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I can't say that the 228/Super Elys combination dug into all the detail that the Rega/Shelter had rendered from my recordings. No, I can't say that for sure. But neither can I say for sure that it didn't, either. I'd have to get that Shelter back for a head-to-head. But I do know that the $1200 228 Export/Super Elys combination came within shouting distance of what I heard from the $2500 RB1000/Shelter 901 cartridge. Talk about diminishing returns.

Another thing that strikes me about the 228: When it comes to retrieving musical data from a medium, there's something a bit clumsy about reading bumps off a sheet of vinyl, ya know? Look at a turntable in the light of day and you say to yourself, "There really must be a better way!" So why is there something just so completely elegant about it at the same time, with the tonearm so smoothly sweeping across the gracefully spinning disc? There really is a contradiction here. In that same way, once you get used to the unipivot design of the 228 Export, it takes on the same elegance. Two points are all that's needed to suspend the 228 and allow it to do its job. Anything more seems superfluous and gaudy. Less is more. Right?

The very first LP I placed under the 228's scrutiny was Donald Fagan's The Nightfly [UK 3696]. The opening bars of "I.G.Y" had me thinking I had wired something out of phase, so wide was the soundstage, so spacious and empty the center. I was sure I had screwed something up. Suddenly there were vocals, right there dead center between the speakers. Such focus and solidity. Impressive. This LP is one of my favorites but it is indeed a little bright. On some systems -- including mine -- it can sound downright aggressive. But not on this day. Without any overt dulling of the top two octaves, the entire presentation was smoother, less aggressive and easier on the ears. As I said before, smoother and more organic - less mechanical.

To make sure that I wasn't hearing something that would shave the treble from better balanced LPs, Peter Gabriel's So [Geffen
7599-24088-1] was up next. "Red Rain" made it immediately apparent that this was not to be the case. No shortage of treble energy here. Had the treble been attenuated, this percussion-rich LP would have lost its snap, crackle and pop. Nothing slows down percussion like dulling that leading edge in the treble region. Cover your tweeter and play some drums to see what I mean. The presentation possessed both power and dexterity indicating excellent balance. I also observed the same smoothness and lack of grain and glare. Also in evidence were the same focus and spatial detail through the midrange along with a healthy dose of transparency. "Steam" offered up a sense of real speed - greased lightening as a matter of fact.

Want energy dissipation? Want an arm that lets go of the music? The GH 228 Export is where old notes go to die. I got the sense of music exploding into the room with total freedom of resonance or lingering and then being gone. That's no big trick if we were talking about anemic lightweight sound. However, we are not. For the most part, bass was both powerful and fleeting. However, I did notice on "That Voice Again" that sometimes bass could get just a little overblown. Just a touch. This is a bass-rich LP and I'm used to the fullness but the 228 doesn't quite keep the tight-fisted control over deep and powerful bass in the same way that the RB1000 does. A big problem and deal breaker? Not, just a small nit. This is certainly one of the RB1000's strengths and it should shock nobody that the Export isn't perfect. Weighed against all that the Export does right, it's a small concession and certainly no less than what one can reasonably expect of an arm in this class. It's also the end of my nit list.

Still, once one identifies a chink in the armor no matter how significant or not, the natural inclination is to see whether it can be exacerbated. Pink Floyd's The Wall [Columbia 36183] seemed like a logical (and enjoyable) LP for the job. Man, I forgot just how enjoyable this one is. For bass-test purposes, it utilizes not only Waters' elegantly captured electric bass lines but also well-recorded piano and various special effects. The 228 delivered admirably on all of it. Drums were big and powerful yet remarkably resilient - when you can sense the tension on the drumhead. The exceptionally well-produced LP sounded fantastic. All manner of vocals were reproduced with transparent believability. Cymbals were breathy and resolved with no glare, grain or splash. Equally impressive was that the assorted cacophonies of music, effects and noises were all well sorted out. No confusion or blur. The GH 228 Export is also a quiet tonearm that renders record noise in a benign manner. This is to say that while I was aware that I was playing a well-played 26-year-old LP, the chatter wasn't as obtrusive on the music as it can sometimes be. As far as I'm concerned, that's a major victory for the 228 right there. Beyond all that, the music was big, believable and just plain fun. Gotta keep this LP out and in rotation - tear down the wall!

