Denon DL-A110 Cartridge Page 2

For me, this made little difference in use: the Denon DL-A110 may be a low-to-mid output MC design, but it's not an awkward device and I tried it without issue through four phono stages, ranging in price from £399 to £1500. It responds to fine tuning, and the ideal load was set by ear, depending on the phono stage. Suffice to say the DL-A110 responds to experimentation with load settings, starting at 100ohm, most obviously with absolute levels, bass snap and treble attack.

What doesn't bear messing with is either the tracking force or VTA, the latter just perfect when the top of the cartridge is absolutely parallel to the LP. The first album I played rewarded me with one of those flashbacks – nostalgia, not acid – to the days when a DL-103 was my most prized cartridge. What I was looking for was that gloriously wide soundstage, and, boy-oh-boy, did I get it. The trial-by-yardstick was Charles Mingus' Ah Um [Mobile Fidelity UD1S 2-010 One-Step], which was recorded five years before the DL-103 was born.

Space Needle
It was actually a bit embarrassing, because I bought into the propaganda about spherical styli and upgraded a DL-103 for the elliptical DL-103D [see boxout, below] but even the challenge of this amazing pressing did not suggest for a moment that the pick-up's groove tracing was amiss. The DL-A110 retains all the silkiness and air that I recalled, though side-by-side playback with my own elderly DL-103 revealed that the latter had aged. The fresh 'DL-103 in the DL-A110 box' delivered detail with the authority of much newer designs, if not quite to the forensic levels afforded by more radical stylus profiles.


Where this monumental jazz release served best was in allowing the DL-A110 to demonstrate beyond any doubt that the DL-103 template can recreate space with authority matched by few other designs. It has always been thus for this listener, even better with the DL-103D, and it could have been made just for playback of a small, intimate jazz ensemble. I wish Marantz's Ken Ishiwata were still with us to confirm whether or not that was standard fare on Japanese FM radio 50 years ago. While the Denon DL-103 was never a paradigm of absolute refinement, arguably limited by the stylus shape, it was always an involving cartridge good for long sessions.

The piano on this LP had sparkle consistent with the last cartridge I used, the DS Audio Grand Master at 25x the price, or 100x with Grand Master PSU and equaliser [HFN Feb '21]. It was not as extended nor as fast – I didn't expect it to be – but in its own way it was as satisfying, especially if one maintains a sense of context, which any reviewer must.

On The Level
Along with the Ortofon SPU of even hoarier vintage, the DL-A110's sound surpasses its price category because it is a prime example of why some of us prefer moving-coils. It has airiness, body and authenticity for which it sacrifices the surgical precision of the best moving-magnets. Think of it like valves versus solid-state, and the Mingus LP exploits this.

More of a trial, then, would be a pure studio creation that doesn't go for a live feel, and there was nothing better than Whitesnake's Love Songs [Rhino R1 1643449]. Powerful guitar work with crisp attack, bellowing rock god vocals and other excesses were handled with both grace and assurance, attesting to the need for a broadcaster's cartridge to handle everything equally.


Through LP after LP, from the seductive vocals of Carly Simon on her 1972 album No Secrets [Speakers Corner ELEKTRA75049] to the gravelly singing of Dr John on The Sun Moon & Herbs from 1971 [Speakers Corner ATCO SD33-362], the DL-A110 was an exercise in equanimity and consistency. Is this a bad thing, that such an affordable cartridge is also a great leveller?

There is but one matter we must address. The DL-A110 sans headshell and packaging is still available as the DL-103, as is the DL-103R, and both sell for less than the DL-A110. If you can use the headshell, and enjoy the prestige of owning a 'special', then buy the DL-A110. Otherwise, consider the DL-103 on its own for £269, or the DL-103R [HFN Jul '09] with 6N copper for £349. Whichever option you go for, you will love it.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
What can I say? You could have dug out back issues for reviews of the Denon DL-103 from decades ago, and all that's changed is the price – and it's still a bargain. This is as close to time-travel as it gets, an opportunity to buy a legendary component that's as fresh as it was 57 years ago. It still has all the smoothness, the magic, the soundstage that made it good enough for Japanese FM radio. Thank you, Denon!

Sound United/D&M Holdings
Kanagawa, Japan
Supplied by: D&M Audiovisual Ltd, UK
02890 279830