Adding a new, upgraded, cartridge to its range by tweaking its older ONE design, Paul Rigby reviews the Van den Hul MC – ONE Special cartridge
There’s something almost personal about the MC – ONE Special in terms of its packaging and how it is presented. Opening its gold-embossed, wooden box container, you will find a hand-written specification list under the lid: I felt like a kid receiving a secret message. The details, in this case, included a relatively light tracking force of between 1.35g-1.5g, as is the anti-skate of 0.4g-0.6g.
The hand-written specifications only go to reinforce the fact that the cartridge, presented under a clear plastic protection layer, has been hand built. Protected by a clear plastic stylus guard and accompanied by a small array of accessories that includes two Allen screws (plus a small bubble level for azimuth adjustments), this ‘Special’ variety features a boron cantilever and – most excitingly – silver wire coils. Not the usual copper variety I’m used to seeing at this price point. They are contained within a relatively heavy (8.2g) aluminium chassis. Finally, experienced Van den Hul fans will also be aware of the older, more basic, MC – ONE cartridge. As the company itself says, the Special adds, “…a thicker frontpole and an extra small magnet…”, the hope is to enhance resolution and output voltage in the process.
Running the cartridge at a tracking force of 1.5g, I began with the jazz vocal of Dakota Staton and the original issue of her Capitol LP, ’Round Midnight. Before I settled down to listen I had to run straight back to my reference system. This design enjoys a high output and, boy, did that register as down went the volume on my phono amp and pre-amp to normal listening levels.
Back to the listening position and, as Staton sang her little heart out, I felt disquiet. She didn’t so much sing as bark at me while her many crescendos sounded forward and bright. Brass instruments were the worst. The more they played, the more my head shrank into my shoulders, too busy wincing than listening. The problem was mistracking and the issue was easy to solve. Increasing the tracking force to 2g, from the maximum recommended figure of 1.5g, completely changed the personality of the sound. Now Staton sounded focused, calm and steady in her delivery. Her crescendos were emotive, upper midband brass had a fine textural quality and cymbal-infused treble sounded fragile instead of harsh. It was almost like hearing a different cartridge design.
So, for a third time, I sat to review the MC – ONE Special and was much happier this time with Staton’s performance which blended a smooth delivery, especially during the introductory appearances of both the strings and clarinets, with an emotional presentation. I felt that the Special encouraged the latter. It seemed to place a spotlight upon the vocal, reaching into the mix to extract a vulnerable side to the Staton delivery. The Special brought my ears closer to her, making her vocal a more intimate and engaging performance.
Turning to a slice of dub from Rootmasters and Elephant Puddle, I was impressed both by the instrumental separation – how the bass was separated from the rocking guitar sounds and the air and space between the two – and the bass itself which exhibited a smooth presentation but with plenty of mass and weight while the upper bass response offered enough punch to please any high energy fan.
On a more orchestral level, I turned to the original soundtrack of the spaghetti western film, Django by Luis Bacalov from 1966 and played the inner groove positioned track, Espera y Ataque where the flute was accurate without any blooming, the piercing string effects were just that without any sense of brightness getting in the way and the percussion was crisp and accurate without any smearing. The smooth and easy going performance was admirable for an inner groove track of this sort.
Of course, unlike more expensive designs like the Transfiguration Proteus, for example, you don’t get those extra percentage points of insight but what the Special does offer is a blend of value for money and emotional insight that, in some ways, actually gives you a better sense of musicality. That is, the MC – ONE Special plugs you into the heart of the performance. Yes, there is plenty of detail on offer here for audiophiles but, in many ways, that benefit is less important. It’s as if the Special connects you into the soul of the music which, to many music fans out there, is far more important. If you do plump for this cartridge, though, ignore that recommended tracking force figure and go for 2g instead!
VAN DEN HUL MC – ONE SPECIAL MOVING COIL CARTRIDGE
Tel: 05602 054669
GOOD: high output, smooth mids, emotional presence, inner groove performance, musicality
BAD: tracking issues
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