Publisher Profile

Van den Hul The Colibri XGW Master Signature moving coil cartridge & The Grail SE phono preamp Review

By: |

After reviewing the $16,500 Top Wing Suzaku Red Sparrow coreless straight-flux cartridge, I auditioned several other high-end cartridges, including two $10,000+ designs that exhibited unremarkable characteristics even when compared to the $4,000 Soundsmith Paua II. All in all, all negated recommendation. The only exception thus far is the Dutch cartridge specialist Van den Hul’s The Colibri XGW Master Signature, which arrived with the company’s very own, $18,600 The Grail SE phono stage in tow. Clearly, VdH was not going to leave everything to chance and much rather place its faith in its own phono stage.

Aesthetically, The Colibri wasn’t encased in exotic materials in the field of advanced engineering like the Top Wing, nor did it flaunt gemstone of a body. Instead, The Colibri possessed an open body with exposed cantilever. It can be very easily argued that we would have to pay thousands more if the factory had to wrap the innards of the cartridge in some unique enclosures. In his response to my inquiring about The Colibri XGW Master Signature, company founder A. J. van den Hul explained the following:

The Colibri Master Signature is the culmination of 45 years of cartridge experience combined with the right materials. The X shaped modulator gives a better channel separation causing a deeper image of the performance by reducing the common (mostly about equal) crosstalk levels. This common crosstalk level shows up as a virtual extra center channel between the two loudspeakers. Not recorded at all but always there. Less is always better. The matched crystal coil wires are improving the performing on low levels and harmonic structure of the replay by avoiding the crystal barriers normally always there thanks specific to the wire manufacturing processes. Any barrier takes a bit of the finesse of the electrical component. A cartridge is a triple combination of mechanical, magnetic and electrical properties. Each needs to be perfect to have a good final result. Reason why I have been working on optimization of all three and the combination in between.

The aforementioned coils used by Van den Hul are crystallized gold wire, the only one of its kind that I know of. The Koetsu Jade Platinum that I owned comes in a close second using silverplated copper wires albeit an industry exclusive magnet made of platinum.

The Colibri’s specified medium dynamic compliance of 20 µm makes it a very universal cartridge in tonearm compatibility. The review sample was well broken-in and was VPI Industries president Mat Weisfeld’s personal unit.

The auditioning of the cartridge began with the $48,000 Pass Laboratories Xs Phono, together with the Xs Preamp. The Colibri XGW Master Signature was mounted on the $4,500 AMG 12J2 beauty of a tonearm, on the $31,000 Clearaudio Master Innovation turntable with the Smart 24V battery power supply.

Some will take to the open skeleton design of the XGW MS; I for one appreciate the high clearance of its long, exposed cantilever that easily clears the Clearaudio Outer Limit record on the company’s Master Innovation turntable ring, when so many other cartridges with low body and short cantilever often scrapped the ring, albeit for the first ten seconds of the record. Some readers will prefer a cartridge with a technologically advanced creation like the Top Wing Suzaku, or a more aesthetical endowment in a jewelry of a body design, despite them not being able to clear the record ring at the start of a record entirely.

The Colibri revealed a minute warmth from the lower midrange, upper bass region and all the way up, and its dynamic transient manifested was very powerful and of exhibition class. Vocals benefited. Take Barbra Streisand in her evergreen hit, “The Way We Were,” on the regular release of her Greatest Hits, Vol. 2. The VdH caressed her soft intonation in one stance and then took to the stratosphere in the next. The way the VdH handled the signature Streisand mic-busting high-pressure high-notes was the akin to the $16.5k Top Wing Suzaku and just cannot be ignored. Dense layers of tonal compositions permeated, imparting an unmistakable sense of tonal purity starting from her voice and then spreading outward to the instruments. When she sang “Superman,” it took on a new sound seemingly akin to the Super Analog edition of the release. Turning a non-audiophile record into a pseudo powerhouse seemingly, what a cartridge.

The VdH’s tonal transparency was comparable to that of the Top Wing, conceding only in instances of powerful staccatos and fortissimos where it didn’t step up as eagerly as the TW, which speaks volume of the capabilities of cartridges brought on by advanced technologies, such as the coreless straight-flux of the Top Wing, and here the X shape modulator. And again, The Colibri’s handling of transients was among the most dramatic I’ve experienced. It accentuated almost everything ever so minutely to enhance the tonal colors of instruments and expand the dynamics.

The Colibri XGW MS was not as atmospheric and tonally alluring among $10+ cartridges, though still eminently syrupy. The way the it pulled out the long horn near the end of “Anakin’s Dark Deeds” from the soundtrack to Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith communicated a surreal and cerebral tonal purity, making the experience one of the most chilling and spectacular among cartridges, while demonstrating world-class spatiality, crazy degree of zeal and yet not overly indulgent. The Colibri’s expression of the trumpet was as authoritative as that of the Top Wing. The London Symphony Orchestra consistently provided the most spirited and spontaneous-sounding recordings for the movie franchise, and performances of the same pieces under different orchestras often miss the mark. And The Colibri reflected that.

The ante was upped considerably when The Colibri was coupled with The Grail SE phono stage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Popups Powered By :