Denon DL-110

Type: High Output Moving Coil (HOMC)
Stylus: Nude Elliptical
Compliance: Medium
Price: £219

Background

Soon after re-entering the world of vinyl, I discovered the Denon DL-110 cartridge to be a firm favourite amongst audiophiles. It is a breed of cartridge that was completely new to me – a High Output Moving Coil (HOMC). As such, it has a higher output than a conventional MC cartridge and can be used with an MM phono-stage, so there is no special need for an MC phono-stage. A friend of mine bought a new example from an eBay seller in Hong Kong for around half of the standard UK price at the time. I too was curious about this cartridge and decided to do the same. It certainly looks a jewel of a cartridge, but does its sound live up to its looks? I use this cartridge on my old Rega Planar 3 turntable, the combination on which this review was based.

Equipment

Turntable: Rega Planar 3 (R200 S-shape arm)
Phono Pre-amp: Musical Fidelity M1 ViNL (with 200pF capacitance)
Amplifier: Yamaha A-S501
Speakers: Q Acoustics 3050

Sound Quality

The Denon DL-110 was my first experience of an MC cartridge of any form and, luckily, I could use it with my MM phono-stage (as I didn’t have an MC phono-stage at the time). I was curious to know whether it would sound distinctly different from my MM cartridges.

Treble: High frequencies are clear and crisp. The treble has good extension and is nicely detailed, affording the overall sound a sense of air. Above all, the treble manages to achieve all of this with refinement, so no nasty edges here.

Midrange: The mid-band is open and offers reasonable detail. While vocals don’t have the presence or projection achieved with some cartridges, the midrange should not disappoint and blends well with the other bands.

Bass: The bass is delivered with a fair amount of muscle and depth, and there is a sense of quality about it. In fact, the bass is a strong feature of this cartridge and is tendered in good measure, providing body to the overall sound.

Each of the above bands is strong in itself but it’s the way they come together in a very well-integrated whole that is the real strength of the DL-110. They assemble into a relatively neutral balance, although there is a hint of warmth brought to the sound by the slightly chunky bass – I would even go as far as describing the sound as lush. Dynamically, the cartridge is entertaining enough but is not as exciting as some. The overall effect is a very easy-going presentation which is unlikely to cause offense.

Does this HOMC cartridge sound much different from a typical MM cartridge? The answer is perhaps yes, in terms of its mellowness and refinement, although there are MM cartridges that have these same attributes. There are, however, a couple of factors to bear in mind before buying this HOMC cartridge over an MM. Firstly, while its output is high for an MC, it is not as high as that of a typical MM and it is necessary to turn the volume control up higher to achieve comparable sound levels. Having said that, in my experience it is not necessary to turn the volume up significantly higher with the DL-110. Secondly, as with most MC cartridges, the stylus is not replaceable. This means that when the stylus wears out, you must replace the whole cartridge (or send the existing cartridge away to be retipped).

If you are happy with the concept of an HOMC, the DL-110 is an accomplished performer with a widely appealing sound.

Tracking

The recommended tracking-force range for this cartridge is 1.5-2.1g, with a normal value of 1.8g, which is the value I use. It is a pretty smooth tracker that has no major problems with sibilance, which is handled admirably for an ordinary elliptical stylus.

Compliance

This cartridge has a dynamic compliance of around 14 cu (at 10Hz), so in the middle ground of medium compliance. As such, it is suitable for medium-mass and heavier arms. The medium-mass S-shaped R200 arm (with effective mass of about 16g) of my Rega Planar 3 is therefore well suited to this cartridge.

Capacitive Load

There is no recommended capacitive load for the DL-110 with an MM phono-stage, but my preference is for a phono pre-amp capacitance setting of around 200pF, bringing the total capacitive load (including cable capacitance) to 350-400pF. Here, the sound seems crisper than at lower settings.

It is also possible to connect the DL-110 to an MC phono-stage. As a high-output MC cartridge, in this configuration it provides a high signal level to the main amplifier. From my own experience, the sound is very solid but I didn’t note significant improvements, perhaps even lacking the charm achieved with an MM phono-stage with 200pF capacitance.

Note that the above assumes a phono-cable capacitance in the range 150-200pF, but for a specific turntable it may be lower or higher.

Comparison

I don’t have much experience of other MC or HOMC cartridges with which to compare the DL-110, my only other MC cartridge being the Audio Technica AT-OC9ML/II, which is in a much higher price bracket. The AT-OC9ML/II delivers high-frequency content with more detail and delicacy, as well as offering better midrange presence, but has a neutral balance that lacks the warmth of the DL-110. In fact, the DL-110 may offer a more attractive balance for many people.

In comparison to my MM cartridges, the DL-110 certainly has an appeal that makes it a strong competitor against MM cartridges of a similar price. It has a warmth and charm that is much in demand amongst vinyl enthusiasts. While it now retails at £219, it can still be obtained for well under £200, where it represents good value-for-money. Of course, cartridge choice is a matter of taste, but I can imagine the DL-110 being a better investment than, say, the Ortofon 2M Blue for someone who favours a smooth, easy-going sound over dynamics and excitement.  

Conclusion

The Denon DL-110 is a much-loved HOMC cartridge and for good reason. Its well-integrated, slightly lush sound offers charm and refinement that many audiophiles will appreciate. It brings a touch of warmth to recordings without being dull. However, in choosing between this and similarly priced MM cartridges, the lower output and non-replaceable stylus of the DL-110 may be factors not in its favour. Otherwise, the DL-110 is a strong contender around the £200 mark for those seeking an open, well-measured, easy-listening sound.