Review: Denon DL-A110

Denon pickup in special edition

Denon has created an anniversary version of their legendary pickup, which shows why it has been a favorite since 1964.

Karakter
Denon DL-A110
We think
Superb dynamic contrast with powerful bass reproduction and warm, pleasant sound. Well focused and open sound image.
Not among the most high reolution MC pickups in this class.
Specifications
  • Type: MC pickup
  • Weight: 8.5 grams
  • Recommended tracking force: 2.3-2.7g / 2.5g
  • Recommended tonearm mass: medium/high
  • Output voltage: 0.3 mV
  • Recommended load: Min. 100 ohms
  • Compliance: 5 x 10-6 cm / dynamic
  • Channel balance: 1 dB
  • Channel separation: 25 dB
  • Frequency response: 20-45,000 kHz
  • Web: denon.com
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When Denon turned 110 in 2020, they celebrated with a range of anniversary products. One of them is this, the DL-A110, the anniversary edition of an MC cartridge they have been making for Japanese radio since 1964, and which is still in production.

It’s no wonder. The Denon DL-103 is one of the best buys in the class, and the MC pickup is a favorite with many, because it delivers class sound for a relatively modest sum. It is a favorite with us as well, and we often recommend it to readers who want to upgrade the sound from the vinyl records with a better pickup.

If you mount it in an arm with medium to high mass, and connect it to a good phono stage, it can play far above its price range.

Denon itself makes the pickup in two versions, DL-103 and 103R where the R version has 99.9999 percent, oxygen-free copper wires wound on the coils, and on the DL-A110 these threads that are thinner than hair are wound by hand on the coils, at Denon’s factory in Shirakawa, Japan.

The anniversary edition is a Denon DL-103 with a specially made housing.

The anniversary edition has a low 3 mV output voltage and it must have 2.5 grams of tracking force and at least 100 ohm load impedance.

Besides that, it differs from a DL-103 / 103R, in that it is delivered mounted in a pickup housing (headshell) made especially for the pickup, which fits in all arms with so-called SME socket. The total weight of these is 18.5 grams.

The pickup housing’s SME connector is actually an adapter, which can easily be dismounted, if you need a shorter housing, because under the sleeve you screw on, there is yet another SME connector. The length from the needle tip to the back edge of the sleeve is 50 mm, and if you remove the adapter, the length will be 34 mm.

Easy install

It is very easy to mount the pickup in the arm. Measure the needle pressure, set the anti-skating and check if the arm may need to be raised to get the tracking angle correct (15-18 degrees). That’s it.

Denon DL-A110 comes in a nice case in black imitation leather, with a small needle brush as an accessory, and an aluminum plaque. A signed certificate is also included, and a printout of a frequency measurement from 1 kHz to 20 kHz, of each individual pickup. It is only made in limited numbers, so if you want a DL-A110, you should not wait for too long.

Artificial leather case, brush and stamped certificate.

By the way, our test sample measured 0.38 and 0.37 mV output voltage on the two channels, ie a little more than the stated 0.3 mV. Denon had measured the pickup at a temperature of 20 degrees, and set the load impedance to 1 kOhm.

Sparkling dynamics

While the technical data are thus the same as in a DL-103 / 130R, the mechanical parts will influence the sound from a turntable. In this way, the graphite gray pickup housing in which the pickup is mounted will influence the sound. As everyone who has experimented with pickup houses in different weight classes and materials knows.

Just ask Musikraft in Canada, which has made it a business to modify Denon pickups with light metals or bronze with inlaid pieces from different types of wood.

But this version is not modified beyond the fact that Denon, as I said, mounts the pickup in a specially made headshell, and that’s really fine. Because if you upgrade from a standard-fitted Shure, Audio-Technica or Ortofon pickup, you quickly hear how much better a Denon DL-103 sounds. The DL-A110 does the same, and it  has the same sonorous sound, and with a powerful bass foundation and a beautiful depth in the soundscape.

The Denon DL-A110 comes in numbered editions and in a limited production run.

It is simply a very good pickup, regardless of version, and the anniversary edition is no worse. The warm sound spreads throughout the room and gives piano music an extra nice fullness that is comfortable and easy to like. Guitars and percussion get a formidable dynamic, and there is power behind the beats on a big drum with the Denon pickup fitted.

The sound from vocals is well focused with a very lifelike sound, and the balance in the sound is beautiful, but the treble fades a bit in the upper octaves. It is possible to extract even more details in the sound image, with for example an Audio-Technica AT-OC9XSH, but it does not sound quite as warm in the midrange, and is a little slimmer in the bass.

Conclusion

The question you have to ask yourself is whether to buy a Denon DL-103R and a stiff and light headshell for a thousand bucks – because then you save just over a thousand bucks, or go all in with a DL-A110 that comes with a custom headshell, and on top of that are made in a limited number. Whichever one you choose, you get a very well-playing pickup that can raise the sound quality of many a turntable, but it’s a bit fancy to have the anniversary version, we think.

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