pl | en

Cartridge body

(Denon DL-103)

• body – 249 USD
• inserts – 30 USD/set | screws – 5 USD

Contact: Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec
Canada, J2W 2Y6


Provided for test by: MUSIKRAFT

r. Guy Pelletier, owner of the AUDIO MUSIKRAFT might be right claiming that there is nothing new in modding the Denon DL-103 cartridge. He points out that in the 1970s Jean Hiraga was already doing it in the French magazine "La Maison de l'Audiophile". Since then, this Japanese cartridge has been modified mostly by DIY guys, offering their products to a small group of friends and acquaintances. It also happens that someone develops this type activity and becomes a micro-manufacturer.

Examples of contemporary modifications can be found, for example, on You Tube. As you can easily find out the modifications mentioned there consist of the replacement of the plastic body, which encloses the "motor" of the cartridge. Their common element of most modifications is using a wooden body instead of plastic one. Rarely modification includes a body made of metal.

And it so happens that these versions are offered by "regular" audio companies rather than by DIY enthusiasts, because they require deep knowledge of micro-mechanics, great precision and repeatability. In recent years, one of the major versions of the DL-103 has been offered by Zu Audio, a loudspeaker specialist. The current version is called Zu / DL-103.

| DL-103

We discussed this Denon cartridge already several times (see HERE, HERE). It is a phenomenon of the audio industry, because it is probably the only music-playback related product that has been produced continuously for so many years - the first DL-103, designed for radio broadcasts, was created in 1962 as a result of a cooperation between Nippon Columbia, known outside of Japan as Denon, and NHK (Jap. Nippon Hoso Kyokai, Japan Broadcasting Corporation) - the state-owned TV broadcaster. An interesting fact – the NHK has developed the world's first digital tape recorder, from which Denon later developed a device used for their recording between 1971 and 1982.

This is a MC cartridge with spherical stylus, output signal of 0.3 mV, low compliance of 5 cu, and high recommended VTF of 2.5 +/- 0.3 g. This is a heavy cartridge, designed to work with medium to heavy tonearms. In my experience, they are perfect for even lightweight arms such as carbon fiber ones made by Pro-Ject. So far, a number of Denon's own versions have been created, using different coils, bodies and styluses. One of the latest version was prepared for Denon's 100th anniversary and it featured a transparent body.

| Champagne Aluminum Shell

As I said, modifications of the key features of the cartridge, such as the coil, stylus and compliance, are a domain of the manufacturer. The other may offer different bodies for this pickup. And this modification is relatively simple because body of the DL-103 is made of plastic and is glued to the platform on which the motor is mounted. MusiKraft proposes its own version of such a body.

Founded only a year ago, the Canadian company of Mr. Guy Pelletier was created to offer professional products and it brought together a small group of music lovers and experienced craftsmen. The body offered currently was designed jointly by Stefan Figiel and Richard Quirion. As we read on the manufacturer's website, this group owns more than 35,000 vinyl records together. And next:

While others seem intent on pursuing “absolute accuracy” in sound above all else, we favor liberating the intensity and soul of the artists and the performance. In fact, sonic accuracy is probably the biggest deceptive myth out there, and we believe is even detrimental to sonic bliss.


And if so, it would be a confirmation of the thesis that I have presented for years, namely that there are many ways that allow us to achieve a satisfactory performance and that the most important elements of the music are emotions. This in turn leads to the following conclusion: the audio product is “tuned” or “voiced”, just as the musical instruments are. Which MusiKraft used to their advantage offering three levels of "tuning".

The first involves the material from which the body is made. It is available in three different versions: aluminum "S-Al" for $ 229 (all prices are taken from the manufacturer's on- shop), aluminum-lithium "Al-Li" for $ 739 (including cartridge) and the most rigid and best damped one magnesium"Mg". The tested aluminum version is the cheapest, although all three are made with the same strict tolerance of +/- 0.001 inch. The material for the aluminum-lithium version is used in the aerospace industry because it has low density and high rigidity. Magnesium is the lightest available metal, combining low density and very good mechanical properties. It also can flexibly absorb energy.

The second level of sound tuning is based on wooden inserts - a large top, that is a direct interface between the cartridge and the headshell, and two on the sides. These components are made with high precision and are fitted to cartridge's sides, so they can be easily replaced any time. The manufacturer offers various types of wood - we received three for this test: lime (basswood), black cherry and cumaru (Brazilian teak). The latter is growing in the forests of South America, is quite oily and has a high density.