Next up was a record of much more modern vintage: Aimee Mann's Lost In Space [MFSL 1-278]. The Hadcock delivered this one with near-CD quietness. And wadia know? Another bass-heavy LP. This time the 228 delivered a stunningly accurate performance. Bass was tight, powerful and controlled. And I mean powerful. There's certainly no doubt that the 228 delivered all the bass there was to deliver. Mann's voice penetrated from a voluminous and dark yet airy soundstage and focus and image outlines were, once again, first rate.

The Export is completely competitive with my Rega RB1000, an arm known for its giant-killing prowess. Still, the Hadcock is different. The RB1000 arm is highly detailed and best suited to systems a little short on detail, a little slow and maybe a bit heavy even. The Rega's incisiveness lends a sense of added dynamics that truly dynamic systems don't need. The Hadcock GH 228 Export is very well suited to very high-resolution systems, particularly those bordering on the clinical. Distinctly non-HiFi sounding, it'll give such systems the injection of organic musicality that the doctor ordered. It is as detailed as the Rega but it presents these details in a way that is just a little less in-your-face, a little more musically satisfying and a little more graceful.

Joe Jackson's Look Sharp [A&M 4743] was a college favorite of mine but the recording is uneven and distinctly non-audiophile. Too crisp overall. It's not that the bass is truncated but the recording lacks warmth and sounds cold and brittle. The 228 Export helped a lot in making it more acceptable. First, it dug down deep to retrieve every iota of bass on the record and "Sunday Papers" in particular really rocked! Second, that smoothness that so characterizes the Export made the LP distinctly less brittle, more ear-friendly and involving. Third, the portrayal was so detailed that I was aware that the sonic signature of each cut is different from the next. Some cuts actually sounded pretty good while some were flatter than the rest and the bass was more tuneful and more highly delineated on some cuts than others. I mentioned focus
which is excellent. This also applies to image outlines but I haven't talked too much about soundstaging though it too is very good. Unlike certain systems with a tipped-up treble, the 228 Export doesn't shine floodlights on the boundaries of the stage. You sense instruments in real space yet your attention is more drawn to the musicians at center stage rather than being distracted by a super-natural highlighting of the stage itself. It all stuck me as eminently natural.

I've tried hard to be critical of the relatively inexpensive Hadcock HG 228 Export Tonearm but at this point in time, serious criticism has eluded me. For sure, the unipivot design provides the arm's biggest -- ergonomic -- weakness but even that turned out to be a non-issue.

In use, it may take a little getting used to but a day or so is all it took for me. I can't find anything to quibble about from a design or aesthetic standpoint. In polished stainless, it's a great-looking arm. It's also very easy to make adjustments to and it makes changing cartridges just about as easy as it gets. In fact and in retrospect, it was so easy to set up and get to sound great that it succeeded in making me feel a lot more competent than I ever would have thought possible.

From a standpoint of sound, it came as a surprise as well. Going in, I didn't have any expectations per se. As a matter of fact, I was expecting the two arms to sound a lot more alike to where I'd be making mountains out of molehills. Instead, I was startled by the 228's organic neutrality. This thing makes music. It's also very quiet, a big plus for me. If you think you're too spoiled by the quietness of the CD to enjoy vinyl again, give the 228 Export a try. And it does it all with no subtractions. It doesn't gloss over or omit anything, just smoothes out the ride and makes the music gel in a way that I expected only far more expensive components could. Is it a giant killer? That I don't know. I haven't dealt with enough giants yet to know for sure though at this point, I strongly suspect that it is. In any event, it's a killer value. I can't imagine a better arm for less than a thousand dollars and I doubt that I'm able to articulate just how highly I recommend it. But I do!
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