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Reviewer: John Potis
Analog Source: Rega P9 turntable, RB1000, Rega Super Elys & Shelter 901 cartridges
Digital source: Accustic Arts Drive 1/Bel Canto DAC2
Preamp: Shindo Partager, Bel Canto Pre2P
Power Amp: Art Audio Carissa, Bryston 7B ST monos
Speakers: Hørning Perikles
Cables: JPS Labs Superconductor and Superconductor FX interconnects and speaker wire, Furutech Digi Reference digital
Power Cords: JPS Labs Power AC, Analog AC, Digital AC and Kaptovator power cords, ZCable Heavys & Black Lightnings
Powerline conditioning: Balanced Power Technology 3.5 Signature Plus with ZCable Heavy Power Cord
Sundry accessories: Viablue QTC cones under speakers, Vibrapod Isolators and Cones under components, Ultra & Heavy ZSleeves, Auric Illuminator
Room size: 12' by 16' with 9' ceiling
Review component retail: $799
The thought of taking a plunge is often a menacing thing. And as it is with most menacing things, I find it's usually best to jump in with both feet first and then meet the challenge head-on. Direct is always the best approach. So when I heard that the Hadcock GH 228 Export arm was available for review, I spoke up before I really had a chance to think. You see, over the course of the last couple of years, I've become very curious about tonearms and tables and cartridges. But where to start my investigations? I own an excellent sounding analog rig in the Rega P9 table and RB1000 arm. Someone has even opined that the RB1000 in fact outclasses the P9 table. So where does one start investigating arms when it would seem that I've already got one deserving of a better table? Can I dare to reach any higher for this table after such pronouncements?
And then there's that whole mystique surrounding the expertise required of turntable setup. It's really difficult, right? Truth be told, I've secretly been a little intimated by the simple chore of changing a phono cartridge. It's not that I'm stupid or clumsy. It's just that my own lack of experience means that I've never trusted myself that I'd truly maximized the performance available from my vinyl hardware. Still, I've wondered. I've been curious for a while. So I jumped. Upon receipt and unboxing of the Hadcock 228 Export arm, I took one look and -- despite the August heat and humidity -- felt the chill of a January gale across my insteps. It was intimidating to say the least. As it turns out, I needn't have been intimidated. Once I donned a pair of warm socks, I settled back to read the directions for installation and slowly started following the numbers. As it happened, the hardest part of the entire process was figuring out how to remove the RB1000 from my table. Once I became acclimated to this very different unipivot tonearm design, everything else was a walk in the park. Nevertheless, I want to be very upfront here as it pertains to my own inexperience with such things, in hopes that others who share both my curiosity and my apprehension may find the encouragement they need to strike out on their own odyssey.
GH 228 Export
The Hadcock GH 228 Export tonearm is one of two different arms produced by Hadcock. The more pricey GH 242 (reviewed here by our own Edward Barker) shares the same damped stainless steel arm tube but the 228 under review has a pivot-to-point length of 9 inches as compared to the 242's 9.6 inches. Everything else is said to be the same including the required 5/8-inch mounting hole.
Within the GH 228 family, however, there are three different options for the buyer. The $799 GH 228 Export comes wired with generic oxygen-free copper wire. This is the one I received for review. But there's also the GH 228 Integra wired with Incognito brand wiring and priced at $1099. At the apex of the 228 family tree sits the GH 228 VDH Silver, available on special order. This one's wired throughout with Van Den Hul silver wiring and includes a special Super Silver phono cable for $1499.
Hadcock represents that all 228 arm tubes are interchangeable as are head shells. All one need do is avail oneself of the Allen wrench included with the 228 and said interchange is easily accomplished. Hadcock does admit that setup is a little more difficult than with a fixed pivot arm, but I'll get to the particulars of the unipivot momentarily. For now I'll say that it wasn't all that unpleasant. The Hadcock comes with a 1-year warranty against defective workmanship and, as I found out through personal experience, advice via e-mail from the good folks at The Cartridge Man flows freely and is promised to all Hadcock customers.
