Sunday, July 29, 2018

Phono Cartridge Comparison - Battle of the 110s - Denon DL-110 vs Nagaoka MP-110

I wanted to do a deeper dive comparing the Nagaoka MP-110 and the Denon DL-110. I like both these carts a lot. The DL-110 is the first moving coil cartridge we've listened to, but it is a high output moving coil design that will work well with most standard moving magnet phono preamps. 

Take a listen to The Cure performing "Caterpillar" from a U.S. Sire pressing of 'The Top':



Let's try something a little different, here's vibraphonist Red Norvo performing "Red Sails" 'Music To Listen To Red Norvo By' from an OJC (Original Jazz Classics) pressing of an album originally released in the 60s on Contemporary Records:


Here we have a cut from a beautifully recorded Classical LP, Antal Dorati directing Philharmonia Hugarica, performing Respighi: Suite Number 2 for Orchestra: "Campanae Parisienses" based on a dance by Bernando Gianoncelli. I recorded this from a Golden Imports reissue of a 60s Mercrury Living Presence LP.


Finally, we have "Cemetery Gates" by The Smiths from a 1986 U.S. Sire pressing of 'The Queen Is Dead'.



These videos have been up on YouTube for a few months and opinion on the carts seems about evenly divided, with perhaps a few more commenters voting in favor of the Denon. Those who like the Nagaoka praise its rich sound, while those who favor the Denon tend to call it more open.

The DL-110 appears to offer very flat frequency response (all of these graphs are generated from measurements I took using the 'CBS Laboratories Technical Series Professional Test Record', which was used by many publications to measure carts back when that was still a common thing).


This is a much flatter response than we've seen from any of the other cartridges I've presented so far. Its tracking ability was quite good, sailing through the first three bias tracks on the 'Hi-Fi News & Record Review Test Record' and playing the final track with only moderate distortion. It should be noted however that two of our cheaper cartridges, the Audio Technica AT95E and the Numark/Ion Groove Tool, were able to play even the final "torture" track on this record without distorting, a feat I previously though near impossible. 

The Denon DL-110 recently jumped in price from around $110 to $200 leading some to believe it is no longer a good value. But the DL-110 is a venerable design first introduced in the early 80s, and adjusted for inflation at its original price it would go for around $500. If you are looking for a tonally neutral cart with good, fast, sharp transient attack, the DL-110 is still a good choice. If you crave a more "romantic" sound, the MP-110 might be more your cup of tea.

Is the Denon worth the premium over a $50 cart like the AT-95E or the $25 Groove Tool? That's a judgment call you'd have to make for yourself. In the coming days I'll try to help you make that judgement with more videos comparing the DL-110 to both carts in the coming days. Stay tuned!

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