Cartridge & Arm Review

Van den Hul MC – ONE Special: THE ONE THAT I WANT


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!


Price: £1,250


Tel: 05602 054669


GOOD: high output, smooth mids, emotional presence, inner groove performance, musicality

BAD: tracking issues 













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  • Reply
    13th September 2016 at 12:22 pm

    Yowza! sounds phenomenal! I’m planning on getting my first serious turntable next year Paul! Currently I have an old Technics SL-D1 direct drive with an entry level ortofon cartridge. I am really considering a Rega RP-1 but I have also been intrigued by the Project Carbon offerings.

    What is your opinion for a young HIFI enthusiast to start without breaking the bank?

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      13th September 2016 at 12:43 pm

      Hi Corey
      Well, you’re definitely on the right lines with your short-list. What sort of budget do you have, may I ask?

  • Reply
    13th September 2016 at 12:49 pm

    Well to be honest. I am struggling to balance the idea of a budget with my aspirations lol! I bought an NAD 312 amp and a set of Magnepan MMG speakers last year. I am thinking of upgrading to the super MMG this year which will cost around 300 dollars with the trade in program Magnepan offers. So I would like to stay under or up to a 500$ budget for the Turntable and cartridge if possible. This will kind of balance my spending on different components but maximize my experience with my ever growing vinyl collection. I would hate to spend much more on the Turntable right now, knowing my next logical upgrade will be a new integrated amp with a better phono stage, or a seperate phono stage. As usual I have always been led to believe that the power amp and speakers will make a bigger change overall than the TT and cartridge itself, but I also don’t want to underspend on qauality if that makes any sense lol!

  • Reply
    Paul Rigby
    13th September 2016 at 2:19 pm

    Hi Corey

    For $500, I would go for a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon and Phono Box MM phono amp.

    At the risk of confusing you, the priority is the turntable (then the phono amp after that), not the speakers or main amp. Trouble is that the deck is your source. It’s the top of the tree. This is where your musical detail is won and lost. If you lose sound quality here, you’ll never get it back further down the chain with the amp/speakers. All you will do is change the tone and personality of the sound. The detail will be gone for good. Hence, the deck is your prime focus. I always believe that 50% of your entire budget should be spent on your turntable.

  • Reply
    14th September 2016 at 2:26 pm

    Thanks a ton for the advice Paul! definitely a little different take on things than I have been hearing, and a very logical take at that! I guess the only limitation I will really have on my turntable purchase is what my wife will let me afford! I’ll take a look at the phono box MM phono amp when I wake up before my night shift starts later!

    Thanks for your quick replies and your awesome knowledge my friend!

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      14th September 2016 at 3:06 pm

      No problem, Corey 🙂

  • Reply
    13th October 2017 at 10:00 am

    Hi Paul i just read your review,and as i’m experiencing issues with tracking
    of my MC one ,completely serviced and upgraded some years ago at VDH .
    Since at a tracking force below 1.8 g, the sound is harsh and
    croak as i did not experienced before…..could this be because stylus wear
    (i calculated a use of about 1000 hours since new) or aged damping system?

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      16th October 2017 at 11:19 am

      Hi Marco – sorry for the reply delay, just moved house! Try to up the figure to 2g first (there may have been some minor tracking force slippage over time which might result in power sonics). If the sound quality remains poor, try different records, dependable LPs to see if the sound remains poor and its not the vinyl, take a close look at the cartridge mounting (might be an idea to remove it entirely and mount it as if it was a new cart – sometimes this can help), make sure your tracking force gauge is working properly, if you have a second cart – mount that to see if the issue is not arm related and then come back to me if the problem remains.

    • Reply
      8th March 2019 at 8:41 am

      Paul and Marco, my VDH MC ONE special gives me exactily the same problems you described. I get not listening pleasure with VTF under 1,8 grams. To me the best compromise is to set the VTF on 1.8 – 1.9 grams. I don’t go over 1,9 becouse at 2 grams, sometimes, on some vinyls (a little warped), the bottom of the cartridge touches the record.
      Thank you so much, Luca

      • Reply
        Paul Rigby
        8th March 2019 at 1:16 pm

        Thanks for your insight, Luca.

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