So, here is the problem: I am loaded with expensive (+$2000.00) cartridges yet only a few of them move me emotionally. The Ortofon Cadenza Bronze is one of them but it is around $2500.00. What to do if you like emotion, detail, transparency, richness, etc. and still be able to pay the bills every month?
The Answer: MusiKraft S-AIL103-PO body plus Denon 103 cartridge. For less than $800.00 I have been mesmerized by the pure musicality of this cartridge. It has the ability to reproduce bass in a manner of real music in a live room, no sterility, no detail over hall sound, just a perfect balance of everything that makes you want to play records. It is very well made, beautifully executed, looks like a $6000 cartridge, and sounds very close to one in many ways.
I have used it in all forms of VPI arm including 12” Ref 3D, gimbal Ref. 3D, gimbal and unipivot 10” and found that it really likes a gimbal or unipivot with more mass in the bearing well. For all of the Traveler owners out there looking for a cartridge upgrade, this might be it! In a gimbal Companion (Mark Levinson arm with the wire coming from the top) the cartridge came alive. It firmed up, opened up, filled in the slightly thin bass you get with the lighter effective mass arms, and gave holographic 3D imaging.
I can see why Stereophile's Art Dudley enjoyed this cartridge as much as he did with the JMW 9 tonearm on the Prime Scout. I wonder how much more he would have enjoyed this cartridge if he had the Dual Pivot mounted on it. This cartridge will make the speakers disappear as the soundstage goes wall to wall. If your loudspeakers have good phase response you will be rewarded with a soundstage so real you can touch it.
There is a part of the business you can’t put into words, it is the fit, finish, and feel of a product. This is an A+ version of those thoughts. It mounts beautifully, has multiple threaded holes that feel like they were machined in,, not threaded by hand. I am very impressed by this plus the small wood inserts adds a touch of class and probably good damping modes.
Playing my favorite bass record the Charlie Byrd 45 by Crystal Clear I was shocked how easily it tracked the explosive drum lines with clarity, cleanliness, and power. Not a Lyra Atlas but for 1/14 the price who cares. I got almost Atlas results by changing the loading down to 100 from 200 ohms without losing any top end detail. You need to load this cartridge properly, at 100 ohms it has enough pressure on it to control that bass and open it up yet keep the highs clean.
I have the 100th Anniversary Denon 103 and it is good but this is better and not by a slight margin, it is really better. Let’s put it this way, the MusiKraft/Denon is in the system I listen to all the time for enjoyment and it is staying there. Very highly recommended and especially for the price, a real musical bargain.
Now this brings me back to our original problem! For me, a 10 out of 10 star product is the Lyra Atlas and the Grado Epoch (those reviews pending). Some "reviewers" hand out 10 star ratings and "World's Best" like they are participation awards for middle school baseball. It is unfair and irresponsible to compare an $800 cartridge to a $12,000 cartridge on the same scale. Because of this I'm going to start adding in "value stars".
8 STARS - with 1 of those stars being for value. To pick a theme I'll be using blue stars for representation.
Denon cartridge specifications:
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