austinite wrote:I'm sorry if I missed it elsewhere on this thread, but can you tell me if the standard DL-103 would be nearly indistinguishable from an "R" if both were given the $350 retip treatment by Soundsmith? I have the standard DL-103 and was planning on buying a '103R eventually. But if the Soundsmith mod will make my standard DL-103's performance vault into a much higher league, then I'd go that route. Thanks.
The 103R, with its 6 nines coils is supposed to have a slight edge at the frequency extensions over the stock 103 and with a retip I would expect it to still have the edge. However, I can give you a bit of advice and some opinions based on experience with two 103R's that have been retipped by SS (I've also used ebony, clavellin and aluminum bodies on those 103R's) as well as extensive use with the stock 103R.
There are a couple of things to consider with the SS $350 retip. It has a more extreme stylus profile than Peter's $250 line contact retip so it is much more sensitive to "very" proper setup, including azimuth and VTA/SRA than the $250 line contact which, in turn, is much more sensitive to setup than the stock conical on the Denon. I opted for the $250 retip on both my 103R's as I felt that without on the fly VTA (I have both adjustable azimuth and VTA but not on the fly VTA) I would not be able to take advantage of at least some of what the "optimized contour" line contact that Peter does. If you do not have adjustable azimith, I would definitely do the $250 retip as opposed to the $350 retip and on the fly VTA is probably a very good thing to have if you go the $350 route. I am a set and forget kind of guy so, for me, the less finicky $250 LC made more sense.
System synergy and subjective listening preferences come into play as well. The $350 retip has the potential to offer more in the way of detail retreival (again, if properly set up) but also has a bit more of a reputation for being more analytical and clinical. As such, the $250 retip may be a better choice for you if your system is already a bit lean or you value musicality over the last bit of detail retreival or prefer a less "in your face" kind of presentation. This was another factor in me opting for the $250 retip from Peter.
With respect to the brightness that Hanuman mentioned, Peter Ledermaan has acknowledged a bit of confusion relating to setup remarks on his website. It is implied, as Hanuman suggested, that following the retip VTF may be reduced. This is certainly possible and the line contact will mistrack much more gracefully than the stock conical on the Denons as VTF is reduced. It does, however, start to sound "bright" and a bit odd. For what it's worth, I track both my SS retips at exactly the same VTF that I tracked the stock conical for what I perceive to be best performance and that is 2.6. I've had emails from a number of SS retip of the Denon users hearing this brightness. Almost without fail, when I recommended that they increase VTF to the 2.6 mark (in many cases they were tracking at 2.2 to 2.3 or even less) and focused on proper VTA/SRA as well, they emailed back that this brightness disappeared and the "Denon sound" reappeared. I say that because some posters in these threads imply that the 103 and 103R "disappear" with these mods and that is anything but the case. The mods are about enhancing (not totally changing) the performance of an already very good cartridge and taking it to a very high level without changing the overall character of the cartridge and ending up with something that is far and beyond what you would achieve with the same dollars in a commercial product. I can honestly say that I don't experience any "brightness"; my high frequencies are definitely much more refined and extended with the retip though. I have to agree with Hanuman and disagree with B's post above on treble coarseness with the conical. It is there, without a doubt. The SS retip is substantially more refined, smoother and more natural, whatever you want to call it, in the high frequencies.
One thing I would say is that, IMO, a stock 103 with a retip will be considerably better than a stock 103R that has not been retipped. But, as I've said here earlier, the body is a weak spot as well as the conical and I would definitely recommend doing the body at the same time for the cost involved. Wood bodies are a little pricier, but aluminum bodies are commonly available on E-Bay for $40-$60 and are a bargain. With a steady hand and $60 for an aluminum body (pay somebody who works on cartridges $25 or $30 to do the transplant if you're not confident), $250 for the mid level retip and $75 for Peter to pot the generator (which is what Zu does) you will have a cartridge that, if matched well with an appropriate arm (preferably higher mass) will rival much more expensive cartridges. Art Dudley compared the Zu 103 favorably to $1500 cartridges and that is without a stylus upgrade. Change the stylus and you have much more information retreival as well, taking the cartridge that much further. You can extrapolate that out yourself to estimate what you'd have to spend in an off the shelf product to better it.