To SUT or not to SUT with a Denon DL-103?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Benzion, Jan 30, 2018.

  1. Baaronj

    Baaronj Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Tallahassee, FL
    Based on things I've read over the years, and since I already have a DL-103, I had sorta decided my next cart would be a Zu DL-103r.

    Now I'm back to being on the fence.

    As others have pointed out, the DL-103r is interesting in that some people vociferously insist that it's not just a little, but *a lot better* than the DL-103.

    I've read some pretty impassioned comments over the years from owners of the DL-103r who've gone into great detail about the various points of superiority the R version supposedly has over the plain 103. Much of it that I have read boils down to the belief that the R has more in common with "true hi-fi" carts than the 103.

    On the other hand, lots of other folks, the guys at Zu among them, seem to think the 103r's main distinction is a bit of a treble push.

    I think slightly divergent schools of thought around what constitutes "hi-fi" has something to do with these two interpretations of the 103r's presentation.

    I love my DL-103 - I've been using a Conrad Johnson PV-5 phonostage lately. It has ludicrous amounts of gain by today's standards, so today I rewired my SUT from 1:20 to 1:10. The lower gain and higher loading are really bringing out the best in the 103.... Really nicely fleshed out, open, extended and also balanced. I'm not sure I'd want more up top... particularly on Altecs.
     
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  2. Rolltide

    Rolltide Forum Resident

    Location:
    Vallejo, CA
    It's very easy to assume the 103R is bright due to the way its positioned vs. the stock 103. It really isn't bright. Its hard to completely characterize the differences to be honest.

    If I were you, I would keep your 103 and get the Zu 103R. You'll kill three birds with two stones - a 103, a 103R, and a re-potted Denon. Maybe one day you'll send your stock Denon to Paradox Pulse for a repotting as well.
     
  3. blakep

    blakep Forum Resident

    I think you would find very few users of the 103R that have compared it to other MC's, including the 103, as well as better and more expensive MC's, that would describe it as being bright or having treble emphasis. Maybe slightly more refined than the 103 or more "modern sounding", more extended maybe in the high frequencies, but "bright" is not a description that you would generally see attributed to the cartridge.

    As well as having the six nines coils and lower 14 ohm impedance (vs. 40 on the 103), the R also has a very small piece of damping material on the inside front facet of the body which the straight 103 does not that many people are not aware of. The rest of the cartridges are identical, so sonic differences would have to be attributed to those differences.

    That being said, high frequency performance (and midrange detail retrieval) are the real weaknesses of both the 103 and the 103R. A body change can make a big difference in these areas but to really max out the performance on the cartridge you need a more sophisticated stylus profile as well and, arguably, a better cantilever. The conical, as good as it is (and it is an exceptional conical) just doesn't cut it in those areas compared to something like a good line contact or microridge.

    But the cartridges do so much right in so many other areas at such a reasonable price (especially now with the price of cartridges going through the roof in the past few years) that those shortcomings are pretty easy to forgive.
     
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  4. Baaronj

    Baaronj Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Tallahassee, FL
    That's pretty much been my plan! I probably should just get the Zu and see what I think about it in my system. Like you said, would be interesting to hear the two back to back.

    I lived with the stock DL-103 for a year or so before I finally got the nerve/got bored enough one day to denude it from all but the top portion of plastic, which I affixed to an annealed copper shim from Audiomods UK with a drop or to of CA. Sounds really good... Like the 103, just a bit more open.

    Since I've already done (most of) the scary work of prepping my DL-103 for the Paradox Pulse, I've been meaning to order one of those and pot mine at home. Do you have one of his headshells? I never decided which one to go with.

    I *have* always wanted to hear the Zu 103r in my system... And I think the DL-103, potted in aluminum Pulse body, would at least get me close to the sound of Zu DL-103 anyway.
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2018
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  5. blakep

    blakep Forum Resident

    I'd bet a fair bit of money that you wouldn't be able to tell the difference!
     
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  6. googlymoogly

    googlymoogly Forum Resident

    I bought one of his aluminum bodies a couple of years ago when he was selling them at a discount before changing the body's shape (a la Zu, in fact). I re-bodied a then brand-new 103R, using the pellet shot he includes, and then potted it. Worked out very nicely.
     
