-160 to a Grado several years ago. Even after messing with the loading, I could never get the bottom octaves to fill in the way I wanted on the DL-160, it either sounded lean or bloated, and I found the stereo image to be exaggerated. I much preferred the lush mids and full bass from the Grados.

    After enjoying a variety of nicer Grados for a number of years, curiously I have gone back to a Denon for my main cartridge, this time a DL-103.
  17. dmckean

    dmckean Forum Resident

    San Diego, CA, USA
    The DL-103R is my main cartridge, but it's quite a different beast from most the rest of the Denon line and takes a really nice turntable to make it sing. Even though it's priced low, it's really not for beginners.
    Bill Why Man and action pact like this.
  18. Bill Why Man

    Bill Why Man Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts and suggestions. No offense to the Grado fans, but there's just too much experienced criticism of their low-end carts, particularly in comparison to the Denons. Id rather admire the Grados from afar than be one of their critics. I'd love to roll with the DL-103R, but I'm not LOMC-capable at the moment. I went with the general consensus here and just picked up the DL-110. Time to pop it on the arm.
    No Thorens yet—unfortunately! Thanks again!
  19. ArdenHiFi

    ArdenHiFi Well-Known Member

    Except re-tipping is likely to change the sound.

    Also, for the record, I do not use Denon cartridges. Too bright and zingy for my taste. Agree with action pact that some of them sound incurably lean.
  20. Bill Why Man

    Bill Why Man Forum Resident Thread Starter

    I may be incorrect about this, but I've read in more than one place that the HOMC Denon carts can't be retipped—hence, my new Denon DL-110!
  21. matteos

    matteos Stereotype

    Los Angeles
    Get yourself a Denon 103r or a 301 Mk11

    Get a Denon step up transformer like the AU 320
  22. sfrost

    sfrost Forum Resident

    Haven't read anything like that, just sent out a DL110 for upgraded stylus and cantilever. They can be made to sound even better with better styli.
    Cartridges are dependent on the arm they are installed on so just because a cartridge didn't tickle your fancy on your arm or in your system doesn't mean it isn't the cats meow in a different arm/table/system.
  23. action pact

    action pact Music Omnivore

    They can be retipped... but not by Denon anymore.
  24. action pact

    action pact Music Omnivore


    The DL-103 (loaded at 100 ohms and installed on a suitable arm) is not like that however.
  25. Bill Why Man

    Bill Why Man Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Thanks for the heads up on the Denon retipping, Blokes!

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