OJAS and Denon Collaborate on DL-103o Moving Coil Cartridge

A fresh aesthetic take on the 60-year-old hi-fi mainstay.

Music
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2024 was already shaping up to be a big year for Devon Turnbull following the opening of Supreme Shanghai in March, and the unveiling of his latest artistic endeavor HiFi Pursuit Listening Room Dream No. 2 at SFMOMA in early May. Now, as May comes to a close, the multi-hyphenate audio engineer reveals his latest project under the OJAS brand moniker — a special edition of the Denon DL-103R moving coil phono cartridge: the DL-103o.

Like many OJAS products, the OJAS x Denon DL-103o is part history lesson, part educational tool and part hi-fi purist gold. The collaboration began after storied Japanese audio equipment manufacturer, Denon, pitched Turnbull on a digital audio collaboration which he politely declined before countering with a project using the DL-103 phono cartridge, a niche turntable part that was little known to Denon’s US marketing team, yet well known to audiophiles like Turnbull globally. The DL-103 has changed little since 1962 when it was first introduced for broadcast use in Japan. Even today, it remains a piece hand-tuned by Denon’s sound masters in Shirakawa, Japan. It takes three years to train new specialists to do this work, and at peak production, Denon is only able to make about 40 DL-103’s a day.

The 103 is a moving coil cartridge, and it’s the first moving coil cartridge Turnbull acquired as he leveled-up his personal setup many years ago. “Moving coil” cartridges allow for wider frequency response, increased precision and clearer articulation, but because of their tiny parts, are difficult to produce and can be vastly more expensive than their “moving magnet” counterparts. Among moving coil cartridges, the DL-103 is special, “it’s a giant killer,” as Turnbull puts it, its performance competes with cartridges that sell for many times its price point. The DL-103 is still a go-to for Turnbull’s installations and personal builds— it was the only cartridge in use at his HiFi Listening Room Dream No. 1 show at Lisson Gallery in London.

So what has changed in this new, collaborative iteration of the cartridge? From a technical standpoint, the answer is: nothing. Turnbull is hyper attuned to snake oil marketing in the audio industry where brands constantly claim to reinvent components or introduce newly engineered versions of a peripheral. But, to him, if something has been working well for over 60 years, modification is superfluous. Instead he tapped into his streetwear and sneakerhead roots for this project with the introduction of a new, limited edition colorway. The OJAS x Denon DL-103o has, for the first time, a clear case, to showcase the old-school, hand-crafted tech inside. It also features an OJAS branding hit on the side panel and comes in a cobranded box. The cartridge is limited to a run of 350, all of which have individual serial numbers.

An aesthetic update and a new spotlight on an iconic piece of audio tech is exactly the point. It gives Turnbull the opportunity to use his OJAS platform to put a new audience, and maybe even a new generation of audio enthusiasts, onto a product that helped shape his own sonic worldview. “In doing this,” Turnbull summarizes, “it gives outlets like Hypebeast an opportunity to talk a product that people deserve to know about.”

The OJAS x Denon DL-103o is available now for $550 USD on the OJAS.nyc webstore. Stay tuned to Devon Turnbull’s Instagram for any more project updates in the coming days.

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