Monday, March 25, 2013

Review: Denon DL-110 high-output moving coil

(picture taken from Google Images)

My previous phono cartridge was a Denon DL-103R, the famed 'upgraded' version of the DL-103.  Mine had been modified with an aluminum body.  Partnered with Cinemag step-up transformers, the DL-103R was a great performer, offering plenty of hi-fi goodies - soundstaging, detail, etc - at a budget price.  It really is an excellent low output moving-coil alternative to the more expensive units out there.

Sadly, the cantilever of my DL-103R was accidentally broken when I moved to my new house - don't ask!  Since this new place is just temporary and has the misfortune of a smaller listening space where I cannot use the UREI 813A speakers, I instead opted to buy the budget DL-110.  Regarding type and specifications, the Denon DL-110 is a high output (1.6mV) moving coil cartridge that can work well into a standard moving magnet phono input.  At 4.8g of weight, it's also very light and with some tonearms may require the use of the included metal plate.

Using the VPI HW19 Mark III table with a Rega RB300 arm, I was immediately taken with this cartridge.  Though it lacks some of the finer points of the modified DL-103R, it still in no slouch.  No immediate shortcoming come to mind, though the midrange is perhaps slightly forward.  Bass detail is also good and treble extension was spot on with minimal aggression or roll-off.  Detail retrieval - hall ambience, trailing edges - aren't exactly on par with the best I've heard, but once again, any sins were of omission.  So all in all, a very good cartridge for the $139 asking price.

I recently purchased a new turntable: a VPI Aries I with a JMW 10.5" tonearm.  Since I only had the Denon DL-110 on hand, I was forced to use this cartridge which had a cost some 20X less than the turntable.  Due to the light weight of the cartridge body, I as forced to add the included metal plate under the headshell.  This was a tricky operation that required much fiddling and curse words.

Even with the upgraded turntable and arm - and much to my surprise - the DL-110 did not fall on its face.  For example, Neil Young's "Live at Massey Hall" never sounded so real.  Soundstaging was deep and wide and the music - much like the real, live thing - came at you instead of hanging out behind the plane of the speakers.  There was a nice shimmer to the slightly forward midrange, while bass was low but still tuneful, giving great response with the small KEF speakers.  Treble was very extended with more detail than the old HW19 table.  I'm sure I would find more faults with the UREI speakers installed, but at least with this system, the sound was much better than anticipated.  Highly recommended for the budget conscious audiophile.!

VPI HW19 Mark III with Rega RB300 or VPI Aries with JMW tonearm - both with SDS Power Supply
Denon DL-110
Cardas Quadlink 5C 1M interconnects
Quicksilver preamplifier with Gold Lion 12AX7 re-issues, RCA 12FQ7s, Raytheon black-plate 5814
Cardas Cross 1M interconnects
EICO HF-60 monoblocks with Mullard XF2 EL34s, GE 6SN7GTAs, Genalex CV4085s
Kimber 8PR/4PR 2M bi-wire cable
bi-wired KEF iQ30 with VTI UF29 stands
VTI BL503 equipment rack

Sunday, March 24, 2013

New turntable: VPI Aries I

This was an unexpected purchase since recent events have cut back on my audio acquisitions.  But this was one deal that I couldn't pass up.  Featuring a thick MDF plinth, the heavy-duty metal platter from a TNT table, and a JMW 10.5 tonearm, the Aries is one heck of a piece of engineering.

I've always been impressed with the sound of my old HW19 Mark III turntable and though the Aries would only be a minor step up in quality.  But even with the only cartridge I currently have - the Denon DL-110, I heard a major improvement.  With the Aries I the background is quieter and blacker with less of a washy sound.  Bass goes lower and with more impact, while detail and treble quality has also improved.  I obviously need to upgrade the cartridge, so this isn't a real review, but more of a revelation.  I've always distrusted solid plinth turntables, intellectualizing the superiority of suspended designs.  But I guess with enough mass loading, a great tonearm, and a heavy platter, the more "primitive" solid plinth designs can compete.

More later when I've had time to process the changes and have a better cartridge installed.