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  7. Rolltide

    Rolltide Forum Resident

    Location:
    Vallejo, CA
    I don't have any first hand experience with PP, it's just a site I've long since had bookmarked to eventually avail myself of. I'd send it to him as I don't really have the dexterity (or patience) for things like taking apart phono carts with exacto knives.

    I'll say this, the ~15G Zu Denon 103R mounted on a 15g Ortofon headshell sounds very close to the much more expensive (and legendary) Ortofon SPU, which has in common with the Denon low impedance, a spherical stylus, and a lot of mass.

    [​IMG]
     
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  8. Baaronj

    Baaronj Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Tallahassee, FL
    Yep. Your description here is precisely in keeping with those I've seen over the years among folks who really like the 103R, and why it was in my mental queue of "next cartridge to pick up."

    I don't think I was aware of the damping material in the 103r, or at least, aware of what it did. I think it's readily visible when the carts are debodied, right? I think I remember noting the physical difference between the two carts from pics of them nuded.

    Really great info in this thread!
     
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  9. googlymoogly

    googlymoogly Forum Resident

    Agreed!
     
  10. Baaronj

    Baaronj Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Tallahassee, FL
    Thirded. Zu does claim to use some special potting material, so I was trying to avoid stepping on toes of any Zu owners who'd take exception to my getting the *same* sound with my 5 minute JB Weld.
     
  11. googlymoogly

    googlymoogly Forum Resident

    I may be talking out of my rear end, but isn't JB Weld magnetic? Probably don't want to use that particular formulation on a phono cartridge. I used a plain electronics epoxy when I potted my Paradox case.
     
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  12. blakep

    blakep Forum Resident

    Yes, you will only see it if you remove the body from the cartridge.

    It's one of my spare cartridges now (I used modified 103R's for about 6 years after using the 103R stock for about a year), but below is a 103R potted into an aluminum body with a ruby cantilever and line contact stylus from Soundsmith. I also had a potted ebony body with Peter's top of the line OCL stylus (which was great but I would not consider again as it was outrageously difficult to set up). I spent a lot of time with modified 103R's haha! Have about $600-$650 into this one in total.

    [​IMG]
     
  13. Warren Jarrett

    Warren Jarrett Audio Note (UK) dealer in SoCal/LA-OC

    Location:
    Fullerton, CA
    For any MC cartridge, capacitance makes no difference in sound. But when capacitance is VERY high, there could be higher susceptibility for noise. So, I would choose 0, just for that reason.
     
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  14. Baaronj

    Baaronj Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Tallahassee, FL
    It probably is...I was (mostly) kidding about using it. I think I remember the gent who makes the pulse bodies recommends a garden variety epoxy (NOT JB Weld), but electronics epoxy sounds like the way to go.
     
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  15. Baaronj

    Baaronj Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Tallahassee, FL
    Very cool....Where did you come across that aluminum body?

    I'd be interested to hear what you think of the Soundsmith mods you've had done to the cart pictured.
     
  16. Warren Jarrett

    Warren Jarrett Audio Note (UK) dealer in SoCal/LA-OC

    Location:
    Fullerton, CA
    If you are discussing damping material to apply to the cartridge, think about it from an engineering design point-of-view. The most effective damping materials are (1) as high-density as possible, this means as heavy as possible for any given size of glop; (2) retains a very high viscosity but does not harden, this means a gooey mess that does not harden but also does not migrate out-of-shape; and (3) sticky, both onto the item damped and within its own matrix.

    So something like Blu-Tack is the best. At Home Depot they have gooey stuff to stick on the back of paintings or under fine china, so they stay in one position and cannot be knocked out of position. Epoxy is not dense enough and not gooey enough, once it dries.
     
  17. JackG

    JackG Forum Resident

    Location:
    NJ
    Great comments on the 103 vs 103r! As far as treble emphasis, one thing that always struck me was how perfect and real cymbals sound with the 103r/3440A, and how great the bass is. I'd be reticent to give up either so I think I'll stay the course with the 103r.
     
  18. Warren Jarrett

    Warren Jarrett Audio Note (UK) dealer in SoCal/LA-OC

    Location:
    Fullerton, CA
    Now, another general question about both the 103 and the 103R. So many people like to take off the plastic body, and replace with a wooden or aluminum body, I would like to know if they noticed a definite change in the sound. Can you describe what changes your heard?

