Denon is 110 years old. There are few audio manufacturers who can make that claim. The Japanese manufacturer has had a lot of successful products over the past century, but the DL-103 moving coil phono cartridge wins the popularity and longevity award with room to spare. To celebrate the success of the DL-103 and its 110th Anniversary, they have introduced the Denon DL-A110 Anniversary model for $599.
Before you search online and start sending nasty emails that the stock DL-103 only retails for $300, there’s something rather unique about this run of the Denon DL-A110.
Denon introduced the DL-103 in 1962 for professional broadcast use, and it has proven to be of the most popular and reliable phono cartridges of its kind. The low output moving coil design (0.3mV) requires a higher mass tonearm; opening the door to used Fidelity Research, SME, or EMT arms or more expensive modern arms from Kuzma, or Jelco (which recently decided to cease production). Jazz listeners have long prized the DL-103’s tonal balance and open presentation that make both brass instruments and vocals come alive.
The DL-103 requires at least 60dB of gain to come alive; sticking a step-up transformer between the affordable DL-103 and the moving magnet input of your phono stage can be a transformative experience when everything is set-up correctly. Third party manufacturers have been offering modified DL-103 variants for the past few years at considerable expense, but our advice would be to stick with the stock model from Denon.
So what’s so special about the new Denon DL-A110?
The cartridge appears to be a stock DL-103 using copper wire that is hand-spun in the Denon Audio Works Factory in Shirakawa, Japan. Same headshell without proper markings on the pins. Exact same installation issues with a fixed headshell and the slotted sides and mounting screws. At least they’re being consistent.
What is really unique and a throwback to the original design is a new Anniversary Edition silver-graphite headshell. If you own a vintage Thorens, Yamaha, or any turntable with a removable headshell with the the bayonet fitting that originated on the Ortofon SPU in 1958 — the Denon DL-A110 might be a dream come true.
Assuming that your tonearm is a medium-high mass design.
The headshell doesn’t change anything in regard to the tracking force (2.5g) or getting the VTA exactly right; make sure that the top of the cartridge is parallel to the record surface.
The DL-A110 comes in a fancy velvet-lined box with stylus cleaning brush.
Is that worth an extra $300 over the stock DL-103?
If you own a fixed headshell, it really doesn’t make that much sense.
I’m about two weeks in with the DL-A110 and so far I’m hearing two differences over the stock DL-103; an uptick in detail that makes horns sound even more live, and an even better sense of pace. The cartridge is still a stock DL-103 but the graphite headshell seems to be imparting some character of its own on the sound. I have a SUT coming in about a week and will be able to try the DL-A110 with some other phono stages that I have on hand.
For more information: Denon Anniversary DL-A110 MC Phono Cartridge (denon.com)
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