Friday, 30 May 2014

The Perfect Ensemble – A Bronze Body for the Denon DL103 to match my SME Tonearm Kit



Hello to everybody. After a longer period of entries about complete audio sets and about the making of my Tannoy enclosures, I will continue with another entry about my SME tonearm conversion kit and its extension with a matching cartridge. Several customers do have confirmed my statement, that the converted SME 3012 with its heavy stainless steel tube outperforms almost any other available 12'' tonearm, when equipped with a low compliance pick up cartridge. The range of typical cartridges bringing out the highly improved dynamic abilities of such a mass-spring-system are today the Ortofon SPUs, the Denon DL103s, the Koetsus and some exotic brands from Japan. In this group the Denons are in a outstanding position, since these cartridges are by far the cheapest alternative.

The LignoLab bronze case, the only housing at the market which is closed from the underneath generator side. It features real bronze and not brass in a perfect matte blasted finish as optimized material.




















The DL103 was once designed and exclusively made for professional broadcast use in 1962, right in the past time when stereo recordings with Long Play Albums did take the market. Several other brands tried to introduce competive cartridges (Fairchild, General Electric, Grado, EMT) in these days to follow the Ortofon SPU been the first stereo moving coil cartridge in history and dedicated first for this professional use, introduced in 1958. Four years later the Denon was exclusively handmade for the Japanese broadcast industry NHK, to be identifiable by its black bakelite body. Since 30 years it is machine assembled with a thin plastic body for common distribution to a general audio market. Denon produced the commercial DL103 series like its european paragon without technical change till today, but with several variations over the years to keep the interest up.


Denon DL103 Technical Specifications
  • Stylus: 16.5 µm diamond spherical tip
  • Cantilever: Aluminum
  • Frequency Response: 20 ~ 45 kHz
  • Output: 0.3 mV at 50 mm/s
  • Output Impedance: 40 Ω
  • Load Impedance: 100 Ω
  • Channel Separation: Over 25 dB at 1 kHz
  • Compliance: 5 x 10–6 cm/dyne (100 Hz)
  • Tracking Force: 2.3 ~ 2.7g (± 0.3g)
  • Weight 8.5 grams
  • Stylus: 16.5 µm diamond spherical tip
  • Cantilever: Aluminum
  • Frequency Response: 20 ~ 45 kHz
  • Output: 0.3 mV at 50 mm/s
  • Output Impedance: 40 Ω
  • Load Impedance: 100 Ω
  • Channel Separation: Over 25 dB at 1 kHz
  • Compliance: 5 x 10–6 cm/dyne (100 Hz)
  • Tracking Force: 2.3 ~ 2.7g (± 0.3g)
  • Weight 8.5 grams
The perfect moulding of the housing with thick walls to conduct resonances and their harmonic proportions within the pick up process







The Denon DL103 always had a extremely economical pricing, a important attitude for this worldwide longtime success. But as well its unbelievable good performance and its unique technical standards made this cartridge to one of the foremost values today to be used with twelve inch tonearms and broadcast transcription turntables by the vintage hifi scene. I would estimate that 70 % of all Garrards, Thorens 124, EMTs, Rek-O-Cuts, Commonwealths, Fairchilds and similar type of players use a Denon DL103 moving coil cartridge. So it is no wonder that in 50 years of production a broad aftermarket product range has been established. So several case modifications are offered by audio dealers and are worldwide sold at Ebay, made from wood, stone, aluminum, brass and composite materials. All these mods follow a very early modification schematic, published by Maison de L'Audiophile in the late 1970ties, showing a lead trimming of the enclosure to minimize the ringing of the thin plastic type. Together with a heavy cabling mounted outside of the arm tube, the mass of the unit did grow so high, that there was almost no alternative other low compliance cartridge available beside the SPU, to balance such increased masses. With a compliance of 5 x 10–6 cm/dyne (100 Hz) the DL103 is some sort of  extreme. I do remember my own making of such a lead case in 1992 for my first DL103, mounted with a SME 3012/II at a Garrard 401 on a 30 kg plinth. In these days I did not have the advanced experience with heavy arm tube materials, which I have today. I did not know that a silly light weight aluminum tube like the SME SII was a less than a perfect solution for such a modification. Even the later thin steel wand ( 0.25mm material thickness) of the stainless tube from the last series R, was made to allow the time typical high compliance cartridges to be driven, but it was not a optimized solution for a cartridges like the SPU or the Denon DL103.

