Products: Hadcock 242 Pure Silver arm and Music Maker MK2
Manufacturers: Hadcock Engineering and The Cartridge Man - UK
Cost, approx: arm - 1,600 $/Euro, cartridge 1,000 $/Euro
Reviewer: Geoff Husband - TNT France
Reviewed: Decemberr, 2002
In both cases these are 'second looks'. The Hadcock had its first outing on TNT as a last minute arm replacement in the Aida review, as a result of which it made a fine showing, one beyond what I expected at the price, but the review inevitably concentrated on the turntable. The Music Maker has been tested by Lucio, and two of them have played a pivotal role in my series of turntable comparisons. However in both cases there have been substantial changes and as the pair are so often sold together I thought it a good opportunity to have a good look at them.
The Music Maker is a very unusual cartridge. In a world of high end "arm-jewellery" it's based on a fairly cheap Grado cartridge which is then completely stripped and rebuilt with new tip, cantilever and major internal changes. Little is left of the "donor" but the appearance will not impress your audiophile friends unless they are very in-the-know. The stylus is particularly interesting, it's new, being an even more complex line-contact than before, and Len Gregory claims it has the longest contact area of any stylus, the idea being it will hug the groove tighter whilst producing less record and stylus wear than a conventional diamond.
Apart from its parentage, what sets the Music Maker apart is that in a world of low-output Moving Coils (MC) is that it's a high output moving-iron device. This has two big advantages - first anyone without a MC pre-amp stage, and that means most valve pre-amps, can just plug the thing in without the use of an additional step-up stage. Secondly because it requires much less gain than an MC it should have better signal:noise ratio than any MC through a high gain stage.
The Music Maker's humble origins are betrayed by the plastic body which precludes the use of threaded mounting inserts, so it's a fiddly fit at best, though the square body makes alignment easier. The Hadcock has a threaded headshell which overcomes this, though it means you have to drill out the headshell if fitting a cartridge with threaded bolt holes.
The Music Maker is a medium/high compliance device and so prefers an arm of moderate mass (no Breuers please) and with exemplary bearings a fact reflected in its relatively (compared to MC's) low 1.48 grm recommended tracking weight. It's complex stylus profile is fussy on alignment so wannabee Rega owners stay clear - you need to be able to get VTA spot on.
If the Music Maker is unusual then the Hadcock is off the wall. Though billed as a unipivot it is in fact not quite what it seems. There is a fine upward facing "point" which if you look carefully has a profile including a slight ridge at its base. The armtop contains the bearing, but where you'd expect a conventional "cup" you find a holder containing four tiny (just over 1 mm) ball bearings which the point nestles amongst. Logic would dictate three, but listening picks four, so there you are...
From this bearing holder springs the decoupled counterweight stub, and the stainless steel armtube, this simply fitting in a hole and held by one grub screw. Two counterweights hang off the rear stub (though the smaller an be dispensed with if you have a balance), decoupled by O-rings and these adjust tracking force by simply sliding back and forth - though there are markings to guide tracking weight I'd recommend a gauge. The arm cable runs from the headshell to a plug in the arm base so (unlike the Morsiani) this means that arm-tops can be easily swapped for those wanting to run two or more cartridges.
Anti-skate is by thread and weight, the headshell is a skeletal alloy casting held on by another grub screw. I have to say that the whole thing looks just too flimsy to those brought up on Alphason 100s's and SME's, the manufacturers of both regularly challenged people to try and bend their armtubes (as if that proved anything!). The base is made from the same chromed brass as the bearing housing and allows for VTA adjustment by the familiar grub screw and wriggle.
Appearance? Well when you've got used to the spindly look, and the rather dated chrome finish you begin to appreciate just how well made it is. An example is that all the various parts clamped by grub screws are in fact tight and smooth fits unclamped - this speaks volumes for the finish on unseen parts of the arm. The chrome is thick enough to dip your finger in, and the whole thing is just so simple and elegant to use that after a while you may decide it's a good looking beast after all - I know I did.
It's also more stable than the average unipivot as the ball bearings do resist rocking, but at the same time their tiny contact points should give a very high bearing pressure so eliminating bearing 'chatter'. As there's no 'point' to wear, and the bearings should be self adjusting the Hadcock tries to get some of the advantages of a pure unipivot whilst eliminating the disadvantages.
What gives the 'Pure Silver' its title, and elevated price over the cooking 'SE' version, is that from headshell to its base it is wired with VDH solid-core, silver arm cable. This exits to two female phono plugs into which you plug the supplied 'Cartridge Man' solid core, silver interconnect, complete with Nutrak plugs. This adds over £350 to the price of the SE...
I'm going to describe these as a pair, then individually with other arms/cartridges.
In my last review I described the Morsiani unipivot as the most musical arm I'd heard, dodging many Hi-Fi attributes for a unique ease and flow. The Hadcock goes completely the other way, taking on gimballed arms such as the SME4 and Artemiz head-to-head. With the Music Maker on board the result is that the information retrieval is astonishing. Here is a unipivot that will drag every ounce of detail from your records, it seeks out leading edges so making it incredibly fast - it seems bursting with energy, only the Artemiz comes close.
