“Sometimes its difficult to enthuse about pick-up cartridges thanks to their workmanlike, matter-of-fact sound,” writes Nick Tate in the July issue of Hi-Fi News. But Tate has no trouble enthusing here. “Within seconds of its stylus hitting the groove, the Crimson XGW Stradivarius sings like a canary…. Suddenly you’re marvelling at the almost supernatural tightness of the syncopation between bass guitar and drum kit, and the soaring lyricism of the lead guitar.”
Aalt Jouk (AJ) van den Hul, “surely the longest-lived figure in the moving coil business,” still personally hand-builds and tunes every cartridge that bears his name. Many audio manufacturers talk about craftsmanship, but van den Hul is a true craftsman in the pure sense of the term – the sense in which ‘manufacturing’ doesn’t really come into it. On a recent trip to Australia, he recalls having built five pick-ups in public “sometimes with over eighty visitors watching! After the last drip of adhesive was applied, they were installed in tonearms and played”.
“Although advanced in years, AJ has a delicacy of touch that you’d expect from a surgeon half his age,” reports Tate, whose review includes extracts from an insightful interview with the man himself. “Rumour has it that he doesn’t drink coffee or alcohol for a day before the build, because he needs totally stable hands.”
The Crimson XGW Stradivarius is a variation on van den Hul’s existing Crimson model. In this unique new edition, the cartridge’s koa wood body is coated with a special ‘Stradivarius formula’ lacquer. While the latter’s composition remain a closely guarded secret, it’s said to be akin to that used on Antonio Stradivari’s iconic violins, hence the cartridge’s name. van den Hul applies three separate coatings of the lacquer which, since each layer takes a full two months to completely harden, means that every cartridge undergoes six months of work before ‘construction proper’ can even begin.
Judging by Tate’s passionate review, it’s well worth the wait.
“It’s a hugely characterful performer, with a seemingly direct line to the music held within the record groove. It’s not a case of ‘getting into this cartridge, or ‘coming round to liking it’ – rather, it is instantly adorable. Suddenly it’s your new best friend and you wonder where it has been all your life”.
“The way it presents music is uncannily realistic and yet, strangely, it doesn’t sound like anyone’s normal working definition of a ‘transparent’ cartridge.”
“Central to its genius is the superb spatiality – the cartridge seems to be able to penetrate further into the ink blackness at the back of the soundstage than practically anything I’ve heard. This means you feel far more of a participant in the musical event, and less of a mere spectator.”
The final verdict? “Surely one of the finest pick-up cartridges around.”
Read Nick Tate’s review in full in the July 2017 issue of Hi-Fi News.
Find your nearest van den Hul dealer via UK distributor Decent Audio.