My following years have been in a way a research time about the perfect matches of compliance to tonearm combinations. At the end of this research I had the reason to make my conclusions affordable to other users of such systems with my conversion kit. Now with the LignoLab bronze housing the kit has got a perfect extension with a modified DL103, excessively well made by Norbert Gütte and his company. In difference to all the other after market bodies, his case is a perfectly exact copy of the original. This means it features as unique and important technical difference to any other metal housing,  –  a closed underneath side. Near the generator almost all resonances have their origin and this means to be the most delicate region of the body in terms of resonances. The cubic closed form creates really a tremendous difference by its resonant absorbent abilities. The case is by far more stiff, with remarkable thicker walls comparing it with other cases, to prevent the ringing abilities to a unknown level with highly improved harmonic anticipation by real bronze as material. Since all other aftermarket products are open frame designs, which are a lot easier and cheaper to make, will have a more decorative intention than technical improvement in mind. These are mainly meant to be a optical revaluation of the outer appearance as material and design issue of the common and ordinary thin plastic case. They create a nicer and more expensive look, much more than to be meant a mechanical improvement of audible properties.

The cartridge slips in a perfect sucking manner into the housing, a effect of its advanced CNC moulding and manufacturing process. This perfection is a typical feature of all LignoLab products.






























With the Lignolab body the Denon gets into another stage of refinement and dynamic property, where the standard cartridge is not able to follow. Unmodified it is a simple basic construction, a piece of thin moulded plastic holding the generator in place with two drops of glue. This detail is the "achilles heel"  of its basic design. With the new bronze housing the Denon playes in a new league, where only the very best phono cartridges gather. With a smooth but extremely dynamic extension to both ends and a highly integrated harmonic presentation of the middle frequency response, the Denon is now a unique cartridge. And even independent of its pricing, it is a top class moving coil cartridge for long broadcast tonearms. For myself it is grown to be real a alternative to my longtime favorite, the Ortofon SPU Gold. At the beginning of the making of my conversion kit, I had the very first SME 3012 tonearm in mind with its heavy weights (220 g) for the SPU. So I produced a good amount of this balancing weights, but subsequently it happened that the most cartridge/headshell combinations of my customers appeared to be to lightweight, so I needed to produce a second weight (160 g) exactly like SME did in 1959. The LignoLab housing with its extra weight of 25 g is a perfect match to my kit in combination with the heavy balancing weight. This extra high mass of this combination makes a extra sturdy armwand necessary to perform in a highly improved state. All other twelve inch arms beside the rare original SME 3012 MK1 are generally to lightweight built for such a mass and work much better with lower masses. No version of the standard SME 3012 weights will be able to balance this extra weight. As well here my heavy weight is a welcome extension for technical improvement and higher aesthetic claims at classic SME tonearms. Otherwise a typical additional rider weight with very unoriginal look will be necessary to make it work. With the 3012/R version the vinyl saddle will create additional problems and can be worn out soon. But as well the aftermarket brass versions of this saddle, as a typical replacement for the vinyl type, are acting far beyond their physical limits, when used with a extra weight of 150 grams. It definetly needs to be a steel saddle to prevent excessive wear at the fine blades with such a high mass and to take the advantage of a wide improvement of dynamic abilities.


The Denon with bronze housing mounted in Ortofon bakelite headshell balanced free to zero  in a converted SME tonearm with the large 220 g balancing weight.
















As a conclusion of my evaluation of the LignoLab housing I did decide to dedicate my last 30 weights of 220 g solely for the use with this combination. Either the weights can be bought with LignoLab together with a bronze housing for additional 100 EUR (fitting physically to any SME 30XX tonearm).  Or the complete kit can be ordered together with the bronze housing and the 220 g weight for a limited special offer here. Both offers will be strictly limited to altogether 30 pieces, either or! Just inquire here at the mail template beneath or at the LignoLab web page


Read on soon, Volker