Comparing it to the standard Hadcock showed that part of this energy and excitement was down to the cabling, the difference between the two set-ups taking me quite by surprise. I generally find that cables have mild tuning effects - here the difference went well beyond that. This kind of energy often comes with a downside, a pushy, edgy quality, but the Hadcock/Music Maker never sounded like this, though if VTA was too high the Music Maker would draw out sibilants into a hiss.
The Music Maker is out of the same mould, digging for detail and giving the Hadcock tremendous speed and tunefulness in the bass. It's ability to start, and then stop without any overhang or 'ringing' makes is just so 'clean' in the best sense of the word and is critical for good timing. Comparing the Mk2 with the original Music Maker showed a subtle but worthwhile change, the former being darker - the background quieter, giving low level signals more room to breath. Tracking was the best I've ever come across, clearing all the HFNRR test disc tracks with only the faintest buzz on the final torture track. On the Hadcock the surface noise was pretty subdued, the Morsiani having the edge here, but certainly no worse than the SME or Artemiz.
Playing swaps was interesting. The Dynavector DRT-1 was just too heavy for comfort (14 grms+), but the Hadcock loved the XX-2. This combination gave a warmer more full rendition, more soulful in a way. It's almost impossible to describe, but it was as if the XX-2 was overlaying this character on the music, the Music Maker sounding somehow more precise - NOT clinical and edgy, but controlled. The Music Maker didn't work too well in the SME, somehow it sounded a bit gritty at the top end. It liked the Artemiz, but it adored the Morsiani which came up once again with a wonderfully beguiling performance - lacking the sheer excitement, punch and timing of the Hadcock but equally good, though in a totally different way. With the 'up-front' Loth-x Ji300b the Morsiani + Music Maker worked brilliantly, with my own Audion amps, and my taste in music the Hadcock had it by a head.
But in the end it was as a 'matched' pair that the Hadcock and Music Maker really shone. I have to say that on my Orbe the combination bested my SME4/XX-2, only giving up a little bass slam in comparison. They gave the Orbe a much cleaner mid-bass and just made it more fun to listen to. Soundstaging was wide and deep, not dissimilar to the SME but somehow with more focus. I know Mr Gregory is a great fan of Harpsichord, but I have to say that the Hadcock/Music Maker/Orbe is a real Rockers set-up:-)
The Hadcock 242 Silver is not cheap. In fact it costs much the same as an SME4. Where the '4' looks a million dollars, the Hadcock looks a little eccentric. But on the Orbe at least, the 242 Silver is a clear winner on sound quality. The Morsiani I preferred to the SME as well, but in that case it was hard to judge as it was so different, all I can say was it made me want to play more music. The Hadcock on the other hand was an easy comparison because it simply did what the SME did - better. That the thing is simple to set up, should last forever and is rather different from the rest of the herd is just the icing on the cake.
The Music Maker Mk2 comes from the same mould. But it's not quite a simple as that. It'd be easy for me to say that it sounded as good as a top moving coil, but I'd be doing it (and them) a disservice because it doesn't sound like ANY moving coil. It is simply so lacking in artifice or euphonic colouration that someone used to listening to a decent MC takes some time to adjust. In some ways it reminds me of a good CD player but without the disadvantages - the brightly lit upper-mid and often course top end. I'm not saying it's the best cartridge in the world (I've not heard all of them), and the DRT-1 still holds a special place in my affection, but after a few hours listening, you simply see the Music Maker as unbelievably "correct" - not clinical, but damn close to what's on the master tape...
Dial in the advantage of not needing a step-up and the Music Maker makes a strong case for itself regardless of cost, especially for those with valve pre-amps which often lack a MC input. Lastly the Music Maker can be rebuilt/refurbished by Mr Gregory for around £250, another strong economic argument.
And now my system has a new "reference" for others to beat. The Hadcock with either the Music Maker or the XX-2 cleans up the bottom end of the Orbe and just makes music so much fun, so that the SME has to take third place. That my two favourite arms are unipivots is significant, I'm not saying that a unipivot is a guarantee of quality (I didn't much like the Kuzma), but those "flat earthers" that have been banging on about them for the last 20 years obviously have something going for them.
I'll be very interested to see how some of the gimballed arms scheduled to arrive here fair in future. If you buy a Music Maker but find the Hadcock too exciting for your system/tastes then just drop M. Morsiani a line - he even makes a lower mass version, which should be even better, the Audiomeca Romeo is also excellent but really too heavy for the Music Maker.
But in the meantime my SME stays on the Orbe, I have to have a fixed reference for the main part of the series of turntable tests, but waiting in the wings is the Hadcock which I've arranged on long-term loan, so that I can judge other arms against the best possible combination on the Orbe (so far...).
Thank you for your very positive review. I am utterly delighted that you hit the spot absolutely when you withdrew from comparing the MusicMaker to high end moving coil devices, it is totally different, you're right, it would be comparing disparate items - meaningless.
I believe that not only is the MusicMaker extremely neutral and transparent, but also capable of tremendous information retrieval when used in a suitable carrier like the Hadcock -
I'm sorry, I'm plagiarising something I read recently........
Leonard Gregory (The Cartridge Man)
© Copyright 2002 Geoff Husband - http://www.tnt-audio.com