The Denon DL-103's appearance gives you a clue as to its origins, which lie in Denon's design department of 1963.

The vinyl groove hasn't changed a lot since then, however, so it's still a worthy contender with a very tempting price. There have been various incarnations of the 103 where efforts have been made to tweak its performance with alternative wiring and coils, but the standard unit won't say die.

Weighty cartridge

It produces an output of 0.3mV and so needs a decent MC phono stage. It also gives its vintage away with a 2.5g required downforce, which makes it better suited to higher mass arms.

The stylus is inevitably spherical, which means that it's not hyper sensitive about set up, which is handy. Less convenient, is the old-school deep-slot mounting, which is fiddly to set up, especially if you use the aluminium fixing bolts supplied.

Smooth sounds

In our SME IV it produces a smooth and remarkably powerful sound with slightly restrained treble, which makes for relaxed listening on the whole - piano, for instance, is relatively easy on the ear.

It's not as hot in timing terms as more contemporary designs - in fact it's positively laid back compared to the Dynavector and Ortofon 2M. However, it does have a degree of refinement rarely encountered with MCs, which many will appreciate.

It also has a bit more 'air' through the midband and decent weight through the bass. It's not hard to 'hear' why the DL103 has lasted the course, as it has a musicality that's very easy to enjoy.