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Uwe Bretschneider's Wood Bodies for Denon 103 and 103R Cartridges

As Good as Koetsus?

[Italian version]

Product: Cartridge Body made from Wood for Denon 103 and Denon 103R
Manufacturer: Uwe Bretschneider - Germany
Video with modification
Flyer with information
Approx cost: from 100 EUR (direct sale) depending on choice of wood
Reviewer: Hartmut Quaschik - TNT Germany
Reviewed: December, 2010

[Original Denon 103 original bodies]

These wooden bodies are to replace the original plastic bodies of the Denon 103 and 103R cartridges. I became aware of this modification, when I saw rave reports on some internet forums (audiogon, vinyl asylum, please search yourself), that the "Uwe body" elevates the Denon 103 to Koetsu level. When I met Uwe Bretschneider in person at the European Triode Festival in 2007, I bought some wood bodies for Denon 103 direct from his hands, but it took some more time to try them out. As I have had no Denon in my cartridge collection for years, I had to buy some Denon 103 for this purpose. I had the good sense to buy a used item for my first attempts in modying the cartridge.
I bought three wooden bodies in total, one Panzerholz, and two solid wood bodies, one is African Rosewood (called Wenge in Germany), the other is Grenadill.

[Wooden Bodies: Panzerholz, African Rosewood, Grenadill]

Doing the Modification

Despite the video, I managed to kill some Denons. At one Denon, I came to touch the tiny tiny wires leading from coils to pins, and broke them. These are very delicate, and nearly invisible. Don't you never ever touch the naked Denon cartridge at the area between coils and back plate. BTW, the Denon 103R has considerably thicker wires, so might be more robust. Another favourite kill of mine was snapping off the cantilever when removing the plastic body. This second danger can be reduced a lot by cutting the plastic body to enlargen the opening for the cantilever (have a look at the second plastic body on the first picture).
So, if you are not really sure you can handle the cartridge well or handle the financial loss of a damaged Denon, I simply advice to buy a complete Denon+Body package. Please, don't you blame me when you kill your Denon!
Changing wooden bodies later is a lot easier. I used a screw driver to push the Denon out off the body, then pushed the Denon into the next body. Please push gently!

Some technical notes

While a plastic body has about 1.5g weight, a naked Denon 103 7.2g and a complete Denon 103 8.7g, the wooden bodies are a bit heavier: most wood bodies have 3.5g, Panzerholz has about 4.8g, so the total cartridge weight changes from 8.7 to something between 10.5 and 12g, approximately. So your tonearm needs to balance some extra cartridge weight. Although 10 to 12g might not be extreme, you have to check your tonearm if it can handle this.

The back plate of the Denon does not flush with the body. When I snip off 2mm at the front edge of the plastic plate from the Denon, it will flush.

The 2.5mm holes for the cartridge screws are threaded directly into the wood, and thus are not meant to withstand a LP12 lover who wants his cartridges Linn-tight.

Sound

Of course I had to listen first to the unmodified Denon 103 and 103R. This was done before any modifications were performed. While the standard 103 has some attractive comfortable sides, its overall sound is very vintage: it has a comfortably warmish character, resolution is low, treble is grainy, and there is also a plastic flavour all over the midrange. The Denon 103R shows a lot more impact, resolution and clarity, approaching a Lyra, but along with the way better resolution the plastic flavour becomes even more obvious.
I found no big differences between the two solid bodies, but it was the Panzerholz which sounded different from solid wood.
What I tried first was the Denon 103 with Panzerholz body. The plastic character vanished immediately, and image was a bit more precise, but the grainy treble was more obvious. While this was a lot better than original, it was not balanced at all.
Next try: I changed the body to solid wood body. Now this results in a more balanced package. The plastic flavour was absent too (as expected), but the grainy treble vanished with this body. The bass was a bit softer than with the Panzerwood, but I found this combo convincing. I could understand what some forum posters experienced who see this combo as an alternative to a Koetsu.

Really a Koetsu? Yes and No. The Denon 103 is quite a cheap industry standard for a MC cartridge, with little variations from one sample to the other. The Koetsu cartridges are manufactured by hand and show a lot of sample variation. Indeed I had some new and old Koetsus playing a bit fuzzy and soft. A Denon 103 in a solid wood Uwe body may show up well against such Koetsu cartridges. So this cheap combo of a standard Denon 103 inside an Uwe solid wood body may be an alternative to a a previously loved bargained Koetsu bought s/h or a new Koetsu manufactured on a bad day.
But I also had Koetsus playing on a much higher level, with considerably more impact, resolution and "rightness". Our standard Denon 103 in an Uwe solid wood body cannot compete with a top notch sample Koetsu, or an excellent third party rebuild of a Koetsu.

Then I tried the Denon 103R, again first with Panzerholz body. Now this had a firm bass, fine midrange and fine treble. Lots of details on par with a Lyra, but very natural. Changing to solid wood body made the bass softer, and the sound became a bit "woodier", with less fine detail, and more rounded. Different from the standard 103, with the 103R I preferred the Panzerholz body. I found this very attractive for listening, and it became my favourite combo of this survey.

Conclusion

If you love the Denon 103 sound, then it is very likely that you also love the sound of a Denon 103 in a solid wood body from Uwe. Its sibling, the 103R sounds completely different, and pushed into a Panzerholz body, it could be right for you, if you like high resolution, but still want to enjoy a natural timbre.
Today, not only Uwe Bretschneider supplies wooden bodies. There are also aluminium bodies and graphite bodies available. Unfortunately, all the alternatives I have seen so far are more expensive than the wooden bodies from Uwe Bretschneider.

Copyright 2010 Hartmut Quaschik - www.tnt-audio.com

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