And finally the third level, for really advanced users: tuning screws. The body is equipped with three small diameter Allen screws. One of them is located at the front, and two are visible at the rear and screwed to the plastic "base" of the cartridge. These screws do not hold nor fix the cartridge, they only serve as elements changing mechanical properties of the body-cartridge system. They have to be screwed in very gently – the side ones no more than ¼ of a turn and the front one up to 1/8 of a turn. The sound of the cartridge changes, according to manufacturer, depending on how deep the screws go in.

Regardless of the version, the body looks the same - it's an openwork cage with a ten threaded holes, consisting of two metal elements: one forms three walls and the other joins them from the top. The holes in question are used to set the precise overhang, but they hinder the setting of the proper geometry - only with the SME tonearms they should not cause any problems. One slides a shell-less Denon DL-103 cartridge (also DL-103R version) into the cage.

The company offers two options to buy the body - either without the cartridge, or with the previously installed new DL-103 or DL-103R. The former is for those who are not afraid to use a scalpel and a screwdriver. The latter is for those who want to get a ready to use product. But you can also send your own cartridge to Audio MusiKraft and for a small fee they will install your cartridge in the purchased body.

To sum it up, let's recall the special features of the bodies offered by Audio MusiKraft, as detailed by it on their website:

  • Material combinations on the same housing (metal and wood)
  • Luxurious craftsmanship
  • Straightforward and quick cartridge installation
  • Unique lightweight magnesium shell model
  • Three (3) metal materials offered
  • Exclusive aluminum-lithium damped alloy
  • Interchangeable wood inserts to combine tonality and/or aesthetics (24 available species)
  • Various finish and tonal wood treatments
  • Three (3) fine-tuning micro-setscrews for voicing
  • Five (5) different geometric positions for overhang adjustment
  • Simplified front and lateral reference alignment
  • Reusable and interchangeable shell


Since I wanted to “make” my own cartridge, I ordered only a shell for the test. Of the three Denon pickups I have I've chosen the one with the smallest “mileage”. The MusiKraft sent me a package with a nice box with the shell and several transparent plastic bags. Three of these contained wood inserts, another one screws for fixing the cartridge to the headshell and a tiny Allen key for micro-tuning (using three above mentioned screws), and yet another a natural oil that one use on wooden inserts. Separately there was also a wooden pushrod tool for wood insert retrieval and a screwdriver for the fixing screws.

The DL-103 consists of two main elements: a plastic "base" to which a motor with a cantilever and a stylus is glued, that includes also the connecting pins and the second one, that covers it all – this is the plastic "body" I mentioned before. This body is glued in four places with a droplet of glue. One can simply cut these joints gently and then slide the housing off the cartridge. It took me less than 5 minutes. The removed motor slides into the MusiKraft aluminum shell – one just pushes it in And so, Denon DL-103 by Audio MusiKraft is ready.

We tested the aluminum version of MusiKraft shell with champagne finish. The body was compared in two sessions: first I listened to the original cartridge, and then replaced its body with MusiKraft's and listened to the same tracks. In the second part of the test I compared the cartridge featuring MusiKraft shell directly to another DL-103. Both versions are about 6 years old, so they are properly "broken-in".

For this review I used Transrotor Massimo turntable with Transrotor 5009 (SME 309) tonearm. As you can see it was not possible to quickly interchange cartridges. The signal was amplified by one of two phonostages: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC and Grandinote Celio. Note that the DL-103 weighs 8.5 g, and with the MusiKraft body it reaches just over 11 g, so I had to change the VTF. It was also necessary to change VTA, since between the back of the cartridge and the headshell now there was a layer of aluminum and wood.

Records used for the test (a selection)

