Anyone tried the Zu Denon 103 yet?

Has anyone tried the Zu Denon 103 cartridge? How does it compare to the stock 103 or the 103R? Thanks.
Art Dudley reviews the Zu Audio DL-103 in the December '07 Stereophile. He compared it with the stock DL-103 but (unfortunately) not the DL-103R, which would have been interesting: Which has more effect, the 103R enhancements or taking the guts nude and mounting them in a machined aluminum block? He did, however, compare the Zu to the Koetsu Black ($1600) and Miyabi 47 (abou $4K).

He had this to say about the comparisons:

...In my system, the [Koetsu] Black has lots of beautiful tone and texture, while souding less colored, less pungent, than either version of the DL-103. But for all that, the Zu DL-103 in particular was capable of sounding bigger, and had a better, more impactful way with uptempo music. In that respect, the Zu was more stirring--more involving--than all but my Miyabi 47. Really.

He ended his review with this sentence, referring to high end journalism's practice of calling some low-cost components "giant-killers:"

The Zu doesn't just slay giants: It rips their beating heart from their chests, shows it to them, finishes them off, then chases their souls and drags them down to hell. Recommended.
With a review like that, the Zu cartridge will probably be seriously backordered in, oh, about 10 minutes.

Moderators: I trust that my quotes fall within "fair use" guidelines, are therefore not copyright infringement, and won't damage sales potential for this issue of Stereophile.
Yeah, I had the same feeling about this. I would have liked to have read a comparison which included the 103R. Better yet, I'd have been interested to find out if Zu was considering this same kind of mod for the "R".
I haven't heard the Zu 103, but I'd rather put my money into a 103R with one of Uwe's wood bodies (do a search at vinylasylum for Uwe/wood body/Denon), which is exactly what I have done, for a number of reasons.

First of all, while you will find the odd person that prefers the 103 to the 103R, you'll find the vast majority that have heard both prefer the 103R and think it's worth the extra money. Secondly, the 103R plus wood body comes in for less money than the Zu 103. Next, of the few people that have heard a wood bodied 103 or 103R vs. one that has been nuded using a brass mounting plate, what I read between the lines in those comparisons is that I'd prefer the wood body to the nuded/brass and I think the nuded brass would be more similar to the the Zu than the Zu would be to the wood body. The wood bodied Denons have replaced cartridges like the megabuck Shelter 901 and Benz Ebony L (a $3,000 cartridge) and compared favorably with others like the Koetsu Rosewood and Koetsu Rosewood Sugano as well as the Myabi by people using them long before the Zu became available and was reviewed in Stereophile.

Finally, the wood body is re-usable as it is simply a pressure fit. So if your 103 or 103R wears out, you can simply buy a new one and pop it into the wood body or send it out for a retip, allowing a lot of flexibility. The varying wood bodies also allow for "customization" if you will, in terms of matching cartridge weight to tonearm and that can be a concern with the Zu weighing in at over 14 grams, a weight that may limit its use with certain arms.

I don't think you'll see Zu do the "R" as it will push the cartridge into the $500 retail territory based on the plain 103 pricing and that becomes a more difficult sell. Under $400 it seems like a lot less of a stretch for someone upgrading from a $200-$300 MM.
Hdm, these are all very good points you raise. I would add that another option is the mods that are done by Soundsmith up in Peekskill, NY.

There is a fellow on AA that had written up a very detailed positive review of a Uwe bodied 103R. I guess the part that leaves me with a question is - the 103 and 103R are already kind of full sounding carts. Not as full as some, but I don't know that I'd call them thin or light, or nimble or super-articulate. The few things I've read about the Uwe mod in this area seems to suggest that this part of the Denon sound is enhanced, maybe improved, but I don't get the sense that it corrects some of the problems brought on by this inherent fullness. The slight softness in the low end, as an example.
I have the Soundsmith retip 103R with the ruby cantilever and line contact stylus, tracking at 1.58g, loaded at 100ohms. It sounds marvellous.

In comparison with the stock 103R, there is more extension at both extremes, it is fast and dynamic. While I would not describe it as full/warm/fuzzy, it does retain the body and the mids are liquid.

While I have not tried the wood bodies, I believe that retaining the conical stylus limits the potential of the cart. I wonder what would happen if someone were to get it retipped and woody, what would you get? The problem is what should this hybrid cart be tracked at?
Hi Tony: I am the guy that wrote the Uwe review at AA; my user name there is blake.

The Soundsmith route is the other way to go and I was actually alluding to that in my post above with respect to the re-tip. My 103R will be due to be replaced or retipped in about 5 or 6 months so my decision at that time will be to simply buy another 103R or to send my existing cartridge to Soundsmith for a new ruby cantilever and line contact stylus as the costs are pretty much the same.

If you want to go nude with the 103 or 103R, I see the non-commercial route via ordering a brass mounting plate from another AA member that has them posted in the classifieds there for $40 as being the most cost effective way of doing that one. Soundsmith does state on their website that they do something to reinforce/support the cartridge internals following nuding to prevent or reduce cartridge damage once it's nuded but I don't really know what they would do. Perhaps pot the cartridge internals with epoxy or a similar substance the way Zu has?

I'm leaning toward simply replacing my 103R as opposed to retipping with a line contact. Although I've heard great things about the Soundsmith line contact on 103's and 103R's I'm just a bit leery that it might upset what I perceive to be one of the Denon's great strengths and that is its top to bottom coherence and very "natural" presentation. Frankly, I never felt the stock 103R to lack detail, although it clearly does when compared to my ebony bodied version, which is not only more "detailed" without being analytical, but also more transparent and simply more revealing of more musical info on the record. I'm a bit concerned that the line contact stylus on it might take things a bit too far, sacrificing that balanced musical quality that I really like about the cartridge in favor of more detail retrieval aligned with a more clinical/analytical presentation. What I may do is buy a new 103R and then at some later date send the old one to Soundsmith so I'd have access to both and be able to keep the one I prefer (both of which would be, of course, installed in the ebony body I have) with the 2nd as a backup.

As you point out, one of the criticisms of the stock Denon is its bass performance; not that there is a lack of bass (which is certainly not the case) but rather that it is a bit "wooly" or "loose", perhaps lacking some definition in that area. The wood body offers even more bass, if you can believe that, and does certainly tighten that bass up and give it more definition. I haven't done head to head comparisons with other cartridges, and my system (speakers in particular) is not one that really excels in the "tight bass department", so I can't comment on whether the wood bodied Denon is the last word in this area. I would expect (just an educated guess) that a nuded Denon with a brass mounting plate would offer up better bass definition, but possibly a little less extension. I believe that Pat O'Malley at vinyl asylum is one of the few people who has listened to both nude w/brass mounting plate vs. wood body and his remarks, if I'm reading them correctly would seem to indicate that. It might be worth contacting him for some feedback.

Hope this helps.
Hdm, in regard to changing too much of the natural coherence of the 103R, I tend to agree with you on this point. Cmk above seems to have had good luck with a retip. From his descrition it sounds like the essential character of the Denon remains.

My 103R is still new enough to where I have many more hours to go before I consider a retip, unfortunately.