Review : Denon DL-103

Classic sound from Denon

The Denon DL-103 is worth every penny and almost perfect as an all-round cartridge.

Denon DL-103

Our verdict

Open sound image with sparkling dynamics and sharp focus.
Loses some of the definition in the treble.
  • Type: Moving Coil
  • Weight: 8.5 g
  • Recommended pin pressure: 2.5 g
  • Output voltage: 0.3 mV
  • Recommended resistance: 100 ohms
  • Elasticity: 5×10-6 cm / duvet
  • Channel balance: 1 dB
  • Channel separation: 24 dB 1 kHz
  • Frequency response: 20- 45,000 Hz
  • Grinding: Spherical
  • Needle arm: Aluminum
  • Vertical tracking angle: Not specified
  • Pickup: Plastic
  • Coil material: Copper
  • Magnetic material: Ferrite
  • Replaceable pin: No.
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Price: £ 249

The Japanese construction is older than the undersigned. The Denon cartridge was launched in 1962, and has since come in a wide range of variants. The cartridge is a Moving Coil, and has gained an ever so small legend status, since it was conceived for broadcasting use over 50 years ago.

Denon DL-103 is easy to set up and fits most turntables, with the exception of some of the most exotic and nervous tone arms. It delivers a low 0.3 mV and weighs 8.5 grams, and is not an ideal partner for the lightest arms.

As you typically find on the cheapest players in the market.

The cartridge does not have threads, but the screws can be mounted without having to remove the pin protection, and since this is a motorcycle, you can not remove the pin when it is to be mounted.

The pin pressure should be 2.5 grams and the spherical pin tracks best when the pin pressure is set correctly.

It is available in a more expensive version called the DL-103R as well. Where the coils are wound with copper in a slightly higher quality. One of our favorites and the starting point for Musikraft’s modified version of the same cartridge.

Live sound image

When listening to the Denon DL-103, it is strange to think that the construction is approaching 60 years. For it plays with an exuberant vitality that many newer cartridges do not have. That does not mean it is perfect. It lacks the airiness at the top and can sound a little flat at the treble. But it delivers an open and focused soundscape, with great richness of sound.

The bass on Bob Dylan’s The Man in The Long Black Coat is well defined, and the harmonica is razor sharp. The sound image is also deep enough to create a kind of three-dimensionality, and the dynamic contrast is very good.

There is more depth in the bass on the Grado Gold 1, but the Denon cartridge is better defined. The piano sound at Radka Toneff’s Fairytales has more sound depth and the vocals are better focused here. The same applies to details, which come out better in the soundscape.

The Denon cartridge may not have the same timbre as the Audio-Technica, but it is a better all-round cartridge.

Conclusion

Denon DL-103 is one of the best buys in the price range. It plays everything, and does it excellently with a large, open, and transparent sound image. Good dynamic control and fast transient response make it a small firework on the turntable. A good choice with a varied record collection, especially if the focus is on acoustic music, and especially on jazz and classical.

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