  • Denon Jazz PCM in New York, Nippon Columbia ST-6004, „6th Anniversary Special Issued Album”, LP (1978)
  • Charlie Parker, Charlie Parker at Cafe Society 1950, Nippon Columbia HR-138-EV, „Jazz Historical Recordings”, LP (?).
  • Clifford Brown and Max Roach, Study In Brown, EmArcy Records/Universal Music Japan UCJU-9072, 200 g LP (1955/2007)
  • John Coltrane, Giant Steps, Atlantic/Rhino, R1 512581, "Atlantic 45 RPM Master Series", 2 x 180, 45 rpm (1960/2008)
  • Johnny Hartman, I Just Dropped By To Say Hello, Impulse!/Original Recording Group ORG 027, 2 x 45 rpm, 180 g LP (1963/2013)
  • Spisek sześciu, Spisek sześciu, Polskie Nagrania „Muza” SX 1221, Polish Jazz vol. 45, LP (1975)
  • Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio, Midnight Sugar, Three Blind Mice/Cisco TBM-23-45, „Twenty-Fift Anniversary Limited Edition, No. 0080/1000”, 45 RPM, 2 x 180 g LP (1974/2004)
  • Wes Montgomery & Wynton Kelly Trio, Smokin’ At The Half Note, Verve/Universal Music K.K. [Japan] UCJU-9083, 200 g LP (1965/2007)

Japanese issues available at

When liberated from its plastic casing and merged to our shell, you will be able to hear the full potential of the classic Denon cartridge. The present shell morphology is the culmination of all this work and offers many advantages in ways of bringing the Denon 103 to a higher level of performance, along with personalizing the sound and looks to one's tastes.

source: manufacturer's website

A modification of a recognized product, that has its history and a group of dedicated devotees, is a risk. This dedication and recognition result from the reception of its performance - when we talk about an audio product - as it is and not from a potential that can be achieved after some tweaking. The case of Nippon Columbia, ie Denon is a bit different – the manufacturer did suggest such possibility by introducing several versions of the DL-103 over the years. Guy Pelletier and his friends changing Denon's performance - because ultimately that's what all this tweaking is about - had a moral imprimatur of the manufacturer himself.

The tweaks they propose actually introduce a new quality in most aspects of the sound. The same can be said about other modifications of this type. What distinguishes MusiKraft's proposal is a combination of two things: preserving the original character of the sound and guiding it further in the direction followed by other, mainly Japanese, cartridge manufacturers, such as Air Tight and Miyajima Labs. It's a direction that highlights the advantages of the DL-103, adding something new that was unachievable for the basic version.

The sound with this modification was spectacular. Warm, dense and rhythmic. That's what I love the "103" for. There was that and even more – the sound was even “heavier”, there was "more" of it and it was richer. Similar improvements one can observe when replacing tubes with new, better ones in one's amplifier - in this case it reminded me an experience of replacing very good 300B Sophia Electric tubes with remarkable Takatsuki ones. The warmth I mentioned was natural not artificial, and it translated into better presented tissue connecting the sounds. Density did not turn into heaviness, but resulted in better defined bodies of instruments.

At the same time, however, the new body has released - and here I agree with the manufacturer's declarations - exceptional resolution. This is Denon's Achilles heel, which due to Canadian product was almost completely eliminated. The cartridge with the new body delivered incredible amounts of information. It improved most of all the treble, now more pronounced and accurate. And above all, sweeter and more vibrant.

This is a change going in the opposite direction than adding more detail to the sound. I would say that the aluminum body is less focused on details, because there is more information in the sound, so one looses some element from one's sight that are usually somewhat underlined by the standard DL-103. And it's not only about the treble, but also about the bass. The latter is more disciplined and better articulated. There is better selectivity, but - again - not by unnatural separation of details or emphasis on attack. The slight 'smearing' of the bass is gone, which is inevitable with original DL-103, and in return we get don't get more contoured sound but rather and a better "presence", as if everything sounded more natural.

And so on, and so on - from tone, through imaging, to dynamics, everything is better, more natural. Despite the higher resolution and more information one gets an unexpected bonus in the form of much fewer pops and clicks. Not only there are less of them, but they are also quieter, less annoying. The noise is slightly lower, although this improvement is not spectacular. The differences in the noise, resulting from the different pressing and releases are definitely clearer.

The aluminum body changes the sound so that it is closer to the analogue tape than to a turntable. This is of course still vinyl sound, there is no doubt about it, but that was my impression. The point is that with modified cartridge listener feels closer to the live event, and a little further away from the studio experience. The distinction being that in the studio we celebrate details, definition, and during live event energy and the so-called "momentum", the electricity in the air. The Denon DL-103 featuring MusiKraft's shell is like a small dynamo, electrifying played records.

| Tuning

The Champagne Aluminum Shell itself is an element tuning the sound. However, MusiKraft offers the possibility of a subtle changes of the sound. One can achieve that by replacing wooden inserts and by tightening small screws, to transfer the vibrations from the cartridge to the body in yet another way.

