Denon DL 103 Tweak

The venerable DL103 moving coil cartridge has been around for a very long while and it still garners a lot of attention.

Mainly because
it’s damn good and very affordable!

Over the years a few third party companies have made some very good upgrades to this cartridge like
  • “nuding” i.e. removing the outer plastic casing
  • Replacing the outer shell with an machined aluminum casing
  • Re tipping the cartridge with a finer styli and better cantilever for improved details
  • Replacing the outer shell with a wood casing and brass mounting plate

Trouble is, all of these mods starts to get a little expensive for a cartridge that costs only $229.

I started reading up on the modifications available from a company called
Soundsmith and one of their modifications included mounting the “nude” cadrtridge on a brass plate and then putting a wooden shell over it.

So I thought,
what about if I just mounted the existing cartridge onto a brass plate?

Would this prove to be beneficial?

  1. I fashioned a plate 21mm x 22.5 mm out of a piece of brass that is 1.3 mm thick. This allowed me to drill 2 mounting holes without breaking through the side of the plate
  2. Next, I fastened the two mounting screws to the plate with two knurled mounting nuts that happened to fit into the space provided in the cartridge casing - this allowed for a preliminary alignment of the cartridge before fixing in place with epoxy.
  3. Then I applied a thin coat of epoxy resin to the plate, ensuring the knurled nuts also had a small amount of epoxy touching them (but not the threads)
  4. Finally, I coated the top of cartridge with epoxy and placed it on top of the plate, over the mounting screws, aligned the cartridge and left to set.

Screen shot 2013-03-28 at 6.32.38 PMDL103

You have about 5 minutes before the epoxy sets, to align the cartridge on the plate.

After about 15 minutes I gently loosened the screws one at a time to ensure the epoxy had not touched the threads.

Leave the cartridge for 24 hours for the epoxy to really harden up before mounting the cartridge back on the arm.

  • the net effect of doing this will change the weight of the cartridge and consequently the effective mass of the arm, which in turn effects the resonant frequency.
  • So before proceeding, ensure all of these factors are within the limits of the arm/cartridge compatibility you are using.

The outcome of these modifications in combination with my arm ( a Rega RB250) was stunning.

The cartridge was transformed to a whole new level of performance, with a very detailed and well rounded sound. The bass may be a little too lean for some tastes. Personally, I like to hear the details in a bass line rather than that low plodding muffled beat. The biggest improvement was in the dynamics that this cartridge now conveys.

Adjusting the cartridge VTA to track a little
tail-down will recover some of the bass, but that’s to your taste and depends on the angle you choose - I have read some people run this cartridge at 15 degrees instead of the recommended 20 degrees - as I said - to your taste Happy

Orchestral is one genre where this cartridge shines with impeccable details conveyed for all instruments.

Voice is another, with sibilance control that is smooth and detailed without being shrill.

Unfortunately, precise cartridge alignment now requires you to be somewhat of a perfectionist but rewards you with a very deep image.

For me, it is by far the best $12.50 I’ve ever spent + a little of my time.

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