Saturday, October 15, 2011

Modifying the Denon DL-103R phono cartridge

The Denon DL-103 is a popular low-output moving-coil phono cartridge that has seen a recent renaissance in the audiophile world. It's always been one heck of an audio bargain, so of course once the tweakers got a hold of it, things were bound to get a little crazy.

I bought the more expensive DL-103R, which features high-purity copper coils and a lower output impedance, which makes it perfect for my Audio Sector Phono Stage. I was really impressed by the sound of the 103R. but read numerous online suggestions for improving the sound. So with much trepidation, I went and bought an aftermarket aluminum body from an Ebay seller called sound-improvements.

Removing the original plastic body from the Denon takes a steady, steady hand. I really didn't want to do this operation, but it actually turned out better than I expected. While cutting out the glue in the corners, remember to keep the stylus protector on, which is the only way to protect the cantilever. Luckily someone posted a video on YouTube showing you how to take off the body:

When the body is off, you will end up with something that looks like this:

In order to get the nude Denon DL-103R to fit into the aluminum body, I had to round off the edges of the front plastic with a file. Then it was a matter of a dab of glue in the inside of the aluminum body before I gently slid the cartridge inside. I used the thin blade of my hobby razor to get it snugged in place.

After remounting, adjusting and resetting the balance (this cart is now HEAVY), I could finally give my Franken-cartridge a listen. Spinning some familiar records, I was impressed by the improved treble response. It now sounds more clear, less splashy, and with more apparent extension. The overall character of the Denon 'house sound' hasn't really changed, but it does now have a more 'proper' audiophile sound, removing much of the (minor) "rough 'n' ready" character of the old cartridge. These aren't really major changes, but just an increased level of finesse. Recommended, but only for those with nerves of steel.

preamp: Threshold FET-10/HL
phono preamp: Audio Sector Phono Stage
amplifier: Threshold S/500
analog: VPI HW19 MkIII - Rega RB300 with Incognito wiring - Denon DL-103R
speakers: Magnepan 1.6/QR with Sound Anchor Stands
speaker cable: Kimber 4PR/8PR Bi-wire with banana jacks
Interconnects: Cardas Cross and Cardas Quadlink 5C