Changing the inserts involves changing the color. The softer the wood, the warmer the sound, and the closer it is to the original expression - not the sound – of the DL-103. But the best controlled sound that did not lose any of its density, I got with hardwood, i.e. Cumaru. Differences were not great, but once one gets used to the sound of a modified cartridge, they can help in the process of final "tuning" and it will offer a lot of fun not only to “obsessed” users.

Other changes will be achieved by manipulating the Allen screws. When we tighten it to the allowed maximum, the sound becomes more precise and accurate. Instruments become more clear and open. But then I missed some density and warmth. I mean both these elements were still there, it was still the same cartridge, but since this is already a high quality performance every even slight modification is perceived as a significant one. Ultimately I liked the DL-103 with aluminum body, Cumaru inserts and gently tightened screws, that barely touched the cartridge, best.

| Summary

The improvement introduced by the MusiKraft shell is very big, it's like achieving a much higher sound quality level with a single move. Almost all features of the original DL-103 are retained, which is great because we love it and appreciate it for them. But while keeping them we moved into another reality, more vibrant, open, more accurate. It is achieved without introducing any brightness and harshness to the sound. I would even say that with the new "body" Denon's spirit is clearer, more unequivocal, namely there is even better: density, sweetness, greater rhythm and saturation.

Let's also say that the slight emphasize of the upper bass is gone and the lower midrange is not as palpable as without this modification, so if you value these features in particular you should listen to a modified version before you buy it. But if you want your Denon DL-103 to play in an even more moving way. At its full “capacity” you give even the cheapest version of the MusiKraft shell a chance.



- Turntable: AVID HIFI Acutus SP [Custom Version]
- Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory ZERO (mono) | Denon DL-103SA, review HERE
- Phono stage: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE

- Compact Disc Player: Ancient Audio AIR V-edition, review HERE

- Line Preamplifier: Polaris III [Custom Version] + AC Regenerator, regular version review (in Polish) HERE
- Power amplifier: Soulution 710
- Integrated Amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE

- Stand mount Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
- Stands for Harbeths: Acoustic Revive Custom Series Loudspeaker Stands
- Real-Sound Processor: SPEC RSP-101/GL
- Integrated Amplifier/Headphone amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Headphones: HIFIMAN HE-6, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-300, review HERE | Sennheiser HD800 | AKG K701, review (in Polish) HERE | Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, version 600 - reviews (in Polish): HERE, HERE, HERE
- Headphone Stands: Klutz Design CanCans (x 3), review (in Polish) HERE
- Headphone Cables: Entreq Konstantin 2010/Sennheiser HD800/HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE

- Portable Player: HIFIMAN HM-801
- USB Cables: Acoustic Revive USB-1.0SP (1 m) | Acoustic Revive USB-5.0PL (5 m), review HERE
- LAN Cables: Acoustic Revive LAN-1.0 PA (kable ) | RLI-1 (filtry), review HERE
- Router: Liksys WAG320N
- NAS: Synology DS410j/8 TB
System I
- Interconnects: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, review HERE | preamplifier-power amplifier: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
- Loudspeaker Cables: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review (in Polish) HERE
System II
- Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA | XLR-1.0PA II
- Loudspeaker Cables: Acoustic Revive SPC-PA

System I
- Power Cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, all system, review HERE
- Power Distributor: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate, review HERE
- Power Line: power cable Oyaide Tunami Nigo (6m); wall sockets 3 x Furutech FT-SWS (R)
System II
- Power Cables: Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version, review (in Polish) HERE | Oyaide GPX-R (x 4 ), review HERE
- Power Distributor: Oyaide MTS-4e, review HERE
- Stolik: SolidBase IV Custom, read HERE/all system
- Anti-vibration Platforms: Acoustic Revive RAF-48H, review HERE/digital sources | Pro Audio Bono [Custom Version]/headphone amplifier/integrated amplifier, review HERE | Acoustic Revive RST-38H/loudspeakers under review/stands for loudspeakers under review
- Anti-vibration Feets: Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc/ CD Player/Ayon Polaris II Power Supply /products under review, review HERE | Finite Elemente CeraPuc/ products under review, review HERE | Audio Replas OPT-30HG-SC/PL HR Quartz, review HERE
- Anti-vibration accsories: Audio Replas CNS-7000SZ/power cable, review HERE
- Quartz Isolators: Acoustic Revive RIQ-5010/CP-4

- FM Radio: Tivoli Audio Model One