For a detailed explanation on the hows and whys of the unipivot arm, I'll direct the reader to Edward's well-articulated review linked above - he does better than I could. But in a nutshell, there are three types of pivoted arm schemes - gimbaled, dual pivot and unipivot. What sets the unipivot apart from the others is that it involves a two -- and only two -- point balancing scheme. If a picture is worth a thousand words, ponder the photographs to see what I mean. If after studying the photos you ask yourself is there's anything other than gravity holding the tonearm in place, you can congratulate yourself on your grasp of the principles involved. Indeed, there is nothing but gravity holding the arm in place. It mounts atop the stainless bearing at the pivot point. When in use, the other end is suspended atop the stylus and that's it. Side-to-side balance is achieved via a very heavy weight mounted right behind the pivot and in proximity to the tracking force adjustment weight. Like the tracking force weight, this one is round but not drilled at the center but rather, the top. It's much heavier than the tracking adjustment weight and has a much lower center of gravity so that when you twist the arm within this weight, once allowed to return to rest, it twists the arm in place. It maintains its grasp of the tonearm via friction and thus proper horizontal azimuth is achieved. Sounds confusing? It's not. Sounds difficult? Even less so.
In use, this unusual design has a very useful fringe benefit. The complete removal of the tonearm is incredibly easy. One need only disconnect the wiring harness (the red plug in the photos) and lift the arm right off. That makes changing and mounting cartridges a breeze, I tell you. No more upside-down fumbling around with a cartridge inside a fixed head shell. You lay the arm on its back, do your duty and place it back on the pivot. Of note, however, is that the head shell's mounting holes are threaded. In the event that your cartridge is threaded, provisions will have to be made. However, mounting unthreaded cartridges is a breeze.
Also, unlike all other designs, the unique design of the Hadcock makes it infinitely adjustable. VTA adjustment is easy (just not on the fly) and you can adjust the horizontal azimuth as I've already described. Lastly, as the head shell is not fixed but locks with a hex screw, the stylus-to-pivot length is variable as well. In other words, this arm is a tweaker's delight. Not a tweaker? Fear not. If my experience is indicative, it doesn't take much effort to get the Hadcock singing.
It's true that cuing up the tonearm manually causes it to lean this way or that as the pivoting end is not firmly attached. While it's a little disconcerting at first, it's not really that bad. The weight which maintains proper azimuth is massive when compared to the less than 2 gram mass maintained at the cartridge. You'd be surprised by how steady the arm remains given the relative forces involved. You're not going to unseat the arm. One afternoon is all that was required for me to get over the heebie-jeebies. All that said, it took me about 2 hours to figure it all out and get the thing mounted on the Rega. It wasn't tedious or even nerve-wracking. It was more of an adventure and I was filled with such a sense of accomplishment once it was all done and music was playing with my Rega Super Elys cartridge mounted in place.
A Little Background
For the purpose of the Eastern Electric MiniMax phono preamplifier review, I was loaned the wonderful Shelter 901 cartridge. I was smitten at first listen. I was taken with the Shelter because of its natural and completely non-mechanical character. So organic, so smooth. A truly wonderful cartridge. Alas, once the review period was over, the Shelter too departed. And when I put the economical Rega Super Elys back in the system... well, let's just say I needed some acclimation time. I really don't want to take anything away from the Rega cartridge. It costs less than one third of the Shelter. Yet while its greatest virtue is its dynamic and muscular demeanor, it's also brighter, harsher and more mechanical sounding than the Shelter.
Back to the 228 Export arm. Upon firing up of the Super Elys/228 combination, I was shocked at how the 228 elevated the performance of the Rega cartridge to approach what I'd heard from the Shelter. From the moment the stylus hit the vinyl, I was awash in that same easy-going smoothness that I'd missed once the Shelter left my system. At first blush, I was sure that I heard an overall sweetening of the treble as well. Further investigation proved that all of the treble was properly accounted for but it was certainly smoother and rounder. Less harsh. Music flowed with the same organic disposition I had by now fallen so hard for.
Bass was quite good and very satisfying. However, the one single fly in the ointment was a slight diminishment in the area of slam. Weight was very good. Articulation was good. Tonality was good. But the RB1000/Super Elys combination put a dynamic edge on the bass that the 228/Super Elys combo couldn't quite match. A night and day difference? Not really. Something I'd miss were I to stay with the Hadcock? I really don't think so. It was a small price to pay for all the gains I'd just made.