    Also, who added a damping material around the cartridge as a separate operation from the change in body? Can you describe the effects of each separately?
     
  19. Benzion

    Benzion "Cogito, ergo sum" Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Brooklyn, NY
    Well, mine is the Zu version - so it already has a different body. As far as stylus/cantilever, when it's time to re-tip, I have my eye set on a sapphire cantilever with a better stylus. Will decide what shape when the time comes.
     
  20. Benzion

    Benzion "Cogito, ergo sum" Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Brooklyn, NY
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  21. JackG

    JackG Forum Resident

    Location:
    NJ
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  22. Baaronj

    Baaronj Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Tallahassee, FL
    I can't yet speak to re-housing the 103 in an aluminum or wooden body, but I can say that simply denuding the cartridge and affixing it to a heavy copper shim significantly opened the sound of the 103 from the upper midrange on up, while losing nothing of the 103's signature sound.

    It's worth noting that since I'm running an Origin Live modded Rega RB-300 type tonearm, which doesn't have the effective mass most folks believe the DL-103 needs, even before I denuded the DL-103, I ran it with the heavy copper shim on top (which brought its weight close to the weight of the Zu Dl-103). I also used some heavy machine washers affixed to the Origin Live/RB303's counter weight with Bluetac to further increase the tonearms effective mass, and make it possible to hit the required VTF without having to move the counterweight to the outermost section of the arm stub.

    The copper shim and tonearm weights really improved the sound of the DL-103 over running it stock. There was still a very apparent improvement in the sound of the cart when I went to the naked/copper shim setup.

    I'm going to get a Paradox body to install my current 103 into soon. The prescribed process requires using an epoxy to pot the nuded cart into the aluminum body.

    Also, @googlymoogly was right - JB Weld is magnetic and will apparently kill a cart. Lot's of detailed info on the process on the Paradox Pulse website and elsewhere online.

    I will say the process of nuding the DL-103 is not for the faint of heart...it's not necessarily difficult, just little room for error.
     
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  23. blakep

    blakep Forum Resident


    Vinyl Asylum: REVIEW: Uwe's Wood Body/Denon 103/103R Ebony Wood Body Phono Cartridge by blake


    I've used ebony, clavellin and aluminum over the years. Different woods will sound very different. I did not really like the clavellin-found it to be a bit thin and tipped up in the high frequencies. And all ebonies are not created equal so one "manufacturer's" (kind of boutique stuff here) ebony may be quite different from another.

    FWIW I found the the aluminum and Uwe ebony bodies to sound pretty similar; the aluminum might have had the edge in power and dynamics (a very strong point with the cartridge) while the Uwe ebony might have been just a bit warmer and euphonic. But not much between them, which was a good thing IMO. Of the woods, I would be inclined to stick with ebony or panerholz if your arm can handle the weight. Aluminum is more functional in the long run IMO because there is no risk of stripping the mounting threads, which I ultimately did with my ebony body.

    You'll note that the review I wrote above was from 2007 (actually before Zu got into the game). Like everything in audio, prices have gone up and lots of people have jumped on the bandwagon. I personally doubt whether anyone would be able to tell the difference between a basic CNC'd aluminum body still available for $50 and something like the Zu, Paradox, Musicraft bodies, although the latter are all much prettier. As such, the cheapy aluminum body is still the value king IMO.
     
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  24. Baaronj

    Baaronj Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Tallahassee, FL
    Is there a source you could direct me to for the basic CNC'd aluminum bodies? Admittedly, I haven't conducted a thorough search, but I've never come across a source for them before. Feel free to PM if you'd prefer.
     
  25. blakep

    blakep Forum Resident


    There's nothing on Ebay right now but if you watch from time to time you may see something from this seller in the UK or you might want to contact him directly to see if he is still selling them:

    SOUND-IMPROVEMENTS ALUMINIUM BODY FOR DENON 103 & 103R | eBay
    I did not buy from him but did source my aluminum bodies from another seller in the UK years ago. Paid between $30-$50 USD.


    Edit: I see from his feedback that he did sell one in the past month for around $43.
     
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